Friday, November 4, 2011

Digital pranayama and the Death instinct

In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive ("Todestrieb") is the drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic. In short, Death has its own attraction! Which is quite contrary to what we rationally would believe, doesn't it mean human nature is suicidal by instinct? An assertion which is quite unpalatable to any rational human being. What was Freud talking about in his book "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" published in 1920?

The thing about "discoveries" by psychoanalytic gurus (Freud, Jung and other gurus) is that these were empirical facts. Facts and information they organized and categorized from their patients. Those were the days when there were few psychotic drugs and psychiatrists had to do what they could with language, and to do whatever limited help they could do for their patients, if anything could be done at all. And they got lots of "incidental" empirical data in the process. Some of these data would probably be cross-referenced with data obtained from their own introspection and from doing psychoanalysis on healthy people (which in most cases would be their students and fellow analysts).

Classic Taoist deep meditation (Neidan) texts didn't mention activating one's Death instinct in their techniques. It is however not the case with Indian Yoga, where "holding breath" is a key technique being used. The Taoist's choice is philosophical in nature rather than the issue of a choice of technique. This is an important issue and constituting an important "missing link in Taoist meditative techniques" which I shall discuss using dedicated posts on techniques.

The most important breath control technique with a Death Instinct shadow behind is Digital Pranayama. It is a minute (or digital) control of the breathing mechanism using one's fingers to dynamically obstruct the passage of air through the nostrils. It can be done in may ways, including both sides breathing, single side breathing, alternative nostril breathing and their variations. Psychologically speaking, the fear of death is aroused (similar in nature to a fear towards freezing when doing cold shower), and with the mind being kept relax directed by one's subtle intention (similar to "embrace" the cold water, rather than "run away" from the cold water in doing cold shower), life energy (chi or prana) will be generated. And with the breathing mechanism being prolonged (because of the dynamic constriction), activated chi or prana will "reversely flow" to the inner-most parts of one's body. A good feeling or nice sensation (probably through an increase in endophin secretion) is thereby aroused.

In some future posts, I shall discuss the technique of digital pranayama in the light of a missing link in Taoist deep meditation or Neidan. But mind you, Digital Pranayama is a very powerful exercise that can hurt if practised without good understanding or guidance (and will be completely useless, or silly, if practised without any dynamic constriction).


  1. "The thing about 'discoveries' by psychoanalytic gurus (Freud, Jung and other gurus) is that these were empirical facts. Facts and information they organized and categorized from their patients."

    This is part of the official lore about psychoanalysis. A more objective reading of its history and current practice reveals a different reality: there was nothing empirical about it. Many critics of psychoanalysis, like Richard Webster and Frederic Crews, have revealed that Freud absolutely did not compile his theories on the basis of objectively verifiable data from patients. He even made up entire case studies to support his subjectively derived conclusions. If a majority of people had the scientific literacy required to separate valid, testable theories from pseudo-scientific bunk, psychoanalysis would not enjoy even the marginal following it still, unaccountably, does.

  2. You are right, one caution is that there is an assumption that these people (gurus or not) are not lying. I'm sure there are rubbish among the gems. But like everything else, we find no major problem listening to advice from our doctors (surprisingly or not surprisingly there are often different "opinions"), from our investment advisers (I bet oftentimes he will more likely to advise you to put your money on where he will get a higher commission!)....or for that matter, from our spouse (he or she might have his/her own secret or private agenda...:):)

    Life goes on, don't worry...:):)


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