Intuitively, in our dreams and aspirations, after all, flying is possible for us. Without the aspiration, fed by intuition which is the "knowing" that we can fly, we wouldn't even attempt it. So, instead of being counter-intuitive, it is really counter to our sensory experience! It wasn't until 1978 that two men climbed Mt. Everest without additional oxygen. Their feat may have defied (then) common sense, but it wasn't "counter-intuitive."
In this ascendant age of science and technology we are each day, each month, each year transcending limitations which, heretofore, would have seemed impossible. Some day, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi") predicted, we would figure out how to span the light years that separate us from distant planets and galaxies without paying the limitations imposed upon us currently by time and space.
Consider, too, our experience with illness, old age, death and all manner of suffering, including emotional and mental. When these things strike us, loved ones, or others, we know intuitively that this is NOT who we are; we knowingly separate ourselves from them, even when we accept them, at least calmly, as our present, but not permanent, reality.
It's not that we can't see these things are a fact of life for everyone. But at the same time we "know" that health is who we are and we know what is our true nature: happiness, freedom, goodness......all these are ours on an intuitive level.
Our intuitive knowing is the soul's power to fly and to seek freedom from all limitations. Our creative thoughts write novels, and plays, and make movies of past centuries and cultures; we imagine the life on earth in the future or on other, as yet undiscovered, planets. Every day in so many ways, we affirm our freedom from all limitations even if just in our thoughts, our desires, our fantasies.
In the past, breathing meant you were alive: the first breath of a baby, and the final exhalation of the dying signaled the appearance or disappearance of life. Yet the yogis tell us that "breathlessness is deathlessness." This is counter to our sense impressions; it is repudiated by the subconscious mind, which includes the body's autonomic system, for these are efficiently designed to keep us in the body and breathing. And this is a good thing from a common sense and daily living point of view. But we also posses an innate, intuitive sense of our immortality whenever we contemplate the mystery of death or encounter its stark but physical reality.
For a long time, lack of breathe meant a person was dead. That was disproved with the onset of CPR. In more recent times, it was said that lack of brain activity is certain death. That, too, has been disproved. One example is of a boy who drowned in icy water and had no signs of life for over an hour and a half. By intelligent and sustained efforts of the medical staff, he walked out of the hospital three and half days later.
Death, while at the same time a socially taboo subject in both family and medical circles, is yet a new frontier for science. A well known meditation researcher is investigating a phenomenon known in Tibetan circles as thukdam. A monk, knowing of his coming death, enters a deep state of meditation. All bodily and biological functions cease, yet, his body remains without decay or other signs of death for periods of a week or more. When does death actually occur?
Humanity, having descended to the nadir of what is called "Kali Yuga" (the dark or lowest cycle of human consciousness) around 499 AD and having, from that point, begun slowly our 12,000 year upward journey to greater awareness, has lost many of the treasures of the wisdom of higher ages. Even in the science of yoga, e.g., we've inherited from the relative ignorance of Kali Yuga cycle the association, almost universal around the world in today's cultures, between the term "yoga" and the physical body. Ananda Yoga, taught as a prelude to meditation, is viewed, as if almost unique, and is considered by others as "spiritual yoga." This is ironic because the term "yoga" is refers to the highest state of spiritual consciousness (and to the concomitant techniques to achieve it).
Another example from the science of yoga is the term Prana, or life force. During Kali Yuga this term became associated with the physical breath and with physical breathing exercises. Its original and correct meaning is a reference to the movements of intelligent energy that inhabit the physical body and which comprise the essence of the astral body. Physical breath is but the grossest, most outward evidence of life force in the body. Kriya Yoga, one of the world's most sought after and advanced meditation techniques, emphasizes awareness and control of these subtle currents in and around the astral spine, even if it, too, utilizes the physical breath as a doorway to the subtle, astral breath.
In the declining yugas of the BCE era, as humankind increasingly lost touch with its ability to contact divine realms and consciousness, priests of the cult of Osiris performed a ritual reenactment of the entombment and resurrection of Osiris by going into the Great Pyramid and placing the new pharoah or high priest into a coffin and sealing it with wax for a precise number of minutes. By this ritual, they would attempt to induce a near-death experience for the new pharoah so that he could experience higher realms and claim his kinship with Osiris and his lineage! A crude and dangerous ritual, to be sure, and a desperate attempt to reenact the lost mental and spiritual powers of a higher age and induce an experience of superconsciousness.
Julian Jaynes, author of "Origins of Consciousness" (1976), studied ancient traditions and writings, e.g., the Iliad, and concluded, somewhat crudely, that in former times humanity claimed to have had access to divine consciousness and "heard voices" in our heads that guided our actions. He termed this "bicameral" thinking. Thus it is that ancient scriptures, including the Old Testament, do NOT emphasize the kind of personal, egoic, existential angst and burden of personal decision making that we take for granted today. The author's view of this may not exactly coincide with our own, but it is an interesting observation. Yogananda wrote (in his autobiography) that "thoughts are universally, not individually rooted." A saint is a saint for having attuned his consciousness to divine consciousness. As the Old Testament put it, "My thoughts are not your thoughts." But a saint speaks and acts with divine attunement. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that we who think we are the Doer (and the Thinker) are deluded for all creation is a manifestation of God, whether wisely or ignorantly.
Medical scientists are studying how to induce a kind of hibernation level so as to slow bleeding in trauma victims, to give time for heart surgery patients to regain normal function, and to resuscitate people who might even have been without a heartbeat for several hours.
Life without oxygen is possible! The wealth of testimony from the studies of near-death experiences (NDEs) shows a consistent pattern of experiences about a state of awareness never before thought possible. One study showed that a group of NDE'ers had very accurate and precise descriptions of the procedures performed on their otherwise "dead" bodies (while being resuscitated) compared with a survey of a group of medically savvy people who were nowhere near as accurate or successful when asked what procedures would likely be performed under such circumstances.
Returning now to the subject of breathlessness, quoting Chapter 26 (Kriya Yoga) of Paramhansa Yogananda's now classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he wrote:
Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened,” Sri Yukteswar explained to his students. “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”
In Chapter 12 of his autobiography, his guru gives to him an experience of cosmic consciousness. Entering this state, he describes it thusly: "My body became immovably rooted; breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage, and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body, but embraced the circumambient atoms."
May your breath be taken away in blissful, divine ecstasy!
For some follow up reading you might enjoy:
also: "Closer to the Light," by Melvin Morse, M.D.