Yoga Science


PRANAYAMA

(A consciousness amplifying technique)

Now that the seeker has achieved physical fitness, he can proceed to the relatively difficult task of controlling mind and nerves. But he is first supposed to purify and invigorate nerves (nadi-suddhi). Patanjali has said, “There is no purification action higher than pranayama”.

An average adult breaths 16-18 times per minute, filling the lungs to a fraction of their capacity. Air reaches the small membranous pockets called alveoli, richly supplied with blood capillaries, where oxygen is absorbed in blood. Biological function of respiration is to enable oxygen to reach tissues where it can oxidize nutrients to produce bioenergy (prana) in the body. There are two reasons as to why normal breathing does not produce enough energy to awaken dormant areas of brain. One, that the rate of breathing reflexly goes up and down depending on the energy demand in the body, thereby never producing extra energy, and two, the pranic energy regularly escapes from body through extremities of hands and feet.

A yogi, therefore, has three problems to tackle: one, to produce enough energy in the body, second, to stop dissipation of this energy and third, to channelize it to the organ or nerve desired to be activated. To stop dissipation, he sits in Padmasana with tips of fingers and thumb touching (Gyan Mudra), so that energy flowing towards tips of hands and feet is recycled back into the body. To produce extra energy, the seeker takes to pranayamma, i.e. regulated, rhythmic breathing regardless of energy requirements, which is described in Hathyoga Pradipika as follows: “Inhale through the left nostril, keeping the right one closed (Puraka), retain breath with both nostrils closed (kumbhaka) and then exhale slowly through the right nostril (rechaka). Repeat the cycle with other nostril.”

The ratio of puraka,kumbhaka and rechika should be 1:4:2, that is 5, 20 and 10 second respectively. Rhythmic breathing makes all the molecules of the body to move in one direction, generating a current that brings a restless mind to single-pointedness. Body vibrations become rhythmical and nerve impulse becomes like electric current (The Tantric Way by Mookerjee and Khanna, 1977). During kumbhaka, lungs are filled to capacity, ventilating even the farthest alveoli.

Pressure enhances absorption of oxygen. There is another aspect of pranayama: when all oxygen has been absorbed, anaerobic conditions develop in the body but since the seeker proceeds to this condition gradually over the years, body slowly attains immunity against anaerobic conditions, which not only wipes out disease-causing organisms but also produces tremendous energy at the slightest availability of oxygen. Then the body of a yogi is also believed to become capable of assimilating carbon dioxide, perhaps as in plants (Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari quoting a Russian scientist, 1975). However, the most important effect of pranayama is that repeated, conscious, rhythmic breathing renders voluntary control over the autonomic impulses traveling through vagus nerve by stimulation of medulla in the brain.

Now, to direct the vital energy produced through pranayama to the desired body organ, three bandhs (catches) and various mudras (attitudes) are practiced by the adept. Moolbandh stops downward flow of impulse from the tip of spinal cord, Jalandharbandh stops its flow upward and Uddiyanbandh prevents it from descending. The energy thus locked up in the middle of body, strikes at kundalini and forces it to rouse and rise upward.

Having perfected pranayama, seeker’s next goal is to attain complete control over the voluntary as well as involuntary portions of the nervous system, emphasis being on the brain and autonomic nerves.

THE BRAIN

(Centre of latent force; controlled through Raja Yoga)

Modem science knows little about the functioning and capabilities of human brain. Cerebral cortex of average human brain has about 1800 cm2 surface area, containing approximately 50 billion cell bodies. Each neuron (brain cell) is related to 25,000 others. The number of possible associations is therefore astronomical, perhaps larger than the number of atoms in the universe, and capacity much higher than any computer could ever have.

Each second our brain receives approximately 100 billion impulses and fires off around 5000 commands but we are conscious of only one millionth of this activity and utilize hardly 5% of brains capacity (Guyton: Anatomy and Physiology, 1985; Mookerjee and Khanna: The TantricWay, 1977). A yogi attempts to awaken this latent power of human brain and also achieves voluntary control over it. Just as it is easier to burn a stick from one of the ends rather than from middle, invigoration of nervous system can be commenced either from the upper end (brain) of the lower end (Kundalini). The technique that involves the former falls under Raja Yoga and the latter under Hath Yoga.

When eyes are fixed continuously on an object (stabilized image), the brain loses contact with the surroundings and electro-encephalograph shows alpha rhythm. One-pointedness during meditation and pranayama also brings the brain into a high alpha state, in which the mind having nothing to grasp becomes as if it were non-existent.

This state is called ultracognitive trance, in which the mind gets a chance to explore its own dormant areas and activate them. Meditation by bringing thalamus (brain’s keyboard) under voluntary control provides superconsciousness to the whole brain, a state in which sense organs start playing subordinate role, and knowledge is gained through intuitive consciousness or extrasensory perceptions. Brain becomes a hypersensitive receiver as well as transmitter of cosmic energy and thoughts, and body becomes a powerhouse of bioenergy tapped by brain. In this state if a yogi touches another person, this energy is transmitted into him, which often may lead to disease cure (yogic healing). It was in this superconscious state that Ramakrishna Paramhansa had touched Narendra Nath (then an atheist who later came to be known as Swami Vivekananda), who experienced such violent flow of energy into his body that he almost collapsed, an experience that transformed his entire personality and outlook.

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

(Master of its own; controlled through Hath Yoga)

In Rajyoga although brain achieves superconsciousness, body might still remain weak and prone to diseases. Hathyoga on the other hand stresses on controlling the nervous system commencing from the lower end of the spine (kundalini), thus achieving voluntary control over all body functions through autonomic nerves. Hathyoga being king of all yogas, thus provides complete control over mind as well as body.

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) functions on its own, without our conscious control over it and regulates functioning of organs like glands, heart, digestive system, kidneys etc. That the ANS-regulated functions cannot be subjugated to voluntary control has now been challenged even by American scientists (Miller, 1969; Katkin and Murray, 1968). Hathyoga also postulates that ANS can be brought under conscious control by constant practice. ANS has two parts, sympathetic (catabolic) and parasympathetic (anabolic), the former accelerates functioning of heart and sphincter muscles while the latter inhibits them.

Similarly the latter accelerates peristalsis of the intestine and glandular secretion while the former inhibits them. The accelerating effect of one part is counterbalanced by the inhibitory effect of the other. Functioning of the ANS is not very well understood as its nerve fibers travel along with the cranial and spinal nerves and cannot be dissected out and studied separately. Vagus is the major parasympathetic nerve that controls most visceral organs. Anatomy of nerves given in tantric manuals, by and large stands comparison with our present knowledge, albeit in highly symbolic language and alien terminology and they claim that they are parts of astral body.

Yogic texts describe ten important vayu-nadis (nerves of impulse) emanating from sushumna(spinal cord) in the centre, which passed through merudanda (vertebral column) and ends in kanda (sacrum). Two nerves, important from yogic point of view, are ida on the left side and pingala on the right side of sushumna. These are apparently sympathetic ganglionic trunks.

Flow of bioenergy through them can be regulated by altering breathing through left or right nostril. Six chakras are described as lotuses having fixed number of petals. This highly suggestive writing apparently refers to various nerve plexuses of ANS, petals being nerve branches emerging from each one. Thus 4-petalled Muladhara chakra is pelvic plexus having 4 branches, swadhisthana chakra is hypogastric plexus and so on. These plexuses are capable of functioning independently and except for routine jobs, remain dormant, but if activated through yoga they have access to enormous latent energy.

KUNDALINI

(Centre of mysterious power)

Hathyoga literature describes Kundalini as follows: “Kundalini is sleeping above kanda, dispensing liberation to yogis and bondage to fools. He who knows her knows yoga.” Arthur Avalon in his book, The Sperpent Power, says that kundalini is the representative of the great cosmic power (shakti) which creates and sustains the universe. The subtle kundalini is thus believed to be sleeping like a coiled snake at the base of spinal cord, guarding Brahma Randhra (spinal tube). When it is awakened, it rises through various chakras (plexuses) to meet Sahasrara (brain), releasing a lot of latent energy in the process and giving siddhis (superhuman powers) to the seekers.

 Anatomically there is no organ of this description in the sacral region. What is then kundalini that promises so much to a yogi? In view of the highly symbolic nature of ancient writings, it would be reasonable to assume that it must be a dormant organ near sacrum (sleeping near kanda), difficult to activate and control (coiled up like a serpent), but once activated would produce inexhaustible energy and power (rises like a cobra).

The only organ that comes close to this description is the least understood, involuntary autonomic nervous system, which we know is difficult to be subjugated under voluntary control. Two parts of this system are particularly important, namely, vagus, also called “The wandering nerve”, which controls most of the vital organs of body, and cauda equina, a bundle of lumbar and sacral nerves emerging from the lower end of the spinal cord. The location is exactly same as described for kundalini.

Rele (1960) in his book, The Mysterious Kundalini, forcefully puts forth the argument that kundalini is the right vagus nerve, subjugation of which under voluntary control amounts to its awakening. However, I strongly feel that kundalini is extremely subtle and cannot be described so simply, and that it does not refer to a particular organ but is the result of a process by which dormant nerves are activated.

I agree with Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari’s contention (1975 conference) that one cannot show fire in a match-stick but friction produces fire in it. Similarly, it is difficult to visualize the energy stored up in an atom until it is fissioned. ANS is also a storehouse of latent energy and it is easiest to start activating it from the lower end, cauda equina by constantly energizing it through meditation, pranayama, bandhs and mudras, and then proceeding upward gradually where various plexuses are activated and subdued under voluntary control, till one reaches the brain and achieves complete control over his body and soul.

In yogic literature this process is called awakening and rise of kundalini to Shiva in Sahasrara chakra (brain). A hath yogi who has accomplished this is said to be liberated from all sufferings of the body and soul. He conquers death and lives and dies at will. On the other hand failures due to faulty techniques can bring disaster, as Swami Shivananda Saraswati said, “He who seeks to conquer the Lord of Death incurs the risk of more speedy conquest by Him.”

Pages: 1 2




1 Comment so far

GowthamPosted on  7:22 am - Jul 6, 2010

Excellent article sir… phenomenal..thanks for putting things in a nutshell.hats off.

Comments are closed.

Top