Habit of Heart and Lungs

That (Asana) Having Been Perfected, Regulation Of The Flow Of Inhalation And Exhalation Is Pranayama (Breath Control) 2.49

That Pranayama Has [1] External Operation (Vahya-Vrtti), [2] Internal Operation (Abhyantara-Vrtti) And [3] Supression (Stambha-Vrtti). These, Again, When Observed According to Space, Time And Number Become Long And Subtle. 2.50

The Fourth Pranayama Transcends External and Internal Operations. 2.51

By That The Veil over Manifestation Is Thinned. 2.52

The Mind Acquires Fitness For Dharana [Concentration]. 2.53

~Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, Samkhya-yogacharya Swami Hariharananda Aranya

The skillful magician often fits the description: low tension/high energy. Although most of the rest of us achieve moments of this which contribute to flashes of insight and occasional smooth transitions during life changing situation, the magician cultivates this state so that it may be more permanent, useful and ultimately predictable. The rest of us tend to move between high tension/low energy and low tension/low energy (archetypes of the hanged man, and the hermit) some are fortunate enough to excel to high energy/high tension (the emperor archetype).

The push and pull of tension can be useful in some practices, specifically those involving ecstatic movement, but the goal of ecstasy is essentially to overwhelm the senses to a degree that tension is completely impossible and these senses then collapse inward on a single point of focus. However, The outcome of these practices has a tendency toward greater result if the practitioner begins at a low state of tension then consciously or unconsciously directing their flow of tension into ecstasy. So willful tension seems good in some cases.

Low tension allows for greater powers of fixed concentration. Fluidity in life requires low tension, otherwise disease (physical or emotional) infiltrates through the holes in the human matrix. A skillful magician should be able to shift his or her unwavering concentration from one thing to the next without batting an eyelash or crashing the car.

There are many methods by which a practitioner can begin to cultivate this state of low tension/high energy. As a trained hatha yogi and qi-gong man the ones I will herein describe require no additional esoteric equipment, no knives made of strange metals, no pentagrams etched in wax. All you need is your hands, your body and your heart beat.

When someone experiences prolonged unhappiness and depression they tend to breathe quickly in and very slowly out. When angry the breath comes out quick and goes in harsh, but stays shallow. When surprised or shocked the breath comes in deeply and sharply then comes out quickly. How someone breathes indicates a lot about their emotional state and therefore their state of tension. Consequently, how someone breathes also has the tendency to change his or her emotional state. 

Patanjali, paraphrased heavily here, indicates that the simplest technique towards Samadhi involves watching the breath and keeping it even and smooth. The more conventional, traditional (?), modern teaching has it that breathing slowly, deeply, without pauses, smoothly, and softly will get you there. 

The Vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) travels from the brain down most of the trunk of the body. On the way it innervates heart and many of the organs, therefore speeding up or slowing down our heart rate dependant on internal and external environmental factors. Because of this action it serves as the most easily accessible switch between the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system provides us with the fight or flight stress response and the parasympathetic with the rest and digest response. The diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle, may actually massage and stimulate a sensory portion of the vagus nerve if we are breathing very deeply. After prolonged, controlled breathing of this nature the parasympathetic nervous system transitions on and the heart rate slows and tension diminishes.

So the first key to the magician’s state of low tension/high energy is this sensory portion of the vagus nerve. Breathing deeply. This also has the result of bringing more oxygen into the body and releasing more carbon dioxide resulting in more energy.

LIBER CCC part 1: Deconditio Prefundis
Preliminary practice: (breathe only through the nose)

(A) Establishing a Baseline

  1. Place one hand over the navel
  2. Place the other hand over the heart
  3. Breathe normally and notice which hand moves more

(B) Deepening the Breath

  1. Breathe so that only the hand over the belly button moves, practice until the hand over the heart does not move at all for 30 minutes, then continue to step 2
  2. Breathe deeply into the belly then continue to breathe until the ribs expand laterally. Allow no movement in the upper chest, when you exhale: close the ribs first, then allow the belly to fall back towards the spine as you allow the breath to leave. When you can do this for 30 minutes move to step 3
  3. Breathe deeply into the belly, then continue to breathe until the ribs expand, and now finally continue to breathe so that the chest (energetic heart) expands and lifts towards the sky (ceiling, whatever). Lower the chest, then close the ribs, then allow the abdomen to fall as the breath leaves. When you can breathe this way for 30 minutes continue to C.

Congratulations on breathing deeply!
(C) Softening the breath

  1. Breathe as in (B)
  2. Focus your attention on your nostrils and feel the breath moving in and out here, when you can do this for 10 minutes continuously go to 3
  3. Consciously soften your breathing until you can feel a cool touch against your nostrils as you breathe in and a warmer touch as you breathe out.
  4. When you can do this for 30 minutes continue to (D)

(D) Evening the breath

  1. Breathe as in (B) and (C)
  2. Count your heartbeat to see how long it takes to breathe all the way in slowly and deeply, while still noticing the touch of breath against the nose
  3. Match this number to your exhalation so if you breathe in to 5 you breathe out to 5
  4. Increase the duration of the breath incrementally until you reach 20
  5. When this can be accomplished continuously for 30 minutes move on to (E)

(E) Demiurgic Breathing

  1. Lie on the floor or sit in a steady asana
  2. Work your way into breathing as per the end of D, then discontinue counting
  3. Continuing to breathe deeply and slowly remain as still as possible
  4. Use as little muscle as possible to breathe in and out, keep the breath soft
  5. Try not to think
  6. Practice this for at least 30 minutes daily, record results, visions etc.

Congratulations! You have successfully begun the process of self-deconditioning and tension reduction that is essential to success.

At first the breathing may stop and start and not feel very continuous, or you may have an easy time for the first few breaths then they become labored and uncomfortable with constant stops and starts. Focus on each breath individually and just try to do your best. With practice the kinks, as they say, work out.