Practices-- Purification Breaths
This practice, commencing with a concentration on the elements earth,
water, fire and air is a staple practice within the sufi tradition. Parallels
to this practice can be found in spiritual traditions throughout the world.
The version described here is thought to have its roots in the Greek mystery
schools, and has thus been passed down from sufi teacher to student for
thousands of years. For many the practice will have an uncanny familiarity. It
leaves you with a sense of renewed energy and is an excellent daily ritual:
perhaps the most balanced practice you could use. The purification with the
elements begins as concentration and gradually deepens into a practice of
contemplation. It is an excellent preparation for meditation. The practice is
well suited to the early morning, and wonderful to do standing barefoot or
sitting in contact with the earth. If doing the practice inside, stand or sit
near an open window if possible.
Close the eyes. At first you will need five to ten minutes to focus on each
of the four elements. After you have learned the practice, you may shorten the
concentrations to five breaths for each element.
Start with some deep exhalations, pushing gently, slowly and as fully as
possible, first out of the chest and then out of the abdomen. Exhale further
and further, and then let your inhalation be completely natural, using no
effort. A natural inhalation is very important, so that you do not strain your
lungs or the muscles in your chest. Hold the breath for a moment after the
inhalation. After a few rounds of exhalations and inhalations, begin with the
breath of the earth element.
The Earth Element
The early Christian hermits, living alone years in the desert, used a
concentration on the earth's magnetism as a way of restoring their vitality
during long vigils. Native American elders have said that the loss of a sense
of relationship and communion with the earth is the main cause of
psychological imbalance and physical illness.
Standing or sitting, feel yourself like a tree with roots extending firmly
and deeply into the earth. Feel the great strength and magnetism of the earth.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose, not forcing the breath
in any way. Imagine drawing magnetism and healing power through the soles of
your feet (if standing) or the bottom of your spine (if sitting). Commune with
the earth, and consciously channel the earth's magnetism to the parts of your
body that are depleted.
Feel the healing power of the earth. You may have felt this in your feet
while walking barefoot outdoors or in your hands when working in a garden.
Try to sense a subtle reality, a crystalline lattice-like structure, behind
the denser aspects of the physical plane. Sense that, at this subtle level,
the earth is not only a singular organism but is also connected to the solar
system and part of a galaxy. In your connection to the earth, you are also
connected to the moon, neighboring planets, the sun and distant stars.
On the inhalation, sense yourself as part of life, your body made of the
substance of the earth and thus subject to the harmony and order of the
natural world. As you exhale, release toxins or pollution back into the earth.
Breath out your tiredness, disharmony and agitation.
Now concentrate on the magnetic field of your body. The body has a force
field around it, similar to that of a magnet, as does the earth as a whole.
Feel as though you are aligning your own magnetic field to the magnetic field
of the earth, the way that iron filings align around a magnet. When magnetic
power is weak, the iron filings are in disarray. When the power is strong, the
filings align in symmetric, harmonic patterns. On each in-breath, feel the
filings coming into order. On the exhalation, sense that your body gives forth
a natural magnetism and harmonizes the atmosphere around you.
The Water Element
The breath of the water element brings a sense of flow, of vitality and
purity, and helps unleash creativity. It is also useful in breaking free from
habitual thinking patterns, encouraging feelings of moving forward through
life and flowing around obstacles rather than hitting them head on.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. You can imagine
exhaling a fine stream of water through the mouth. You might imagine yourself
immersed in a mountain stream. Feel the drops of water penetrating your cells,
dripping off of your fingertips. Feel water reaching your chest and heart,
helping to loosen any tightness and obstruction there. Feel energized and
renewed, again focussing on those parts of the body that are in need of
healing, and those that lack life energy and vibrancy.
Concentrate on the purity of a crystal clear lake or stream, high up in the
mountains. Let yourself become the water, and let the qualities of purity,
life energy and power flow into your immediate environment.
The Fire Element
The breath of the fire element is quickening. It sparks inspiration and is
very useful when you feel drowsy and dull after a period of intense practice.
Breath in through the mouth, hold the breath momentarily and then breathe out
through the nose. On the inhalation, imagine fanning a fire in the solar
plexus, the area in the center of your rib cage, with a bellows. Purse your
lips and draw in a thin stream of air. As you draw in, visualize the embers of
the fire glowing. Then hold the breath momentarily, and bring your attention
up to the center of the heart chakra, a sensitive point found a few inches
above the solar plexus. Exhale through the heart chakra, imagining that you
are radiating golden sunlight.
On the inhalation, come in touch with your soul's desire; your aspirations
for spiritual awareness and understanding; your desire to be authentic; to
make your life meaningful and worthwhile; to stand up for what you believe in.
On the exhalation, radiate light as if from a miniature sun in your heart.
Feel the light to be intense and golden.
Use the fire breath as a place of offering up the parts of yourself you
would like to transform. Subject your self-doubt, cynicism, addictive patterns
or resentments to the fire. Avoid making pledges you won't keep. Simply
clarify your intention and open yourself to the purification process.
Instead of using will power to change, the concentration on the fire
element represents the action of life as a teacher, who activates and burns up
what needs to be burned, a natural force of change and growth, by which your
deeper nature emerges.
The Air Element
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. The breath of the
air element relates to freedom, ecstasy and transcendence. Imagine yourself to
be like a great eagle perched high on a mountain. Feel the wind ruffling your
feathers, blowing through all your pores. Feel the coolness and freshness of
the air. Soar upwards on the currents of air. On the inhalation, feel yourself
buoyant and free, like a zephyr crossing a lake and lifting upwards. On the
exhalation, allow yourself to reach out beyond the boundaries of the body. Let
your being disperse with the wind, and let your consciousness reach out into
the cosmos. Enjoy a sense of vastness and, if it helps, visualize vast
landscapes, such as a mountain, canyon, or the starry night sky.
After you have completed the purification breaths, reflect upon the effect
of all the elements taken together. While separately each of the breaths
emphasizes different forces and qualities in one's being, together the breaths
bring about a sense of wholeness. Each element complements and moderates each
other. According to your own makeup, you may feel the need to place more
emphasis on one or another in order to attain greater balance.