More attention is to be paid to practical aspect of kuṇḍalinī. As already discussed, ascension of kuṇḍalinī depends upon two factors. One is the depth of devotion, which ultimately transforms as love for Parāśakti, who completely pervades our mind, causing series bouts of inexplicable happiness or Bliss. When Bliss prevails for longer time, kuṇḍalinī automatically ascends on its own. No practice, whatsoever is needed and this is called descent of Divine Grace, which is also known as śaktipāta. When the devotion is not ripe enough to transform as love for Her, certain practices are required to purify our mind. This purification is required because Bliss manifests only in a thoughtless mind. When the mind remains impure, psychic centres and nāḍi-s are blocked and cause obstructions at various places in suṣumna. If these centres and nāḍi-s continue to remain congested, the ascension of kuṇḍalinī does not happen and even if it happens, it ascends through wrong channels, causing kuṇḍalinī syndrome. When kuṇḍalinī syndrome is experienced, it is very difficult to sort it out. In many cases, healing has to happen only through Her Grace. Hence, Yoga CūḍāmaṇiUpaniṣad (63) says, “with the force of prāṇa, it (power of prāṇa) attains union with the bindu and his body becomes divine perpetually.” This verse refers to maṇipūraka chakra. Yoga CūḍāmaṇiUpaniṣad also emphasises the importance of postures, mudra-s, bandha-s, etc. For example, verse 65 talks about mahā mudra, which alone can purify the nāḍi-s so that there are no blockages either in the nāḍi-s or in the psychic chakras. If one attempts to awaken kuṇḍalinī without practicing Nāḍi Śodhana Prāṇāyāma, he or she is bound to suffer from kuṇḍalinī syndrome. Therefore, before proceeding to this part, one should be thorough with Nāḍi Śodhana Prāṇāyāma. In addition to Nāḍi Śodhana Prāṇāyāma, one should also be well versed with the following bandha-s and mudra-s.
i) jālandhara bandha
ii) mūla bandha
iii) uḍḍiyāna bandha
iv) śāmbhavī mudra
v) agocara mudra
vi) khecarī mudra
vii) mahā mudra
It is important that prāṇāyāma, bandha-s and mudra-s should be practiced only in empty stomach and should not be practiced when hot weather prevails. It is advisable that these practices should be done only in early morning or late night, when stomach is empty. In general, there should at least be three hours gap between food and practice. Any deviation from the prescribed norms will cause general health impairment.
i) Jālandhara bandha:
Jālandhara means continuously netted and appearing like a web and bandha means control. This is also known as chin lock. By practicing this, flow of blood and prāṇa into various nāḍi-s (nāḍi includes blood, nervous and lymphatic systems) and cleanse them. There are few variations.
It would be ideal to sit in padmāsana (lotus posture) while doing this. If this is not possible, one has to compulsorily sit in ardhapadmāsana, without which this cannot be practiced effectively.
Sit erect. Place the palms on the knees. There should not be any bend in elbows. Arms should be straight from shoulders to knees. It would be ideal that both knees are on the yoga mat. If not, pillows can be kept below the knees. Once pressure is applied on the knees, they should not go down. As arms are in straight line, shoulders will go up. As far as possible, spine should be erect. Close the eyes and keep the entire body in relaxed position. After a few rounds of normal breathing, inhale deeply and hold the breath. Gradually bend the head forward till the chin touches the chest. Any bends in the arms now should be straightened up. In order to avoid any stiffness in the shoulders, shoulders should be raised. As we are already holding the breath, all these adjustments should be done in a few seconds. This is the perfect stage of jālandhara bandha or chin lock. Under normal health conditions, at the most one can remain in this posture for a minute or less. As there is no movement in any part of the body during this practice, it is called lock as this lock is due to chin pressing the chest and it is called chin lock.
Exhaling should not be done until every body part is pulled back to their normal states. First unlocking should be from relaxing the shoulders, bending the elbows and finally raise the head backwards and release the held breath slowly. Releasing the breath slowly is important and this is directly related to the duration of holding breath. If breath is held for longer duration, exhalation will be faster which should not be the case.
During inhalation and holding breath, shoulders should be raised, arms should be fully stretched and opened palms should be pressing against the knees that are to be fully supported either with a cushion or by the yoga mat/ground.
Another variation is that while inhaling, head can be slightly pushed back and at the commencement of holding breath, chin should be brought to touch the chest. One more variation is that the shoulders and arms can be kept in a relaxed manner instead of keeping them erect. However, it is best to practice jālandhara bandha without any variations.
Main advantage of this bandha is that, it calms down the mind, which is an important factor in kuṇḍalinī meditation. It also helps in cleansing nāḍi-s and chakras. It unites prāṇa, which is predominantly present in thoracic region and apāna, which is present in abdominal region. The union of prāṇa and apāna produces powerful energy at the base of suṣumna (which is situated in the perineum) where apāna is predominant. This energy is caused due to the friction between prāṇa and apāna at the base of the spine, where kuṇḍalinī is posited. Due to the potent energy prevailing around mūlādhāra chakra, kuṇḍalinī is made to ascend in stages. Overdoing jālandhara bandha will cause kuṇḍalinī to ascend through iḍa and piṅgala nāḍi-s and if this happens, it is difficult to rectify this syndrome.
On the subtle plane, jālandhara bandha helps in purification of mind and consciousness leading to higher spiritual planes. There is kūrmanāḍi in the pit of the throat which controls hunger and thirst. When this nāḍi is activated, it subjugates hunger and thirst of the practitioner, so that he can meditate for longer duration. Importance of kūrmanāḍi is also emphasized by sage Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtra (III.32) which says, “kūrma nāḍyāṁ sthairyam”. This means that one has to concentrate on the area of kūrmanāḍi, which is just below the throat pit. This is called kūrma because the collar bone area appears like a tortoise, which is known as kūrma.
ii) Mūla bandha, aśvini mudra and vajroli mudra.
Mūla literally means root or foundation. But contextually, it means the area between the organ of excretion and procreation. This area is known as perineum, where kuṇḍalinī is posited and mūlādhāra is situated just above this. Contraction and expansion of perineum is known as mūla bandha. Contraction and expansion of sphincter muscles is not mūla bandha, but is known as aśvini mudra (aśvin means horse). Practicing aśvini mudra is essential for attaining perfection in mūla bandha. Therefore, we need to understand both these mudra-s concurrently. Since sexual organs are strongly connected to perineum, simple practice of vajroli mudra is also essential. These three are the most important bandha-s to awaken the dormant kuṇḍalinī from the perineum. Out of the three mūla bandha is primary and the other two or secondary in nature.
This image represents the effect of all the three bandha-s on kuṇḍalinī. The arrow with blue colour represents the effect of aśvini mudra, the one with green colour represents the effect of vajroli mudra and the one with red represents the effect of mūla bandha. The convergence of the three arrows represents the position of kuṇḍalinī. The starting point of blue arrow represents excretory organ, the one with green represents procreative organ and the red arrow in the centre represents perineum. Thus perineum has three different parts, which vary according to gender. The muscular portion that connects organs of procreation and excretion is known as perineum. The size of the perineum is smaller in men when compared to women. Medically a male perineum is known as prerectal raphe and in women, it is known as perineal raphe. Though it is difficult to contract rectal muscles, perineum and muscles connected to procreative organs independently, with practice one can attain close to perfection.
a) Aśvini mudra:
This is about contraction of sphincter muscles in the anal area. There are few steps involved. We have to take a comfortable position, preferably a flat and hard surface. Close the eyes lightly and fix consciousness at mūlādhāra chakra. In the initial stages of practice, it would be ideal to fix our attention on the anal muscles, which are known as sphincter muscles. Sphincter refers to a ring of muscles that contract to close an opening. The muscles that close the rectal opening are called anal sphincters. By fixing our attention on the rectal opening and sphincter muscles, contract the later in quick successions. It is important that one should try to contract only sphincter muscles, as normally when anal muscles are contracted, perineum also contracts. Though this is normal during initial stages of practice, over a period of time, one should try to contract sphincter muscles in an isolated manner. In the initial stages, there should be sufficient gap between two cycles. But as we progress, there need not be any gap between two contractions; contractions can be done in quick successions. The maximum permissible contraction per session is only ten. Breathing should be allowed to take its own course during this practice.
In advanced version, this is to be aligned with breath. Slowly inhale with yogic breathing; while inhaling contract sphincter muscles; retain the breath for a few seconds and while doing so, sphincter muscles should remain contracted. Release sphincter contraction and exhale slowly. The awareness should be fixed at mūlādhāra chakra.
b) Vajroli mudra:
This is about contraction of muscles of urethra and procreative organ. Take the most comfortable sitting posture. Keep the spine erect and push the head slightly backwards. Keep the opened palms on the knees (palms facing down). Fix the consciousness on urethra. Inhale and hold the breath within (kumbhaka). Now pull the urethra upwards towards the navel. Continue to contract for a few seconds and release both the breath and the mudra. This should not be practiced more than five times per sessions. Any overdoing will hamper health condition. In both the genders, procreative organ should be pulled upwards and with perfection in practice, one will be able to control sexual energy, which will transform into heat energy and this heat will cause kuṇḍalinī to ascend.
Vajroli refers to one of the nāḍi-s that establishes connection between sexual organs with the brain. Controlling this nāḍi through certain other practices is an important aspect of tantric practice.
c) Mūla bandha:
It is best to practice mūla bandha after perfecting the previous two mudras-s, as mūla bandha is more powerful than the other two in activating kuṇḍalinī. At the same time, if mūla bandha alone is practiced, it will not bestow the expected benefits. The energy generated from these different sensitive points cause extensive heat and pressure in mūlādhāra area to awaken the kuṇḍalinī in a perfect manner. As energy generated is centered and focused exactly on the point where kuṇḍalinī seeps at the base of suṣumna, making kuṇḍalinī to enter into the path of suṣumna without causing any syndrome. Hence, practicing this trine is extremely important in kuṇḍalinī meditation.
Sit in a relaxed manner. Sitting posture is important for mūla bandha. Irrespective of āsana (padmāsana, ardhapadmāsana, sukhāsana, etc) one practice, placing one of the heels below the perineum is significant. By keeping a heel pressed against the perineum, it physically applies pressure on the dormant kuṇḍalinī and makes it active. In women, it is suggested that this pressure should be applied on labia majora instead of the perineum. This is because of the fact that exact location of perineum marginally differs between two genders.
Close the eyes. Sit erect and in a comfortable position. One of the heels is to be kept as described above. Now inhale deeply using yogic breathing (expansion of abdomen during inhalation and contraction during exhalation). Retain the breath. Now contract the perineum, with breath remaining within. When perineum is contracted when inhaled air is retained (kumbhaka), the air within will try to find out an exit point, which is readily available in the form of a minute opening within suṣumna. But at this entry point, kuṇḍalinī is in deep slumber and kuṇḍalinī is pushed through brahma nāḍi, which is within citriṇi nāḍi of suṣumna. Mūla bandha is one of the three bandha-s that form mahā bandha. The other two are jālandhara bandha and uḍḍiyāna bandha.