I wanted to discuss further the practice of pranayama which I began a couple blogs ago. I have updated that blog, written on March 14th, to only include 4 stages. I will discuss some further stages of practice here.
In yoga, pranayama and medition are not separate practices. Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah is the partial or complete containment/control of the mental movements. These vrtti or movements are not just constrained by what we think of as the mind itself but are contained by the control of the pranic flows, through the practice of what we could call prana nirodhah.
Many people think of nirodhah as complete cessation as if this is something like a negation. This is far from true. Nirodhah, either partial or complete, is like the channeling of a river. Life is ever in motion, the force of life itself, ever moving, expanding and contracting. Learning to control the flows is like harnessing the power of life itself, like harnessing a powerful river. I only speak of partial nirodha here. We will discuss complete nirodha later.
The body is like a piece of driftwood, whereas the prana or force of life itself is like the sea. The tidal pull is like the vayus, which direct the sea in a particular direction. And then there is the magnetic force which causes the tide, which is the moon. This magnetic force akin to the moon, is connected to our deepest layer of what we call buddhi, which contains the force of our will.
It is vital to understand the process of mudra to authentically have pranayama. Otherwise we are just pushing the gross breath with our body. This is akin to controlling the sea with a piece of driftwood. For many years, I was taught by my teachers to work with the driftwood. I didn't get anywhere with these practices. The same gross techniques were taught with the mudras, forcing the body into intense positionings, stopping the gross breath, etc... All of these techqniques are very gross, some of them violent, and they lead nowhere in terms of ultimate understanding.
The process of mudra and bandha, done authentically, causes the flows of the sea of prana to shift by affecting the tide through the use of the deep magnetic forces. Some call these tidal movements vayus. There are traditionally 5 classical main vayus with 5 sub vayus. However, the vayus themselves are affected by the deep magnetic pull. They don't act on their own. Working with these deep levels of magnetism, tide, and sea will automatically produce the effects which people normally think of as the cause (in other words, what we think of as bandhas may occur by controlling the deeper, more subtle state of the body).
It is important to understand the directional shifts that can occur as we can trace these shifts back to the underlying force that guides them. Of the five classical vayus, the prana and apana are the most important. These are discussed in detail in the Yoga Vasistha. When we work with the practices given in my blog from March 14th, we are engaging the prana and apana vayus. The movement of the subtle breath to the outer dvadasanta introduces us to apana vayu and the movement of the subtle breath to the central column introduces us to the prana vayu. There is a natural and constant oscillation between these two flows, just as the tide brings the water in and out. Some modern teachers call the basic inhalation and exhalation prana and apana but this is incorrect. This is like equating the driftwood with the tide. Likewise the prana itself is not the prana and apana vayus as discussed in the texts. This is like saying the water is the tide. They are more closely related but they are still not exactly the same.
I have found no word yet which discusses the magnetic force which pulls the prana and apana vayus in perpetual motion. I'll let you know when I find this word. For now we will call it the magnetic force or just prana and apana (without the vayu). Please understand that the pranic "energy/attention" is not quite the same as the prana "magnetic force" but there is a relationship. Of course at the base level it is ALL CONSCIOUSNESS, but for the sake of this discussion, we are learning to separate different levels of phenomena.
Mudra is a practice which allows us to alter the flows of vayu and thus prana and thereby affect the mind directly. Mind is nothing other than prana, as the Yoga Vasistha (and then Hathapradipika) tells us. Mind's substance is prana itself. So when we affect these flows, we affect the mind. Many mudras are described in the hatha texts but we shouldn't be confused by this. Mudra is one, but its facets are many. This is like saying "gear shift mudra", or "pedal mudra", or "rear window check mudra", or "steering wheel mudra", when all we are really referring to is "driving mudra". What is driving?
In other words, all of the different mudras described in the texts are just different aspects of one practice. This practice is the practice which ultimately leads us to the uniting of the flows through the joining of the vayus, and causes the Goddess to unite with the God. This produces something very interesting and wonderful.
The scholars may disagree at this point but this doesn't bother me. The actual practice of this work is so far more powerful and wonderful than it is even hinted at in the texts. I was never taught this work through ordinary means. It only came after initiation into the tantra and through serious inquiry and investigation. Note that even though this work didn't come to me through ordinary means I have found that the Yoga Vasistha describes it perfectly in the chapter of liberation dedicated to Bhusunda, the long lived crow who is the master of pranayama. The other texts confirm it as well. Like many texts, most of the information is hidden and has to be unlocked. Hopefully the practices described here will help to reveal some things and be of use.
So here are stages five and above of the Ujjayi breath. Please see the post on March 14th for the first four practices. Note I have changed stage five and made it a later stage. Only stages 5 to 7 are described here.
At this point, begin to breathe normally with the gross breath and move the subtle breath to the central column and then to the periphery. Try playing with the frequency or speed of this subtle breath. Try stabilizing it, and holding it. When you hold it, feel the magnetic force which holds it in place. That which moves is the prana, the way it moves is the vayu, and the force that attracts the movement and holds it is the prana when held central and the apana when held externally. Study the various aspects of this work and determine definitively for yourself that these movements and forces exist. The difference between this and stage one are that the gross breath is not matching the subtle breath. The gross breath is normal.
In stage six, we are going to hold the twin magnetic forces equally, both at the center and at the periphery. This is in some ways like "splitting the flows". We hold prana and apana separately, in their two respective poles. I find this easiest to first establish apana at the periphery, hold it strongly by increasing the magnetic force there and then to establish prana at the center and strengthen it as well. It doesn't matter what the gross breath is doing here, however you may find that the gross breath cuts out or slows down considerably while doing this. You may also find some strange things occurring in the body now, spontaneous strange tensions, movements akin to the physical "bandhas", or slight shaking or jerking. Learn to hold this stage, with the twin vayus held equal. You might also notice that at this point, the twin nostril and other nadi flows are completely equalized during this stage.
This stage is only recommended for those who have completed the first 6 stages and have a good mastery of these stages. It is also recommended that one knows how to recognize the equalization of peripheral nadi flows (I will discuss this further in an upcoming blog). One should have yama and niyama.
At this stage we engage what is called "the union of prana and apana". Do the work of stage one for awhile. Then, when you are ready, split the flows as according to stage six.
Now, when you are ready, bring the external apana in to unite with the internal prana. This is like bringing two opposing magnetic forces together. At this point you may suddenly feel what is like a strong electrical shock or intense vibrations. Your body may shake, contort, spasm, and any number of other symptoms. The eye and ear lines can be affected. Noises or visions may arise. It is important not to pay too much attention to these phenomena but to stay focused on the magnetic forces of prana and apana themselves. This is a very difficult state to describe fully.
At this point you may engage what is called udana vayu. This is the upward magnetic force. When the twins prana and apana are united there is another force, the upward force which acts to pull the united forces upwards. I won't say more at this point until a later blog.
Udana doesn't have a corresponding downward force but it can be "invited" to come back down, which I strongly recommend you do.
When one comes out of this seventh stage, one should not be dizzy, spacey, shakey, or have any other strange symptoms. One should ideally come out very clear and grounded. What goes up, comes back down. But you may not feel exactly the same. More will be said on this practice later.
I want to emphasize again that this isn't something to be worked with in a casual way. This practice is extremely powerful and if one is not ready, one can cause problems.
The later stages of the practice involve waking and yogic nidras, as well as powerful creation level processes which some would call magic or siddhi. They are extremely interesting and relevant in terms of how the practitioner can learn to shape and guide their life and learn to contribute to the world. I truly feel that the practices of yoga, through the learning to control the life-force and the mind, eventually lead us back to the world of form to allow us to engage the practice of creation for the continued evolution of life. When one learns to master the pranic and magnetic forces, the distinction between prana and mind breaks down further and one will find that the mind is in the palm of one's hand. Very cool stuff!
More later. All peace, Matt