This is a delicate area. Gurdjieff did not advise doing exercises that directly altered the tempo of our breathing unless they were well integrated with other appropriate activities such as the Movements or hard physical work. According to Gurdjieff, altering the tempo of our breathing could disrupt the functioning of our centers and cause harm to our already malfunctioning organism. On the other hand, a lot of us don't breath properly to begin with, usually breathing to shallow and only into the top part of the chest, whereas deep abdominal breathing is natural. This can be corrected if one is very careful and methodical. Our emotional states are intimately connected to the way we breathe. Proper breathing will modulate the functioning of the emotional center and prevent or diminish overly emotional reactions to certain situations where we tend to become too Identified. Before one proceeds to normalize ones breathing, one needs to observe ones habitual breathing pattern in many situations, especially those when one is overly emotional. One needs to notice the situations where one breaths deeply or shallow and the emotions and thoughts that accompany those situations. Observe how you breathe in different emotional states - Fast? Slow? Gasping? Holding? Deep? Shallow?
Air is second being food. Thus awareness of breathing is more important than any particular breathing exercise, as long as one breathes properly to begin with, that is, deep into the diaphragm. Simply following your breathing during your daily activities and after eating will greatly assist in your efforts toward being present, especially when combined with sensing and taking in impressions consciously.
Normal breathing is diaphramatic breathing deep into the solar plexus. If you are a shallow breather you can work at normalizing your breathing by consciously initiating diaphramatic breathing several times a day until it becomes more natural. Don't over do it and don't force it as it may take some time. You are slowly reprogramming you autonomic nervous system from years of unconscious abuse. This will also help to normalize the functioning of your emotional center.
During meditation the breathing naturally tends to slow down and become quiet. It has been said that the ultimate breathing exercise is the complete cessation of breathing. You will only approach this state during deep meditation. During normal meditation or Sitting, one may simply follow the breath and its associated Sensations.
During Movements, your breathing will be altered in various ways depending on the Movement. Some of the Sufi dances are very powerful as is the Fourth Obligatory because they involve very vigorous breathing.
Sufi Zikrs and Yoga Pranayama can also be very powerful but should not be practiced without some supervision as hyperventilation can result. Hyperventilation can produce states of euphoria, but these are of limited value unless combined with certain other practices. The value of these states is questionable. Extreme cases can lead to painful spasms in the hands and feet, over-emotional reactions or the expression of repressed or unconscious emotions and memories. Nevertheless, a little experience in this area is beneficial. In that spirit I offer the following Sufi Zikr.
The Silent Zikr
There are two variations of this exercise. The first is silent and can be done anywhere, any time and the second is the more vigorous and is done sitting down.
The first version can be done anytime during the normal course of the day. It is done silently and without obvious external manifestation or major alteration of normal breathing.
The basic pattern involves a count of eight, each count of an equal length that is comfortable and normal. Start with three out breaths, then one pause and finally one long in-breath to a count of four. This is done for twenty counts whereupon one makes an out-breath from and holds it for a count of eight and then inhales by relaxing the diaphram and holds it for a count of eight. The sequence repeated three times and after a short break may be started again.
The second form has a similar breathing pattern but the breathing is much deeper and more vigorous and it is done sitting down cross-legged with hands resting on the knees.
The basic pattern involves a count of eight, each count of an equal length that is comfortable. Start with three sharp, forceful, loud out breaths from the diaphram, then one pause and finally one long, slow, relaxed in-breath to a count of four. The in-breath is done by simply relaxing the diaphram, not forcefully expanding it. This is done for twenty counts whereupon one makes a deep out-breath from the diaphram and holds it out for a count of eight and then inhales deeply into the diaphram and holds it for a count of eight. The sequence repeated three times only and then one sits quietly for five or ten minutes while doing a Sightless Gaze and Sensing and holding the emotional center in a neutral state. The final out-breath and in-breath can be held for longer than the count of eight if it is comfortable. The counting can be kept with the hands by touching the thumb and fingers together sequentially.
Pondering on Breath
Who is breathing?
Why is breathing necessary?
How does breathing help His Endlessness?
Why do I breath differently in different situations?
How does breathing affect my emotions?
Why did Gurdjieff recommend attention to breathing after eating?
The Endless Search © 2004 Ian C. MacFarlane