In yoga it is understood that 'God', Spirit, or the supreme reality has two components which can't be separated. These two are Consciousness and Power. By nature Consciousness is static whereas Power is dynamic. In the tantric tradition they are referred to symbolically as siva and shakti.
Spiritual Growth Practically Speaking
Looking at it on the individual level the static consciousness manifests as a deep inner silence and direct connection to the true Self while the dynamic power as the awakening of the infinite power within us called kundalini shakti.
Advancing on the yogic path is very simple. Just cultivate daily the power of kundalini and the experience of inner silence.
To do so we apply ourselves to the practice of 2 yogas which constitute the core foundation of our sadhana (spiritual practice).
- Spinal Breathing to awaken the kundalini
- Meditation to cultivate the experience of inner silence
Kriya Yoga Pranayama
The practice of meditation will be covered in another post so now we'll focus on the practice of spinal breathing. There are several yogic systems to awaken the kundalini power: hatha yoga is a popular branch of kundalini yoga but there are several others.
Paramahansa Yogananda popularized the kriya yoga approach at the beginning of the 20th century and of course this rich tradition has many methods and variations. Spinal breathing is such a variation which turns out to be very simple but also extremely potent and efficacious.
Here is my take on it which is directly influenced by Yogani's.
Why don't you take a few minutes to try out this simple practice in the next few days?
Spinal Breathing Technique
In essence you want to sit still, relax, breathe deeper than normal and visualize the subtle breath going up and down your spine in coordination with your breathing.
As mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one's sitting posture should be steady and comfortable. If the spine is very straight it is a plus but don't fret about it if it's not possible yet.
If you have very stiff legs and back or any health issues that warrant this you can practice on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
There are advantages to having a cross-legged position so if you can do so please go ahead and proceed with the following suggestions.
The 'softer' approach is to just sit up on your bed the back leaning against the head board. The legs are comfortably crossed on the softness of the mattress.
This can also been done in a sofa. Legs crossed and back leaning on the back rest. One can also sit against the wall or in those modern 'yogic' chairs.
If you can, and this is my preferred recommendation, sit on the floor on a pillow with the back, neck, and head perfectly erect. Personally I have sat with a straight back for so many years that it feels wrong to lean against anything. I did want to present the other options though. Better practice in these sub-optimal postures comfortably than in a strict posture in discomfort.
If you want to know more about the sitting options consult the post on "yoga sitting postures".
It is a central concept of kriya yoga that relaxation gives rise to concentration. When concentrating or meditating too many yogis try 'too hard' creating inner tensions sometimes leading to headaches and other ailments.
The type of concentration we are looking for could be better called absorption. Think in terms of reading a book. Most people have found themselves, at some point in their life, in a high state of concentration while reading a book. When this happened to you did you try to focus really hard? Most likely not. You started with a line, then a few. This led to a page, and 2, and more. You slowly got caught up in the story or material presented in the book and before you knew it you had achieved partial pratyahara and a deep state of concentration.
Anywho, just take a few moments in your sitting posture to settle in stillness and to relax your face, shoulders, back, arms, and legs. Special emphasis on the jaws, tongue, eyes, and eyebrows.
Then follow with interest the motion of the breath and of the energy.
Deep & Slow Breathing
Now comes the time to breathe deeper. Not as deep as in hatha yoga pranayama but do take some full yogic breaths. First fill up the abdomen, then the chest. On the exhale start emptying the chest and then the abdomen. Do this a few times until it feels right and you are fully comfortable and relaxed.
Both inhalation and exhalation should take place through the nose. Make sure you breathe slowly enough so that very little noise is created by the breath.
The Mind Follows Shakti
You should then proceed to follow the journey of the subtle breath up and down your spine. Do this for a few minutes and then you are done for this session.
Here is a brief explanation of this visualization. The term visualization is a bit misleading because it implies a purely visual process. While many yogis will see a light along this path with their inner eye many also experience the movement of shakti in the form of vibration, tingling, heat, pleasant ecstasy, and/or several other ways. The main practice though is to travel up and down with one's awareness.
During the inhalation we move up along the spine. The starting point is the lowest chakra, muladhara chakra. There is a long explanation as to where this is exactly but here is the shortcut. Imagine you are sitting on a bicycle. Start from the point where you have most weight and go up inside about 1 to 3 inches (2 to 8 centimeters). This point is usually higher in women and sometimes further back as well.
Move backward and slightly up (or down) to catch the beginning of the spinal cord. Then move up inside the spinal cord all the way to the neck and keep moving upward until you reach the middle of the brain. At that point make a sharp turn forward to end up in the third eye located right between the eyebrows, not too high on the forehead.
Now it's time to start exhaling and move back and down to return back to the root center.
It might take a few rounds or even a few sessions of practice before you feel comfortable. Remember to relax body and mind as you do this.
At first you might not have any direct experience of the motion of the subtle life force. Or you might only experience it in a couple places. You will have to use your imagination to travel up and down. With practice you will have full awareness of the pathway from muladhara to ajna. When this is achieved even less effort is required during the practice.
You have to find your own path. Each yogi and yogini finds their own proper trace. Some perceive the muladhara as lower or higher, placed more forward or backward. As you move from there most are tempted to go up towards the other spine but it's often helpful to go backwards to reach wherever the swadhishthana chakra is.
The red and blue colors indicate different possible variations and the black dotted line indicate a trace following major pathways of the physical nervous system.
On the MRI above you can see corresponding areas of nervous system in the physical body. The spinal breathing works both on the physical and astral levels.
Twice a Day if Possible
Instead of thinking of the kundalini awakening as a volcano-like sudden surge of power in your lower back you might want to think of it as gradual process of creating and strengthening an energetic conductivity going from the root chakra to the third eye.
This will harmonize the 'raw' energies naturally located in the pelvis and help them ascend to the higher chakras, the brain and the rest of your body. This new power will then be available to fuel all your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. The stronger the psychic connection between these polarities and the richer your life. More theoretical details will come in the future as the focus of this post is to provide a practical guidance.
For this daily cultivation to take place substantially you need to practice daily. Either once a day or twice a day. Surprisingly it is actually easier to stick to a 2-a-day routine than a single daily session. This is because it takes more than half a day to exhaust the spiritual power accumulated in any one session. Thus you can still feel the shakti playing in your psychic and nervous system and reap faster and more benefits as soon as you start. You also feel more inclined to sit again.
Once you are accustomed to the technique it just take half a minute to a minute to get ready and start doing the visualization. Your sessions can then last between 5 and 10 minutes. You can use a clock if you want to be precise about it but I personally like to do it as long as it feels right without going too long. My practice improved significantly after I quit timing myself.
Best is to do one practice in the morning and one in the end of the afternoon. Some prefer later in the evening for the second session. I like the end of the afternoon because it energizes you for dinner, social activities, and/or various obligations.
In my experience this is the very best preparation for meditation so you can also make a habit of practicing this just before you meditate.
If this is new to you I suggest you give it a try for the next few days or couple weeks. Then you look back and determine whether it's worthwhile continuing.
I wish you a fruitful and blissful practice. Om Om!
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