Two nāḍī-śuddhi prāṇāyāmas

In Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (4-35-44), at first, purification of nadīs is given in the form of using the alternate breathing technique with breath holdings, using bijas, which we can find in tantric rituals, such as bhūta-śuddhi or, for example, those intended to remove doṣas (defects) from some offerings. In that way, impurities are dried up by the bija of Air यं ‘yaṃ’ and then they are burned by the bija of Fire रं ‘raṃ’. Further, the remained ash is getting wet by the element of Water or Nectar by the corresponding bija वं ‘vaṃ’ (as it often happens in tantric practices), but sometimes in yogic and tantric texts another bija symbolising nectar ठं ‘ṭhaṃ’ is suggested to use instead. Then a newly formed body should be strengthened by the bija of Earth लं ‘laṃ’. Some prāṇāyāmas reduce these elements to only three bijas (of Air, Fire and Nectar) because in yoga, it is very typical to minimise the practise to the most essential components.

As in a tantric ritual, in Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā, there is a description of the further use of the alternate breathing but in combination with praṇavaOm’. Also, in the third part of Vasiṣṭha Saṃhitā prāṇāyāma with the use of praṇavaOm’, or, more precisely ‘A-U-M’ – three mātrās or counts of breath lengths, is described. It is said that a practitioner must mentally repeat अं ‘aṃ’ a certain number of times on the inhalation, then उं ‘uṃ’ during kumbhaka and मं ‘maṃ’ on the exhalation. It is recommended to meditate on each of the three elements as on one of the Goddesses, namely ‘A’ – Gāyatrī, ‘U’ – Sāvitrī and ‘M’ – SarasvatīGāyatrī is described as बाला bālā in a Sanskrit text, which usually means ‘a child, a girl at the age of eight’. She is red in color and rides on a swan (haṃsavāhinī). U-kara is Sāvitrī, she is described as युवती ‘yuvatī’ (she’s 15 y.o.). She is white in color and rides on Garuḍa (garuḍavāhinī). Similarly Ma-kara, or repetition of the vibration of ‘M’ correlates with Sarasvatī, who is described as वृद्धा ‘vṛddhā’, she is 28 years of age or older and she rides Vṛṣabha.

In Gāyatrīhṛdayam from Devī Bhāgavata Purāṇa is said:

॥ गायत्रीहृदयम् ॥
पूर्वा भवति गायत्री, मध्यमा सावित्री, पश्चिमा स्नध्या सरस्वती ।
रक्ता गायत्री, श्वेता सावित्री, कृष्णा सरस्वती ॥ १२॥

pūrvā bhavati gāyatrī, madhyamā sāvitrī, paścimā snadhyā sarasvatī ।
raktā gāyatrī, śvetā sāvitrī, kṛṣṇā sarasvatī ॥12॥

In the morning it is necessary to worship Gāyatrī, at noon – Sāvitrī, and in the evening –SarasvatīGāyatrī is red in color, Sāvitrī is bright, Sarasvatī is dark.

Although, there are differences about vāhanas (beings used as vehicles), for example in Gāyatrī Hṛdayam:

पूर्व सन्धि ब्राह्मी, मध्य सन्धि माहेश्वरी, परा सन्धि वैष्णवी ।
हंसवाहिनी ब्राह्मी, वृषवाहिनी माहेश्वरी, गरुडवाहिनी वैष्णवी ॥ १४॥

pūrva sandhi brāhmī, madhya sandhi māheśvarī, parā sandhi vaiṣṇavī ।
haṃsavāhinī brāhmī, vṛṣavāhinī māheśvarī, garuḍavāhinī vaiṣṇavī ॥14॥

In the first sandhya (in the morning) she is known as Brahmī, at noon as Maheshvarī, and in the evening she is Vaishnavī. Brahmī rides a swan, Maheshvarī rides a bull, Vaishnavī rides Garuda.

Something similar exists in many yogic texts where it is recommended to use praṇava (OM).

For instance, in the fifth upadesha of Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (shlokas 48-50) there is also a recommendation to use A-kara, U-kara and Ma-kara. But there, A-kara is connected with raja-guṇa and Brahma and is red in color, U-kara is connected with sattva and Viṣṇu and is black. And Ma-kara, in opposite, is white in color and connected with Śiva.

Here, as you can guess, some similarities with Śri Vidya are immediately come to mind. In the third part of Jñānārṇāva Tantra (shlokas 11-12), it is said that Tripurasundarī is a Goddess with three aspects, the one is with bijaaiṃ” and white in color, the Goddess in red color with kama-bijaklīṃ” and the Goddess suvarṇa (the golden color) with bijasauḥ”. At first she is like Bala, a girl at the age of eight, then she is Pancadaśī (15 y.o.), this is a time full of passion (kāma), and finally she is Śodaśī or Mahaśodaśī (from 16 to 28 years of age or older) – she is full of wisdom.

In yogic texts, It is also said that prāṇāyāma is the unity of three matras, i.e. in case they are unrelated to each other – it would mean a loss and a waste of the vital energy (prāṇa), but not it’s enhancement.

Some pratyāhāra methods given in the texts

Pratyāhāra literally translates as “taking back”, i.e. own perception from the outside inward (in oneself, or ātman). It can be said in another way: the return of consciousness and prāṇa to the source of their origin, which terminates the process of losing energy to something that is of secondary importance to you personally or has virtually no effect. Pratyāhāra returns the practitioner to his normal state, where is much energy. And this energy can then be more effectively used in the practice of dhāraṇā. If there is not enough energy, then sometimes the dhāraṇā practice can lead to fatigue and instead of increasing energy lead to an even greater loss. I will give a description of the five methods of pratyāhāra practice, which are set forth in Śāṇḍilya Upaniṣad. Also a similar description is found in Yogayājñavalkya (Ch. 7) and Vasiṣṭha Saṃhitā. Śāṇḍilya gives the following description of pratyāhāra:

अथ प्रत्याहारः। स पञ्चविधः विषयेषु विचरतामिन्द्रियाणां
बलादाहरणं प्रत्याहरः। यद्यत्पश्यति तत्सर्वमामेति प्रत्याहारः।
नित्यविहितकर्मफलत्यागः प्रत्याहारः।
सर्वविषयपराङ्मुखत्वं प्रत्याहारः।
अष्टादशसु मर्मस्थानेषु क्रमाद्धारणं प्रत्याहारः।
कण्ठकूपतालुनासाक्शिभ्रूमध्यललाटमूर्ध्नि स्थानानि।
तेषु क्रमादारोहावरोहक्रमेण प्रत्याहरेत्॥ ८॥

atha pratyāhāraḥ | sa pañcavidhaḥ viṣayeṣu vicaratāmindriyāṇāṁ
balādāharaṇaṁ pratyāharaḥ | yadyatpaśyati tatsarvamāmeti pratyāhāraḥ |
nityavihitakarmaphalatyāgaḥ pratyāhāraḥ |
sarvaviṣayaparāṅmukhatvaṁ pratyāhāraḥ |
aṣṭādaśasu marmasthāneṣu kramāddhāraṇaṁ pratyāhāraḥ |
kaṇṭhakūpatālunāsākśibhrūmadhyalalāṭamūrdhni sthānāni |
teṣu kramādārohāvarohakrameṇa pratyāharet ॥ 8॥

Thus, the overview of pratyāhāra. It (pratyāhāra) is the fifth method. Pratyāhāra is the effort to remove senses from their objects. Whatever you see (perceive), it is necessary to consider it as one with your higher Self. It is required to constantly consider your actions without being tied to the fruits, as a sacrifice – tyāga (practice of karma-yoga). You need to direct your perception in opposition to external objects (i.e., inside yourself).

Pratyāhāra (the fifth technique) consists in concentrating on eighteen vital points (marmas) in the body. It is required to focus on the toes, ankles, calves (on the legs), knees, hips, anus, genital, navel, heart, throat, palate, nose, eyes, the point between the eyebrows, on the forehead, at the top of the head, and do this by moving the perception along the body up and down (ārohāvaroha-kramena).

A more detailed description is given in Yogayājñavalkya: these points, which is called ādhāra in Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati, are located slightly different. If you compare all the sources on the basis of Yogayājñavalkya and Vasiṣṭha Saṃhitā, then marmas can be the following:

1) pādāṅguṣṭha (the big toe)
2) gulpha (ankle)
3) jaṅghā (ankle)
4) citimūla (base of the calf)
5) jānu (knee)
6) ūrumadhya (center of the thigh)
7) pāyu (anus)
8) dehamadhya (perineum)
9) meḍhra (genitals)
10) nābhi (navel)
11) hṛdaya (heart)
12) kaṇṭha (throat)
13) tālu (soft palate)
14) nāsamūla (the base of the nose)
15) cakṣu (eyes)
16) bhrūmadhya (between the eyebrows)
17) lalāṭa (forehead)
18) mūrdhni (the crown of the head)

Usually, prāṇa moves where the perception is directed, so in this practice like many others, prāṇa should be focused through the consistent concentration and shifting of attention to the indicated points. Prāṇa is usually scattered throughout the body at very different points, which are 108 in number according to some sources, or even more according to others. However, the point is that attention and energy have to go more and more from the periphery to the center. Prāṇa comes from the root “an” – the breath, so we can also talk about the use of breathing at these points. With slow inspiration we concentrate on one point, since pūraka means “filling with energy,” then during exhalation (recaka) we dissolve the sensation of this region. With a new breath we move on to the next point and etc., moving up and down.

Cakras, adharas, lakṣyas and vyomas in the yogic texts

Such elements as cakras, adharas, lakṣyas and vyomas are not always clearly described in the Natha texts and Tantras. Therefore, it is often necessary to use different texts for “complementarity.” There is another perfect way, the presence of a knowledgeable guru, who can explain everything and transmit it. However, it is extremely difficult to find such gurus. It is obvious from lots of texts that these elements of tantric yoga are transmitted to the disciple by a guru, who are realised in them. So, for example, the Pranatoshini-tantra (in the section of guru-tattva) describes these elements:

षट्चक्रं षोडशाधारं त्रिलक्षं व्योमपञ्चकम् |
स्वदेहे यो विजानाति स गुरुः कथितो बुधैः

ṣaṭcakraṃ ṣoḍaśādhāraṃ trilakṣaṃ vyomapañcakam |
svadehe yo vijānāti sa guruḥ kathito budhaiḥ ||

Six cakras, sixteen pillars, three goals (in yoga) and five vyomas are known (realised) in the body [of a disciple], that is connected with a guru.

Also, there are six streams or ways of opening of Paramashiva (षडध्वा ṣaḍadhvā) added to these elements. They play a big role in the tantric initiation (diksha), when the guru places them in the disciple’s body, awakens them in him, actually transmitting that he has realised already in himself. Therefore, a disciple adopts the psychophysical realisation of his guru. A disciple must perceive the transmission of these elements from the guru as the very revealing of Shiva. The revealing of Shiva, who is vācaka (expressing speech) and vācya (expressed) – Shakti. They are both revealed on three levels: the higher – parā (or abheda – apart from the differences), parāpara – the combination of the higher and the lower or the bhedābheda (one in discrimination) and apara – the lowest or bheda (separate). At the highest level, Shiva manifests as varṇa (the Sanskrit letters), and Shakti – as kalā (the five forms of primordial energy). At the parāpara level, Shiva manifests as a mantra and Shakti at the same level – as tattva, one of the 36 elements of Shaivism. At the level of apara, Shiva manifests himself as a pada (words) and Shakti appears as bhuvana (worlds). In a word, the entire manifested universe is the expression of the union of ShivaShakti. The shadadhvas are used in many practices, one of the well-known examples can be found in the Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra (Shloka 56), they are also mentioned in the Amaraugha-shasana by Gorakshanāth in the context of prāṇa movement and the awakening of kuṇḍalinīshakti.

Regarding the remaining elements, the Pranatoshini-tantra gives the following explanations:

पृथिव्यादीनि भूतानि कथितं व्योमपञ्चकमिति
pṛthivyādīni bhūtāni kathitaṃ vyomapañcakamiti

Starting from the ground, the five elements are known as the five vyomas. The Tantrāloka (Ahnika 29, Shloka 252) says about five centers, where the five vyomas manifest:

व्योमानि – जन्मनाभिहृद्विन्दुस्थानानि
vyomāni – janmanābhihṛdvindusthānāni

The following are connected with the vyomas: 1) janma-sthāna (mūlādhāra), 2) nābhi (maṇipūra), 3) hṛdaya (anāhata), 4) bindusthāna (usually, bhrūmadhya or ājñā) and 5) sahasrāra. Obviously, the earlier system of the five cakras, known in the Kubjikā-tantras for examples, corresponds to the yogic experience of five spaces. Although they are described differently in the Upaniṣadas (the Maṇḍalabrāhmaṇa-upaniṣad, the Advaya-taraka-upaniṣad) or in the Siddha-siddhānta-paddathi.

The Pranatoshini-tantra gives explanations of the three lakṣyas:

त्रिलक्षादिकमपि तत्रैव स्वयम्भूर्वाण इतरस्त्रिलक्षं परिकीर्त्तितम्
trilakṣādikamapi tatraiva svayambhūrvāṇa itarastrilakṣaṃ parikīrttitam

The three goals of meditation are known as svayambhū (liṅga), vana and itara (liṅgamas).

Six cakras are described similarly to many texts, but in the Pranatoshini-tantra they being reunited with the dvādaśānta system (subtle centers and spaces in the head area), give 16 adharas in total.

षोडशाधारस्वरूपमपि तत्रैव ||
मूलाधारस्वाधिष्ठानं मणिपूरमनाहतम् |
विशुद्धमाज्ञाचक्रञ्च बिन्दुर्भूयः कलापदम् |
निबोधिका तथार्द्धेन्दुर्नादो नादान्त एव च |
उन्मनी विष्णुवक्त्रञ्च ध्रुवमण्डलिका ततः |

ṣoḍaśādhārasvarūpamapi tatraiva ||
mūlādhārasvādhiṣṭhānaṃ maṇipūramanāhatam |
viśuddhamājñācakrañca bindurbhūyaḥ kalāpadam |
nibodhikā tathārddhendurnādo nādānta eva ca |
unmanī viṣṇuvaktrañca dhruvamaṇḍalikā tataḥ |

In addition to the cakras, from mūlādhāra to ājñā, there are listed bindu, kalā, pada, nibodhika, ardhendu, nada, nādānta, unmaṇi, viṣṇuvaktra, dhruvamaṇḍala.

In fact, this is a unified psychophysical system of the yogin including also the macrocosm.

In some texts, adharas are described as granthas (nodes of the energy connections), for example, in the Manthanabhaira-tantra, in others – as marmas (in the Yoga Yājñavalkya). In the last text, these marmas are used in the practice of pratyāhāra, in which, through the concentration of the mind, a yogi learns to collect his prāṇa scattered throughout the body. The term “marma” is found in Āyurveda, in Indian martial arts and comes from the root of mṛ meaning “death”, since the points were used to defeat the enemy. In these systems, marmas are numerous, and they are localised at the junction of different body systems, etc. Nevertheless, the points can play a healing function, so the mṛta (death) becomes an amṛta (life) or a path from mara to amara (immortality).

All these details in their entirety at the applied level can be transferred to the disciple only by a guru, who, without any doubt, must realise them in the most perfect form in himself.

Yoga and death experience

I think that for most people any information about death is virtually almost irrelevant until it is more and more correlating with the subject. On the Internet, we can see the information about catastrophes, wars, hunger occurred somewhere, but even death happened next to you is not necessarily significant for some people. There are plenty of people who like to speak about death by repetitively savouring trivial phrases, introduced by some wise men, but still it is the experience only of wise men, but not a repeater. That’s why yoga is, first of all, an experimental research of oneself, of something we don’t know, or barely know, or have forgotten. We know nothing of afterlife, we have no proof of rebirth or other things except for only sayings of some people and different religions.

And what is yoga for? Yoga proposes to study death on practice. Actually, yoga is a gradual immersion into the experience of death, not external, but your own. If we refer to the states of death, described in Vedanta, Tantras, Yoga texts, all of them – from jāgrat to turya or turyatita – illustrate a gradual transition from objective self-awareness to more and more subjective one. If you correlate yourself with your dreams in svapna, then in suṣupti you correlate yourself with a reality beyond mental constructions. In turya, you realise yourself beyond all the three stages, and use this experience to study yourself as their witness, where all of them serve as supporting instruments of self-awareness. You are Nirālamba Śhiva (Unsupported Shiva) and do not need any of these instruments in turiyatita. In yoga, you slow down the process of breathing by practicing prāṇāyāma, thereby you can gain a more thorough insight into the dimension, revealing itself from the experience, which is usually seen as death.

In India, death is usually divided into two categories: natural and unnatural. Unnatural death is sudden, for instance, from accident, when a person abruptly falls into the unconscious. Natural death, even if it is not strongly perceivable, has at least a more or less smooth transition. Yoga sets the goal to make that process as smooth and conscious as possible, and, at the same time, to get the knowledge of something, which goes beyond what we usually see as life. As I see it, to a greater extent it is connected with the accomplished prāṇāyāma practice.

First of all, yoga offers a self-study of our own unconscious, which is the fundamental goal of a human being. It transcends him from the human to the yogiс level. Some say about stages of videha-mukti (liberation attained by a person after death), some – about sadeha-mukti (liberation while still in the body), however, I see it as a combination of both. Yoga is nothing more than laying a bridge between two realities, and only by this experience we can comprehend and see for ourselves: is there rebirth or not, is there a soul or not, is there God or not. I think that the true knowledge (jñāna), is contained in the yogic experience in particular, none any over-prestigious traditions, nor Gurus, books or theories will give you this knowledge, until you reveal it yourself. Of course, there are huge benefits in traditions, but the true value can be gained only when you are fully correlated with it, otherwise a tradition is worth no more than a visit to a pub. A person can try on a tradition as many times as they want, even not accepting the fact that it remains something secondary for them, after a favourite pub, the Internet, McDonalds or anything else. Do you fully correlate with it or not, that is what you need to think of.

The connection of Bagalāmukhī Goddess with yoga practice

Originally, the term “Bagalāmukhī” was mentioned in the Vedas, precisely as the name of the Goddess वल्गा माता (valgā mātā, Valga Mata). Further, “va” in the Valgā name was transformed into “ba” by transposition and changing varṇa-vyatyaya letters, “la” and “ga” swapped, so the “Bagalā” term  appeared . The Goddess herself is described as “the one who eliminates enemy magical actions”. She is mentioned in Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda (6.2.10) and Śukla Yajurveda (5.23-24) and described there as the Goddess Vaiśṇavī, eliminating magical effects, as well as the one by virtue of whom prāṇa is controlled.

शिरो वा एतद् यज्ञस्य यद् धविर्धानम् प्राणा उपरवाः ।
हविर्धाने खायन्ते तस्माच् छीर्षन् प्राणाः ।
अधस्तात् खायन्ते तस्माद् अधस्ताच् छीर्ष्णः प्राणाः ।
रक्षोहणो वलगहनो वैष्णवान् खनामीत्य् आह वैष्णवा हि देवतयोपरवाः ।
असुरा वै निर्यन्तो देवानाम् प्राणेषु वलगान् न्य् अखनन्  तान् बाहुमात्रे ऽन्व् अविन्दन्  तस्माद् बाहुमात्राः खायन्ते । इदम् अहं तं वलगं उद् वपामि ।

śiro vā etad yajñasya yad dhavirdhānam prāṇā uparavāḥ ।
havirdhāne khāyante tasmāc chīrṣan prāṇāḥ ।
adhastāt khāyante tasmād adhastāc chīrṣṇaḥ prāṇāḥ ।
rakṣohaṇo valagahano vaiṣṇavān khanāmīty āha vaiṣṇavā hi devatayoparavāḥ ।
asurā vai niryanto devānām prāṇeṣu valagān ny akhanan  tān bāhumātre ‘nv avindan  tasmād bāhumātrāḥ khāyante । idam ahaṃ taṃ valagaṃ ud vapāmi ।

The mention of Valgā occurs in the same context in both Taitiriya Brahmana and Śatapatha Brahmana (3.5.4). Further,  she is mentioned in Atharva Veda in the form of sūktam, as “abolishing the negative magical  impact”. The very term “Valgā” is translated as “harness,” like the one by which horses can be controlled. By the way, a horse is a symbol of prāṇa (the life force) in the Vedas. In the literal sense, it is about management and control. Actually,  that is one of  several meanings of  a term “yoga”, derived from युज् (yuj),  which can mean “harness” too. The earliest mention of the term (from which the yogic context can be derived) that I was able to discover with a help of Tara Michael, a French scholar, is found in the Rig Veda. The first one is the Hymns to Savitur  (RV 5-81.1):

युंजते मन उत युंजते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः। वि होत्रा दधे वयुनाविदेक इन्मही देवस्य सवितुः परिष्टुतिः ।

yuṃjate mana uta yuṃjate dhiyo viprā viprasya bṛhato vipaścitaḥ। vi hotrā dadhe vayunāvideka inmahī devasya savituḥ pariṣṭutiḥ ।

He is a priest who “harnesses” his spirit, harnesses his sublime thoughts. Only he knows all the rules of sacrifice. Sublime praise of God Savitur.

I.e. there is a hint here that the yogic state is  a basis of full devotion. Which, by the way, we can find in many Purāṇic and Tantric pūjās, where such yogic elements as prāṇāyāma or bhūta-śuddhi always go first in the ritual.

Also in the Hymns to Brahmanapasthi  (RV 1 – 18 6-7):

सदसस्पतिमद्भुतं प्रियमिन्द्रस्य काम्यम् । सनिं मेधामयासिषं ।

sadasaspatimadbhutaṃ priyamindrasya kāmyam । saniṃ medhāmayāsiṣaṃ |

The one, who is a dear friend of Indra, the beautiful lord of the seat, I honor for the sake of gaining intelligence.

यस्मादृते न सिध्यति यज्ञो विपश्चितश्चन ।
स घीनां योगमिन्वति ॥७॥

yasmādṛte na sidhyati yajño vipaścitaścana ।
sa ghīnāṃ yogaminvati ॥7॥

He, without whom the yajña is not  complete, even if he is sincere. He subordinates thoughts through yoga.

Yoga, as a discipline of controlling prāṇa, mind, senses and a body, is  examined in many texts, and in this case it is very  similar in  meaning to that of the Goddess Valgā or Bagalā (Bagalāmukhī). Also, for  a  proper sādhaka, in the first  place, She is the Goddess, helping to subdue or paralyse inner enemies, such as kāma, moha, matsarya, etc. Although, of course, many worldly people, who are worshipping Bagalāmukhī, hope to subordinate external enemies instead of eliminating their internal  ones. That is a form of internal obscuration.  By virtue of Bagalāmukhī, controlling his  prāṇa, mind and indriyas, a sādhaka gradually passes from  a southern āmnāya to the upper one in a state of samyama. There he gains the experience of Bagalāmukhī in the form of light, consciousness or the Goddess Lalitā. Bagalāmukhī is related to the Śri Tradition (Śrikula), and it is no accident that She is mentioned as Vaiśṇavī in the Vedic texts. Although, in some Tantras She is also seen as Kalī of yellow color – Pīta Kalī. In any case, in the form of Kalī, She helps to overcome time  limitations, since there is also a connection between time and prāṇa. If you can  set your prāṇa  to balance and calmness, then you will go beyond time. And it is no coincidence that Bagalāmukhī is connected with Śiva Mṛtyuñjaya – the Сonqueror of death.

The uselessness of practices without a realised master

Not so long ago I was asked, “Why there are such ślokas in the last chapter (VI) of Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati:

लिङ्गाद्दण्डाङ्कुरान्तर्मनः पवनगमात् ब्रह्मनाड्यादिभेदम्।
कृत्वा बिन्दुं नयन्तः परमपदगुहां  शङ्खगर्भोदरोर्ध्वम्॥
तत्रान्तर्नादघोषं गगनगुणमयं वज्रदण्डोक्रमेण।
ये कुर्वन्तीहकष्टान् परमपदमहो नास्ति तेषां निरुत्थम्॥ ७९॥

liṅgāddaṇḍāṅkurāntarmanaḥ pavanagamāt brahmanāḍyādibhedam |
kṛtvā binduṁ nayantaḥ paramapadaguhāṁ  śaṅkhagarbhodarordhvam ||
tatrāntarnādaghoṣaṁ gaganaguṇamayaṁ vajradaṇḍokrameṇa |
ye kurvantīhakaṣṭān paramapadamaho nāsti teṣāṁ niruttham || 79 ||

Those who enter the brahma-nāḍi into the spine through the convergence of the mind and breathing, enter bindu into the upper state cavity through the vajroli-kriyā which is located above the cavity of the shell, and listen to a vibration similar to the sound of the heavens. They who suffer here [for the sake of perfection], do not reach the highest state of non-manifestation.

सम्यक् चालनदोहनेन सततं दीर्धीकृतां लम्बिकां।
तां ताल्वन्तखेशितां च दशमद्वारोदरे शंखिनीम्॥
नीत्वा मध्यमसन्धिसंघटघटात् प्राप्तां शिरोदेशतः।
पीत्वा षड्विधपानकाष्ठभजनं वाञ्च्छन्ति ये मोहिताः॥ ८१॥

samyak cālanadohanena satataṁ dīrdhīkṛtāṁ lambikāṁ |
tāṁ tālvantakheśitāṁ ca daśamadvārodare śaṃkhinīm||
nītvā madhyamasandhisaṁghaṭaghaṭāt prāptāṁ śirodeśataḥ |
pītvā ṣaḍvidhapānakāṣṭhabhajanaṁ vāñcchanti ye mohitāḥ || 81 ||

Those who perfectly “milk” (stretching) their tongue, as well as moving it (cālana) wrapping it back into the palatine region and through the shankhini channel in the tenth hole (brahmarandhra). Who tastes the six-part nectar from the head region.They fall into misguided path.

There’s also a lot of criticism of those who do yoga exercises. Then the question arises, how can yogic Tradition criticise methods that themselves relate to it? After criticising all these methods and yogic states, even after revealing which the yogi can fall into delusion, the following is said:

आज्ञासिद्धिकरं सदा समुचितं सम्पूर्णमाभासकं
पिण्डे सर्वगतं विधानममलं सिद्धान्तसारं वरम्।
भ्रान्तेर्निर्हरणं सुखातिसुखदं कालान्तकं शाश्वतं
तन्नित्यं कलनोज्झितं गुरुमयं ज्ञेयं निरुत्थं पदम्॥ ९३॥

ājñāsiddhikaraṁ sadā samucitaṁ sampūrṇamābhāsakaṁ
piṇḍe sarvagataṁ vidhānamamalaṁ siddhāntasāraṁ varam |
bhrānternirharaṇaṁ sukhātisukhadaṁ kālāntakaṁ śāśvataṁ
tannityaṁ kalanojjhitaṁ gurumayaṁ jñeyaṁ nirutthaṁ padam || 93 ||

The non-manifestation state is comprehended as having a nature of the Guru, it is devoid of manifestation, eternally, it destroys time, bestows supreme happiness, eliminates delusion. It, residing in the body, totally shining, granting the perfection of Will (ājña), is the pure essence of the teachings of the perfect.

The sense is that without patronage and correction from the traditional Guru realised in the purity, any practices and even “achievements” can be meaningless. These ślokas are very relevant for the present time, when yoga has lost its traditional goals.

Even if someone is not pleased to read these parts of the text, one must admit the fact that they have truth. Although the described yogic techniques being applied in the original yoga guidelines, in any case, have their value. It’s just like if an ignorant jungle man was shown a computer and the Internet, not guarantee he wouldn’t decide to dig a hole by the laptop. He has to understand what the true purpose of this device is, what its usefulness, if he learns to use it. Similarly, with any yoga methods.

What does it mean to be beyond duality and non-duality according to the Nātha doctrine?

Haṭhayogapradīpikā says:

अन्तर्लक्ष्यविलीनचित्तपवनो योगी यदा वर्तते
दृष्ट्या निश्चलतारया बहिरधः पश्यन्नपश्यन्नपि ।
मुद्रेयं खलु शाम्भवी भवति सा लब्धा प्रसादाद्गुरोः
शून्याशून्यविलक्षणं स्फुरति तत्तत्त्वं पदं शाम्भवम् ॥ ३७ ॥

antarlakṣyavilīnacittapavano yogī yadā vartate
dṛṣṭyā niścalatārayā bahiradhaḥ paśyannapaśyannapi |
mudreyaṁ khalu śāmbhavī bhavati sā labdhā prasādādguroḥ
śūnyāśūnyavilakṣaṇaṁ sphurati tattattvaṁ padaṁ śāmbhavam || 37 ||

By the grace of the Guru, when the consciousness and energy of Yogī are absorbed by the inner aim, perception (vision) is directed to the outside and motionless, but at the same time, suspended from vision; this mudrā known as śāmbhavī. That radiant essence beyond (vilakṣaṇam) of emptiness (śūnya) or fullness (aśūnya), is known as the Śambhū state (Śiva or the embodiment of appeasement).

Thuse, according to the Nātha Yogīs doctrine, to be beyond emptiness or fullness – means to be both emptiness and fullness simultaneously.

The connection of Bagalāmukhī Goddess with yoga-sādhana

Bagalāmukhī many consider as the Goddess who is paralysing the enemies, however, Her goal is to eliminate the internal enemies in the form of our weaknesses. She helps to control feelings, mind and the most important – prāṇa (vital force). Then She leads to samādhi and the light of our consciousness appearing in the form of the radiant Lalitā Goddess. What is said in the form of aphorisms in Bagalāmukhī-paṭala:

अंतरवायु – सञ्चार – निरोधेन वा || १२ ||
aṃtaravāyu – sañcāra – nirodhena vā (12)

Or through holding the air inside (kubhaka).

तं हठ – योगमाहुः || १३ ||
taṃ haṭha – yogamāhuḥ (13)

This is called haṭha-yoga.


About breath measurement, depth and so on

Touchy questions that I am often asked on seminars, specifically about the practice of prāṇāyāma.

Which ancient texts mention “full breathing”? Is there a description that firstly you need to fill the lower part of the lungs, then the middle and finally the upper one? Why various sources differently correlate inhalation and exhalation with prāṇa and apāna?

Let’s start with the “full breath”. In truth, I have never met such a description of the “wave” going from the bottom or top in ancient texts, as can be found in the works of later authors. Some modern teachers recommend to fill your belly from the bottom and spread the filling upwards, while exhale backwards. Others recommend to fill your belly from the bottom going upwards, and to exhale, too, from the bottom, gradually emptying the top.

In the classical texts, everything is described simply as “take a breath in and exhale” But often there are recommendations regarding the use of your belly. Find some examples below.

Haṭhayogapradīpikā, the description of bhastrikā includes the following:

When the belly becomes full of inhaled air, close the nostrils with thumb, middle and little fingers. (2.64)


He (a yogi) should inhale through the right nostril, gently filling his belly. After holding the breath as long as possible, he should exhale calmly through the left nostril. (63)


A wise yogi should inhale through the both nadīs on sides of the kuṇḍalinī and hold it in the belly, then exhale again through ida. (104)

Viveka Mārtaṇḍa

Inhaling through the solar nostril, you should slowly fill the belly with air, then, according to the method, hold your breath, then exhale through the lunar nostril. (100)


अथ प्लाविनी।
अन्तः प्रवर्तितोदारमारुतापूरितोदरः।
पयस्यगाधेऽपि सुखात्प्लवते पद्मपत्रवत् ॥७०॥

atha plāvinī |
antaḥ pravartitodāramārutāpūritodaraḥ|
payasyagādhe’pi sukhātplavate padmapatravat ॥ 70॥

Now begins plāvinī.

Fill the abdomen with air to the limit and you can move freely on the water like a floating lotus leaf (2.70).

The term आपूरित āpūrita – “filled” – is used here, the word पूरक pūraka, which is translated as an inhalation, in fact, also means “full” or “whole” (from “filling” or “filling up”). There is already the idea of fullness in the term itself, the root पूर pūra means “overflow”.

However, as I said above, the concept of breathing is not quite what many understand. In that regard, the “overflow” could “contradict to physiology”. Here’s another example from the Haṭhayogapradīpikā:

आकेशादानखाग्राच्च निरोधावधि कुम्भयेत्।
ततः शनैः सव्यनाड्या रेचयेत्पवनं शनैः॥४९॥

ākeśādānakhāgrācca nirodhāvadhi kumbhayet।
tataḥ śanaiḥ savyanāḍyā recayetpavanaṃ śanaiḥ ॥ 49 ॥

He holds his breath until the air is held in his whole body from the fingernails to the top of the head (crown). Then he exhales slowly through the left channel (2.49).

The texts of yoga are not only about the physical side, (even if “physical exercises” are there) as all the exercises are a combination of meditation and physical activity. That is the full breath in both the physical and energetic sense.

I think there is a lot of confusion because of various factors. I suggest to move to the analysis of the terminology itself. The root अन् an means “breathing”, prefix प्र pra – “forward” and अन् an or आन āna – “breathing”, i.e. “breathing forward”, resulting in the term प्राण prāṇa. अपान apāna – from अप apa –  “outside” and आन āna – “to breathe”. Just like समान samāna from सम sama (“balanced”) and आन āna (“balanced breathing”) or उदान udāna – from उद् ud (“up”) and आन āna (“breathing up”), व्यान vyāna from वि vi – “separately” and आन āna – “breathing”, that is, distributed “breathing” (in different parts of the body). Breathing is not always understood only as a physical process, you сan see that, at least, by the example of breathing “distributed over the body”. I would not take as an example such a description of prāṇa as in Prāṇa-sūkta from Atharvaveda, which is a hymn dedicated to prāṇa as the Absolute itself, i.e., kind of a pulsating force or energy.

On the whole, I am a supporter of the version that recaka is prāṇa, and pūraka is apāna. Recaka comes from the root रेच (rec), which means “devastation”, this root produces रेचक (recaka) or रेचन (recana), which can be both adjectives and nouns in three genders. The term रेचक (recaka) can also mean “purification”; in this connection, it could mean अपान (apāna) from अप (apa) – “back” (opposed to “pra” or “prāṇa”), “down” or “away”, and आन (āna), which means “breathing”. Something that “moves outwards” – matches with recaka, but something that goes “backwards” – doesn’t. The meaning of “purification” could be qualified for category अपान (apāna) in connection with its function of removing unnecessary substances from the body. But in the case of रेचक (recaka), that is the exhalation of carbon dioxide through the nose, which is not connected, for example, with the discharge of excrements, menstrual blood, etc. As for the term पूरक (pūraka), there is a connection with पूर (pūra), which means “filling up, flooding, satisfaction, overflow, fullness”. Also, there is an obvious connection with the root पॄ (pṝ), which also means “filling, satiation, satisfaction”. Accordingly, पूरक (pūraka) is “filling” or “filling up”, or, simply speaking, – inhaling. If प्राण (prāṇa) consists of the prefix प्र (prā), which means the forward movement, the initial movement, and the suffix kvip, आन (āna), indicating the one who breathes, then it can also be associated with रेचक (recaka), since recaka is an exhalation of air outward. However, there are different interpretations, another common one is: प्राण (prāṇa) comes from the root पॄ (pṝ), पृणाति (pṛṇāti) which means “to fill, nourish, satiate”, and therefore it is related to पूर्ण (pūrṇa), fullness. If we look at the term प्राण in that context, then it could be similar to पूरक (pūraka), because it can mean “filling” too and there is the idea of ​​“satiation”.

I think both versions regarding प्राण (prāṇa) and अपान (apāna) have the right to exist, the point of view can vary depending on the specific sampradaya and even the specific Guru, which is normal for India. I am more intimate with the idea of ​​inhalation – as satiation and, accordingly, as the symbol of nectar, soma, associated with watery fluid; and exhalation – as fire, which purifies and absorbs the soma. Fire in the Indian tradition is very significant for purification, it accepts offerings and transfers them to heaven to Indra and other Gods. Thanks to the fire offering, Indra sends rain to the earth and everything starts to grow, to blossom. We also have a havan-kuṇḍa in the lower part of our body, the fire of kuṇḍalinī rises upward when it is nourished by the nectar from sahasrara-cakra. Fire, of course, is also a symbol of purification, and a symbol of passion (kāma) leading to death, that’s why many yogis avoid the outer fire as a symbol of gṛihastha life, but they have the inner fire in the form of kuṇḍalinīśakti.

Some descriptions of the breathing process in yogic resources are full of symbolism, in such cases, of course, one can derive a variety of interpretations. For example, here is an interesting description in Vāyu Purāṇa:

नालेन तु यथा तोयं यन्त्रेणैव बलान्वितः।
आपिबेत प्रयत्नेन तथा वायुञ्जितश्रमः ।। ११.२६ ।।

nālena tu yathā toyaṃ yantreṇaiva balānvitaḥ।
āpibeta prayatnena tathā vāyuñjitaśramaḥ ।। 11.26 ।।

Just like water is absorbed with effort by a pipe or a mechanical device, so a yogi should drink air diligently, but not bringing himself to fatigue.

नाभ्यां च हृदये चैव कण्ठे उरसि चानने।
नासाग्रे तु तथा नेत्रे भ्रुवोर्मध्येऽथ मूर्द्धनि ।। ११.२७ ।।

nābhyāṃ ca hṛdaye caiva kaṇṭhe urasi cānane।
nāsāgre tu tathā netre bhruvormadhye’tha mūrddhani ।। 11.27 ।।

The wind should be maintained gradually in the navel, heart, chest, throat, mouth, tip of the nose, eyes, between the eyebrows and in the head.

In yogic texts, sometimes there is a description of inhalation as “drinking” of air or prāṇa, in which case it can be assumed that the body is like a pitcher into which air is poured and held during kumbhaka. So, if the water is gradually poured into the vessel, firstly it fills the bottom, then the middle part and so on up to the top. Then it can be like above described in Vāyu Purāṇa, in one of the sections dedicated to yoga. That is the filling up and the movement of prāṇa goes from nābhi (belly), then hṛidaya (chest), throat and even higher up to the head (if we take the energetic part of the process into consideration). In that case, at least, we can deduce the “gradual filling” and the context of full breathing, as many do now.

The description of matras (counting the length of inhalation, exhalation and breath-holding). In different texts, there are various definitions of what is a high level, for example 16-64-32 (in Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā), somewhere smaller ratios are given. How to make a right choice of matras, if there are such contradictions in the texts? What do you consider to be lower, middle and higher levels as you master prāṇāyāma?

As for the counting of breath on inhale, while breath-holding and on exhale, you can find a lot of recommendations in the texts. Usually, texts divide mastering of prāṇāyāma onto three levels. It is said that at the lowest level of prāṇāyāma the fire rises in the body and sweat is produced, on the middle level there is a strong vibration, and at the highest – the state of lightness. However, the texts actually give different ratios for the number of counts. For example, in Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā, the highest ratio is 24-64-48. According to the Jogpradīpikā, “matras” (counts) during breathing are not only different, but there is one for those who practice according to the Vedas and the other – according to the Tantras. According to the Vedas, the highest level in sahitaprāṇāyāma is 8-19-9, and according to the Tantras it is 25-50-25. Viveka Mārtaṇḍa, as well as a number of other texts, gives the following prescriptions:

“In the beginning, it has twelve measures (i.e. 12-16-10), then twice as many (24-32-20), and the best one is three times as much (36-48-30). With the initial prāṇāyāma sweat is produced, with the middle one – the body starts to shake, and with the highest prāṇāyāma one reaches the immobility. So, a yogi should control the air” (107-108).

Obviously, in the latter version there is some connection with solar, lunar and fiery kalā (energy rays). However, I think that whatever regulations the texts give, it is necessary to be oriented on something different. The first thing which is necessary to understand is why texts recommend using the mental repetition of the mantra as a count and what connection is there between the mantra and breathing. The thing is that breathing and sound have the same origin, they both come from vibration, spandana, which manifests itself in us, for example, in the form of a pulse, etc. If we want prāṇāyāma to bring us full value, then during prāṇāyāma we need to learn to listen to yourself. We do not need to forcefully push our own capabilities of inhalation, breath-holding or exhalation, moreover, we should not try to immediately reach the proportion of 24-64-48. We must completely change our attitude to what is considered as vital energy and its manifestation in the form of breathing and other functions, and in the same way to the mantra. It is not by chance that in the Vedas there are hymns dedicated to prāṇa as the divine power and Brahman himself. And how can we put pressure on what is absolute? The same is with the mantra: the mantra is the spiritual body of the Divine, this is the Divine itself. We can perceive prāṇa at the level of vital functions or the Deity – at the level of mūrti, but these are only manifestations of that highest power, and we must learn to see what is behind the form. Furthermore, we must treat the form carefully, the Divine gives us signals through it, teaches us.

The disciple is not the one who imposes, but the one who learns to perceive and that is the one who is the practitioner. It’s just the outside world teaches us to seise everything, take it by storm, and often we automatically extend this inclination to spiritual practice. During practice of any prāṇāyāma we always have to focus our own attention on necessity to “let ourselves go”, leave “expectations” in order to report to someone that I have reached something in a long breath-holding. The texts say that one must be very cautious day by day, very carefully, to increase simultaneously the length of inhalation, exhalation, and breath-holding. Of course, you can, as it is recommended by many, firstly start to make equal proportions: 1-1-1, then 1-1-2, then 1-2-2, then 1-3-2 and go to 1-4-2. After, you can increase the number in that scheme: 4-16-12, gradually moving on to 5-20-10, etc. However, I would recommend to perceive all these schemes, even though they discipline and “set the course”, keeping the main goal in mind. The main thing is to dissolve your consciousness in spanda (anāhatanāda) coming from inside, it is necessary that your mantra would also be absorbed by the source of its own origin (anāhata). In short, the goal is to accept oneself, one’s nature, to perceive oneself as the eternal ātman, in which consciousness, mantra, feelings, and even a Devata as “saguṇa” dissolve. Then prāṇāyāma will really purify the nadīs and save you from many troubles, etc.

In that regard, contrary to the widespread descriptions of prāṇāyāma in many texts, which claim that prāṇāyāma with mantra is higher than prāṇāyāma without it, there are other interpretations that exist, and I would like to give an example. Devī-bhāgavata-purāṇa says that prāṇāyāma could be of six kinds:

धारयेत्तत्र चात्मानं धारणां धारयेद्‌बुधः । सधूमश्च विधूमश्च सगर्भश्चाप्यगर्भकः ॥
सलक्ष्यश्चाप्यलक्ष्यश्च प्राणायामस्तु षड्‌विधः । प्राणायामसमो योगः प्राणायाम इतीरितः॥

dhārayettatra cātmānaṃ dhāraṇāṃ dhārayed‌budhaḥ ।
sadhūmaśca vidhūmaśca sagarbhaścāpyagarbhakaḥ ॥
salakṣyaścāpyalakṣyaśca prāṇāyāmastu ṣaḍ‌vidhaḥ ।
prāṇāyāmasamo yogaḥ prāṇāyāma itīritaḥ॥

“Let the awakened one practice dhāraṇa, concentrating on ātman. Sadhūma (unstable breathing), vidhūma (unfluctuating breathing), sagarbha (breathing with a mantra), agarbha (breathing without a mantra), salakṣhya (with the concentration on a Deity within oneself or a divine symbol), alakṣya (beyond attributes) – these are six kinds of prāṇāyāma. In yoga, there is no higher method than prāṇāyāma.”

I.e. that focusing on alakṣhya or “alakh” (as Nāthas say in Hindi) – the eternal ātman, which is outside of any forms, is considered higher than with using the mantra. The immersion into the nature of ātman (into oneself), according to the Devī-bhāgavata-purāṇa, is the best guideline for prāṇāyāma, which differs from many other texts, where samantrakaprāṇāyāma (with a mantra) is higher. Then the body becomes like a metal, under the intense temperature of fire it acquires the qualities of fire. The body of feeling, immersing in nature, spiritualises.

When it’s said that prāṇāyāma improves health, it means that you achieve your natural state by getting rid of the unnatural. Health in Sanskrit is “svastha”, from the roots sva (own) and stha (existing),  but the meaning is much more than that. From yoga point of view the normal state includes a natural state of mind, feelings, etc. If we return to the subject of counting, I even received such recommendations as to use rhythm while chanting a mantra, so the mind immerses itself into the repetition of the mantra easier. It’s easier for immersion, because we won’t see anything spiritual in the practice of prāṇāyāma if it’s based only on counting, but after all prāṇāyāma removes the worldly state of mind. Theoretically rhythm captures the mind as for instance in the theory of chandas in Sanskrit poetics. I think, the practice of measuring the breath with the use of “matras” can be compared to riding a car to some destination, but somewhere, say, a traffic jam has been formed. Then a driver can look for another way, a little longer or shorter, but still to the same destination. There are basic guidelines during practice, but some small temporary deviations are permissible, if a practitioner feels they are needed.

However, all these subtleties, even such seemingly simple as matras, should be explained by a Guru. Because such elements as mantras, anāhata, etc., are more than simple technics as everybody understands them nowadays. Yoga is the highest level of spiritual practice, although it is bonded with simplicity and nature, many lost it in the artificial world and the artificial way of life. There should be a balance between the spiritual and the physical in yoga, that must always be remembered.

Sequence and randomness of aṅgas in yoga

I have found different sequences and quantity of the yoga parts (aṅgas), but the following sequence from Agni-purāṇa (381.11), I think, is especially interesting:

प्रणयमस्तथा ध्यानं योगो प्रत्याहारोऽथ धारणा | समाधिश्च मुनिश्रेष्ठा यमो नियम आसनम् ||
praṇayamastathā dhyānaṃ yogo pratyāhāro’tha dhāraṇā |
samādhiśca muniśreṣṭhā yamo niyama āsanam ||

The eleventh part of Kūrma-purāṇa (11.11-12) actually repeats this śloka and the description of the aṅgas sequence: praṇayama, dhyāna, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇa, samādhi, yama, niyama, āsana.

What is most interesting that ‘āsana’, which now has become the most important and maybe even the only practice, is listed in the very last position; yama and niyama go prior to it. I personally see logic even how the āsana is described by Patañjali, by Gorakśanāth, in Śiva-sūtra-vimarśinī, and other texts of different traditions and darśanas. Concerning yama and niyama, it is also logical, there is even a version that they were prescribed to saṃnyāsin, and also the logic is that the perception and perfection of yama and niyama can change with enhancement in contemplative methods.