Pranayam-Advanced Lessons

Recommended Reading: Pranayam-Basic Lessons

Excerpts-Lessons by Swami Paramahamasa Sivananda of Divine Life Society Hrikesh

Stage 2 Advanced Lessons- The Science of Pranayam

The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everything which becomes visible on the physical plane as motion and action and on the mental plane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vital energies. It is the control of vital energy which tingles through the nerves of persons. It moves his muscles and causes him to sense the external world and think his internal thought. This energy is of such a nature that it may be called the vis viva of the animal organism. The control of this force is what is aimed at by the Yogins by means of Pranayama. He who conquers this, is not only the conqueror of his own existence on the physical and mental plane, but the conqueror of the whole world. For, the Prana is the very essence of cosmic life, that subtle principle which evolved the whole universe into its present form and which is pushing it towards its ultimate goal. To the Yogi the whole universe is his body. The matter which composes his body is the same that evolved the universe. The force which pulsates through his nerves is not different from the force which vibrates through the universe. The conquest over the body does, therefore, mean to him the conquest over the forces of nature. According to the Hindu Philosophy the whole nature is composed of two principal substances. One of them is called the Akasa or ether and the other, Prana or energy. These two may be said to correspond to matter and force of the modern scientists. Everything in this universe that possesses form or that has material existence, is evolved out of this omnipresent and all-pervasive subtle substance ‘Akasa’. Gas, liquid and solid, the whole universe, consisting of our solar system and millions of huge systems like ours and in fact every kind of existence that may be brought under the word ‘created’, are the products of this one subtle and invisible Akasa and at the end of each cycle return to the starting point. In the same way, all the way of forces of nature that are known to man; gravitation, light, heat, electricity, magnetism all those that can be grouped under the generic name of ‘energy’, physical creation, nerve-currents, all such as are known as animal forces and thought and other intellectual forces also, may be said to be the manifestations of the cosmic Prana. From Prana, they spring into existence and in Prana, they finally subside. Every kind of force in this universe, physical or mental can be resolved into this original force. There can be nothing new except these two factors in some one of their forms. Conservation of matter and conservation of energy are the two fundamental laws of nature. While one teaches that the sum total of Akasa forming the universe, is constant, the other teaches that the sum total of energy that vibrates the universe, is also a constant quantity. At the end of each cycle the different manifestations of energy quiet down and become potential: so also the Akasa which becomes indistinguishable: but at the beginning of the next cycle the energies start up again and act on the Akasa so as to involve the various forms. Accordingly, when the Akasa changes and becomes gross or subtle, Prana also changes and becomes gross or subtle. As the human body is only a microcosm to a Yogi, his body composed of the nervous system and the internal organs of perception represent to him, the microcosmic Akasa, the nerve-currents and thought-currents, and the cosmic Prana. To understand the secrets of their workings and to control them is, therefore, to get the highest knowledge and the conquest of the universe.  He who has grasped this Prana, has grasped the very core of cosmic life and activity. He who has conquered and controlled this very essence, has not only subjected his own body and mind but every other body and mind in this universe. Thus Pranayama or the control of Prana is that means by which the Yogi tries to realise in his little body the whole of cosmic life, and tries to attain perfection by getting all the powers in this universe. His various exercises and trainings are for this one end.

 

Before proceeding to the study of Nadis and Chakras you will have to know something about the Spinal Column, as all the Chakras are connected with it.

Spinal Column is known as Meru Danda. This is the axis of the body just as Mount Meru is the axis of the earth. Hence the spine is called ‘Meru’. Spinal column is otherwise known as spine, axis-staff or vertebral column. Man is microcosm. (Pinda – Kshudra-Brahmanda). All things seen in the universe,—mountains, rivers, Bhutas, etc., exist in the body also. All the Tattvas and Lokas (worlds) are within the body.

The body may be divided into three main parts:—head, trunk and the limbs, and the centre of the body is between the head and the legs. The spinal column extends from the first vertebra, Atlas bone, to the end of the trunk.

The spine is formed of a series of 33 bones called vertebrae; according to the position these occupy, it is divided into five regions:—

1. Cervical region (neck) 7 vertebrae
2. Dorsal region (back) 12 vertebrae
3. Lumbar region (waist or loins) 5 vertebrae.
4. Sacral region (buttocks, Sacrum or gluteal) 5 vertebrae.
5. Coccygeal region (imperfect vertebrae Coccyx) 4 vertebrae.

Vertebrae

The vertebral bones are piled one upon the other thus forming a pillar for the support of the cranium and trunk. They are connected together by spinous, transverse and articular processes and by pads of fibro-cartilage between the bones. The arches of the vertebrae form a hollow cylinder or a bony covering or a passage for the spinal cord. The size of the vertebrae differs from each other. For example, the size of the vertebrae in cervical region is smaller than in dorsal but the arches are bigger. The body of the lumbar vertebrae is the largest and biggest. The whole spine is not like a stiff rod, but has curvatures that give a spring action. All the other bones of the body are connected with this spine.

Between each pair of vertebrae there are apertures through which the spinal nerves pass from the spinal cord to the different portions and organs of the body. The five regions of the spine correspond with the regions of the five Chakras: Muladhara, Svadhishthana, Manipura, Anahata and Vishuddha. Sushumna Nadi passes through the hollow cylindrical cavity of the vertebral column and Ida is on the left side and Pingala on the right side of the spine.

Sukshma Sarira
The physical body is shaped in accordance with the nature of the astral body. The physical body is something like water, Sthula form. When water is heated, the steam or vapour corresponds to the astral body. In the same way the astral or Sukshma body is within the gross or physical body. The gross body cannot do anything without the astral body. Every gross centre of the body has its astral centre. A clear knowledge of the gross body is of utmost importance as this Yoga deals with the centre of the astral body. In subsequent chapters you will find, therefore, a short description of the centres of the gross body and their corresponding centres in the Sukshma Sarira. You will find the descriptions of the astral centres and their connected functions in the physical body.

 

Kanda


This is situated between the anus and the root of the reproductory organ. It is like the shape of an egg and is covered with membranes. This is just above the Muladhara Chakra. All the Nadis of the body spring from this Kanda. It is in the junction where Sushumna is connected with Muladhara Chakra. The four petals of the Muladhara Chakra are on the sides of this Kanda and the junction is called Granthi-Sthana, where the influence of Maya is very strong. In some Upanishads you will find that Kanda is 9 digits above the genitals.

Kanda is a centre of the astral body from where Yoga Nadis, subtle channels, spring and carry the Sukshma Prana (vital energy) to the different parts of the body. Corresponding to this centre, you have ‘Cauda equina’ in the gross physical body. The spinal cord extending from the brain to the end of the vertebral column tapers off into a fine silken thread. Before its termination it gives off innumerable fibres, crowded into a bunch of nerves. This bunch of nerves is ‘Cauda equina’ in the gross body. The astral centre of ‘Cauda equina’ is Kanda.

Spinal Cord
The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord, the cerebro-spinal centre or axis. The continuation of the Medulla oblongata or the Bulb is a connecting medium between the brain and the spinal cord. The centre in the Medulla oblongata is closely connected with the involuntary functions of breathing and swallowing. The spinal cord extends from the top of the spinal canal to the second vertebra of the coccygeal region where it tapers off into a fine silken thread, called Filum terminale.

The spinal cord is a column of very soft grey and white brain-matter. The white matter is arranged on the sides of the grey matter. The white matter is of medullated nerves while the grey is of nerve-cells and fibres. This is not tightly fitted with the spinal canal, but suspended or dropped, as it were, into the spinal canal just like the brain in the cranial cavity. This is nourished by the membranes. Spinal cord and brain float in the cerebro-spinal fluid. The fluid prevents, therefore, any injury done to them. Further the spinal cord is protected by a covering of fatty tissue. It is divided into two symmetrical halves by an anterior and posterior fissure. In the centre there is a minute canal, called canalis centralis. Brahmanadi runs along this canal from the Muladhara to Sahasrara Chakra. It is through this Nadi, Kundalini, when awakened, passes to Brahmarandhra.

The spinal cord is not divided or separated from the brain. It is continuous with the brain. All the cranial and spinal nerves are connected with this cord. Every nerve of the body is connected with this. The organs of reproduction, micturition, digestion, blood-circulation, respiration are all controlled by this spinal cord. Spinal cord opens out into the fourth ventricle of the brain in the medulla oblongata. From the fourth ventricle it runs along the third, then the fifth ventricle of the brain and finally it reaches the crown of the head, Sahasrara Chakra.

Sushumna Nadi
When we study the construction, location and function of the Spinal Cord and the Sushumna Nadi, we can readily say that the Spinal Cord was called Sushumna Nadi by the Yogins of yore. The Western Anatomy deals with the gross form and functions of the Spinal Cord, while the Yogins of ancient times dealt with all about the subtle (Sukshma) nature. Now in Kundalini Yoga, you should have a thorough knowledge of this Nadi.

Sushumna extends from the Muladhara Chakra (second vertebra of coccygeal region) to Brahmarandhra. The Western Anatomy admits that there is a central canal in the Spinal Cord, called Canalis Centralis and that the cord is made up of grey and white brain-matter. Spinal Cord is dropped or suspended in the hollow of the spinal column. In the same way, Sushumna is dropped within the spinal canal and has subtle sections. It is of red colour like Agni (fire).

Within this Sushumna there is a Nadi by name Vajra which is lustrous as Surya (sun) with Rajasic qualities. Again within this Vajra Nadi, there is another Nadi, called Chitra. It is of Sattvic nature and of pale colour. The qualities of Agni, Surya and Chandra (fire, sun and moon) are the three aspects of Sabda Brahman. Here within this Chitra, there is a very fine minute canal (which is known as Canalis Centralis). This canal is known as Brahmanadi through which Kundalini, when awakened, passes from Muladhara to Sahasrara Chakra. In this centre exist all the six Chakras (lotuses, viz., Muladhara, Svadhishthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha and Ajna).

The lower extremity of the Chitra Nadi is called Brahmadvara, the door of Brahman, as Kundalini has to pass through this door to Brahmarandhra. This corresponds to Haridwar which is the gate of Hari of Badrinarayan in the macrocosm (physical plane). The Chitra terminates in the Cerebellum.

In a general sense the Sushumna Nadi itself (gross Spinal Cord) is called Brahma Nadi because, Brahma Nadi is within the Sushumna. Again the canal within the Chitra is also called Sushumna, because the canal is within the Sushumna. Ida and Pingala Nadis are on the left and right sides of the spine.

Chitra is the highest and most beloved of the Yogins. It is like a thin thread of lotus. Brilliant with five colours, it is in the centre of Sushumna. It is the most vital part of the body. This is called the Heavenly way. It is the giver of Immortality. By contemplating on the Chakras that exist in this Nadi, the Yogi destroys all sins and attains the Highest Bliss. It is the giver of Moksha.

When the breath flows through Sushumna, the mind becomes steady. This steadiness of the mind is termed “Unmani Avastha”, the highest state of Yoga. If you sit for meditation when Sushumna is operating, you will have wonderful meditation. When the Nadis are full of impurities, the breath cannot pass into the middle Nadi. So one should practise Pranayama for the purification of Nadis.

Para-Sympathetic And Sympathetic System
On either side of the spinal cord run the sympathetic and para-sympathetic cords, a double chain of ganglia. Ganglia means a collection of nerve-cells. These constitute the Autonomic System which supplies nerves to the involuntary organs, such as heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, liver, etc., and controls them. Vagus nerve which plays a vital part in human economy comes out of this sympathetic system. Sympathetic system stimulates or accelerates. Para-sympathetic system retards or inhibits. There are nerves to dilate or expand the arteries which carry pure oxygenated blood to nourish the tissues, organs and cells of different parts of the body. These are called Vaso-dilators. The left and the right sympathetic chains are connected by filaments. These cross from the right to the left side and vice versa, but the exact places where these crosses are not known, though several have attempted to find. M’Kendrick and Snodgrass in their Physiology of the Senses write: “Where the sensory fibres cross from one side to the other is not known ….. In some parts of the spinal cord the sensory fibres do cross from the right to left side and vice versa.”

 

Nadis
Nadis are astral tubes made up of astral matter that carry Pranic currents. They can be seen by the astral eyes only. They are not the nerves. They are 72,000 in number. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are the important ones. Sushumna is the most important of all.

Purification of Nadis
Pranayama is said to be the union of Prana and Apana. It is of three kinds—expiration, inspiration and retention. They are associated with the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet for the right performance of Pranayama. Pranava (!) only is said to be Pranayama. Sitting in Padmasana (Lotus-posture) the person should meditate that there is, at the tip of his nose, Devi Gayatri, a girl of red complexion, surrounded by numberless rays of the image of the moon and mounted on Hamsa (Swan) having a mace in her hand. She is the visible symbol of the letter A (A). The letter U (u) has as its visible symbol Savitri, a young lady of white colour having a disc in her hand, riding on an eagle (Garuda). The letter M (m:Î) has as its visible symbol Sarasvati, an aged woman of black colour, riding on a bull, having a trident in her hand. He should meditate that the single letter, the supreme light—the Pranava OM (!) is the origin or source of these letters—A, U and M. Drawing up the air through Ida (left nostril) for the space of 16 Matras, he should meditate on the letter A (A) during that time, retaining the inspired air for the space of 64 Matras he should meditate on the letter U (u) during that time; he should then exhale the inspired air for the space of 32 Matras, meditating on the letter M (m:Î) during that time. He should practise thus in the above order again and again.

Having become firm in the posture and having preserved perfect self-control, the Yogi should, in order to clear away the impurities of the Sushumna, sit in Padmasana, and having inhaled the air through the left nostril, should retain it as long as he can and should exhale through the right. Then drawing it again through the right and having retained it, he should exhale it through the left, in the order, that he should draw it through the same nostril, by which he exhaled it before and had retained it. To those who practise it according to these rules, through the right and left nostrils, the Nadis become purified within three months. He should practise cessation of breath at sunrise, at midday, at sunset and at mid-night, slowly, 80 times a day, for 4 weeks. In the early stage, perspiration is produced; in the middle stage the tremor of the body; and in the last stage, levitation in the air. These results ensue out of the repression of the breath, while sitting in the Padma posture. When perspiration arises with effort, one should rub his body well. By this, the body becomes firm and light. In the early course of practice, food with milk and ghee is excellent. One, sticking to this rule, becomes firm in his practice and gets no Taapa (burning sensation) in the body. As lions, elephants.

 

 

Ida and Pingala
There are the two nerve-currents one on either side of the spinal column. The left one is called Ida and the right is known as Pingala. These are Nadis. Tentatively, some take these as the right and the left sympathetic cords, but they are subtle tubes that carry Prana. The Moon moves in the Ida and the Sun in the Pingala. Ida is cooling. Pingala is heating. Ida flows through the left nostril and the Pingala through the right nostril. The breath flows through the right nostril for one hour and then through the left nostril for one hour. Man is busily engaged in worldly activities, when the breath flows through Ida and Pingala. When Sushumna operates, he becomes dead to the world, and enters into Samadhi. A Yogi tries his level best to make the Prana run in the Sushumna Nadi, which is known as the central Brahman Nadi also. On the left of Sushumna is situated Ida and on the right is Pingala. The moon is of the nature of Tamas and the sun is that of the Rajas. The poison share is of the sun and the nectar is of the moon. Ida and Pingala indicate time. Sushumna is the consumer of time.

 

Sushumna
Sushumna is the most important of all the Nadis. It is the sustainer of the universe and the path of the universe and the path of salvation. Situated at the back of the anus, it is attached to the spinal column and extends to the Brahmarandhra of the head and is invisible and subtle. The real work of a Yogi begins when Sushumna begins to function. Sushumna runs along the centre of the spinal cord or spinal column. Above the genital organs and below the navel is the Kanda, of the shape of a bird’s egg. There arise from it all the Nadis 72,000 in number. Of these, seventy-two are common and generally known. Of those the chief ones are ten and they carry the Pranas. Ida, Pingala, Sushumna, Gandhari, Hastijihva, Pusa, Yusasvini, Alambusa, Kuhuh and Sankhini are said to be the ten important Nadis. The Yogis should have a knowledge of the Nadis and the Chakras. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are said to carry Prana and have Moon, Sun and Agni as their Devatas. When Prana moves in Sushumna, sit for meditation. You will have deep Dhyana. If the coiled-up energy, Kundalini, passes up along the Sushumna Nadi and is taken up from Chakra to Chakra the Yogi gets different sorts of experiences, powers and Ananda.

Kundalini
Kundalini is the serpent power or sleeping Sakti, that has 3 1/2 coils with face downwards, in the Muladhara Chakra, at the base of the spine. No Samadhi is possible without its being awakened. The practice of Kumbhaka in Pranayama produces heat and thereby Kundalini is awakened and passes upwards along the Sushumna Nadi. The Yogic practitioner experiences various visions. Then the Kundalini passes along the Six Chakras and eventually gets united with Lord Siva, seated on the Sahasrara or thousand-petalled lotus, at the crown of the head. Nirvikalpa Samadhi ensues now and the Yogi gets liberation and all the divine Aishvaryas. One should practise control of breath with concentration of mind. The awakened Kundalini that is taken up to Manipura Chakra may drop down again to Muladhara. It has to be raised again with effort. One should become perfectly desireless and should be full of Vairagya before he attempts to awaken Kundalini.

Kundalini is like a thread and is resplendent. When it is awakened it hisses like a serpent beaten with a stick and enters the hole of Sushumna. When it travels from Chakra to Chakra, layer after layer of the mind becomes open and the Yogi acquires various Siddhis (psychic powers).  

 

Shat-Chakras
Chakras are centres of spiritual energy. They are located in the astral body, but they have corresponding centres in the physical body also. They can hardly be seen by the naked eyes. Only a clairvoyant can see with his astral eyes. Tentatively they correspond to certain plexuses in the physical body. There are six important Chakras. They are: Muladhara (containing 4 petals) at the anus; Svadhishthana (6 petals) at the genital organ; Manipura (10 petals) at navel; Anahata (12 petals) at the heart; Visudha (16 petals) at the throat and Ajna (2 petals) at the space between the two eyebrows. The seventh Chakra is known as Sahasrara, which contains a thousand petals. It is located at the top of the head. Sacral plexus tentatively corresponds to Muladhara Chakra; Prostatic plexus to Svadhishthana, Solar plexus to Manipura, Cardiac plexus to Anahata Chakra, Laryngal plexus to Visuddha Chakra and Cavernous plexus to Ajna Chakra.

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