tao of natural breathing
Correct breathing should come as natural to us as, well, breathing. But it doesn't. In fact, most of us so take the simple act of respiration for granted that we have learned to breathe shallowly and, indeed, incorrectly - allowing for a host of all sorts of detrimental knock-on effects. But what does that have to do with the world of ideas and the 'life of the mind' anyway? Well, quite a lot actually as we're coming to learn.

This week on MindMatters join us as we delve into Dennis Lewis' The Tao of Natural Breathing - where a number of crucial connections are made not only between the science of breathing and physiological well-being, but also the benefits given to cognition, our emotional life - and greater perception of our inner and outer directed states of awareness. There are some very good reasons why numerous ancient cultures saw breath as the key and gateway to gaining life force, good health and even spiritual vitality - and perhaps now is as good a time as any to learn why.

Running Time: 01:21:09

Download: MP3 — 74.3 MB

Learn the Eiriu Eolas breathing program here.

Here's the transcript of the show:

Elan: Hello everyone and welcome back to Mind Matters on this first show of the new year of 2020. This week we are discussing a book called The Tao of Natural Breathing. Is that a good image there Adam? We look good? Great! {laughter} First I want to thank Harrison for suggesting the book as a way to start off the new year because on Mind Matters we've usually focused on very intellectual subject matter. That's kind of the cause of our show, to get thoughts moving and ideas stimulated and our perspectives put into a better perspective on world events, social movements, various things.

But when we drill down and think about how it is that we even come to perceive so much of our world, ourselves, our relationships, there seems to be a basic structure or underlying firmament that we miss and that is the very health and state of our own being, our own minds. So I think it's very fitting. This has been a wonderful book to read as a reminder of the importance of a very basic thing that we quite often take for granted and that is how we breathe. Several years ago I learned a technique called Éiriú Eolas which means growth of knowledge in Gaelic and came to teach a class. It has several modalities included in it or ways in which to breathe that stimulate the vagus nerve, use diaphragmatic breathing, breathe in very rigorous manners to get circulation going and to invigorate ourselves and our minds in ways that we are not used to, a psychospiritual detoxification, if you will.

So this book has been an excellent reminder and expansion upon the very reasons why I took the instruction of becoming a teacher in Éiriú Eolas. Corey and Harrison also have a lot of experience teaching and practicing Éiriú Eolas but there's something that this book seems to do that I think is very useful for us and that is to drill down and become aware of ourselves from a very basic place where we can grow into the more rigorous and vigorous practices that we're used to engaging in with such exercise. I was very impressed with it. I thought that Dennis Lewis, in writing this book, created a great distillation of concepts that we are used to reading from Gurdjieff and books like Boris Mouravieff's Gnosis in which he doesn't get so much into breathing per se in that series, but there's a discussion of finer energies and inducing breath to create energy and store vitality in ourselves that I think is at the very heart of what Tao of Natural Breathing is assisting us in trying to do.

Harrison: Well I want to give a little bit of background on how I found this book first of all because I hadn't heard of it before, but I was doing some searching and one thing led to another and I found the author Dennis Lewis and this book and the reason I found him is he was in what's called the Gurdjieff work. He was working with Gurdjieff foundation groups. I really like Gurdjieff and reading stuff about him, etc., so I was wondering what he had to say about breathing exercises because I have a little bit of an awareness on the importance of breathing.

So this one caught my eye. He's got one or two other books on breathing and an audio course as well. But I checked it out and started reading it and I found that while it is called The Tao of Natural Breathing and it does come from a Taoist perspective - he talks about some teachers he had, some methods he learned from Taoist teachers including Mantak Chia - but the book itself, if you ignore the Taoist perspective of it, like you said, it seems to me like a distillation of a lot of the things that Gurdjieff was talking about.

Right up front I'll just say I don't know a lot about Mantak Chia. I haven't looked into him very much at all so at this point I wouldn't be able to actually endorse him or even some of the actual exercises that he gets into in this book. For the most part what I initially found useful from this was looking at it as the basics, an overall theory and perspective and some basic principles about breathing to get across and those principles are exemplified in a lot of the specific breathing exercises that he gives. It goes sequentially. It starts with very basic and then gets into more advanced stuff and then for the really weird advanced stuff he refers to Mantak Chia's books. I don't know if I'll ever do that.

So what I do think is most valuable at this time from this book is the basic principles and the overall framework for what breathing is, why it's important and what needs to change for most people. Again, a lot of that is just a recapitulation from what we've all learned from the Éiriú Eolas program. I know some of our viewers are familiar with it and those who aren't can check it out. We'll have a link in the description to it.

One of the aspects that drew me to this book, while searching for Gurdjieff-related stuff, just to give a bit of background, you mentioned that book Boris Mouravieff's Gnosis. It's pretty much just a recapitulation with some extra stuff and some expansions on what Ouspensky wrote about Gurdjieff's system. So it's this vast, theoretical system of all this weird stuff about worlds and cosmoses and what he calls hydrogens, which are different elements that get transformed and accumulated in the body and it is a pretty interesting, intellectual mountain that Gurdjieff created and which Ouspensky and Mouravieff laid out in these books.

But the thing about it is that there isn't a lot of the really down to earth practical stuff in there. If you look closely enough you'll see that it is there. It's hinted at, but it's not like he says, "Okay, here are the things to do every day to put this in practice." That really only came later in Gurdjieff's life at least, in what he was doing. But what the breathing exercises do, what this book lays out is a really practical down to earth example of how to put that stuff into practice and it really makes clear how important it is to be able to sense your body. That's one of those clues that's hidden right there on the surface of even Gurdjieff's intellectual work that you can just read and gloss over.

He mentions it all the time. He divides the human being into three centers, the physical moving center, the emotional center and the thinking center. When you read about that, at first if you're not familiar with looking at things in terms of that it might be kind of confusing to be able to first figure out what is what if you don't have any real practice of looking at and observing yourself. But then you get an idea intellectually of what that means and then after that, that's when ideally the practice should come. So you have to realize that actually you do have a body. There are things going on in your body and there are mysteries and things hidden within your body that you can make conscious.

Oftentimes in a lot of methods and different psychoanalytic traditions and teachings it's all about the Jungian approach, making the unconscious conscious, but it's all about mental stuff, like past emotions and traumas and things you're going through and things that are often dealt with in your mind in a very intellectual way but at the very base of that is the body that you're inhabiting. That is the first step that Dennis Lewis lays out in his book, to actually gain an awareness of your body. Gurdjieff actually said numerous times that that's where you had to start, in your body because most people are in their heads or they're so in their emotions that they get carried by their emotions.

That's why he used the image of the horse-drawn carriage. The whole system has to be balanced otherwise if the horses aren't trained, the horses just lead you off wherever they want to go. That's the emotions. The body itself, you can have a really strong carriage but if you've got weak horses, weak emotions, they're not going to get you very far. Or you can have a decrepit old carriage that's falling to pieces, like a diseased body that's not working very well. In this image of course, in Gurdjieff's system, the master is missing. There's no one actually directing the carriage. You need someone who actually knows what's going on to direct the whole system.

So the way to start, at least this way to start, is to focus on the body, focus on gaining sensations of the body and by focusing on the breathing to start out with. I'll give one example to start out with and that is diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing. For people who don't know, the way we breathe is we have this muscle attached to our ribcage in the back near the spine. It's a dome-shaped muscle and as it contracts it goes down and creates a vacuum that then pulls and expands the lungs and that's how air enters into the lungs.

When you're breathing with your diaphragm, because your diaphragm contracts down, it pushes the organs in your belly and it expands them out. So your belly moves out as you breathe, as your diaphragm contracts. But if you watch a lot of people - and this is the way I was and still am to a degree because I was asthmatic as a kid and still have to work with that daily to make sure I'm belly breathing - but a lot of people just breathe in their chest. So their shoulders go up and their chest goes out but their belly stays flat. So all of these chest muscles are doing a lot of work that they have to do in the situation because they're not breathing correctly, but they're doing more work than they are designed for. Those should be the secondary muscles for breathing but for a lot of people - I don't know the exact statistics - they're not breathing with their diaphragm and I guess probably their diaphragm is like any muscle. It needs some practice in order to develop and get stronger and be able to actually carry more of the load that it should.

There are a few different directions we can go from that, one of which is that by utilizing these muscles, it's a general principle in this way of looking at breathing, that unnecessary tension in a lot of muscles is a waste of energy. So if you're chronically tense in certain areas or using muscles that shouldn't be used and over-exerting certain muscles, that's excess tension in your life and your body that is wasting energy that could be used for another purpose.

So along with sensation and getting in touch with the sensations in your body, another foundational point is the importance of relaxation, to be able to put your body and also your emotions and mind in a relaxed state because it's in that relaxed state that that energy gets freed up because your body is no longer diverting attention and resources to keeping that tension, that very literal tension in some cases, in the actual structure of your body, your musculature, but it can also be mental tension or emotional tension. It's those knots that we have, literal and figurative knots, in our muscles and in our minds, that divert all that energy oftentimes.

You can see that in obsessions. We all have obsessions at some point in our day or in our lives where we are uncontrollably focused on something and that could be an interpersonal problem that we've just recently experienced, we've gotten in a fight or argument or just a disagreement with someone and then we're ruminating on it. We're going over it in our minds and it's uncontrollable. It often happens before you go to sleep and you just can't turn off your mind. It's just going and going and going. You could call that a mental or emotional knot. The benefit of first learning to focus on your breath and to actually enter a relaxed state facilitated by breathing exercises that activate the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve, will put you in a relaxed state where you can divert your attention from that obsession, that mind chatter, from whatever it is that's occupying you so much, to something else.

Just like a little child that's having a tantrum or something, it's distracting the attention of that tantrum-throwing child to something else and that something else is the thing that is lacking in most of our lives. It's the thing that we probably should be devoting some attention to but we just never get the opportunity because we're so busy. Our bodies are so busy. Our minds are so busy and they're busy on things that matter on some level but that probably don't matter on the more important levels. There are things that we should be devoting some time to that will have benefits for us in numerous ways but oftentimes we don't even realize that there are other things that we can divert our attention towards.

Corey: Just to add to the list of things that make breathing so important for the body, if you notice that your vehicle is manifesting decreased engine power, a mechanic would probably tell you the first thing is have you changed the intake air filter for the engine because the engine needs to breathe and if you have a very dirty filter, you will notice that the engine power will decrease extraordinarily. It'll be like a completely different engine just because the air filter hasn't been changed according to the specifications of the manufacturer.

It's the same with the body. He lays it out. In the human body we need air. Our brains need significant amounts of oxygen. Every cell, the mitochondria, needs a significant amount of everything that you get in through the breath in order to manufacture ATP and all these other things. Not only that, that's just the intake. The exhalation, as he points out - and I'm not sure about the statistic - but he says that 70% of the detox in the body takes place through exhalation.

So if you're not taking in deep breaths and exhaling more, then you're not getting enough energy in and you're not getting enough toxins out. He goes on and points out, like you were saying, that that leads to a number of different problems that you won't necessarily be aware of, just on a physiological level. And then on the psychological level, for a lot of people - and speaking as teachers of that Éiriú Eolas program -- you notice that people don't necessarily want to breathe very deeply because you notice a lot more things, as you were saying. Your mind become opened up to a lot more of the sensations within your body, traumas or repressed tensions, things that we repress for a reason and that we can use breathing exercises to work through and to help break down those barriers so that you can experience those things in a way that is fulfilling, that leads to more of a wholeness in your psyche, an integration of your being, for lack of a better word, the being being something that we don't necessarily study so much in western academia.

So you tend to have to rely on the theoretical frameworks of other cultures or of esoteric schools like Gurdjieff or Taoism and all of these different theoretical explanations for why it is so important to breathe and how over thousands of years different teachers and students have noticed that breathing plays a significant part in their own healing and in their own growth as a human being. Just by being an Éiriú Eolas teacher and practitioner you notice that it can lead, in just one session, to big emotional breakthroughs, just by students learning how to breathe with their belly, to take deeper breaths and to exhale all of those toxins. It's really quite fascinating to see how it works.

I don't know which theoretical explanation is the best but the one thing that I really enjoyed about the book The Tao of Natural Breathing is that he has references. Partly it's academic, but then there are exercises and then he has references to a number of different systems. He'll cite modern western science, he'll cite Taoism, he'll cite Gurdjieff. He's obviously a man who is extraordinarily well read and takes this very seriously and wants to impart the wisdom to people that will help them to take another step towards becoming more responsible individuals who can take charge of their lives and live ethical, responsible, whole, meaningful lives. As he points out, we live out of a very narrow and small little cell almost. It's a very small cell filled and cluttered with all sorts of worries and anxieties that act on us in a chemical way that leads us to a very reactive, tense and narrow life.

Elan: You've both alluded to a couple of things here that I think are essential. While we're breathing in and oxygenating our brains, our organs, our cells, while we are expanding the level of space within ourselves as we give the time and attention to meditate on and bring a sensory awareness to our bodies in the many exercises that Lewis provides in the book and in Éiriú Eolas, that there's another element here that I think is very interesting to be aware of and that is that we're trying to grow our being in some way.

What does that mean really? To grow our being? We have a lot of potential as human organisms to become connected to ourselves in ways that have never been taught to us, to be connected and aware of other people in less superficial ways than we're used to interacting with them and taking them into consideration. I think we've also been giving very little thought to how our being, our inner life, our capacity to feel connected to the outer world, has been given short shrift or however one would term it.

In other words, there are connections that can be made through these exercises in our outer worlds and our inner worlds, through the growth of being and the growth of knowledge of ourselves that would seem to be the very basic starting point, through breathing. It's interesting because I was thinking back on Éiriú Eolas as a practice and there are certain portions of it where you're guided to experience your body in between certain exercises, vagal nerve stimulation to be one of them. It's those times in the exercise I think, that I've given less attention to the more vigorous and rigorous pipe breathing and warrior's breath and bioenergetic breathing, but that are no less important and that is to give yourself enough time and space with yourself to come to know yourself. And what does that mean?

Lewis explains that we have very little awareness of how breath moves through our bodies, what our organs feel like, what a knowledge of tension in the chest would be if we weren't so occupied or in confluence with our emotions and had those horses running away with us. So that's another feature to the book that I find so valuable and probably is a good starting point. If you've never tried Éiriú Eolas there is a bit of a curve to it. There is a time of working on yourself such that you can get to the point of even doing the full exercise. One of the virtues of the program though is this explanation of what diaphragmatic breathing is, belly breathing and just being aware of what natural breathing feels like and what its benefits are.

If I were to be honest I would say there are times when I'm driving to work or doing something around the house where I have to stop and realize, "Wait a second. I have a certain amount of tension here that's unnecessary just for lack of my own paying attention to it." So as a very basic baby step, if you think you want to, at some point, try this program, this is a DVD of the complete program. You can also watch it online. As Harrison mentioned, we're going to put links up on the website page. But if you think you want to try that program, this book by Lewis is an excellent preparation for it, I think.

Harrison: Yeah, I think it's a preparation and it's also got some stuff that you can add into your practice, even if you don't do Éiriú Eolas, if you do any other kind of breathing exercises or even if you just meditate and take some quiet time, if you have some kind of practice like that, to introduce just another element of attention into the work that you do. So in Éiriú Eolas specifically it could be that that extra effort to actually try to sense what's going on in your body in those resting places and to actually follow the breath while you're taking it and try to get that deeper sensation of yourself.

One of the interesting terms that he used that I hadn't heard used before was the phrase "somatic amnesia". He says there's somatic and emotional amnesia. These are the parts of yourself that you've forgotten, the parts that are unconscious that you're not aware of. So in emotional cases that would be what I was talking about earlier, the problems that you haven't looked at, the problems that you're pushing down below the level of consciousness, the stuff that you don't want to deal with. That happens in the body too. There are parts of your body that you might not be able to sense. I think it's pretty normal for everyone. If you look at the diagram of the sensory areas of your brain and how they may onto your actual body shape, we have tons of nerve sensations in our mouth, our lips, our hands, our genitals. Some of the other parts don't have as much neural architecture that's in our brains and going to our brains. So we don't have as great an awareness of them.

Can you, for instance, right now, sense this square centimeter on the back of your head? Probably not for most people. For me there are some areas of the body where it's just this vague area that you sense. Now you can sense it when you touch it, but when you take your finger away, it's harder to localize that position. It's easier to start out with just a global awareness. So you can have the awareness of where your arm is, where your legs are. I've been doing this for years - I don't know why - but every once in a while when I'm meditating, when I'm relaxing I'll try to relax progressively through my body, my feet, my legs, etc., but if you try to sense each of your individual toes, sometimes I can't place two of my toes. I can feel the little pinky toe, the big toe, but then when it gets to the middle ones they kind of just blend in with each other and if I really focus I can say, "Okay, there's that toe and there's that toe."

But that phenomenon, that tendency can be anywhere in the body. So by actively scanning your body and looking, you can find those parts that you can't really sense and that's something to work on, to try to bring sensation to that area. There are ways to help out with that too. If you're sitting you're going to have pressure applied to a certain area, your legs or your butt or whatever, or you can put a cold cloth on a certain part of your body to actually sense it. But it extends even deeper than that.

This was something that I never even knew was possible. I'd read it in other places and it sounded outlandish to me, and that was to sense each of your individual organs because I know I can't do that. Like he points out, usually the only time people can sense their organs is if they have a pain or something wrong with them, like indigestion. If you've got a problem with your liver you can feel a pain in that area. But ordinarily I've got a sense of my own mass but I can't localize the sensation of my spleen, for instance. But apparently it's possible. With practice you can do it. I'm going to wait for verification. I'm going to try to verify that for myself, to see if I can sense my internal organs.

But it should be possible because for instance, if you really focus, you can feel your heartbeat for instance. You can feel the presence of your heart and your pulse. Just the other day I think I was digesting something and something moved a little bit and I had that sensation right in a certain spot of my innards, and thought, okay there's something there. So maybe it is possible. That was one of the interesting things for me and this will lead into the most interesting thing for me.

First, what he calls organic awareness, to be able to actually sense more of the inside of your body because really that's where a lot of what we experience as emotion takes place inside your body, these neuropeptides, these chemicals that flood regions of the body that we then experience as a physical sensation and that is the physical base of what we feel as emotions. It's these chemicals flooding certain areas of our body that we then experience as a sensation.

So this practice, learning to differentiate and to focus on different areas of the body is actually going to give you a greater awareness of your own emotional state. It creates this separation between the observer and the observed. You can now watch your body react to what's going on in the world and when you have that extra little bit of distance -- this is the Dabrowski element of subject/object in one's self -- when you have that distance and that separation, you have more control over the situation and you can watch yourself being reactive. You can watch the reaction taking place, have a greater understanding of yourself and how you react in certain situations and then ideally throughout this process, have a greater amount of control over that reaction, to be able to not react when it might not be appropriate or disadvantageous to react or the opposite, when it is advantageous to actually express that emotion in a way that is helpful to whatever your aim is at that moment.

So this is just to repeat what I said earlier, that a foundation in the sensation of oneself is really essential to any kind of work one is doing on oneself, to developing one's character. It is an interesting phenomenon for someone to be totally in their head and to then have the self-image of oneself as this highly advanced being when they can't even sense their body, right? To be a balanced person, you have to be grounded in your body because like it or not, that's where we all are at this moment. We are in our bodies and that is the place where things happen, leaving open the possibility that stuff's happening on other levels that we're not aware of, but really when it comes down to it you have to start with what you've got and that is this physical body.

That leads into the next level of sensation that he's talking about here. We've got this basic physical sensation. We've got multiple sensations, the feeling of pressure and of substance and of pain and tingling and all these different sensations that we can feel with our nerve receptors of different sorts and in all areas of the body. But there's also what I'd call the more spiritual or esoteric type of sensation. Because this is a Taoist book, this is the more weird stuff that he gets into. He's pretty good about bringing this stuff up and saying, "Well you don't actually have to believe that this stuff is actually real. Just try to sense it. Try to see if you can sense these weird movements of chi."

That's probably more than the second half of the book is all about the more energetic sensations of the breath. According to this Taoist breathing system, the breath is essential to not only life in the sense that we westerners know it as oxygenating our bodies and expelling toxins, but from the Taoist perspective, you're breathing in life energy, chi, and that in itself is a practice, of breathing in this life energy and then directing it in certain areas of the body and having it do stuff, accumulate and transform things within the body.

I did a bit of chi kung when I was taking kung-fu several years ago and it was interesting because we did the exercises but at the beginner levels they'd just give a little bit of explanation. Our teachers would always have a period of time after for questions so you could ask questions about stuff. None of the students were really that curious so we didn't actually get into anything very interesting. I thought "I'll just do the exercises." I didn't really formulate any questions. I realize I should have. I could have heard some interesting things from this tradition.

But reading this book, some of the exercises came back to me and it's interesting how they fit in with the theory, which I never asked about. I'll just get into a bit of that theory. We've probably all heard about it to one degree or another even if we haven't studied it. But the idea that there's energy coming in through the top of your head and the soles of your feet and there are different energetic pathways through the body and different centers like in the Indian traditions they'd be chakras and in this Taoist perspective they're called tandiens or something like that, basically energy centers through which this energy passes and in which it gets stored.

Regardless of how accurate it is, it's like Gurdjieff's mountain system, it's a cool thing to read about. I'm interested in that kind of stuff. It's fun to read even if you can't verify it. It's interesting to know that this kind of perspective exists, at the very least. It also makes me wonder if there might be some truth behind it. What that truth is, is hard to grasp perhaps, but I think it might be worth looking into or at least considering. He does some interesting things in this book and that is tying it into more of a western scientific perspective. Like you guys were saying, he has a lot of references to research that's been done, but also some more speculative stuff about what might be going on.

So when he's talking about chi and this idea that when you're breathing in air, you're actually breathing in more than what we think of as air, just the particles, elements and gasses that we breathe in and which then get utilized and consumed and transformed by the body and then the leftovers and the toxins get expelled. In addition to that from this perspective, there's something else that's in the air that gets ingested, this energetic thing. He had some conversations with Candice Pert who wrote a book called The Molecules of Emotion back in the 1990s and he quotes a little bit of his conversations with her where they come up with some interesting ideas. I just want to read a couple of the short bits where he mentions her. I'll just read this.

"Pert spoke dramatically about how messenger molecules called neuropeptides carry information from brain to body and body to brain to direct energy in the organism. She asserted that these neuropeptides which include the chemicals known as endorphins, are the biochemical correlates of emotions and can have a powerful influence on our health. When someone asked Pert how she would use this knowledge if she had to undergo a serious surgery, she replied that she would spend time with the surgeon to understand the operation, to know which organs and procedures would be involved. She suggested that this understanding combined with visualization of the healing process could help release those neuropeptides necessary to promote healing."

So in that first except is the idea that through the conscious utilization of attention, directing it to those processes - a visualization process of what the procedure is going to entail - can actually consciously direct those peptides, those neurochemicals, to that area to do the things that they need to do. Healing can be facilitated through a conscious awareness and conscious direction of that process.

Then the next thing was a bit more out there I think. This is relaxing our self-image and regulating our organs. Lewis writes,

"Based on my own personal experiences I believe that a sustained smile, especially a smile directed towards one's organs and tissues triggers the release of beneficial chemical substances from the remarkable pharmacopeia that is the human brain, chemicals that can have an immediate healthful impact on the body. When I described the process of the inner smile to neuroscientist Candice Pert and asked her if she believed that it could produce substances beneficial to the body she replied, 'Absolutely.' And going further into the question, she pointed out that peptides modulate feeling and she suggested that as we are feeling we are focusing on an organ as we are paying attention to the autonomic circuitry involved with it, circuitry which is composed mainly of peptides. As we are paying attention, we have the potential to regulate the organ."

So again, it's a similar idea but more specific this time, that through this conscious direction of attention to the various organs - and in this case he's talking about the process of this inner smile which is one of the meditative breathing techniques that he half-developed and half-borrowed. You picture someone you love smiling at you and you smile at the same time because, like we know from Paul Ekman's work, when you move your face into the position of emotion, that stimulates the actual feeling of that emotion. So when you smile you actually start feeling a bit happy.

So by bringing up this emotion in oneself, the exercise is to then direct that good feeling to various organs in your body. The speculation here is that what's actually going on is through that directed attention at the various organs in your body, you're actually directing, in this case chemicals, neuropeptides to that organ, that will have this healing effect. It's like a material biological explanation of what might be going on. Of course if you go into a religious tradition, they'll have a more esoteric explanation of what's going on dealing with chi. But perhaps there is a bit of both. It could be that there is a simple physical explanation. It could be that the physical explanation is one-half of what's going on and maybe there is some truth to this way of looking at chi and energy and directing energy to certain parts of the body.

But for me the most important thing about that is the importance of attention and the potential capacity that the focused use of attention can have. Just by directing your attention in ways that you haven't before, you can do something, achieve something, start some process that would otherwise not occur. I think there's so much potential just bound up in that idea that for me at least, it inspires me to do more work with my attention, to focus more on directing my attention because for the most part in our lives, we're just bombarded and pushed in certain directions. Our attention is moved for us. Things grab our attention. We don't direct our attention. It's the shiny lights everywhere. It's one shiny light after the other that we, like automatons, direct our gaze towards, but to actually relax, calm down and then consciously put in the effort to direct your attention towards something. That can be in the body, it can be to the feelings. It can even be in the thought to actually start directing your thought as opposed to just automatically thinking. A lot of us routinely just automatically think. We have a stream of consciousness that's going and we just follow it and we're not controlling it. It's just doing its own thing.

Corey: That's a really good way of summing up the human condition right there. But there is a duality to the human condition too, as you pointed out. I think that's where these breathing exercises, Qigong and all those different ways of expanding your personal bodily awareness of who you are, is fundamental to the cultivation of your personality and the cultivation of what you would say is your higher personality perhaps, what your true self would look like if you weren't limited by a number of different silly little programs that are always running in the back of your mind.

It goes back to what you were saying Elan, about what is being, and what's the importance of being in breathing exercises? Why is all of this connected in such a way? I think a lot of it goes back to this idea of as above, so below. There's this thing going on where if your breathing is stunted, then your cells are stunted and your life is stunted. It goes on and on for levels that we don't really know a lot about. But you're not going to live your highest potential. No matter who you are, you are stunting yourself if you are not expanding your awareness of your breathing and your body, doing what you need to keep the beast well fed. You have to think about it in terms of that duality.

We are not the body that we're born into. The body will perish. It's a machine. It's a tool. It's a fascinating creation that's just so full of all of these different little gadgets going on and DNA zipping around. The amount of energy and information transfer that goes on in the brain throughout the body every second, every millisecond is absolutely fascinating. But we cut ourselves off from all of that information in large part so that we can buffer ourselves from negative things, things that we don't want to experience. And when we start buffering ourselves that leads to the condition of being fake, of being inauthentic, of being afraid, in some way of ignoring the reality around us. If we ignore our own personal reality then we're more likely to ignore the reality of other people and if we're ignoring the reality of other people, we're not going to keep up with what's going on in the world.

And if we're not keeping up with what's going on in the world, our being is going to reflect that because being and experience, I think, go hand in hand quite a bit, that way of thinking that your life is the result of who you are, that your experiences result in your attitude towards life, your fundamental state of being. I'm not exactly sure where else I was going to go with that.

Elan: Well those are all good points Corey because there is a narrowing of emotions that go hand in hand with the narrowing of breathing. If someone is afraid to experience those negative emotions that would reflect an accurate reading of certain things, of certain relationships, of certain events in one's environment, then one also would seem to be cutting off or limiting the access to the amounts of joy, the amounts of authentic pleasure one can take in, the little experiences of life. You can say that one might be playing it safe by shallow breathing, by a shallower experience of reality, by a shallower understanding of one's being and inner workings. There is a whole other level to experience I think, that we have access to which we have only to try and experiment with and think about and consider in order to have a full range of what we were meant to experience as human beings.

You said a number of interesting things there as well. I lost my train of thought, but I would just add that when we do engage in this process - oh yes! Several years ago, not unlike Harrison's Qigong classes, I was able to take a class in the Alexander Technique which is a series of classes and postures that you take in becoming aware of your body and of your breathing. It was at a time when I was under a great deal of stress that was almost completely ameliorated by an hour or an hour-and-a-half once a week for several weeks, just sitting and becoming aware of my body in a way that I had lost touch with, if indeed I had ever been in touch with it.

So that was my first foray into awareness of being self-aware physically, being aware that I could sit a certain way and breathe a certain way. I think that that's what Lewis's book provides for us if we want to experience a fuller range of emotion, if we want to open ourselves to greater amounts of joy as well as sadness and all the authentic emotions that come with being a physical person. You mentioned all this information that we seem to be imbued with and designed for and it's really true.

He doesn't get into it so much but one of the great virtues of Éiriú Eolas is stimulation of the vagus nerve which is connected to all of these different organs and which actually elicits a stimulation of prosocial hormones which make us feel good. This is a very natural part of our physiology. It's as though we were designed to have a vigilant relaxation, as Lewis would call it. Some intelligent designer put this nerve in our bodies that we can access, stimulate and reap the benefits of by a certain type of breathing. So it's all there for our use. It's all there for the taking.

Corey: If you listened to our show on antifragile, the whole idea that the human organism needs stress, every living thing needs and likes stress in certain amounts, but after you reach a certain amount it doesn't become helpful anymore. Or if you have it bottled up in the body it's not being dealt with, then it takes on all those negative qualities of stress. But when you are utilizing the techniques that activate the vagus nerve, like you were saying, if you do it on a regular basis, and that's why it's a practice. It's a very practical thing. We can speak about the theoretical things but it's the practice and the experience of actually doing these things in a setting that is led by someone who knows what they're talking about, like Dennis, like the Éiriú Eolas program, that can guide you through these kinds of breathing exercises and experiencing the quality of the experience, the quality of your mindset and the inhalation and exhalation of every breath, getting deeper into that relaxed response so that you get to a point of relaxed vigilance from where your body can now take all those stresses and all the things that it craves - it likes adversity, it likes stress - and it can learn from it.

I think on some deep level you're allowing your unconscious to unpack these things. You're not fixating on things. You're letting the machine and whatever other higher elements of the mind work together in tandem to generate solutions, you're letting this magical process take place that is fundamental to living a healthy life. You need to have a way of positively dissociating from the realities of the world so that you can get back in touch with ideals. Ideals are very important. It's very easy to get trapped in the mundane, toxic silliness that goes on in the world and lose track of the things that very deeply motivate you and that might be sending off red flags that your body is saying, "This isn't a good thing to be doing" or "These aren't the people you should be hanging out with" but you're not listening. The body is saying this but you're not listening.

Well when you engage in these kinds of processes you let the body do its antifragile work and that makes you more of an antifragile and growth-oriented person.

Harrison: I want to take off on that for a bit, that idea of antifragility and how it works in the body. There are a couple of parts in the book that I think are relevant. One is kind of paradoxical. It's what he calls the importance of effortless effort. I'll read this paragraph because it's pretty interesting.

"As we've seen, the work with breathing starts with sensing the inner atmosphere of our organism, the basic emotional stance we take towards ourselves and the world. When I first began to work seriously with my breath in order to come into more direct touch with myself however, I quickly saw that most of my efforts were based on force, on willpower, not on skill and sensitivity and that instead of working with the laws of natural breathing I was working against them. In short, I was using my sympathetic nervous system to try to turn on my parasympathetic system. The more I tried to breathe naturally the more tension I created in myself. This was an important discovery for me because it demonstrated the fundamental way in which I undermined my efforts in almost every area of my life. I had learned the importance of effortless effort from my various teachers, the importance of acting not just from doing but from being, from a deep inner sensitivity to my situation, but it wasn't until I started working in-depth with the inner sensation of my body that I began to integrate my understanding of the physiological and biochemical reasons for this approach with the actual practice of it."

When you first learn a technique like this, you screw up your face and you're trying really hard. That's one kind of effort. But there's actually a way of directing effort that isn't so effortful and the way Gurdjieff described it at time was that it's not a struggle, it's not an effort. It is just a conscious direction of the attention. That's what he was talking about. The effort is to just shift the attention and even that in a sense is a huge struggle, it's a huge effort, but there's no tension in it the way there is when you're physically struggling to lift a heavy object or something like that or you're really thinking about a puzzle that you're trying to solve. Those are different kinds of tension, different types of effort. There's this effortless effort to just direct your mind in a certain direction, towards a certain aim, without the tension.

It's hard to describe but I think when you try it, you'll be able to get the taste of the difference between the two of them. Really struggling with something has one taste and then just consciously struggling to effortlessly do something has a different flavour. Coming back to the antifragility, I want to get back to what he says about the emotions and how emotions tie in with all of this. He writes,

"The repression or suppression of emotions manifests itself not only in our postures and movements but also in tension buried deep in our body, tensions that consume our energy and undermine our physical and psychological health. By learning how to sense these tensions in ourselves we will eventually come face-to-face with our mostly unconscious emotions of anger, worry, fear, anxiety and so on. The goal is not to get rid of these so-called negative emotions. This would be both impossible and undesirable, but rather to find the courage to experience them fully, to open them to the transformative light of impartial awareness. From the Taoist perspective, when we become fully aware of our negative emotions without amplifying them or trying to defend ourselves against them, the neurochemical energy they activate in us can be transformed into the pure energy of vitality."

This ties into something that Peter Levine wrote in his book In an Unspoken Voice which also has a lot of correspondences to the stuff we've been talking about, a lot of vagal nerve stuff and tension held in the body and emotions stored in the body. That is that we have all these repressed and suppressed emotions that express themselves often in physical phenomena. In the most extreme cases that would be examples of hysterical blindness and not being able to use a limb or not being able to see. There's no actual physical problem but at some level the mind has determined that what it has seen has been too traumatizing so it turns off the vision for a while.

So the person will be totally convinced that they can't see and experientially they can't see but the signals are still going from the light into their brain. You can see that everything's working correctly, but they're just not experiencing sight. So for all intents and purposes they are blind. That's one of the most extreme examples of this kind of thing, but it can happen anywhere. You can have a traumatic car injury for instance, stored in your neck. You can have all kinds of traumas and injuries that are stored.

The way Levine describes it is that in any kind of high energy situation where harm is imminent, the body has certain defensive posture and motions that it goes through and that can be turning away and running away, for instance. But if that gets blocked, if the body is not able to complete that action, that action then gets stored in the body. It's like a wound up spring. It hasn't had the chance to actually expand and spring. So that would be one of those emotional physical knots that's in the body. So he works in a different modality to work with energy and trauma that's actually stored in the body like that.

One of the ways in which he works with people is to what he called titrate emotions. If you've got a repressed or suppressed emotion that you do not want to feel so you do not feel it, the way to approach it is like dealing with a phobia. Expose yourself to just the tiniest amount that you can possibly handle and then once you get comfortable with that amount of the emotion, then go back to normal and then expand it a bit so that you're feeling a bit more of that emotion and you realize that your body can contain that emotion and it can feel it. You will survive. It's not an emotion that's going to destroy you if you just let yourself feel it.

So the goal from this Taoist breathing perspective is to expand the openness of your body to experience those emotions to the point where the energy of that emotion can then be used for some purpose. For people who have no problems with certain emotions, that doesn't mean they're using the energy correctly. They can be just exploding with anger and rage and directing that emotional vomit on other people, which isn't helpful for themselves or the people around them because it just spreads the negativity. But that emotion can be experienced and that energy can then be directed in a consciously directed way for some higher purpose, for some actual purpose.

When we react emotionally, it's often for no purpose. We're just reacting emotionally. "I feel bad. I want to yell so I'm yelling," and that's it. It's this automatic, mechanical process that's going on that's happening in us, it's happening to us, but there's no part that consciousness is playing in that.

Elan: Right.

Harrison: There's no director saying, "Do this for this purpose". It's just all automatic. It's a stimulus reaction. So through this raising of awareness and sensation of the body, you actually create a space in which those processes can take place, they can be observed and then they can also be directed. So you have this emotion. You have this emotional energy that can then be used and directed towards some creative purpose, as opposed to just some mechanical, automatic venting or whatever it is that you're engaged in, in your emotional life at the moment.

Elan: And this speaks a lot to Gabor Maté's book When the Body Says No where he depicts Lou Gehrig, a famous baseball player having come down with this horrible disease which later became well known as Lou Gehrig's disease, as a manifestation of the repression of emotions and of very basic needs that Lou Gehrig had stifled his own experience of.

So I think what's at work here is the ability to either use or not use this store of vitality that we have access to, which you can say comes in the ether, you can say comes in the molecules of oxygen, you can say that it's facilitated by the prosocial hormones of the vagus nerve. There are all these kinds of levels to it that can build this storehouse of vitality within us where we're more sensitized to the subtleties of life, where we have more energy and health at our disposal that we would otherwise not realize that we do have and that we often take for granted until that time when we do come down with a cold or some kind of larger, more debilitating disease. He gets into this in the book. There are these centers in our bodies, these core energy centers in our abdomens and in various other places, that can be built up and made and there's that lovely term again, antifragile, that can be not only resilient and robust, but can take the natural stresses of life, like you were saying earlier Corey, we do need a certain amount of stress to be able to move forward, to stimulate us towards action. But it is that chronic, debilitating stress that wears us down continuously, that we have few resources that we're aware of to respond to and to fortify ourselves with.

Corey: Yeah. You have to have the balance I think. That's the biggest thing because the body loves stress. We love to have a little bit of challenge in our lives. We all want something to direct ourselves towards and to work towards. For some people it's the far side, just uber work, like he was saying in the book, his driving force in his life was this very type A personality approach to the world. If it's not struggle and perseverance then it has no value in life. That's a very typical masculine way of thinking, but it's just half the story.

You need to have the yin and the yang. That's another thing that you get out of breathing exercises when you're really paying attention to it and you're being guided to get the general theory about it. You're breathing in life and you're breathing out toxins and old ideas. You're really engaging as you're paying attention to your breath during these exercises, on the sensations of breathing in life, on the sensations of how it feels to breathe out all the toxins and to have those pictures in your mind of breathing out death and breath in life.

It's a constant yin and yang. They're always present. There's disintegration. There's reintegration. Then there's disintegration again. Then there's reintegration. There's life, there's death, there's this constant cycling. It's in the body. It's in every system of nature. It's night and day. There's the duality and then there's the actual situation. There's the child that comes out of the duality. As you expand your awareness and you really listen to those kind of things, it helps to develop in you're an immunity towards a lot of black and white thinking and a desire for balance, a desire to take time to focus on these little kinds of things, the positive dissociative activities that help counterbalance the stressful everyday life without getting stuck in one or the other, without getting stuck in a type A mentality and without getting stuck in navel-gazing and thinking that one modality is going to cure all of your illnesses.

But at the same time it's highly useful, it's highly practical and I think, as being a teacher, you can see results in students within a short amount of time, just a few classes. Some people are so ready, their bodies are just waiting to get all of this stuff out because it's like, 'Hey come on! It's time to move on! Let's unload all this garbage. Let's unpack this BS and let's go onto the next stage in our life." Sometimes we do just have to let go of things. We have to let go of things. We have to let go of old illusions, old dreams. Often times it's very painful because you hold all of those things very dear and when you are inculcated with them, like as a child or as a young adult, even a marriage or something with these ideas that you have about the world and of life that turn out to be wrong, which guaranteed, almost every single one of them is going to turn out to be wrong, it's still a painful process of accepting illusions, accepting that something has to go.

And then accepting the necessity of that in life. It's very therapeutic, the breathing experience, in general, I think and I would highly recommend it to everybody in our audience if they haven't already tried it, but to really take it seriously. Like you said Harrison, the idea of action through inaction is something that we don't really take very seriously in our culture and yet it is extremely useful, especially if there's ever a time in people's life where they feel like there's something that they need to do but they don't know what needs to be done or they're just exhausted, wiped out. They can't do anything.

Well one of the best things to do is not to do anything. That's quite frequently the best thing to do because meditation, in and of itself, has been shown to increase focus, attention and willpower and if you can do that, if you can just meditate, you've accomplished something and you feel like you're doing something. If you meditate and you're doing breathing exercises you give your body the chance to let that magical thing happen where all of a sudden solutions just kind of come up. You know what I mean? It's like, "Oh! I didn't even think of it that way!" I know that at previous times in my own life whenever I feel like there's just something I need to do, but there's no way I can get it done, just by meditating and by doing breathing exercises on a regular basis, it will increase the ability to actually accomplish that very thing.

So you want to take the tools that you gain through meditation and breathing exercises and apply them in your everyday life and that's how I think that yin and yang balance can be utilized to maximize the effectiveness of us a little scrappers, {laughter} cosmic scrappers, the underdogs of the cosmos.

Elan: You said a bunch of interesting things there and one of them that Lewis points out repeatedly is to make yourself a vessel and this is really where Taoist philosophy, wisdom and insight comes in quite a bit I think. It's that if we can empty ourselves, we have a greater capacity to fill ourselves up with something or to be receivers of information in those quiet moments when the answer to something we may not even be consciously asking for answers about, comes to us. I've had that experience.

I also just wanted to add that although there have been times in classes where people have had these great emotional releases and you might have heard some reactions and positive developments on today's show regarding some of these things, to not feel like you have to look for it or expect it if you should decide that you want to try and practice some of these things. Part of the point of it is just to allow yourself to be and when it does come, to pay attention to it and the fact that it came. But to put any kind of unnecessary expectation on yourself and whether or not you're doing it right necessarily, I think would be missing the point in part which is to observe.

That's another thing that Lewis's book has a lot in common with in the Gurdjieff material which is before you even want to attempt to change something about yourself, you want to first just be able to observe it with as much impartiality as you're capable of. That takes a lot of practice because there is a tendency, when we're thinking of something or we're on a negative track of thought, to think, "No! That's bad. That's wrong. I don't want to even go there." But if we are capable of creating that distance that was mentioned earlier where we can observe it and even see what triggered it and those things that exist in our thought patterns that set this negative thought loop into motion, it's then that we have empowered ourselves a little more, I think, to be able to come at our reactions and responses to things a little healthier.

Corey: Right. It's the difference between having an experience and forgetting it for eternity and having experienced the same experience, but you're so sensitive to it that it completely changes your life. I think an excellent example of that would be Jordan Peterson in college when he was thinking about how he would stab the kid in front of him with his pencil. Well, how many of us have had an experience like that and we just say, "Well obviously I'm not going to stab the guy with the pencil." But he was different. Obviously he was a very different kind of individual and he was more sensitive to that and just that thought was so shocking to him that it was a huge impetus for his rise into understanding how people can inflict grave harm and serious injury on other people. How many millions have benefited from that?

But I think that's one important thing because when you start removing a lot of buffers just by being aware and really trying to cultivate that kind of awareness, then you open yourself up to the information inherent in events that might go unnoticed by everyone else. You pick up on it. It touches you in the heart, very deeply and like you said earlier Harrison, you use that energy and then it can potentially change your life.

Harrison: How are we doing on time? Okay. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction but maybe we can save it for a future show because there's still a lot of interesting ideas around breath. The one that comes to mind immediately is if you look at early Christianity or what you could consider esoteric Christianity, just in general terms there was this thing in Christianity, the holy spirit. Spirit, the word pneuma means breath. I think there are a bunch of possibilities there that we might look into. Maybe we can do something about that pretty soon because I think that if we look at some of the ideas in Christianity from a new perspective, we can tie them into this idea of breathing and the more esoteric way of looking at breathing and also get into some of Gurdjieff's ideas because I think if we look at all three of them we can find the similarities and maybe get an idea of what might actually be going on in a weird kind of way.

Corey: Yeah, because the connection between breath and spirit is fairly universal, isn't it? He points that out in the book, that there's something else going on here that crosses all cultural boundaries and that is fundamental to religious thought in general.

Harrison: Alright. We'll save that for another time then.

Elan: On that note folks we'd like to end this our first show of the year. We hope you enjoyed it. We hope you got something out of it as always. We thank you for listening and tuning in. We really enjoy your support and greatly appreciate any future subscriptions to the channel. We'd like to grow it. We have a lot more to say, a lot more to do this year. We have a lot of great shows planned, I think. That's it. Have a great week and thanks again.