Prana Nidra and Antar Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In normal states prana is under agitation. Too many distractions, sensory and sensual, affect the harmony of prana in our personality. When the pranas are disturbed, then it is natural that thoughts and emotions will be disturbed, the subtle systems of the body, the brain and the nervous systems will be disturbed. There comes a time when we have to understand the function of the pranas in order to go within.

Most of the time yoga teachers and even yogis tend to work with linear, logical concepts related to the mind. But that is not enough. Apart from saying 'observe the vrittis', 'observe the thoughts', 'observe your actions and reactions', we need to develop an understanding of the energy interactions within ourselves. The knowledge of energy interactions begins with an understanding of prana.

Understanding pranamaya kosha

Our physical and mental state is a good indication of our pranic condition. The technique of prana nidra aims at providing harmony and balance in the structure of pranamaya kosha. Pranamaya kosha is between annamaya and manomaya koshas, between the body and the mind. In our normal practices we jump from the body to the mind, ignoring the activities, functions and manifestations of pranamaya kosha. We believe that we can activate the pranas through the practices of pranayama, pranavidya and kundalini kriyas. Some people who are sensitive enough to become tuned to the energy interactions can do it, but others cannot. They scratch the surface of the iceberg, the pranaberg, and remain there.

Sometimes we feel tingling sensations running up and down the spine or running wild through the arms and legs. We begin to believe that the pranas have awakened, but that is not the case. What we are experiencing is the uncontrolled function of energy. We have to learn how to control the expression of energy in the physical body, the energy structure, the mental structure and the psychic structure. In order to develop a deeper understanding of pranic interaction, we need to develop sensitivity of mind. This is where prana nidra comes in.

Prana nidra: pranic sleep

Prana nidra is a technique of pratyahara. You may think that it is similar to yoga nidra because of the name, but yoga nidra is sleepless sleep, and prana nidra is pranic sleep. What is pranic sleep? Firstly, sleep is a state of absolute relaxation. Secondly, sleep is also defined as a vritti, a natural process which can disconnect the mind from the outer world, and thus avoid overloading the brain. If we do not sleep for three or four days and try to continue functioning in our normal routine, we will ultimately have problems. There is too much pressure on the human brain to cope with a continuous state of wakefulness. The efficiency and energy of the body and mind are also reduced. Sleep is a natural process of disconnection. It is like a valve which allows us to remove the excess pranic, mental and emotional agitations from our personality, to have some form of balance and relaxation.

Prana nidra aims at completing these two functions: harmonizing and relaxing the agitated pranas, and disconnecting them from the body as well as the mind, so that they can flow freely in their own dimension or kosha. How can we do this? In prana nidra, the breath becomes the medium to get in touch with the pranic flow. Energy flows through each and every part of our body, every cell, atom, muscle and organ is an expression of energy. In the practice we observe the breathing process in different parts of the body, for example, breathing in through one leg and out through the other, breathing in through one arm and out through the other. In this way we gradually sensitize our mind to become receptive to the flow of energy.

Fusion of mind and prana

When we have become receptive to the flow of energy, fusion of mind and energy occurs. The moment that happens, breath awareness is lost and energy awareness develops. This energy awareness is developed by experiencing the pranic flow as a current, as electrical energy. In prana nidra we are not trying to awaken the pranas. Other techniques, such as prana vidya, can be used to awaken and direct the pranas.

In prana nidra, after we develop awareness of energy as a flow or vibration, we move that pranic awareness into the locations of the five subpranas: prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. Each level of these pranas is observed and if any imbalance is seen at that psychic level, it is removed. In this way we prepare ourselves for moving into the higher states of dharana, where fixation and concentration of mind can take place without the distraction of pranic activity. This is the basic concept of prana nidra.

Antar darshan: inner vision

Antar darshan is another technique of intensifying selfawareness, becoming aware of what is happening at a much deeper level than the conscious state. Here the word 'conscious' means the expressing nature, the manifesting quality, which can be also be subconscious and unconscious. By deeper aspects of the conscious state, I am referring to the area which we are not aware of normally, the source which is beyond the conscious area or dimension.

The practice of antar darshan follows the practice of antar mouna. In antar mouna we observe the thoughts by going through the six stages. We simply move from sensorial awareness to awareness of thoughts and the ability to actually stop them, to generating thoughts and then again stopping them. In this way we learn how to remain free from the influences of thoughts.

In antar darshan we go deeper than that. Antar means 'inner', darshan means 'to have the vision of inner being'. This inner being, the little guy within each one of us, relates to the world through feelings. In the practice of antar darshan, we create abstract images and ideas, and observe the feelings associated with them. For example, during our meditation practice, without our desiring it, an image comes up of a person whom we love, respect and adore. This impression is already in our mind. Possibly as a result of the meditation technique we are practising, the memory is released and comes to the surface of the mind.

While observing the image, the intensity of feeling is so overpowering that we begin to cry. We feel our hearts begin to open, we feel a flow of very strong emotion, affection, attachment, and we get caught up in that current. We retain that impression and do not allow it to dissipate naturally. The moment we retain that impression again, it becomes an archetype, another memory. So there is no release. We look at something and we say consciously, “I acknowledge it, I observe it, I feel it”, but because of our intense association with it, we create a mirror image of the same memory and store it. In this way more impressions are created and stored. Therefore, despite our best efforts we are not able to experience the meditative state.

Experiencing the harmony of emotions

The same thing can happen with another image, form or shape which brings out the force of negativity, anger or hatred, memories of pain and suffering. We react violently and create a mirror image that comes to the surface of the mind. Every thought that comes is associated with a feeling or a group of feelings. Antar darshan is recognizing those feelings, one by one, and following the feeling back to its source. If the feeling is affection, where has it come from? Is it a true expression of my love, of my respect? Is it a manifestation of my insecurity which has come up in the form of affection? If I break off that link of affection for a moment, do I feel a void inside? If I feel empty or hollow, then what kind of reaction is that bringing to the surface of my mind? Do I get disturbed? Do I become insecure?

In this way we recognize areas of our personality which have brought up an emotion associated with either an image, a thought, a desire or an ambition. We go through the process of channelling emotional energy in the right direction by recognizing its source. Recognition of this source leads to harmony of emotions, disassociation of emotions from the tamasic and rajasic activities which we normally perform.

Transcending tamas and rajas

Tamasic or rajasic activities are conditions or states which relate to the identity of the self. In the absence of words they are selfish attitudes towards life, hanging on to life and not allowing positive transformation to take place. The tamasic and rajasic qualities allow life to go on without any contradiction, with more and more desires, ambitions and searching for satisfaction. They allow life to continue with hopes of obtaining something good from life. But they do not allow life to be transcended. They maintain us in one channel without allowing us to emerge onto dry ground.

So, through antar darshan we gain a recognition of our emotional states, which ultimately leads to disassociation of feeling from the rajasic and tamasic qualities, to re-establishing the feelings in the sattwic flow. That is the purpose of antar darshan.