Elemental Purification Breaths
When we get up each morning, we can attune to the elements, to feel the elements within ourselves, to feel the earth within ourselves — no longer to feel ourselves as occupants of the earth or residents on planet earth, but as the earth itself experiencing herself through us. And if we live in that way, in the sensuous encounter with the elements, with the sky and the trees and the rivers and the earth, then more and more we’ll appreciate what is earthly, what is natural, what comes of the elements.Pir Zia Inayat Khan
General Instructions and Foundational Practice
This cycle of breaths is ideally practiced in the morning, if possible outside or in front of an open window. Stand upright in a comfortable position, feet slightly apart, hands at your side, palms forward. For many, this practice is a daily ritual and sets the stage for a meaningful day!
Earth Breath: In the nose, out the nose (5x), visualizing the color gold.
Water Breath: In the nose, out the mouth (5x), visualizing the color green.
Fire Breath: In the mouth, out the nose (5x), visualizing the color red.
Air Breath: In the mouth, out the mouth (5x), visualizing the color blue.
Ether Breath: In the nose, out the nose, very refined (5x), visualizing the color grey, or imaging transparency.
Nayaz – Healing Prayer
Full Practice with Contemplations
(a) Concentrate on the element of the earth and feel the contact between your body and the chair or the floor. Breathe in and out through the nose. This is the earth breath. Be aware of the weight of your body, allowing it to relax into the pull of gravity. You might imagine yourself as a tree, rooted in the earth, and with every exhalation imagine feeling your roots going deeper and deeper, and with the inhalation the telluric energy will rise up into your trunk and into your branches, so you can grow leaves, flowers and fruit. Continue this for awhile. Exhaling go deep into the earth and inhaling imagine the energy rising so your crown can become wide, strong and healthy. Identify with the tree, feel your roots deeply anchored in the earth and feel with every exhalation a deeper sense of connection with the earth and with every inhalation the sense of expansion, growth, flourishing.
(b) Continue with the earth breath. Let go of the image of the tree but keep the feeling within you. Now start exchanging energy with the earth, exchange magnetism as Murshid says. With every exhalation let go of everything inside that we do not need anymore, all the stagnant energy of our being. Just let it flow down through the base center, the Muladhara chakra, into the earth – with a sense of gratitude, as the earth is able to absorb it and transform it into fresh, revivifying energy. On the inhalation every cell is filled with the revitalizing energy of the earth – the mind becomes cleared the heart refreshed and alive – as we draw this fresh energy into our being.
(c) Now let us contemplate the earth quality in ourselves and in our life. The earth quality gives us stability, structure, and grounds us in our work, in our relationships and in our lives. How do we develop this quality? By taking responsibility, by devoting ourselves to a task in life which is meaningful to us, by creating structure and discipline. Also, through our relationships, by taking on certain roles in life. This helps our ego to define itself. The earth quality gives us a sense of belonging, of solidity, of a sense that we have a place; it makes us secure and grounded in our lives.
Questions for Contemplation:
- What is it that provides a stable foundation in my life, what structures support me,
- What anchors me? Think of both your outer life and your inner life.
- When my life becomes unstable what is it that I can come back to, fall back on and trust so that I can regain my stability?
- Is my connection to the earth strong or weak right now? Am I in a position that I feel grounded in my life right now, and if it feels shaky, what could help me to stabilize it?
(a) Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Emphasize the out-breath the feeling of water flowing downward as you breathe out. Identify yourself with water – a downward purifying flow, a calm lake, the rushing waters of a stream or river, whatever form comes to you – sense your cool, liquid texture. How is it to be water, a lake or a river?
Then feel the heat of the sun which is shining on you, and feel how by the heat of the sun some of your substance is transformed into vapor. This vapor rises up into the sky and takes on the ever-changing form of a cloud. So, allow yourself to be transformed into a cloud high up in the sky. Feel the wind blowing through you, a cool wind, and then allow this cool wind to make you more dense and you cool off more and more, and finally you fall down to the earth as rain. Now combine all this with your breath. Inhaling rise as vapor high up into the sky forming a cloud, exhaling feel yourself pouring down onto the earth as rain. This is the ever continuing cycle of the water element, the ever-changing quality of water.
(b) Now let go of this identification. With the inhalation let your consciousness rise high into the purity of the angelic spheres as you inhale – feel that these spheres are full of light and transparency. With every exhalation let this luminous energy of light and purity flow down through your body, your heart, your mind, your soul and let it purify your whole being. Let the impurities be washed from your soul. This very fine celestial energy flows through your body and purifies it as you exhale.
(c) Now contemplate what this quality of the water element represents in your being and your life. Water is associated with feeling; it is the emotional quality of our being. It has to do with fluidity, the flow of our emotions and the flow of life. If our emotions can move freely they nourish us and they carry us through our life just as water runs through a river bed and nourishes all the plants growing at its shore. But to feel this, we have to allow our emotions to move freely. If our emotions are blocked, our being cannot grow; it dries up. The fluidity of the water element has also another aspect to it. It symbolizes the flexibility and mobility of our being. If water meets an obstacle on its way it has the ability to flow around it; if our emotions are flowing freely, then we can find alternative solutions to the problems in our life.
Questions for Contemplation:
- Do I allow my emotions to move freely, or do I block certain emotions?
- How do I encounter obstacles in my life, do I have a tendency to get rigid and fight the obstacles or do I try to flow around the obstacles, being flexible and finding alternative ways to handle my problems?
- Water also stands for the divine grace. Are we open enough to receive the divine grace, and are we aware of all the gifts that life offers us every day and are we grateful for them?
(a) Now let go of these questions and concentrate on the next element, fire. We breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose and the emphasis is on the in-breath through the mouth. We do it with slightly closed lips so we can hear the in-breath, it is audible. And the out-breath is silent. This emphasis gets us into the rising and dynamic quality of the fire. Identify with fire. Be this red, hot flame and feel this dynamic energy that you are, this enormous energy, feel the upward movement with every in-breath and hear the fire inside, the sounds of the fire, and also be aware of the light that shines forth from you. How does it feel to be fire?
(b) Let go of the identification, but stay with the breath and the sensation of the fire element. While you inhale in this audible way, you breathe in through your solar plexus – the place where we store all our experiences which we have not worked through, old wounds, traumas; it is all the unfinished business of our inner processing and it sits in our solar plexus as undigested food sits in our stomach. So when we breathe into the solar plexus, there is this little flame that we stir into a big fire that has the ability to burn up, to transform everything that we have stored in our solar plexus, things that block the emotional flow and the unfoldment of our being. At the end of the inhalation we let the light of the fire rise up into our heart and then with the exhalation we let this light radiate out into the world. Be careful that you let the light of the flame and not the flame itself rise into your heart.
We imagine how our heart – just like the sun – sends out light in all directions. It radiates both from the front, the back and the sides.
(c) What does fire represent in our life? It feeds our will power and it supports us in our striving towards a goal, and it fills our body, our thoughts, words and actions with this dynamic energy which makes us go out and change something in the world. And this breath burns away everything that has become stale, rigid, old, obsolete, anything that is not true, not real any more. It helps us get out of stale patterns and get ready for the rebirth. The fire breath has a lot to do with truth and truthfulness, it makes us real and helps us let go of the unreal, so finally the light of truth can shine and radiate from our heart.
Questions for Contemplation:
- What is the fire in my life that gives me power and dynamism for my enterprises and plans to become realized? Where do I draw my life energy from?
- What inspires me, what fills my heart and mind with enthusiasm, with passion?
- What is needed to let my light shine?
(a) We breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth, it is a very fine breath, not audible at all. Let us identify with the element of the air, sense its lightness, its swiftness. As air you have no weight, no heaviness that ties you down to the earth, you are free, just feel yourself moving freely through the space, no boundaries, you can extend your being in all directions, you become vast and wide, no limitations, no fixed form, no contours, and you are transparent so the light can shine through you. There is no denseness that can block the light off, just feel this transparency, the lightness, this enormous freedom.
(b) Take this feeling of the air into the second part of the practice – on the exhalation imagine that all the atoms of your being dissolve into the vastness of the universe. Let go of your self-image, give up all definitions of yourself, let your personal emotions dissolve in the grandiosity of cosmic emotions, let your personal thoughts vanish in the wisdom of the universe. There are no boundaries. And when you inhale, experience the rebirth of your being. You are born anew as a completely different being –vast, wide and one with the universe.
As Murshid says, “The first birth is the birth of man and the second birth is the birth of God (in ourselves).”
(c) The air element represents freedom, and in terms of our personality it is the freedom from all the things that we hang on to for the security of our ego: our fixed self-image, the attempt to keep up a positive self-image. We need to free ourselves from our dependency on other people, on material things – this does not mean that we give up all this, but we do not want to be dependent on them, that we cannot do without them. This freedom allows us to be free from our ego, a quality that allows us to let go of everything we hold on to. Pir Vilayat said the air breath is the secret of rishis and dervishes because it supports the process of ‘fana’ – we let the ego dissolve in the nameless and the formless, in the divine essence. We melt with the one being, the ground of all existence. This is the ultimate place that the air breath can take us to. If we want to become one with our divine essence, we need to find out what stands in the way, because all of this works against our goal. Once we find out the obstacles, we can free ourselves from them and liberate our true self. So always ask what hinders me?
Questions for Contemplation:
- How intensely do I feel the longing for freedom in my life right now?
- In what areas of my life do I experience expansiveness and freedom?
- How do I hold on to or feed the idea of my separate individuality?
Nayaz – Healing Prayer
The healing prayer Nayaz can also be said at the end of the practice, hands placed approximately at waist or belly height with palms facing upwards.
Beloved Lord, Almighty God!
Through the rays of the sun, through the waves of the air, through the All-pervading Life in space,
Purify and revivify me, and, I pray, heal my body, heart, and soul.