BASIC YOGIC BREATHING CONTROL
Prana has been said to translate as "breath." In actuality, the Sanskrit
word "Prana" means life-force or life-energy. In fact, classic Pranayama
with its inhale/retain/exhale teaches that during the retention segment,
one should consciously retain the prana, then release the ordinary
oxygen from the lungs during exhalation, storing the prana in the solar
plexis (power) chakra.
Pranamaya is the "science of prana," and linear yards of books have been
written about it! However, prana is the basis of Hatha Yoga, and should
be studied by anyone on a spiritual path, eastern or western.
Interestingly, the literal transliteration is Prana + Yama. Yama has a
dual meaning: restraint and death. ;) Meditate on that!!
It would be impossible to go into any detail without taking up gig's of
memory, but I've included a few basic prana/breath techniques for
novices interested in getting started--they're also useful for more
experienced people as regular practice.
"Breath is Life. He who controls breath controls life."
"When the breath is controlled, the mind is controlled."
"When Prana is met and conquered, one gains ascendency over death."
"Prana, the vital breath, is born of Self. Like a person and his shadow,
the Self and the Prana are inseparable. Prana enters the body at birth,
but does not die with the body." --Prana Upanisad.
"The wise speak not of senses of speech, sight, hearing, feeling, but
only of a grou of Pranas, for these are all the manifestations of
Prana." --Ch arakha Samhita.
Let's get *BASIC* now!!
Several of the oldest Tantras state that the body is a Yantra, the
breath its Mantra. In order to facilitate better understanding of this
concept. "Bhramari Breath" is an excellent starting point. It is simple,
aids concentration, and provides a feeling of oneness with body and
breath, a consciousness, rather than a simple autonomic nervous system
function. Technique: Take a deep breath, exhale all stale air from
lungs, contracting abdominal muscles to squeeze out the last remnants.
Inhale through the *nose* while making a buzzing sound, like that of a
bee, with the inhalation. Retain for a few seconds (as long as
comfortable; working toward longer retention with practice, but not
forcing), concentrating on storing the Prana Energy in the solar plexus
(*manipura chakra*; literally manipura means 'jewel of great
consciousness)--or for non-chakra oriented people, the area above the
navel--and separating the Prana from the regular "air." Now exhale,
through the nose, making a humming sound. Focus your mind on the sounds
during inhalation and exhalation, on vital life energy being stored and
saved during breath retention. Each in-retain-out counts as one "cycle."
Begin with five or so cycles, adding more as you master Bhramari Breath
and it becomes natural to you.
COMPLETE BREATH is the second basic that should be mastered. Most people
breathe shallowly, and even those who draw breath down to the abdomen
consciously may be missing a step along the way! Again, blow out all
air, contracting abdomen to help. Inhale deeply, *pulling* the breath
toward the abdomen, expanding it. Continue inhaling, next *pulling* into
the rib cage/middle of lungs. Continue, *pulling* breath into upper
lungs, chest, and throat area. Retain for a few seconds; be sure your
face is relaxed. No tension. Let it be natural. Exhale slowly, releasing
air oppositely from inhalation: first *pull* out of throat/chest, then
from ribcage/mid lungs, finally *pull* from the abdomen, contracting
abdominus recti, forcing all air out. Work up to longer
inhalation/retention/exhalation holds as complete breath becomes more
natural. Do not "count" with a clock; allow your body to be your clock.
The ratio sould be 1:1:1 with complete breath, unlike certain other
prana techniques. As well as the mental/mystical benefits, complete
breath increases oxygen supply to the blood--hemoglobin levels. Also
slows the heart rate. Calming effect on central nervous system. Complete
breath is used in conjunction with many Hatha Yoga a sanas (*postures*).
VITALIC BREATH: Very easy. Strengthens lungs, energizes. Breathe through
nose in short, sharp sniffs until lungs are expanded to capacity. Blow
out through mouth, making a loud HAAA! sound. If desired, focus on
bringing in energizing prana, blowing out all tension and anything that
separates you from realizing your spiritual goals.
KAPALABHATHI: Also easy to master. There are many variations; this being
a quite simple rendering, no less beneficial than more advanced
techniques. Sit in Lotus position, or with legs crossed; back and head
kept straight. Inhale, keep mouth closed, and "sneeze." With mouth
closed--the lower abdomen will balloon out. Snap it back in sharply.
Begin with ten-fifteen rounds, work up to 50 and above *naturally*
without forcing. You should feel nothing in upper lungs, chest, or
throat area. On a purely physical level, Kapalabhathi also pumps oxygen
in, increases hemoglobin levels, has soothing effect on many glands, and
can be used for relief by asthmatics or smokers ;). Attention focused on
solar plexus chakra. After rounds complete, sit quietly, feeling bodily
changes and mental effects on yourSelf.
PRANA-VAYU RASA: or vigorous cycle. A recharging breath cycle. To be
performed while standing, with eyes closed, or turned upward, focused on
AJNA CHAKRA, the *third eye* chakra in middle of forehead. (1) Inhale,
lock air in chest. Swing arms twice backward and twice forward
vigorously. Exhale. (2) Inhale. Stretch arms forward at 90 degree angle
from body; swing them o ut sideways at shoulder level twice. Exhale,
drop arms. (3) Inhale. Swing arms up twice and down twice, parallel at
sides, arch small of back slightly. Exhale, drop arms. (4) Inhale, lock
breath in chest again. Stretch arms slowly forward. Clench fists and
pull them against the chest. Retain breath while shaking entire body.
Exhale. (5) Inhale. Swing arms overhead and bend body to the right from
the waist, *not* collapsing the ribcage. Concentrate on parts being
stretched. Exhale whi le straightening, repeat to the left. (6) Inhale.
Retain breath, massage ribs. Exhale. (7). Inhale. Retain breath, patting
breasts or pectoral muscles. Exhale. NOTE: the idea of recharging prana
is to tap individual energy/life force (*Atman*) and unite it with
universal energy/life force (*Brahman*). Physically, it energizes,
provides limbering of physical body, cleanses and exercises lungs.
PRANA SUKHA/HEALING BREATH: Literally, "breath of joy; joyous
life-force." This breath is the simplest extension of simple prana into
"rhy thm." One must consciously alter the time spent on each part of the
breathing cycle. The rhythm of Prana Sukha is said to be perfectly
suited to extraction of vital energy from the atmosphere. The ratio of
inhalation/retention/exhalation is 1:4:2. In other words, inhale, hold
breath four times as long as inhalation takes, then exhale, taking twice
as long as inhalation. The inhalation establishes the time ratio for the
other two; never progress into discomfort. Generally, begin by inhaling
just slightly longer than when breathing unconsciously and proportion
retention and exhalation thereto. Gradually increase, to comfort. Sukha
slows down breathing process, which is beneficial to both body and mind.
IMPORTANT: Do *not* "count" either mentally or verbally, the rhythm
lengths. Counting is a *logial* process which can sometimes interfere
with meditative/spiritual *abstract* practice. Measure the rhythm
against pulse, heartbeat, or by focusing the mind on the sounds of
inhalation and exhalation of breath, and of the heart beating during
retention. This is ideal, as it creates an audio rhythm and helps the
body and mind merge. The Gheranda Samhita suggests: "In entering, the
breath makes the sound 'SOH' and in exiting, the sound 'HAM.' Thus the
breath makes the power word SOHAM; (or, I am It). The subtle sound
reverberates in the root chakra, the heart chakra, and the third eye
chakra. The Yogi should perform this repetition consciously." Another
measuring process is concentration o n a mantra, such as AUM, or
whatever one's personal prefernce. Feel the rhythm of each AUM.
PRANA AS APPLIED TO TANTRIC SEXUAL UNION
The above beginning prana practices should be mastered first: they form
the basis for deeper exploration into pranayama and Hatha Yoga. There
are many prana breaths which apply directly to Tantric practice and
Tantric lovemaking. A true follower of the Tantric path should develop
complete breath until it is totally natural; then healing breath to
purify the vital and subtle channels of the body. This, phy sical and
emotional damage from the highly-charged, intense energies created by
Tantric Union can be prevented.
The flows of prana, the mind, and sexual energy are interdependent.
Breath control is vital to correct Tantric Union; breath is power. Fear
not the power; but lean to use it carefully. Yoga and Tantric raditions
believe in a five-fold division of Prana. "The original Prana contains
four other Pranas, each assigned to rule over a specific bodily
function. Together, these are the five subtle breath s."
The original Prana is seen as upward moving; the Apana is downward
moving. These are the first and most important of the five suble
breaths. Tantra seeks to reverse the flow of Prana and Apana, then merge
them, transforming the body/mind/soul. According to Krsna in the
Bhagavad Gita: "Some Yogis offer the Prana into the Apana; others the
Apana into the Prana." NOTE: traditionally, the Prana is considered
*higher*, the Apana *lower*. Many spiritual paths have similar ideas;
but remember, in Tantric Pran ayama, they are not considered "good" vs.
"bad," but different flows of energy, both vital, the union of which
leads to enlightenment. The Gorakasatakham (*teachings of a great Indian
Guru) states: "The Atman (individual soul) is in thrall to Prana and
Apana. Whosoever knows and controls these two forces is a true Yogi and
will taste the ecstacy of Liberation. Draw up the Apana and unite it
with the Prana."
The five subtle breaths take place in prana during the period of
retention. Inhale Prana, as if it w ere a fluid, lighter than water.
During retention, *see* the air divide into earth, water, fire, air and
ether. Exhale with fire, burning up the impurities. Pause slightly
before inhalation, concentrating on impurities returning to *earth* for
THE CROW BEAK: The very first to master prior to Tantric Union. Roll the
tongue into a "beak" drawing the sides inward to form a "straw" or
"tube." Protrude rolled tongue through slightly parted lips and inhale
through the tongue. Retain, exhale through nostrils. This process, also
referred to as "Sithali" (*cool*) cools the body, activates liver and
spleen, and strengthens the subtle pranas of *sight* and *sound.*
UNION OF PRANA AND APANA: Solar and lunar symbolism are central to
Tantra, as they are to many other mystical teachings of both east and
west. Most, interestingly, have similar meaning: anient Hebrew tradition
conidered the sun masculine and paternal, the moon feminine and
maternal; Taoist Chinese tradition considered the sun Yang/hot/mascul
ine, the moon Yin/cool/feminine. As these beliefs developed at different
times in far-flung places, perhaps a "Jungian" archetypal truth is at
HA: literally sun. THA: literally moon. YOGA: derived from root word
"Yug," meaning Yoke. HATHA YOGA = union of sun and moon. Hatha Yoga is
derived from Pranayama. The breath is linked to celestial influences;
thus, when breath is controlled, the influences are controlled. The
synthesis of HA and THA brings equilibrium, union, the goal of all
Tantra associates the Sun with the right side of the body, masculine
energy, the element of fire, the color red, and intellect. The solar
energy is stored in the solar plexus--power chakra--its energy is upward
flowing (pranic) and considered celestial energy. The Moon is associated
with the left side of the body, feminine energy, cooling (Soma) quality,
the color white, the element of water and the intuitive processes. Lunar
energy is stored between the Crown Chakra and Third-Eye Chakra,
approximately the hairline, in a crescent-shaped portal. Its energy is
downward flowing (apanic) and is considered earthly energy. The union of
the two can be accomplished meditatively in Savasana with the assistance
of visualization. With or without visualization, Pranayama has
techniques to consciously unite HA and THA, both within the individual
and within a Tantric couple, one to the other. Below are a couple of
Solar/Lunar prana techniques.
ANALOMA-VILOMA PRANAYAMA: Alternate Nostril Breathing, also called
SOLAR-LUNAR BREA TH. A major key to control of sexual energy. Solar
breath = Siva, transcendence; lunar breath = Sakthi, creative energy.
When both exist in balance, the life-force travels the Great Axis
(spinal column), rising through the chakras. Solar-Lunar breath employed
in Tantric Union provides a thrill which impels the Atman in an
evolutionary direction toward cosmic union and enlightenment. But this
breath must first be controlled through the practice of *white*
Tantra--solo, the union of HA and TH A within oneSelf.
Technique: Sit straight in Lotus or with crossed legs, back and head
straight. The rhythm may be 1:1:1 or 1:4:2, as with healing breath
(1) Take right hand, bend index and middle fingers into palm. (2) place
hand above nose. Exhale. (3) Close right nostril with right thumb.
Inhale through left nostril, focusing mind on flow of air/ vital
force/energy. (4) Use thumb and ring finger to pinch both nostrils
closed. Retain breath. (5) Lift thumb, exhale through right nostril,
keeping left nostril closed with ring finger. (6) Inhale through right
nostril, focusing as above. (7) Pinch closed, retain breath. (8) Exhale
through left nostril, lifting ring finger. This constitutes one complete
"round" of Solar-Lunar breath. Begin with five to ten repetitions of
rounds; work up gradually to tolerance.
*White* or solo HA-THA breath has physical benefits: balancing the
breath greatly assists with gaining control of parasympathetic processes
such as heartbeat, circulation and body temperature. It acts as
something of a natural tranquilizer, calming nerves, relieving tension,
and quieting mind. Mystically, it helps the individual unite the forces
within him/herself and gain ascendency over Prana/Apana--which together
equal the life force itself.
The GHERANDA SAMHITA illustrates a meditative white Tantric form of
solar/lunar breathing: "Contemplate the primordial seed sound YANG, of
the air element and heart chakra, and visualize this syllable as of a
smoky color, filled with energy. Draw in the breath through the le ft
nostril, repeating the syllable mentally 16 times. Restrain the breath
while repeating the syllable mentally 64 times, then exhale all air
through the right nostril during the period required to mentally repeat
the syllable YANG 32 times."
TANTRIC PRANA PRACTICED BY A COUPLE, PRIOR TO TANTRIC SEXUAL UNION.
Ramana Dass illustrates one technique for a couple to combine tantra
with mantra through prana. "Experience the other as a mirror of oneself;
identify each partner's dual nature; surrender to the imp ersonal flow
of these energies; and, finally, mege into that underlying union. Both
partners sit in a comfortable position facing each other. The gaze of
each is directed to the right eye and the breath coordinated in such a
way that the inbreath of one partner is the outbreath of the other.
Breathing is slow, deep, and trusting. Once coordination is established,
both partners should visualize ocean waves as the breath experience,
rolling inward and outward. After a short period, one partner begins to
say, aloud, AUM with the outbreath, directing the AUM to the heart
chakra of the other. This process is reversed as the first partner
begins to breathe in anew, while the other now breathes out, AUM on his
or her outbreath. After several complete cycles, a deepening aof
concentration and fullness will be experienced by both, as well as a
growing awareness of clear love and unity. The final period of resting
in the realization of oneness may be had by closing the eyes while
maintaining the sound and coordinated breathing."
PRANA DURING TANTRIC UNION.
When one is ready for Tantric lovemaking, the Siva and Sakthi principles
unite within themSelves and each other. There is a convergence and
synchronization of their breaths; life-forces merging into a vortex,
physical and subtle energy exchange taking place. Lying on one side
causes the opposite side's nostril to dominate the breathing pattern.
The Tantras state that during lovemaking, the man should consciously
draw in the exhaled air from the woman's left nostril t hough his right
nostril, and allow her to consciously breathe in his exhaled breath from
the right nostril through her left nostril. Face-to-face lovemaking with
each couple lying on his/her side facilitates this exchange naturally.
One Tantric text states: "By meditating on the breath during lovemaking
one should seize the life-force of the other with the life-force of
oneSelf and bestow the life force of oneSelf on that of the other."
During Tantric Union, the commitment of the couple is TOTAL--whether f
or the duration of the Act alone, for some set time limitation, for
life, or for Eternity. The exchange of life forces, when done for the
purpose of Tantric Commitment, binds souls together for Eternity, far
transcending the Christian "till death do us part."
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM SOME MASTERS:
"The solar breath leads to transcendence; the lunar breath is a
form-giving substance. Their union evokes the Eternal."--Prana Upanisad.
"When the breath is unsteady, all is unsteady; when the breath is still;
all i s still. Control the breath carefully. Inhalation gives strength
and a controlled body; retention gives steadiness of mind and longevity;
exhalation purifies body and spirit."-- Goraksasathakam.
"The oracle of breath unfolds its secrets to those who know the keys.
The elements in breath are known as fire, water, earth, air and
The above tactics and practices are taken from traditional sacred texts;
with some commentary added by Yogini Padma Ushas Suryananda, Tantric
Dancing Yogini of the Kali Yuga.
TAT TWAT ASI
HARI AUM TAT SAT
TAT TWAM ASI