Raja Yoga Insights #14

Session 14 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus on Energy Anatomy (Part II) and the Bandhas.

Note:
Ananda’s Raja Yoga course covers more than I have described here. These are my personal highlights — the things that were, for me, either new, especially interesting, or especially illuminating. As they mention in the very first session, what they teach in this course is not unique to Ananda. Raja Yoga is an ancient science that belongs to the world. It is the “kingly” (raja) Yoga in that sense that it spans many different branches of Yoga practice — organizing them and devoting resources (your time and energy) to each in turn, for the good of the whole (you).

This is filler text, added to make room for the Series Index so it doesn’t overlap the table of contents for this post. In future, it will include a link to a list of suggestions and corrections that I believe can help to improve an already exceptional course.

Initial Insights

Temple Dream

Another waking dream. They happen from time to time. I love them. In this one, I am inspired to create a temple, after talking to my martial arts master, Dr. Tae Yun Kim. I recorded it here.

Bandha Sequence

This comes from a paper on the web by Olga Kabel that was handed out during the practicum, last week. It’s intriguing. It’s worth bearing in mind the Energy Work Caution from Session #10,  but it’s going to be worth experimenting with, if only to figure out where the Orbital Lift fits in the sequence. (It’s not a sequence I have seen before, and it looks to be pretty powerful, so I’m grateful for the tip!)

  1. Inhale: Lengthen up through the spine.
  2. Hold the breath: Displace the head slightly backward and lower the chin (jalandhara bandha).
  3. Exhale: Gradually pull the abdomen in from the pubic bone to the sternum.
  4. Hold the breath: Keep pulling the belly in and up (uddiyana bandha).
  5. While still holding the breath out: Engage and lift the pelvic floor muscles and maintain this contraction for the duration of the practice (mula bandha).
  6. On the next inhalation release jalandhara bandha and uddiyana bandha and then continue with the same cycle as above. Repeat for at least 12 cycles.

She goes on to provide these cautions, as well:

  • You need adequate preparation before you can begin bandha practice, both over time and within a single session.
  • It’s important to learn this from an experienced teacher, rather than launching into it on your own.
  • Traditionally, you would work toward a classic 10:10:10:10 breath ratio before you could begin the bandha work (inhale for 10 seconds, hold 10 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds, hold 10 seconds and maintain that ratio for 12 breaths comfortably).

Seems like good advice. I know I can do the suggested breath ratio. It will be interesting to see if I can do it 12 times in a row. It is also interesting that you need to prepare yourself at the start of the practice (perhaps by performing that breath ratio a couple of times?) as well as prior to attempting it.

Even more interesting, perhaps, were the reasons given for the practice:

Yogis say that when we are born there is the nectar of life (amrta) contained in the “lake of the mind” located in the head. In the newborn it’s full. If you look in the eyes of a young child, you will see that glow. At puberty, a large quantity of this essence moves down to the region of genitals, and we become fertile. The rest of amrta drips down slowly being consumed in the fire in the navel region. Once all of the nectar is gone, the life ends.

That’s fairly interesting, because I’ve never heard of any yogis talking about the “lake of the mind“. But there is an interesting cavity there, right in the vicinity of the pineal gland. And I believe it is filled with fluid, too!

At the same time, there is the kunda gland (called the coccygeal body, these days) at the base of the spine. Also a storehouse of energy. Since the base of the skull and the base of the spine evolved pretty much from the same cell, pretty much from day one, there is every reason to think that the “nectar of life” and “kundalini energy” are one and the same.

She goes on:

Below the fire is the place where impurities accumulate over time. Those impurities clog our systems and prevent prana from entering the central channel (sushumna nadi). So it is advisable to clear out those impurities. How do we do that? We lift them up using mula bandha (contraction of the pelvic floor muscles), and then we hold them close to the fire by engaging uddiyana bandha (abdominal contraction and lift). As a result, the impurities are reduced to ashes, amrta evaporates from them and rises up to replenish the lake of the mind; and you engage jalandhara bandha (lowering the chin) to preserve that essence, preventing it from dripping down.

Like I said. Interesting!

Resources

  • Enlivening the Body’s Subtle Energy with Mula Bandha
    The article at YogaU Online that provided the instructions above.
  • Subtle Yoga: Opening to the Wordless Experience of the Extended Body-Mind
    This article came up as the second item in the search I did on “enlivening the body’s subtle energy”. It’s an interview of Kristine Kaoverii Weber, who teaches a system she calls Subtle Yoga — a rather nice term, I think, for a practice that is based on “traditional Tantric writings about the sacred energy centers of the body”.

    • That’s relevant, because what I’ll call “Tantric science” is the source for energy-flow work.
      (Even the Raja Yoga book points out that what we know about chakras and practices for working with them come from Tantra!)
    • Since I’ve already found that “Subtle” is the best way to distinguish interior-practices from other more well-known versions (Subtle Yogic Breath, Subtle Perineal Lift), I have to agree that calling it “Subtle Yoga” is nothing less than inspired!
  • Journey Through the Chakras – Working with the Subtle Body In Yoga
    Kristine’s online course. $127 for “four 1-hour sessions, plus Yoga Practice video”, with these items listed as a “bonus”: 2 practice videos (presumably, only one is a “bonus”), recordings of both webinars (what webinars?), transcripts of both webinars.

    • Clearly, YogaU Online does not lack for marketing savvy. (I can only envy that!) Listing things you’re getting anyway as a “bonus” is sheer genius. I know what they’re doing and I still feel like I’m getting a deal.
    • $127 still seems like a lot though. Especially since the 2 webinars are described as “yours to keep”. Which means the others aren’t? (Depending on how they’re delivered, it might or might not be possible to do so. I’ll query to see if they can be accessed over time. It’s a registration-site, so presumably it would be possible!)

Resiliency, Body-Mind

From the Journey through the Chakras article mentioned above:

Resiliency is our ability to switch into parasympathetic functioning and return to homeostasis. Really, being able to come back to a “chill” state where you are able to attend to whatever is coming at you. Your heart rate and breathing rate can raise as you need them to in order to respond, but resiliency is your ability to go back. And that is a skill, and a process that’s affected by the whole physiology: not just the mind, but hormones, time of life, etc. And yoga (asanas, meditation, pranayama) gives us a way to cultivate that.

I find this intriguing. It brings to mind my experiences playing tournament pool, where I was raised to a “heightened state” that made me more precise, more accurate, but at the same time more nervous and anxious! The ability to control that state would be pretty nice!

As Johnny Miller used to say, you have to learn to win — because when you’re in a position to win, it affects you in ways you have to learn to deal with! (So I need to get back to playing pool, if only for the practice! And I need to do more of this subtle energy work!)

The interview goes on:

The chakras are an incredibly complex system, and there’s so much depth there. Neuroscience speaks about it by showing us how the mind is in the body, and not just in the brain….(With the chakras, the Yogis) gave us a map of the mind….and they also gave us a developmental map of human psychology. I have a very different perspective on the chakra system that what’s out there: it’s … about how you work on yourself.

You go, girl! Right on. (And it’s great to see modern science once again catching up to what was known 10,000 years ago.)

Finally:

The yogis understood these energy centers as having petals around them, or vritis. There are 50 main vritis in the chakra system, and each of these petals has a different quality to it. These qualities are tendencies of the mind. And that’s why we can say these chakras provide a map of the mind.

Now, that’s fascinating. Last week’s Raja Yoga talk described vritis as little energy vortexes created by desires: We want this, we want to do that, etc. So they’re small “energy sucks” that consume whatever energy there is in the system, leaving less for whatever happens to be the task at hand.

In that talk, the point of “raising kundalini” was to, in effect, flush the river clear of debris. But if those 50 petals do have identifiable characteristics, it does present the possibility that people have quite a lot in common, and that there really is a “map” that can be followed for human development. (As I said, intriguing!)

Overtraining Solution

The next session is tonight, after a week off for Thanksgiving. Just in time! I’ve been feeling low the last few days.

I’m pretty sure this episode is down to overtraining. I’ve been doing a lot of exercising recently, to work out the details of the meditation/exercise program and figure out the timing. Having been doing a bit of cardio as well. After ramping up to a full schedule the last 3 or 4 weeks, it finally caught up to me.

Fortunately, I found a solution: 1 week off out of every 3! That program was recommended “for elite athletes” by a Brazilian jump coach. But the same day I saw an article that mentioned that, I saw a YouTube video by an NFL prospect who was doing a lot of plyometric jump training, and he kept going on about how the workouts didn’t phase him in the least!

So it’s pretty clear that down here at the lower levels, we are working much harder than elite athletes, even though we are doing less. If 2 weeks on, 1 week off works for them, it should work for me, as well.

God knows, every time I’ve gotten serious about training, I’ve hit that brick wall head on after 5 weeks or so. Every — daggone — time. Maybe that program will give me some much needed longevity.

At any rate, it’s been 3-1/2 days since my last real workout, and I’m finally starting to feel energetic again! (The meditation program continues, but with a lot less in the way of isometrics and asanas!)

Thu, 30 Nov: Session #14 – Energy Anatomy II / Bandhas

Great Yoga Session

Sneha led the Yoga session this evening. She calls her practice “Stillness and Strength”. Great title for it. She warned us that she likes to hold poses longer than normal, and encouraged us to back out to an easier version when we felt the need, or just get into a rest position. (I love the way Ananda teaches Yoga!)

There wasn’t quite enough time between poses to dwell in the energy sensations (so I took extra time to do so!) But the extra time in the poses was sensational. It gave me time to do the Tense/Relax technique, and in general was tremendous for generating energy flows.

But there is perhaps no better indication of how good the practice was than the fantastic meditation I had afterward. (Then too, I had noticed my energy dwindling in the 2nd week following the last Raja class. So clearly I was in need of the recharge!)

Bridge Pose = Sneaky Jalandhara!

While we were doing the Bridge Pose, it occurred to me that it was a sneaky way of getting people to do Jalandhara Bandha, without realizing it! :__)

That was interesting observation, considering the fact that the practicum covered that technique later on, with great effect. (As I write, I have to wonder whether it was planned that way. I would not be surprised. The sequencing has been so superb that I would not be at all surprised if this asana, as well as many others, was chosen as preparation for the subjects to come!)

“Everyguru”

One indication that the Yoga session was terrific was the great meditation session that followed! Of course, after a week off for Thanksgiving, I was ready. I really missed it! (Thanksgiving at the Ananda center was terrific, but it wasn’t the same as a class!)

As I sat in meditation this time, I became aware of how, even though I have things to teach, there is so much more I have to learn!

I was trying to find the knife-edge balance between the confidence of knowing that I can suggest improvements to the existing program, and at the same recognizing that I am learning much more than that. So what I’m getting is something like 10 times more than what I have to give!

Searching for that balance, what occurred to me was something that could be applied throughout the day, in all phases of life.

You’ve heard about “everyman” — the archetypical average person. Well, I present to you the “everyguru”, as identified by two important questions to ask yourself, for everyone you meet:

  1. In what way is this person my guru? 
    (I know they have something to teach me. What is it?)
  2. In what manner can I bow to this person?
    (How can I show deep respect, in a culturally acceptable manner — and it way that is acceptable to this person, who may not even realize that in this moment, they are my guru.)

Characteristics of the Retained Breath

In meditation, the following insight occurred to me:

  • Retention after inhalation = physical energy.
    • On a physical level, there is more time for carbon dioxide in the lung cells to be exchanged with oxygen in the breath.
    • A more complete exchange occurs, and more physical energy results.
  • “Retention” after exhalation = spiritual energy.
    • As mentioned in installment #6, Energy Enters Between Breaths., and from #5 the Golden Healing Light (aka healing energy) enters at the Mouth of God (medulla).
    • This observation reflects a questions I’ve been asking since very early in the session sequence, after I read about the healing energy. The question was: “When does the energy enter? Is it synchronized with the breath?
    • Because, after all, if energy is traveling up Ida when you inhale, and down Pingala when you exhale, when does that universe energy enter?
    • In meditations since then, it has come to me that it enters during the pause after exhaling!
    • For what it’s worth, ever since childhood, for as long as I can remember, I have found it easier to refrain from breathing after exhaling. I’m not sure if that’s true for everyone. But I always had a spiritual bent, as a lad — goaded by religious indoctrination that was helpful in some ways, damaging in others. (I particularly recall one fight I managed to win. I felt badly about it for a week. Getting beaten up only hurt for a day or two. Winning hurt more.)

Spiritual Energy and Physical Energy

The talk on energy anatomy contained a great slide. It showed spiritual energy (life force) arriving in the body at the medulla. It was described as “the inner source of sustaining the body battery”, and shown “entering” at the medulla. (But since it is the inner source, perhaps it is more accurate to say the energy arrives there, as though from an external dimension, rather than saying it “enters” there, as though from this one.)

Oxygen, solids, liquids, and sunshine, meanwhile, were described as “the outer source sustaining the body battery”.

Nice slide! Not in the Raja Yoga book, either. (It’s something Rammurti put together, I think.) And it dovetails nicely with my thoughts above on the Characteristics of the Retained Breath.

AUM 3x At Each Chakra

One energy-flow activation technique that was mentioned in the lecture, but not practiced, was to chant AUM three times into each chakra.

Navi Kriya

Another energy-flow activation technique mentioned in the practicum was Navi Kriya, which can be found on the web and in another of Kriyananda’s books, Awaken to Superconsciousness.

This description from the web page, Lesson 275 Navi Kriya – The Middle Way, is particularly good:

Navi kriya is the process of making the abdominal lift dynamic between the navel and the area of the inner spine that is right behind the solar plexus (all the way back behind the hollow at the bottom/center of the ribs). The diaphragm is in this area too, so navi kriya can also be viewed as pulling the navel repeatedly up toward the back of the diaphragm in a gentle rhythmic cycle. Starting out, we can try this with breath expelled, as in uddiyana during asanas. Later on we will find we can do navi kriya either with air expelled, or when full with air in internal kumbhaka, or even when we are breathing normally. Whenever we do it, it is a gentle pulling in and up of the navel with the diaphragm, over and over. Good navi kriya will feel like it is all going right up behind our heart, and beyond.

So it is a “dynamic abdominal lift” — or mini-Uddiyana Bandha. That description sounds a lot like a pulsing version of the Perineal Lift and the Orbital Lift! And like those techniques, it’s something that can be done all day long!

Jalandhara Bandha, done “Right”

By “right”, of course, I mean done in a manner that I find particularly effective. Your mileage may vary, but I found that following the instructions given in tonight’s practicum made all the difference. For me, this bit of instruction was one more thing that was “worth the price of admission” to this excellent course:

  1. Keep the chest up and back straight.
    • It’s possible to lower the chin by sinking and rounding the shoulders. You can even find pictures of it like that on the web. But it’s not at all effective.
    • The idea is to pinch off the flow of energy in the spine and to activate the medulla. Done right, both are achieved. Sinking the chest and rounding the shoulders does neither.
  2. To start, pull the head up and back.
    • This movement makes it easier to achieve the goal (next) of getting the chin to the notch in the breastbone.
    • Even this initial movement lengthens the back of the neck, stretching the medulla in the process.
  3. Tuck the chin into the notch at the top of the breastbone (the clavicle).
    • To get it that there, it helps to lift the head up and back a bit.
    • For many of us, “getting close” is the best we can manage. But that’s ok. It’s still effective. (But it will become more of a “lock” when we can tuck it in right there.)
    • To achieve that position, you need to lengthen the back of the neck, as in step 2.
    • But that movement also stretches the medulla! (Coincidence? I think not. In fact, that stretching movement activates the medulla.)
    • “Lengthen the back of the neck”, of course, is also one of the instructions that was given when sitting for meditation in session #4 (Back of the Neck Long).
    • That position also pinches off the “energy stream” quite nicely — something that simply lowering the head does not do.
  4. When you lift, tilt the head back, lifting the chin up past horizontal.
    • This was the most powerful bit of all. It made a huge difference.
    • When I lifted up, I felt a nice little energy surge into the skull.
    • In addition to the energy flow I felt, I observed that the tilt stretched the medulla in the opposite direction — possibly contracting it or bending it in the process.
    • In any case, it activated the medulla. And it worked. It felt like nothing less the peizoelectric crystal (a quartz crystal that generates a pulse of electricity when you compress, bend, or stretch it).

The small energy surge I felt after lifting the Bandha was the first time ever, for this particular technique. Usually, it’s just something I do as part of Maha Bandha, without feeling anything in particular. But tonight, it became an energy practice in its own right! (In fact, I now recommend it as a prelude to Maha Bandha.)

Three Bandhas? Four?

My first observation/question is that if “dhara” means “energy lifting upward”, as mentioned in the Raja Yoga book, then why does Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock) contain that term, while it is noticeably absent from and Moola Bandha (root lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (diaphragm lock)?

(A quick search on the web for “dhara” in Sanskrit produced nothing useful, so perhaps it is a misunderstanding that was printed in the book?)

At any rate, I was compelled to mention that there is a fourth Bandha! (Had to, since it was this very sequence of classes that brought it to my attention!) That Bandha is none other than the Orbital Lift.

That powerful technique is totally equivalent to Moola Bandha, in respect to the fact that it is a mild muscle tension that produces an energy action — one that is “locked” in place simply by holding the tension!

Of course, there is also the heart lift. And every other chakra can be “lifted”, as well. In fact, lifting each of them in turn seems help promote the upward movement of energy! We’ll have more to say on that in a moment. But the Orbital Lift is the one that adds the most.

Finding the Spiritual Eye

Once again, people in meditation were instructed to put their attention on “the point between the eyebrows”. I asked about that, because even the Raja Yoga book says to gaze out 3 feet away.

I asked about that, and the response was that we tell people to look there, so they don’t go cross-eyed, but that the real point was between the eyebrows.

I then mentioned that I feel the most effect when I lift straight up! The response was gratifying, “If that’s where you feel it, than that is where it is located, for you”.

That was cool. At least my personal sensations were validated. But it still strikes me that the “point between the eyebrows” is still a highly inaccurate instruction that has misled millions of seekers for many lifetimes!

In fact, it turns out that the Raja Yoga book says things rather nicely, on page 156 (with emphasis added):

When you sit for meditation, look up toward the point between the eyebrows. I don’t mean to cross your eyes, but only to direct your gaze upwards, focusing them at a point no closer than your thumb when held at arm’s length from your body. You might think of the eyes as being situated only in the upper part of their sockets.

That last part is particularly instructive: “Think of the eyes as being situated only in the upper part of their sockets.” That is huge! Because that is the Orbital Lift. That’s something I missed, the first 10 times I read it, but it is completely and utterly descriptive.

Note too, that when your “eyes are in the upper part of their sockets”, it doesn’t matter which way they’re pointed, or how far the cornea is tensed to establish the point of focus. What matters is that the eyes are in the upper part of their sockets!

And that is the Orbital Lift.

So instructions to “focus at the point between the eyebrows” are, to my mind, sadly misleading!

Maha Bandha, done “Right”

Once again, by “right” I mean “done in way that works, for me”. In this case, though, there is plenty of room for variations.

Maha Bandha, or the “Great Bandha” is composed of 3 bandhas: Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock), Uddiyana Banda (diaphragm lock), and Moola Bandha (root lock).

Since there are multiple components, there are multiple sequences you can use to apply them. There is also the matter of whether you inhale or exhale when you do them. (It was reported that Kriyananda states somewhere that the bandhas are done in different ways, and that you should use the technique that works for you. This is the one that works for me.)

  1. Moola Bandha after exhaling.
    • Again, there are multiple ways to do it in combination with the breath. Use the one that works for you.
    • I was impressed, though, that Sita taught it the same way I have found it most effective for me, after exhaling.
    • Done that way, I feel a nice little energy surge traveling up the spine after I release it. Done after an inhale — well, not so much.
    • As for why it works so well, consider my earlier comments on Characteristics of the Retained Breath. If spiritual energy indeed enters after exhaling, then Moola Bandha at that time pushes it up the spine!
  2. Sequence: Top Down, then Bottom Up
    • Again, the sequence that works for you might differ, but the sequence that works for Sita is very close to the one that works best for me. (We tried it a couple of different ways. Hers gave me the strongest pulse.)
    • In her version, Jalandhara goes in after you start exhaling. Then Uddiyana Bandha, then Muladhara. When you release, you release them in the opposite sequence.
    • I found the bottom-to-top release sequence to be quite a bit more effective than the (equally plausible) top-to-bottom sequence. But I did wonder whether a simultaneous release would work. Her response to the question was illuminating:
      • “When the energy at muladhara rises up, it comes up as far as Uddiyana Bandha, and allows impurities to be burned away in the fire!”
      • I note that, in effect, the energy gets to sit and build at the  Vishnu Granthi (psychic energy knot) that lies just below the heart, bathing it in energy, before moving upward.
      • At that point, it arrives at the medulla, where it can bathe the Rudra Granthi that lies just below the Ajna chakra, or spiritual eye.
      • In each case, a major granthi (knot) is said to be just above the point where the energy gathers, which allows it shine more brightly on that spot!
      • Learn more: Untying the Knots that Bind Us
    • Note that this sequence differs only slightly from the Bandha Sequence I found on the web (described earlier). The differences are:
      • Sita put in Jalandhara Bandha after she started exhaling. (She seemed to put it in pretty early in the exhalation, rather than at the end or afterward.)
      • Sita reversed the sequence coming up, so Moola Bandha is reversed first, then Uddiyana Bandha. As mentioned above, that sequence works rather nicely!

Putting the sequences together, and adding my Orbital Lifts and other practices, I come up with this:

  1. Pulse Aswini mudra a few times.
    • This does seem to active the kunda gland. Quite nicely!
    • (That gland was relabeled by today’s science to the “coccygeal body”, because they haven’t been able to figure out what it’s for.)
  2. As you inhale, put in the Subtle Perineal Lift.
    • Moves the focus of activity from the rear to the center, and slightly upward towards the bottom of the spine.
    • Encourages and upward movement of the energy.
  3. Put in the heart lift to encourage it to rise up to the chest.
  4. As you retain the breath, put in the Orbital Lift to encourage it the rest of the way up.
  5. When you feel the last of the energy arrive, put in Jalandhara and release Moola Bandha.
    • Maximum energy has now lifted up. The “lock” holds it in place.
    • There is no need for Moola Bandha, at this point.
  6. When you’re done holding, begin exhaling.
  7. When you finish exhaling, put in Uddiyana Bandha and Mooladhara Bandha, in quick succession.
    • Sequence doesn’t matter that much, for these two.
    • Near-simultaneous works about as well as sequentially, as far as I can tell. (But perhaps you will notice a difference.)
  8. When you’re finishing holding, release Moola Bandha first.
    • The energy that has gathered there moves up to the solar plexus and “burns away impurities”, or “dissolves blockages”, or “shines through the granthi”, in whichever way you perceive it.
  9. Then release Uddiyana Bandha.
    • So the energy travels further up, to just below Jalandhara.
  10. Finally, release Jalandhara Bandha.
    • The energy travels the rest of the way up!
    • It is, literally, enlightening.
  11. Deeply inhale, hold comfortably, and slowly exhale.
    • As you inhale, let chest, heart and head expand naturally, without conscious effort.
    • Hold naturally, as well. Without effort or strain, while remaining at ease.
    • When ready, exhale slowly.
  12. Breathe and Perceive. Meditate.
    • Relax. Breathe. Perceive the energy sensations. Dwell in the energy flows.
    • In the session, Maha Bandha was said to be superb for stilling the mind. It just gets quiet!
    • Like Kapalbhati, it’s also energizing — as in, energy flows up the spine to the skull. So it is equally conducive to meditation.
    • The advice Swami Asanganand gave for the pranayama practice is therefore fantastically appropriate here: “Pause in stillness. When your mind becomes active again, repeat the practice.”

Note:
I keep waffling on whether Moola Bandha goes in and stays in after inhaling, or whether to release it and put it in again after exhaling. More experimentation is needed!

Continuing Insights

Life is Like a Pachinko Wall

You’ve seen the ball bouncing down a wall of pegs, flitting this way and that until at the end, it reaches a random spot at the bottom. In my estimation, life is a lot like that.

Of course, the good news is that we can exert a degree of choice in the matter — but we can’t determine where the pegs are placed! And until we realize that and develop our capacity for exercising the choices we have, we’re nothing so much as proverbial ping-pong ball in the Pachinko Wall of Life. (It may be, too, that some parts of the wall have fewer pegs than other parts! If so, and we are attuned to inner guidance that can see the wall in its entirety, then perhaps we can follow that guidance by shifting the direction we’re falling, so that when bounce off the next peg, we get closer to that part of the wall!)

These thoughts were precipitated by the lecture, during which I heard once again that we chose our life. To my mind, we chose where we would start. But after that, a lot of randomness kicks in!

For example, if we believe I had any choice at all, then we believe I chose to be born in San Francisco. (I’m happy to believe that. It’s a great place for the spiritual seeker!) But how was I to know that at the age of 3, I would be moved to a location at the other end of the continent, and at the other end of the spirituality continuum!

That place was upper New Jersey, not far from Newark. True, I learned a lot from that experience. But it was painful. And I came out of it with no confidence to speak of. (I was both overly confident of abilities I did not possess, and at the same totally unaware of real strengths and abilities I did have.)

So I find it easy to accept that I chose to be born in San Francisco, and that I chose my parents. But how could I know that they would be divorced three years later, and that my mother would move me clear across the country.

To me, “not being a victim” in all this means choosing “how I bounce” (internally) after hitting that particular peg. It does not mean, that I chose to be where I am today! It means that where I am today is a result of incorrect choices, as well as good choices, when the pegs were encountered.

So the learning that goes on is how to make better choices the next time that similar pegs are encountered. It’s not about accepting that this is where I wanted to be, because for some mysterious reason I chose it.

Stretching the Medulla

There are various ways to stretch the medulla. Each of them enables internal energy flows and activates the spiritual connection:

Compressing the Medulla

Stretching the medulla activates it, of course, in the same way that stretching in an asana activates energy flows in the body. But, like a piezeoelectric crystal that turns movement into electrical energy, it can also be activated by compressing it:

  • Chin Lift – This is the other half of Jalandhara Bandha. Lifting the chin compresses the medulla, which also activates it.
  • Tense/Relax Technique – The Tense/Relax Technique learned in the first night’s practicum is another great way to activate the medulla. (In fact, in addition to its use for relaxing muscles, it can be used for each of the chakras.)

Muscle Tension => Energy Flow

In a sense, muscular tension activates energy flow because, when the tension is released, the energy flows. That is what makes the Tense/Relax Technique so powerful — and why it is such a useful addition to asana practice and chakra activation techniques, as well as muscle-relaxation programs.

That single observation, supported from the sources listed below, explains why and how various techniques manage to activate the energy centers: The Orbital Lift, Inner Smile, Moola Bandha and the Subtle Perineal Lift, Jalandhara Bandha, Aswini Mudra, Vajroli/Sahajoli Mudra, as well as the medulla activation techniques identified above all stretch and compress the energy centers. That’s why they work! (That observation makes perfect sense, and matches my experience. It will take a lot more research to understand exactly why it is true!)

Of course, a significant energy flow only occurs when the tension is released. But without the initial tension, there is little flow to observe! It’s kind of like a trickling stream. When a beaver gets in there and builds a dam, a pond or lake grows, building strength and power in the process. Then, when the dam comes down, the flow is a lot more noticeable.

At the same time, stretching, compressing, and bending the energy center would appear to stimulate an energy flow directly, in the same way that those movements cause a piezoelectric quartz crystal to generate electricity.

So the activation of energy flows clearly applies to glands and nerve plexes, known as chakras, as well as to simpler muscle tissue.

Sources and Additional Notes

Raja Yoga pp. 261:

All spiritual experiences are related to this flow of energy….Even when you cannot feel this flow, you can always feel the tension of your muscles….By inward concentration on the tension in your muscles, you will gradually become aware of the source of that tension in the flow of energy to those muscles. Muscular tension can therefore be utilized to stimulate the energy flow.

In my introduction to Tantra Yoga, Jan Robinson observed that it many cases it may be that we are increasing our awareness of energy flows, rather than increasing the flows themselves. (There is some truth to that, although obviously both are occurring, in some measure.) But she went on to say that while an “orgasm” is a massive rush of energy that can’t be ignored, once she learned to observe the energy flows, she noticed lots of mini-orgasms all over her body!

Raja Yoga pp. 262:

The stimulation of awareness of the energy by means of physical tension requires a calm, inward awareness.

I believe that is why isometric tension and dynamic tension exercises, followed by meditation, are so conducive to developing an awareness of energy flow.

Moola Bandha: The Master Key, pp. 37-38:
This section of the book reports research pioneered by American psychologist Edward Jacobsen. It is no less than the origin of the Tense/Relax Technique. (My thanks to Sita, who led the practicum and who pointed it out.)

With this dynamic relaxation technique, “the subject is not a passive recipient but an active (dynamic) participant. This technique showed that the most efficient way to release a muscle spasm was first to exaggerate the tension in muscle groups by powerfully contracting the muscles to the limit and then slowly releasing the contraction. By this action, not only did the patient experience the feeling of ‘letting go’ but he also became aware of tension spots that previously (sometimes for months and years) went unnoticed.

Energy Centers = 5th Dimension?

As was pointed out in the lecture, the medulla is actually inside the head, at the base of the brain. We think of it as “the base of the skull”, because that’s the closest external point. But it really is inside — as is the kunda gland.

Now clearly, the medulla is separate from the pituitary and pineal glands, which to my mind helps to explain why there three directions in which the Orbital Lift works, and why the base of the skull and center of the forehead are regarded as the “positive and negative” poles of the spiritual eye. In fact, I suspect it may be more helpful to think of them as separate energy centers. (More on that below.)

But it is fascinating to me to contemplate the statements that “the medulla is the place where life force enters the body” and “the muladhara (kunda gland, I think), is a vast storehouse of energy”.

To think that one is where energy “enters” and the other is where energy is “stored” is, to my mind, inaccurate. I suspect that they are both glands (in a sense) and that they operate in the same way — whatever way that turns out to be.

Now if energy does indeed “enter” in some mysterious fashion, and at the same time those glands are inside the body, then perhaps there is 5th dimension through which the energy arrives! We have three dimensions of space, and a fourth dimension of time. But that 5th dimension would explain how it is possible for energy to “enter” in a non-physical way.

Such a dimension could also explain all manner of psychic phenomenon, which appear to act without regard to the laws of space and time! (So people see the future, perceive another person’s past, see what is happening at a remote location, and even project themselves into such locations — all of which can make more sense if we assume that there is some deep interconnection between things that occurs in a dimension we’re not normally able to observe.

Finally, it makes one wonder: If there are three general regions of the body: Physical, Emotional, and Physical, plus one more region of Spirit. Then if there is an extra dimension, it makes sense that “Spirit” energy could reach all three regions.

We know the medulla exists, and where it is located. That’s the “mental” region. And we know that the kunda gland exists, and where it is located. That is the “physical” region. All of which begs the question: Is there a similar gland in the heart region?

The book, Kriya Yoga Exposed suggests that spirit resides in the chest, to the right of center. That is where awareness should be focused for liberation, in that author’s estimation. Now, the heart region was also the center of awareness in my martial arts practice, and that is the source from which Christianity evolved. So there is a lot to be said for focusing in that area! But other than the heart, I wonder what gland or nerve plexus is to be found there?

11 Energy Centers?

When I thought there were 9 major energy centers, that seemed like enough of a revision to traditional thought. But now it seems there are eleven!

The nice thing about the 11-chakra arrangement is that they are both symmetrical and have similar spacing at top and bottom (with 3 very close to each other and one nearby at each end). The spacing of the remaining chakras, meanwhile, seem to be pretty nearly equidistant, with the heart (as always) right in the center.

The three that are very close to each other at the ends of the spine are activated by the fan-shaped muscles that lie just above the perineum and just above the eyes.

The elements of the 11-chakra system are:

  1. Aswini 
    • Aswini mudra, or contraction of the anal sphincter, seems to be a powerful way to stretch and activate the kunda gland (now known to science as the coccygeal body, because they’ve found no use for it.
    • That gland, in turn would seem to be the source of kundalini energy.
  2. Root (the perineum)
    • Experienced when you do the Subtle Perineal Lift, where you do a partial lift, rather than a full lift.
    • This one matches the descriptions given in the ancient texts, which say that the experience is even more profound with a small lift, rather than a large one.
    • That may be because a slightly different energy center is being activated.
    • Of course, those texts also say that an even greater effect is observed when you do a “psychic” lift, with no muscular movements at all. (Can’t say I’ve experienced that one, yet.)
  3. Sacrum
    • This region is protected by the bony plate above the gluteus muscles, at the base of the spine.
    • It can be activated with the Tense/Relax technique.
    • As the home of the sex chakra, it also seems to be activated by the Vajaroli/Sahajoli mudras, which contract the urethral sphincter.
  4. Dantien
    • This is the energy center found in Oriental practices.
    • It’s located two fingers below the navel, and three fingers in (if you have flat stomach! Otherwise, locate it three fingers in from where your stomach should be.)
    • The nice thing about adding this chakra to the mix is that it unifies Asian practices with those from India.
  5. Solar Plexus (the traditional energy center described in Indian literature)
  6. Heart
  7. Clavicle
    • I was alerted to this one by Buddyhananda Woodcox.
    • In my experience, it’s right where the chin touches the breast, in the little notch at the top of breastbone.
    • That’s the point you’re trying to touch in Jalandhara Bandha (which makes sense).
    • The energy path from that point seems to angle downward, and go directly to the heart.
  8. Neck
  9. Medulla
  10. Center of Skull
  11. Front of Brain
    • As Kriyananda writes on p. 156 of Raja Yoga, when talking about focusing “at the point between the eyebrows”, he says “Actually, of course, the frontal point of the brain that you should stimulate by concentration is behind the bone.”

Now, it’s not quite clear (even to me) when we’re talking about different energy centers, and we’re talking about a couple of different mechanisms for activating a common energy center. But in practice, I would suggest that if the technique is different, and the result is different, then the item in question might as well be called an “energy center”. (After all, if it quacks like a duck…)

I will close this section by noting what appears to be an interesting pattern in the front-and-back arrangement of the energy centers:

  1. Aswini – Back
  2. Root – Center
  3. Sacrum – Front
  4. Dantien – Back?
  5. Solar Plexus – Front?
  6. Heart – Center
  7. Clavicle – Front
  8. Neck – Back
  9. Medulla – Back
  10. Center of Skull – Center
  11. Front of Brain – Front

Note that the bottom three and top three are the inverse of one another, with the bottom set moving toward the rear, as you progress down from the spine, and the top set moving toward the front, as you move upward from the spine. (What that means, I couldn’t begin to say. It’s just an observation, at this point.)

Will = Directed Energy

Yogananda used the term “will” a lot. Since he did, Kriyananda did as well. But it took me a while to figure out what was really meant by that. For example, in some cases it was pointed out that what it really meant in a given context was “willingness” (p. 120) — but that isn’t quite the same thing!

Then it struck me: “Will” is directed energy. What we direct our energy towards is what we will ourselves towards.

Now there are several kinds of energy:

  • Mental – imagining, planning, thinking about
  • Emotional – desire
  • Physical – action

I kind of want to add a 4th kind of energy — subtle energy — which would be the force of the cosmos working through you. That might be a useful concept. Or it might not — especially since earlier, I figured out that Spirit = Energy.

That concept made sense of a lot of discussions and cleared up apparent differences by identifying the underlying unity. So either “spirit” is a term that applies to the three kinds of energy identified above, or it is a special, fourth kind of energy — subtle energy. (I can’t say I’ve figured out which, at the moment.)

Medulla and “Ego”

I created a separate post for this subject: Is the Medulla the Home of Ego?, as stated in the Raja Yoga course and in the book. The answer is, well, yes and no. Yes, in a limited, clinical sense of the word, “ego”, but no, the way the term is commonly understood these days.

Spirituality and Music

More thoughts precipitated by the Xmas concert at the Ananda center, captured in Spirituality and Music.

Copyright © 2017, TreeLight PenWorks

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