Awakening Prana

Lecture given by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in Denmark, September 1979

The practice of pranayama forms the core of spiritual awakening. To most people pranayama means control of breath for physical health, but it has been misinterpreted and wrongly explained. Prana is universal in nature. The individual prana is a microcosmic representative of the universal system and should not be mistaken for the air that we breathe.

A certain quantum of prana exists in each human body. By enlarging the scope of prana we awaken the inner recesses of the brain. Prana flows in the body on a superficial level to maintain our body and its organs. It is a force or energy which is resonant throughout the physical system of man. According to the science of hatha yoga, pingala nadi, which flows on the right side within the framework of the spinal column, is the channel of prana from mooladhara to ajna chakra. The distribution of prana takes place throughout the physical structure by a different system made up of thousands and thousands of nerve channels which carry the force of prana to each and every atom in the body, for its growth and maintenance. Pranayama attempts to extend the scope of prana beyond the frontiers of the physical body. Force has many manifestations. Energy can assume any dimension. It can be minimal as well as cosmic.

Prana and the brain

The brain is divided into ten compartments of which nine parts are silent. Scientists have divided the brain into three sections: the new brain, the middle brain and the primitive brain. This primitive brain is the nine parts of the whole brain, which are existing but not participating in the scheme of man's life. These areas of the brain are called 'the silent areas' and their qualities are unknown. If these nine silent portions of the brain were operating, one's human faculties would be greatly expanded and they would not undergo degeneration.

In the course of man's evolution the silent areas are slowly developing and coming into active participation. Imagine a big city with beautiful houses, roads and buildings, but without electrical energy. In the same way these areas of the brain are not functioning due to the absence of force or energy. The present amount of pranic energy is insufficient to activate these silent areas. The prime objective of pranayama is to create a greater quantum of prana, change the nature of the electrical forces within this pranic body, and then transmit it to the silent areas of the brain. The different forms of pranayama prepare the channels or media through which the energy must flow.

Before this higher form of energy is conducted to the brain the channels must first be purified. Pingala nadi is the vehicle which carries the pranic force from mooladhara chakra to the higher centres in the brain. Ajna chakra, known as the medulla oblongata, situated on top of the spinal cord is the monitoring centre for the entire silent area. When this fantastic amount of energy is regenerated in the system it is conducted through pingala nadi up to ajna chakra and from ajna chakra this energy flows into the silent areas of the brain.

Seat of pranashakti

The pranas which are universal in nature exist as dormant potential energy in mooladhara chakra. This great pranashakti is also known by the name of kundalini, and awakening kundalini means awakening of the great universal pranic force in the individual human system. This tiny little centre or gland in mooladhara chakra is not a myth, a story or a fable. It is a scientific formula of utmost importance in man's evolution.

Mooladhara is the centre of creation. It is not an impure centre because it is situated in the sexual area. Many people feel hesitant and shy about believing kundalini is in mooladhara and claim it to be in manipura, because they don't want to associate this holy kundalini shakti with the unholy sexual system. But it has been scientifically shown that this tiny gland in mooladhara chakra contains infinite energy. Many psychic and spiritual experiences originate from mooladhara chakra.

Hindus believe that in mooladhara there is an oval shaped shiva lingam, resembling an egg. In modern physics we know about the egg which is made up of proto-matter. In the centre of every matter there is a nucleus and in tantra and yoga this nucleus is known as bindu, the centre of matter, object and creation. In bindu the complete cosmos is compressed in exactly the same way as a great tree is contained within one seed. Around this nucleus is infinite proto-matter in the shape of an egg, with two poles of positive and negative energies known as time and space. This is how the whole scientific concept of kundalini has to be understood. It is the point where infinite time and infinite space unite. When these positive and negative energies join each other, an explosion occurs either in the nucleus or in the matter.

Although mooladhara chakra is situated in a physical gland, energy is inherent within it as in all matter. Matter is nothing but a different form of energy and energy is nothing but a different form of matter. At every stage of creation, matter and energy are inter-convertible. Therefore we should not wonder how this physical organ could be the source of infinite energy.

Prana and pranayama

Through the practices of pranayama a certain amount of heat or creative force is generated in the entire body, which influences the existing quantum of prana. For example, if you produce heat in this room, it will heat the existing amount of air. There is a certain amount of prana within us giving us life, and pranayama heats that quantum of prana, which then makes its way through pingala nadi into ajna chakra. When sufficient heat is generated within the system ajna chakra monitors the message back to the base of kundalini and the actual awakening of the great prana takes place. This in short is the purpose of pranayama.

Pranayama is not specifically intended to awaken kundalini. Certain pranayamas are done to purify the carrying channels, i.e. the nervous system. Some are intended to create heat in the system while others stimulate ajna chakra to monitor. For example, there is a very important pranayama known as ujjayi which clears pingala for the ascension of prana.

The whole science of pranayama is based on retention of prana, known as kumbhaka. Inhalation and exhalation are incidental. Kumbhaka means pranayama and pranayama means kumbhaka. Those aspirants who are keen and working on this new project of awakening the silent areas of the brain should prepare themselves slowly by perfecting kumbhaka. From results of scientific studies on pranayama we have found that during kumbhaka an increased supply of blood is poured into the brain and at the same time extra heat is generated within the system.

Pranayama also influences the cerebral fluid in the brain. When energy is generated it changes the chemical structure of the cerebral fluid surrounding the brain within the skull. When this fluid is chemically influenced it acts on the behaviour of the brain. For example when you take a narcotic drug it produces an immediate chemical reaction within this fluid. As a result you experience certain psychic phenomena. During the state of kumbhaka extra energy in an electrical form is generated and in the course of time it changes the chemical structure of the fluid in the brain. This is why one experiences the feeling of dizziness.

This dizziness occurs in the brain, and you have to superimpose this state on the mind. All the great explosions of experiences take place in the firmament of this dizziness and very few people know how to manage it. When awakening takes place and dizziness comes, a visual aid is necessary. That is why the practice of pranayama should be combined with the practice of dharana, concentration. There are thousands of symbols for concentration- a small dot, a candle flame, a star or the symbol Om. When you have visualised the symbol you can immediately superimpose it on the condition of the brain. When this internal awareness becomes vivid, simultaneous awakening of kundalini takes place. Therefore the practice of pranayama has to be done very intelligently and patiently. Pranayama must be seen in relation to the awakening of yoga.

The practice

First perfect siddhasana, the best of all the postures. Then begin the practice of nadi shodhana pranayama. Inhalation, internal retention, exhalation, and external retention in the ratio 1:2:2:1. When you practice internal retention combine it with jalandhara bandha and moola bandha. With external retention practice jalandhara, moola and add uddiyana bandha. Gradually try to improve the quality of your breath by controlling the inhalation and exhalation.

Breath is both gross and subtle. The gross breath is perceptible and the subtle breath is imperceptible. Heavy and gross inhalation and exhalation is not pranayama. When the breath becomes subtle it improves the quality of awareness. The in going and outgoing breath should be uniform. It should not be thick or thin, broken or in waves.

After practising one round of nadi shodhana sit down quietly and fix your awareness at the mid-eyebrow centre. When everything becomes calm once again then commence a second round.

Pranayama is very important in the role of yoga. You must have a well trained and experienced teacher. It cannot be done from books alone. With the help of pranayama you can awaken kundalini and accelerate the speed of individual evolution.