Pranayama, An Essential Tantric Tool
by Dameron Midgett
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning "lengthening of the prana or breath". The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prana, meaning "life force" or "vital energy", particularly, the breath, and "yama", to lengthen or extend. It is often translated as control of the life force (prana). In a yoga class, pranayama simply refers to breathing exercises or "breath control".
Breath control is at the core of White and Red Tantra and it is an essential tool for knowing inner "stillness" and expanding the heart wide open. Synchronized breathing with a partner is important for connecting energies in sacred expression of oneness. Moreover, the effect of pranayama breathing is to profoundly extend our physical and mental abilities, whether we are managing emotional stress, holding challenging yoga postures (asanas), or expanding pleasure boundaries. "Don't let the dog walk you, learn to walk the dog!"
When you control your breath, you are controlling the flow of your life force. You can learn to inhale and receive the invigorating flow of prana for energizing and healing and to exhale releasing tension and stress from your body and mind. Lung capacity increases through regular practice, and you can take in even more life force. Your breathing becomes slower and fuller. Your heart rate slows. Control of breathing is the portal to changing (managing) your emotional state, and pranayama technique becomes a life-enhancing tool. In response to physical or emotional stress, your respiration rate increases to "panting" as the heartbeat pounds. You can learn to employ pranayama to consciously change your body's emotional "fear" response and associated perceptual narrowing. You can learn to quickly return to your natural state of calm, centered, full-awareness and heart openness. You can learn to return to love.
Lets look at basic three-part breathing. (There are many variations of pranayama and myriad layers of complexity that may be added to basic practices.)
Points to Remember in Three-Part Breathing
1. Inhale and exhale through the nose only*. Breathe with a straight spine when standing, walking, sitting, or lying down. The goal is to have a straight unobstructed pathway for the flow of energy in the body. Draw the breath deeply into the relaxed belly like inflating a beach ball or a "pregnant" belly. Visualize and feel the life force pressing against your pelvic floor. As the pressure builds, feel it energize your root chakra with a tingling or warm sensation. Once the belly is full, feel the solar plexus fill, and lastly, feel the upper chest fill. Fill all three areas sequentially and fully.
2. Experience "now" during respiratory pause in stillness of "not doing" (being). When you exhale, release the prana from top to bottom in reverse order…think of how a glass of water fills from the bottom and pours off the top.
3. Add layers of technique as you progress. Over time, practicing yoga and pranayama will "rewire" your body electric to carry more energetic amperage. Your body will not only look and feel healthier, it will actually increase its capacity to move larger quantities of kundalini enery which opens the pathway of heightened consciousness.
Intentions invite results. The first thing you do when you are born is to inhale to receive life force. Celebrate every inhale with the emotional feeling of YES, as though you were breathing the fragrance of something or someone with whom you feel vibrantly, sensationally, alive. The last thing you do as you die is exhale. In the "now" moment, when death arrives, you surrender every material thing "owned", every worry held, every relationship cherished, every pain, every bliss. Give your exhale the relaxed emotional feeling of I SURRENDER EVERYTHING, of releasing all you are feeling "now".
During respiratory pause, between exhale and inhale, remember to feel the stillness of being "now". Everything happens only in this "now" moment. Nothing happens in the past. Nothing happens in the future. The breath delivers us to the timeless pivotal moment of "now". We are already everything in this moment that we will ever be. Right now is the most important moment of your entire life! Breathe, Relax, Feel, and Witness your thoughts. Allow them without "doing". Accept yourself just as you are.
Guiding question: Who's breathing me? Could I "stop"? Who's breathing me?
Visualization and Microcosmic (Inner) Orbit. Energy follows consciousness. Love is both an emotion and energy. Visualize its movement. As you inhale, imagine you are breathing in a pure white light. As you draw it into your belly, feel the white light move down the front of your body, tracing a line to your belly or perhaps all the way down your legs to your feet, or all the way into the earth. Feel the warmth of it descending, like warm pitcher of honey poured on your head, slowly dripping and running down the front of your body. Follow the descending sensation all the way to your pelvic floor. When you exhale, visualize and feel a purple light rise up your spine from the tip of the sacrum all the way up to the crown of the head. The sensation may feel like champagne bubbles rising up, or the "chill" when someone's fingernails scratch on a chalkboard. It may feel like lightheadedness when you stand up quickly. It may have no feeling at all. Be present and simply experience whatever you feel "now" without judging if you are doing it right or wrong. It may be different from one time to the next. Breathe, visualize the Inner energy orbit, be patient, and accept the gift of yourself just as you are in this moment. Allow yourself to feel thankful for your life and vitality. Do your best to practice in good faith, and results will follow like your shadow.
Tongue Connection. As you feel and visualize energy moving in the inner orbit mentioned above, put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth at the junction of the soft and hard palate. This completes your "Microcosmic orbit", the circular energetic pathway down your front and up your spine. Visualize and feel your life force energy moving around this looped pathway pumped by your breath. As you breathe your microcosmic orbit, feel outward from your heart. Begin by sensing just an inch in front of and behind your heart, and visualize feeling out farther from your body in all directions as though your heart is at the center of an unlimited sphere. Feel your clothes, feel your room, feel your home, feel the earth below, and feel the sky above ad infinitum. This exercise cultivates the ability to open your heart, and to feel your partner's heart, to express love with connection and merge blissfully as one heart. Note: You can move even more energy up your spine, and your partner's spine, by squeezing your "PC" muscle as you exhale. (Many women know this as the Kagle exercise.)
Eyes. Energy is moved by intention. Focus and hold your attention on your intention. This is a practical application of Shiva-Shakti principle, the masculine/feminine building blocks of all that is. Everything is energy directed by consciousness. Here's a tip- Our eyes powerfully direct the flow of our bodys energy whether they are open or closed. Experiment with looking downward during inhale as you visualize prana descending down your belly toward your root chakra, and turn your eyes upward to your third eye (your sixth chakra), as you exhale up your spine. This may help you begin to feel the movement of energy (Chi) in your body.
Yantra Visualization. Each of the seven chakras has an associated sacred symbol called a yantra. Visualizing each of the seven geometric shapes and its associated color stimulates the brain to open that chakra. Visualize each yantra symbol as you are breathing and feeling the "white/purple light" of your inhale/exhale passing through each chakra. This opens the chakras to enable more energy (more feeling) to flow through the body.
Bija Mantra. Each chakra has a Bija Mantra "seed" tone that stimulates that chakra to open. Vocalize each tone while visualizing the associated symbol, while mindfully breathing the inner orbit. Lam is the tone for the Root chakra, Ooo-Mmm (AUM) is the combined tone for the sixth and seventh charkas (Third Eye/Crown). I recommend a brief class of guided instruction to help you begin this practice of pranayama, visualization and vocalization correctly.
Opening Chakras. Chakras are the bodys' energetic centers associated with seven major bioelectric junctions of nerve ganglia or "Nadis" distributed along the length of the spine. The word chakra itself refers to "wheel" or "spinning disc". Our spinning discs of bioelectric energy work much like a computer disc for storing information in our body tissue "hard drive". Simply put, tissues store issues. Opening our charkas with vocalizing and breathing techniques combined with tantric massage helps to release painful energy blockages and stuck negative emotions. Your "erased disc" now has free space for writing currents of pleasant sensation and for storing emotions of self love and worthiness. Tantric practice provides an effective means for sexual healing, through experiencing the light of unconditional love which dispels personal darkness. Sexual healing is the prerequisite of energetic bodily openness for celebrating deep tantric union. (I offer detailed information of sexual healing for women and men during workshops and love coaching sessions.)
Tantra is not about the techniques you "do", it's about entering into a state of unconditional love, presence, and sacred alertness for sharing. Motions, modalities and sexual positions are useful forms that may be memorized, but alone, they are a messenger without a message. Joining your beloved partner in a state of sacred alertness and unconditional love is a spontaneous, fresh and formless gift of healing light delivered from one heart to the other.
Creation life force energy (Universal Chi) ignites the spark of life in the biological realm at conception. Yogic tradition calls this energy Kundalini and likens it un to an energetic snake coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. The purpose of Tantric and kundalini forms of yoga is to awaken this dormant energy and cause it to rise up through each increasingly more subtle charka to the crown of the head where union with pure trans-personal awareness (God) is realized.
Vajrayana and Tantric Buddhist Yoga. According to contemporary Buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku, the heart chakra is essential for feeling human fulfillment. Like a guitar that is out of tune, the result of energetic imbalance between chakras is a continuous feeling of dissatisfaction- no matter how well you "play". If the heart chakra is out of tune, we lose touch with our open harmonious feelings and joyous sensations. This allows unhappiness to grow and leads to looking outside the self for fulfillment. Out-sourcing our happiness and our sense of self worth is the most disempowering choice anyone makes. It disposes us to "victim" mentality and co-dependancy… like a drug dealer and a user. The more we live in our thinking minds (in our "story", our personal drama), the more our feelings become confused with secondary thought interpretations…the thoughts of the wandering mind that are void of primary awareness, sensation, and feeling. If we focus thoughts on memories of past experiences and re-tell our stories to ourselves, energy flows to the head without opening the heart. Without nurturing feelings of the heart (opening the heart chakra AND all the others), anxiety arises from a state of disconnected energetic discord.
Tantrikas learn to breathe together to energetically open their charkas; to vibrate in tune with one another. When we allow our primary awareness to be in the present -without the obstruction of judging thought- energy flows upward between the charkas and we are able to be in contact with our senses and touch our real primary feelings. This is the fertile ground of awakening to self love and living in the present spontaneously "being." This elixir from wellspring of ecstasy is the gift we share with one another in relationship.
Partnerships bloom by holding intentions that invite one's own and a partner's healing; through "giving" with impeccable presence and surrendering "fully present" to receive the healing of a partner's sacred love; through knowing one's worthiness for being loved; and remembering the surest way to "make" love is to give love without expectation...giving and being present with gratitude for what "is".
Namaste means: I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you, which is of Love, of Truth, of Light, and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.
*Breathing through the mouth energizes the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight reflex. Breathing through the nose stimulates the parasympathetic system which has a calming effect. If it is impossible to breathe through your nose, of course, use your mouth, but the Prana effect will not be at its maximum benefit.