Breathwork & Contemplation
In this article we will focus on the breath as an object of contemplation, as it is as essential as the heart in maintaining life. When a thought is attached to the breath by concentration, the effect of the thought reaches throughout the entire body. Therefore, being aware of what thoughts and attitudes are circulating through our bodies is critical for physical and emotional health.
Generally what we think of as the breath is inhalation and exhalation. But the breath is much more than that. Breath is the life current running through our bodies. It is the bridge between soul and body. Breath awakens the part of our being that is unseen. In the words of Hazrat Khan:
Each breath must touch the innermost of our being in order for one to exist. For life is impossible unless one’s being is charged at every moment by the innermost spirit. Every breath that a person takes touches the very depths of his spirit and it would not be possible to live if breath did not touch the depth of life.
Khan continues to say that the life of God is given with each breath we take in. There are subtle energy centers in us that are closed off as a result of being in the world. All the mystical traditions use the breath to awaken these centers. When the breath touches them, it opens and vibrates these subtler levels of our being.
The following Sufi breathing practice brings the physical being into harmony by using the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Doing this practice each morning is extremely beneficial to your health. This practice works at the most subtle level of your physical body.
Breathe normally for a few minutes. Keep the awareness on the breath throughout the meditation.
Earth is the first element. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. On the inhale, draw in the subtle magnetism of the earth. Exhale directly into the earth, which acts as a filtering system, drawing pollution from us and purifying us. Visualize a golden yellow color. Breathe this way for five minutes, focusing on the qualities of the earth, which are strength, solidity, and density.
Now move to the element of water. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. There will be a subtle change in how the breath feels as compared to the earth energy. The direction is downward. The color is green. The qualities to focus on are fluidity and the flow or current that is moving. Inhale from the water energy and exhale directly into the fluid water. The purification with water is a cleansing that dissolves substances and carries them away. Continue for five minutes.
The third element is fire. Breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose. This energy feels as if it is leaping upwards. The feeling is one of passion, which is purified by the fire as we breathe consciously. The heat from the fire element warms the coldness in the heart. The associated color is red, and the qualities are heat and energy.
The fourth element is air. Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. It’s a very light breath, with the lips pursed a bit, as if you are sipping a stream of breath. Know that this breath is reaching subtle layers of your body. The color to visualize is blue, and the qualities to think about are spaciousness and freedom. Continue for five minutes.
Ether is the void that holds all of the elements. It is beyond time and space. Breathe in and out through the nose, this time with a very light breath. Continue for five minutes. Then breathe normally for a few minutes. Feel your feet, legs, and arms. Gently open your eyes and be aware of all that you are seeing and hearing.
Each element performs a type of purification such as earth filtering, water washing, fire melting, and air expanding. These elements have a further effect on the heart. Earth expands the heart and increases tolerance. Water develops creativity, generosity, empathy, and love. Fire develops power, radiance, and courage. Air develops listening, expressing the heart, and growth.
Doing this practice daily will develop each of the qualities of the four elements. You can also choose which breath would be helpful to a specific need or situation and focus on that breath.