Swami Satyananda Saraswati

In hatha yoga particularly, we talk about the nadis, the flow. The Sanskrit word nadi means flow, like the flow of the river or a flow of air, a breeze – anything that flows. Blood and energy can also be a flow. The word flow means nadis and these nadis are distributed throughout the body. It is these nadis we talk about in acupuncture. In hatha yoga, we talk about the nadis which are responsible for the supply of life energy and mental energy throughout the body.

This mental energy is definitely an energy force, and pranic energy is life. They work together. If there is no prana there will be no sense knowledge. If there is no life in you, you cannot see flowers, you cannot hear music. If you have no mental energy, you will be like a dunce, just living, not experiencing a flower, not experiencing sound, not experiencing a feeling – nothing. Somehow they have to work together, and when there is some difficulty in working together, diseases take place.

In philosophy, they say that the mind operates through the jnanendriyas and the sense organs and the pranas operate through karmendriyas, organs of action, like the feet and hands, speech. These nadis are stretched throughout the body but in hatha yoga, particularly through kundalini yoga, they have come to the conclusion that within the framework of the spine there are very subtle flows. When we say ‘subtle’, it means we cannot see it through the eyes. We have to use very sophisticated, sensitive instruments, to register the flow of force passing between the higher centre, the brain, and the lower centre, which is near the reproductive system. There is a relationship between these.

There are very subtle nerves within the framework of the spine. Out of those three are spoken of – ida, pingala and sushumna. The whole of kundalini yoga, and all of hatha yoga is based on these three. These three nadis represent three forces. Two forces are material and one is spiritual. The life forces relate to external life, daily experiences, earth, and the eternal, perceptible cosmos. The spiritual force is called sushumna and the purpose of all yogas, whether it is bhakti, jnana, raja, hatha or karma yoga, is to awaken that third force.

You have experiences when there is awakening in sushumna and in order to awaken this sushumna nadi, in order to awaken this central nervous system, this central nadi, you have to plug both the others. You have to plug the pranic and mental force. Pranic force is power. Mental force is concentration. So by concentration, you plug all the mental experiences of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, feeling, or hunger. You plug them for some time. For half an hour, just stop, no feeling, just the pranic flow – that is pranayama. So when you plug your mind and your life and suspend it for some time, then it begins to show some sort of suffocation. I won’t give you the causes individually, because medically I do not know, but the sushumna nadi, that particular dormant nadi, becomes suffused and as a result of that, the awakening takes place.

Once it begins to awaken, you have experiences and those experiences are sometimes very good and very soothing and very pleasant, but they are very awful sometimes, they are very terrible. Just total disorientation can take place.

The same practices can lead you to this. You plug the mind: stop. You plug your breath, and sushumna begins to awaken. Then you are in the experiences. Then you see fire, like the French scientist, Blaise Pascal, who saw fire for two or three hours. One evening he was studying and suddenly he found fire in front of him. He saw it! For two hours the fire remained there and then it disappeared. After the fire disappeared he began to cry. He said, ‘My God, why have you left me?’

Many saints have these experiences like Saint Teresa of Avila. She was a great kundalini yogini. She suffered and suffered because I think she did not get proper guidance. Saint John of the Cross went through the same thing. He did not get guidance. Like that many yogis have had difficult experiences.

It depends in my opinion on the purity of mind. There is some thought, there is some reason in the mind, there is some reason in one’s life, which can be the basis of a kundalini awakening that is an unpleasant, inconvenient and terrible experience. Even if the same event of awakening of sushumna takes place – your sushumna may awaken and her sushumna may awaken, but she may have convenient and pleasant experiences whereas you may have terrible nightmares. Why? Does it mean that your total existence is affecting the process of experience? Your total existence means the totality of your experiences, the totality of your ambitions, totality of your passions, totality of your inherited karmas from your father and mother? This is molecular genetics.

Gurus have said, ‘It is safer for a kundalini yogi to first purify the different elements of life – maybe food, maybe sleep, maybe sex, maybe work, maybe money, maybe attachment, detachment.’ You have to do some sort of corrections somewhere. Not just in one place, you have to correct yourself in different places. Not to the extent that you become a recluse, but to some extent so everything becomes very systematic. Food, drink, duty and you have to be disciplined, then you won’t have these nightmares. There are some people, who are born with a very sensitive sushumna, who get some awakening at a very early age; others have to do their practice, and the central practice is pranayama. The most important practice, maybe the only one practice is pranayama.

Breathing in and breathing out is not pranayama; stopping the breath is pranayama. In order to suspend the breath, you have to take in and take out. Stopping the breath is not that simple, because when you stop the breath, you are creating a very great change in your heart, your lungs, your oxygen system, and more particularly in your brain. You are influencing the brain and the nervous system. You are also influencing the metabolic, catabolic and other processes in the body. You must know how much pranayama you should do according to your limited karma or limited personality.

I think practically everybody should do it and that is why in India pranayama practices were ordained at the age of seven. When you start pranayama at an early age you go slowly, very gradually, like a clock, so that by the age of thirty, thirty-four, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five you can go into higher and deeper practices of pranayama where you can hold your breath and do all the bandhas. Experiences will come. You must take time.

4 April 1986, Munger