Saturday, February 28, 2015

1 March

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 10 
Now I will tell you what vichara is. Vichara means enquiry. It is an enquiry into the nature of Brahman or Atman. Enquiry of "Who am I?" is also vichara.
What is bondage? What is freedom? What is the relation between the jiva and Brahman? How was this Universe born? Who is the Creator? These constitute vichara.
Vichara leads to Brahma-jnana (realisation of the Infinite).
- - -
You are imprisoned in this cage of flesh for a long time on account of your identification with the body. Cut this illusion with the sword of knowledge. "I am the all-pervading sat-chit-ananda Brahman" - and be ever blissful.
Give up "I ness, mine ness", agency or doership. Become a silent witness. This is wisdom.
Brahman or the Absolute is the only reality. Mind and the universe are unreal. Mind alone is the universe. Action of the mind alone is karma.
Renunciation of egoism and desires constitutes real renunciation. This leads to atma-jnana (self-knowledge). Practise brahma-vichara and you will soon attain Self-realisation.
- - -
Identification with the body is bondage. Identification with the Atman or soul is liberation.
"I am body", "This is mine", "He is my son", "She is my wife" - this is bondage.
"I am all-pervading immortal soul", "Nothing belongs to me", "All is Brahman" - this is liberation.
If the mind is attached to objects, this is bondage. If it is unattached, this is liberation.
- - -
Where there is no duality, there is immortality. When the three knots are cut, one attains immortality.
If your object in life is immortality, shun sense-objects as poison. Where there is nothing to be seen, or heard, or thought of, there is immortality.
Immortality is the very nature of Atman. The road to immortality is steep and thorny. The help of a realised sage is necessary - at every step.

Raja Yoga, Message 13

Pranayama and the Mind 
The mind can be made to transcend ordinary experience and exist on a plane higher than reason, known as the superconscious state, and also beyond the limit of concentration. A yogi conies face to face with facts which ordinary consciousness cannot comprehend. This is achieved by proper training and manipulation of the subtle forces of the body as to cause them to give, as it were, an upward push of the mind into higher planes. When the mind is so raised into the superconscious state of perception, it begins to act from there and experiences higher facts and higher knowledge. Such is the ultimate object of pranayama, which is achieved through control. 
"Then the covering of the light is destroyed." (II-52) 
"The mind becomes fit for concentration." (II-53)
The fruit of regulation of the breath is retention of breath. The mind is like a wheel which revolves endlessly with tremendous velocity. It generates new thoughts with every revolution. This wheel is set in motion by the vibration of psychic (or subtle) prana. The practice of pranayama lessens the velocity of the mind and slows down the wheel gradually. Perfect control of prana brings the wheel to a standstill. The mind becomes quite steady. Regulation of breath and kumbhaka are of great help in the practice of concentration and meditation. 
Mind and prana are interdependent. Prana is the overcoat or the vehicle of the mind. Wherever there is prana there is mind, and vice-versa. If you think deeply on any subject the breathing becomes slow. When one suffers from asphyxia the functioning of the mind comes to a standstill. Mind is the rider, prana is the horse and body is the chariot. Prana vibrates and mind is set in motion. Mind thinks when prana moves. If prana departs from the body, all functions of the body will stop. The body will remain on the ground like a log of wood. Separation of prana from the physical body is called death in common parlance. 
Prana vibrates so long as there are subtle desires in the mind. The mind lives so long as it assumes the form of objects. The senses operate so long as they perceive their respective objects. Prana dies when the two currents viz., attraction and repulsion for objects, are annihilated. The senses die when they are withdrawn from their objects by the practice of dispassion and control of the senses. So, the vibrations of prana and desire are the two seeds for the tree of mind. Should either of them perish, both die soon. If you control the prana through regular practice of pranayama, the mind-bird will be caught easily. 
He who has controlled his mind has also controlled his breath. If one is suspended the other is also suspended. If the mind and the prana are both controlled one gets liberation from the round of births and deaths and attains immortality.
Physical Benefits of Pranayama
The practice of pranayama has great influence over the body, mind, intellect and the senses. It supplies abundant fresh energy to the body, steadies the mind and removes the impurities of the mind also. It strengthens the intellect, augments the intellectual capacity and increases the power of memory. It calms the turbulent senses and checks their outgoing tendencies. 
Pranayama also gives good exercise for the various internal organs and the whole body. It removes all sorts of diseases, improves health, energises digestion, invigorates the nerves, removes rajas (restlessness) and awakens the kundalini shakti*. A pranayama practitioner can stop his breath. Even if people break stones on his chest he does not feel anything, because he has controlled his prana. 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
A pranayama practitioner will have a light body free from disease, a very fair complexion, a sweet melodious voice, pleasant smell from his body and scanty excrement. 
Hints for Practice 
The room in which you practise pranayama must not be damp and ill-ventilated. It must be dry and airy. 
You can do the practice by the side of a river or lake, in the corner of a garden, in open air, when there is no chill or draught of cold air, or on the top or foot of a hill. In summer you can have the practice in the cool hours of the morning only. Sit by the side of a river or lake or sea, if you can manage. If the day is hot or winds blow, stop doing pranayama. You can do sitali to cool the body in summer. You can start the practice in the rainy season or winter. 
Do not combine too many exercises and pranayama. Yoga practices should be done gradually, step by step and little by little. 
Some hatha yoga books interdict cold bath in the early morning. Probably the reason may be that one may catch cold or develop some complaint of the lungs if he takes cold bath at 4 a.m., particularly in cold places like Kashmir, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, etc. There is no such restriction in hot places. I am always in favour of morning cold baths before one starts the yoga practices, as it is refreshing and stimulating. It drives off drowsiness, it helps regular circulation of blood and a healthy flow of blood towards the brain. 
To drive off drowsiness sit in vajrasana*, (the same pose in which the Muslims sit for offering prayers) and bend the body down. Let the forehead touch the ground or bed. Then come back to the original position. Repeat this 12 times. Sleep will vanish. Do some mild breath retention also. Let the night-food be light. Take one piece of bread, milk or fruits. Do not take late hour dinner or supper. Finish your evening meal before 7 p.m. You can also sit for meditation and japa on vajrasana. Those who sit on this asana will never feel drowsy. 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
Students of pranayama should avoid fasting altogether. They should be careful in the selection of their food. A rigid pranayama practitioner should avoid solid food. He should live on a regimen of cream, cheese, milk, butter, fruits, etc. [There is no restriction in diet for the highest class of sannyasin who tries to realise 'Aham Brahma Asmi' ('I am Brahman'). There is no harm in his fasting. If he lives on alms begged from three or five houses he can take any kind of food, save meat, fish, etc.] 
Pranayama students are not allowed to sit by the side of a fire because there is likelihood of inhaling carbon dioxide. The practice of pranayama should be performed daily with the mind firmly fixed on Truth. Then the prana becomes steady and does not fluctuate. Pranayama requires deep concentration and attention. 
There should be no strain in any stage of pranayama. You must experience joy and pleasure in practising. You should not feel any undue strain.
Take sole refuge in pranayama. Be interested in the practice of retention of breath alone, if your mind is solely turned towards pranayama. Take great caution at every step. 
Pranayama Exercises
Pranayama is an exact science. It is the control of the prana and the vital forces of the body through the regulation of the breath. A correct habit of breathing must be established by the regular practice of pranayama. In ordinary worldly persons the breathing is irregular, there is neither rhythm nor harmony. A yogi practises regulation of the breath and establishes harmony. When the breath is regulated, when there is harmony, the breath will be moving evenly within the nostrils. 
Preliminary Exercises 
1. Sit on any comfortable asana. Keep the head, neck and trunk in a straight line. Draw the air slowly through both the nostrils as long as it is comfortable. Do not retain the breath. Then slowly exhale. 
Practise this for three months. Do it six times to begin with and then gradually increase the number to 30. Practise this in the morning on an empty stomach. 
2. Then close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril; then again inhale through the right and exhale through the left nostril. This establishes equipoise of mind and breath. 
Sukha Purvak
This is easy comfortable pranayama. Sit in the lotus posture or other meditative pose in your meditation room before the picture of your chosen deity. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Draw in the air very, very slowly through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril also with the little and ring fingers of the right hand. Retain the air as long as you comfortably can. Then exhale very, very slowly through the right nostril after removing the thumb. Now half the process is over. Then draw the air through the right nostril. Retain the air as before and exhale it very, very slowly through the left nostril. All these six processes constitute one pranayama. Do twenty in the morning and twenty in the evening. 
Have the mental attitude that all the divine qualities like mercy, love, forgiveness, peace and joy are entering into your system along with the inspired air, and that all undivine qualities like lust, anger, greed and pride are being thrown out along with the expired air. 
You must adjust the inhalation, retention and exhalation so nicely that you do not experience the feeling of suffocation or discomfort at any stage of pranayama. You should never feel the necessity of catching hold of a few normal breaths between any two successive rounds. The duration of inhalation, retention and exhalation must be properly adjusted. Exercise due care and attention and matters will turn out to be successful and easy in the end. Always inhale and exhale very, very slowly. Do not make the least sound. You must not unnecessarily prolong the period of exhalation, otherwise the following inhalation will be done in a hurried manner, and the rhythm will be disturbed. When this becomes effortless, maintain a ratio of inhalation, retention, exhalation of 1:4:2. 
If you want rapid progress in the practice you must have four sittings — morning 4 a.m., afternoon 4 p.m., night 8 p.m., and at midnight 12 p.m. — and do 4 x 80 = 320 retentions. This pranayama exercise removes all diseases, purifies the nadis, steadies the mind in concentration, improves digestion, increases the digestive power, helps in maintaining brahmacharya and enables one to attain kevala kumbhaka (absolute retention) in due course of practice. 
There is no danger in practising pranayama, asana, etc., if you are careful, if you use your commonsense. People are unnecessarily alarmed. There is danger in everything if you are careless. If you are careless in going down the staircase you will fall down and break your legs. If you are careless when you walk in the busy parts of a city you will be crushed by the motor cars. If you are careless when you purchase a ticket at the railway station you will lose your money-purse. If you are careless in dispensing mixtures you will kill the patients by giving a poison or a wrong medicine or administering a medicine in overdose. Even so, when you practise pranayama you will have to be careful about your diet. You should avoid overloading; you should take light, easily digestible and nutritious food. You should be moderate in copulation. You should not go beyond your capacity in retaining the breath. You should first practise inhalation and exhalation only (without retention of breath) for one or two months. You should gradually increase the ratio of inhalation, retention and exhalation from 1:4:2 to 16:64:32. You should inhale very, very slowly. If these rules are observed there is no danger at all in the practice of pranayama. 
Pranayama and Hatha Yoga 
The chief aim of pranayama is to unite the prana with the apana and take the united prana-apana slowly upwards toward the head. The effect or fruit of pranayama is the awakening of the sleeping kundalini*. 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
A hatha yogi unites prana and apana through retention of breath (kumbhaka) and bandhas. He awakens the kundalini through the heat generated in retention of breath. He opens the sushumna and takes the united prana-apana along the sushumna nadi. He takes sole refuge in pranayama. He always does kumbhaka, whereas a raja yogi does a little pranayama and a little kumbhaka to steady the mind and stop the vrittis. The raja yogi's chief aim is meditation through concentration of mind. By closing one nostril the yogi helps the free full flow of breath in the other nostril. Stoppage of breath comes not through closing the nostrils but through stopping the lungs from operating. 
Pranayama is a great help — not only to hatha yogis, but also to raja yogis and vedantins — as it steadies the mind. A vedantic student who is in the habit of meditating on OM with feeling will actually think of Atman always even while practising pranayama, and concentrate on the blissful Self. A raja yogi will concentrate on that special Purusha or Ishvara. A hatha yogi will concentrate on kundalini shakti in muladhara chakra and try to feel that the muladhara is pierced and kundalini is moving towards svadhisthana*. 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga
Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the yoga student removes the impurities of the body and the senses by blowing his lungs, i.e. by practising pranayama. 
Twelve pranayamas constitute one pratyahara. Twelve pratyaharas constitute one dharana. Twelve dharanas make up dhyana (meditation). Twelve dhyanas will constitute samadhi. For instance, retention of breath for twelve seconds will constitute one pranayama. Twelve such pranayamas, i.e. retention of breath for two minutes and twenty-four seconds will make up one pratyahara; twelve such pratyaharas (i.e. retention of breath for twenty-eight minutes and forty-eight seconds) will constitute one dharana; twelve such dharanas, i.e. retention of breath or fixing the mind on an object or point for five hours, forty-five minutes and thirty-six seconds will constitute one dhyana; twelve such dhyanas, i.e. retention of breath for two days, twenty-one hours, seven minutes and twelve seconds will constitute one samadhi. Yogi Goraksha holds that retention of breath for two hours constitutes one dharana, for twenty-four hours one dhyana, for twelve days one samadhi. 
Pranayama and Pratyahara
It is very difficult to say where pranayama ends and pratyahara (sense control) begins. Those who practise pranayama four times daily at the rate of 80 retentions per sitting can get success in pratyahara generally within three months. If you are able to suspend the breath for three minutes or till you count 180 times OM mentally, you will be able to do pratyahara to some extent. Those who have practised pranayama at the ratio of 20:80:40 for one hour daily, for six months, will be able to do pratyahara to a small degree. 
"Pratyahara is that by which the senses do not associate with their own objects, and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff (chitta)." (II-54) 
"Thence comes the supreme mastery over the senses." (II-55) 
Pratyahara (sense-control) is derived from the verbal root, hri, meaning to draw. Hence, pratyahara means drawing back or withdrawing the senses and the mind from the sensual and external objects and making them almost fuse with the mind, the fountain-head of all faculties. The senses are held in check by this practice. From pratyahara starts the real inner spiritual life. The external world is shut out. 
The yoga student should practise pratyahara after getting some success in the practice of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, which prepare the aspirant for its practice. The mind is rendered calm by the practice of celibacy and non-covetousness. Asana and pranayama squeeze out restlessness; pranayama checks the outgoing tendencies. Now the mind can be easily detached and the senses can be absorbed in the prana or mind. Pratyahara or sense-control gives inner spiritual strength and great peace of mind. It develops willpower and removes all sorts of distractions. 
Pratyahara automatically follows the practice of pranayama. When the life-force is controlled by regulation or restraint of the breath, the senses become thinned out. They are starved to death. They get emaciated. They cannot hiss now when they come in contact with their objects.
There is an externalizing or objectifying power in the mind. It is the outgoing tendency of the mind, due to restlessness. When the vision is turned outward the rush of fleeting events engages the mind and the outgoing energies of the mind begin to play. The mind is drawn towards objects. Further, on account of force of habit, the ears and eyes at once run towards sounds. Objects and desires are an externalizing force. A restless, aggressive man full of desires can never dream of an inner spiritual life. He is absolutely unfit for the practice of introspection.
When the outgoing tendencies of the mind are arrested, when the mind is retained within the heart and when all its attention is turned on itself alone, that condition is known as antarmukha vritti, where the mind turns inward owing to increase in purity (sattva). The spiritual aspirant can do a lot of spiritual practice when he has this inward movement of the mind. Dispassion and introspection help a lot in the attainment of this mental state. 
Through constant spiritual practice the mind must be checked from externalising. It must be made to move towards God, its original home. 
Mind is the commander-in-chief. The senses are the soldiers. The senses cannot do anything without the co-operation of the mind. The senses cannot perform anything independently. They can operate only in company with the mind. If you can disconnect the mind from the senses there will automatically be abstraction of the senses. 
An unsteady posture, too much talking, too much mixing, too much work, too much food, too much walking, too much worldly activity and poking the nose in other's affairs produce much distraction in the mind and stand in the way of the practice of sense-control. They fill the mind with worldly impressions and generate lower emotions. When you mix with people during work, again and again fix the mind on your goal. Rest in your background of thought, either of a form or an abstract idea. This will serve as a strong fortress to protect you from the onslaught of worldly thoughts. 
Raja yoga methods are all exact and scientific. They are all rigid graduated practices. The yoga student places his foot cautiously in the ladder of raja yoga. The steps or stages are well tried by yoga experts. The yoga 'tablets' were prepared in the yoga laboratory after careful scrutiny, investigation and research. They are not haphazard products of charlatans. Move steadily and cautiously and attain eternal bliss.
First withdraw the senses from the objects, then withdraw the mind from the senses through dispassion, discrimination and practice; then withdraw the mind from the prana by practising retention of breath. Now plunge yourself in God or the Absolute by withdrawing all thoughts, just as the sun plunges into the horizon in the evening by withdrawing its rays. Practise these again and again. Practise eternal vigilance, discrimination, enquiry, determination and resolution. Now nirvikalpa samadhi will supervene, you will realise your essential nature. You will be freed from the cycle of births and deaths. 
Purification, meditation, illumination and absorption are the four processes in any form of yoga. Purify your mind first, then practise regular meditation. You will attain illumination and there will be absorption. The mind will be absorbed in Brahman, the individual soul will merge in the Supreme Soul and you will attain moksha or liberation. 
That yoga student who jumps at once to the practice of meditation without practising abstraction, is a deluded soul. He will have no success in contemplation. 
Pratyahara is a trying discipline indeed. It is disgusting in the beginning, but later on it becomes very interesting. You will feel inner strength. It demands considerable patience and perseverance. It will give you tremendous power. You will develop immense willpower. During the course of practice the senses will run again and again like wild bulls towards objects. You will have to withdraw them again and again and fix the mind on the goal just as the cart-driver drags the impetuous bulls and fixes them to the yoke. You must drag the senses gently. Some aspirants draw them vehemently. That is the reason why they experience a little headache occasionally. 
You should practise withdrawal of the senses one by one. Deal with the most turbulent sense first. Practise pratyahara of that particular sense to start with. Then you can take up another sense. If you try to manipulate them all at a time, you will gain no success. The task will be an up-hill work. You will feel quite exhausted. 
Partial success in the practice of control will not help the yoga student much. If dispassion wanes and if there is slackness in the practice, the senses may again become turbulent. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "O son of Kunti, the excited senses of even a wise man, though he be striving, impetuously carry away his mind. Such of the roving senses as the mind yields to, carry away the understanding, just as the gale carries away a ship upon the waters." (Bhagavad Gita II-60 and 67) 
Attain victory over posture, keep a steady pose; be regular in the practice of pranayama; cultivate dispassion, enquiry and discrimination and always look into the defects of a sensual life such as reaction after enjoyment, pain, cravings, etc. Develop serenity, contentment, patience; be persevering, tenacious and ever vigilant. Pray to the Lord, sing, do japa and obtain the divine grace. Observe mauna, moderation in diet, practise celibacy, stick to resolves, live in seclusion. Be bold, be pure, be wise. Have company of the good and the wise, and give up evil company. You will have success in control of the senses. 
There are several methods for bringing about pratyahara. Concentration is the direct method to get success. Sit in a quiet room and withdraw the senses — this is the raja yoga method of pratyahara. Have a spiritual background of thought, either of a form or an abstract idea. The mind will rest in this background when it is released from work, just as a rubber released of its tension returns to its original form. Another method is to divide the mind and fix a portion on God. Let the other portion do work — like the songster who sings with the tambura. Having the eyes open but not focussed on anything is another method. If you feel that this world is a manifestation of the Lord, sensual attraction will die by itself. Have a strong conviction and understanding that real lasting happiness can be had only in the Atman within. This is a help for curbing the outgoing tendencies of the mind. Pratyahara cannot produce absent-mindedness. On the other hand, it increases efficiency and speed. 
There is chaos and disturbance on the surface only. Dive deep into the centre by withdrawing yourself from the sensual objects and look within; you will enjoy perfect inward stillness and supreme peace. Nothing can upset your poise or equanimity now. Rishis of yore lived always in this centre and were happy and joyful despite various external disturbing conditions. Nothing could shake their mental balance. 
The wife of sage Tiruvalluvar had remarkable success in the practice of pratyahara. She carried a pot of water on her head amidst a big crowd without allowing a drop of water to fall down. Suka Deva also had wonderful success. He was tested by King Janaka in his palace. King Janaka arranged for music and dancing parties all around his palace to distract the attention of Suka Deva. There were various kinds of shows and entertainments. Suka Deva was asked to carry in his hand a cup of milk that was filled to the very brim and make three rounds of the palace without allowing even a drop to overflow and fall on the ground. Suka Deva had complete success in his attempt as he was fully established in pratyahara. Nothing could distract his mind.
He who is proficient in pratyahara can enter into deep sleep the moment he lies down on his bed. Napoleon could do this as he was very proficient. That yogi who is well established in pratyahara can meditate calmly even on the battle-field where countless machine guns roar in a continuous stream. 
Success in pratyahara depends upon the strength of past yoga impressions which the yoga student possesses. He who has practised yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara in his previous births to some extent, will have success in pratyahara within a short time in this birth. A beginner who attempts to practise yoga for the first time in this birth, who has no previous impressions of past births to his credit, may take a long time to achieve some definite positive realisation in pratyahara. One can decide whether he is a new practitioner in yoga or an old yoga student from his own experiences and degree of success in his practice in this birth.

Friday, February 27, 2015

28 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 8 (Continued)
Spiritual experiences differ in sadhakas (seekers) according to the nature of their sadhana (practice) and the yoga they are practising. Some hear anahat (mystic) sounds in the ear. Some see brilliant lights. Some have vision of rishis (sages), mountains, rivers, etc.
Some experience cosmic consciousness. This is a rare experience. It cannot be expressed in words.
- - -
Maya is the illusory power of the Lord. Maya hides the real and makes the unreal appear as real. Maya is shuddha (pure) satva.
Do not enquire now into the origin of maya. Strive for its destruction. Maya is indescribable. It can be crossed - through the grace of God acquired by self-surrender. When jnana is attained, then you will know all about maya.
- - -
Avidya is ignorance. It is the cause for bondage. Vidya is the cause for liberation.
Destroy the root of avidya through knowledge of Atman.
Avidya is the causal body of the individual soul. It is impure satva. It is mixed with rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia).
Avidya is the cause for births and deaths. Mind and body are the effects of avidya.
- - -
Samadhi is union with God. It is a state of eternal bliss and eternal wisdom. It cannot be described in words. In savikalpa samadhi there is the triad, knower, knowledge, and knowable.
In samadhi mind, intellect and senses cease functioning. All dualities vanish in toto.
Meditate ceaselessly and enjoy the supreme bliss of nirvikalpa samadhi.
- - -
Please note the difference between sleep and samadhi. Sleep is an inert state. But samadhi is a state of pure awareness or pure consciousness.
When a man returns from sleep, he is heavy and dull. He has no experience of wisdom of Atman. But when the yogi comes down from samadhi, he is full of wisdom of Atman. 

29 February (double message since we don't have a leap year this year)

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 9
Jnana yoga is the yoga of wisdom. It is vedanta. It is the culmination of all the other yogas. It teaches that the individual soul is in essence identical with the Supreme Soul. When avidya (ignorance) is destroyed the individual soul merges in the Supreme Soul.
The aspirant should equip himself with the four means of salvation, study the scriptures (Upanishad) under a guru and meditate. He will attain Self-realisation.
- - -
The mind alone is the universe. The body with its organs, etc., is no other than mind.
The slayer of Atman (self) is the mind only. The actions of the mind alone are, indeed actions, but not so those of the body.
The mind contemplating upon the body becomes the body itself and then, enmeshed in it, is afflicted by it.
Slay the mind and attain eternal bliss.
- - -
He who has a guru knows Brahman. A guru alone can remove doubts, pitfalls and snares. Guru is God Himself.
All that a guru can do is to tell his disciple the method of knowing the truth or the path that leads to the disclosure of the intuitional faculty.
He will clear your doubts, remove pitfalls and snares and inspire you. He cannot give you samadhi (super-conscious state). You will have to place each step yourself on the rung of the ladder of yoga. Do not expect a miracle from your guru, to put you into samadhi.
- - -
Every man wants everlasting happiness. This is his innate feeling. This indicates that his soul is an embodiment of bliss.
Everybody wants full knowledge of everything. This gives the clue that Atman is a mass of knowledge.
Every man wants freedom. It gives the clue that his Atman is ever free.
Search within and attain the ever blissful and ever free Atman.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

27 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 8
Meditation is freeing the mind from thoughts of sense objects. Mind dwells on God and God alone during meditation. Have perfect ethical perfection. Then alone you will be established in deep meditation.
Meditation follows concentration and samadhi (super-conscious state) follows meditation.
- - -
Be courageous. You will come across various obstacles in meditation. You will have to conquer sleep, distraction, a taste for sensual pleasure, laziness, etc.
Practise asanas regularly. 
Do a little tratak (gazing) and pranayama (yoga breathing). Do vichara (enquiry). Cultivate vairagya (dispassion). You will conquer all obstacles.
Samadhi is that state of pure consciousness, the supreme blissful state where the jivatma (soul) becomes one with Paramatma (Supreme Being).
- - -
Light diet, dispassion, discrimination, contact with a teacher, are necessary for the practice of meditation.
Meditation when persisted in and perfected, brings about the experience of super-consciousness or samadhi, the ultimate state of self-awareness or realisation.
- - -
When there is tension in the mind, when you cannot meditate, do kirtan or singing the Lord's name. You will get relaxation and concentration.
Kirtan is nectar. Kirtan is divine food for the soul Kirtan develops divine love. Kirtan produces bhava samadhi (ecstasy of devotion).
- - -
Samadhi leads to direct, intuitive realisation of the infinite. It is an inner divine experience, beyond the reach of speech and mind.
A jnani or sage will always be in samadhi, although engaged in worldly actions.
One without full even-mindedness will never be able to go into samadhi even though he sits in padmasana for several hours. When all cravings cease, when one gets equal vision, he attains jnana vision and Brahmic Bliss.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

26 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 7
Behold! You must be diligent and vigilant always. Do not give leniency to the mind.
Be regular in your meditation. Meditation is the very essence and life of all spiritual sadhanas.
Meditate on the form of Lord Krishna with flute in His hand. Concentrate on trikuti (the space between the eyebrows). Repeat mentally: Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
May Lord Krishna be your centre, ideal and goal.
- - -
Meditation is a sound and safe method by which you can unlock your inner power and attain God-realisation.
When you are in meditation you will touch the level of cosmic consciousness in a flash of illumination.
You will know that life is eternal and that you are eternal. God is the only reality. God is the only truth. God alone exists. Know this, realise this.
God is love. He dwells in your heart. Recite His Name always. Sing His glories, Do kirtan (chanting).
Conquer the whole world by truth and love.
In silence alone you can hold communion with God. When there is conflict of duty, sit and meditate. Hear the inner voice and act immediately.
- - -
During meditation one enters into a half sleepy state - this is called tandra. If one is really meditating, his body will be light and his mind will be cheerful.
If he is sleeping, the body will be heavy, the mind will be dull and the eye lids will be heavy.
During deep meditation you will forget the external world first and then the body. You will feel that there is no body. You will experience immense joy, indescribable peace.
Natural retention of the breath, without inhalation and exhalation, will come by itself.
Meditate on a concrete form in the beginning. Meditate on any form of the Lord. Think of his attributes: omnipotence, purity, perfection, etc. Gradually the mind will be prepared to take up the higher, formless meditation.
Be patient. Be persevering. Cultivate burning dispassion, burning longing for God-realisation. Gradually you will enter into deep meditation and samadhi.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

25 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 6
Vairagya is dispassion, desirelessness or non-attachment.
Vairagya liberates man from bondage. Vairagya is the foremost virtue.
Look into the defects of sensual life. Live in the company of saints. You will develop vairagya.
Vairagya is born of discrimination. It will help you and will be permanent. Without vairagya, not even an iota of spiritual progress is possible.
- - -
Mind is the atma shakti (power of self). It is the dividing wall between the individual soul and the supreme soul.
Mind creates this universe. It is the principle of thinking and sensation. It is a bundle of vasanas (habit patterns), thoughts, likes and dislikes. Slay the mind through destruction of the vasanas in Brahma Vichara and attain Self-realisation.
Egoism is your arch enemy. It is born of ignorance. The real secret of Divine Life is only in the renunciation of this dire egoism.
The tree of egoism can be destroyed by the fire of wisdom only.
- - -
These are the ways to control the senses. Cultivate dispassion or non-attachment to objects; practise pratyahara (or withdrawal) and self-restraint.
Give up love or hate for objects. You can control the senses and the mind.
- - -
It is better to practise concentration on one form of God and to repeat one mantra (mystic formula). Concentration will thereby be greatly increased.
If the mind wanders bring it back again and again to the form. Practise a little pranayama (yoga breathing). It will steady the mind. Observe mauna (or silence) for two hours. It will conserve energy and produce more concentration.

Monday, February 23, 2015

24 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 5
True and sincere surrender unto the Lord is the essence of bhakti (God love).
"I am Thine. All is Thine".
"Thy will be done, my Lord."
This is the best Sharanagati Mantra or prayer (of self-surrender).
Seek His will. Do His will. Surrender to His will. You will become one with the cosmic will.
- - -
Hatha yoga is mainly concerned with the physical body and the pranamaya sheath. It prepares the aspirant for raja yoga.
Hatha yoga deals with the practice of asanas, pranayama, bandhas and mudras. It treats of sad-kriyas too. It gives splendid health, removes various sorts of diseases and awakens the kundalini.
- - -
The practice of yoga asanas bestows mental poise. If you practise asanas for even ten minutes daily, you will derive immense benefits. Be regular in the practice of asana - this is important.
Sirshasana bestows brain power and develops the intellect and the memory. It is useful in maintaining brahmacharya (celibacy). It cures many diseases. Sarvangasana gives longevity and makes the spine elastic.
- - -
Be steady in your asana. Gradually try to sit on one asana for three hours at a stretch. Regulate and restrain the breath through the practice of pranayama (yoga breathing). Withdraw the senses from the object. Now you will be able to practise concentration and meditation.
Regularity in the practice of concentration is of paramount importance.
- - -
For success in brahmacharya (celibacy) intensify your japa (repetition of God's name) and meditation. Keep up constant mental repetition of the Lord's Name, even during your work.
Have three sittings for meditation - morning, evening and night, just before going to bed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

23 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 4
God is very close to you. He abides in your heart. Closer is He than the breath; nearer than hands and feet! He is your very Self or Atman.
- - -
Strive to know God. Seek the company of sages. Lead a life of selfless service, renunciation, dispassion, prayer and meditation.
Have self-conquest. Control the mind. You will attain perfection and peace.
- - -
The divine grace is life's greatest treasure. If there is self-surrender, there is the inflow of grace. Lord's grace will descend in proportion to the degree of surrender. The more the surrender, the more the grace.
Supreme love comes only by the grace of God. Grace of God will make you stick to the spiritual path.
- - -
Japa is the recitation of Lord's name. Japa is an important sadhana (practice) for God realisation.
Japa yoga is the easiest, safest and surest way of attaining the goal in the present age.
Repeat 200 malas (rosary of 108 beads) of japa daily. Do more mental japa. Practice of japa brings the devotee face to face with God.
- - -
Japa yoga is the yoga of recitation of a mantra (or name of the Lord). There is a mysterious power in every name of the Lord. A name or mantra is recited in three ways, viz. verbal or loud utterance, semi verbal or humming, and mental. Mental japa is more powerful.
Let the recitation of japa become habitual. Do purascharana - do one lakh (one hundred thousand) of japa for each letter (of the mantra). Live on milk and fruits. Observe brahmacharya during this period.
- - -
Prayer is not asking. It is the yearning of the soul for communion with God. Sincere prayer draws the grace of the Lord.
Prayer is a mighty spiritual force. It should spring from the bottom of your heart.
Pray sincerely, fervently, whole heartedly. Then alone will God listen to your prayer.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

22 February

Epistle of Swami Sivananda - 3
Dharma is the pivot of life. Dharma means duty, righteousness, religion, eternal law.
Where dharma is, there victory is. Dharma supports life. Dharma brings perfection. Dharma is a way of life based on virtues and perfect moral conduct. Dharma bestows immortal bliss.
- - -
Control of the mind is the first step to spirituality. Victory over the mind means victory over the world. Conquest of the mind is the greatest victory.
The mind becomes unstable and restless through desires for objects. When the mind is not centred in the Atman, man desires objects. Become desireless, control the mind, be happy for ever.
- - -
Satsanga is association with saints and sages. Without satsanga the mind cannot be turned towards God.
Satsanga is a formidable and impregnable fortress to protect aspirants from the temptations of maya (illusion). Live in the company of sages, hear their valuable instructions and follow them implicitly.
- - -
God is love. Bhakti is the experience of divine love.
Do your duty in a spirit of worship. Perform all actions in an attitude of prayer.
Your heart should overflow with divine love at the sight of any object in this world. Then alone you will become an ideal devotee.
- - -
Bhakti is devotion unto the Lord. Prayer, japa (repetition of God's name), kirtan (chanting), remembrance, worship, meditation, self surrender are all limbs of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is suitable for the vast majority of persons. Para (supreme) bhakti and jnana (self-knowledge) are one.

Raja Yoga, Message 12

(The section ‘Tapas or Austerity’ now resumes)
The tapas performed by men with the utmost faith, without desire for fruit and harmonised, is sattvic or pure. That practised with the object of gaining respect, honour and worship and for ostentation is rajasic, unstable and fleeting. That done under a deluded understanding, with self-torture or with the object of destroying another, is declared to be tamasic or of darkness. "The men who perform severe austerities, unenjoined by the scriptures, wedded to vanity and egoism, impelled by the force of their desire and passion, unintelligent, torturing all the elements in the body and Me also who dwells in the body — know thou these to be of demoniacal resolves." Bhagavad Gita (XVII-5, 6) 
By tapas the mind, speech and senses are purified. Fasts and all religious observances that are laid down in scriptures and the rules of yama and niyama, asana, pranayama, etc., come under tapas. 
Psychic powers can be acquired by the steady practice of tapas. Manu says: "He whose speech and mind are pure and ever carefully guarded obtains all the fruits that are obtained by means of vedanta. By the performance of tapas, all afflictions and impurities can be destroyed." 
Svadhyaya — Study of Scriptures 
"By the study of scriptures comes the communion with God." (II-44)
Svadhyaya is the fourth limb of niyama. It is the daily study of scriptures written by realised sages, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Ramayana, Bhagavatam, etc. It elevates and inspires the mind. It gives you an idea of your goal and the practices that are necessary for its accomplishment. The study should be done with concentration. You should understand what you have studied and try to put into practice in your daily life all that you have learnt. Practical application of what you read that is applicable to your temperament and to your mode of life is very necessary if you wish to derive any permanent benefit from your study. There will be no benefit in your study if you do not exert to live up to the teachings of the scriptures. This study includes japa, the repetition of mantras. It is also the enquiry into the nature of the Atman, i.e. 'Who am I?'. Constant study and its practice in daily life will lead one to communion with God. 
Svadhyaya is negative satsang, when you cannot get the positive satsang of saints and mahatmas. It clears doubts. It strengthens the flickering faith and induces strong yearning for liberation, or aspiration. It gives encouragement and illumination. It places before you a list of saints who trod the path and encountered and removed difficulties, and thus cheers you up with hope and vigour. It fills the mind with sattva or purity and inspires and elevates the mind. It helps concentration and meditation. It cuts new sattvic grooves and makes the mind run in these new grooves. It inspires and elevates the mind to a high spiritual altitude. It weeds out unholy ideas. It reduces wandering of the mind. It serves the purpose of a spiritual pasture for the mind to graze upon. When you study the sacred books you will be in tune with the authors who are realised souls, you will draw inspiration and become ecstatic.
Ishvara Pranidhana — Self-surrender 
This is the fifth limb of niyama. It forms the third limb of kriya yoga also. 
"Or, by devotion and self-surrender to God (Ishvara)." (I-23)  
Who is Ishvara? 
"God (Ishvara) is a particular soul unaffected by afflictions, works, fruition and vehicles." (I-24) 
God (Ishvara) of Patanjali is neither the personal God of the bhaktas nor the impersonal God of the vedantins. His God is a peculiar Purusha, completely free from all afflictions, works, fruition and vehicles. 
"In Him is the highest limit of the seed of omniscience." (I-25) 
Knowledge, non-attachment, spiritual wealth, austerity, truth, forgiveness, endurance, power of creation, knowledge of Self, and being the substratum for everything and of all activities — these are the ten unchangeable qualities that always exist in God. 
"Being unconditioned by time, He is the teacher of even the ancients." (I-26)
Success is rapid in attaining samadhi by devotion to Ishvara. The devotee should have total, ungrudging unreserved self-surrender to Ishvara. He should entirely depend on Ishvara. He should not keep any secret desire or egoism for his self-gratification. He should not expect any kind of reward — even admiration, gratitude or thanks — for his services. He should completely dedicate himself and all his actions to the will of the Supreme Being. This is Ishvarapranidhana. It is true devotion and self-surrender. 
"By self-surrender comes the attainment of samadhi, the super-conscious state." (II-45)
Self-surrender leads to samadhi or the super-conscious state. It leads to communion with the Lord. The individual will becomes one with the Cosmic Will.
Just as the sponge that is dipped in water becomes filled with water, so also the devotee who practises surrender to God is filled with the Supreme Lord. He feels that the Lord pervades his whole being and that he is an instrument in the hands of the Lord. He is not bound by karma. He attains freedom from birth and death, perfection, omniscience, immortality and eternal bliss. The self-surrender should be free, perfect, unconditioned and ungrudging. Worship God with a pure heart and stainless mind, surrender your ego at His feet and annihilate the idea of doership or separateness from the Lord. You will realise the oneness of the Self. Samadhi will come by itself. 
If a yogi is not careful, if he is not well-established in the preliminary practices of yama and niyama, he is unconsciously swept away from his ideal by temptation. He uses his powers for selfish ends and suffers a hopeless downfall. His intellect becomes blind, perverted and intoxicated. His understanding gets clouded. He is no longer a divine yogi. He becomes a black-magician or yoga charlatan. He is a black sheep within the fold of yogis. He is a menace to society at large.
"Asana is steady, pleasant posture." (II-46) 
"By mild and steady practice and meditation on the Infinite." (II-47) 
After yama and niyama comes asana (posture). Patanjali does not pay much attention to asana. He says only, "Asana is steady, comfortable posture. This is obtained by mild and steady practice and meditation on the Infinite. Then the yogi is free from the disturbance of the pairs of opposites." So he only wants you to be able to assume a comfortable posture in which you can sit for a long time. You can even sit in a chair, but do not allow sleep to overcome you.
In hatha yoga* there are various asanas, elaborately designed to give more perfection to the body. These are all later developments. These asanas render the body firm and eradicate physical ailments. Physical fitness and a disease-free healthy body are essential for spiritual practices. Without good health you cannot fight against the turbulent senses and the boisterous mind. Regular practice of asanas will keep the body fit and the mind calm and will give abundant energy, vigour, strength and nerve-power. You will be able to do intense practice without physical discomfort. 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
The yoga student must practise this preliminary yoga wholeheartedly and with single minded devotion. The means is as important as the end itself. If you neglect this practice and try to jump to meditation at once with the hope of getting samadhi quickly, you will not be crowned with success. There will be a delay in the spiritual progress. Every step in yoga is important. It must be mastered. Then only will you be ready to take up the next step. 
Asanas for Meditation 
Any easy, comfortable posture is asana; but the traditional postures for meditation are padma, siddha, svastika or sukha asana. Practise for half an hour to start with. Then increase the period to three hours. In one year, you can have asana-siddhi. 
Padmasana: This is the lotus-pose. Place the right foot on the left thigh, the left foot on the right thigh. Put the hands on the thighs near the knee joints. Keep the head, neck and the trunk in one straight line. Close the eyes and concentrate on the trikuti (the space between the two eyebrows). This is called lotus-pose or kamalasana. This is very good for meditation. This asana is beneficial for householders. 
Siddhasana: This is the perfect pose. This is a beautiful asana for meditation. Place one heel at the anus, keep the other heel at the root of the generative organ and the hands on the knees. Close the eyes. Concentrate at the trikuti or at the tip of the nose. Keep the head, neck and trunk in one straight line. Keep the hands as in padmasana, near the knee joints. This asana is beneficial for brahmacharis and sannyasis. 
Svastikasana: This is sitting at ease with the body erect. Place the right foot near the left thigh and bring the left foot and push it between the right thigh and calf muscles. Now, you will find the two feet between the thigh and calf muscles. This is svastikasana.
Sukhasana: Any easy comfortable posture for japa and meditation is sukhasana. The important point is that the head and trunk should be straight. Here is a special variety of sukhasana which is very comfortable for old people: Take a cloth 5 cubits (6-7 feet) long and fold it lengthwise. Raise the knees to the chest level. Keep one end of the cloth near the left knee. Take the other end, and going round to the back come to the left knee and make a knot there. Keep the hands between the knees. As the legs, hands and backbone are all supported, one can sit in this asana for a long time. 
Benefits of Asanas 
"When (asanajaya is obtained) one is free from the disturbance of the pairs of opposites." (II-48) 
Asana removes many diseases such as piles, dyspepsia and constipation, checks excessive rajas (restlessness) and steadies the body. The body gets genuine rest from the posture. If you are established in asana, if you are firm in your seat, then you can easily take up exercises in pranayama.
When the asana becomes steady you will not feel the body. When you have obtained mastery in the asana, the qualities of the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold will not trouble you. You must sit in the asana with an empty stomach. You can take a small cup of milk, tea or coffee before doing asana. For meditation, concentration and japa, padmasana or siddhasana are prescribed. 
Mental poise is more important than the physical pose. It is more difficult than the practice of asanas. Keep the mind also steady and fixed on the goal of God-realisation. Keep it in a balanced state, let it not sink down or jump with emotion. Be always serene, tranquil and calm. Check its wanderings, make it motionless. Fill it with joy, cheerfulness and zeal. Curb the thoughts, desires and cravings. Annihilate likes and dislikes and building castles in the air. When the mind is more steady and poised the physical pose also will be perfect and steady. 
What is Prana?* 
* See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
Prana is the universal principle of energy or force. It is a vital all-pervading force. It may be either in a static or a dynamic state. It is found in all forms from the highest to the lowest, from the ant to the elephant, from the unicellular amoeba to man, from the elementary forms of plant life to the developed forms of animal life. Prana is the force of every plane of being, from the highest to the lowest. 
Whatever moves or has life is but an expression or manifestation of prana. It is prana that shines in your eyes. It is through the power of prana that the ear hears, the eye sees, the skin feels, the tongue tastes, the nose smells and the brain and the intellect perform their functions. The smile in a young lady, the melody in music, the power in the emphatic words of an orator, the charm in the speech of one's beloved are all due to prana. Whatever you behold in this sense-world, whatever moves or works or has life, is but an expression or manifestation of prana. 
That which moves the steam engine of a train and a steamer, that which makes the aeroplane glide in space; that which causes the motion of breath in lungs; that which is the very life of this breath itself, is prana. Prana is the sum-total of all energy that is manifest in the universe and all the forces in nature. Heat, light, electricity and magnetism are all the manifestations of prana, and all spring from the fountain or common source — Atman. Fire burns and wind blows through prana. Radio waves travel through prana. Prana is force, magnetism and electricity. It is prana that pumps the blood from the heart into the arteries or blood vessels. It is through prana that digestion, excretion and secretion take place. Prana digests the food, turns it into chyle and blood and sends it into the brain and mind. The mind is then able to think and enquire into the nature of Brahman. 
It is through the vibrations of psychic prana that the life of the mind is kept up and thought is produced. Prana is related to the mind and through the mind to the will and through will to the individual soul, and through this to the Supreme Being. If you know how to control the little waves of prana working through the mind the secret of subjugating universal prana will be known to you. Because you see, hear, talk, sense, think, feel, will, know, etc. through the help of prana, the scriptures declare: "Prana is Brahman". 
Prana is expended by thinking, willing, acting, moving, talking and writing. A healthy strong man has an abundance of prana (or nerve-force or vitality). It is supplied by food, water, air, solar energy, etc. The supply of prana is taken up by the nervous system. The prana in the air is absorbed by breathing. The excess is stored in the brain and nerve centres. When the seminal energy is sublimated or transformed it supplies an abundance of prana to the system. It is stored up in the brain in the form of spiritual energy.
The yogi stores a great deal of prana through the regular practice of pranayama, just as the storage battery stores electricity. That yogi who has stored up a large supply radiates strength and vitality all around. He is a big power-house and those who come in close contact with him imbibe prana from him and receive strength, vigour, vitality and exhilaration of spirits. Just as water flows from one vessel to another, prana actually flows like a steady current from a developed yogi towards weak persons. This can actually be seen by the yogi who has developed his inner yogic vision. 
Breath is not the real prana, it is but an external manifestation of it. It is a physical aspect or symptom or external sign. Breath is gross, while prana is subtle. By controlling the breath you can control the prana — just as you can control the other wheels by controlling or stopping the fly wheel of a diesel engine and just as you can control the hair-spring, cog wheels and the main spring of a watch by controlling the minute hand. Prana connects the body and the mind. It is the outer coat of the mind. Only gross prana moves in the nerves. The subtlest prana moves in the astral nadis*, which are the astral tubes made up of astral matter that carry the subtle prana. It is through these nadis that the vital force or pranic current moves. Since these are made up of subtle matter they cannot be seen by the naked eyes. They are not ordinary nerves, arteries and veins. The body is filled with innumerable nadis that cannot be counted. 
*Ida, pingala and sushumna 
Wherever there is an interlacing of several nerves, arteries and veins, that centre is called a plexus. Similarly there are plexuses or centres of vital forces in the subtle nadis. These are called chakras. 
Ida, pingala and sushumna** are the most important of the innumerable nadis. Ida and pingala are on the two sides of the spinal cord and sushumna is within the spinal canal. Ida operates through the left nostril and pingala through the right nostril. When the breath operates through sushumna the mind becomes steady. This steadiness of mind is called the mindless state, the highest state in raja yoga. If you sit for meditation when sushumna is operating, you will have wonderful meditation. When the nadis are full of impurities the prana cannot pass through the middle nadi. So one should practice pranayama for the purification of the nadis. 
** See Volume II: Health and Hatha Yoga 
A yogi can withdraw prana from any area of the body. That area gets benumbed, becomes impervious to heat and cold and has no sensation. A yogi can send prana also to any area and make it over-sensitive; he can send it to the eyes and see distant objects; he can send it to the nose and can experience divine aromas; he can send it to the tongue and can experience super-sensuous taste. 
By control of prana the yogi can also control the omnipresent manifesting power out of which all energies take their origin, whether concerning magnetism, electricity, gravitation, cohesion, nerve currents, vital forces or thought vibrations; in fact, the total forces of the universe, physical and mental.
A comprehensive knowledge of prana and its function is absolutely necessary for pranayama. 
What is Pranayama? 
Pranayama is said to be the union of prana and apana. Pranayama in the language of yoga means the process by which we understand the secret of prana and control it. He who has grasped this prana has grasped the very core of cosmic life and activity. He who has conquered and controlled this very essence has not only controlled his own body and mind, but every other body, mind and power in this universe. Thus, pranayama or the control of prana is that means by which the yogi tries to realise in this little body the whole of cosmic life, and tries to attain perfection by getting all the powers in the universe. His various exercises and training are for this end. 
Control of Breath 
"That (control over posture) being acquired, follows pranayama or the control of breath — the cessation of the movements of inspiration and expiration." (II-49) 
When the breath is expired it is termed rechaka; when the breath is drawn in it is termed puraka; when it is suspended it is called kumbhaka. Kumbhaka is retention of breath. It increases the period of life, it augments the inner spiritual force, vigour and vitality. If you retain the breath for one minute, this one minute is added to your span of life. 
"Pranayama is of long duration or subtle according to the external and internal restraint or holding process, regulated by place, time and number." (II-50) 
Each of these motions in pranayama viz., inhalation, exhalation and retention, is regulated by place, time and number. 
By place is meant the inside or outside of the body, and the particular part of the body. During expiration the distance to which breath is thrown outside varies in different individuals. The distance varies during inspiration also. The length of air coming out of the nostrils is normally of the measurement of twelve fingers; it is twenty fingers at the time of eating, twenty-four while walking, thirty in sleep, thirty-six at the time of coition and still more while doing exercises. This is to be ascertained through a piece of reed or cotton. 
The place of inhalation ranges from the head down to the soles of the feet. This is to be ascertained through a sensation similar to the touch of an ant. The place of retention consists of the external and internal places of both exhalation and inhalation taken together, because the functions of the breath are capable of being held up at both these places. This is to be ascertained through the absence of the two indicatives noted above, in connection with exhalation and inhalation. 
Time is the time of duration of inhalation, exhalation and retention. It is generally counted by matra, which corresponds to one second. The time taken in making three rounds of the knee with the palm of the hand, neither very slowly nor quickly, snapping the fingers once, is called a matra. Both the twinkling of an eye and the time occupied by one normal respiration are considered as one matra. The time taken up in pronouncing the mono-syllable OM is also regarded as one matra. This is very convenient. Many pranayama practitioners adopt this time-unit in their practice.  
By time is also meant how long the prana should be fixed in a particular centre or part. The pranayama is long or short, according to the period of time it is practised.
Number refers to the number of times the pranayama is performed. The yoga student should slowly take the number of pranayamas to eighty at one sitting. He should have four sittings: in morning, afternoon, evening and midnight or at 9 p.m., and should thus have 320 pranayamas in all. 
The specification of the three kinds of breath regulations, by all these three — place, time and number — is only optional. They are not to be understood as to be practised collectively, for in many scriptures we meet with passages where the only specification mentioned with reference to the regulation of breath is that of time. 
The period of retention must be gradually increased. Retention gives strength. If you want to increase it for more than three minutes the help of a guru by your side is very necessary. You can suspend the breath for two or three minutes without the help of anybody. 
Retention is of two kinds, viz. sahita and kevala. That which is coupled with inhalation and exhalation is termed sahita kumbhaka (which is described in 'Easy Comfortable Pranayama — Sukha Purvak'). When you get mastery in sahita it is said: "When after giving up of inhalation and exhalation one holds his breath with ease, it is kevala (absolute) kumbhaka. One attains the state of raja yoga." The practitioner attains perfection in yoga. 
The fourth (pranayama exercise) is going beyond the internal and external positions. (II-51) 
In the previous sutras, three kinds of pranayama exercises are given: viz. internal, external and the period of suspension. In this sutra the highest stage of pranayama is given, going beyond inhalation and exhalation. This is kevala kumbhaka — absolute retention — wherein there is neither inhalation nor exhalation. There is retention only. This is for advanced yogis. 
In the third kind of pranayama the spheres of inhalation and exhalation are not taken into consideration. The stoppage of breath occurs with one single effort and is then measured by place, time and number and thus becomes long and subtle. In the fourth variety, however, the spheres of expiration and inspiration are ascertained. The different states are gradually mastered. This fourth variety is not practised all at once by a single effort like the third one. On the other hand, it reaches different states of perfection as it is being done. After one stage is mastered the next stage is taken up and practised. Then it goes in succession. The third is not preceded by measurements and is brought about by a single effort; however the fourth is preceded by the knowledge of the measurements, and is brought about by much effort. This is the only difference. The conditions of place, time and number are applicable to this kind of pranayama also. Particular occult powers develop themselves at each stage of progress.
This fourth pranayama is concerned with the fixing of the prana in the various chakras and taking it very slowly, step by step and stage by stage, to the last chakra in the head, where perfect samadhi takes place. This is internal. Externally it takes into consideration the length of breath in accordance with the prevailing element — earth, water, fire, air or ether.