Prana is that substance in the air from which all life has emanated. It is both macrocosmic and microcosmic. Because prana is part of the air and atmosphere, we are constantly breathing it in. However, when we speak of prana, we do not mean breath, air or oxygen, but rather the original life force which is everywhere, pervading all existence – animate and inanimate. Prana is visualised as a misty, cloud-like flow of energy so subtle in form that it is undetectable by scientific methods. In the physical body, prana flows like an electric current through an intricate pathway of subtle nerves called nadis. “The cosmic manifestation of prana in the individual body is represented by Kundalini,” says Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati.
Firstly, it is important to understand what is meant by the practice of pranayama. The simple act of breathing in and out is an involuntary process, whereas in the practice of pranayama you consciously direct prana throughout the body. Therefore, the benefits you derive will be felt at all levels and you will create a balance between your physical, mental and emotional bodies. Your organs will function better, your circulation will improve, your respiratory system will work better and you will feel more relaxed and energetic.
As you progress in your practice, you will find that your awareness levels are much higher and you are now better able to deal with challenging situations. You will be less prone to mood swings. Instead, there will be a realisation that there is a definite purpose behind every thought, action and deed.
If and when pranayama becomes a part of your daily life, then, with the purification of your whole personality you will, in due course, achieve a state of fixed concentration and an expansion of consciousness which, in turn, will lead to spiritual awakening.
Pranayama is not just a breath-control technique or a means to increase prana in the body. If followed correctly, and in the sequence prescribed, it can prove to be a powerful method to awaken dormant energy. Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati explains the process:
“Prana is the inward moving force which is said to create a field moving upwards from the navel to the throat. Apana is the outward moving force which is said to create a field moving downwards from the navel to the anus. Both prana and apana move spontaneously in the body, but they can be controlled through yogic practices. The Upanishads say a method has to be employed to reverse the direction of the oppositely moving forces of prana and apana so that they unite with samana in the naval centre. The result of these forces coming together is the awakening of Kundalini.”
If you want to know the process of change that pranayama and yoga bring about, you have to experiment with the technique and try to understand the energy and structure of the change process – the Kundalini. To shift or alter the state of consciousness, both the mental and physical bodies must be stimulated and coordinated. This is why every meditation and kriya has a mantra. The kriya stimulates the physical body while the mantra directs the activated energy.
When a spiritually evolved aspirant is regular in the practice of pranayama and his/her diet is light, the awakening of Kundalini may take place. When starting on such an endeavour, it is advisable that an aspirant restricts his/her diet to fruits and juices for a specified period of time. With this preparation the awakening can be rapid. If there is a flaw in the practice, then the results can be harmful. This is why any programme dealing with Kundalini should be studied under the guidance of an experienced teacher so that, if the need arises, an aspirant would be able to clear any of his/her doubts and move on confidently.
Because you have been meditating, the workshop has probably activated the dormant energy within you which is rising upwards. It is crucial that you bring this to the notice of your Guru. If you don't have one, then you should go back to the person who conducted the Chakra Workshop and ask for guidance. You could either discontinue your practice and get on with your life or you could become regular with your practice. Begin by fixing a time and place for meditation because once the energy starts to move upwards, the physical, mental and emotional bodies will undergo several changes. You must exercise complete surrender. Do not resist the energy. Let go of yourself completely and float along with the current. Higher forces have taken over, you need not worry.
With the upward movement of the Kundalini many unexpected things may happen because you are now moving into the region of the unknown. Do not be afraid, things will unfold as you go along with your practice. At this stage, any resistance is liable to create problems and can prove to be harmful. If possible, get in touch with someone who has been through the Kundalini experience or talk to like-minded people who are going through a similar process. Remember, if there is even an ounce of fear, either discontinue your sadhana or consult the person who had conducted the workshop.
- Anandamaya Kosha; a dimension of pure bliss.
- Vijyanmaya Kosha; the sheath of higher knowledge which manifests itself as intuition or insight.
- Manomaya Kosha; the dimension of mind which contains intellect, memory, concept and reason.
- Pranamaya Kosha which is composed of prana; the vital energy that activates the body and motivates the mind.
- Annamaya Kosha; the physical body, so called because it is dependent on Anna - grain or gross food.
In simple terms, these sheaths of existence are said to be composed of bliss, intuition, intellect, energy and food. All these dimensions of being interpenetrate and interact with each other. Each sheath is said to be composed of energy and the energy in each sheath has its own speed of vibration. In the physical sheath the energy vibration is slowest, though, as we move through the koshas the vibration becomes faster and finer until it once again resolves itself back to Pure Consciousness.
First understand what prana is. Briefly put, it is the life-force and not breath as is often thought. It is the most subtle life-essence that pervades all animate and inanimate forms. Pranayama is the yogic practice of breath control. It is a process through which one can stop the influence of constant inflow of thoughts. Through the practice of Pranayama, an aspirant can gain control over the mind and reach a heightened state of awareness. The result depends on the goal an aspirant has set for himself.
The koshas or sheaths interpenetrate each other, meaning that the inner kosha is subtler than the outer. The subtlety of the kosha is measured by its pervasiveness. For example, we see that a cube of ice, which is dense, occupies less space than water so we term water as subtler than ice. Water, when it turns into vapour spreads over a much larger space and hence, vapour is subtler than water.
Similarly, in the physical body, the Annamaya kosha is the grossest of the five sheaths.
The Pranamaya kosha – the prana we inhale – would fill a greater space when we exhale; it is subtler than the Annamaya kosha.
Our mind, the Manomaya kosha, is still more subtle because it can reach distant places where our breath cannot.
The Vijnanmaya kosha is even more subtle as it can visualise vistas which our mind cannot see and can venture forth into realms unheard of before. For this reason, the Manomaya and Vijnanmaya koshas are considered subtler. The subtlest is the Anandmaya kosha – the sheath of bliss.
The Annamaya kosha, or the physical sheath of the body, is made up of the gross form of prana and of the food we intake, and is referred to as the food body.
The Pranamaya kosha is formed by the prana we breathe in. Its function is to impart the life force (energy, agility and activity) to the senses.
When thought occurs in the Manomaya kosha, the Pranamaya kosha becomes active through the senses.
The quality of prana in the human body will depend upon the intellectual tendency and purity of the mind.
In the Vijnanmaya kosha, the intellect evolves to the point where it can grasp the essence behind the words. While the Manomaya kosha is the doubting element, the Vijnanmaya kosha is the determining factor.
The Anandmaya kosha is the sheath in which we exist during our deep sleep. It is considered blissful because, whatever be the condition in which the individual is in the waking and dream state, once he crosses the threshold of sleep, he experiences peace and bliss. There, one is oblivious of everything. At the conscious level, this nature of the self can be experienced only in short bursts of bliss during the process of meditation.
If one looks from ‘within’ to ‘without’, one can think of the Anandmaya kosha as wearing four coats: the Vijnanmaya kosha, Manomaya kosha, Pranamaya kosha, and the outermost sheath of the Annamaya kosha (the food body). This is the only sheath that can be touched and seen.
In order to experience the bliss of the Anandmaya kosha, one will have to work at or drop the grossness from the other sheaths, through conscious living or spiritual practice. For this one has to have patience.
Once the gross karma related to the different koshas gets cleansed through the manifestation of kriyas - breathing exercises, yogic postures and meditation practices - these movements become more subtle and are experienced internally while the process of purification continues. If one has only a few impressions of a certain type, the kriyas related to them will stop in a few days. They are like thought forms - there for a moment and gone in the next. If one has repetitive impressions of a certain kind, the kriyas pertaining to them can go on even for years, until the impressions are all exhausted. This is a purification process. As the purification completes itself at different levels, the external and internal movements will disappear.
It is good you have placed yourself under the care of a doctor. If, however, the problems have surfaced after the Pranic Healing course, then it is best you talk to your course teachers also – they would be the right people to guide you. This is for the simple reason that each system has its set techniques, which lock into each other, and if the student is regular in his or her practice then the teacher also knows where the flaw lies and is able to guide the student accordingly.
Though the destination may be the same, the route each system follows is different. Only the concerned teachers will know what the pitfalls are on the way. Also, since you are not regular in your practice it can do more harm than good. A haphazard approach can prove detrimental to mental, emotional and physical health.
The first thing that is not right with your practice is the intermingling of the two systems. You must understand that each course is designed to give direction to the latent energy in a particular sequence. If, along with one course you practise another alternatively, you are sending your mental, emotional and physical system for a toss. You are creating confusion in your energy body, which will reflect in your physical body in one form or another. You need to exercise your sense of discretion.
If a certain course in breathing techniques is not giving the right response, it means either there is a mistake in your practice or it is not suited to your system or to the kind of person you are. Please use your judgement. I emphasise that once a path or course is chosen, one has to be loyal to it because the process becomes important and the steps must be followed with care in order to avoid creating any harm to yourself. Furthermore, you must inform the teacher if you are pursuing any other similar practice. This responsibility lies with you.