Plane of life energy
Prana is élan vital, the life-force itself. In Sanskrit it is synonymous with life and is also the name of the lifebreath we take in with each inhalation. Prana is also the name of one of the five major airs in the body. As body air it is situated in the cavity of the mouth and enables food to pass through into the stomach. It resides normally in the area from the nostrils to the lungs, and its location near the heart preserves life from destruction.
Prana maintains the other elements of the body in balance and controls their function. With the help of prana we are able to move, think, see, and hear. From birth to death prana plays a crucial role in our lives: at birth it is the air that gives energy during delivery; at death it collects all vital energy from the body and flows out, leaving a lifeless corpse behind.
Prana is like a faithful servant, who fulfills all the demands of his master but in return does not demand any reward for his services. Like a true devotee, prana is devoted to the service ot the self, consciousness, twenty-four hours a day. Yet prana is also temperamental. A slight change in the attitude of the master affects his speed and rhythm cycle. A good master, understanding the devotion of his servant, must try to help prana evolve. The methods to accomplish this are called pranayama, one of the most essential yogic disciplines.
In yoga, prana is of primary importance. With the practices of pranayama the yogi directs the flow of prana downward toward the pelvic plexus, where it mixes with apana, the air that resides in the lower intestines. When prana and apana flow together through sushumna, the central passage of the spinal column, to the top of the head, the experience of samadhi takes place — the goal of all yogic practice.
Prana is not to be confused with oxygen. The energy in the gross physical body feeds on oxygen. Prana maintains the existence of the physical body: prana is life. To understand prana, life and consciousness must be seen as distinct from each other. Life is a vehicle through which consciousness manifests, and prana is the energizing force of life. When life ceases, consciousness does not. This is evident from the many well-documented cases of rebirth.
If you are interested in the yogic method to attain samadhi, the ultimate state of bliss and enlightenment, you may wonder how to achieve it through your practice. Samadhi is not something that can be forced or practiced, but rather a spontaneous result of deep meditation and concentration. In this blog post, we will explore what samadhi is, how it is described in different traditions, and what are the steps to prepare yourself for this sublime experience.
What is samadhi?
Samadhi is a Sanskrit word that means "union" or "absorption". It refers to the highest state of consciousness one can achieve through meditation, when the self, the mind, and the object of meditation merge together into one. Samadhi is the eighth and final limb of the ashtanga yoga system described in Patanjali's ancient Yoga Sutra texts. It is also the eighth practice in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, on the way to enlightenment and rebirth.
Samadhi is not a single state, but rather a spectrum of levels and stages that vary in intensity and duration. Depending on the tradition, samadhi can be classified into different types, such as:
- Laja samadhi: This early stage manifests itself as a trance-like state of peace during deep meditation.
- Savikalpa samadhi: In this state, you have the power to control any thoughts without allowing them to affect you. You may experience the feeling of bliss, but you are still aware of the meditation process and cannot completely let go of your consciousness.
- Nirvikalpa samadhi: This is the stage of complete absorption when your body, mind, and object of meditation become one, and your connection to the material world ceases to exist. In some Hindu yoga traditions, this highest state of samadhi is called sahaja samadhi or asamprajnata samadhi.
- The four jhanas: These are four meditative states in Buddhism that correspond to different levels of detachment, calmness, and equanimity.
How to attain samadhi?
Samadhi cannot be attained by mere desire or effort. It is a grace that comes from the cosmic intelligence and transcendent Self behind the core of our being. However, we can prepare ourselves for samadhi by following the steps of the eight limbs of yoga or the Noble Eightfold Path, which include ethical conduct, physical postures, breath control, sensory withdrawal, concentration, and meditation.
One of the key practices to cultivate samadhi is pranayama, or breath control. Pranayama helps to balance and harmonize the vital energy (prana) in our body and mind, which is essential for reaching higher states of consciousness. Pranayama also helps to activate and purify the subtle channels (nadis) through which prana flows in our body. One of these channels is sushumna, which runs along the spine and connects the base chakra (muladhara) with the crown chakra (sahasrara).
According to some yogic texts, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Shiva Samhita, one of the ways to attain samadhi is to let prana and apana flow together through sushumna. Prana is the upward-moving energy that resides in the chest area and governs inhalation. Apana is the downward-moving energy that resides in the lower abdomen and governs exhalation. When these two energies are balanced and united in sushumna, they awaken the dormant spiritual power (kundalini) at the base chakra and make it rise through all the chakras until it reaches the crown chakra. This results in a state of blissful union with the supreme reality.
To achieve this union of prana and apana in sushumna, one needs to practice certain advanced techniques of pranayama under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Some of these techniques are:
- Nadi shodhana: This is also known as alternate nostril breathing. It involves inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other nostril alternately. This helps to purify and balance the nadis and prepare them for sushumna activation.
- Kumbhaka: This is also known as breath retention. It involves holding the breath either after inhalation (antara kumbhaka) or after exhalation (bahya kumbhaka) for a certain period of time. This helps to increase prana in the body and mind and create a state of stillness and concentration.
- Bandhas: These are also known as energy locks. They involve contracting certain muscles or areas in the body to prevent prana from escaping or dissipating. The three main bandhas are mula bandha (root lock), uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock), and jalandhara bandha (throat lock). These help to channel prana upwards through sushumna and stimulate the chakras.
- Mudras: These are also known as gestures or seals. They involve positioning the hands, fingers, tongue, eyes, or other parts of the body in certain ways to create specific effects on the energy flow. Some of the mudras that are related to samadhi are shambhavi mudra (eyebrow center gazing), khechari mudra (tongue curling), and shanmukhi mudra (closing the senses).
Samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga and meditation, a state of blissful union with the supreme reality. It is not something that can be forced or practiced, but rather a spontaneous result of deep meditation and concentration. To prepare ourselves for samadhi, we need to follow the steps of the eight limbs of yoga or the Noble Eightfold Path, which include ethical conduct, physical postures, breath control, sensory withdrawal, concentration, and meditation. One of the key practices to cultivate samadhi is pranayama, or breath control, which helps to balance and harmonize the vital energy (prana) in our body and mind. By letting prana and apana flow together through sushumna, we can awaken the dormant spiritual power (kundalini) at the base chakra and make it rise through all the chakras until it reaches the crown chakra. This results in a state of blissful union with the supreme reality.
If you are interested in learning more about samadhi and how to attain it, you can refer to these sources:
- Samadhi Meditation: A Guide to the Eighth Limb of Yoga
- The 3 Levels of Samadhi
- Samadhi in Yoga
- What is Samadhi and How to Achieve It?