The breath and Yoga exercise

Why is the breath not held in a free breath exercise?

Heinz Grill describes if we alter the rhythm of the breath we divorce ourself from the outer, external rhythm, which acts upon us. The task for the human being today he says is to become conscious of external rhythm, to participate with external rhythm in a conscious way from outside to inside, in a continuous rhythm. In a pranayama exercise the soul life comes away from the external part of life, the soul goes more inwards, it stays inwards and doesn’t yet move back outwards into life.

So, the breath describes two movements, which not only occurs in a physical way, but has a soul-spiritual meaning. If we try to control or guide the breath in a specific way this works only on the physical level, it doesn’t address the connection of the soul-spiritual aspect to the physical. If we want to come to an understanding of the breath we have to train the soul life to be able to become conscious of what the breath is in its depth and height of meaning, in its soul-spiritual aspect. This is very much needed, as the relationship of the breath to body, soul and spirit is different today than from the past.

What is the breath?

The breath isn’t just a physiological process, whereby oxygen is received by the respiratory organs of the human body and respires carbon dioxide back again to the outside. The breath can be considered from a broader view, which encompasses a soul-spiritual aspect. To do this the insight of a person who can see this aspect needs to be looked at.

In his book, Harmony in Breathing, Heinz Grill gives such a view, it begins with the idea that the breath is rhythmical movement, this rhythmical movement is part of a greater cosmic whole, to which the human being participates with from the moment of birth right to the end of life. When person breathes its not only physiological process but a process of the soul, for as a person inhales the air that surrounds them they also breath in their environment, and when they exhale not only do they give air but also some part of themselves into their environment. Through the process of breathing we inhale our environment and stand in connection to it, hence we stand in sympathy with it, and as we exhale so we let go, we withdraw from the environment, and hence stand more in antipathy to it. This is more specifically put by Heinz Grill as: 

‘One lives continuously in the soul-process of breathing in and out. Usually one aspect dominates; sympathy or antipathy. There exists a relationship between ourselves and the environment. It lives in an invisible way in affection and rejection. We mutually exchange with our fellow men in a certain way. According to our state of mind, we live with respect to nature in a more active participation or a more passive passing-by. Sometimes we are more demanding, sometimes more observing towards the phenomena of life. Thoughts work continuously and express themselves in conscious thinking towards the outside. Thought itself belongs to the spiritual realm. The breath is directly connected with the state of mind and this state in turn connected with the thinking. Thus the rhythm of the breath also forms the thought so that a certain way of thinking is revealed on the outside. Antipathy and sympathy are anchored in the thinking and also in the feeling. The individual being is connected as one with the coming and going of the breathing.’ (Heinz Grill, 1996)

Looked at in this way the soul-process of breathing has a social significance, if a person becomes conscious of how they participate with the breath, they become conscious of how they receive life around them and in turn what they back to others.  Becoming conscious of how the soul participates in this everyday breathing movement, leads to a freeing of the breath from an old rhythm and places it into a new rhythmical order, the soul can then breath more freely as it moves both inwardly and outwardly in a new fresh daily rhythm. Whereas pranayama seeks a freeing of the breath by withdrawing inwardly and cutting off relationship to external life through a physiological process of altering the breath, a free breathing exercise seeks a freeing of the breath by becoming aware of the soul-process of breathing as experienced in a unique individual way. Becoming aware can be cultivated by training the forces of the soul, namely the thinking, feeling and willing, out of their everyday way of relating into a new rhythmical movement.

Asana practice that address the rhythmical movement of the soul, can therefore, create a free breathing exercise. But also, interestingly Heinz Grill suggests that pranayama exercises can also be brought into a conscious activity if a person sufficiently develops a healthy, stable soul life. 

For more on his topic, in how to practice asana and pranayama exercises that lead to a free breathing exercise see the book Harmony in Breathing by Heinz Grill.  

In contrast Swami Sivananda offers a more classical approach to pranayama in his book 'Practical lessons on Yoga' 

And for more on the idea of the human beings relationship to the process of breathing see lecture from Rudolf Steiner called ‘The Mission of the Archangel Michael Lecture VI: The Ancient Yoga Culture and theNew Yoga Will. The Michael Culture of the Future,1919 and the lecture: Modern and Ancient Spiritual Exercises, Advice on Meditation, 1922.