The art of breath, whichever tradition to which it belongs, is at the beginning, a method of healing and cleansing of the subtle channels. At a second time, it will acquire a different valence, acting to drastically improve the energetic structure and, finally, as a method for transforming the basic energy to a “more refined substance” – a fuel for our higher centers.
We must remember and state here, that the techniques of breathing peculiar to the inner research, must not be interpreted as a method of hygiene. It’s true, they influence and deeply improve our health because of the improved oxygen supply and better elimination of carbon dioxide, but their main aim is to drive the vital energy in order to acquire a variation of the states of consciousness.
This post will explain a practice that is related to the cleansing of the mentioned “subtle channels” in a simplified way so that, even if tried by some reader, it cannot do any harm.
This practice belongs to the Yoga Tradition, and it’s the first act to clean the subtle channels. In Sanskrit, they are called nadis, as mentioned in the previous posts. The practice is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (nadi– channels; shodhana– cleaning; pranayama-breath).
The first thing a practitioner must do is to assume a proper position before beginning the practice. It would be better to say that the practice begins from the moment the practitioner begins to assume the position.
Indeed, assuming a position is a sacred act which must be done intentionally, with presence, such as every practice must be done – nevermind if yogic, taoist, buddhist or any other. Indeed, awareness and development of consciousness is the aim of this blog. It’s the aim of our life.
So, sitting on the ground with the legs wide apart, we’ll begin to notice the places of contact with the ground. We’ll also feel the place where we’ll begin the practice. It’s our sacred space – a space that will hold us during the performance of this practice. It is a sacred ground, a harmonious place where it is possible to rest from the exertions of daily life. We have to keep this in mind and heart for a while.
Then, with a gentle, but also fluid movement, aided by our hands, we’ll bring the left heel on the perineum. Then we’ll bend the right leg and overlap it onto the left leg, keeping it near the pubic area. The toes of both feet will be placed between the calf and thigh.
This position in Yoga is called Siddhâsana, the position of the “realized“. It’s also defined as the perfect posture, because the practitioner can achieve perfection (realization) while practicing in this posture. So, it expresses a possibility to become one day realized such as the wise, conscious beings of all the ages.
We’ll hold this position for a while and we’ll devote ourselves to assume the attitude for this possibility – the possibility to become realized and our attention in sync with our being – our true self. Wisdom, balance, awareness, and compassion towards ourselves and other living beings are the focal points on which we have to synchronize our feelings and thoughts. This posture must be imbued with these qualities, as best as possible.
Then, we’ll begin to put the attention on the quality of the air that surrounds us. It’s one of the three foods for our being. An essential food. We have to feel this food that surrounds us, that caresses the surface of the whole of our material body and solicits the energetic body. Our mind is quiet, our body still, but relaxed.
Now, we’ll assume a mudra (literally, “seal”), a term referring to a particular position, basically performed with fingers and hands, and of deep symbolic valency.
The “seal” in question is the Vishnu mudra. This is the way to perform it: with the right hand opened, we’ll fold down the index and middle finger on the palm, keeping tensed the thumb, ring finger and little finger.
With the thumb we’ll close gently the right nostril and very gently begin to inhale through the left nostril. This inbreath has to be conscious, followed moment by moment with our attention. Inbreath represents the energetic nourishment, the elevation and saturation. All begins from an inbreath. It enunciates the idea of a beginning, it’s the birth and rebirth, the development of the “new” and the death of the “old”. It begins from perineum and genitals, and gently continues with the expansion of our belly, solar plexus, chest, throat, filling the head and ending above the head.
During this inbreath we feel this process draw force from below, the primordial nature, and rise towards the sky, the infinite, the universal, sacred nature inside and outside of us.
We have to feel the expansion of our body as the external act of what happens inside of us: the expansion of all the dormant, unexpressed possibilities.
Once the breath reaches the space over the top of our head, then we begin the second step of the breathing practice: the retention. So, we’ll close both nostrils.
Retention is an act of will: we guide this moment, decide it’s dynamics and its duration. In this moment, we are permeated with the universal energy, we become one with it. The air that is outside of us, at this specific moment, is also inside of us. We are one with the sacred place in which we perform this practice, such as this sacred place is one with the whole universe. We merge ourselves with the universal energy.
This moment produces the maximum saturation of energy in our body. We learn to hold before we release the outbreath.
This is the pause that precedes an explosion of creativity that goes from inwards to outwards. It’s the preparation of what vibrates inside, attending its own external, visible and involving manifestation.
During the inbreath we absorb life and light; during retention every cell of our body, every atom of our being becomes this same light in the unity that follows the cessation of the ascending motion of the energy. All is one, ready to express itself, ready to give.
Now, we’ll open the right nostril and exhale through it. And, here, begins the act of giving, such as the liberation from all the mental, emotional, physical burdens, and as an expression of our true nature that is now adressed to the outside.
The natural “powers” and light, absorbed during the inbreath and with which we intimately merged during the retention, are now expressed towards the external through the outbreath.
During the outbreath, the energy moves with the releasing of the breath that begins from over the head and descends gently through the body to the genital and perineum area.
The exhalation is a gift of ourselves, of our energetic strength and the returning of the energy we have received through the inbreath.
When we inhale, we ascend to the higher, driven by the feminine force of the root power. Retention is the intercourse in the higher point, the unity and fusion with this great light; exhalation is the distribution of the result of the union in the body, an embrace with the external, a masculine effusion, a descent from the spirit in matter and the accomplishment of a sacrifice (sacred office).
Once the breath has reached the perineal area, our lungs are released from air. So, once more, we’ll close both nostrils with our fingers.
This is the last part of the first cycle of our breathing practice. It’s a moment of suspension when the energies are spread deeply to our whole organism, penetrating every atom of our subtle and material part of our psycho- physical structure. This suspension is the immobility after an accomplishment, the total unity emancipated from every goal that happens to the expression of the self. All returns to the source. In this moment of mental, physical and emotional stillness, the feeling of inside and outside vanish in a unique water: the drop that disappears in the ocean. All is still, calm before another rebirth, another beginning of inhalation and of a new cycle.
This is the way we intend and practice Yoga. This is the way we practice and intend every discipline we do.
As seen from the above example, even if simplified, the breathing practice is not merely a mechanical repetition of inbreath, retention, outbreath, and suspension. It’s a practice that has to be done with our whole being. It’s an act that has to be done with awareness and understanding of the meaning of what happens every moment of the practice, in the Yoga tradition as in our example, or other traditions. The basic principle remains the same: body, emotions, mind, spirit… all synchronized in the same practice, at the same moment. It’s a sacred act. An act we dedicate to our development.