So you think you do Pranayama breathing exercises?
A Yogi practicing real pranayama, and attaining nirvikalpa samadhi through it, can transcend the physical, astral, and causal universes and enter into dasamadwara. These three swargas must therefore be looked at more closely in light of the practice of Yoga; to transcend a loka in the creation of darkness implies the removal of all karmic tendencies that force rebirth on that particular loka. That is, even after all physical karma is burned up, there may exist both astral and causal karma which force rebirth in the astral and causal lokas. There is an actual method by which pranayama burns all the karma which chains the soul to the creation of darkness.
The lowest three lokas plus maharloka constitute the creation of darkness, also called maya or delusion. Maya, meaning “the measurer,” is the power of darkness which seemingly creates division in the cosmos which is but the manifestation of the Ever-Indivisible God. Maya accomplishes this through the power of time and space, thus causing the illusion of division between the Creator and creation. Strictly speaking, Sankhya does not posit the existence of a creator God. However, Yoga philosophy, agreeing that to postulate the existence of a Brahma is unnecessary, still maintains that there is a transcendental Iswara, though this Being is not a creator. I therefore use the term “Creator” in its broadest sense to include illumined Yogis that reside in the causal universe, a concept which will be explained later. Sutra I:4 reads, “The cause of creation is Anu or the Atoms. En masse they are called Maya or the Lord’s illusory power; each individual Anu is called Avidya, Ignorance”. Atoms are the cause and substance of the creation of darkness; the delusory power inherent in creation is called maya while in the individual it is called avidya, ignorance.
The body of human beings, like the cosmic body of God, also houses seven spheres of consciousness called patalas or padmas (lotuses). In Yoga science they are referred to as chakras, or “wheels” of light and consciousness located along the cerebrospinal axis in exact correspondence with the seven vital plexuses of the physical body. These seven chakras directly parallel the seven lokas in their ascending manifestations of consciousness from the first and lowest chakra at the base of the spine to the seventh in the brain. To begin, the first chakra is associated with the instinct for survival through the assimilation of nourishment. A precondition of existence in the physical world of bhuloka is that life must feed on life. The consciousness of the second chakra manifests itself though the will to create. In human beings this energy manifests itself in the sexual urge toward the procreation of the species; the procreative organs are located opposite the second chakra. In parallel, Bhuvarloka, the astral universe, is the blueprint and activating energy by which the physical universe is created. The same is true for the shukshma sarira (astral body) which is the guiding creative power behind the physical body, or sthula sarira.
The third chakra parallels swarloka, the causal universe, as both this swarga in the infinite body of God and its corresponding patala in the finite body of man represent the will to power and mastery. The innumerable thoughts emanating from the causal universe power and structure the whole of the creation of darkness. Causal beings, souls thinly clothed with the karana sarira, have the will power which brings universes like ours into manifestation. According to some modern Yogis, such Yogis are postulated to be the creators of the numerous physical and astral universes. The elevation of human consciousness from animal instincts intent on survival, procreation, and control to divine consciousness rightly begins at the fourth chakra, at the level of the heart, which is the door to chakras five, six, and seven. The fourth chakra parallels dasamadwara, the fourth loka which is the door to the spiritual creation of light. Though I have seen no commentary on why maharloka is called the tenth door, I believe that as in the cosmos, paralleling the body of the human being which, for the male, has nine orifices, dasamadwara refers to the tenth exit out of the physical body which necessitates the Yogi’s entry into the spinal pathway (brahmanadi, or “path to God”) of the chakras and results in expansion of consciousness.
Cosmic energy (prana) and consciousness enter the human body at the medulla oblongata, travel up to the brain then down to the base of the spine and out to the physical body. With the descent of energy from the brain to the base of the spine and out to the sensory and motor nerves, consciousness descends and becomes tied to the satisfaction of sensual desires. The result is ahamkara or ego-consciousness. The soul’s awareness is limited to bhuloka, the plane of matter, and is constrained by the shortcomings of the senses and their ability to receive vibrations only within a certain range. Just as, starting from bhuloka, one swarga is higher than the other in the cosmic body of God, so too are the states of consciousness from one chakra to another, starting from the base of the spine, higher than the one below it in the astral body of man. We may now look at each chakra more closely.
The first chakra is called muladhara, meaning “root, base.” It is located at the coccygeal plexus at the base of the spine and has four petals or rays that carry out specific bodily functions. The Yogi who meditates on this chakra has a number of experiences. First, this chakra appears as a yellow square which is seen, as with all the chakras, reflected in the forehead. It has a sound like a swarm of buzzing bees. A very sweet flavor permeating the tongue accompanies meditation on this chakra. With the awakening of the muladhara chakra the kundalini sakti, or “serpent power,” is roused and is directed to ascend the spine to the brain. Though in most texts on Yoga the kundalini is described as lying dormant at the muladhara, through the practice of pranayama it becomes clear that this kundalini energy is in fact nothing other than cosmic prana which has entered the medulla oblongata and has traveled down the spine and out to the body and its senses. Therefore, it is called dormant or sleeping simply because the energy is directed outward, causing the consciousness of the soul to “sleep” in the realm of the senses. Strictly speaking, though the muladhara is called the only immobile part of the body, there is no prana that is not always flowing.
In fact, the congestion of pranic energy means death to the body.
The second chakra is called swadhishthana, which translates as “[energy’s] designated standing place.” This chakra is located at the sacral plexus and has six petals; its element is water and it appears as a white crescent moon. The sound of AUM, nada, is clearer at this chakra than at the first chakra; the Yogi meditating on swadhishthana hears the sound of a high-pitched flute. The third chakra is called manipura or “city of the shining jewel.” Manipura chakra has ten petals and is located at the lumbar plexus; its element is fire. This chakra appears as a blood red triangle and has the sound of smoothly strumming harp.
The fourth chakra is situated as the dorsal plexus opposite the heart and is called anahata. The literal translation of anahata is “not hit.” The name of this chakra is a reference to the sound of a bell which emanates from it that is not made by two objects striking each other. Anahata has twelve petals and is the seat of the air element. Through meditation on this center the Yogi perceives a throbbing dark blue sphere. Anahata, paralleling dasamadwara, is the door to the three higher centers of consciousness in the spine and brain.
The fifth chakra is called vishuddha chakra. It is located at the cervical plexus, its element being ether (akasha). Vishuddha means “clean, pure.” Nada at this center, nearing the pure sound of AUM, sounds like a running river. This chakra appears smoky colored with specks of white light; vishuddha has sixteen petals. According to other authorities, the fourth chakra is smoke colored while the fifth chakra is clear “pure” blue. I can only assume that the discrepancy enters in when the name of a chakra (“pure” in this case for the fifth chakra) is mistakenly thought to refer to its color (clear blue). The sixth patala, or ajna chakra, is located at the medulla oblongata, the physiological opposite of the pineal gland at the point between the eyebrows. Ajna means “command.” This chakra regulates the flow of cosmic prana which enters the body at the medullar plexus. The pure nada of AUM is heard at this chakra as the sound of a roaring ocean. Ajna has two petals. Yogis generally concentrate on this chakra during their practice of pranayama and meditation. The seventh and highest chakra is called the sahasrara or the “thousand petal lotus of light.” This chakra is located in the cerebral plexus and is the seat of omniscience.
According to Yoga science, shukshma sarira contains 72,000 nadis, or astral nerve channels. Of these, three are of utmost importance in the study of pranayama. The seven chakras of the astral body run along the holiest of nadis called the sushumna. The sushumna, meaning “supremely blessed,” is the innermost nadi in the spine through which the techniques of pranayama takes prana to the brain and back out the medulla oblongata into infinite consciousness. When prana enters the sushumna, ananda, or bliss, is felt in the spine and the mind begins to rise above the dimensions of time and space. Sushumna is also called brahmanadi, or the path to God.
Two nadis must be purified through pranayama before prana will enter the sushumna. These are the ida and pingala nadis that run along the left and right side of the sushumna, respectively. Ida, meaning “refreshing,” is the cool energy channel which conducts lunar energy. Ida is associated with the cool, reviving breath in the left nostril. Pingala nadi, or the “tawny” nadi, runs from the right nostril down the spine and conveys solar energy. Ida and Pingala intertwine themselves with the sushumna nadi, converging at each of the lower six chakras. Controlled breathing through the left nostril only is called chandra nadi ida while breathing through the right nostril alone is termed surya nadi pingala.
Three knots, called granthis, lie along the sushumna nadi obstructing the free flow of prana to the brain, keeping the vast majority of human beings in spiritual ignorance. Through the proper performance of pranayama, these three granthis are broken. The first granthi is the brahma granthi located at the muladhara chakra. The second granthi is located at the manipura chakra and is called vishnu granthi. Rudra granthi, the third knot in the sushumna, is located at the ajna chakra. Once the granthis are untied and the nadis are purified through pranayama, prana can easily be directed by the advanced Yogi up the spine, to the brain, and out the medulla oblongata into infinite consciousness.
All of this is what the mechanics of pranayama is and there is more, how to is another story. Pranayama is not breathing exercises and it is not just as easy as closing a nostril and breathing through the other one or forcefully blowing air out your nostrils in short bursts.