Spiritual path begins with knowledge, proceeds to practice, which is known as sādhana and these two culminate in Bliss or Ānanda, which is one of the three attributes of Brahman according to Upaniṣad-s. Mantra sādhana does not lead to Self-realization, though it can lay a strong foundation for pursuing spiritual path. Mantras have more to do with the mind rather than taking us forward in our ultimate goal of emancipation. A yogi practices rigorously all the three viz. mantra sādhana followed by acquiring transcendental knowledge and then, he pursues yoga sādhana to enter into the state of Bliss. There are four types of yoga sādhana – mantra, laya, haṭha and rājayoga. It is said that the first three are associated with duality and it is rājayoga, which alone advocates total duality. Hence, rājayoga is called rājādhirājayoga (rājādhirāja – king of kings). Let us now briefly understand what a yogi practices to attain Liberation. He passes through four stages of yoga, beginning stage, shaping stage, familiarity stage and the final stage. It is extremely important that one should have a learned Guru who can teach all these with dedication, kindness and with clarity.
There are many things that are prohibited while pursuing spiritual path. The list is exhaustive and certain important things are listed here. Violence, hatred, ego, cheating and deceiving, hurting others (both mentally and physically), fasting, infatuation, craving, too much of talking (chitchatting), gossiping, comparing one with another, overeating, etc. are to be discarded totally. One can have milk and milk related products and sweets. Listening to spiritual lectures (on Upaniṣad-s and Vedānta), patience, forgiveness, austerity, cleanliness, modesty, enough intelligence and service to his or her Guru. Food should be consumed in small quantities several times a day instead of eating in large quantities, one or two times a day.
Nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma should be practiced compulsorily, at least twice a day. Kumbhaka should also be practiced regularly. Only kumbhaka leads to keveala kumbhaka (air being held internally without inhalation and exhalation, which sometimes could last for three hours). Holding breath up to 16 counts, which is also known as kumbahaka is said to loosen our karmas. Karmas cannot be destroyed and have to be experienced at any cost. Proper and dedicated practice of prāṇāyāma gives a disease-free life and gives enough energy to pursue spiritual path. In addition to this, practicing kecari mudra (inverting the tongue and placing it firmly on the upper palate) secretes nectar in the mouth and this has to be swallowed to keep the body in disease-free condition. This nectar also reduces hunger.
Different type of yoni mudra is explained in Śiva Saṁhitā. A yogi has to sit in a comfortable posture and concentrate on his or her perineum for about two hours (this is not mūlabandha). During this time, he or she should contemplate that Śiva and Śakti unite as a result of which a huge flame is created which goes through suṣumna towards brahmarandhra (an orifice at sahasrāra) and merges into Śiva. This is more or less in line with Samayācāra-tatparā, discussed in Lalitā Sahasranāma 98.
Śiva Saṁhitā discusses about certain mudrā-s. The one discussed above is yoni mudra, without contraction of perineum. In this mudra, apart from concentrating as per yoni mudra discussed above, perineum is be contacted as in mūla bandha during exhalation. This is said to be one of the sacred mudras. It is also said that many mantras are impure, discarded, dull, devoid of potency, etc. All such defective mantras will get fructified if the above yoni mudra is practiced regularly. The next one is mahāmudrā. Here one should press the perineum with the left heel. Now practice nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma. The next one is mahābandha, which is known as aśvinimudrā (contraction and release of sphincter muscles at the organ of excretion). At this time, abdomen should be expanded by deep exhalation. When the air is full, lower portion of the body is marginally raised and dropped down to cause pressure in the air that is being held within. This action opens up all the three granthi-s in suṣumna and activates the sleeping Kuṇḍalinī at the base. This is known as mahāvedhā.
Next is kechari mudra. Here one should sit in vajrāsana, fix attention at ājñācakra and practice kechari mudra, as discussed above. With perfection in practice, there will be secretion of nectar, which should be consumed. Next one is jālandhara bandha, which is placing the chin on the heart chakra. It is said that by practicing this, nectarine flow towards navel chakra is blocked and the nectar secreted from somachakra is made to go back to the place of its origin (with the help of breathing). It is said that this practice gives immortality. The next one is uḍyāna bandha. Here, abdomen should be contracted from lower portion to upper portion and towards the suṣumna. This is also known as abdominal breathing or yogic breathing. The other one is vajroli mudra, in which sexual fluids are drawn back. This is said to be the union of sun and moon. Sun is compared to man’s body and moon is compared to a woman’s body. If this is practiced, a yogi becomes divine.
These are some of the mudras that are practiced by yogis to attain Liberation. But if these mudras are practiced without proper guidance, it could be disastrous.