Throughout the history of the world and across all people, breath has universally been regarded as a principle of life. In the Book of Genesis, “the Spirit of God which brooded upon the face of the primeval waters” was ruah, or “breath’. In the Vedic story of creation where the swan incubated the Vedic cosmic egg, the egg was ‘breathe’. Taoists believe that the intermediate space between Heaven and Earth is filled with a breath (k’i) in which mortals live like fish in the water. This same belief is seen in Indian beliefs where Vayu is the wind and breath of life.
Breathe and speech are the creation and sustainment of life. Jehovah breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils in the Book of Genesis. As the breath quickens the body, it is equated with the soul, which is thought to take flight on the last breath of life; as the breath perishes so does the flesh. Breath is the symbol of life, the soul, life-giving power, the spiritus mundi, and profound power of the spirit. Inhalation and exhalation of the breath symbolize the alternating rhythm of life and death, manifestation and reabsorption in the universe. It is identified with consciousness, locating both thought and feelings in the lungs. Breathe animates the clay of our being.
Secret Power of the Breath
The Celts believed that breath possessed magical power, the “Druid Breath” or breath that possessed the power to bring through the will. French occultist Eliphas Levi taught this concept through the verb, and that the soul inhales and exhales like the lungs. He stated that sickly souls have bad breath that permeates the astral light with impure reflections, and that the hot or cold breath has the power to attract or repel. Psychologist Carl Jung documented Zulu priests who cured the sick of evil spirits by “breathing” into the person's ear through bullhorn. Similarly, Christianity teaches that blowing or breathing on someone signifies the influence of the Holy Spirit and expelling evil spirits. Persian poet, Sadin “ Gulistan”, wrote that each respiration holds two blessings. Life is inhaled, while stale, foul air is exhaled; and therefore we should thank God twice for every breath we take.
Taoists hold that respiration is controlled by the heart yang and yin, the opening and closing of the Gates of Heaven. The Yang occurs with evolution and manifestation, and the Yin with involution and latency. This respiration, exaltation and inhalation, is the expansion and contraction of the Universe. According to Tao Te Ching, the Tao is the breath that never dies, it is a Mother to all creation. Learning to regulate the breath is the main process for activating kundalini as practiced by Hindu and Tantric yogi. To control inhalation is to hear the same melody as the inner presence of the supreme self being revealed, where the microcosm is identical to the macrocosm.
The Breath and Mind, Body, Spirit
The art of controlling the breath holds more than just spiritual significance, breathing is both a motor activity and neurological activity that supports all bodily systems. We take 10 - 16 breaths per minute on average and 6-8 at rest, where waste and toxins are expelled from the body on exhalation. Oxygenation of the entire body is vital for not only our physical health, but also mental, emotional and spiritual states of wellbeing.
The physical body is composed of 8 ingredients known as mula prakriti, 5 are the elements, tattvas.
As we breathe, we cycle our nostrils using one nostril at a time, and during these cycles, different elements dominate. Every chakra is vitalized when the element it needs is dominant. The first five chakras are connected with the 5 elements; the planes connected with those chakras are also connected with those elements. The element dominance is constantly coming and going with the circadian rhythms inside the body, and because these elements rise and reign in a fixed succession during the flow of breath through each nostril, our consciousness constantly undergoes a change. All mental and physiological activities, all needs and desires are connected with these five elements. Consciousness is directly related to both thought and feelings in the lungs. Our feeling states manifest in changes of breath, from panicky shortness of breath to the sorrow sighs too deep for words.
Sacred Breathe Practices
Pranayama is the vital breath; the science of the breath. Prana means energy, breath of life, life force, air spirit, the source and force of life and the vibratory energy of all manifestations. The root, 'pra', means to fill; therefore the energy that fills the entire universe. Prana is present in everything and is applied not only to physical breathing, but also to “subtle” respiration.
Ayana is to increase or stretch the breath, the practice of controlled filling of the lungs. These breathing exercises are designed to bring more oxygen to the bloodstream, activate subtle energy systems, and control the life energy of the body. Hindu or Tantric yogis spend years learning how to regulate the breath in their quest to activate Kundalini. Similarly, Buddhist and Muslims practice the “counting of breaths” through subtle respiration and “The Secret of the Golden Flower” to produce the best environment for meditation.
Regulation of the breath is achieved through changing and holding bodily positions, timing the rhythm and number of breaths, and working with various types of breath. It is important to note that posture is paramount; the spine needs to be elongated, the lungs must be able to fully expand, and the diaphragm must not be compressed. The pattern of the breath is for the initiation and integration of the respiration, the life rhythm and return to the primal state.
Performing the Tattva Breaths
There are infinite ways in which we can perform breath exercises, and one of those is by performing the Tattva breaths linked to specific elements, chakras, and subtle energy planes.
Akasha - spirituality and space, state of ether
Vayu - mentality, state of gas
Tejas - vitality, state of heat
Apah - emotionality, state of liquid
Prithvi - physicality, state of solid
By performing a specific breath, we are able to effect the energy of that element and subtle energy state (ie. The Apah breath calms the emotional body)
Should be performed while sitting with the shoulders expanded and pressed down to elongate the spine and open the chest cavity; can be performed lying down.
Start with empty lungs; breathe every last drop of air out until you cannot push anymore out.
Count breaths while following the breath through your body. You’ll want to imagine this breath moving through based on the location in the body referred to above. This may be difficult for those new to the practice, especially for those who have difficulties with visualization. If you are unable to visualize this movement through the body, follow the shape as if it were hanging in the air in front of you.
Try to begin with a count of 4 or 5 on each inhalation, hold and exhalation and build on this count as your lungs become accustomed to an increase of lung capacity and controlled breathing capability. The point is to extend the breath for longer and longer periods of time and maintain control in the process.
Caution: never extend your breath to the extent that you are not getting proper oxygenation, this is not a race and there is no trophy for who can go the longest. Signs of hyperventilation and improper oxygenation include dizziness, blurred vision, tingling in your hands, arms, feet, or legs.
Knowing what Tattva Breath to Perform
What do you need assistance with? Spirituality, Mentality, Vitality, Emotionality, or Practicality
Use a Pendulum to intuitively select
Tattva divination: use the aces of the tarot (4 elements) + a major arcana card to represent Akasha and randomly select one without. You can also make your own tattva cards with paper and a pen!
When to Use the Tattva Breaths
During meditation, prayer or other spiritual work.
Times of stress, anxiety, overwhelm, emotional turmoil, and pain.
In the morning when first waking up to set the tone for the day, as well as before going to bed for releasing any built up energy of the day.
Interested in learning more? I sure hope so, this is just the tip of the iceberg! I strongly encourage you to checkout Tattvas and the Radiant Holy Breath through 22 Teachings School of Hermetic Science and Magical Arts.
Disclaimer: These are the tattva breaths as practiced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and they are not the only tattva breaths. These are what I am intimately familiar with that have worked for me, my Master Teachers and clients.
© Brandy Rachelle
Uncredited images from my personal collection or stock images