Preparatory Practices

Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi, the psychic breath, is practiced by contracting the glottis in the throat and forming khechari mudra i.e. with the tongue folded backwards so that the bottom of the tongue is pressed against the back of the upper palate. It is almost deep breathing, very soft, like gentle snoring or the sound of a sleeping baby. There should be the feeling of breathing, not through the nose, but through the throat only. It is practiced in almost any pose.

In advanced practice of ujjayi, the pores of the body become the mechanism of breathing. This ujjayi breath then becomes all-pervading. The imagination is used until every pore of the body is breathing in and breathing out. On inhalation, air is rapidly breathed in through every pore of the body, which expands like a balloon. On exhalation, the air is rapidly breathed out through every pore and the body becomes as light as cotton.

Utility

Throughout the whole practice of prana vidya, ujjayi is the basic breathing technique. Whenever awareness of the breathing process is mentioned, ujjayi is automatically referred to. Ujjayi is also used in ajapa japa and many other meditation techniques and mudras.

Japa

Of all the systems of yoga used to induce pratyahara and intended to lead eventually to samadhi, japa yoga is the easiest and safest. It can be practiced by anyone at any time and under any conditions. The word japa means to rotate. Japa yoga means union with the highest existence through the rotation of consciousness.

A mantra is the first requirement for japa yoga and a mala or rosary is the second. A mala is a series of small beads, usually 108 in number and separated from each other by a special kind of knot, known as the brahma granthi or knot of creation. At one point in the mala there is one extra bead, known as the sumeru or summit of the mala, which is offset from the continuity of the main loop of the mala. The significance of this sumeru cannot be overemphasized. While practicing japa, the mind often tends to become distracted from the mantra, either towards extraneous thoughts in the case of beginners, or unconscious and psychic phenomena in the case of advanced practitioners. When this occurs the rotation of the mala becomes spontaneous or automatic, continuing without awareness until the fingers reach the offset sumeru bead, which brings the awareness back to the japa in hand.

Japa is divided into four types which are: baikhari (audible), upanshu (whispering), manasik (mental) and likhit (written).

Technique and Suggestions for Japa

  1. Select any mantra or name of God, preferably one given to you by your guru. If you have no mantra, use aum which is the universal mantra suitable for all. Repeat it from 108 to 1080 times daily; that is, practice one to ten malas.
  2. Use a rudraksha or tulsi mala of 108 beads, plus the sumeru for your guru mantra.
  3. Use only the middle finger and thumb of the right hand for rolling the beads; the index and little finger should not touch them.
  4. Japa is best practiced in a steady meditative asana such as padmasana or siddhasana. The right hand with the mala can either rest on the right knee with the mala placed on the floor in front of the knee, or else the right hand can be held in front of the knee. Sometimes the right hand is held in front of the centre of the chest. In this case, the mala can be supported by a cloth bag hung on a strap from the shoulders and/or the right wrist can be supported by a cloth strap hung around the neck.
  5. The mala should not: be visible to others. Keep it in a cloth or silk bag when not in use. A japa mala should not be worn.
  6. Do not cross the sumeru terminal bead while rolling the beads. Turn the mala around when you come to the sumeru.
  7. Do mental japa for some time. If the mind wanders do audible japa for some time and then come back to mental japa again.
  8. Pronounce each letter of the mantra correctly and distinctly. Do not repeat it too fast or too slow. Increase the speed only when the mind begins to wander.
  9. Do not wish for any worldly objects while doing japa. Feel that your heart is being purified and the mind is becoming steady by the power of the mantra.
  10. Keep your guru mantra a secret; never disclose it to anyone.
  11. Carry the current of japa mentally at all times, whatever work you may be engaged in.
  12. If possible, the aspirant should face north or east while practicing.
  13. Japa is intended to bring the hidden, subconscious elements, feat's and desires of the mind to the surface in the form of images and thoughts. When these come to your mind, watch them as an unaffected spectator, and continue with japa.

If you have a mantra, a good way to practice it is to divide the practice and do three parts in baikhari, two parts in upanshu and one part in manasik. The Hindu tradition says that once a person is initiated into a mantra he should continue it throughout his life. Japa yoga is a certain and sure path, though a long one. It enhances all other types of sadhana and gives the practitioner unshakable steadiness of mind.

Ajapa Japa

Japa is the constant repetition of a mantra. Japa becomes ajapa (spontaneous) japa when the mantra automatically repeats itself without conscious effort. It is said that ajapa japa comes from the heart, whereas japa comes from the mouth.

In this practice the mantra Soham is used. Sah means he, the supreme; aham means I, the individual soul. It is to remind yourself that I am that. The mantra is also the sound of the breath itself. So is the ingoing breath and ham is the outgoing breath.

During this preliminary ajapa japa technique, the practitioner should try to feel the prana flowing in the frontal psychic passage between the navel and the throat. A lot of imagination will have to be used in the beginning.

Preliminary Ajapa Japa

Stage one
Sit in a comfortable meditative pose and close your eyes.
Make your spinal cord erect and relax yourself completely.
Become conscious of the natural ingoing and outgoing breath.
Feel the breath moving in the frontal passage between the navel and the throat.
On inhalation it rises from the navel to the throat. On exhalation it descends from the throat to the navel. Be completely aware of the respiration; do not let one breath pass without your awareness.
Your respiration should be deep and relaxed. Continue this practice for a few minutes.
Now mentally synchronize the mantra soham with the breath. So sounds during inhalation and the rising of the prana in the psychic passage. Ham sounds during exhalation and the descending of the prana in the psychic passage.
Be totally aware of the movement of prana and the mantra. When this is perfected, go on to stage two.

Stage two
Repeal the same procedure as in stage one, but reverse the order of the mantra with the breath.
Each round will now start with exhalation on the mantra ham, followed by so on inhalation. The mantra will now be hamso, and after each hamso there will be a slight pause.

When this is perfected, proceed to stage three.

Stage three
Repeat the same procedure as in stage one, but merge the mantra so with the ingoing breath and ham with the outgoing breath.
In this stage your consciousness, which is identified with soham, should be continuous; so merges with ham and ham with so.
Thus there is an endless circle of so-ham-so-ham-so-ham-so-ham.

Intermediate Ajapa Japa

In this practice greater powers of imagination are required. Awareness is very important because if you meditate and forge I that you are meditating, you will never succeed in meditation. Be mindful that you are visualizing, breathing and so on and if your mind wanders, then be aware that it is wandering and bring it back to the movement of prana and soham.

Now instead of experiencing the flow of prana between the navel and the throat, you must try to feel the flow of prana in sushumna nadi, moving through each of the chakras: mooladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddhi and ajna. This requires a lot of imagination at first but eventually the practice becomes synchronized and spontaneous.

Stage one
Sit in a comfortable pose and close your eyes.
Relax yourself physically and mentally for a few minutes.
Practice khechari mudra and then become aware of the rhythmic and slow breathing in ujjayi pranayama.
Be totally aware.
During exhalation feel the prana moving from ajna to mooladhara chakra, passing through the other chakras in turn. At first you will have to imagine the position of the chakras one by one.
During inhalation feel the prana moving from mooladhara to ajna.
When you alternately reach ajna and mooladhara, hold the breath for a short time and concentrate on that chakra. Continue like this for about live minutes. Then merge the mantra with the pranic movement. As the prana rises, feel the vibrations of so. As the prana descends, (eel the vibrations of ham. Become aware of these vibrations moving through the chakras in the spinal column.
Maintain awareness at ajna and mooladhara for a short time at the end of each ascent and descent.
Be continually aware of everything you do.
Continue in this way for the duration of your practice.
When you have perfected this stage, go on to the next.

Stage two
This is the same as stage one except that there is a continuation between inhalation and exhalation, but not between exhalation and inhalation.
Thus the mantra will continue Soham, Soham, Soham throughout the practice. After some days, go on to stage three.

Stage three
In this stage there is a slight break between inhalation and exhalation, but exhalation and the following inhalation are connected. Thus the mantra becomes hamso, hamso, hamso. When this is mastered go on to stage four.

Stage four
Now inhalation, exhalation and inhalation are continuous, making the mantra so-ham-so-ham-so-ham. After some days go on to stage five.

Stage five
In this stage the shifting from so-ham to ham so to so-ham ham-so occurs spontaneously.

Advanced Practice

Advanced ajapa japa is similar to intermediate ajapa japa and has the same five stages. The only difference is that the breath is longer and slower in this practice, and the psychic passage extends all the way from mooladhara to sahasrara. In all other respects it should be practiced in the same way.

Duration

Ajapa japa can be done for a minimum of five minutes and a maximum of half an hour. It should be practiced at different times: before and after lunch, dinner, bath; when you are too hot and too cold; when you are fresh and tired; when you are bent or stretched; when you are ready or not.

Utility

Ajapa japa develops awareness of the psychic passages and makes perception more subtle. When the awareness of the flow of soham between mooladhara and sahasrara is perfected, the practices of prana vidya are not so difficult to master.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra means psychic sleep. It is a state of sleepless sleep, when one is on the borderline of sleep and wakefulness. It is a state of inner awareness and contact with the subconscious and higher conscious. A speaker or narrator is required in the initial stages, of the practice. For this reason it is a good idea, if possible, to put the directions on tape. Later on you will remember the instructions and be able to practice alone.

Yoga nidra can be used as a preliminary to prana vidya, since it brings relaxation and greater sensitivity to the different parts of the body.

In the state of yoga nidra passivity, auto-suggestion is very powerful. Resolves made during practice can change old habits, cure certain illnesses and change your whole life.

In yoga nidra the mind should be totally taken up in following the instructions, which are quick and require acute attentiveness. In normal practice, when you are not using yoga nidra as a means to sleep, you must remain minutely aware throughout. Above all, do not slumber. Do not try to rationalize any of the words. Don't make any effort to remember them; that would exhaust your mind and send it off to sleep.

Practice yoga nidra lying down with the head flat on the floor, in shavasana. The body should be straight and the head in line, legs slightly apart and arms close to the body, palms up ward. Lie completely still; the body must be totally relaxed with clothes loose. There should be no physical movement once yoga nidra has begun. The stomach should not be full. Eyes must remain closed throughout.

A Class Transcription in Yoga Nidra

Now psychic relaxation begins.

Kindly close your eyes and make yourself physically comfortable Do not open your eyes until the whole practice is over. Try to follow all the instructions mentally and not physically. Free your mind of all intellectual analysis so that you can follow the instructions automatically.

There will be complete relaxation - physical, mental and psychic, but you must keep awake throughout. Do not sleep. If thoughts come from time to time and disturb you, it does not matter.

Become aware of your physical body from the top of the head down to the toes and say mentally aummmmmm.

Complete awareness of the whole body, whole body, whole body.

Now make your resolve.

Try to discover the easiest and most practical one for yourself. The resolve should be simple, clear and precise. The resolve that you make during yoga nidra will come true. Even as you prepare the earth's soil and sow the seed, in the same manner, you have to sow a resolve. Then it is bound to fructify. If you can convince your mind, you can do anything. When the intellectual personality recedes, the subconscious personality expresses itself and your resolve comes to pass. After making your resolve, again switch on to awareness of the physical body from the top of the head to the toes. Think of the whole body at a time, at a glance, at a thought. Develop whole body awareness at one moment. Go on developing awareness of the whole body.

Again think, 'I am listening to the instructions; I am not sleepy or drowsy. I am not conscious of external sounds. I am relaxed and can sleep at any moment but I must stay awake'. The first practice in yoga nidra begins.

Rotation of consciousness through different centres of the body. Repeat the name of the particular part of the body, just for a moment, not for a very long time.

For instance, if I say 'right hand thumb', you have to say in your mind, 'right hand thumb' without physically moving the thumb, and then go on to the next part.

I will lead your consciousness to different parts of the body and the speed will increase.

Keep yourself alert but do not concentrate loo intensely. Just develop the awareness and try to move your mind as quickly as you are instructed.

If at any time you are unable to keep up, it docs not matter, go on to the next part named.

In the first round I will go slowly, then I will gain speed. Mentally repeat the name of the particular part after me. Say mentally: right hand thumb, second finger, third, fourth, fifth, palm, wrist, elbow, shoulder, armpit, waist, thigh, knee, calf muscle, ankle, heel, sole, right toes, one, two, three, four, five. To the left: left thumb, second finger, third, fourth, fifth, palm, wrist, elbow, shoulder, armpit, waist, thigh, knee, calf muscle, ankle, heel, sole, left toes, one, two, three, four, five. Start from the bottom: right toes, one, two, three, four, five, sole, heel, ankle, calf muscle, knee, thigh, waist, armpit, shoulder, elbow, wrist, palm, right thumb, second finger, third, fourth, fifth. Go to the left: toes, one, two, three, four, five, sole, heel, ankle, calf muscle, knee, thigh, waist, armpit, shoulder, elbow, wrist, palm, left thumb, second finger, third, fourth, fifth.

Take your mind to the back of the head which is touching the ground, right shoulder blade, left shoulder blade, spinal cord, right hip, left hip, right buttock, left buttock, right side underneath the thigh, left side underneath the thigh, right calf muscle, left calf muscle, right ankle, left ankle, right heel, left heel.

Right ankle, left ankle, right calf muscle, left calf muscle, right side underneath the thigh, left side underneath the thigh, right buttock, left buttock, right hip, left hip, spinal cord, right shoulder blade, left shoulder-blade, back of the head.

Go to the front: top of the head, right eyebrow, left eyebrow, centre of the eyebrows, right eye, left eye, right nostril, left nostril, right cheek, left cheek, right ear, left ear, upper lip, lower lip, chin, throat, right side of chest, left side of chest, whole of the chest, upper abdomen, navel, right pelvis, left pelvis, right side of groin, left side of groin, right thigh, left thigh, right knee, left knee, right toes, left toes.

Left toes, light toes, left ankle, right ankle, left knee, right knee, left thigh, right thigh, left side of groin, right side of groin, left pelvis, right pelvis, left abdomen, right abdomen, lower abdomen, navel, upper abdomen, left side of chest, right side of chest, the whole chest, chin, lower lip, upper lip, left ear, light ear, left cheek, right cheek, left nostril, right nostril, left eye, right eye, left eyebrow, right eyebrow, centre of the eyebrows, forehead, top of the head Bring your awareness to the eyebrow centre. Say mentally. 'I am not sleeping, I am awake'.

Now the inner parts of the body: go inside the brain, large brain. Take your mind to your tongue, teeth, palate.
Go inside the nose with the breath, feel the inner nasal orifice which opens into the throat, through which the air passes to the left lung, right lung.

Feel the heart by concentrating on the heart beat.

Now go to the alimentary canal which carries food from the mouth to the stomach. It is like a tube; try to feel it with the breath. Stomach, liver, kidneys, the whole abdomen internally. Now the major parts of your body: the right leg, the left leg, both legs together; right arm, left arm, both arms together; the whole of the back, the whole of the front, the head, the whole body together. Say 'whole body' and visualize the whole body. Intensify your awareness of the whole body. Now cheek whether you are awake or asleep. Are you drowsy?

Check up on yourself and say 'I am awake. Take your mind to the spinal cord.

Go to the perineum below the spinal cord, between the genitals and the anus, and say 'mooladhara'.

Go a little higher to the coccyx at the bottom of the spinal cord and say 'swadhisthana'.

Go behind the navel in the spinal cord and say 'manipura'.

Go behind the heart in the spinal cord and say 'anahata'.

Go behind the neck in the spinal cord and say 'vishuddhi'.

Go to the top of the spinal cord in the smaller brain and say 'ajna'.

Go to the top of your head, crown, and say 'sahasrara'.

Move downward: crown of the head... sahasrara, top of the spinal cord, inside the brain... ajna, behind the throat... vishuddhi, behind the heart... anahata, behind the navel... manipura, bottom of the spinal cord... swadhisthana, perineum... mooladhara.

Say to yourself, 'I am awake; I am conscious.

Try to see the whole body as if you are seeing yourself in a mirror.

As if a great mirror is hanging over you and you are trying to see your whole body, your own reflection.

See your body as an object... your head, your arms, your chest, your legs, your clothes, everything as I am seeing you.

Look at yourself in the psychic mirror and say, 'my reflection, my body'. Try to see your whole body in the psychic mirror.

Now relax all efforts and draw your mind outside.

Make yourself extrovert and become aware of your surroundings.

Say to yourself, 'I am practicing yoga nidra; I am lying quietly'.

Now repeat your resolve, the same resolve; do not change it.

At this time your subconscious is open to resolves.

Keeping the eyes closed, stretch the body and prepare to get up.

Now slowly sit up and open your eyes.