“You can hardly make any spiritual progress without the practice of Pranayama.” —Swami Sivananda
In today's lecture we are going to continue talking about real yoga, especially as described in the root texts of yoga: the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
In the previous six lectures we have covered the first few steps of Ashtanga or Raja Yoga.
Raja means “royal.”
Ashtanga means “eight-limbed.”
Ashtanga or Raja Yoga is the greatest of the yogas, the embodiment or the repository of the greatest treasures of Yoga, that is why it is called “royal.”
In this course we are advancing steadily through the eight limbs or eight steps of yoga in order to understand how to achieve in our own experience the state of yoga.
The word yoga means “union,” and refers to a state of consciousness.
The state of unity indicated by the word yoga is a state of ecstasy, bliss, happiness, a state of purity in which the consciousness is unconditioned, free of defects, perceiving its true nature, and experiencing what it really is.
So, Yoga is not a theory or a school; it is not even a tradition. Yoga is a state of being, a state of consciousness.
As a state that can be experienced, it relies on cause and effect. One cannot access yoga, understand yoga, or experience yoga simply by believing in it, by mechanically repeating certain types of exercises or mantras, or adopting beliefs, theories, or ways of behavior. Yoga is experienced only when we remove the conditions that prevent it.
The yoga explained by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras and by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita detail how to remove the conditions that prevent the consciousness from experiencing its true nature. This is a really critical, fundamental point of view to understand about yoga.
Let me rephrase it in a simple way: yoga is not about adopting behaviors, it is about shedding them. Yoga is not about adopting something different or taking on something new; instead, it is about getting rid of what limits you. It is about removing the conditions that prevent you from seeing your true nature. That fundamental difference must be understood if you want to really understand what Yoga is.
That experience is due to cause and effect, not belief. When we establish the causes, the effect naturally happens; not by force, but simply because of nature.
When we remove the conditions that prevent us from experiencing yoga, yoga happens by itself; it is effortless.
The consciousness has a pure, primordial, inherent nature, which is a blissful state that is represented in this painting with this woman touching her heart. Her eyes are looking towards the heavens, towards the Innermost, Atman, Brahma, divinity. InRaja Yoga that experience is called Samadhi, and is the eighth and final of the eight steps; it is the goal of yoga.
That experience cannot be forced, cannot be faked, it cannot be demanded, it cannot be bought. Samadhi occurs spontaneously on its own when the conditions that prevent it are removed. So Yoga is about removing conditions, not adding them; removing conditions. That is what we explained it the previous six lectures: the fundamental steps to remove conditioning, so that the consciousness can be free to experience its true nature.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali begin:
1.1. Now, instruction in Union [yoga].
1.2. Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.
1.3. Then awareness abides in its own nature.
1.4. Otherwise it is identified with the modifications.
We emphasize these first four lines in each of these lectures, because these first four sentences convey the purpose of Yoga.
“Yoga is the stilling of modifications,” which means the removal, the cessation, the ending, the quieting of everything that modifies our perception and understanding.
When we still the modifications of the consciousness, then awareness, the consciousness itself, can experience its true nature, which is blissfulness, happiness, joy, wisdom, intelligence, serenity, and union with divinity. If we do not achieve the removal of those conditions, then we remain identified with the modifications; that is our state now.
Because of the modifications that condition us, we do not experience the true nature of the consciousness. We do not perceive directly, right now, in this moment, the truth and reality of dDivinity. We have theories about it, we have beliefs about it, a lot of cherished beliefs, but Yoga is not about beliefs; it is about perceiving and understanding reality.
All of us right now are conditioned; we are identified with modifications. The most obvious one is the physical body. We believe that this body is our identity; we are completely identified with it. We do not realize that the body is just a shell: impermanent, temporary, illusory. We are very much identified with the body. Observe all those who believe they are practicing yoga, when in fact they are only identified with their bodies: trying to make them slim, flexible, beautiful, because they think the body is their identity. They are mistaken. The body is not who we are. No matter how perfectly we can hold a pose or dress “like a yogi,” that is only a superficial appearance that has nothing to do with reality.
More subtle than the body, we are identified with emotions, thoughts, beliefs, theories, behaviors, music, art, music, fashion, friends, politics, etc… There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of modifications that filter our perception of reality. We think that they are all real, but they are not. The fundamental reality is what lies deep in the heart of our perception, which is the consciousness itself, when it is unmodified. Real Yoga is about recognizing those modifications and freeing ourselves from them. The Yoga Sutras explain that.
The Steps of Yoga
In the previous lectures we discussed the initial three steps: Yama, Niyama, and Asana.
In synthesis, Yama and Niyama are about ethics, behavior. If we behave in a certain ways there are consequences; they are unavoidable. If we have anger, it produces suffering; there is no way to avoid that. If we have lust, it produces suffering; this is a law of nature. It is just that way. Fear causes suffering, pride causes suffering, envy causes suffering. All of these modifications of consciousness cause suffering. All the scriptures explain these facts to us, and have been explaining them for thousands of years, and we still do not get it; we still try to avoid this part of the teachings, because we do not want to change.
Yama and Niyama are about learning to restrain behaviors that harm ourselves and others, and learning to adopt behaviors that benefit ourselves and others. Honestly, most people who study Yoga ignore Yama and Niyama; they completely ignore it, which means that they can never understand what Yoga truly is. Most of the people who claim to study Yoga want to learn asanas, postures, how to position the body in different ways, how to do stretches, how to become fit and limber, which is fine; there is nothing wrong with that in itself. But stretching and poses do not awaken consciousness. Moving the physical body around cannot liberate consciousness; stretching only exercises the physical body. The consciousness is liberated when the conditions that afflict it are removed, and that is a psychological process, not a physical one. The consciousness is not physical. So, that is what we were explaining in previous lectures.
Thus, having explained the first three steps, we have now reached the fourth: Pranayama.
The first four steps have a purpose, which is to remove the conditions that afflict the consciousness.
Yama and Niyama, which are ethics, proper behaviors, are about changing those behaviors that cause the mind and the body to be in a state of suffering, to be in tension, to be afflicted with anxiety, with fear, with desire. When Yama and Niyama are actively applied in our daily life, then instead of allowing the animal mind to pursue its desires, the consciousness takes charge and says: "No! That anger will only cause me to suffer and others to suffer. So I am going to restrain my anger, and instead I am going to act in a compassionate way. I am going to dominate my anger, my pride, my lust, my envy, and instead act consciously, sacrificing my desires and self-interest for the greater good." When we do that, the conditions that limit the free consciousness are lessened and that free consciousness is able to express itself. When we are able to act and do good, we have peace; we feel serenity. We feel connected with our Soul. In that way, we are no longer as influenced by anger and lust and pride and envy; no longer mastered by our desires and enslaved by our addictions, but instead taking charge of them. That initiates a process by which the consciousness becomes stronger. It starts to become stable; it starts to become serene, free of guilt and remorse. That way, when we start to do our spiritual practice, to meditate, we take our posture, our asana, we are already starting to become calm, because we are not behaving in a harmful ways. We are curbing the harmful behaviors that disturb the mind, that disturb the body, that disturb our heart. We are starting to do what is right, and when you do what is right, you feel it, you know it, it gives you peace, it gives you serenity. So these steps are about calming, settling, becoming still, becoming relaxed; withdrawing from the external world and going to the internal world.
In the third step — asana, the posture — we take our posture for meditation, and in this posture the prerequisite is to be relaxed. If we are obsessed with a desire, we really want some money, we really want sex, we really want power, we really want some job, we really need something, then our mind is very agitated, our heart is very agitated, and our body is very tense and agitated. That means we cannot relax on any level. That means we will never be able to meditate, not in that state. So these first three steps are really critical if you want to learn how to meditate. You cannot skip them. We have to learn how to do what is right, and when we find that we did something wrong, correct it, and thereby learn to relax.
So you see in these first two steps — self-restraint and precepts — these are about becoming aware of oneself, becoming conscious of our behaviors, not only physically, but psychologically. The third one, asana, is about becoming aware of the body, letting it relax, letting it become still.
"When you sit on the posture, think: "I am as firm as a rock". Give this suggestion to the mind half a dozen times. Then the Asana will become steady soon. You must become as a living statue when you sit for Dhyana. Then only there will be real steadiness in your Asana. In one year by regular practice you will have success and will be able to sit for three hours at a stretch. Start with half an hour and gradually increase the period. When you sit in the Asana, keep your head, neck and trunk in one straight line. Stick to one Asana and make it quite steady and perfect by repeated attempts. Never change the Asana. Adhere to one tenaciously. Realise the full benefits of one Asana." —Swami Sivananda
A good posture for meditation is one in which we can be very relaxed, upright, and perfectly still, without any pain, without any discomfort, so that the consciousness can do its work. Pranayama, which is the fourth step of Yoga, builds on that foundation.
Pranayama cannot work if we are not observing Yama and Niyama (ethical behaviors) and if we are not relaxed. If we are continuing with desire-based behaviors, such as indulging in lust, anger, pride, and envy, then we are not engaged in steps one and two, thus we will never be able to relax (asana, step three), thus we will never be able to properly perform a Pranayama (step four), so everything else (steps 5 to 8) — in other words, meditation — will be out of the question, impossible, because you see, the rest of the stages of Yoga - Pratyahara, Dharana, Dyana, and Samadhi - go deeper and deeper, until we access the true nature of the consciousness within us. If we are not establishing the foundations in the initial steps, we will never reach the higher steps.
It is impossible to skip steps. To think you can skip steps is like thinking you can live without water, air or food. You cannot. Likewise, real meditation cannot emerge unless the conditions are exactly right.
All of the eight steps of yoga are about establishing the right conditions:
Yama and Niyama are about removing the behaviors, the psychological conditions, that cause the mind and body to be disturbed, and instead adopting behaviors that promote the necessary conditions for meditation.
Asana is about settling the body, allowing it to become so still and relaxed that we can forget it, so the body is no longer an obstacle; when it is no longer conditioning the consciousness, thus consciousness can leave it. In other words, the body ceases to be a limitation or modification on the consciousness.
Pranayama goes even deeper - it is about stilling the breath, stilling the energy, making all of the energy in us calm, still, quiet, serent, so that our energy does not condition the consciousness either.
Then we work on to Pratyahara, where we withdraw from the senses completely. All of the senses become abstract, distant, so that they do not modify the consciousness. At this stage, our attention is completely centered and withdrawn from everything.
And it is only then that we start to access real concentration: Dharana. Here, we become completely, 100% concentrated, without being distracted, identified, or conditioned.
With Dhyana, our concentration becomes so deep that we become “absorbed” very deeply. The consciousness becomes even more centered, even more strengthened, perceptive, and comprehensive.
“In Dhyana all worldly thoughts are shut out from the mind. The mind is filled or saturated with Divine thoughts, with the Divine Glory, the Divine Presence.” —Swami Sivananda
Finally, in Samadhi, the consciousness is fully awakened, fully outside of the conditioning of anything foreign to itself (ego, desire, the body, etc). In this state, it can see and understand without any modifications at all. THAT is yoga.
“Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the three consecutive stages of the same process of mental concentration and are thus parts of an organic whole. Dharana is the effort to fix the mind steadily upon an object. Dhyana is continuous and unbroken fixity of the mind upon the object. Samadhi is fixity of the mind upon the object with such intensity of concentration as to become the object itself. The mind is wholly merged in and identified with the object upon which it is fixed… Dhyana or meditation culminates in Samadhi. The object of meditation is Samadhi. Samadhi is the goal of Yoga discipline. Body and mind become dead, as it were, to all external impressions. The connection with the outer world is broken. In Samadhi, the Yogi enters into Supreme Silence which is untouched by the ceaseless noises of the outer world. The mind ceases its functioning. The senses are absorbed in the mind. When all the modifications of the mind are controlled, the Seer, the Purusha, rests in his own Self. Patanjali speaks of this in his Yoga Sutras as Svarupa-Avasthanam (establishment in one’s true Self). There are kinds or degrees of concentration or Samadhi, viz., Samprajnata or conscious and Asamprajnata or superconscious. In Samprajnata Samadhi, there are definite objects of concentration for resting. The mind remains conscious of the object. Savitarka (with deliberation), Nirvitarka (without deliberation), Savichara (with reflection), Nirvichara (without reflection), Sananda (with joy), and Sasmita (with the sense of personality) are forms of Samprajnata Samadhi. In Samprajnata Samadhi, there is a clear consciousness of the object meditated upon, as distinct from the subject. In Asamprajnata Samadhi, this distinction vanishes, it being transcended.” —Swami Sivananda
If you have tried to meditate and you have not been able to concentrate, it may be because your mind is too active and disturbed, your heart is too active and disturbed or your body is too active and disturbed. That means all of those conditions are causing the consciousness to be identified, that is why you cannot meditate. If you learn to extract a consciousness from all those conditions, concentration is very easy; it is a matter of setting up the foundations in your daily life.
Today we are focusing on the fourth step of those stages.
About Pranayama the Yoga Sutras has two important passages:
“Or [peace of mind comes] by exhalation and retention of breath.” —1.34
“After securing that steadiness of posture [asana] follows regulation of breath or the control of Prana, the cessation of inhalation and exhalation.” —2.49
If you have studied Yoga or Tantra, you have undoubtedly have heard about Pranayama or Kundalini Yoga. There are hundreds of techniques called Pranayama. Generally, they involve breathing exercises; sometimes with mantras, sometimes with alternating nostrils. Pranayama really is not about physical breath, it is about Prana, it is about energy, it is about stilling the energy, making it calm, making it stable.
“Patanjali does not lay much stress on the practice of different kinds of Pranayama. He mentions: “Exhale slowly, then inhale and retain the breath. You will get a steady and calm mind.” It was only the Hatha Yogins who developed Pranayama as a science and who have mentioned various exercises to suit different persons.” —Swami Sivananda
The scripture says: "[peace of mind comes] by exhalation and retention of breath.” That word breath there is Prana. Prana can be interpreted as breath, but it also can be interpreted as “energy, life energy.”
The second passage says:
"After securing that steadiness of posture follows regulation of breath or the control of Prana, the cessation of inhalation and exhalation.”
Why does it say cessation? If you have studied Yoga, you have heard of breathing exercises where people do very rapid breathing, and they make a lot of noise, and maybe they chant mantras along with it, and they make a lot of bodily movements, and it can be quite vigorous. But this scripture says “cessation," stilling, so what is going on? The scripture is describing something calm, serene, motionless, but that is not about what most people say Pranayama is. To understand that we need to know what Prana really is.
What is Prana?
Prana means “energy,” but because of its great flexibility as a term in Sanskrit, it can mean many things: "breath, breath of life, vitality, life force, wind, vigor, power, spirit." So everybody who studies Yoga talks about Prana and they always talk about it in regards with physical nature, and it is true; nature is Prana. So are you. Everything that we are is Prana. We are just energy in different modifications. Even Einstein said there is no matter, there is only energy. So when we are working with Yoga, we are really learning to work with energy. The question is: what is our goal? What are we aiming to achieve?
If we really want to experience what Yoga truly is, which is the experience of the true nature of the consciousness, unity with Divinity, then we need to follow the steps of yoga, which indicate that we need all the modifications to become still.
“Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of consciousness.”
We do not experience yoga because we are so heavily conditioned by our many desires, that karmic baggage that we carry, because of our former mistaken actions. We do not experience our true nature because of our mistakes. If we want to change that we need a lot of energy. How many lifetimes (even in this life), how long we have been making mistakes, pursuing mistaken paths? Repeating the same mistaken actions again and again? How much energy have we expended to create the situation that we are in today? We are the ones who made it. If we want to undo that, we need energy powerful enough to crack open those defects of pride and anger and lust and greed and gluttony and fear and avarice and laziness and all that modifies our perception. That takes incredible energy to undo. It means that Yoga is not something that you can pursue five minutes a day or ten minutes a week. It has to be a lifestyle, a way of being from moment to moment, a way of changing our perception, discarding harmful behaviors, adopting beneficial ones, learning to serve a greater good rather than our desires, so that we accumulate a massive redirection of energy directed towards raising our quality of being upwards, out of suffering. Through continual awareness of ourselves (self-observation and self-remembering), we are working with Prana from moment to moment, in every moment: the Prana of the body, the Prana of the emotions, the Prana of thoughts, and the Prana of will, which is the most significant of those — the Prana of will, the willpower of the consciousness to dominate the animal body and the animal mind.
You see in this image of the physical body with all of its incredible sophistication - we all have that. Yet, we have zero awareness of all the energy that is constantly transforming in us all the time. We have zero awareness of all the energy that is transforming in our emotional center and in our intellect all the time. But most of all we ignore how if we were smart, we could harness all of that energy and use it for something profound; to transform ourselves, to stop being like everybody else in the world, hypnotized by desire, by Maya; to instead conquer that to become something different. It is a matter of willpower to do it. If we can harness the Prana within us, that is how Pranayama actually begins.
Pranayama literally means to harness the wind or harness the life force. It means to harness all of the energy that we can access in a given moment. It doesn't just mean a breathing exercise; Pranayama is a behavioral transformation.
Pranayama depends on the steps before it: Yama and Niyama (self-restraint and ethics), combined with asana (relaxation of the body, heart and mind), and unite them all under willpower, conscious will, who has its eyes on divinity. In that way we can harness all of the energies that we have, directed towards a superior goal.
The purpose of steps one through four is to harness as much energy as we can in order to prepare ourselves for meditation, to extract the consciousness from the conditions that trap it; to utilize all of our energy in order to take the consciousness out of conditions. This means to leave behind the physical body, to leave behind the physical world, to leave behind your name, your memories, your desires, your cravings, your fears; free of the senses, the mind and the body. With that as your goal, as your will, the Pranayama harnesses all of your available energy to achieve that.
If you have studied Yoga or Pranayama with other traditions or in various books, you have probably heard that when practicing Pranayama the student should be visualizing bringing in energy from nature. While inhaling they imagine that they are drawing in energies from the outside world. There is some truth to that, obviously, because our body is always interacting with its environment. But that is the exoteric, public, superficial level of the explanation of Pranayama. The true explanation of Pranayama was not given publicly. The true explanation of Paranayama is to harness the energy that is inside of us.
There is incredible energy inside of us. If you think about that just for a moment, consider what happens if you take a single atom and you split it. We know what atomic bombs can do, when we split an atom and liberate the energy that is in it. There is an incredible amount of energy in a single atom. Your whole being is made of atoms in different levels, thus we are filled with incredible potential energy.
If you observe yourself and are honest with yourself, you will see that there is energy rising and falling in you every day over which you have no real control that pushes you to behave in different ways at different times and you simply react. You get a surge of emotional energy that wants you to do a certain thing and you do it. You get a surge of physical energy that wants you to do a certain thing and you do it. You get a surge of mental energy and you follow it without question. Pranayama is about questioning those impulses, controlling them, harnessing that energy and redirecting it into more beneficial behaviors. Chiefly among those is of course the most powerful energy that flows within us.
The Prana of Sex
We have talked in general about what Prana is: the energy of all things. So everything that exists has Prana. But you know well that each thing has different energy, with different capabilities, different capacities. It takes Prana to breathe, it takes Prana to think, it takes Prana to feel, it takes Prana to see, to hear, it takes Prana to walk, to dream. But where in our lives do we touch the most powerful expression of Prana? If we understand that Prana is the basis of life and living, then it follows its most profound expression is in its ability to create life: the sexual energy. That is why all of the Yogis throughout the history adopted Brahamacharya as specified in Yama and Niyama, the ethical steps of Yoga. Brahamacharya means to restrain the sexual energy, to have continence, to hold it, to keep it, to preserve it, and through Pranayama to transform it.
In the steps of Yoga, Yama teaches restraint from the orgasm (brahmacharya), while Niyama teaches purity (elimination of lust), which together preserve that energy both physically and psychologically. Step three, Asana, is to take a posture and relax, so that the body is not conditioning the energy or the consciousness. Step four, Pranayama, is to take the life energy, the Prana, and transform it consciously, with willpower.
Observe the Yogi in the image; this is a typical painting of how to perform Pranayama. Observe where the energy connects in the body: sexual energy, throat. You see those lines of energy moving in the body of the Yogi? They begin in the sexual energy. That is the root of life. Life emerges into existence through sex. We are grown and developed through hormones, we are driven to behave through the endocrine system. But we behave poorly, because we are afflicted with lust. If we conquer lust, we liberate the energy that drives it. That is how you make a Buddha; that is how you make a master. You liberate the sexual energy from lust; that Prana then becomes free and takes the consciousness directly to experience its true nature.
So we have a choice: we can utilize the sexual energy to indulge in the desire for the inferior, brief physical pleasure of the orgasm, or renounce that and exchange it for the superior, lasting, transformative ecstasies of the soul. Both are produced by the same energy. One is an animal, the other divine.
When we transmute the sexual energy through Pranayama, we create what is called Ojas. That word literally means “light.” Everybody wants spiritual light, but nobody wants to restrain the oil that fuels the lamp. Everyone wants to remain an animal, serving desire and take those lustful desires to Heaven; that cannot happen, it is impossible.
The beings who reside in the heavenly realms are free of lust. They have light, vitality, vigor, ability, splendor, strength, luster, power, water, energy, because they are not controlled by lust, instead, to some degree they have become free from lust. The higher they are, the less lust they have. Their sexual energy enlightens them. You see that word “en-lighten-ment” has to do with Ojas. That is why in the Yoga Sutras it says:
"By the establishment of continence, vigor is gained.”
Let us just take a moment to look at humanity in this era. Who has vigor? When we are young, we have some vigor, but we waste it very rapidly. As people get older, they desperately seek everywhere for more energy, trying to change diet, trying to get exercise, taking energy drinks, drugs and caffeine, any kind of substances, any kind of new class or workshop we can get to get more energy. People are taking pills and all kinds of chemicals to stimulate their sexual power, because they have squandered it all, because they are addicted to lust. But if you observe a Yogi, someone who really practices Yoga, they have bountiful energy and they are perfectly serene, because they control the sexual force. That force becomes vigor, strength, light, liberation.
That is why in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:
"I am the seed or virility in you… I [Krishna] am sex which is not contrary to religion."
Krishna, Christ, is the sexual energy itself. How could we possibly abuse the sexual energy if we want to experience Krishna, Christ?
The Yoga Shastras say:
"Expulsion of semen brings death; preservation of semen gives life."
Shiva Samhita says:
"When the precious jewel of semen is mastered, anything on earth can be mastered. Through the grace of its preservation, one becomes as great as me [Shiva] … Knowing this, the yogi must always preserve the semen… This is the ultimate Yoga."
Semen here doesn't refer to the physical substance only in males; it refers to the sexual seed, the energy, the Prana, the sexual force in both masculine and feminine bodies. The gender is irrelevant; we all have that energy. It is what gives us life and the ability to create life. We can either create life externally, physically through the expulsion of that force or we can create life internally, spiritually through its retention and transformation. This is the basis of Yoga; this is the basis of learning truly meditate.
If you want to know why no one seems to know how to meditate, it is because they are not preserving the sexual energy. If you want to know why you go to all these Yoga schools and Kundalini Yoga schools and you see so much bad behavior, addiction to lust, addiction to money, addiction to power, addiction to vanity, addiction to physical appearance, to Maya, to illusion? It is because none of them are practicing Yoga. They are not abiding by any ethics, they are not trying to liberate the consciousness from desire, they are in love with their desires. The outcome will be suffering, not liberation.
The Bhagavad Gita and all the Shastras and Vedas and all the books of Hinduism and all the books of Buddhism and all the books of Christianity and Judaism, all agree on this simple point - the cause of suffering is desire. It is the first noble truth that the Buddha taught, and yet humanity refuses to hear it. And what is our strongest desire? It is the sexual desire.
Now, let me point out that this does not mean that one has to renounce sexual act. No! Krishna says:
"I am sex.”
Life is created through sexuality. The difference is to choose a divine sexuality, a non-lustful one; one that retains that energy, that trains it, that restores it, that liberates it from lust; that instead of embracing lust, expresses love, humility, charity, contentment, sacrifice for others. Where the sexual act becomes prayer, instead of animal craving; where that sexual act becomes something that expresses the beauty of divinity, not the horrors of the underworld. Humanity on this planet nowadays only sees sex as something filthy; they cannot imagine sexuality can be something pure, divine, angelic, free of animal desire. It can! But not in the condition that we are in now. We have to liberate ourselves from that condition.
"Mind, Prana, and Veerya [sexual energy] are one. By controlling the mind, you can control Prana and semen. By controlling Prana you can control the mind and semen. By controlling semen, you can control the mind and Prana. …if the Veerya is controlled, and if it is made to flow upwards into the brain by pure thoughts and the practice of… Pranayama, the mind and the Prana are automatically controlled.”
Mind, Prana, sexual energy - we think that these are separate, but they are not. They are one.
If we want to learn meditation, if we want to experience Yoga, we need to understand this dynamic: mind, Prana, sexual energy are completely 100% united. If your interest is in experiencing real meditation, Samadhi, Yoga, and you are restraining the sexual energy, you must also work with Prana and restrain your mind. If you are allowing your mind to remain addicted to lust, pornography, masturbation, looking at others lustfully, then you cannot control the Prana or the sexual energy. They will all be disturbed. They are not distinct from each other. You cannot separate psychological work from sexuality; they are completely and 100% related — even Freud knew that.
“When a man is excited by passion, the Prana is set in motion. Then the whole body obeys the dictate of the mind just as a soldier obeys the command of his commander. The vital air or Prana moves the internal sap or semen. The semen is put into motion. It falls downwards, just as the clouds burst into rain water, just as the fruits, flowers and leaves of the trees drop down by the force of the blowing winds. If the Veerya [sexual energy] is lost [through orgasm], Prana gets unsteady. Prana is agitated. The man becomes nervous. Then the mind also cannot work properly. The man becomes fickle-minded. There is mental weakness. If the Prana is rendered steady, the mind also becomes steady. If the Veerya [sexual energy] is steady, the mind also is steady. […] Veerya is the essence of life, thought, intelligence and consciousness. Therefore, preserve this vital fluid very, very carefully…” —Swami Sivananda
If our goal is to learn to meditate and we are struggling, we can look at this in our own lives - are we really restraining our sexual energy? Not just physically, but psychologically. How are we using our Prana? These three are related. How are we using our energy? How we are using our mind? If our mind is weak, fickle, unsteady, it is because the energy in us is misdirected. Yoga is not complicated, it is simply takes awareness and willpower.
Channels of Energy
Pranayama is how we harness the energy that moves in the body in order to train that energy to flow in a healthy way and restore our psychological equilibrium. If you have studied Yoga, you have heard about nadis, Kundalini, chakras, energy that flows through us, etc. There uncountable number of channels of energy in the body, but there are three that are significant. Shushumna is very slender semi-physical channel in the center of the spinal column. On either side of it are two more channels: one solar and one lunar; in various traditions they are called Ida and Pingala, Surya and Chandra, Obd and Od, Rasana and Lalana, or Adam and Eve.
These channels are polarized differently in men and women. In women the aspect related to the moon is connected to the right nostril and the left ovary. In men it is the opposite: the lunar channel is related with the left nostril and the right testicle.
We all have these channels in our bodies right now. Energy moves through them according to our psychological condition. Yet because of our very poor psychological condition, these channels work very poorly, if at all, in most people. We can clean them, restore them, and rejuvenate them through the practice of Pranayama, in which we direct the sexual energy up through these channels.
Through willpower, which is concentration, and imagination, in combination with relaxation and Brahamacharya, we clean those channels, which in turn cleans what are called chakras, the energy centers that occur where the various channels meet.
Chakras are conduits or circuits that allow energy to move between dimensions. They are transformers of energy that move energy from one place to another. Your eyes are the same: they transform visible light into energy that passes into your brain, where that energy is interpreted. The chakras do the same thing but in other ways. They allow us to perceive non-physical things, to experience non-physical images, non-physical sounds, to recall memories of ancient times. Yet because of our poor psychological and sexual condition, our nadis and chakras are inactive, dirty, working improperly. Primarily, these channels of energy are calcified, damaged, obstructed, from so much misuse of sexual energy.
A typical Pranayama uses alternate breathing: you breathe in through one nostril, hold the breath, exhale through the opposite nostril; then you breath in through that nostril, hold the breath, and exhale through the opposite nostril. In this way you are directing energy up one side, down the other; up one side, down the other. If you are preserving your sexual force, that energy is what will cycle through those channels and clean them. If you are not preserving your sexual energy, this practice will do nothing or, worse, will awaken the negative trapped, conditioned consciousness and you will become a demon, which is very common nowadays.
Prerequisites for Practicing Pranayama
If you want to really take advantage of the science of Pranayamas in order to transform your spiritual life, there are prerequisites that you need to understand how to use the practice.
1. Brahamacharya: retention of sexual energy
The most important is that you need to be restraining and transforming your sexual energy. Brahamacharya, the retention of the sexual force — ie. no orgasm — is the power of Pranayama. The sexual force is the strongest Prana within you. If you are not retaining that energy, there is nothing for your pranayama to harness. If you are having the orgasm, you are wasting that energy; you indulge in that little brief pleasure, and you waste that energy.
“When this energy is once wasted, it can never be recouped by any other means. It is the most powerful energy in the world. One sexual act shatters completely the brain and the nervous system… The energy that is wasted during one sexual intercourse [orgasm] is tantamount to the energy that is spent in physical labour for ten days or the energy that is utilized in mental work for three days. Mark how precious is the vital fluid, semen! Do not waste this energy. Preserve it with great care. You will have wonderful vitality. When Veerya is not used, it is all transmuted into Ojas Sakti or spiritual energy and stored up in the brain. Western doctors know little of this salient point. Most of your ailments are due to excessive seminal wastage.” —Swami Sivananda
Those who are continuing with the orgasm and try to practice Pranayama are trying to take water from a dry well, or drink water from an empty cup: there is nothing in there. When you retain the sexual energy, the jar of your sexual organs has that energy, the Prana; and with the Pranayama you harness that, you transform it.
Remember what I said in the beginning: there is no such a thing as matter, in and of itself. The physical body is an illusion; it is just condensed energy. Sexual matter is condensed energy. When you learn to restrain it and transform it, you simply take that energy into a new modality. There is nothing complicated about it; it just takes willpower and knowledge.
2. Relaxation: stable, still posture
The second requirement is to be relaxed. We have observed people doing Pranayama with a lot of tension in the physical body, straining the physical body, with their fists tight and face tense, with their muscles very active and tense; it is completely backwards to practice pranayama like that.
For a Pranayam to work spiritually, you need to be focused on the subtle energy, not the gross energy. Prana is in different modalities. Your physical body is a gross form of prana, a dense heavy obvious form of Prana. That is not what we are trying to harness with Pranayama. With Pranayama you are trying to harness the most subtle energy in the body, which is the sexual energy. You cannot harness that when you are tense, or only focused on physicality. It is necessary to relax physically, and focus internally.
If your hand is gripped tight into a fist, very tense, can you hold water in your palm? No, there is no way. That hand has to be open, relaxed. Then you can cup water, and balance it there. Similarly, if a muscle is tense, energy is being expended there, and nothing can pass through there.
When you are very tense, your body becomes like a rock. How can energy move through that? It is more difficult. When you are relaxed, energy can move.
Moreover, you should be very still. The body should be motionless from deep relaxation. When you are perfectly relaxed, you become like a mountain: still, serene, settled. That sets the stage for meditation.
Again, the goal of Pranayama is to harness very subtle energy. If you are paying attention to gross sensations, say for example, itchiness, and you are doing your Pranayama exercise, but you keep scratching the itch, your attention is on that gross energy of the itch. That means you cannot pay attention to the subtle energy, Prana, that you are hoping to transform. So if your body is itching, ignore it; if your body is uncomfortable, relax it, leave behind the physical aspect. In Pranayama you have to go deeper then physical aspect. So it is necessary to train the body to become relaxed, still, motionless.
3. Quiet. Inhalation and exhalation should be silent.
“Draw the breath slowly without making any noise, through both nostrils. Retain the breath as long as you can do it with comfort. Then exhale slowly through both nostrils… Do not use the nose as a suction pump. It should serve as a passive passage for both the inhaled and the exhaled air. Do not make any sound when you inhale and exhale. Remember that correct breathing is noiseless… Exhale very, very slowly without producing any noise.” —Swami Sivananda
The inhalation and the exhalation should be silent. Now, I know some people have learned Pranayamas that are very vigorous and loud. That maybe fine for them, but it is not fine when preparing for meditation. Remember, in meditation you are aiming to escape the senses. So if in your Pranayama you are identified with the senses, you are doing the opposite of preparing for meditation. If in your Pranayama you are breathing very vigorously and you are tensing your body and you are listening to yourself making all the sounds, then you are not withdrawing from the physical aspect; you are identified with it.
In addition, there were varieties of pranayama from the previous era that were “vigorous,” such as bhastrika, but that is no longer useful.
“Asian Yoga gives a great variety of exercises for Pranayama. Let us see: deep breathing exercise, Sukha Purvaka (easy, comfortable) Pranayama during walking, Pranayama during meditation, Rhythmical breathing, Suryabheda, Ujjayi, Sitkari, Sitali, Bhastrika, Bhramari, Murchha, Plavini, Kevala Kumbhaka, etc. All of these innumerable varieties of practices and Asanas (postures) served for the descending arch of the evolving life; yet, now we are starting an ascending arch of evolution, and therefore, that enormous quantity of postures and exercises are antiquated for the new Aquarian era.” —Samael Aun Weor, Kundalini Yoga
4. Withdrawal from senses and physicality.
Pranayama prepares you for meditation. The next step of ashtanga is pratyahara, which is abstraction of the physical senses, thus pranayama should take us to that state of focusing within rather than focusing on the physical perceptions. That is why the inhalation and the exhalation should be increasingly silent, still, relaxed.
In certain Pranayamas you use a mantra on the exhalation. Even that can be very quiet, where even you can't really hear it, because your attention should not be in the external world, it should be on the internal, forgetting the external.
When you are practicing Pranayama in the beginning, you have to learn the mechanism. So if you are doing the alternate breathing, you have to learn how to get your finger to alternate nostrils, so you get that rhythm and you figure it out. But your body will learn, and when your body learns, you no longer have to pay all attention to the fingers and how they are moving - it will do it on its own. Your attention should be on the Prana, the energy, and let your body do what it needs to do. Don't pay attention to the body, leave it behind; withdraw from the senses, that is what prepares you for the the fourth stage of Yoga, which is Pratyahara. That literally means “withdrawal.”
5. Concentration on what one is doing
The fifth requirement is concentration; you have to remain concentrated on what you are doing. If you are doing your Pranayama exercise but you are thinking about TV, you are wasting your time. If you are doing your Pranayama exercise and you are thinking about what you have to do afterwards, or tomorrow, you are wasting your time; the pranayama will not be as effective as it is when you are 100% concentrated on what you are doing in that moment.
6. Mindfulness of what one is doing (not forgetting).
With all spiritual practices your attention must be on what you are doing. And that is related to the next requirement, which is mindfulness: to not forget what you are doing. It is one thing to concentrate for a moment, it is another thing to make concentration continuous, to remain mindful of the practice you are doing.
7. Visualization of the energy moving
Visualize that energy and direct it with your willpower. In a Pranayama exercise you visualize taking your sexual energy, drawing it up the channels, holding it in a given place, directing it to a new place. So you are constantly visualizing movement. That visualization needs to be an active visualization, not passive; it needs to be something that you are actively imagining. That power of imagination is really significant, it is very important for the later stages of meditation. It is important to develop it through Pranayama. You are harnessing that energy and using imagination to direct it.
8. Prayer to divinity
Many people learn Pranayama but they do it as a mechanical exercise; that is, the body might be breathing or in the right posture, but the consciousness is somewhere else in a state of distraction, daydreaming, etc, which is the opposite of yoga.
Prana is a living thing. It is not mechanical, automatic, or without intelligence. Prana is the active energy of God. It is intelligence in nature. Prana is Shakti, the Divine Mother. She is not a force that can be fooled or toyed with; She is living intelligence in all things. So when you are performing a Pranayama, you are invoking the presence of the Divine Mother. It is not a game. That is not something you can do to get powers or to impress others. It is something you do for the benefit of your soul.
9. Persistence and patience
You will not get results from a Pranayama after ten minutes or a few days. The fruit of Pranayama is like a fruit of the fruit tree: it takes time; it has to be carefully nurtured, constantly attended to. And gradually, little by little, all the sudden you realize you have something beautiful, flowering, and fragrant that you have grown inside of you and it is astonishing, and you want to share it with everyone. To reach that you need persistence and patience.
So, if you are following along with the course, the new exercise is to begin practicing daily Pranayama.
Here is a simple technique:
- Adopt a relaxed and attentive posture, whether seated or standing.
- With the thumb and index fingers, one controls the nostrils in an alternating manner, in order to inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right, and vice-versa.
- Inhale through Pingala, the solar nostril. Intensely imagine the radiant and sublime solar atoms rising through the solar cord to the brain, then hold the breath and carry that solar force to the area between the eyebrows, and the throat, successively. Hold the breath for as long as comfortable. When exhaling the air, focus with imagination and willpower on the energy being placed within the heart.
- Inhale through Ida, the lunar nostril. Imagine the lunar atoms, like the pure water of life, rising through the lunar cord and taking the same route.
- The disciple should slowly inhale and exhale while very well concentrated on the Pranayama.
Learn other pranayamas: What is Pranayama?
Questions and Answers
Instructor: Do you have any questions about today's lecture?
Audience: In the context of the stilling the mind I know that while you are practicing the concentration of the [inaudible] and at that time thoughts come in, you see them, but you just focus or concentrate on the breath. How does that work in daily life when it comes to restraining the mind in a way when you are not rejecting the information that whatever the thought is in it, but you still (...)
Instructor: Do what you just said: observe it without reacting, without avoiding it or indulging in it, but observe it as a fact. So you have to be a detective who is observing the actions of a criminal, and you are gathering information about what that criminal is up to. How does it think? How does it feel? What does it do? What does it want? You just make notes and observe it, you get all the facts. Later on, you put all those facts together. But the initial phase is the gathering information.
Audience: Well, I mean in that thought I guess [inaudible].
Instructor: If in the instant of observing that thought you recognize that it is harmful, you have already started to disempower it. If you choose to follow it and indulge in it, then you are going to make things worse. But that initial recognition is the comprehension. You start to understand: "Hey, this is not good", and if you are following the consciousness, you will naturally not act on it, you will naturally just continue on with your activities and do what you need to do and not let those thoughts afflict you anymore.
Pranyama has a very strong impact on observation of the mind. The reason we practice Pranayama at this phase of practice is that the Pranayama — by harnessing energy — actually acts as suction pump. Remember, the mind, the Prana and the sexual energy are all one, they are all united. So if our goal is to meditate, we practice the Pranayama first. The reason is, when you harness that energy and you are directing it throughout your organism, it actually clears the mind: one, because you are not engaged in mechanical thought, you are concentrating and you are observing what you are doing and you are visualizing that practice, you are prayerful, you are moving energy around, you are not engaged in the mind. But that energy, the sexual energy, is mind; it is Prana. It acts like a pump, affecting the psychology, the state of your heart, the state of your mind, the state of your body and calming everything, making it serene. And you will experience that if you are conserving your energy, if you are relaxed, if you are concentrated, visualizing, you will experience that effect; it is very strong.
On that note, if you are in your daily life, and you find that you are becoming very unstable, very agitated, you can do Pranayama; right then. You can just relax, adopt that powerful attitude, breath, breath, relax, direct that energy around and you will find that your mind and body and heart will calm down by using energy in that way. So it can help, especially with very afflictive thoughts that will not leave you alone.