Saturday, February 28, 2015
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 The senses die when they are withdrawn from their objects by the practice of dispassion and control of the senses.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 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.
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.
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.