It sure is interesting that the planet Jupiter, commonly called “Guru”, is exalted in the sign of Cancer. Guru means “heavy” (read more about this name here). This implies that Jupiter is the planet that is the most heavy with life experience or knowledge. Of all the different yogic practices and paths that are available to take, a competent Guru can discern, one way or the other, what path and practices are best for the particular person in question. Because each person is different, each path will be a little bit different. Just like some people make a better runner than a swimmer, it is the same with spiritual paths.
One of the things that Gurus frequently advise for most serious aspirants are pranayama practices. Pranayama practices are essentially breathing exercises and techniques that are used to expand consciousness and awareness. Everyone knows that states of mind relate to our breathing…but often we leave it at that. The Yogis took it much further and fully explored the relationship between breath, life-force, and awareness. [Fun Fact: The word “Pranayama” itself comes from the Sanskrit “Pran” which means “life-force”. Pran, or Prana, is similar to “Chi”, or “Qi” in Chinese thought, and to “Ka” in Egyptian philosophy. Yama means “restraint” or “suppression”, and many of you may know that Yama is also the name of the God of death. The single letter “a” means “not” in Sanskrit. Now you can fully understand the word Pranayama, as “Life-force Not Restrained”, in other words, “Life-force Expansion”. Does that make sense? ]
Pranayama is, therefore, a practice that slowly infuses the body with tremendous amounts of life force energy, purifying all of the bodies subtle energetic channels and pathways (nadis), in turn leading to more rapid awakening and clarifying of awareness. There is of course much more to it than that, but this should explain the concept sufficiently for now. It really is a great practice. In my opinion, we should learn it from people in person, one on one, and not try to practice it straight from books, which I think are great but should be used more as a reference. (There are different opinions on this, and as I said above, everyone’s path is different. I am not making a blanket rule here.)
So now we are all on the same page about pranayama and why Gurus tend to advise it so often. Now, when we look at the exaltation and debilitation signs for the planets, Jupiter may pop out at us. Notice that Jupiter, the planet of Gurus and wisdom, is exalted (meaning in its strongest possible sign) in the sign of Cancer, the sign of the breath. Cancer is the sign of the rhythm of life, the waxing and waning of the Moon, the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, and the high and low tides that regulate the growth of life on Earth. This clearly shows that the Guru is most “exalted”, or most awakened through the Cancerian environment of the breath. Jupiter is our wisdom, so another way to see this is that our wisdom is most exalted (able to produce fortunate results) through the faculty of breath expansion (aka “ayama”- non-suppression, in other words, expansion).
It should be no wonder now why the Guru so often recommends pranayama, or breath (Cancer) expansion (Jupiter). If you follow me, the very term “breath expansion” is a synonym for a healthy Jupiter in Cancer. This is clear “astro-logic” for why breathing exercises are so important for spiritual awakening. Cancer is a brahmin rashi as well, and a sattvic one at that. Only Pisces and Cancer are both sattvic brahmin signs, which means they are signs most naturally inclined towards spirituality and seeking liberation (moksha). These qualities also show how Cancer is connected to spiritual development. Jupiter will only be in Cancer 1/12th of the time, so most people are not born with this blessing innately. But if we practice pranayama every day, it is like we are exercising the karmic muscle that would make our Jupiter exalted, or at least strengthen it, which is why pranayama is such a great remedial measure as well. When we strengthen Jupiter, we find more grace in life. It is said that a strong Jupiter can remove 100 blemishes from a chart. I do not think this is because of some magical rule, I think it is because a strong Jupiter will use wisdom and knowledge to make life better and to avoid 100 other mistakes that easily happen to a person who is not behaving wisely. And of course, a really strong Jupiter will use Pranayam as well!