There are five keys to successful practice of prana vidya. In order of progression they are: psychic sound, psychic breath, psychic centres, psychic passage and psychic symbol.
Psychic sound is known as mantra. In the science of mantra yoga, each person has a distinct psychic personality. The mantra is a specific sound of the psychic system. The psychic system is a different dimension of the personality with specific vibrations. Psychic sound is in tune with the vibration of the psychic system. It is the signature of one aspect of the psyche.
Mantra vidya, knowledge of psychic sound, is one specialized form of prana vidya. There are two types of mantra which are important. The guru mantra is given by a teacher, master or guru in mantra diksha, a special mantra giving ceremony. The other type of mantra appears in a dream or in deep meditation. If possible, spontaneous realization of a mantra should be checked by a guru; it is well to be aware that the mind enjoys playing tricks. If the mantra suits the psyche perfectly, it will be obsessive and automatic. It will never leave the person. It has been found that constant and steady repetition of one mantra has a far deeper effect than the use of many mantras.
Breath is the first and last external sign of life in the body. The breath exudes a natural mantra. Anyone can experience this by listening to the sound of the natural breath. As the breath is inhaled, it makes a soft, sucking sound like so-o-o-o. As the breath is exhaled, it explodes gently outwards with the sound hum-m-m-m. The mantra of the breath is therefore Soham. This is the mantra used in the meditation practice of ajapa japa.
The psychic breath is the imagination and integration of the physical breath with awareness. The basis of the psychic breath is the physical breath through the nostrils, a process which occurs about 21,600 times each twenty-four hours, whether a person is aware of it or not. In the initial stages of psychic breathing, the only requirement is to become aware of the breath without trying to affect the natural rotation of the breathing cycle. This leads to psychic awareness of the breath.
A technique called ujjayi pranayama can then be employed in psychic breathing. The glottis is contracted in the larynx, producing a slight snoring sound. This has a subtle effect on the pranic body and induces subtle perception. (This technique is further described in the practice section.) Psychic breath can be moved anywhere in the body. The process is this: do ujjayi, synchronize prana and breath, consciously visualize and direct the prana to the desired place. This will induce an actual pranic transfer. Psychic breathing is an integral part of many tantric techniques, including prana vidya.
The psychic centres are called chakras. They are trigger points of awareness and prana situated in specific regions of the body. These centres of the human body have been known by yogis, rishis and sages for thousands of years both in India and other areas of the world. They have been known not by physical dissection of the body but by psychic introspection. From knowledge of these chakras, the great yogic science of kundalini yoga developed.
Mooladhara: Mooladhara, the lowest of the chakras, is known as the 'root' centre. It is related to the earth element and is the seat of the primal energy in man, known as the kundalini shakti or sexual/spiritual energy. The physical trigger point for mooladhara chakra is different in men and women. In males this point is located very slightly above the perineum, the spot on the skin directly between the genitals and anus. In females the mooladhara point is located at the cervix, where the uterus and vagina join. The bija (seed) mantra for this chakra is lam.
Swadhisthana: The literal meaning of swadhisthana is 'one's own abode . It is the second chakra associated with the unconscious mind, storehouse of the collective consciousness of all samskaras and remote genetic memories. It is the centre of the most primitive and deep-rooted instincts, those animal drives which cause modern man so much pain and confusion. The sensation of this chakra is that of drowsiness, and it is related to the physical organs of reproduction and excretion. The trigger point in the physical body for swadhisthana is located at the level of the pubic bone, or coccyx. It is most generally visualized as being in the spinal column, though for certain practices it is also felt in front of the body at the pubic bone. The bija mantra for this chakra is vam.
Manipura: The manipura chakra is literally named the 'city of jewels'; it is the centre of heat, the fire pit. It is associated with vitality and energy. The physical point used for meditation on manipura is located at the level of the navel. It is usually felt as being cantered on the spine, though in some rare cases it is also experienced in the front of the body at the navel. Manipura is a very important chakra in prana vidya, because prana is generated and laid to rest here. The bija mantra for manipura is ram.
Anahata: The word anahata literally means 'un-struck'. This chakra is the seat of the psychic sounds which are experienced in meditation and which are said to be un-struck because they are not created by physical friction. Anahata is the heart centre, root of all emotions, where love for God and man can culminate in divine manifestation. In the physical body, the anahata chakra is felt to be located at the level of the heart behind the breast bone but it can be visualized inside the spine. The bija mantra for anahata is yam.
Vishuddhi: Vishuddhi chakra is the centre of purification and is best known as the nectar and poison centre. Vishuddhi is visualized in the physical body within the throat in the region of the adam's apple, centred around the spinal cord. The sensation related to this chakra is cold, sweet drops of nectar dripping down into it, causing a feeling of blissful intoxication. The mantra for this chakra is ham.
Ajna: This chakra is known as the third eye or the command centre. It is the point in the psychic body where outside information is received, and during higher sadhana the guru guides the aspirant by issuing commands to him through this centre. It is the famous eye of intuition, through which one who is psychically awakened can view all events occurring on both the physical and psychic planes. In the physical body, ajna is visualized directly behind the centre of the eyebrows at the top of the spinal column. Its sensation is that of formless drifting beyond time and space. The bija mantra for this chakra is aum.
Bindu: Bindu is the moon chakra, the point where psychic sounds manifest to those who are ready to hear them. It is visualized in the form of a tiny crescent moon at the top back of the head, where Brahmins traditionally allow a long tuft of hair to grow.
Sahasrara: This is the highest of the psychic centres; it symbolizes the threshold between the psychic and spiritual realms. Sahasrara is said to contain all the other chakras within itself. It is infinite in dimension, like a huge radiant dome, inside which all psychic forms exist. In the physical body its point is at the very crown of the head, from where it is visualized to extend outward in all directions.
These untapped reservoirs of consciousness contain the secret of the siddhis, psychic powers. Meditation techniques, including prana vidya, release the power inherent in the chakras.
Psychic passages, called nadis, are the pathways of prana currents flowing throughout the human framework. Nadis should be properly understood. Nerves and nadis are two different things, though they are often confused. Nerves relate to the physical body, whereas nadis relate to the pranic, vital body and the more subtle koshas. The word nad means 'to flow'. Nadis should be considered as an event, a process, something that is flowing. Nadis provide the energy and operate within a vast communication network of fibrous links, carrying prana back and forth in every direction. According to kundalini yoga, there are 72,000 or more nadis through which prana, vitality, stimuli and every kind of energy flow like electric current, maintaining the rhythm and health of all the different cells and organs of the body. Out of the 72,000 nadis, there are ten main nadis for the distribution of prana and consciousness throughout the body. Out of these ten nadis, three are the most important. These three nadis control all ten and all 72,000 nadis in the body. These three nadis are ida, pingala and sushumna.
Sushumna is the most important nadi in the psychic body, and it is also the most important psychic passage visualized in the mortal frame of man. Its base is at the mooladhara chakra. From mooladhara the sushumna travels slightly back and upward to swadhisthana chakra, where it enters the spinal column. From there it travels up the spinal column through manipura, anahata and vishuddhi chakras. From ajna, the point in the lower brain where the spinal column ends, sushumna travels directly upward passing through bindu and terminating at sahasrara.
In most yogic practices one tries to develop awareness of sushumna. This is done by coordinating awareness with the breath and moving them up and down the spine. When the awareness moves up the spine, it is said to ascend; when it moves down the spine, it is said to descend. The awareness usually ascends with inhalation and descends with exhalation.
Ida and pingala nadis are two of the most important psychic channels, though only pingala nadi is utilized as a psychic passage. The reason for this is that when ida is utilized in this manner, the mental forces in a man become dominant, which subjugates his pranic vitality and causes him to lose physical and mental stability. Pingala is widely known as the surya, sun nadi and the Yamuna river. Ida is widely known as the chandra, moon nadi and the Ganga river. The passage of pingala starts at mooladhara and extends in a semi-circular curve on the right side of she body. It crosses sushumna at the swadhisthana chakra and then proceeds in a similar curve on the left side, again joining sushumna at manipura. In this way it continues upward, travelling on the right side of anahata, crossing and going left up to vishuddhi and then right to ajna, the end point of pingala nadi.
Ida follows the same route as pingala but in reverse. When pingala goes to the right, ida goes to the left. The position of ida, pingala and sushumna are shown in the diagram.
There must be a correct understanding of these ascending flows before commencing the practices of prana vidya. Ajna chakra is prayaga, meeting place of the Ganga (ida), Yamuna (pingala) and Saraswati (sushumna). Saraswati meets underground at this point. From prayaga, ajna chakra, they proceed as one river, one flow of consciousness. After ajna chakra there is no difference between pranic and individual consciousness; there is only cosmic awareness moving upward.
The practice of prana vidya enables the practitioner to experience the flow and colour of prana, Sometimes it is seen as a thin stream of flowing mercury, sometimes like the strand of a spider's web shining in the early dawn. One may also see several luminous discs like glowing pearls or shining jewels, suspended on a silver thread; these are the subtle and mysterious chakras connected to sushumna. These experiences arise gradually as one becomes purified through suitable diet and yogic practices. They are an indication that one is making progress and beginning to master prana vidya.
The psychic symbol is known as the ishta devata. In Sanskrit, ishta means 'desired by your own choice'; devata means 'divine awareness. Thus an ishta devata is a form of higher or divine awareness selected by the practitioner. If the mind is turbulent, a gross symbol is chosen from the external environment. When the mind is in a state of complete quiet and control, a subtle, abstract or mystical symbol usually arises. The origin rather than the form determines whether it is gross or subtle.
The awareness is directed toward a psychic symbol to make the mind one-pointed and bring about subtle perception of prana. You can choose any symbol according to your taste, but it is best to seek the advice of a guru who can intuitively tell you the best psychic symbol for your particular nature and needs.
With these five keys the path of prana vidya is opened.