Widening the Understanding

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

There are two aspects of energy: one is the material, the other is the subtle. In the material aspect the energy is used for therapeutic purposes and in the spiritual aspect the energy is used for opening the dormant psychic centres. The difference between the Indian and the Chinese traditions is that the Indian traditions have used both the spiritual and the therapeutic in relation to prana, and there is a whole group of practices dealing with prana shakti: pranayama, mudra, bandha, prana nidra, prana vidya. In the Chinese system, prana is used more for therapeutic purposes: to remove imbalances from the channels and overcome specific conditions, whether headache, sinusitis, or something else.

Similarly, there are trends that have come from Japan. A few years ago Reiki became a big hit. Everybody around the world was trying to become a Reiki master and the Reiki masters made millions making other people into Reiki masters. Now the whole motivation and attachment to Reiki is gone, people don’t even know what it is anymore. The reason for this craze was the healing and therapeutic effect of Reiki. As the Chinese and Japanese systems have focused more on therapy, you will find that their description of meridians and pressure or puncture points are precise and accurate.

Indians did not focus on the therapeutic use. They maintained the awareness that prana can be applied for therapy, yet they did not go into specifics like influencing one particular meridian to overcome your headache, another meridian to help you with your sinuses, etc. That specific knowledge developed in other Asian countries.

The Chinese system of meridians is close to the nadi system of yoga. There are eight main meridians in the body which control every function, and there are ten main nadis which control every function. If acupuncture is looking at eight main meridians which in all their varieties and forms manage the entire body, then ten nadis from the yogic perspective also manage the entire body functions and they can be correlated to the acupuncture meridians.

The gradual development of chakra understanding

The concept of chakras first came as centres of energy in the body, and then came the specifics. When you cook a meal, every ingredient has a different proportion; it can be one tablespoon of salt, one litre of water, two cups of rice. For a meal to be cooked well, everything should not be in the same measure. If you put everything in the same measure, you will end up with an inedible meal.

Just as there is a ratio for everything in order to make tasty food, there is a ratio in a chakra as well. That ratio is defined in the petals. If one petal represents one litre of water, the other petal may represent one teaspoon of salt. The qualities of the convergent nadis within a chakra are different. These convergent nadis are symbolically depicted as petals of a flower.

The understanding of the qualities of the convergent nadis represents the development of the awareness of the specifics. First came the awareness of chakras as centres of energy and then comes the awareness of what is on top, at the bottom, at the right and at the left. First the form was created, then it was identified: this is the top, this is the bottom, this is the right, this is the left, and then the frequencies governing the different nadis were placed. Further on, the emissions of the chakra were observed and the paths of their flows to specific organs of the body were discovered, resulting in understanding how these flows create either balance and harmony or imbalance and disharmony. Then it was found that by performing certain gestures, it is possible to redirect or re channel this energy. Thus the science of mudras came about.

Activating minor chakras

Before mudras, however, came the system of bandhas. These were the first practices, as bandhas deal with the chakras directly. Then, with the help of mudras you go into the specifics of how to maintain harmony, balance and equilibrium during the activation of pranic energy. This understanding of chakras through mudras gave birth to the understanding of the minor chakras in the body.

The six or seven main chakras deal with human evolution. They refine the human mind, the human energy, the human consciousness. There are other chakras which become active only to power a particular sensorial activity. They secrete chemicals and hormones in minute quantities, which can be used either for health and well being or for death and destruction. These minor centres are situated all over the body, more specifically at the extremities such as the tip of the nose, the ear lobes, the point of the chin, and also above vishuddhi chakra. There are many of these points of energy in the body, which are similar to the acupuncture points in nature, quality and attributes.

Sometimes people get con-fused when they read about chakras, as different books give different numbers. Going by the logic that chakras deal with the evolution of consciousness, there are six: mooladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddhi and ajna. They go from the earth element at mooladhara up to the mind element, manas, in ajna. They are for your growth and evolution.

Sahasrara is the seventh one, and it is a state of being. Those who are established in sahasrara do not swing from one state to another according to a mood. One state of transcendental awareness is maintained; that state is constant, unbroken and continuous. Sahasrara is the final chakra. If you attain it, there is no returning back. In the lower six chakras, which belong to the process of evolution, you can fluctuate.

Then there are minor chakras. Bindu, for example, is a minor chakra. Lalana, nasikagra are other minor chakras. However, they are minor only from the broad understanding of chakras. They are subtle centres that can have a profound impact on the physical, mental and psychic levels. You begin to activate these centres and develop their understanding with the help of mudras such as khechari and vipareeta karani. This you do in hatha yoga. Then, when you move into the higher yogas of kriya and kundalini, there are many other practices that take you deeper into their experience.

Turning on the switches

Mudras work as switches. In your childhood some of you might have experienced that if you put your finger near the forehead there used to be a tickling sensation. As an adult you don’t experience it anymore, but as a child it was a strong sensation, and you could maintain that sensation continuously until you diverted the mind. This is an example of stimulating a chakra which is in the frontal region of the forehead. It is not ajna chakra, it is another chakra. Similarly, all other minor chakras are affected by gestures.

In Kundalini Tantra, Sri Swami Satyananda says that one should not be confused if the practice of awakening a chakra seems to be totally contrary to what you would imagine. For example, if you are trying to activate ajna chakra, you work with your mooladhara. Or if you are trying to awaken your mooladhara, you use the trigger which is in ajna. Just as fans are here but the switch is somewhere else, in this body also the fan and the switch are not side by side. Action happens in a chakra, though the switch is in some other place. For example, shambhavi mudra, eyebrow centre gazing, is practised for mooladhara chakra. Whenever you are practising shambhavi mudra, you are turning on the switch for mooladhara. The switch is at the eyebrow centre and the bulb is down there in mooladhara.

In the same way, when you perform chin mudra, it affects a minor centre in the lungs, improving respiration. It also affects a minor chakra in the nape of the neck, allowing you to focus and concentrate. When you perform prana mudra, with the index and little finger extending out and the tips of the middle and ring fingers and the thumb together, you activate the prana vayu. When you feel depleted of energy, practise this mudra. When you return home from your office exhausted and want to be quiet for five minutes, at that time practise prana mudra while focusing on your breath from manipura to vishuddhi. In five minutes your energy level will go up and you will feel ready to roll for a few more hours without any exhaustion.

There are mudras for each of the pancha pranas and they all affect different chakras. Prana mudra activates anahata chakra, apana mudra activates swadhisthana chakra, samana mudra activates manipura chakra, and so on.

Published in Hatha Yoga Yatra 3