In this article:
– Chinese Medicine’s guide to the 3 independent processes of the Mind
– Introduction to the prenatal and postnatal mind
– The goals of mind training
– A 1st hand description of a conscious connected breathwork session relating to the goals of mind training
– Conclusions: brining everything together
“The mind is…the energetic substance of directed intention, through which all dimensions of existence are constructed”
-Jerry Alan Johnson PH.d
Introduction: The Chinese medicine guide to the 3 independent processes of the Mind
In traditional Chinese energetic medicine, the mind is not confined to the brain, but is alive in every cell. They divide the processes of the mind into three independent systems, the physical mind, the energetic mind, and the spiritual mind.
The Physical Mind – the conscious mind
The physical mind is the conscious mind, it is responsible for willpower and consciously investigating, interpreting, and evaluating data received through the body’s five senses, and it stores the short-term memory. In general, the physical mind is identified with the physical body, therefore the conscious mind’s thoughts pertain to the need for control, security, and approval within the external world. The physical mind learns through observing, examining, and modeling, it also involves studying and learning through symbols, metaphors, analogies, and various forms of language.
The Energetic Mind – The unconscious and subconscious
The energetic mind is split into two parts, the unconscious and subconscious mind. The unconscious mind is responsible for governing the bodies autonomic nervous system functions, such as controlling the managing nourishment and growth, breathing, digestion, heartbeat, and the immune system. Whereas the subconscious mind is responsible for maintaining repressed feelings, automatic skills, subliminal perceptions, thoughts, habits, automatic reactions, hidden phobias, desires, dreams, implicit knowledge, and long-term memory.
It is estimated that 90% of our mental life is subconscious, It never sleeps, it is constantly working to repair, replace, transform, digest, assimilate and eliminate. The patterns of the subconscious mind are the underlying energy that attracts the attention of the conscious mind. Think about it this way, there are potentially an infinite number of things to think about at any given moment, or aspects to focus in on any given environment, yet your attention, awareness, and your thoughts have a pattern, this pattern of noticing and thinking is selected from subconscious systems of the mind. As we will discuss further on, the subconscious mind and its programs/conditioning are acquired from our experiences with people and the world since birth.
The Spiritual Mind – the superconscious
The spiritual mind is known as the superconscious or the universal mind, and it operates at the level of intuition.
Introduction to: The prenatal and postnatal Mind
Another important distinction that Chinese medicine makes is that they differentiate the prenatal (before birth) and postnatal (after birth) Mind
The prenatal mind is also termed the original mind and the postnatal mind is the acquired mind.
The postnatal Mind is our acquired mind because it is developed after birth through our interactions with people and the environment after our conception. Whereas the prenatal mind dominates the activities and functioning of the major viscera (organs) and the active functioning of the energetic organism, and through using the body, the prenatal mind conveys intuitive and instinctual information that has bee guiding our development since before birth. Thus, we have both our intuitive/original mind, and our acquired mind. When our acquired mind is too active it clouds our ability to hear the intuitive messages of our original mind. Therefore, Chinese medicine has charted ways of training the physical, energetic, and spiritual Mind to allow the messages from our prenatal and postnatal mind to function optimally
Training the Physical (conscious) Mind
In order to train the physical or conscious mind, an individual must use their will and intention to gather data from their senses and use cognitive reasoning.
Training the Energetic (unconscious and subconscious) Mind
The energetic mind contains the subconscious mind, which, in review is responsible for maintaining repressed feelings, automatic skills, subliminal perceptions, thoughts, habits, automatic reactions, hidden phobias, desires, dreams, implicit knowledge, and long-term memory. These stored patterns can be interfered with and overridden through willful intention of the physical or conscious mind. Thus, one may reprogram their internal patterns through continued repetition of new patterns. For example, someone may have a pattern of avoiding painful emotions by smoking, so that whenever they begin to feel a painful emotion they have a subconscious pattern to habitually use cigarettes to mask their pain. Through examining our own behaviour, we can gain insight into our patterns and then make the conscious choice to rewrite and rewire a new pattern into our subconscious. When one trains the energetic mind, they are in essence becoming a witness of their actions as they happen, they are separating themselves from the sensation of feelings and taking on a kind of metacognition. When we learn to observe our emotions, instead of getting carried away by them we can gain valuable information and control over emotions. When we can learn to witness our thought patterns as they happen instead of being carried away in our thoughts we can learn more information about our patterns and change our thoughts.
Training the Spiritual Mind
In order to train the spiritual mind, one must surrender all attachment to thoughts, feelings, and images of the acquired mind and access a point of stillness wherein the intuitive and original mind can be heard.
In Chinese medicine, training the spiritual, original, and intuitive mind is the highest attainment that should guide one’s life and organize one’s Mind. Another word for the original mind in Chinese medicine is the Heart mind, the heart being the intuitive compass that guides us to our purpose and highest truth.
Coming full circle
In this article I described Chinese Medicine’s view of the 3 independent processes of the mind, showing how our conscious mind and its perceptions and interpretations is influenced by the subconscious mind. Our subconscious mind is a part of our postnatal mind and has been acquired through our experiences with people and world since being born. I described how we may influence and alter the conditioning of our subconscious mind through the conscious mind through analysis of our patterns. I briefly described the Chinese Medicine ideal of having our prenatal intuitive mind lead us in our actions and be balanced with the acquired mind.
Thus some goals of mind training can be created here:
1. To learn the pattern of the subconscious mind that influence our conscious mind and to create positive patterns
2. To balance our prenatal (intuitive) mind and our postnatal (acquired) mind
Now that I have walked us through a description of the Mind, I will describe a breathwork experience and how it can achieve the goals of mind training.
I walk into the space and am immediately greeted by a warm and earthy scent of incense. It’s Sunday evening and I’m at a breathwork event. The group meets in a circle and I find my mat in the corner of the room, near a softly lit candle. There are people gathering in, quietly greeting each other and talking, but for today I’m sitting on my own, setting intentions and contemplating why I’m here.
As it becomes time to start, we guided to stand up and move around the room and become aware of what we can become aware of. It is explained that we are mammals, first, humans second, and as mammals we have a carry a curiosity to explore, like dogs in the park. As a dog enters a new environment they orientate to the space, by moving, sniffing, and exploring the environment and the other dogs, or in our case humans. We walk around the room, we gently meet each other in the eyes, and short smiles arise and tid bits of laughter snort out at times. After the analogy of dog’s in the park I naturally become playful and start to playfully sniff and bark, creating some ease and laughter in the group. We continue this exercise for a awhile until everyone becomes comfortable with each other, and then we find our seat.
We pass a feather around the circle in a traditional way and share our intentions for the practice, perhaps what we wish to let go of, and what we wish to invite in. In my practice I intent to look deeply into my mind, my patterns, to let go of any habits that disrupt my path and I invite in wisdom. An intention is a powerful prayer to the self, it orientates the mind/body/emotions in one direction.
As the breath practice begins, we lay on our back and are guided into a deep relaxation, grounding down into our back bodies, connected with our breath, inhale meeting the exhale in a circular fashion, mouth open, jaw relaxed. The inhale is effort and full, and exhale is letting go, a complete surrender, equal parts effort and release, prana and apana.
As my breath becomes connected it begins to flow and my body begins to tingle. Inhale meeting the exhale and letting go. I begin to notice a slight resistance on the exhale, a failure to fully let go, which speaks to a quality of not letting go in my life. There is a holding in body, my breath, and my mind that I am clinging to. I continue to explore the sensation of holding with curiosity, noticing the resistance. As my breath continues, I begin to become quite altered, a bit high to be honest, yet deeply relaxed. The deeper I drift into the rhythm of my breath my brain begins to oscillate slower changing my level of awareness.
In terms of the brain, we operate at specific frequencies, when you are reading this you are in a higher frequency range of Beta Waves at 13-30 Hz (cycles per second). This frequency is task orientated, and in general as the cycles decrease the more relaxed we become. The next frequency down is alpha waves at 8-13 Hz, alpha is considered the gateway between the conscious and unconscious mind and is associated some meditation states or the stage just before you drift off to sleep. Next is Theta (4-8Hz) which is associated with deep meditation states, Rapid eye movement sleep (dream sleep), and most relevant for this article, it is associated with access into the subconscious mind. Lastly there are Delta states (less than and up 4Hz) which is found in ‘slow wave sleep’ and are associated with the superconscious or spiritual mind, as described in this article.
As I move deeper into my brain wave states my breath deepens and subconscious information begins to flow into my awareness. The pattern of resistance in breath, the failure in letting go is a holding that I feel in my neck space, relating to unexpressed anger and not speaking my truth. A memory arises from work, when I held my tongue, when I wanted to speak but did not, this energy has become trapped in this area preventing a proper and smooth breath cycle. I’m having trouble letting go, until a breathworker comes by and helps guide me through by placing their hand on the back of my neck, they support the area and ask me to tone with them. Toning is a process of creating a long extended sound, which is a powerful tool for vibrating and relaxing the body and clearing holdings. We make two long OM’s and on my next big exhale I relax deeply and the holding is released. There is a slight emotional charge as it leaves, and a deep state of ease and flow arises in my body and breath.
I once read in an ancient proverb that if we were to inspect our breath in its most subtle form, every holding, emotion, and unprocessed blockage from our birth is laid out like a fingerprint history of our entire lives. This rings deeply true as a breathwork instructor and meditator, the breath tells us everything, it is our guide from the conscious to the unconscious, it regulates the nervous system, and guides the mind.
I also once read that our subconscious mind and unconscious mind can be thought of as our body, that is that all the functioning of the body (the unconscious mind) and the conditioning of the habitual reactions and reflexes (the subconscious) are in the body. Thus when we practice conscious connected breathwork and focus in on our body we come in contact with our conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind or in Chinese Medicine, our physical and energetic mind’s. But what about our spiritual mind? And our Prenatal and intuitive mind?
Accessing the intuitive spiritual mind
This is where the real wonder of breathwork comes, at a certain point in a breathwork practice there is an opportunity to surrender fully and allow the breath to breath itself. One remains conscious and connected with their breath, but yet allowing it to flow and thus allowing the spiritual and intuitive mind to guide the direction the journey.
As I let go of control, I allow my breath to move me, literally it guides me to shake my wrists and released some energy, it dictates the pace and flow of the breath, leaning me into the areas of mind and body that needs expression. As I continue to let go the breath begins to create some space within my lower diaphragm near my pelvis, allowing me to breath more deeply into this area. An energy arises and as I continue to move my breath from my belly, to my heart, and release it I can feel a blockage moving. As this energy begins to move a breathwork facilitator senses the activity and begins to guide me with word and touch. The safe support allows me to continue to surrender to the sensations, stay to of story, and explore the energy, as uncomfortable as it is becoming. The energy begins to move and my body is charged with electricity, I’m fully altered as if I’d taken a drug and still I feel safe in this space, knowing its my breath and body. The energy moves and I shake for a bit, a few tears flow and my body just drops. My breath deepens and slows, and I enter a freeze state. No breath, just pure blissful silence for minutes. I float in a sea of golden light before breathing again. Coming back to my breath, now in a deep state of relaxation, breathing more fully into the space near my pelvis, feeling it open and at ease. The breath sessions continues, and I move another large piece of energy, allowing for more room to breath fully and invite in the qualities I set my intention to bring in. As the sessions draws to the last 20 minutes, we are guided to allow the breath to move naturally and allow the nervous system to integrate the emotional and energetic release and, in a sense, reboot its systems into better alignment. After the ceremony in complete we share our breath journey in as much or as little detail, and the experiences of the other breathers open my heart to the profound healing of this experience.
This brief explanation on a breathwork sessions is highly variable and each person has their own experience. This example was created to show that through conscious connected breathing we may access deeper brain states that allow for subconscious information to pass more readily into the conscious mind. Our breath pattern is a powerful teaching tool, the relative ease and flow, the smoothness of the breath, and even our ability to let go are not merely physical cues of our breath mechanism, but hold insights into our mind and how we show up into the world. As discussed in the example, a holding in the throat, that was causing an inability to let go of the breath was actually a response to me holding in my truth, not expressing my anger in a situation, and thus repressing an emotion, causing a blockage in my breath. Although not discussed in this article, but many other articles I have written, the balance of our inhalation and exhalation balances our entire nervous system through our autonomic nervous system. Thus we can see how a specific holding in the throat space could have a local effect on the energy moving through this area, possibly affected the thyroid gland which holds close proximity, it could relate to tensions in muscles of the neck and head, and through disrupting the natural balance in inhalation and exhalation there would be system wide effects via our vagus nerve, through our autonomic nervous system, affected all systems of the body. Hierarchically, breath is nutrient number 1, above water and food for the necessary maintenance of health and life.
The second point I’d like to highlight is breathworks remarkable capability to access the intuitive mind. This mind has thus far been described as superconscious, spiritual mind, intuitive mind, and prenatal mind, there are many terms, and here are a few more, the intelligence of the universe and the mind of the creator or God. To come in contact with this ‘Mind’ is through surrender and letting go, as described in this article, and it is an experience, each person perhaps feeling and sensing it on a different level and with different words. The words we use are less importance as is the ability to enter in this state, and for myself, to be able to connect people with this state through breathwork. It is the ability to surrender to the flow and intelligence of this mind that the deepest and most profound states and consciousness and healing arise in breathwork.
As one begins to continue through breathwork journeys and return to the spiritual mind and allow their life to become guided by the intuition and the intelligence of the universe, they are on a beautiful journey. It is my honour to share in these teachings of the mind, to share this practice of the breath, and guide people back to their heart, their intuition, and the original and prenatal mind – back to source.