… breath – elements – purification – relaxation …

We’re first forced to catch our breath when the umbilical cord is cut. In that instant the lungs must exchange liquid for air. Some wise midwives promote, when appropriate, not to cut the cord immediately, but allow time to soften the transition for the infant and enable a gentle new bonding with mother.

Once separated, we’re alone, but if welcome and made to feel safe we hardly pay attention to our breath unless its rhythm is upset, usually through physical strain, excess tension, anxiety, or unresolved anger and resentment.

I wrote shortly about breath before, in the context of bio-rhythms. If this interests, here’s the link.

With this post I’ll share a practice I’m presently in need of myself,  a conscious breathing ritual with a focus on the elements of earth, water, fire, air – and the subtle element of ether. The easy-to-learn sequence, aided by concentration and imagination, bestows relaxation and renewed energy. Parallels to this practice can be found in ancient spiritual traditions. The Sufi version below is thought to derive from Greek mystery schools. Unlike some forced breathing techniques, it is safe to use alone.

A purifying practice of breathing through the elements. Repeat the breath for each element five times  and  allow the colour to suffuse your cells …

EARTH … imagine the colour yellow (like desert dunes, or wheat fields)

Breathe in through the nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count six – imagine a horizontal spreading movement.

WATER … imagine a blue-green colour (like a lagoon or a river)

Breathe in through the nose –count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a downward flowing movement

FIRE … imagine a golden red colour (like a sunset, or a flame)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count ten – imagine an upwards rising movement

AIR … imagine a transparent blue colour (like a pale sky)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a dispersing movement

ETHER (optional)

Image a transparent mauve colour

Breathe in through nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count twelve

To ground your energy, return once more to the earth-breath. You may want to ignore the counting for the out-breaths, to begin with. The basic idea is to allow more time for breathing out, until the body naturally draws in a new breath.

*    *    *   To expand the imagination, here some more notes in relation to the elements:

The Earth Element
The early Christian hermits, living alone in the desert, used to concentrate on the earth’s magnetism as a way of restoring their vitality during long vigils. Native American elders have said that the loss of a sense of relationship and communion with the earth is the main cause of psychological and physical imbalances. Standing or sitting, feel like a tree with roots extending firmly and deeply into the earth. Feel the strength and magnetism of the earth. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose, not forcing the breath.

Imagine drawing healing power through the soles of your feet (if standing) or the bottom of your spine (if sitting). You may have felt the healing power of the earth in your feet while walking barefoot outdoors or in your hands when working in a garden. Try to sense a subtle reality, a crystalline lattice-like structure, behind the denser aspects of the physical plane. The earth is not a singular organism, but is part of its solar system and part of a galaxy …

As you exhale, release your tiredness, disharmony and agitation. Now concentrate on the magnetic field of your body, similar to that of a magnet. Feel as though you are aligning your own field to the magnetic field of the earth, the way that iron filings align around a magnet. When magnetic power is weak, the iron filings are in disarray. When the power is strong, the filings align in symmetric, harmonic patterns.

The Water Element
The breath of the water element brings a sense of flow, of vitality and purity, and helps unleash creativity. It is also useful in breaking free from habitual thinking patterns, and flowing around obstacles rather than hitting them head on. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. You might imagine yourself immersed in a mountain stream. Feel the drops of water penetrating your cells, dripping off of your fingertips. Feel water reaching your chest and heart, helping to loosen any tightness and obstruction there. Feel energized and renewed, again focussing on those parts of the body that are in need of healing, and those that lack life energy and vibrancy. Concentrate on the purity of a crystal clear lake or stream, high up in the mountains. Let yourself become the water, and let the qualities of purity, life energy and power flow into your immediate environment.

The Fire Element                                                                                                                                               The breath of the fire element is a quickening. It sparks inspiration and is useful when you feel drowsy and dull. Breath in through the mouth, hold the breath for a moment and then breathe out through the nose. On the inhalation, imagine fanning a fire in your solar plexus. Purse your lips and draw in a thin stream of air. As you draw in, visualize the embers of the fire glowing. Then hold the breath momentarily and bring your attention to a few inches above the solar plexus. Exhale through the heart, imagining that you are radiating golden sunlight.

On the inhalation, evoke your aspirations; your desire to be authentic; to make your life meaningful and worthwhile; to stand up for what you believe in. On the exhalation, radiate light as if from a miniature sun in your heart. Subject your self-doubt, cynicism, addictive patterns or resentments to the fire. Avoid making pledges you won’t keep. Simply clarify your intention and allow the purification process, instead of using will power to change things.

The Air Element
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. The breath of the air element relates to freedom, ecstasy and transcendence. Imagine yourself like an eagle perched high on a mountain. Feel the wind ruffling your feathers, blowing through all your pores. Feel the coolness and freshness of the air. Soar upwards on the currents of air. On the inhalation, feel yourself buoyant and free, like a zephyr crossing a lake and lifting upwards. On the exhalation, allow yourself to reach out beyond the boundaries of the body. Let your being disperse with the wind, and let your consciousness reach out into the cosmos. Enjoy a sense of vastness and, if it helps, visualize vast landscapes, such as a mountain, canyon, or the starry night sky.

*    *    *   After you completed the purification breaths, reflect upon the effect of the elements taken together. Separately each of the breaths emphasizes different forces and qualities in our being, together they bring about a sense of wholeness. According to your own affinities, you may feel the need to place more emphasis on one or another element in order to attain greater balance.

For me this is the WATER breath.

Also – I admit I frequently fall asleep to this … consciousness is wherever consciousness is placed, and what travels on our breath travels either mindlessly or with intention.

 ‘Thoughts are beings that generate … One thought of kindness gathers a thousand beings of love and kindness around one.’  – Hazrat Inayat Khan


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21 responses to “… breath – elements – purification – relaxation …

  1. Thank you Ashen for this very useful exercise. I especially like the visualisations with the breathing. I use the breathing to calm anxiety. I find it helps to relax the diaphragm a little. I also used this breathing to overcome fear of speed. On the M3 there is a part in the road that goes up a hill and then down. (It’s not really that steep.) But I used to hold my breath whilst going over that. I learned to take a deep breath in as I was going up and a longer breath out as I was coming down. It really helped. It’s good for slowing the breathing down as well, but I am sure you know that already.
    I hope all is well with you.
    Gill x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much Ashen, I felt an expansion as I was reading this. It’s very powerful yet very calming … I’ll print it out. My late mother was a hatha yoga teacher – her breathing exercises at the end of class were extraordinarily healing as all attested to …

    May all who read your post take note – breath is what life is and being conscious of it is being more alive. Many many thanks –

    Liked by 1 person

    • A special mother to have. I did hatha yoga for a while, which indirectly brought me the UK.
      I’m pleased you mention expansion, which happens to our minds and hearts when we commune with the elements that give us life. Thank you,


  3. Thank you, Ashen. I have just tried the breathing exercise and it feels wonderful. I would like to it properly, with more focus, later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My brother was a Buddhist monk and taught me about meditation years ago, but recently my doctor reminded me of this habit. I LOVE the water, so in breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth I visualize being at the ocean, listening to the crash of the waves, hearing the Seagulls call to me, and feeling the warmth of the sand under my body and it helps me relax and stay in the NOW instead of letting my mind bounce into negative patterns and fear. I LOVE your breathing practices. They will keep you healthy and happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gwynn. A great doctor to have, who appreciates meditation, for which this breathing practice is a perfect preparation.
      I often use the water breath to dissolve my irritation in the middle of traffic, when drivers annoy me. 🙂 The sequence as a whole is quite powerful, which is why I suggest going back to the earth breath for grounding.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is wonderful, Ashen! I’ve never used imagery along with deep breathing (when I’ve used it on its own, apart from my Yoga practice, it is either as a cleanse, to rid myself of negative energy, or for pain relief), but I will have to try your method soon. Perhaps it will open up some new dimensions for me. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Breathing is important to the musician, who must learn to breathe while playing, like the bird. And aging – COPD and GERD can be problematic to clear breathing. Vocal cord dysfunction, which may mimic asthma characteristics, can be very scary. A common cure to these problems, though of course not always, is breathing exercises, which involves relaxation and actually learning how to breathe – which it seems stress can make us forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Joe. Vocal cord dysfunction can actually sound interesting. Then again, bringing one’s breath into a balanced rhythm can potentially enable the perfect pitch.
    It’s what makes creatives happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a lovely meditation. Just reading it was calming. I’m going to come back to this for a writing session at the weekend and see what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve tried a variation of mediation exercises and I must try your version. Need to print it out so I have it at hand. Thank you for sharing, Ashen.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing this. Breathing techniques are immensely important from the point of view of physiology. Red blood cell efficiency and elimination of waste could be the ones to mention. I don’t exercise much, but when I walk in a place with clear air, I do the breathing exercise my archery coach planted in my brain 40 years ago 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Missed your comment at the time. A bit late. So sorry.
      Walking is out. As an older, I don’t walk alone anymore, though my young self was fearless. Also, I practiced archery time ago. Miss it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great to hear you did archery. It is one of the best memories of my youth. Our coach taught us many useful things. We would make some DIY accessories, like arm covers. Archery requires patience, inner peace and good physical form. Amazing sport!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Suzanne Inayat-Khan

    Very nice version and text, thank you for sharing Ashen. 🙏💛🙏

    Liked by 1 person

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