Swara Yoga - Part 6: The Elements of Swara Yoga

Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati

There are two major practices particular to swara yoga which one only comes across when delving into this science in depth. The first practice is called tattwa sadhana. Tattwa means 'element'; therefore, tattwa sadhana involves analyzing the breath in order to recognize the different inherent elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. For this purpose the shastras recommend one to make yantras, or symbols, of the tattwas and perform trataka on them.

The second practice, known as chhayopasana, also entails the practice of trataka but in this case you concentrate on your own shadow, or chhaya. Trataka literally means 'steady gazing'. Through this practice you become acutely attuned to the nature of the object of focus, and the effect of concentrated gazing increases your willpower. Essentially, however, a set of coded instructions is being sent to the higher centres of the brain, awakening the ultrasonic circuits concerned with the subtler and psychic realms. Therefore, the swara shastras state that if all the conditions of these sadhanas are fulfilled, eventually the knowledge of the Vedas reveals itself and you develop an encompassing insight into the three kalas, or periods of time - past, present and future.

Elements of the macro and micro-cosmos

The philosophy of yoga explains how the whole universe is the composition of the five elements, or tattwas of prithvi (earth), apas (water), agni (fire), vayu (air) and akasha (ether). The human body, being composed of the same stuff as the universe, therefore reflects the properties of these elements through every cell. In swara yoga a more detailed explanation is given, for it says that these elements, which are 'hidden in a subtler level of existence', can easily be recognized by the nature of the outgoing breath. Just as a scientist, by looking through a microscope, sees the particles which comprise a substance, so the Taittiriya Upanishad explains that by meditating upon the five tattwas, the various elements which form an object can be perceived.

The Mandukyopanishad, Prashnopanishad and Shiva Swarodaya explain that the five tattwas evolved from mind, mind from prana, and prana from supreme consciousness. The purpose of knowing and recognizing the tattwas is to enable you to expand your awareness from its present limited state and so experience the ultimate source.

How to recognize the tattwas

When a certain tattwa is active it has a specific effect upon the natural spontaneous breath. Therefore, you can tell by the length and direction of exhalation which tattwa is prevalent.

Element Earth Water Fire Air Ether
Length in fingers 12 16 4 8 -
Length in inches 9 12 3 6 -
Direction centre downwards upwards slanting diffused
Duration (minutes) 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Sequence 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th

Manifestations of the elements

The basic nature of the tattwas manifests itself in five forms, which can be recognized in either their gross or subtle, individual or universal manifestations. Because it is these properties which form both the macro and micro-cosmos, the Shiva Swarodaya states that 'all changes take place due to them'. In the following chart the various characteristics of each tattwa have been represented:

Element Earth Water Fire Air Ether
Nature heavy cold hot erratic mixed
Quality weight fluidity heat motion -
Color yellow white red grey or blue mixture (blackish)
Shape quadrangular half moon triangular pentagonal dot, bindu
Chakra mooladhara swadhisthana manipura anahata vishuddhi
Mantra Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham
Tanmatra smell taste sight touch sound
States of mind ego (ahamkara) intellect (buddhi) mind (manas) psychic consciousness (chitta) cosmic consciousness (mahat)
Kosha annamaya pranamaya manomaya vigyanamaya anandamaya
Place in body toes to knees knees to anus anus to heart heart to eyebrow centre eyebrow centre and above
Function in body skin, veins. arteries, bone construction all fluids of the body appetite, thirst, sleep expansion/contraction of muscles, movement emotions and passions
Planet Venus Mercury Mars Saturn Jupiter
Direction east west south north above

Each tattwa also influences the flavour of taste in the mouth. When you haven't eaten for some time, you can taste the distinct flavour present. The earth element is characterized by a sweetish flavour; water has a salty flavour; fire is hot or pungent; air is acidic or sour; and ether is bitter.

If the active tattwa cannot be recognized by any of these simple tests, then it can be judged by exhaling through the nose onto a mirror and studying the pattern formed by the vapour. If the vapour covers the mirror it means the earth tattwa is active; a half moon shape indicates water; a triangular shape, fire; an egg shape, air; and small dots, ether.

Finally, the Shiva Swarodaya recommends the practice of shanmukhi or yoni mudra. Carefully close all the orifices on the face with the fingers, and maintain inner concentration on the eyebrow centre or chidakasha. Afterwards, if you look at this dark space, you may see a coloured circle; yellow indicates the earth tattwa; white, the water element; red, the fire element; blue or grey, air; and a black or indistinct colour, ether.

Trataka on the tattwa yantras

After developing some proficiency in the art of defining the tattwas, then you can do trataka on their symbolic form or yantra. Traditionally these yantras were made of specific metals and were coloured and inscribed with the particular mantras. This aspect of the practice requires an experienced teacher for proper guidance. Nevertheless, today we can make the yantra by drawing its form, and colouring it with the appropriate colour, keeping the background black. So that your attention is centralized and does not waver, a small dot can be marked in the centre, though after some practice the dot may not be necessary.

Prepare yourself as you would for any meditation practice. Then begin gazing at each yantra individually for five minutes or so. After gazing at one yantra, close the eyes and try to visualize the symbol of the tattwa internally in chidakasha. Then continue with the next yantra. After completing the whole practice sit quietly and analyze the breath. Try to detect any specific characteristics pertaining to the breath's temperature, direction and general nature.

Utilizing the knowledge of the tattwas

By learning to easily define the active tattwa, you can readily determine when and whether a particular project can be undertaken. For example, the swara shastras advise that when the earth tattwa functions, it is a suitable time for calm and stable work. However, any work attempted at this time will prove fruitful. The presence of the water tattwa indicates movement, and therefore one should do mental or physical work which requires involvement and activity. But the water element brings less gain than anticipated, its influence giving 'mediocre results. The effect of the fire tattwa tends to bring loss or damage, and even the best laid plans can go wrong. However, fire does aid in performing work which is difficult and of a dynamic nature. Similarly, when the air element is flowing, you can expect more negative than positive results. Activity of the ether tattwa is said to be only conducive for spiritual practices, and any other ventures attempted during its activity may prove to be unsuccessful.

It is important to know that the time when the earth and water tattwas are active, during the flow of either ida or pingala, is auspicious and favourable.

Similarly, when the fire or the air elements flow in ida, it is auspicious, otherwise it is not. The ether tattwa cannot bring any material gain, and you can only make progress if you are seeking transcendental experiences. When you have an intimate understanding of these elements, then you can go ahead with any venture and know if the time is favourable or not. However, this is not the ultimate purpose of tattwa sadhana. The shastras emphasize that if anyone should try to develop this knowledge with selfish and harmful motives, he will not be successful.

Chhayopasana, or shadow gazing

The most significant practice of swara yoga is the art of chhayopasana, or gazing steadily upon one's shadow. The Shiva Swarodaya indicates that the best time for this is from 7-8 a.m. Stand with your back to the sun, and focus on the neck of the shadow. In addition, repeat the mantra 'Hrim Parabrahmane Namah' 108 times. After this, look into the sky and see an enlarged version of the shadow. From the colour and the shape of this shadow in the sky, you can then tell the nature of future events in another person's life. In particular it will indicate to you the time of death and the manner in which one will die.

Chhayopasana is a simple but intensive form of dharana or concentration which leads to dhyana and eventually to samadhi. Through this practice one can have direct experience of atmanubhuti, where the atman reveals itself. Therefore, chhayopasana has been a well guarded secret throughout the ages, and its success depends purely upon the prerequisite that it is practised strictly as a sadhana under the guidance of an experienced guru.