Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Breath And The Subtle Body

When she was 17, my mother contracted tuberculosis. Her father had died of the lung disease three years earlier. This was in the late nineteen forties. My mother often compared TB at that time to AIDs in the 1970s. Those friends who didn't abandon her in her contagious condition counseled her to never have a child, as the child was bound to be born with the disease.

My mother didn't take kindly to this advice. Shortly after I was born, she had the most serious of her "flare ups." She was in hospital for nine months, dreading she'd be moved to the sanatorium where her father had died. I remember waving to her from the hospital garden, through the ward window, not allowed to go in and visit her. When she came out of hospital, my mother had lost her beautiful red hair, and only three quarters of one lung still functioned. The doctors gave her a year to live. Wheezing, and fighting breathlessness 24 hours a day, she survived for another 46 years.
Stilling of the Breath
Girl Meditating

Why is stilling of the breath so important for the awakening of kundalini? Kundalini is transcendental consciousness in a physical form. Kundalini arouses, and reveals, the subtle forces that produce bone, nerve, skin, blood and breath; the nexus of forces that configure the body's individuality. Kundalini also reveals, like a candle shining upwards at a face in the dark, the individual body's relationship with the cosmos. This relationship is breath. This to-and-fro is breathing.

My mother had a terrible time breathing. A constant gurgling in her chest; wheezing 24-7, even in her sleep; fits of coughing at concerts; and the dreaded breathlessness attacks when there simply was no air. What kept her going? The will to live. The desire to be with her husband and watch her child grow up. Prana, the subtle force in air that is the source of being alive.

When I first practiced meditation and mindfulness of the breath, it was as if I'd contracted — not tuberculosis; dragged along to the X-ray unit every six months of my childhood, I showed no sign of the disease — but my mother's struggle with breathing. Panics. Black-outs. Oxygen-starved euphorias. Slowly, I came to realize that a lengthening of inhalation and exhalation, and a protracting of the time the lungs are empty, is natural. Suspension of breath was the natural, and optimum, condition for a new body that became discernible behind my gasping, gurgling, anxious physical body.

This deeper, subtler body is the source of my breath, blood, skin, nerve and bone. The moments when I live in it completely, I find that my physical body gets along quite okay on its own. It relaxes. Grows stronger. Thinks clearer.

What is this new, subtle body? I don't really know. To me it doesn't feel individual. It doesn't feel as if it's mine. I have a hunch that other people are somehow part of it, which is odd, because the precious thing about other people, particularly the ones I love, is their otherness. This subtle body, which kundalini lights up, insists on certain gestures. Twining of the wrists above the head, touching of the fingertips at a point above the fontanelle, spreading of the arms, straightening of the spine, and, coming from within, neither willed nor chosen, nor remembered from anywhere, the raising of the left hand, palm outwards, in front of the heart, and the opening of the right hand, palm flat, in the lap, the ancient gesture of blocking fear and offering gifts.

This subtle body is made of consciousness in a way my physical body isn't, and which my physical body often resists. This subtle body is where the fact that consciousness is more powerful than matter gets a foothold. It's the source of thoughts that are aware of their own deeper power; thoughts that come out of transcendence to be, sometimes, captured by the brain. They are Wordsworth's "thoughts too deep for tears," JJ Semple's "ideograms harvested in another dimension." The power of these moments of consciousness is proven by the way the physical body — anxious, panicky, strung out — resists them. This resistance happens, to me, in the lungs, a sudden clenching in the chest, like my mother's breathlessness attacks, that blocks my brain from registering what it already knows.

1 comment:

  1. The Secret of the Golden Flower says, "One should not be able to hear with the ear the outgoing and the intaking of breath. What one hears is that it has no tone. As soon as it has tone, the breathing is rough and superficial, and does not penetrate into the open. The heart must be made quite light and insignificant. The more it is released, the less it becomes; the less it is, the quieter. All at once it becomes so quiet that it stops. Then the true breathing is manifested and the form of the heart comes to consciousness."

    Before you begin Golden Flower Kundalini Meditation, you should master diaphragmatic breathing in order to train the diaphragm to regulate the breath and to center yourself. Since we cannot control or even isolate the muscles of the diaphragm directly, we must find a “handle” that allows us to do so indirectly. That handle is the belly or abdominal muscles.

    People who consult me on Kundalini ask, "Why bother with meditation when you have aerobics, bodybuilding, and a host of other exercise programs being offered at reasonable prices in strip malls across the country?" Because Golden Flower Meditation is the only method that doesn’t wear the body out. That’s right, whether you know it or not, although exercise programs build the body up initially, over time they actually wear it out at a much faster rate. Kundalini Meditation, on the other hand, has the opposite effect; it actually rejuvenates and revitalizes the body. The truth is Less is More!