The serious student may well ask at this point:
Is there a prescribed order or program in Tantrik practice? If so, what is the first step?
The answer to such a query is that there is a definite procedure to be followed.
But before considering in detail the preliminary exercises in the disciplina arcani, let us re-examine for a moment the underlying theory of Shaktism.
The thing which immediately distinguishes it from other forms of yoga is that, whereas other schools teach techniques aimed at self-denial and the extinction of sensuous experience, Tantra urges the fullest possible involvement in life.
As Sir John Woodroffe wrote of the sadakha, “he attains liberation, eating the sweet fruits of the world.” Sir John Woodroffe: “Principles of Tantra.”
Such a doctrine should not, however, be mistaken for hedonism.
“He Who Realizes The Truth Of The Body Can Then Come To Know The Truth Of The Universe.”
Tantrism is a goal-directed course of action. The end in view, as previously stated, is the union of the two polar streams of life force – a reintegration that produces spiritual illumination.
Live life and live it more fully, is the admonition of the Shakta canon. Plunge into being with sharpened awareness.
The world is indeed a wedding. In every act of every day, you are either the bridegroom or the bride. You are the strong or the weak, the electric or the magnetic, the lover or the beloved.
And from these marriages, these fecundating unions, comes the renewal of life. By the act of procreation -whether it be physical, mental or spiritual – you are to a degree reborn. Man was born to change. Only thereby can he grow and attain freedom.
In short, for a man attuned to his soul, each rebirth is into a new world of thought and feeling – one of greater reality, greater response to being.
For Tantrism holds that the world is not an illusion, but real. Real flesh experience is the extension of the soul’s purpose. Only in our deeper feelings, only in love, is the divine creative force registered, not in intellection.
Truth therefore, can not be taught; it can only be lived.
It is man’s way to teach. It is God’s way to experience. Teachings are but the substance of other men’s experience, other men’s thoughts, fossilized into permanent beliefs or creeds. They are but tradition made law.
That is the meaning of the passage in the Ratnasara which declares that “he who realizes the truth of the body can then come to know the truth of the universe.”
For that reason, the practice of Tantra yoga starts with the body and its functions. That is the true beginning.
The first objective is to cleanse the principal nadis or astral channels previously described, so that psychic currents may unite and flow through them from the subtle body into the physical body.
Cleansing is achieved by regulation of the breath, a technique known as pranayama. As the term itself implies, the procedure is really aimed at a control of prana. This fact calls for a further explanation. What is prana?
Essentially, prana is nothing more than cosmic energy. It is the sum total of all primal force in the universe, whether in an inert, transitional or in a dynamic state.
It is the tremendous power released from the atom when it is fissioned or fused. It is the unseen, ever-present reality behind all movement, all thinking, willing, doing.
For biological organisms, including man, the most important gross manifestation of prana is breathing. For in the act of breathing, according to the Shastras, we absorb not only oxygen, but also the basic life-force -prana.
When breathing ceases, the body’s polarity undergoes radical change: the positive, electrical forces of the body, in the form of acid, flood into the negative, alkaline of the blood. The body’s mechanism becomes static, ceasing to function. The once-living organism ceases breathing and dies.
It follows that Tantriks, in common with all yogis, attach considerable importance to regulating the breath.
Control the breath, they say, and you can clear the subtle passages of the etheric body and direct life cur-rents through them. In the gross body, the central nervous system is purified and vitalized. Digestion is accelerated. All the five senses are stimulated. The restless, wandering mind is calmed. Living, in all its protean forms, loses its “blur” and becomes more vivid and real. Experience suddenly assumes, as it were, a sharper focus.
In India and Tibet, there are almost as many different methods of breath control as there are gurus. Each teacher usually has developed his own modification of one of the many classical techniques described in the literature.
However, all methods, of whatever kind, are concerned with three phases of the breathing process: in-haling, holding the breath, and exhaling.
These three “moments” of the breath cycle must be harmonized by establishing the correct ratio among them.
Most people breathe irregularly. Their respiration is affected by their state of health, work, smoking, alcohol, nervous tension, and so on.
Such an arrhythmia produces a wandering mind, moods of depression, lowered vitality; in fact, the kind of poor performance to be expected from any mechanism that needs a tune-up.
The Pulse And Rhythm Of Nature
Wherever we look in nature, we find definite pulse and rhythm. The stars and planets in their courses, the seasons of the year, the migrations of birds and fish-each has its own predetermined cycle. Without such order and rhythm, creation would end in chaos.
Man, too, has his cycles, not only as time of life (infancy, youth, middle age, and autumn years), but also biological cycles. The latter involve physical stamina, power of concentration, intuition, and memory.
Some years ago, a German physician, Dr. William Fliess, began to wonder why a fever would suddenly come upon a patient and just as suddenly disappear. He initiated a close study of case histories in which this phenomenon was present. Gradually he came to the conclusion that these abrupt onsets and abatements followed a predictable cycle.
In fact, further research enabled him to determine the kind and duration of the basic biological cycles of man. He concluded that there are three distinct kinds of rhythm. One, he said, is a masculine cycle of 23 days’ duration, which controls energy, aggressiveness, spirit of adventure, fighting instinct, physical strength and confidence.
Another periodicity, feminine in character, lasting 28 days, controls the intuition, feelings, moodiness, creative ability, artistic expression, and social sense.
A third cycle of 33 days, Dr. Fliess termed the intellectual rhythm, having faculties of both sexes: logic, memory, ambition, mental alertness, and concentration.
The German researcher gave the name biorhythm to these cycles, but students of Tantra will find in the general premise and description of the cycles a restatement of the agamas.
The qualities of the masculine cycle, for example, are precisely those of the pingala or sun breath. The feminine faculties are those of the ida or moon breath. And the intellectual cycle closely parallels the yogic sushum-na flow, through the central spinal canal.
Indeed, in reporting the work of Dr. Fliess and his research associates, another writer declares:
“The gist of the problem lies in the bisexuality of man. The cell cycle – i.e., the discharge and regenerative period of the cell – is determined by the reciprocal action of male and female substances. Everyone is already familiar with one manifestation of this complex intrinsic process: the rhythmic ebb and flow of vitality.” Hans J. Wernli: “Biorhythm.”
In learning breath control, the first requirement is to determine your individual rhythmic pulse as it is re-lated to the pulsations of the earth.
The ratio of inhalation to exhalation and retention of breath varies from person to person and among different states of consciousness within the same person.
The average man normally takes fifteen breaths a minute, or 21,600 during each 24-hour period.
By speeding up or slowing down that respiratory rate, important changes, both physical and mental, occur.
Quick, shallow breathing is associated with excitement, anger, lust, alcohol, and so on. Yogis say that continuous rapid breathing produces a measure of anesthesia owing to the fact that the ego is forced partly out of the gross body into the subtle envelope (called kosha).
Prolonged rapid breathing (twenty to thirty breaths per minute) also produces heart palpitation and vertigo. More than one practicing physician has been awakened in the middle of the night by a patient who had suddenly awakened after a period of quick breathing in his sleep, and had imagined he was having a heart attack.
In such cases, it requires great persuasion and patience on the doctor’s part to reassure the patient and to explain that the thudding of his heart was brought on by hyperventilation and not by a heart attack.
Tantriks establish telepathic connection with any person whose thoughts they wish to control by noting the respiratory rate of that person. The number of breaths per minute is clearly evident in the rising and falling of the person’s chest, as his diaphragm contracts and expands.
The yogi begins breathing at the same rate as that of the person he wishes to reach. Within a short time, he establishes rapport with the other’s inner consciousness and can mentally direct him.
Once “tuned in,” the yogi can speed up or slow down the other person’s breathing to produce whatever vi-bratory rate or state of consciousness may be desired.
“Brothers Of The Shadows”
In passing, it should be pointed out that knowledge of this technique may be a dangerous blade that cuts two ways. The person whose breath cycle is being changed may be led into the deeper, slower rhythms of universal harmony and higher thoughts. On the other hand, he may be drawn downward into a state of restlessness, nervous euphoria, and sexual excitement.
Amongst those Tantriks who are called “brothers of the shadow,” this insidious secret is sometimes used to achieve immoral ends.
Seven Distinct Breath Cycles
Let us return, however, to the problem of determining one’s own breath cycle.
Unfortunately, there is no precise rule of thumb for accomplishing this. The determination has to be made empirically.
After a little experimenting, the student should be able to find the rhythm and posture most natural and comfortable for him.
Secret Tantrik tradition teaches that there are seven distinct breaths, just as there are seven colors or rays of light in the spectrum, seven days of the week, seven planes of existence, and so on.
Accordingly, there are seven breathing techniques for the aspirant to practice in the preparatory stages of his sadhana.
Each exercise is practiced for a prescribed period of time before the aspirant proceeds to the next discipline. In India, where the pace of living is slower than it is in the West, the student practices at more frequent intervals and for a longer period of time than is practical for the occidental Sadhaka.
The more patience and dedication the student displays in laying the foundation of his yoga, the more satisfactory will be the results.
When practicing, it is not necessary for the Western student to torture his limbs into difficult asanas originally devised for people of a different culture – people who sit cross-legged most of their lives.
To be sure, some occidentals find that the postures described in books on Hatha Yoga come natural to them. For this fortunate, but small minority, the various yogic asanas may be assumed to good advantage, and without detracting from the more important phases of Tantrik sadhana.
For others, it is only necessary to assume a posture which is comfortable and which will hold the spine straight; and the chest, neck and head in a straight line.
This may be accomplished by sitting in a firm chair in the attitude seen in sculptures of the ancient gods of Egypt.
In this stance, the heels should be placed about three inches apart, and the feet set at an angle to form a V.
When possible, the student faces a prescribed direction, depending usually upon the time of his practice. In the morning hours, he faces East; at noon, South; in the evening, West; and at midnight, due North.
After assuming a comfortable posture, as described above, try to relax for a moment, and to empty the mind of cares and vexing trivia of the day.
Then exhale all the air in the lungs, drawing in the abdominal muscles to force out the residual air, which your customary shallow breathing allows to remain in the lungs.
Refill your lungs, drawing the air in very slowly, as you count up to seven. At that point, pause for a count of one, then again exhale slowly to the count of seven.
Repeat this cycle of 7:1:7 at least twelve times to clear the nasal passages and thus to make the next step in Tantrik methodology easier to perform.
Once the breath is flowing easily and rhythmically, inhale deeply (through both nostrils) and hold the breath in the mouth. Force it against the cheeks, making them bulge out. Hold the breath this way as long as possible without discomfort. Then expel the breath quickly and explosively through the mouth.
During the intake of air, mentally repeat the syllable OM, and imagine that the breath flowing into your body carries with it a stream of cosmic life-force or prana, as indeed it does.
Further think of this vital current as circulating through the nadis or psychic channels of your subtle body and into the gross form, energizing every cell of your body.
The second breath, to be learned only after the first is fully mastered, is acquired as follows:
Go for a solitary walk, preferably in the open country or through a park, mountains, desert, woods, or along a seashore – where the air is fresh and unpolluted by industrial wastes.
As you stroll along, fully relaxed, inhale through both nostrils to the count of seven, as in the previous exercise. But this time, instead of holding the breath for one count, retain the breath for two counts. Then exhale to the count of seven once more – through the mouth. Hold the breath outside, that is, keep the lungs empty, for a count of two.
Repeat this breath cycle twelve times. After practicing it twice a day for three days, gradually increase the ratio from 7-2-7-2 to 10-5-10-5. That is, inhale through the nostrils to the count of ten; retain the breath for five counts; exhale to the count of ten; then hold the breath outside for five counts.
The third breath is sometimes called by Tantrik teachers the “measuring spoon” breath, owing to the manner in which the air is inhaled. The exercise is performed as follows:
With the lips parted slightly, as though about to pronounce the syllable “00,” inhale through the mouth in seven small draughts. Then swallow. Exhale through both nostrils to the count of seven. Repeat the cycle twenty-four times morning and evening for a week.
Man’s fourth breath is known in India as the Lion Breath. It is executed thus:
Inhale through both nostrils to the count of four, or until the lungs are half filled. Then, retaining the breath, curl the tongue backward against the roof of the mouth, and emit a deep, growling sound: “Grrrrrr!”
The fifth breath should be effected in the open air, or near an open window. Purse the lips (and perhaps whistle the first few bars of a lively, familiar song). Then, keeping the lips in their puckered, whistling position, inhale slowly through the mouth to the count of seven. Pause for a single count, and exhale gently through both nostrils to the count of seven. Repeat the cycle six times. Practice this exercise morning and noonday.
The sixth breath is called the Serpent Breath, and is performed in this way:
With the tongue between the lips and protruding slightly, inhale through the mouth with a hissing sound. When the lungs are filled, hold the breath as long as it is comfortable to do so, then exhale slowly and uniformly through both nostrils. Repeat this pranayama five times in the morning and at noon and in the evening.
After practicing this exercise for two weeks, pass on to the seventh and final breath. First, exhale completely by drawing in the abdominal muscles to force the residual air from your lungs.
Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and slowly inhale through the left nostril. Do not over inflate your lungs. When filled to comfortable capacity, close also the left nostril.
(In India, the yogis have a prescribed method for closing the respective nostrils in pranayama. The index and middle fingers are folded downward into the palm, and the remaining two fingers are placed over the left nostril, while the thumb is used to close the right nostril. However, you may use whatever finger seems most natural to you.)
When you have filled your lungs and closed off both nostrils, hold the breath inside your lungs as long as possible without discomfort. When you first start to practice, the period of retention will not be long, but it will increase as you proceed, until you discover for yourself the kumbhak (interval of restraint) that belongs to your individual pranic rhythm.
When you begin to feel ill at ease, or a sense of suffocation, open the right nostril and, keeping the left closed, slowly exhale.
These three phases – inhalation (called purak), retention (kumbhak), and exhalation (rechak) constitute one complete cycle of breath control.
Repeat the cycle five times at each session during the first days of your practice. Then gradually increase the number to twelve.
This pranayama can be safely practiced several times a day if you are fortunate enough to have the time and privacy for it. Otherwise, once a day (morning or evening) will suffice.
You will feel, after each session, the results of your practice. The electro-magnetic pulses that flow through your entire body will calm and steady your mind, relax the muscles, and purify the blood stream.
These exercises constitute the first step in Tantrik methodology for the Western aspirant. Practice them for a minimum period of six weeks before going on to the more advanced exercises.