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Controlling the Breath to Control the Mind

The Science of Breath: Portal to Higher Awareness

Controlling the breath and calming the nerves is a prerequisite to controlling the mind, and control of the mind is a prerequisite to the ultimate control of the universal energy of prana.

The mind stands like a wall between us and reality.

The mind stands like a wall between us and reality. When the student comes in touch with the finer forces called prana, he can learn to control his mind, for it is tightly fastened to prana like a kite to a string. When the string is held skillfully, the kite, which wants to fly here and there, is controlled and flies in the direction desired. All yogic breathing exercises, advanced or basic, enable the student to control his mind by understanding prana. Thus the science of breath helps the student to bring prana under control in order to attain the higher rungs of spirituality. He who has controlled his breath and prana has also controlled his mind. He who has controlled his mind has also controlled his breath.

To the yogi, body, breath, nerves, mind, prana, and the universe are all part of a continuum, and he does not set up artificial distinctions between them. In Western thinking, however, there has been a much greater tendency for compartmentalization so that, for instance, the sciences of physiology and psychology have maintained their separate identities. Only in recent times have scientists admitted the interrelationship between psyche and soma, and the psychosomatic origins of disease have finally become a valid subject for research and study.

According to yoga and the science of pranayama, disease is a manifestation of an imbalance in the flow of prana. Both body and mind are sustained by prana and thus interact to a greater extent than is normally imagined. For example, scientific experiments have shown that peristalsis (the intestinal churning necessary for digestion) is greatly inhibited by emotions such as anger, fear, and anxiety. Another example of the interrelationship between the body and mind is the influence of emotions on the breath. When we are afraid, breathing becomes shallow and rapid; when depressed, breathing becomes heavy and labored.

Psychologists have shown that there is a correspondence between personality types and breathing patterns. Yoga science also recognizes such a correspondence, but according to yoga, the relationship between the breath and mind is reciprocal. If a certain state of mind results in a certain mode of breathing, then conversely, by consciously adopting that mode of breathing we can evoke the corresponding state of mind.

If there is a correspondence between personality type and pattern of breathing, then the yogi states categorically that by changing the pattern of breathing we can transform the personality, for when the mind is disturbed, the breath is disturbed and becomes shallow, rapid, and uneven. By consciously making the breath deep, even, and regular, we will experience a noticeable release of tension and an increased sense of relaxation and tranquility.

Editor’s note: In the next post in this series, Swami Rama focuses on diaphragmatic breathing, the essential first step in the practice of the science of breath.

Source: Science of Breath by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, and Alan Hymes, MD

Further Reading

Science of Breath

Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD,
Alan Hymes, MD

This book presents knowledge and practices regarding the breath in a way that can be applied to personal growth. It is a masterful guide to systematically identifying bad breathing habits, replacing those habits with healthy breathing patterns, and developing control over pranic flow. Learn how to develop and master the link between your body and mind through the understanding of the breath.

About the Teacher

Swami Rama

One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925–1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster, who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally, in 1969, came to the United States, where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best-known work, Living with the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.

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