Do you object to my doing some pranayama [[Pranayama: breathing exercises. ]] before I begin working?
I think it would do you good, mon petit.
I began three days ago, but I keep getting entangled with the traditional formation around it: “Oh, it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous, be careful.” So this morning I thought I’d better speak to you about it.
Are you doing it without instructions?
There’s a traditional way of doing it, I know the formula.
How does it go?
The time varies. You inhale through the left nostril for let’s say 4 seconds, then you hold your breath for 16 seconds, raising the diaphragm and closing all the openings; after 16 seconds you exhale for 8 seconds through the other nostril.
Are these the “official” figures?
Yes; I mean that’s the proportion: inhale 4, hold 16, exhale 8.
It has to be double the exhalation. If you do 8, then it’s 8-32-16.
I did it myself for years, using the same system: inhale, hold, exhale, remain empty. But holding the lungs empty is said to be dangerous, so I don’t advise it. I did it for years. Without knowing it, Sri Aurobindo and I did it nearly the same way, along with all sorts of other things that aren’t supposed to be done! This is to tell you that the danger is mainly in what you think. In the course of certain movements, both of us made the air go out through the crown of the head – apparently that’s only to be done when you want to die! (Mother laughs) It didn’t kill us.
No, the “danger” is MAINLY a thought formation.
You can achieve excellent control of the heart. But I never practiced it violently, never strained myself. I think holding for 16 is too long. I used to do it simply like this: breathe in very slowly to the count of 4, then hold for 4 like this (I still have the knack of it!), lifting the diaphragm and lowering the head [[Uddiyana-bandha and jalandhara-bandha. ]] (Mother bends her neck), closing everything and exerting pressure (this is an almost instantaneous cure for hiccups – it’s handy!). Then while I held the air, I would make it circulate with the force (because it contained force, you see) and with the peace as well; and I would concentrate it wherever there was a physical disorder (a pain or something wrong somewhere). It’s very effective. The way I did it was: inhale, hold, exhale and empty – you are completely empty. It’s very useful; very handy for underwater swimmers, for instance!
I had trouble breathing in slowly enough – that’s a bit hard. I began with 4 and eventually managed to do 12. I did 12-12-12-12. It took me months to reach that, it can’t be done quickly. To breathe in very slowly and hold all that air isn’t easy.
Now I have lost the knack, I can barely do more than 6 (Mother demonstrates). I count: 1-2-3-4 … no quicker.
And exhale slowly – that’s very difficult – being careful to empty the top part of the lungs, because air often stagnates there. This seems to be one of the most frequent causes of coughs and colds. When I had bronchitis I learned to empty the air out completely. And I knew singing, so I was familiar with the method: you learn to hold the air and then release it slowly, slowly, so as to keep singing nonstop.
I advise you to practice it.
How much time do you spend on it?
Eight to ten minutes, three times a day before my japa.
Oh, that’s very good.
I don’t know why, but I got entangled with that traditional formation which says it’s dangerous.
Someone put it on you, mon petit!
It troubled me.
No, it’s not at all dangerous, at least if you don’t overdo it. If you do it simply…. I think some people practice pranayama with the idea of gaining “powers.” That idea of gaining powers fouls it up more than anything. But if you do it simply as a help to your progress, there’s no danger.
At any rate, Sri Aurobindo and I both did a lot of things considered dangerous, and absolutely nothing happened to us. Not that it’s necessary to do dangerous things, but nothing happened to us, so it all depends on how you do them.
I think you can safely forget about this formation.
But instead of doing equal amounts of time, it might be better to do less for inhaling and more for holding the breath. The holding part is extremely interesting! When the air is inside, let’s say you have a headache or a sore throat or a pain in your arm, anything – then you take the air … (Mother demonstrates) and direct it to the unwell part … very, very helpful and pleasant and interesting. You see the force go to the spot, settle in and stay there, all sorts of things.