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Pranayama Techniques from the Schools of Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga


After years of training in the school of Hatha Yoga Pranayama, perhaps one out of thousands of students, here and there, reaches the path of Raja Yoga Pranayama. "Raja" means royal and so the Yogi that attains the effortless control of prana is deservedly referred to as the Royal Yogi. Kings rule nations, but the true monarchs of this world are the Raja Yogis that control the wave of prana in the body which manifests as mind, thought, will power, feeling, ego, and the senses. One may gain dominance over the entire world, and beyond, and still remain unhappy. Far better and far more challenging is it to practice Pranayama and master the energy which binds the world and the cosmos together. The Raja Yogi controls prana through the application of will power and concentrated attention. While Hatha Yoga techniques of Pranayama involve ritualized or patterned breathing techniques, mudras or tension is various parts of the spine, and bandhas or postures which prevent the flow of prana to certain parts of the body, Raja Yoga Pranayama directs the consciousness to interiorize by directly controlling prana. Raja Yogis have no need for psychophysical techniques of Pranayama for they have already realized the link between consciousness and prana. The mind with its ceaseless thoughts melts into yet another wave of prana after the senses have been withdrawn from the external world. Yogis state that the average student will reach the stage of Raja Yoga after ten years of Hatha Yoga Pranayama. However, we find that millions of students of Yoga in the west practice Pranayama and meditation for their entire lifetime and have very little real control over the waves of prana in the body and mind. This lesson will cover those aspects of Raja Yoga Pranayama that will ensure the success of every student of Pranayama.

According to Yoga philosophy, while people are born at various stages of spiritual development which classifies them as Mantra Yogis, Hatha Yogis, Kundalini Yogis, etc., human beings are further classified according to their temperament as Jnana Yogis, Bhakti Yogis, or Karma Yogis. Jnana means wisdom, Bhakti is devotion, and Karma is action. Jnana Yoga is the path to union with infinite consciousness through the application of wisdom, knowledge, philosophy, discrimination, detachment, and the power of unemotional and unbiased observation. Individuals like Plato, Ramana Maharshi, and Martin Buber are examples or Jnana Yogis. Jnana Yogis ask "Who am I? From where do I come?" While alone this path to realization of Bliss is a slow and tedious path, few realize that one's success in Yoga is in large determined by their ability to apply Jnana especially when their nature is more active (Karma) or more devotional (Bhakti) than intellectual. Those who too easily get drunk with emotions (Bhakti Yoga) or lose themselves in outer service (Karma Yoga) must temper their nature with Jnana Yoga. In their highest form all the three personality types of Yoga have their esoteric levels which link their practices to the various schools of Pranayama. These practices will be covered later in more detail. However, as schools of thought which represent three types of human beings, the student that successfully reaches the shores of Raja Yoga is the student that exemplifies a balance between reason (Jnana), feeling (Bhakti), and activity (Karma). Pranayama practiced without Jnana becomes a journey into the subconscious plane of imagination and fancy. Jnana grants detachment and concentration without indulgence in past memories which stir up emotional responses. The past is know, so it is observation of the present that is of interest to the Jnani. Pranayama practiced without devotion (Bhakti) becomes dry and routine. Pranayama is reduced to a mental activity and is preformed by rote with but cursory attention. Pranayama done without action (Karma) becomes passive meditation. Such meditators revert to merely sitting in silence and do not go far in Yoga. True Pranayama is highly active and engaging, is done with devotion, receptivity, and reverence, and is performed with the deepest concentration and attention on the moment.

Many students of Pranayama blame their inability to master prana on environment, karma, and bad company, or rationalize their inability to concentrate or develop devotion on their failure to begin the practice of Pranayama early in life. However, the real causes of failure do not lie in these external factors. All of the above elements play a vital role in the life of the aspiring Yogi, but if the student would make daily efforts to develop discriminatory faculties, the devoted heart, and the spirit of service in and out of Pranayama practice, then success is assured. While the student must remember and live by the ten spiritual injunctions of Yama and Niyama, disregard for the powerful tools given by the schools of Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma Yoga will make the adherence to the virtues of Yama and Niyama exceedingly difficult. In short, reaching the heights of Raja Yoga does not rely solely on the acquisition of a powerful technique of Pranayama. Further, the practice of such techniques is not compatible with an imbalanced existence. Therefore, the study and implementation of the precepts of Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga becomes necessary.

To be a Jnana Yogi is to be an impartial observer of all of creation's manifestations. Through unshaken analytical will the Jnana Yogi is able to pierce the veil of Maya which conceals the true nature of Reality. By directing the power of observation both inwardly and outwardly, the human being is discovered to be a microcosmic blueprint of the universal macrocosm. In this sense the human being is indeed the measure of all things. Jnana Yogis practice an unrelenting exercise of introspection and analyze their actions, thoughts, feelings, and motivations impartially and with detachment. If a Jnana Yogi watches the breath, the breath is considered to belong to another entity, not themselves. If the Jnana Yogi introspects, the life analyzed is not their own but only an existence that Maya (delusion) tempts the Yogi to associate himself or herself with. Again, Jnana Yogis continuously ask the question "Who am I?" As the intellect has no answer to this and response after response proves unsatisfactory, through spiritual inquirery the mind and ego slowly arrive at the stillness of intuition to solve the riddle. Identities drop away until only the Self remains. The lights of the chakras which light the way to infinite consciousness are worshiped and spiritual discrimination is born. This discrimination separates the consciousness from all other manifestations and realizes Its nature as the only reality in a creation of benign falsehoods.

The spirit of Jnana Yoga must be present in the life of even the most ardent Bhakti. As the paradise (Eden) of balance between feeling (Eve) and reason (Adam) is established, the serpentine prana (Kundalini, the Snake) is lifted up the spine (the Tree) igniting the chakras and lighting the way to Bliss consciousness. Every student that aspires to master prana and justly be called a Raja Yogi must introspect daily. Even as "the life not analyzed is a life not worth living," so too a life of unbalanced emotions and reckless activity is a life going nowhere. Wisdom must be the guiding power in the life of a Yogi. While many feel that such an attitude leaves little room for spontaneity, in fact the opposite is true. Those who consider themselves "free spirits" are chained by endless moods, habits, thought patterns, and circumstances. What such misguided people call spontaneity is nothing more than preprogrammed impulse and instinct. Where is the freedom in that? Through the application of wisdom the Jnana Yogis are the truly free souls as every situation is seen as unique and so deserving of its own attention. Timeless principles are ever in the consciousness of the Jnana Yogi, but these principles applied to the ever-new experiences in life produce the truly adventurous spirit.

Begin daily introspection, asking yourself how you fared in your spiritual pursuits. Did age-old habit win the battle or has your newly awakened discrimination finally won the war? Keep a journal of how long you practiced Pranayama. Was today's practice deeper than the day before's? Maintain a log of your diet, disposition, and attitudes. Are you exercising regularly or did you give in to laziness and overindulgence? Practice watching the breath with detachment. Ask yourself, "Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" Practice even-mindedness under all circumstances. Find a haven within where you remain untouched by externals. Discover the nature of prana and consciousness. Keep good company and failing that, seek solitude. Read only spiritual works that inspire you to go within. Watch less TV and use your free time to develop your heightened faculties. Practice Pranayama with a balance of devotion and detachment. Do not seek the fruits from your actions. Rather, find satisfaction with right action itself. Even if your temperament is emotional, become a Jnana Yogi and make wisdom your constant companion in life.

Sambhavi Mudra

Excluding our tactile sense which is centered in the hands, erotic zones, and generally permeates the body, all of our senses including the sixth sense of intuition are located in the head. Like a muscle, our senses work at their optimal performance when they are periodically given a complete rest. We give our muscles a full rest when we sleep, but sleep is only partial sensory relaxation. According to Sankhya philosophy upon which Yoga science is based, when the senses require a complete rest the body enters Mahanidra or the "Great sleep" of death. So if the Yogi can give a complete rest to the senses, life is naturally prolonged and the senses function with great vigor throughout life.

Our sense of hearing is the most important sense. Many think sight is more important, but when death comes, it is our hearing which is the last to go. Often it is the case that comatose individuals can still hear the sighs and worries of loved one's around them. For this reason Yogis warn people to watch what they say around someone that is seemingly "unconscious" for words that lack encouragement may be the real death blow to dying individuals. Understanding the attachment human beings have to their sense of hearing, Yogis devised a way to give the auditory sense a rest. Once that is accomplished, all the other senses automatically switch off.

Normally our auditory sense gets no rest. On the contrary, our sense of hearing is often abused and damaged by such events as rock concerts, sirens, city noise, headphones, etc. Most individuals do not realize the extent of damage caused by noise pollution. Studies have shown that years are stripped from the lives of those that live in noisy cities. Is it then so hard to imagine that our years are prolonged by relaxing the auditory sense?

Students must also bear in mind the incredible advantages of the mind's withdrawal from the senses. Far from simply giving the senses a rest and bestowing longevity, such a deep introversion of the consciousness also develops one's sixth sense of intuition. It may come as a surprise to most individuals, but the cosmos is hardly a quiet place even after one's sense of hearing is switched off. Once the Yogi turns off the senses, the Yogi hears the sounds of creation, the music of the spheres, the very vibrations of the atoms. This sound, when tuned in with, bestows intuitions which transcend the limited data received by the senses. Yogis realize the vibrations of bliss and omniscience through the divine sound of Pranava which first manifests as nada. The process of realizing the infinite through sound is termed Laya Yoga, or the science of Union through Absorption.

Sambhavi Mudra

Sambhavi MudraA complete withdrawal of the mind from the senses can only be accomplished through intense concentration. Sleep implies entering subconsciousness, but unlike sleep which provides only a partial relaxation of the energy feeding the senses, conscious sensory relaxation means a complete withdrawal of the mind from the senses. This state is termed Pratyahara, or disassociation, according to Raja Yoga. Sit with spine erect in a level armless chair in the position of meditation and Pranayama. Close the eyes and focus the gaze upward to the point between the eyebrows. Place the elbows on a support in front of you so that they do not become tired. Meditation armrests can be bought for this purpose. Place the thumbs on the tragi, the earlids or the cartilagineous flaps in front of the ear canal, and press down to close the ears blocking off any sounds. Place the index fingers on the eyes and gently press down and inward. Place the middle fingers on the nostrils so that they may close them to regulate the breathing. Place the ring and little fingers above and below the mouth, keeping it closed. Pull the tongue back so that it touches the soft part of the palate near the uvula. Alternately open and close the nostrils with the middle fingers to conform with the inhalation and exhalation. First exhale entirely through the mouth. Then slowly inhale through the left nostril only. Hold the breath for the same duration as the inhalation with both nostrils and the mouth sealed by the fingers, then slowly exhale through the right nostril for again the same duration as the initial inhalation. Do not hold the beath after exhalation but rather immediately begin another inhalation but this time reversing the process. Inhale through the right nostril only with the left nostril sealed, hold the breath, the exhale through the left nostril only. This concludes one round of practice. Attempt to breathe so that no sound is made whatsoever. Slow breathing, which is the key to sensory relaxation, will yield quiet breathing. It is often the case that one of the nostrils is partially closed. If this is the case, simply lengthen the time of inhalation, but do not quicken the breath as a compenstion. Also, pressure points in the armpits can be pressed to open the nostrils. The lengths of inhalation, retention, and exhalation may start at six seconds, but this value can and should increase to up to sixteen seconds. Practice twelve rounds to start, which means twenty-four breaths, but increase this amount to up to sixty. Do not exceed your physical limits. Prolonging the intervals of breathing and increasing the number of rounds performed should be done slowly and gradually. It may take years to silently practice sixty rounds at sixteen second breath intervals without missing a beat. Practice, however, unfailingly makes perfection in the science of Pranayama.



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