Nadi Yoga is ultimately about working with the body/mind system in it’s entirety. To this end, the attitudes and practices of the yama and niyama are both necessary and also not complete in themselves. Since we are embodied beings, we are not going to understand the fullness of the deeper layers of instrumental and below without really going into our body. This involves at least in the beginning a certain faith that the entirety of our energetic being is undivided by body, mind, emotion, and sensation.
These particular exercises of the vyayama come from preparatory techniques given in the old texts married to current teachings of techniques given me by my teachers. They are also informed by my practice of the tantra. There are many techniques of vyayama and all ultimately are designed to help one to connect with that deeper continuum within us all. They also help to point out in a very direct way the holes that we have in our energetic structure and lead us back to a deeper understanding of how well we are engaging with the practices of yama and niyama.
I have chosen sixteen practices of vyayama. Sixteen is a powerful number in the tantra. It includes the 15 phases of the moon as well as the hidden sixteenth phase. It is a number of the Goddess, the power behind all that moves us and sustains us. I will go through each technique in turn to help give the beginner and the more experienced student some practices to follow and learn more deeply from.
If one follows just the techniques of the vyayama alone, it will help to introduce the student to the deeper layers of oneself. These are not just mere warm ups to a more advanced practice. They contain the seeds and the structure of the entire bodily form of the Nadi Yoga techniques. All of the techniques are designed to open up the nadi pathways of the body and to start to build a deeper sense of connection to our continuity. They start from the periphery of the body and gradually move in towards the central column. The last vyayama introduces the techniques of pranic/apanic breathing and the Shambhavi mudra which are key elements of the practice utilized in the major forms.
To assist the student in learning this foundational form, please see my youtube videos which go through each of the techniques in turn over the course of 8 short videos. The link to part one of the videos is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z5hMCmehXQ. You should be able to locate the others from there. Let me know if you have any troubles. The different browsers should have apps that let you download the videos into a format which would work for you.
In the beginning, one should do 5 to 15 of each of the exercises given in order. As one gains more experience, one can even do up to 100 of the exercises each, in order to more fully savor the depths that they will take one. They are a complete practice in themselves and can also be seen as an entry to the major forms of Nadi Yoga.
In all of the techniques, one should stay as relaxed as possible. Breath should be allowed to be as it wants to be. Eyes should be held slightly down in a gaze across the end of the nose (not gazing at the end of the nose). If one knows the Shambhavi Mudra technique (given later), keep it constant throughout the practice (not necessary in the beginning). In all the techniques, unless otherwise specified, stand with the feet hip width apart, feet parallel.
Basic Warm Ups
The first techniques are basic rotation techniques given in the Hathatattvakaumudi, an ancient hatha yoga text. They help to release certain centers of tension and to free up the muscular and fascial systems of the body.
Technique 1 - Ankles
Stand with feet hip width apart, feet parallel. Keeping thigh pointed down, bend left knee, lifting left foot back til off the floor. Drop foot down till the tops of toes are on floor. First roll left foot in a counterclockwise manner, rolling around the top of the big toe top. Think of a circle with big toe top at center of circle and ankle as the radius of the circle. Toes should ideally bend to the base of all toes. Go around in continuous circles for designated number of times (10 good to start). Then go the other way clockwise. When done repeat with other leg/foot.
Technique 2 – Neck
Bend arms to hold the top arm bones across the chest. Alternately the arms can hang freely at sides. Drop the chin towards chest, swing chin up to right so head faces right, swing chin up towards sky, swing chin down to the left so head faces left, then swing chin back down to chest. In this way, roll the head in a continuous manner up to the right and down to the left in full circles. The entire neck should be mobilized, the shoulders and arms should remain completely passive and unmoving. After doing number of times on right, do the same to the left.
Technique 3 – Shoulders
From the head (top) of the upper arm, move in slow backward circles. Care should be taken that the heads of the upper arm do not come up too high, resulting in tension of the neck. It is a very mild movement and should create a sense of opening across the upper back and the chest regions. After doing a number of times in backward moving circles, then reverse the direction and do the same number forwards.
Technique 4 – Under arms / Ribs
Keeping right arm straight, swing it in a half circular arc upward, keeping hand open and alive feeling while holding the side ribs in place with the left hand. It is important to keep the right ribs held in place as the right arm goes up so that the under arm /armpit region is opened. Right arm should stay straight and as it goes up, the elbow should trace a half circle. Right arm swings down in reverse direction and fluidly switch sides. Repeat 5 to 10 times each side.
Grounding / Clearing techniques
The next 3 techniques are clearing techniques designed to introduce you to the nadis and helping to flush them.
There is a transitional technique that is used next and in between each of the clearing techniques. This technique is not technically one of the sixteen and is used in between the next 3 techniques to clear the system.
Transitional Clearing Technique
The feet should still be hip distance apart with inner feet parallel. The arms come out to each side with elbows slightly bent and the wrists bent in a little. The arms should also slightly be rolled in. Bring the middle and ring fingers strongly together, straight, while separating the index and little fingers away from the center fingers. A mild pushing tension should be felt through the tips of all fingers with the thumb as relaxed as possible. As the middle fingers push out, the shins of the legs should push down strong. It should feel as if both arms and legs feel a push of energy from the naval center out. This technique should help to clear the system and ground it. Shambhavi mudra should be employed.
Technique 5 – Gomukha clearing
Here turn the right palm forward and left palm backward. Raise right arm up and lower left arm to side. Bend both arms at the elbow until each hand can grab the fingers of the other (or as close as you can) behind the back. Turn the head to the left (away from upper arm). Attempt to make a feeling connection between the eyes and the navel and the ears and the navel. Let the eyes and ears remain open and come into “focus”. Allow yourself to feel that focusing action and the release of that which impedes the focus. After some time come back to the transitional clearing technique, hold that for some time and then switch to the other side. After working that side come back to the transitional clearing technique and hold.
Technique 6 – Garuda clearing
Next cross the right elbow forward over the left elbow and intertwine the hands, little fingers away from face. Pull the elbows down and release the head back from the base of the ear. Release the jaw, allowing the mouth to open slightly and let the eyes open up and come into clear focus. Feel that focus all the way into the navel. Let the head release and feel the pull from the base of ear down through the sternum. Hold for some time and then take the transitional clearing technique. Hold that and then switch sides with left elbow on top of right. After the left side go back to the transitional clearing technique and hold.
Technique 7 – Nadi Flushing
Next take the arms up to about shoulder level and have the arms open in front of you like you are wrapping them around a 3 foot wide pillar. The hands should face towards you. Imagine/feel that your arms begin in the earth, rise up and become the arms that you see. Keep rooted through the earth and then begin to take the arms in and out in a rhythmic motion. The rhythm should move the arms and not some forced intention. You want to feel the rhythm which develops and it should be equally balanced inside and out. Let the breath move through the sides of the mouth, with the mouth slightly open. Let the eyes come into clear focus and let the spacious quality open up in the ears. Let the 2 nostrils come into balance. Feel the pathways of all the sense doors leading to the navel and feel the empty clarity of those pathways as you do this, feeling that the movement occurs simultaneously along all of the pathways. Do this exercise for as long as you like and then at the end of it feel that the earth pulls the hands together around a ball about the size of a basketball in front of your navel. Hold briefly and then let go.
Heating and Activating the Fire Principle
The next techniques involve the forearm, waist and sides. These areas are all fire regions of the body and help to activate the inner fire. It is really important to activate the forearm correctly in these activities. There is a marma (potential place of vulnerability) in the forearm called Indra Basti. This region has relationship to the small intestine of the body which is another fire region. To correctly activate the forearm you have to learn to bend your wrist in either direction, pushing from elbow to wrist outward. Unlike the previous exercises in which you stay very relaxed, here in this practice there is a little tension/resistance which is created in the forearm and waist regions which helps to activate the fire.
Technique 8 – Forearms
From the previous technique, the hands should be as if holding a ball in front of the navel. From here push the hands from elbow to wrist forward, keeping hands about navel height. Tips of fingers should turn in towards each other, with wrists strongly bent, palms away from you. Simultaneously the shoulders should stay relaxed. Activity has to be isolated as much as possible in the forearm. Then immediately bend elbow slightly and bend wrist the other way, tip of thumb to the first joint of middle finger from the palm, all other fingers straight, palm toward you, fingers now pointing down. Push from elbow to wrist (direction of movement). Then switch again to the palms away and finger tips towards each other. Do many sets. This technique should bring heating to the body.
Technique 9 – Waist
For this technique, the position of the hands remains the same. Instead of forward, push the left hand to the right, turning fingers toward the body as you push out with palm. The right hand goes behind the body, with fingers straight and pulled toward the wrist, thumb tip to 1st knuckle of middle finger. Then pull in both hands toward navel and push right arm forward, left arm back in the same way. Each time you push with the arms to the sides, the waist turns/twists. Keep the hips as fixed as possible, pushing down through the shins to ground, emphasizing the twisting movement through the waist and spine. Do 5 to 10 rounds.
Technique 10 – Sides
Use the same hand positions for this activity also. This time bring hands together toward the center of body and then push the left arm over the head to the right as far as possible, with arm straight, keeping the shoulder blade from lifting too much. The tips of the fingers of the left arm should be kept pointing toward the ground with fingers straight, forearm pronated. The right hand drops toward the ground with arm straight, fingers straight and pulled back toward the inner wrist, thumb tip on 1st knuckle of middle finger. The bottom arm as it comes down by the knee will look like the arm of a monkey. The waist contracts to the right side. Emphasize as you bend, going down and not out to the side. This will give an intense stretch to the lateral body and spine and also trigger the side waist strongly. Immediately come up bring the hands in toward center and repeat on the other side. Do 5 to 10 rounds.
Circulation and Chalana
These next techniques deal with calana or churning in the standing position. They start to activate the spine and also open the hips. The finger and hand positions in techniques 12 and 13 are difficult to get correctly in the beginning but keep practicing and it will come quickly.
Technique 11 – Circulation
For this technique push down through the shins, ground yourself and connect to your navel. Begin to rotate/twist the waist back and forth like the movement of an upright washing machine. Let the movement come up through the arms and let the wrists lead the movement back and forth. The fingers should stay straight and the hands should follow the movement of the wrists. The little fingers stay on top with the thumbs below. The movement resembles horizontal paint brush strokes with the wrist as the end of the paintbrush stick and the hand the bristles of the paint brush. Let the movement come naturally and very relaxed. Stay open and clear. Pay attention to the transitions before switching to the other side. The transition should not be choppy or halted but rather very flowing, keeping in a constant state of movement. Do this activity for 1 to 5 minutes.
Technique 12 – Standing Chalana part 1
Inhale and raise the arms up in front of you, arms bent, wrists bent in, with fingers pointed down. The left hand should be at the level of the heart and the right hand should stay at the level of the navel. For both hands the middle and ring fingers should stay firmly together and the little and index fingers should open away from the central fingers. Keep all fingers including the thumb as straight as possible. The central fingers of middle and ring should stay lined up with each other and the palm side of those fingers should stay facing the torso, with finger tips of those fingers pointed straight down. Emphasize opening the outer fingers (the little and index) from your waist. The important point here is the feeling of connection from the navel center to the tips of the fingers. There should be no tension in the shoulders. They should be kept relaxed and down. There should be a feeling of openness and expansion in the front and underside of the armpits. Don’t let the elbows drop. Stay with this feeling of connection for a short time.
When you feel connected, begin to simultaneously rotate the tips of the central fingers and also the hips clockwise. Draw as wide a possible circle as you can with the hips. It will resemble hula hooping. Keep the legs straight. The finger tip movement should align with the movement of the hips and the right and left fingers should move together. If you do this correctly you will notice a feeling that the finger movement connects directly to the spinal movement and thus the top hand will go more with the upper spine (moving less) and the bottom hand will connect more with the lumbar spine (moving more). Keep the palm side of the fingers still facing toward the torso. All fingers should be kept straight. After some time moving in the clockwise direction, switch to the counterclockwise direction. The left hand should stay on top for the second direction.
Technique 13 – Standing Chalana part 2
At this point the feet come together, toes forward and the legs bend. Tuck the tailbone as you drop, “giving length to the kidney region”, and sink into a bent squat with hips still higher than knees. The arms and hands raise forward into the same position given in technique 12. Left hand still stays on top for the whole exercise. Repeat the hand movement as in part 1 but move the spine more from the lower spine not from the hip. It feels like someone is reaching through your spine, grabbing it in the lower section and churning it. First go clockwise and then counterclockwise. This exercise should bring up heat.
Activating the Central Column and the Breathing
These last exercises activate the central column and start us on the breathing exercise which we will use for most parts of the remaining practice. Try to really connect with the feeling in the spine.
The breath technique given in the 16th technique is a classic technique described in texts such as Yoga Vasistha and Vijnanabhairava Tantra. It is utilized to get us in touch with the twin fields of the breath, prana and apana. More will be discussed on this breath later in the book. For now just attempt it without thinking about it too much.
Technique 14 – Moving into the central column
In this technique, stand up from the previous exercise and turn lightly to your left, extending the left leg a little forward and out about 45 degrees. Use the same hand and arm position as in techniques 12 and 13 with the left hand on top. Connect the fingers to the spine. This time instead of moving the spine in circular directions we use the fingers to direct the attention in the spinal column upwards. First pull the fingers back and down and then pull them into the base of the spine and upwards all the way to the crown. The fingers don’t actually come in to touch the spine but just come in a little way. Nevertheless there should be a feeling of connection with the fingers and the spinal energy. As you take the movement up the spine, the spinal curves should decrease and the spine should become straighter. The weight should go into the back leg more. After pulling the energy up just relax and come gently back to the first part of the exercise. After about 5 rounds switch sides. This time on the right side let the hands switch places so the right hand is on top. Then repeat 5 more times on the right.
Technique 15 – The double serpent
In this technique take the feet hip distance apart with inner sides of feet parallel to each other. Bend the knees and ankles and then push down through the shins, slightly pushing the hips forward, letting the upward wave go all the way up the body, traveling upward through the spine until it reaches the skull. Don’t let it stop there though. At the crest of the wave, instead of stopping let the wave turn around and descend back down through the spine and legs, creating a “double wave”. In addition the wavelike movement should also be manifested through the arms, hands, and fingers, set up at about a 180 degree interval with the spinal wave. In other words, the arms will be moving in a wave slightly off timing with the spinal body wave. The arms and body will resemble the moving of serpents. Care should be taken not to initiate movement from the shoulders, keeping them relaxed. As well, keep the movement up and down more than forward and backward. Although the body will go forward and back, it should not be exaggerated. Do this technique for some time, feeling the connection to the central column.
Technique 16 – Pranic/Apanic field activation
At this point in the vyayamas, we are either finishing or ready to transition to the main body of the form work. There are 2 stages to this technique, first the warming and second the field activation.
In the warming activity, the feet are still hip distance apart, the hands come together about a hand or two distance in front of the navel, fingers pointing away. Care should be taken to open the armpit spaces. Begin to rub the hands together vigorously. Simultaneously stay as relaxed as you can so that you can allow the feeling of heat to disperse and flow through the body. If there is tension anywhere in the body, see if you can allow it to be converted to heat. Let the heat transform into clarity through the technique of the Shambhavi mudra. The mudra is a powerful eye and meditation technique which will be described in more detail later. If you know the mudra, apply it here very strongly waking the eyes up. If you don’t know the mudra at this point just focus on distributing the heat through the body. If excess heat goes to the head, breath out through the sides of the mouth. After you feel the whole body warm internally, clap the hands together once, pulling them apart several feet with palms facing each other.
At this stage the focus of attention goes to what is called the bahya dvadashanta. This term means the external periphery distance around the body of about 12 angulis. An anguli is the width distance of one finger, in other words the thickness of the finger (let us use the index finger for this purpose). So in other words it is the distance of about 3 hands minus the thumbs away from the body on all sides. This external field is like our external skin or aura. Take in as much of this field as you can at this time. If you know the Shambhavi mudra apply it here very strongly. If not just take in the field as best you can. When you get more experience with this it will start to feel like the field itself is supporting the body from the outside like an exoskeleton. It will feel like the arms themselves are being supported as they are held out. Let the breath do what it wants to at this point, focusing more on the field.
Next, when you have held the external field for some time, allow your attention to suddenly switch to the antar dvadashanta or the internal field, which is the central column of the spine (technically 12 angulis down from the nose internally which puts us at the heart. For our purposes in working with the body we have expanded it all along the central column). As the attention shifts to the central column, simultaneously allow the hands to be pulled in, slowly closing the fists around an imaginary pole held in front of the body a hand distance or so, with armpits open. The right hand should be on top of left maybe a fist distance above the left with the right hand more in front of the heart and the left more in front of the navel. It should feel like the hands close from the inside, with a deep connection of the hands to the navel center of the body. Hold the field awareness in the spine and pull it closer and closer, making the awareness more like a thin line through the spine. As you pull the attention tighter to the central column the hands will feel like they want to close more, like inner strings attach them to the central column. The Shambhavi mudra if you know it should be very strong. Hold this central column of awareness for some time and then allow the awareness to shift back out to the external field. As the field switches again, let the arms be pulled out back into their wide position. At this point let the fields switch with the breathing, focusing the outer field on the exhalation and the inner field with the inhalation. Alternate the hand on top with each inhalation.
Work with these techniques until they are memorized. Work with them daily for 10 to 20 minutes and a strong foundation for the physical and mental practices will be established. Utilize the videos on youtube for help. Feel free to contact me with any questions.