Traditional yoga practice is associated with mystical and
psychic powers developed through special breathing techniques
known as pranayama. According to Hindu teaching,
there is a subtle vitality known as prana in the air that we breath,
and management of prana has a special effect on the human
organism in energizing the chakras, or subtle centers in the
body associated with spiritual development and psychic side effects.
Pranayama involves special techniques of breathing alternately
with right and left nostrils, with a special period of retention.
Other exercises involve rapid breathing.
In some instances, levitation is said to be achieved by
breathing exercises. Baron Schrenck-Notzing recorded the
case of a young man who thus levitated his own body 27 times.
In his book Mysterious Psychic Forces (1907), Camille Flammarion
stated ‘‘The breathing seems to have a very great influence.
In the way things take place it seems as if the sitters released
by breathing an amount of motor energy comparable to
that which they release when rapidly moving their limbs. There
is something in this [that is] very curious and difficult to explain.’’
Hereward Carrington and other psychic researchers have
often drawn attention to the so-called ‘‘lifting game,’’ in which
four persons lift a fifth by their fingertips, each of the four rapidly
inhaling and exhaling in unison, then lifting the subject by
a fingertip under each arm and leg. Sometimes the subject is
seated on a chair to facilitate the positioning of fingertips.
Carrington tried the experiment on the platform of a large
self-registering scale, and in The Story of Psychic Science (1930)
‘‘On the first lift the recorder stated that the needle on the
dial had fallen to 660 lbs. (the combined weight was found previously
to be 712 lbs.), a loss of 52 lbs. On the second lift there
was an apparent loss of 52 lbs.; on the third lift of 60 lbs.; on
the fourth lift of 60 lbs.; and on the fifth lift of 60 lbs. No gain
of weight was at any time recorded (owing to the muscular exertion),
invariably a loss, which, however, slowly returned to normal
as the subject was held for some considerable time in the
air. I have no theory to offer as to these observations, which I
cannot fully explain.’’
However, modern commentators suggest that the apparent
ease with which the subject is lifted by fingertips is related to
the distribution of weight on several points, rather like the
principle involved when a fakir lies on a bed of sharp nails without
injuring himself. Carrington’s method of measuring weight
loss was too simple a procedure, ignoring such factors as sudden
thrust exerted by the lifters.
The association of pranayama with levitation has been revived
more recently by the special ‘‘siddhi’’ program of Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, whose system derives from such standard
Hindu texts as the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali. Bhagwan Shree
Rajneesh, another modern Indian religious leader, also prescribed
special breathing techniques for his followers, although
these did not appear to have similar spectacular psychic results.
They were more reminiscent of the techniques of the Western
mystic Gurdjieff, whose followers often demonstrated remarkable
physical control through special breathing.
Breathing techniques have effects on the human organism
and contribute to some yogic feats, and also by the related systems
of Japanese martial arts, especially kung-fu, where it is
claimed that a subtle energy named ch’i (analagous to the
Hindu prana) is accumulated, amplified, and directed by willpower
to specific parts of the body, developing astonishing
strength and resilience. This process is normally preceded by
a sudden exhalation of breath, sometimes accompanied by a
shout or yell. The intake of breath that follows appears to result
in hyperventilation of the system, generating vitality that can
be directed to hands, feet, or other parts of the body. Practitioners
demonstrate the ability to break bricks, tiles, or heavy
planks of wood with a bare hand.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Breathing
It is interesting to note that special techniques of breathing
associated with mystical and psychic development are common
to many Asian countries, from India, to Tibet, China, and
Japan. These all postulate that a subtle principle exists in the
air, and a system of management of that principle occurs in the
subtle centers of the body. Of course, traditional Indian yoga
teachings present psychic feats as merely side effects of spiritual
development, to be discarded for the higher goals of mysticism,
and that advanced pranayama techniques, as well as the
special physical positions of hatha yoga, should be preceded by
strict preliminary practices of yama and niyama (moral observances
and ethical restraints). Pranayama is said to begin spontaneously
with the perfection of hatha yoga positions, and
proper breathing facilitates the advanced techniques. Also with
the development of pranayama, a mystical force known as kundalini
is aroused and led from the lowest chakras to the highest,
culminating in a mystical center in the head, conferring
higher consciousness.
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