PSYCHO-PHYSIOLOGY OF YOGA
Our breathing patterns reflect our emotional and mental states. The breath is jerky during anger, momentarily ceases during periods of fear, gasps during amazement, chokes during sadness, sighs in relief, is slow and steady during periods of concentration, and changes during periods in which the mind is subject to passing thoughts and emotions of a random nature. While it is difficult to control the mind and emotions directly, they can be mastered indirectly by using the breath. Various meditation traditions have long taught their students to concentrate on breathing smoothly in order to eliminate distracting thoughts. In modern times, many scientific studies have confirmed the effect of breathing exercises in the treatment of hypertension and anxiety disorders.
By deep breathing, we draw energy from the universal reservoir of life. Accordingly, each individual cell maintains its respiratory rate for its individual needs. Finally all the living cells depend upon the satisfactory working of the respiratory system for their entire needs of energy. The Siddhars referred to the basic energy underlying all activities, both physical and mental, as prana, or subtle life force. Prana is found in the air that we breathe in the Earth we live on, in the water we drink and in sunlight.
Some of the channels through which the more physical pranas flow have been mapped out by both the Siddhars of India and China. The more physical channels have been identified as meridians in acupuncture, originally developed in India, and know as Varma in the Siddha system of medicine. It is practiced by Siddha Vaidya physicians to this day, particularly in the Nagercoil area of Tamil Nadu. It is also used even to this day by the elephant trainers in India and Sri Lanka. Being of a grosser level, such channels are subject to physical manipulation, as with needles and finger pressure. They are a small subset of a much wider spectrum of pranic energy channels, or nadis of Yoga, as described below.
The Siddhar's science also tells us that a man generally takes 15 breaths a minute; and this makes 21,600 breaths per day; and at this rate, he can live for a period of at least 120 years, as limited by the fundamental principle on which respiration is based. This principle recognizes that not all of the force or energy forced out during exhalation is regained during inhalation. While breathing normally the energy lost in every exhalation extending to 12 inches of space is regained only to an extent of 8 inches, resulting in a net loss of 4 inches. A part of the energy that ought to have entered the body is lost in every process of respiration and thereby the normal life span of 120 years is considerably reduced. In Boganathar's poem Gnan Savera 1000, he explains this truth and even shows how excessive breathing reduces the normal lifespan and eventually leads to death in human beings. In eating the breath forced out extends to a space of 18 inches; in walking it goes out to 24 inches; running forces it out to 42 inches; in sexual activity it goes out to 50 inches; and in sleeping it extends to 60 inches. Ramalinga Swmigal also confirms that too much of sleep shortens the life span. Thirumoolar laments in stanza number 2873 of Thirumandiram how mankind wastes this pranic energy and thus shortens the life span.
Modern scientific study confirms the teachings of the Siddhars with respects to the loss of energy in breathing. Modern science has found that a man breathes in and out 12,000 liters of air per day. This is according to the respiratory rate of 18 per minute and respiratory depth at 500cc. As the inspired air contains only 20% oxygen, the expired air contains only about 16% oxygen. It indicates that the oxygen retained by the body is only 4% (480 liters per day). similarly, the blood does not distribute more than 20% of its oxygen to the tissues.
Tamil Sridhar Roma Rishi states that one need not die if the pranic life force is not lost but increased, and drawn from the Cosmic source, conquering death and fate. This has been referred to as the Law of Inverse Proportions by Yogi S.A.A.Ramaiah, who noted that the span of life is inversely related to the rate of breathing. During Roma Rishi's time the normal span of life was 120 years and the normal person breathed 21,600 times per day, that is 15 respirations per minute. If the rate of breathing is however 18 per minute the span of life will be about 96 years. If because of poor living habits and needless expenditure of energy the average rate of breathing is 30 per minute, the life span will be only 60 years. however, if the rate is slowed through yogic practices and self control to an average of only 5 respirations per minute the life span will be 360 years. If it is one per minute, the life span will increase to 1,800 years. And if the rate of breathing is reduced to zero, the life span becomes infinity. Yogi Ramaiah has pointed to examples from the study of modern zoology which confirm the "law of inverse proportions": the sea turtle lives to an age of more than 300 years and breaths at a rate of four to five respirations per minute. Other animals such as frogs, mice, bears, go into hibernation during the winter and their breathing is drastically reduced during that time (Ramaiah, 1968, pf.12-14).
Siddhars developed slow rhythmic breathing patterns in order to prevent such a loss of energy and to enable themselves to live as long as they wished, serving mankind. As oxygen is taken up by the circulatory system, so is prana taken up by the nervous system and is spent as nerve-force in the act of thinking, desiring, etc. Regulation of breath enables one in fact to absorb a greater supply of prana to be stored up in the brain and the nerve centers, for use when necessary. The extraordinary powers attributed to advanced Siddhars is largely due to the knowledge and intelligent use of this stored-up energy. It should be remembered that every function of the bodily organs is dependent on nerve-force which is supplied by Prana emanating from the Sun and circulating in space. Without this nerve-force, the heart cannot beat, the lungs can't breathe; the blood can't circulate and the various organs cannot perform their respective normal functions. The prana not only supplies electric force to the nerves, but it also magnetizes the iron in the system and produces the aura as a natural emanation. It is the first step in the development of personal magnetism, which is easily acquired by the practice of pranayama breathing. A person who has practised absorbing and storing an increased supply of prana in his system, often radiates vitality and strength, and this is felt by those coming into contact with him. Great leaders throughout history were naturally endowed with this personal magnetism.
Supplying oxygen to the cells of the body and ridding them of the excess carbon-dioxide resulting from oxidation are the main purposes of respiration. It also aids in the neutralization of the temperature of the body and the elimination of excess water. Respiration occurs internally and externally. Respiration that takes place in the lungs, with the passage of oxygen from the alveoli to the blood, is known as external respiration and the respiration that takes place in the cells of the body's tissues is known as internal respiration. The Siddhars' science of longevity is mainly concerned with internal respiration. The secret of longevity lies in the technique of diverting the breathing to the subtle channels and centers.
Yogis and Siddhars who are not disturbed in their practice of yoga by hunger or thirst have recourse to a peculiar method for the secretion of a nectar from the cerebral region through the opening behind the uvula. The adept concentrates on the psychic centers and the mystic gland in the hypothalamus regions for obtaining the amirdha (ambrosial fluid). This Elixir of life will strengthen the human system and make in invulnerable to decay, degeneration, diseases, and death. Thirumoolar says that it is a futile effort to go in search of of sacred bathing places when there are several such centers within our own human system.
Kriya Hatha Yoga includes the practice of asana, mudras and bandhas. Asana refers to a posture which produces relaxation. a mudra is a gesture, movement or position which affects the flow of pranic energy in the body. It also refers to a corresponding psychic attitude. A bandha is a psycho-muscular energy lock which redirects the flow of pranic energy in the human body and to awaken the chakras. The asana kriys, mudras and bandhas were developed by the Siddhars and practiced to strengthen the psycho-physical centers and channels (nadis), to eliminate energy locks, to permit the transmission of gradually increasing amounts of pranic energy, as well as to keep the body free from impurities, functional disorders and diseases. They also help to secure mental concentration and to integrate the two major aspects of our personality, the assertive, rational, masculine aspect, and the receptive, intuitive, feminine aspect. Thirumoolar lists 108 different postures, of which eight are more important. Thirumandiram, verses 558 to 563, gives these: Padmasanam, Svastikasanam, Bhadrasanam, Sihasanam, Gomukasanam, Sothirasanam, Veerasanam and Sukhasanam.
One of the most fundamental physiological processes found in the human being is the alternating in the flow of breath between the two nostrils. We breathe predominantly through either one nostril or the other, and about every three hours this trend changes sides. In so doing, the body is able to maintain its normal body temperature at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Medical scientists in this century have discovered that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body. It is involved mostly with rational thinking, analysis and verbal communication. It processes information in a linear, sequential manner, looking at cause and effect. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and is involved in intuitive processes, space orientation, recognition of things, creation and processes which involve integrating many pieces of data simultaneously. When the right nostril is clear and the breathing is done through that side predominantly, the left hemisphere of the brain, to which the right side fo the body is connected, is the most active. When this occurs, one feels like doing more rational, assertive, aggressive activities. When the left nostril is clear, and the right hemisphere of the brain is more active, one is inclined towards more passive, receptive, intuitive activities. One can change the trend in breathing from one nostril to the other by practicing various techniques, such as lying on the right side for several minutes to open the left nostril, and eventually by mental concentration alone. This may be done to regulate the trend through the side which is most appropriate for the activity at hand. One may also learn to breathe through both nostrils equally, bringing about an integrating and synthesis of the two major aspects of our personality. When this is done, it said that the energy of the breath flows through the central shushumna nadi, producing a feeling of well being, serenity and profound understanding. This is an ideal state for the practice of meditation. The equilibrium produced in the breathing between the right side and the left side, as well as between the inner and the outer air pressure leads to the breathless state of communion with God, known as samadhi in yoga, in which mental activity subsides to stillness, and individual's consciousness expands and dissolves into a Universal Consciousness. These states have been referred to in the Psalms of David: "Be still and know that I am God" - Psalms 46,11), and by St.Paul: "I protest in rejoicing in Christ (Consciousness), I die daily." (I Corinthians 15,31). The 18 Siddhars have found that mankind need not die. They found that one can attain perfection in life (Kaya Siddhi) and by attaining an intelligent control over the breathing will prolong life by increasing one's stamina, and surcharging and transforming one's very cells. The correct practice of breathing is known in the 18 Siddhars' science of longevity as Vashi Yoga.
According to Thirumoolar, there are numerous energy pathways or channels, called nadis in the human body which converge and intersect at certain psycho-energetic centers, known as chakras or padmas (lotuses), located along the axis of the human body. This corresponds roughly with the spinal cord. The word nadi literally means "flow", and the word chakra means wheel or circle, but in the context of yoga, chakra means "vortex" or "whirlpool", for they are vortices of psychic, or pranic energy, experienced or visualized moving circularly at various rates of vibration. According to Siddha tradition, there are 72,000 nadis or subtle channels of energy extending out from the spinal cord. The principal channels are the idakalai nadi which lies near the surface of the left side of the spinal cord and pingalai nadi, lying near the right side's surface, and within the subtle astral body. The third major nadi, shushumna flows inside the central canal of the spinal cord. Pingalai is symbolized by the sun and idakalai, by the moon.
The chakras correspond to the points of junction of certain masses of nerve ganglia on the interior walls of the spinal column. While not physical, they ar detectable with sensitive electronic sensory equipment, and by those personas with well developed extrasensory perception who can sense the vibrations with their hands or subtle vision.
There are seven principle charkas according to the Yoga Siddhars. The seven Chakras have been characterized in the 18 Siddhars’ literature as follows:
In males, it is located slightly inside the perineum, a tiny muscle situated between the anus and the scrotum. In females it is located on the posterior side of the cervix, at the root of the uterus. Muladhara in its dormant state represents our instinctive nature, but when awakened it represents our spiritual potential. Physiologically it is associated with the sexual, reproductive, excretionary and urinary organs. It is the seat of passions and inertia. Psychologically, it is associated with the manifestation of one’s sexual desires, guilt, agony, jealousy, anger and many complexes. The Siddhars developed a science known as tantra for the transformation of sexual energy into spiritual energy. Sexual energy which is ordinarily viewed as a big liability for the spiritual aspirant is converted in tantra into a great asset for fueling the awakening of the higher charkas. Tantra involves self transformation through the use of energizing techniques.
It is the next higher center, very near to the muladhara. It is located at the coccyx or tailbone. This point can be felt as a round protrusion just above the anus. It is connected physiologically to the nerve plexus associated with the prostate gland in men and uterus and vagina in females. On the anterior side of the body, it is at the level of the pubic bone. It is the seat of the subconscious, the storehouse of all experiences and tendencies. All experiences are recorded here. The subconscious forces to which one is subjected have their root here. Its awakening will be associated with the activation of mush long forgotten and suppressed material. According to the Siddhars a profound detachment and sincere aspiration to go beyond these disturbances are needed.
It is situated directly opposite the navel inside the spinal column. It is connected with the solar nerve plexus which controls the functions of digestion and temperature regulation. It represents dynamic will, energy and action. Its awakening creates a new permanent basis for kundalini, and convey a spiritual perspective and a untroubled by the disturbances associated with the lower charkas.
This is located in the spinal column, directly behind the center of the chest, at the heart level. It is connected physiologically with the heat plexus of nerves. It is associated with creative power, unconditional love and compassion, and the ability to overcome fate. In the writings of the Siddhars, anahata is said to be where one’s thoughts and desires are fulfilled. With its awakening, one becomes a master over the situations in life. One no longer depends upon fate to determine one’s life; rather, desires are realized through the exercise of one’s conscious will.
It is located in the region of the throat (cervical plexus) and it is connected physiologically with the pharyngeal and laryngeal nerve plexus. It is the center of discrimination and acceptance of the dualities of life. When it is awakened and the ambrosial secretion from the higher bindu charka at the upper back of the head is stimulated by kechari mudra with the tongue, its retention at this charka causes a regeneration of the body. Many spiritual traditions refer to the immortalizing effects of this secretion. It is also the center of visualization and of receiving thought vibrations from the minds of others.
It is located in the brain directly behind the eyebrow center and corresponds to the pineal gland. It is involved in all activities involving mental awareness. When it is developed one can sense things without the use of the physical senses. A higher intuitive perception and intelligence, know as buddhi manifests itself and one’s will power becomes powerful. It is the center of extra sensory perception. Attachment to these must be overcome if one is to awaken the highest charka, the Sahasrara.
It is traditionally referred to as being located just above the top of the head. It is everything and nothing, beyond the beyond. It is the crown of ascending consciousness, beyond definition.
Kundilini refers to that dormant power in the human organism which lies at the root of the spinal column. The word kundal in Sanskrit means “coil”, and so kundalini has been referred to as that which is coiled. However, the word kunda also refers to a cavity or pit. In this sense, kunda refers to the skull cavity in which the brain lies. The dissecting of the human brain reveals that it resembles a snake coiled upon itself.
The purpose of Kriya Kundalini Yoga, is to awaken this kundalini energy which requires much preparation and exercises, involving postures, mudras (psycho-physical gestures), bandhas (muscular locks), pranayama (breathing), meditation and mantras. When the aspirant is able to purify and balance certain subtle channels of energy, known as the idakalai and pingala nadis, in the spinal column, and gradually ignite this kundalini energy at the base of the spine, it begins to rise up through a central channel in the spinal cord, known as sushumna nadi. As it rises, it passes through various psycho-energetic centers know as chakras. These chakras are inter-connected with different dormant areas of the brain. As the kundalini passes through the chakras these dormant areas and all of our latent faculties and divine potentialities are awakened.
In modern psychological terms this primal energy manifests at the level of the human subconscious. Kundalini when awakened, manifests itself as creative energy, at different levels of refinement. When kundalini awakens and reaches the sahasrara chakra, nirvikalpa (unflunctuating) samadhi, the highest level of consciousness, unfolds. The Siddhars referred to this as the union of God and Goddess, in which the seer, the seeing and the seen merge as one.
When kundalini awakens, the physical body begins to undergo changes as well. Its cells become charged and rejuvenated with a high voltage energy. Hormonal secretions may also change. a process of complete transformation is set in motion.
According to the 18 Siddhars' science, the kundalini shakthi is raised by the aspirant from the muladhara by means of various yogic practices to the sahasrara where it unites with Shiva, the supreme static consciousness. The body's two poles are united and cosmic consciousness emerges. The aspirant enjoys heavenly bliss and an ambrosial nectar begins to secrete into the blood stream, rejuvenating cells and prolonging life.
The Siddhars worshipped this Kundalini Shakthi as the Universal Mother and in the form of a triangle. This has been further multiplied into Forty Three Triangles, viz SRI CHAKRA. By immense devotion to the Supreme Mother and meditation on the sacred mantras and hymns relating to the Forty Three Triangles, the Siddhars gained mastery over the elements.