Association with the form (body) is through the respiratory and pulsating activity. This activity conducts life into us with the support of our awareness. One can notice that in any state he respires and pulsates. Be it wakeful hours or sleep hours or dream hours, respiration happens. Pulsation is the basis for such respiration. The seers of the past noticed that the activity of life leads one into the form, nourishes and sustains the form. There is a process of withdrawing consciously from all respirations into one pulsation which essentially moves upwards. With the help of such pulsation one can move out through the upper orifices of the body which exists at the pineal gland and even above at the cranium (crown). This is what is developed in yoga as a science of Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
While in sleep or in dream hours the nature causes our exit from the body. A yogi consciously exits and enters into the body through accomplishment of the first three steps stated above namely Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana.
Pranayama is little understood by pupils of yoga studies. It is not breathing exercise; it is not only for restoration of health. The very word Pranayama means ‘prana regulated’. There is a specific and scientific way of regulating the pranic pulsations. The inhalation and exhalations can be equated to experience the pulsating prana at the heart centre where it is noticed as Samana Prana. When one engages with the Samana Prana at the heart one gets into the subtle dimension of pulsation which has the tendency to make an up-thrust of the pulsation which is called Udana Prana. When the resonance of pulsation moves up to the forehead, prana is said to be regulated. The optimum of the fourth pulsation namely Udana enables the pulsating awareness to reach up to the threshold from where exit can be made. Pranayama thus involves association with the inner activity for which the outermost boundary is the heart where it is felt as Samana Prana, thereafter with the help of Udana pulsation the awareness moves vertically up via the throat, lower palate, upper palate, nasal path to reach up to the brow centre. This inner vertical withdrawal is what is called Pratyahara or absorption. When Pratyahara is accomplished the awareness principle is felt as resonance at the brow centre and attempts to move to even further high vertically. Then it is experienced at will in between the brow centre and Ajna. It is said to be the sixth step of yoga namely Dharana.
At the state of Dharana the student realizes clearly that he holds the body and that he is not held by the body.
Imagine a bird within a cage. It is said to be held by the cage but at Dharana state the bird comes out of the cage and can even hold the cage by the beak. It can restore the cage at a safe place and move into the sky and again come back and rest in the cage. So also a yogi knows that he holds the body to function here and around. If necessary he consciously moves out of the cage, works in subtle planes and gets back. This knowledge by itself is not enough. It remains as information until the needed practice of Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana are carried out with fiery aspiration.
To embark upon Pranayama the outer life shall have to be necessarily regulated. For this Patanjali strongly recommends to acquire the following virtues:
- A rhythm relating to work, food and rest.
- A specific time to conduct the Pranayama practice at least twice daily if not thrice.
- Practice of harmlessness.
- To ensure alignment of thought, speech and action.
- A regulated and chaste sex life.
- Elimination of thieving instinct – an instinct to thieve physically, emotionally or mentally others’ persons, properties and even thoughts.
- To liberate oneself from receiving obligations which causes indebtedness and the related conditioning.
- Cleanliness of surroundings, of the personal wear and of the body.
- Inner purity relating to thought and emotions. To self-check daily if there is avarice, anger, miserliness, excessive attachment to people, places and things.
- Daily study of the teachings of a Master of Wisdom (at least a page) and making notes.
- To hold in consciousness that all is divine.
These virtues enable one to be naturally cheerful and also practice with joy the steps of Pranayama.