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The Breath, the Mind, the Soul, and their Relationship to Prana

In this lesson we will attempt to discover the fundamental link and indeed unity between the energy signatures which manifest themselves outwardly as inhalation and exhalation, thought and mental activity, and will power and the soul. Ultimately, all of the above psycho-physiological manifestations are but the workings of prana or the protean energy in which are embodied both the blueprint for its creative activities and the consciousness behind creation. What does all of this mean for the student of Yoga? Simply that we may aspire to control the powers of the mind and remember soul consciousness by mastering the prana which ignites the breath. This is done when the breath is dissolved and the process of breathing simply becomes a mental activity in the breathless state. Further, this underlying unity of forces implies that once the mind is dissolved and is discovered by the consciousness to be but another wave of prana, through will power it is possible to control both the microcosmic (the body's) and the macrocosmic (the universe's) pranic energies directly. Finally, once this is achieved, it is possible that the consciousness is established in its own nature as all-pervading Bliss and realizes that only Its consciousness and prana (energy) pervade everything. Any and all distinctions caused by delusion (Maya, "the divider") are then discovered to be merely ideas skipping on the fabric of creation.

Try this simple experiment. Pick a phrase such as "My name is ______" and fill in the blank with your name. The test is to find out how many times you can quickly mentally say the above phrase during two different states of breathing. First, open the mouth and begin to pant with short and quick inhalations and exhalations as if your breathing is like that of a dog's. Do this for six seconds during which you will attempt to mentally say your phrase as many times as possible. You will undoubtably find that your thoughts are chopped up like your breathing. If you panted rapidly enough you would find that you were not able to complete the phrase even once. Rest for a moment, then perform a double exhalation through the mouth as in "huh, huuuuuuh," exhaling all the carbon dioxide from your lungs. Inhale fully and hold the breath. While the breath is held begin to mentally repeat your phrase as quickly as your mind will allow. Do you see that you can think much more clearly and much more quickly when the mind is not hindered by the breath? Now, perhaps you don't normally breath like a dog, but in comparison to the Yogis who have attained the breathless state, the breathing of most human beings is very restless and this causes scattered thoughts, unbridled emotions, and the loss of vital energies.

The above simple experiment shows the obvious and strong link between the breath and the mind. One pranic wave reacts on another, it is that simple. To control the mind one must learn to control and still the breath. However, to master the breath is not an easy task. Contrary to popular belief, breathlessness is not achieved through breathing exercises but rather through controlling the energies, prana, whose internal motions in the spine manifest outwardly as inhalation and exhalation. Those who can control prana directly without the intermediate exercise of regulating the breath are termed Raja Yogis. Let us continue with our experimentation. Perform the double exhalation through the open mouth again and inhale and hold through breath. This time, however, instead of repeating a phrase, simply concentrate on the force necessary to keep the breath held and the tightness in the body that breath retention produces. Take a mental note of how long you were able to comfortably hold the breath, then exhale. Rest for a few moments then perform the same exercise, only this time instead of focusing on the breath retention, mentally exhale while the breath is held, inhale again (mentally), and exhale. Do this continuously until your body notifies you that you need to actually physically exhale. Even those with little concentration power will discover from the above exercises that the breath is naturally held longer when the mind imagines the breathing process even where no actual breathing takes place. How is this possible? In truth, this technique is a far better example of Pranayama then a breathing exercise where the breath is inhaled, retained, and exhaled. Pranayama does not mean breath control. Pranayama means "energy control" or the control (yama) of prana. Yogis arrive at the real Pranayama through first regulating the breathing, but once prana is felt and is able to be locked upon by the will power, no breath regulation is necessary even as no breathing was necessary outside mental breathing for you to remain without breath for a limited duration. What the above experiment illustrates using imagination, Yogis can perform in reality. Through Pranayama, the breathing process is dissolved and reverts back into its principle components of pranic waves moving up and down the spine. Once these waves of prana are discovered and directly controlled, breathing becomes a mental activity. In such a breathless state the Yogi's consciousness, normally preoccupied with the senses and mind, is free to be released from the cage of the body and merge with its primal nature of cosmic prana, even as your mind was free to repeat your phrase very quickly. Through breathlessness the mind speeds up until it is both infinite in its clarity and one-pointedness and yet perfectly still. In truth, mind is transcended entirely through its conversion into prana and then pure consciousness becomes Self-aware.

Many argue at this point in the discussion, "well, so what is the purpose of even understanding this intellectually not to mention actually accomplishing it?" Indeed, the Yogis who devised Yoga science would applaud and echo such a rebuttal if the reasoning behind the science of Pranayama went as far as we have gone but then stopped there. What does all of this eventually mean anyway? If left in theory, the science of Yoga is valueless. The power of Pranayama only lies in practice. However, the practical result of controlling the breath to master the mind and dissolving the mind in the ocean of prana for the consciousness to become Self-realized is Bliss. Still, Yogis who have experienced this Bliss understand that it may mean very little to non-Yogis that there is an infinite Bliss waiting for them in the breathless state. For this reason is more theory necessary for many students. While the Sanskrit term for soul is Atman, Yogis refer to Spirit as simply Sat-Chit-Ananda, or ever-existing, ever-conscious Bliss. Therefore, the soul in Yoga science is identified by the experience of the individualized Sat-Chit-Ananda. This individualized Bliss which is our real Self is composed of prana (energy) and consciousness. Many ask if prana is conscious, but while pranic currents are intelligently guided, in fact it is consciousness which manifests as prana. However, though we Yogis claim that consciousness is finer and is the "father" of prana, consciousness is not in Bliss nor does it manifest Bliss but rather it is Bliss Itself. Therefore, the goal of Pranayama in attaining Bliss is in reality the realization that the energy (prana) coursing through our bodies, lighting up the senses, and activating the mind to thought has a nature which is far more fulfilling and joyful than any experience our body, our senses, or our mind can give. Human beings and all things search for existence, (survival) consciousness (awareness), and joy (happiness and pleasure) because it is the nature of the prana flowing through all life. Who seeks wealth, fame, health, love, possessions, etc? No one. It is delusion to think that we seek these things for themselves. We seek these things, in various combinations, because we feel convinced that we will find happiness if we have a certain amount of wealth, property, health, etc. If an individual realized that no ultimate nor lasting happiness would arrive from acquiring these things then such a person would cease and desist from going after these things and begin a search for other things. The Yogis who have found the Bliss all seek claim that the joy we all aspire to attain cannot arrive through the medium of the senses nor come when the mind is limited by the act of breathing. With breath the mind and prana are absorbed in the senses and the limited, temporal world around us. How can anything lasting arrive through what is by nature dualistic and transitory? If the nature of this Bliss was not eternal, then we would be satisfied with temporal pleasures. As it is though, human beings will ever crave for the everlasting because the Bliss that courses through all life is eternal.

To convince an individual that this Bliss exists is not only impossible but also unnecessary. What is easily understandable, however, is that this world and life on it is fleeting and so too are all of our joys fleeting and limited. A Yogi must strive for years to reach the Bliss beyond duality, but those who have not reached it and perhaps cannot believe in such a thing must all too readily admit to the dualistic nature of this world and its inability to grant a happiness that is not tainted with sadness. In a world of relativity how can a joy exist that is not relative, not measured against another joy or sorrow? It is like saying there is a day without a night, a tall without a short. These words have meaning only in as much as they are measured against their opposites. However, Yogis reach a point in the control of prana wherein there is an exhalation without an inhalation, consciousness without thought, intuitions beyond the necessity for sensual data.

The ancient Yogis refered to the science of Pranayama as Yoga not simply to signify the union of the individualized Bliss-consciousnes with the Infinite Bliss but to point to the necessity of realizing the underlying unity between the breath, the mind, prana, and the soul. If our nature is Bliss, then this Bliss is not something we need attain but only something we must uncover. It is monolithic. Education means to educe, bring out wisdom and knowledge from within, not to inject data from without. Our modern schooling systems have seemingly forgotten that or never bothered to look up the word education to understand what it really meant. Many are taught, few learn. In more than any other subject of study, though, the realization of Bliss is but an exercise in remembering.

Techniques For Bliss
(Ananda Mudra)

Ananda Mudra is a very simple yet effective technique in achieving the result of spiritual joy. This joy resides perennially as an undercurrent in the spine and brain and can be tapped, at will and nearly effortlessly, anytime and anywhere under all circumstances. After attaining mastery of the technique in the sitting position, a partial execution of the technique performed while standing or lying down will reap results. Practice the technique regularly for best results. Optimally, one should enter Ananda Mudra twelve times in the morning and twelve times in the evening prior to the practice of Pranayama.

1) Sit in the asana of Pranayama on a level armless chair with back straight, eyes closed and focused upward, chin parallel to the floor, mouth closed, and hands upturned on the thighs.

Ananda Mudra2) Tense the perineum by tightening the anus. This is asvini mudra. Tense the abdomen and the spine opposite the solar plexus with an exhalation. This is a partial uddiyana bandha. Tense the spine between the shoulder blades by pulling the shoulders back. This is jaya bandha as the chest is puffed out like that of a hero. Do not hold the breath after this exhalation but rather allow the breath to move in and out only with the motion of the chest. Pull the chin down to the chest and lock it there tightly. This is jalandhara bandha. Pull the tongue up in the closed mouth to touch the fleshy part of the palate. This is the beginnings of the peerless khechari mudra. Keep the eyes focused on the point between the eyebrows where a tickling sense of bliss will develop almost immediately. This is a partial sambhavi mudra. Knit the eyebrows and eyes with tension at the point between the eyebrows and the eyelids. This is a partial jyoti mudra. Make a very sharp smile with the face, pulling the cheeks far up to meet the corner of the eyes. This is Ananda Mudra. The focus of the attention should be then placed on the eyes, the corner of the eyes where the tension from Ananda Mudra is created, and the space between the eyebrows.

3) Hold these eight mudras conscientiously and tightly for as long as it is comfortable to do so. If you have any physical disability in any of these areas exert only light tension in the weak spot. During the performance of Ananda Mudra you may find that the body naturally, without your initiative, performs exhalations as in laughter. This is expected and desired. Attempt to hold Ananda Mudra until this exhalations begin and maintain the mudra well after they persist. These exhalations usually do not begin to manifest until after a few Ananda Mudra rounds. After releasing the body from Ananda Mudra, sit for a few moments and enjoy the bliss which begins to percolate in the consciousness. You may find a slight “Mona Lisa” smile to prevail on the face due to the strong tension in the grimace during ananda mudra. This too is natural and is desired. A partial practice throughout the day includes any of the eight tensions of the full technique, but should include either the slight smile and/or the eye tension.

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