Prāṇa, mind and consciousness are all connected to Kuṇḍalinī meditation. What is the role of prāṇa in kuṇḍalinī meditation? According to Trika Philosophy (Kashmir Śaivism), there are three types of Kuṇḍalinī yoga and they are parā kuṇḍalinī yoga also known as pūrṇa kuṇḍalinī yoga, cit kuṇḍalinī yoga and prāṇa kuṇḍalinī yoga. Out of the three, cit kuṇḍalinī yoga is Supreme and is directly related to Śiva and nothing to do with empirical beings. Cit kuṇḍalinī yoga is related to consciousness in an empirical body and Prāṇa kuṇḍalinī yoga is related to prāṇa. What is generally practiced is the yoga combining both consciousness and prāṇa. Therefore, it is important to understand the significances of consciousness and prāṇa as the latter originates from consciousness.
Consciousness is Brahman and consciousness (lower case c) is individual soul. Consciousness becomes consciousness due to the veil of māyā. If this veil is removed, Consciousness can be realized, which is in its purest form. The veil of māyā can be removed only through a purified mind and the mind can be purified by controlling and regulating breath, known as prāṇa. Purest form of Consciousness is Paramātma or the Transcendental Consciousness. Jīvātma on the other hand is an embodied being and is associated with mind and matter. Kulārṇava Tantra (I.7-11) explains Paramātma and Jīvātma thus. “There is One Real who is Śiva, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient and He is the one without a second without any impurities. He is known as saccidānanda (perpetual existence in the state of Bliss). Empirical individuals are merely portions of Him due to ignorance and separated from Him like a spark though emerging from fire, yet separate from it.” Thus, Śiva becomes the cause of this universe and He manifests through His Power known as Śakti. Both Śiva and Śakti are interdependent, as one’s power cannot be a separate existence from the person who holds the power. Thus, in a human body, both Śiva and Śakti exist, as they cannot exist separately or independently. Thus, wherever Śiva is present, Śakti is also present. If Śiva is omnipresent, Śakti is also omnipresent as they are eternally inseparable. In a human body, Śiva exists as the Self and emanate kaulikī śakti which form mind and matter of a human body and after having emanated as kaulikī śakti, known as Parāśakti, who exists in the form of Kuṇḍalinī at mūlādhāra and Śiva continues to emit Light from sahasrāra. Now, Śiva and Śakti are in two different places and their ‘separation’ or gap in a human body is reflected as māyā, or spiritual ignorance. Śiva exists as Consciousness and Śakti as kuṇḍalinī and when their union takes place, it leads to experience of Bliss. Tantraloka (III.68) says, “The coupling form of Them is said is be collision or embracing, which leads to Ānandaśakti from which this world appears.” A yogi through his consciousness and prāṇa makes the kuṇḍalinī move up through his spinal cord and unites Her with Śiva at sahasrāra and because of their union, the yogi experiences Bliss. How kuṇḍalinī is awakened and made to unite with Śiva is kuṇḍalinī meditation. Kuṇḍalinī is situated at the base of the spine in coccyx area and this area has smooth muscles that are capable of pulsation and this pulsation or vibration can be felt during kuṇḍalinī meditation.
In order to practice a good kuṇḍalinī meditation, three attributes are required – purified mind, purified consciousness and ability to manipulate his prāṇa. Therefore, in order to practice perfect kuṇḍalinī meditation, we need to know more about mind and consciousness.
The following subjects, mind, consciousness and ego are already dealt with elaborately in these links.
What needs to be studied now is prāṇa, though prāṇa has been discussed in various articles under different circumstances. Primarily, the subtle body depends upon the breath or prāṇa inhaled through the nostrils. The prāṇa thus inhaled is transported to kanda, which is deep red in colour is just above mūlādhāra below the navel. Kanda, is the place where all the 72,000 nerves originate and get distributed throughout the body. The prāṇa that reaches kanda does not belong to the respiratory system that ends up in lungs. When the inhalation is made, nostrils inhale both air and the vital force or the cosmic energy. Air goes to the lungs to keep our body system functioning. The cosmic energy, on the other hand is directly routed through idā and piṅgala. The cosmic energy that we inhale along with air aids in spiritual and psychological systems. Kanda is the place where kuṇḍalinī, the vital energy of human beings rest. Properly directing the cosmic energy to kanda will make the kuṇḍalinī to ascend and awaken the dormant spirituality. The atmospheric air mainly consists of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and other minor gases forming the balance 1%. The vital energy gets converted into ten different types of prāṇa and spreads throughout the body. They establish interconnectivity between gross and subtle bodies. Prāṇa is widely prevalent in Nature, also known as Prakṛti. Prāṇa can be manipulated with certain exercises and techniques. This in turn casts its effect on the mind to seek the spiritual path, by muting sensory inputs from the gross body. Sensory organs depend upon prāṇa and the mind to be active. Manipulation of prāṇa leads to mind control and which in turn controls the sensory organs. Therefore, mind and prāṇa are directly related to each other in functioning of a human body. Further, the quality of prāṇa and one’s ability to manoeuvre prāṇa also has great relevance to kuṇḍalinī meditation. In addition to these inherent qualities of prāṇa which is extremely subtle, observing the point of reversal of breath energises prāṇa further, which enables prāṇa to move into suṣumna to activate kuṇḍalinī. When the turning point of breaths is observed, both inhalation and exhalation becomes equal and unless the breaths become equal, prāṇa cannot enter suṣumna. When prāṇa energises by fixing our consciousness on the point of reversal, we can observe pulsation in our ājñācakra. This can be better explained through the first four dhāraṇā-s of Vijñānabhairava Tantra (Entire interpretation of Vijñānabhairava Tantra can be read in this link).
During normal breathing, breath goes in (inhalation) and goes out (exhalation). During inhalation, the breath enters our body through trachea to the lobes of the lungs and reaches the end points of the lobes. These end points meet the heart and the diaphragm. Visualise this point. Medically this area is known as cariodphrenic pleural sinuses. The air that we breathe in goes up to this point making an impact on the heart and the diaphragm. The movement of the diaphragm helps kuṇḍalinī to ascend. At the end of inhalation the air stands still for a fraction of a second before it makes a U turn ( in fact it is V turn, as we do not get a point in U) to commence its exhalation process. Once exhalation is completed and before the commencement of inhalation, the air stands still for a few second before it commences its inhalation process. Normally inhalation begins at twelve inches from the tip of the nose. Observe this stillness of breath, the state of breathlessness. This may not be possible immediately, but with persistent practice this becomes possible to realize these two stillness points. When these points of stillness are realized, one realizes the state of Bhairava. In other words, Self realisation happens.
This is the continuation of the previous one. At the end of inhalation and before the commencement of exhalation and after that momentary stillness, the breath takes a V turn and commences its exhalation process. Observe this exact point of V turn, the point where the return (exhalation) begins. There Bhairava is realized at that point. If one is able to concentrate on the points that Bhairava mentions, such awareness cleanses the path of kuṇḍalinī, the central canal of the spinal cord. The cleansing happens due to the vibratory effect of the awareness.
This skill activates the suṣumna nāḍī or the central canal of the spinal cord. This skill involves in knowing the point of fusion of in-breath and out-breath. This fusion happens around the point of return that has been discussed in dhāraṇā 2. This point of fusion is where neither inhalation nor exhalation happens. While fixing awareness here, the entire intellection ceases to function as awareness is fixed on the point of fusion and not on the worldly connections. The awareness becomes so strong that his thoughts are destroyed and he becomes thoughtless. His consciousness is fixed inwardly and his external connection through senses is sealed. During this process, sushumna becomes activated. In dhāraṇā 2, suṣumna is cleansed by mere concentration. In this dhāraṇā, suṣumna is activated by the stage of thoughtlessness (nirvikalpa). In this stage, one realizes Bhairava.
When inhalation is made, exhalation does not happen immediately and when exhalation is made inhalation does not happen immediately. Either breath is retained for a moment or one is without breath for a moment. It is called kumbhaka. Breath is the source of energy for the body to survive and hence it is called prāṇa, the vital energy. Without prāṇa physical body cannot continue to exist. On many occasions, one could have noticed that he could have momentarily entered the state of death out of fear when his breath stops for a moment. When someone is flying and the aircraft develops serious technical snag, he becomes breathless when he hears the announcement made by the flight commander. Though he continues to exist, his consciousness for a moment becomes un-conscious. He becomes unaware of himself and the surroundings. He becomes thoughtless. For effective functioning of the mind, prāṇic energy is required. When the required supply of prāṇa is suspended, the mind also becomes thoughtless. During the stage of thoughtlessness, the individual self ceases to exist due to lack of prāṇa and merges into Bhairava. The ignorance of duality paves way for the knowledge of Reality. This dhāraṇā does not refer to forced holding of breath (kumbhaka). When this dhāraṇā is practiced in the stage of thoughtlessness, Bhairava is realized. It happens on its own.
Following words of Abhinava Vidyātīrtha Mahāsvāmi of Śṛṅgiri mutt are self-explanatory. “A practitioner of kuṇḍalinī yoga should strive to arouse the kuṇḍalinī to raise her all the way to sahasrāra, overcoming any obstruction in her path regardless of where it may be encountered. He does not have to take radically different steps to pierce a granthi than to raise the kuṇḍalinī from one chakra to the next. ........the lack of uniformity in the specification of the locations of the granthi-s is not of practical consequences to a spiritual aspirant.”