Ajapa Japa

This speech was delivered by Swami Satyananda Saraswati during the Sliver Jubilee World Yoga Convention held at Bogotá, Colombia, South America in 1975

Whatever we understand and know intellectually is never enough. Intellectually we know what life is, what its limits are and how to transcend them. But when it comes to practical living, we utterly fail. Just as the seed has to be taken out of the packet and planted in soil in order to grow, similarly the theories, explanations and expositions placed before us have to be planted into our psyche before we can really know them.

Ajapa japa is an important meditation practice by which we can 'plough' our psyche and make it fertile and receptive. Another name for ajapa is 'spontaneous awareness'. Its translation is 'to see, to look within, to watch, to observe'.

The first point in ajapa japa is your own natural breath. You breathe 15 times per minute, 900 times per hour and 21,600 times in 24 hours, but you are never aware of it. Man has become so extroverted that he is aware of everything else in the world except his most vital and intimate process. Breathing is the key to life, the basis for meditation, kriya yoga, hypnosis, self analysis and far rejuvenating the tired brain cells.

The second point in ajapa japa is awareness of the four dimensions of breath: natural, deeper than natural, relaxed, and suspended. These have been investigated by scientists and you can observe them yourself by watching a child who has just gone to bed. With natural drowsiness, the breathing becomes deeper. When the child falls asleep, the breathing becomes very relaxed, then light snoring can be heard. Sometimes during deep sleep the breath is suspended, causing the child to wake up suddenly. These same four dimensions also occur during meditation. If you concentrate an your natural breathing for half an hour or more, without making any effort whatsoever, you will find it becoming deeper and deeper. Eventually it will become very relaxed and a faint snoring sound may be heard in the throat. In very deep meditation, suspension of breath may also occur; during Inhalation or exhalation the breathing stops for half a minute or one minute.

The third and most important point in ajapa japa is awareness of the movement of breath as it flows through the body. For example, try to feel the natural breath flowing through the nostrils from the tip of the nose to the eyebrow centre on inhalation, and from the eyebrow centre back to the tip of the nose on exhalation Then feel the breath flowing from the eyebrow centre straight back to the medulla, the top of the spinal cord, on inhalation and from the medulla to the eyebrow centre on exhalation. Feel the breath move backward with inhalation and forward with exhalation. Next be aware of the natural movement of the breath from the navel to the throat on inhalation and from the throat to the navel on exhalation.

By this time the breath will have changed dimension, and you will feel it becoming deeper than is natural as it ascends and descends. Then you can practice circulating the breath through every part of the body: stomach, chest, top of the head, etc. You can also combine movement of the breath with different forms such as a triangle, square, hexagon, circle. Imagine two triangles, one inverted and the other upright, crossing each other at anahata chakra and try to make them one with the movement of your breath. These forms are known as yantras, symbols of the psychic body. They have always been in existence, but normally we are unaware of them.

Movement of the breath can be practiced in as many ways as possible but the most important is awareness of the breath in the spinal cord. When the breath has assumed the relaxed third dimension it becomes ujjayi pranayama (the psychic breath), deep, long and soft like the gentle snoring of a baby. Rotate this relaxed breath up and down the spinal cord with every inhalation and exhalation sushumna; it flows through the central canal within the spinal cord. The other two are situated to the left and to the right of sushumna. They are called ida, the mental, and pingala, the vital. Remember these three nadis or channels which flow within the spinal cord. Sushumna is responsible for spiritual awareness; ida controls all the mental functions, and pingala directs all the vital functions. These three nadis thus control all the functions of the body.

Ida, pingala and sushumna begin at mooladhara chakra in the perineum which is found midway between the anus and genitals in males, and at the cervix in females. From mooladhara they proceed to the end of the tail bone and go right up the spinal cord to ajna chakra situated behind the eyebrow centre. Ida and pingala end here but sushumna proceeds on to sahasrara, the highest chakra where liberation or moksha takes place. Sushumna is the spiritual channel.

When you are breathing in ujjayi, the third dimension, feel this deep, sonorous, relaxed, elongated breath in the spinal cord. When the breath becomes long and automatic with the sound of a hissing snake, you can feel it in your sushumna. Start from mooladhara in the perineum and go up to ajna chakra in the medulla. Come back down. Again go from mooladhara to ajna and come back down. Your awareness of breathing, the entire process of breathing is taking place in sushumna. The breath goes up and down in sushumna which seems like a pipeline. Your mind and consciousness are there. The total psychic effort is made there. Forget the body, you are sushumna. On inhalation you emerge from mooladhara at the bottom and go up to ajna at the top. On exhalation return from ajna to mooladhara. This is kriya yoga.

The fifth point in ajapa japa is the sound or mantra. In the physical and psychic body there is a sound. Some call it aum, amin or soham. Everybody has heard it, but they hear it differently. That sound or mantra should be integrated with the breath. When you inhale, the breath spontaneously makes the sound of so and when you exhale it makes the sound of ham. The most important thing is that the breath and the mantra should become one. In the beginning you are aware of the breath flowing in and out.

But later, when you integrate the mantra with the breath the two become one - soham. While you are inhaling through sushumna from mooladhara to ajna and exhaling from ajna to mooladhara, be aware of the movement of the breath combined with the movement of a powerful sound - soham.

This process purifies the nadis. When mantra is awakened in the breath the whole body is recharged. Psychic toxins are eliminated and blocks in the nadis which are the main source of physical and mental disturbances are removed. The sound, the mantra should awaken sushumna and permeate each and every particle of the body. Sushumna is atma, the highest consciousness. When sushumna begins to vibrate, self awareness becomes active. When ida starts vibrating the mind becomes active. When pingala starts vibrating, the prana becomes active and energy flows through one's whole system, extending even outside the physical body.

When sushumna starts vibrating with the help of concentration on prana, the breath, and the mantra going up and down, there is an awakening in the higher realms of consciousness. Then inner or psychic sounds are produced which we call nada (the bell, conch, flute, drums, music, roar of the sea, lightning and thunder). Not one, but several sounds may be heard. Inner experiences also take place on new and different dimensions. These denote that conflicts are being eliminated, worked out symbolically. For example, you may feel that you are out in the rain getting wet; you may hear the sound of falling rain. This kind of mental experience is a symbolic outlet for the deep rooted karmas and conflicts of which we are not aware. Karmas do not come out in their original state. If you throw a basket of fruit into a well and pick them up after six months, will you get the same fruit? No, their substance will be completely transformed.

When the awakening of sushumna takes place with the help of mantra shakti, the elimination of karma takes place symbolically. This results in the arising of inner sounds and fantastic expenses. You hear music and see colours, animals, paintings, etc. times you may feet that the horizons are receding further and further from you or that your body is expanding, bloating, as if it is being pumped up to the bursting point.

These and many more meaningful, meaningless, relevant, irrelevant, strange and ordinary experiences take place. All of them arise from your deeper consciousness. They all belong to you. You acquired them in this life or inherited them from your own parents along with your DNA molecules. Their arising is mental shankaprakashalana; it is part of the purging process.

Ajapa japa is the basis for kriya yoga. With its practice, pratyahara is achieved and the real practice of dharana (concentration) begins. When ajapa japa is perfected and fully realized, the samskaras are totally exhausted and the mind becomes one pointed. In this way dhyana yoga blossoms forth.