Ok. Up until now you could probably get away with screwing around with this stuff. Even going as far as asana will make you significantly harder than most of the people  in this game.

But if you start doing some of these pranayama excercises and you don’t do your homework, and you don’t lay down some preparations for a potentially rude awakening, then I take no responsibility for what happens to you.

The mental health ‘industry’ is slowly defining a category for people who fuck themselves up with practices like this, so tread carefully.

Direct download: the_invisible_fire.mp3

29 thoughts on “Systematic for the People 4: The Invisible Fire

  1. The idea that breathing wakes up a “body intelligence” or organ-based intelligences is an interesting take on the subject. My assumptions were usually that it was more like the ego flailing to bring up old emotional mechanisms that had a bodily component, e.g., sweating due to shame or guilt feelings, heart palpitations due to anxiety, etc., particularly in someone who had maybe acquired a supernatural power without doing the necessary ego-work or self-study–though it is hard to judge, I know someone who fucked up on this path and complained of “burning sensations” and sweating but I assumed it was just an unconscious emotional mechanism, which sounds far different from kundalini misfires, but maybe they are the same animal…

  2. Can you cite any of the literature you’ve read regarding breathing practices in Eastern Orthodox/Daoist practices? Also, is there a particular breathing practice you’d recommend other than just trying to breath deeper?

  3. it’s tricky because most of the treatments i’ve read are a mixed bag. so far as the actual breathing techniques, there’s a whole series of ‘taoist’ books by mantak chia that are good, but don’t under any circumstances do any of the visualisation excersises or internal orbits he recommends. there are tons of taoist books in general that are good for learning how to move and breathe but the chi practices are pretty wonky in a lot of cases, even dangerous. for that, find a teacher who has clearly lived a long time and get them to teach you.

    the only thing i would add which i should have mentioned is to squeeze the abdomen in from the navel towards the spine on the out breath. most people not only don’t breathe in deep enough, but they don’t exhale properly either.

    slower, deeper, smoother, and more regular. simple but potent. just try it.

    and now that i think about it, stanislav grof has done tons of research into what he calls ‘holotropic’ breathwork, some of which involved lsd and some not, which covers some of the same ground. he’s got a few books out, and some video flying around somewhere.

    and for the greek orthodoxy, Kyriacos C. Markides has a couple books which i haven’t read but were recomended to me. i’m sure you can find the gist somewhere.

  4. So I have started this process of union mainly because of your podcast. It really cuts through the bull, and I appreciate that. I stopped smoking, avoid onanism, started swimming and meditating, and am looking for a good asana class. And I started the deep breathing today.
    But There are a couple of problems. First, I seem only to have enough about me to concentrate on my breathing. The minute I start reading, or talking to someone I revert to shallow breaths. Will the deep breathing become habitual, unconscious? If so, when?
    And secondly, I have noticed a pain in my chest on each inward breath. Is this, like the cramps you talked about, a corollary of the breathwork, or should I see a doctor(!)? 🙂
    Thanks for the great work…

  5. Thanks.
    I also liked the idea of awakening bodily intelligence through sufficient oxygen.
    Its interesting how breathwork usually slips between the cracks of the physically oriented health and exersize crowd and the internally oriented meditation crowd. Probably another symptom of dualistic thinking.

  6. it probably is the cramps i talked about, hivemind. you might be straining a bit too much at first. focus more on a strong exahle and just let yourself relax on in the inhale and it should subside.

    the exhale is more important for clearing out the bottom of the lungs, purging co2 and moving the lymph anyway.

  7. … and yes, eventually it does habituate, but it will to an extent always remain tied to your stress levels as an autonomic function. which is why you want to eventually focus more on meditation and calming yourself down, mentally. a lot of people think that breathing *is* meditation but that’s so simpleminded it staggers the imagination.

  8. A Silat guy once recommended “The Yoga of Breath” to me, though I’ve never checked it out–apparently it goes into some detail on work-arounds if you suffer from deformities already like fused vertebrae (thanks mom) etc.

    I’d recommend looking for a Kundalini yoga class w/ an actual teacher–it is basically about straightening the spine and learning to breathe properly and can work out a lot of garbage very quickly. I only started recently and am so improved it’s ridiculous, and, as aforementioned, I’m a sucker with a fucked-up spine from birth.

    Hypothetically speaking, the Conspiracy Planet tracker may or may not in theory have links to some extensive Stan Grof torrents.

    @ Hivemind:

    If you “avoid onanism”–to nitpick Onan was punished for using withdrawal as a contraceptive method & thereby denying his family a lineage, not for playing w/ himself–you’re going to make a crummy willworker, for sure. Unless maybe you had a problem that needed to be controlled… That’s all us “magicians” did in the last century, was yoga and sex magick. and drugs. usually all at once.

    What does that have to do with breathing? Well, check out a piece from Lucky Mojo: http://www.luckymojo.com/tktechniques.html . There’s a far closer relationship between energy flow and sex, both obviously tied to the breath, than we realize. Israel Regardie, inspired by Wilhelm Reich, went into this quite deeply, particularly w/ the Middle Pillar. Although frankly, I think we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves here with that, and like Zac I’m going to disclaimerize myself here by stating I’m not in the slightest responsible for anything anyone chooses to do simply because I said it was possible.

  9. hands up, who wants me and channel null to collaborate on a sex magick text?

    the dude has hotties ( i mean initiates ) hanging off every part of his body… i’d preffer to be the ascended and lilly white master, by comparison.

    nothing but monogamy and ritual violence for me.

  10. I tried to post this earlier but it didn’t come up. I found this posture workout page on Men’s Health. I did yoga for a while (about 8 months 5-6 times a week) but my posture is still in the dumps. I just started doing this last night so I don’t know how effective it is or anything, but I think it’s worth looking at.


  11. Hey, I’ve been a lurker off and on for about a year.

    A brief personal background: I don’t have any extensive knowledge with ancient Buddhist texts nor am I too familiar with its terminologies. Still, I’d like to think I’ve got a decent understanding of the key items regarding the practice of meditation and general Buddhism. I’ve read the meditation manual by Daniel Ingram in detail several times, as well as Mahasi Sayadaw’s Practical Insight Meditation. Other than those, I’ve skimmed through various meditation texts/guides written by various monks/scholars — Zen and the Brain by James H. Austin is another interesting read, though it’s mostly pretty dry.

    As for my personal practice, I’m just trying to work on my concentration — you know, work my way up the Jhanas a bit before starting on any insight meditation. I *think* I’ve made it only up to the first Jhana, but that was over a month ago and I haven’t been able to dublicate the experience to that degree.

    A few quick questions: You often mention how doing certain meditations can be dangerous or backfire. From listening to this latest podcast, I get the general sense that the main danger lies in that inefficient/improper posture/breathing can lead to health problems. But apart from this, what the potential dangers are is not clear to me. And since these latest podcasts seem to deal with concentration practice, there’s the question of the so-called “super normal” or psychic powers. What exactly are they and how are they cultivated? (I don’t know if you’ve addressed them in detail in the past — just hoping maybe you’ll go into them in the near future.)

    Thanks for these podcasts Zac.

  12. this joint is jumpin tonight…

    well if it wasn’t so clear, if you get heavily into pranayama type practice without some good grounding, there is a danger of certain kinds of hormonal surges that can feel a lot like intense bursts of fear or rage, or paranoia…

    if you’re really lucky/unlucky you may have a full blown kundalini type episode where the energy aroused by breathing can create a highly mystical ecstatic experience which mimics some of the phenomena of jhannas but with more fireworks visions and whatnot. but it does things to your nervous system that can really fuck you up. it’s like hotwiring your soul and potentially burning yourself out on the exposed wiring.

    i’m not saying this to sound hardcore. you really can fuck yourself up! tread carefully. teachers are good if you can find them. long and studious preparation is even better.

    and to answer the other:

    basicly this sequence of podcasts is modelled on the classical limbs of yoga, and the reason for that is that yoga is essentially about unifying the human being into a vehicle of selfless action. as a side effect it makes you suitable to safely develop and bring to fruition what are known as ‘siddhis’ which are basically supernatural powers. concentration is specifically the 6th limb and hence the 6th episode of this series.

  13. “There’s a far closer relationship between energy flow and sex, both obviously tied to the breath, than we realize. Israel Regardie, inspired by Wilhelm Reich, went into this quite deeply, particularly w/ the Middle Pillar.”
    I have often wondered about this. I had come to the conclusion, just from personal experience, that ‘saving up’ the energy so to speak, was a surefire way to get something done. Sigils never really worked for me, but I was probably doing them wrong, Grant Morrison’s Pop Magic essay the only thing I had to read and all.
    And Zac, hell yes, I vote for a collabo betwen you and Channel Null. For me so far, looking for valuable information in this field is like looking for diamonds in a sewer. Even when you think you’ve found one, it’s usually a fake.

  14. well, I’m flattered but it’s not the information that’s hard to find neccissarily, just people who have actually done it, fucked up and learned from it. i firmly beleive you can judge a teacher by their horror stories. once you’ve had some nice tangible expereince of how this stuff works or doesn’t, it’s very easy to go back and apply a selective filter to our cultural inventory.

    anyone could read the books i’ve read, or take ( most of ) the classes i’ve taken. there’s some wonky sounding shit that may work for someone, but why bother with crazy BS when you have a time worn system that works just fine? all you have to do is update the language.

    if anything, I’m just adressing this stuff to an audience besides burned out baby boomers who think the celestine prophecy is the new compass for humanity, or shellshocked gen xers who think the 90’s never ended.

    it’s rather easy actually. just insult everyone, and say ‘fuck’ alot.

  15. “well if it wasn’t so clear, if you get heavily into pranayama type practice without some good grounding, there is a danger of certain kinds of hormonal surges that can feel a lot like intense bursts of fear or rage, or paranoia…”

    So I take it that the potential danger mainly lies in Yogic type practices — specifically in the intentional manipulation of the breath (holding in, rapid breathing, etc.).

    It’s pretty scary hearing about the potential negative side-effects; and especially since I’ve yet to come across such warnings in the Buddhist oriented texts — but then there doesn’t seem to be a lot of breath manipulation involved in those, so… I’m just hoping that simple breathing meditation where one meditates on the breath without trying to control it or anything is relatively safe.

    Either way, since I don’t have any teacher to guide me, it’s clear that I need to continue my learning in this area — not to mention consistently practicing.

    Thanks for the reponse.

  16. oh , it’s there in buddhism as well. i’m sure you noticed ingram’s impassioned warnings about insight practice, for example. it’s just the buddhists take a much much much slower approach in general, which is often for the best.

    usually you will have some warning signs that something is going too far too fast. the trick is being attentive enough to notice them.

  17. Took a few podcasts w/me on a week long trip and really fascinated with this new direction. need to catch up on the last 2.

    Breathing techniques i have experienced are wide and varied. Taiji offers a good starting place for rhythmic control linked to body awareness. I think everyone should sign up for a class…

    Buddhist bowing (also found in chi kung & some taiji warm ups) is also a good prep for meditation.

    memory recalls yoga nadis found under the armpits regulates control of nostril breathing (this may be premature to mention, but we alternate between each nostril as the clearer channel – why some yogis lean on staffs under their armpits!).

    rosicrucian methods are also found, and useful for counterbalancing either hyper negative or positive states. These involve simply an open or closed sitting posture, with corresponding focus on holding either the inhalation (Oxygen) or the exhalation (Co2). Let me know if interested in knowing more … not to jump ahead or anything!

  18. most of that is more detail than i can get into right now, and more than I’ve personally reckoned with. the simple stuff is hard enough.

    but i totally encourage you guys and gals to share this kind of stuff in greater depth. that’s part of the point. i’ll try to throw up the skeleton, you put the flesh on it.

  19. heh, well i finally listened to this one (forgive my premature exhuber-rant above … “personal nervous energy” based on just the comments section!), and was excited to revisit areas I really used to be into.

    Limbic system cleansing – yoga and to a lesser degree Taiji, are also excellent for “toning” these areas, located especially around the joints. I believe yoga refers to the shins and forearms as the 4 Pillars, and washing them with cold water after practice is most stimulating to the limbic.

    I always wanted to understand better the connection between the limbic and endocrine …

    Organ-Neural “intelligence” – yeh, and talk about them stem cells!!

    E. Orthodox christian breathing – see Philokalia, Hesychism, and “the jesus prayer.”

    Deep “belly” breathing – a sihing once observed that the rotund portrayal of the Buddha, doesn’t mean he’s mobidly obese … he’s full of ch’i (prana) and conditioned from such breathing techniques!

    Ok then, here’s IMHO the best way to start off breathing. This was gleened at a very early age from my mom’s pop yoga books, and probably has helped me & me lungs in ways I can’t imagine over the intervening years, after all the alien incense I’ve burned in them …

    laying supine (flat on back, no big pillow, minimal neck support ok), comfortably, with arms and feet a bit apart, draw air slowly and steadily in from your nose to belly. The belly should expand like a balloon, starting from the deepest/lowest part, then rise like a bellows, up to the chest. Reaching the highest part of upper chest capacity, the entire abdomen expanded (belly too), proceed to exhale in the reverse order, calmly though nose – empty upper chest way down to lowest belly. Compress navel down to spine, totally expell all gases. Begin refilling process.

    6 of these is good for a minute to start with, and do this for a few minutes. You’ll notice a neat rhythm to it as the belly-to-chest rises, then chest-to-belly falls. I think the rhythm naturally adjusts to optimise the O/CO2 balance, or at least you learn to sense it.

    Really excercises the diaphragm muscle, plus relaxing too! A good way to fall asleep at night.

  20. EDIT:
    crap … i really messed that up! rushed… cursed nervous energy …

    after lung capacity reached on inhalation, EXHALE IN SAME ORDER! empty belly FIRST pushing air up, through then gradually including the chest, til all is expelled.

    belly-to-chest rises, then belly-to-chest falls.

    zac – feel free to edit above how u see fit. I’d hate for soemone to try the first way w/o seeing my stoopid ammendment … 😦

  21. “I’d hate for soemone to try the first way w/o seeing my stoopid ammendment …”

    The first way you listed always worked better for me.

  22. really? there ya go! seems to me however that “trapping” the older breath below inhibits a good circulation, i.e. the older the air, the sooner u expel the oxygen depleted gases, the fresher the air, the longer it should be retained.

  23. well, now that i’ve thought about it,
    the first way mentioned was the way i heard about it originally, so several years of that ingrained in my muscle memory may be the sole reason it feels more effective for me.

  24. Experimenting with this has been great. I don’t think I’ve thought about my breathing for more than 5 cumulitive moments in all my life. And now this… quite a whole new world.

    The funnest part for me has been the moments when you snap between conscious and unconscious breathing. Even when concentrating on it, there will be times when I’ll drift off and revert to shallow breathing. And then the snap back — when it happens — is always welcomed.

    Have noticed a very small improvement in the “muscle memory” thing mentioned, which itself is fun to watch. A bit like learning a guitar chord to the point where you hands KNOW the chord beyond question — it allows the mind to make room for other stuff to come on in.

    And, delightfully enough, I just this evening met a roommate’s friend for the first time… who is in the process of learning kundalini yoga. I made sure she had a certain 4 mp3s in her possession before she left the house. Very exciting.

  25. So I’ve been experimenting with the breathing in various ways and under heavy concentration can get it down to two slow slow breaths a minute.

    One question for you about technique: do you allow your rib cage to move at all when you’re doing this? Cause it seems like there are a few different ways this could work: one in which you push your stomach out as you fill up and then at some point shift up into the chest and that expands. And the other is to not expand the chest at all, but almost make it so that your diaphragm is moving up and down vertically and pushing out the stomach as a result. This second way “feels” more right to me, but I thought I’d see if you could shed some light on it

  26. well if you’re doing it properly your diaphragm should do pretty much all the work but if your chest is relaxed it should expand and fill as well. if it doesn’t or you find you have to force it then that’s excess tension in the chest which is certainly not uncommon. with time it should break up. but don’t bother trying to force the chest open.

  27. Wait, what is the problem with the Mantak Chia exercises, particularly the internal orbits? Am i in for some serious trouble? What about the Middle Pillar? I figured that since Chia actually exercises he’d be a better guide to that type of thing than Dr. Hyatt but now I’m worried.

  28. Wow, this stuff about deep vs. shallow breathing is both startling and fascinating. Where might I find the literature (scientific, medical, etc.) that these ideas are based upon? Thanks.

  29. Nice article. Very true.

    I, too, have some friends who are advanced in breathing techniques. Some of them are so “skilled” they havent’ drawn a breath in years.
    THere is always fine print…must look for it.

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