Gurdjieff’s talk, CHICAGO, MARCH 26, 1924
Can experimenting with breathing be useful?
All Europe has gone mad about breathing exercises. For four or five years I have made money by treating people who had ruined their breathing by such methods! Many books are written about it, everyone tries to teach others. They say: “The more you breathe, the greater the inflow of oxygen,” etc., and, as a result, they come to me. I am very grateful to the authors of such books, founders of schools, and so on.
As you know, air is the second kind of food. Correct propor- tions are required in all things, in phenomena studied in chem- istry, physics and so on. Crystallization can take place only with a certain correspondence, only then can something new be achieved.
Every matter has a certain density of vibrations. Interaction between matters can take place only with an exact correspon- dence between the vibrations of different matters. I have spo- ken of the Law of Three. For instance, if vibrations of positive matter are 300 and those of negative matter 100, combination is possible. Otherwise, if in practice vibrations do not corre- spond exactly to these figures, no combination will result; it will be a mechanical mixture which could be again resolved into its original component parts. It is not yet new matter.
The quantity of substances to be combined should also be in a certain definite proportion. You know that to obtain dough you need a definite amount of water for the amount of flour you want to use. If you take less water than is required, you will not have dough.
Your ordinary breathing is mechanical, and mechanically you take in as much air as you need. If there is more air it cannot combine in the way it should; so a right proportion is necessary.
If artificially controlled breathing is practiced as it usually is, it results in disharmony. Therefore, in order to escape the harm which artificial breathing may bring, one must correspondingly change the other foods. And this is possible only with full knowledge. For instance, the stomach needs a definite quantity of food, not only for nutrition but because it is accustomed to it. We eat more than we need simply for taste, simply for satisfaction, and because the stomach is used to a certain pressure. You know that the stomach has certain nerves. When there is no pressure in the stomach, these nerves stimulate the stomach muscles and we have a sensation of hunger.
Many organs work mechanically, without our conscious par- ticipation. Each of them has its own rhythm, and the rhythms of different organs stand in a definite relationship to one another.
If, for example, we change our breathing, we change the rhythm of our lungs; but since everything is connected, other rhythms also gradually begin to change. If we go on with this breathing for a long time it may change the rhythm of all the organs. For instance, the rhythm of the stomach will change. And the stomach has its own habits, it needs a certain time to digest food; say, for example, the food must lie there an hour. If the rhythm of the stomach changes, food may pass through more quickly and the stomach will not have time to take from it all it needs. In another place the reverse may occur.
It is a thousand times better not to interfere with our machine, to leave it in bad condition rather than correct it without knowledge. For the human organism is a very complicated apparatus containing many organs with different rhythms and different requirements, and many organs are connected with one another. Either everything must be changed or nothing, otherwise instead of good one may do harm. Artificial breathing is the cause of many illnesses. Only accidentally, in isolated cases where a man manages to stop in time, does he avoid harming himself. If a man practices it long, the results are always bad.
To work on oneself one must know every screw, every nail of one’s machine—then you will know what to do. But if you know a little and try, you may lose a great deal. The risk is great, for the machine is very complicated. It has very small screws which can be easily damaged, and if you push harder you may break them. And these screws cannot be bought in a shop.
One must be very careful. When you know, it is another thing. If anyone here is experimenting with breathing, it is better to stop while there is still time.