“All the faculties, possibilities, and accomplishments of shamanism, from the simplest to the most astounding, are in the human body itself.”
-Carlos Castaneda, The Wheel of Time (p. 199)
Today, I explore the value of achieving the full energetic potential of the human body by learning to breathe. As Castaneda suggests in the above quote, the gateway to the energy body is the physical body. In Hatha Yoga, and all yogas, the breath is the most important factor. In fact, yoga is all about breathing. In the asana called Savasana the body is calmed to its energetic vibratory state. This is the result of deep relaxation and full breathing, no obstructions. Full breathing entails breathing deeply into the abdominal cavity and filling the lower, middle, and upper parts of the lungs; it is also commonly called the three-part breath. Typically, most people limit their breathing to shallow breathing that only fills the upper lungs, leaving the abdominal area, in particular, unfilled and dormant.
The tensions of modern day life and the inner instincts are borne in the rigidity of the body, in what Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst from Freud’s inner circle, called character armour. Reich, whose main area of focus was on the body, theorized that most of what the human race accepts as climax or orgasm is incomplete, as the natural involuntary movements of coitus are generally restricted by the ego’s inability to let go to full body release. His most famous student, Alexander Lowen, founded the Bioenergetic School of Psychotherapy to address the rigidities in the body that inhibit the full realization of physical pleasure in modern day men and women.
Fear, whether it be generated by the ego’s discomfort with the instinctual animal self or by trauma, or simply by the conjuring mind itself, often registers in the body as a constriction in the throat, resulting in shallow respiration. Deep instinctual impulses or psychic complexes may also be held back or stored in the stomach and abdomen, as well as in other parts of the body. Shallow breathing results in a numbness, or lifelessness, a virtual disconnect from the body below the head. Cultural norms that insist upon flat stomachs further rigidify the midsection of the body, forcing it to be held in. As a consequence of these types of bodily restrictions, middle and lower lung breathing is rarely accomplished in daily life, creating an in-body state of dissociation.
In-body association is critical to both wholeness and furthering our evolutionary potential in the energy body state. Many people who have had out-of-body experiences (OBEs) as a result of trauma must first re-associate their physical body to further their OBE exploration. This requires opening up the connection between the head and the rest of the body, which includes full breathing without obstruction. In fact, shamanic recapitulation, which is the practice of re-associating all of life’s experiences on an energetic level, includes a deep breathing magical pass.
I suggest, in addition to other practices involving healing and wholeness, that a focus be placed on learning how to naturally breathe into the abdominal area. Bringing awareness to the abdominal area, relaxing it, allowing it to begin filling with air while breathing in through the nose, and contracting the abdomen while exhaling through the nose, is a good first step in learning to connect with and discover the full energetic benefits of deep breathing. This can be practiced regardless of constriction that might be felt in the throat. Consistent practice may allow the rest of the lungs to fill, flowing from the abdominal area in full three-part breathing, eventually allowing the head to release its fear and constriction to this deeper connection.
Breathing is our most natural bodily instinct and our greatest bodily need. Our first and most important act is to take the breath of life. So, breathe fully! Breathe with awareness, allowing for deep in-body experience, the gateway to everything!
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Until we meet again,
The following books are available in our Store: The Wheel of Time under the Shamanism category and Yoga and Health under Resources.