The Bandhas – Mystic Breathing Exercise
Among the “secret” aspects of Yoga are the Bandhas, which may be translated roughly as breathing exercises. After the body has been prepared by thorough practice in the different asanas and clarified by the breathing exercises, the Yogi is ready for the Bandhas. These may not be attained immediately since they depend on a full state of body and mental relaxation for successful attainment.
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By a very strong expiration, the lungs are emptied and driven against the upper part of the thorax, carrying the diaphragm along with them. The intestines are thereby taken up to fill the empty space, and the stomach is made so slender that it might be encompassed by the span of a hand.
Contract your throat and press your chin firmly against your breast about four inches from the heart.
The “Secret” Mudras
The ancient Sanskrit tract, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatmaram Swami, describes the ten mudras which bring great powers to advanced students of Yoga. While these are described as being sought after as the goal of Yoga, they are seldom achieved. According to the track:
“They are much sought after by all Siddhas (possessors of Yogic power) and are difficult to obtain even by the Devas (lesser gods).”
However, they may be of interest to the Western reader who seeks relaxation through Yoga. While the practice of the Secret Mudras may not result in the attainment of the ultimate goals described, it may prove beneficial as another outlet for tension.
According to Hindu sages, the ten mudras destroy old age and death, having been given out by the god Siva, and also confer the eight siddhis or miraculous powers.
The old text enjoins the student to secrecy, saying,
“This should be carefully kept secret as a box of diamonds and should not be told to anybody—just as the illicit connection with a married woman of the noble family.”
Descriptions of the ten mudras follow.
Pressing the anus with the left heel and stretching the left leg, take hold of the toes with your hand. Then practice the Jalandhara Bandha (described above), and draw your breath through the susumna (the space behind the navel). Then the kundalini (the sleeping goddess within the internal organs) becomes straight, just as a coiled snake does when struck, and the ida (left nostril) and Pingala (right nostril) become dead because the breath goes out of them. Then the breath should be let out slowly, never quickly.
Having restrained your breath as long as possible, breathe out slowly. Practice first on the left side, then on the right. This is said to stop the upward course of the breath through the nadis (nerves) except susumna (spinal cord), bring about the union of them with the susumna and enable the mind to remain fixed between the two eyebrows. The above two mudras are described as having limited value without a third, called the Maha Vedha.
Draw in your breath with a concentrated mind and stop the upward and downward course of breath by the Jalandhara Bandha. Sitting on the ground with your body on your hands, gently seat and raise yourself repeatedly. Then breathe out. The body assumes a deathlike aspect in this exercise.
This is not likely to appeal to the Westerner seeking beneficial aspects of Yoga. This mudra requires the following preparation: By slight daily cutting, continued for six months, the ligament which holds down the tongue is severed. By repeated pulling, the tongue is made long enough to reach the eyebrows. The mudra is performed by turning the tongue up and in so that it enters the hole in the palate where the three nadis (nerves) join. Simultaneously, the eyes should be fixed firmly between the brows.
Said to give five Siddhis, even to one who lives an ordinary life, along with the amaroli and sahajoli, which are linked with it, this mudra occupies another 20 sutras, or verses, which are almost impossible to translate into English because of their mystic character. The commentary on the Sanskrit text says that they are not to be understood literally. Further, they are incomplete in some points which are left to be filled by verbal instructions from the guru, or Yoga teacher or leader.
Named as the last of the ten mudras, this is described as follows: Having inhaled through the right nostril, the practitioner should retain his breath and “manipulate the kundalini for about an hour and a half, both at morning and evening twilights.” The Sanskrit text states:
“As one forces open the door with a key, so should the Yogi force open the door of moksha (state of bliss) by the kundalini. The kundalini gives Mukti (deliverance) to the Yogis and bondage to the fools. He who knows her, knows Yoga. He who causes that shakti (the kundalini) to move (from the Muladhara in the pelvic region upwards) is freed without a doubt. Between the Ganges (ida) and Jamuna (Pingala) there sits the young widow inspiring pity.
He (the Yogi) should despoil her forcibly, for it leads one to the supreme seat of Vishnu. You should awaken the sleeping serpent (kundalini) by taking told of its tail. Seated in the vajrasena posture, firmly take hold of the ankle and slowly beat with them the Kanda [a something below the navel from which the 72,000 nadis issue].
By moving the kundalini fearlessly for about an hour and a half, she is drawn upwards a little through the susumna,” which process, it is claimed, “surely opens the mouth of the susumna and the breath naturally goes through it.” Whether this effect is produced by manipulation of the kundalini or other means, it seems to be the object primarily aimed at in Hatha Yoga practice.
The eight siddhis are:
- Anima (the power to assimilate oneself with an atom)
- Mahima (the power to expand oneself into space)
- laghima (the power to be as light as cotton or any similar thing)
- Garima (the power to be as heavy as anything)
- prapti (the power of reaching anywhere, even to the moon)
- prakamya (the power of having all wishes, of whatever description, realized)
- isvata (power to create)
- vasvita (power to command all)
And the powerful sayings of the practice of Hatha Yoga, taken in the order of their mention in the texts, are:
- Freedom from death and old age.
- Rejuvenescence and perpetual youth.
- Ability to “do and undo.”
- Exemption from hunger, thirst, and indolence.
- Ability to float on water.
- Attainment of anything in the three worlds.
- Invulnerability of wrinkles and gray hair.
- Removal of wrinkles and gray hair.
- Freedom from the disease.
- Exemption from the effects of Karma.
- Immortality and the eight siddhis named above.
- Power to attract the other sex.
Finally, and beyond the siddhis, comes the grand result of mukti, or emancipation from rebirth, and the conscious junction with Brahman. These powers are certainly all that could be desired; in fact, they stop nothing short of omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, but we must allow for the ever-pervading Eastern hyperbole, and for the mystical superstructure of the ancient Hindu school of physiology.