Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 39 - Pranayama - Cultivating the Soil of the Nervous System
Date: Wed Dec 10, 2003 0:21pm
It is common knowledge that when a friend is upset, really upset, it is good to tell him to breathe, to take slow, deep breaths in and out for a while. This invariably has a calming effect on the nervous system, mind, and emotions.
Why? Because it loosens the nerves. Tension constricts our nerves, and this restricts the flow of consciousness through us. Breathing slowly and deeply loosens our nerves, facilitating the flow of consciousness through us, and this has the desired relaxing effect.
To say that consciousness flows through us is a bit of an over-simplification. While, in truth, all is the flow of consciousness, it is more descriptive to say that the “life force” flows through us. What is the life force? It is the first manifestation of consciousness in matter. It is called, “prana,” which means, “first unit.” In the string theory of modern physics, the miniscule, subatomic energy strings thought to be the building blocks of everything in the universe might well be analogous to prana. In any case, we know that influencing prana (the life force) in the human body has significant effects on our nervous system, and our experience.
Meditation is a way of influencing prana with the mind taking the lead. The human mind arises from a flow of energy through the nerves of the brain. In meditation, we systematically allow that energy (prana) to become still, which brings us to the underlying cause of that energy. We experience it as pure silent bliss consciousness. In meditation, the attention is easily brought beyond the mind, and beyond prana. It is an extraordinary natural ability we have.
Besides meditation, there are other ways to influence prana to facilitate the purification of the nervous system for joining of our inner and outer nature. As mentioned, managing the breath can have a noticeable effect on our experience. By restraining the breath in certain ways we can produce certain predictable effects. This is the science of “pranayama,” which means, “restraint of prana.” In terms of what we do externally, it is called breath control. But there is more to pranayama than physical control of the breath. Other actions are brought to bear that deepen and broaden the effects of the breath. The mind is involved, and so is the body in ways other than by controlling the breath. Taken together, these actions loosen and cultivate the nervous system in ways that greatly enhance the effects of our core practice of meditation.
Think of the nervous system as the soil, and of pure bliss consciousness as the seed. We have been awakening the silent seed through regular daily meditation. Now we will be cultivating the soil of our nervous system so the seed of pure bliss consciousness will grow to be dynamic and strong in us.
How does the breath affect the flow of prana in the body? There is an electromagnetic relationship in the body between the breath, the mind, the flow of prana, and every aspect of our biological functioning. All of these are connected. This is why, when we meditate, the breath is automatically subdued and the whole metabolism slows down. During pranayama, when we consciously slow down the breath and mentally take it along a particular pathway, we influence the flow of prana in that pathway. It is a kind of induction. It is like inducing an electrical current in a wire with a magnet. So, using the breath in coordination with the mind, we are able to engage in selective purification of a particular channel in our nervous system that plays a leading role in the rise of enlightenment. This channel is the tiny thread-like nerve that runs up inside the spine and through the brain. It is called the “sushumna.” Purifying and opening this nerve is where pranayama and additional advanced yoga practices will be focused.
We will begin with a breathing technique to be done right before each meditation session. As we become comfortable with it we will add on new elements, step by step, that will greatly increase the power of our practice.
The guru is in you.