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#3: Causing Prana to flow in Sushumna: When the Prana is not only balanced, left and right (section #2), but is also made to flow through the central channel of Sushumna (sometimes called "silver cord"), there comes an even deeper, abiding peace of mind. The mind and heart only want to go inside for meditation.
Ida and Pingala flow along the spine: The two energies of Ida and Pingala flow along the spine (meru danda) of the subtle body. Ida flows along the left side, and Pingala flows along the right. Sushumna nadi flows directly upwards and downwards, between Ida and Pingala, coursing through the chakras.
Ida and Pingala join at the ganglion of ribes: Within the many ganglionated cords of the nervous system, there is a nerve center in the area of the ajna chakra, at the space between the eyebrows, that is called the ganglion of ribes. Although Ida and Pingala are subtle energy flows, they correspond to this physical structure. Ida flows along the left side of the spine, circles the ganglion of ribes, and converges on its left side. Pingala flows along the right side of the spine, circles the ganglion of ribes, and converges on its right side. Thus, the two forces of Ida and Pingala converge at the ganglion of ribes, in the space between the eyebrows, the ajna chakra.
Meditation at ajna chakra: Because of this convergence of Ida and Pingala at the point of the ganglion of ribes and the ajna chakra, meditation on this space is extremely useful and often recommended. For those who have the ability to gently focus here, there is great benefit in calming the gross breath, balancing Ida and Pingala, and stilling the mind. It is because of this, in part, that the Bhagavad Gita (5.27) recommends gently keeping out all external contacts, and internally placing attention between the eyebrows, making the energies flow evenly between the nostrils.
Breath at the nostrils: One of the most direct means of balancing the energies and causing prana to flow in Sushumna is by attention of mind on the flow of breath at the nostrils. By attending to the lesser flowing nostril, it will gradually open. By attending to the other, they will both flow more freely. When attending to both as one steady flow, the peace of Sushumna awakening gradually comes. While this practice can sound very simple, it requires a gentle persistence and a good ability to focus attention.
Yoga Nidra: Some of the finest methods of bringing the flow of prana into the Sushumna channel are the spinal practices of the ancient practice called Yoga Nidra, which are included on the Yoga Nidra CD. Bringing prana into Sushumna balances the chakras and prepares the pathway for Kundalini once it awakens and begins to rise. Bhuta Shuddhi (chakra meditation) is also quite useful in balancing the energy and allowing it to flow in sushumna.
Ida and Pingala also join at the ganglion impar: The ganglion impar is the lower termination point of the sympathetic nervous system. It is anterior to the sacrococcygeal junction, or in front of the coccyx, corresponding to the location of the muladhara chakra. The two flows of Ida and Pingala also join at this lower end of the subtle anatomy.
Between the ganglion of ribes and the ganglion impar: Ida and Pingala flow between these two points and are in constant contact with the nervous system and the central channel of the subtle spine. While one may meditate on the ajna chakra, the upper joining point noted above, there is also great utility in meditation practices that move up and down along this central channel between these two points. This can have a tremendous effect on balancing the energies, calming the mind, and allowing the Prana to flow through the central channel of Sushumna.
Versions of up and down practice: There are many versions of this, such as between any two of the chakras, where particular emphasis is needed with those centers. There are also various shapes to the inner experience, such as an ellipse or figure eight. The most straightforward method is spinal breathing, simply moving attention between the base of the spine and the crown of the head, coordinating the flow of energy with the physical breath, the physical body, and the mind.
Kriya and Kundalini Yoga: The practices related to motion along the spine are often considered parts of Kriya Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, as well as being part of Pranayama, or the science of breath known as Swara Yoga. Each of these places great emphasis on work with the Sushumna channel. (See also Yoga Sutras, particularly Sutras 2.1-2.2 on Kriya Yoga.)
Stimulating these energy systems: After these energy systems are balanced, the vigorous breathing practices, and Pranayama energize or awaken the latent energy. This effect is dominant in the right vagus nerve, as well as the subtle energy system beyond the physical body. Along with the Pranayama, the locks (bandhas) channel the energy into awakening.
Root lock and Prana: The root lock, or mulabandha is performed by contracting the perineum muscles that are in the flat space between the genital area the anus. By contracting this muscle group, the normally downward flowing energy (Apana Vayu) is pulled upwards, gradually uniting with the normally upward flowing energy (Prana Vayu) at the navel center. The root lock has the effect of causing Prana to flow in Sushumna channel, rather than along Ida and Pingala. Eventually, the practice is combined with other practices, so as to cause Kundalini to awaken and arise.
Prana enters the mouth of Sushumna: At the first chakra (muladhara) is the root (kanda) out of which all of the subtle energy channels (nadis) originate and go outward throughout the subtle body. It is located at the perineum, between the genitals and the anus. At this root is the mouth or opening to the Sushumna channel, as well as chitrini nadi and other finer nadis that are within the Sushumna, like a fine stream inside of a fine hose. After Ida and Pingala are balanced, the Prana is guided to enter and flow into the mouth of Sushumna.
Sushumna Awakening is sustained: Rather than being a temporary experience that happens during the natural transition of breath dominance (as described in section #2), the balanced flow of Prana is now sustained for a longer time during the period of meditation. Also, the Prana is now flowing more in the Sushumna channel itself, rather than just being balanced between left and right. Sometimes this flow of Prana is experienced as a feeling sensation in the spine, possibly as a warmth of energy flow.
Note that while this is a very important stage, and skill to acquire, this is not full Kundalini Awakening, but is the flow of the Prana through the central channel. This flow of Prana in Sushumna is sometimes thought by people to be Kundalini Awakening, which it is not. Recall the metaphor of Prana being like the steam arising from the bowl of hot water, and reflect on the difference between the steam and the significantly more concentrated water in the pot.
This flow of Prana in Sushumna is one of the first goals of meditation. Of the eight rungs of Yoga (Yoga Sutras 2.26-2.29), numbers three and four work with your sitting posture (Yoga Sutras 2.46-2.48) and breathing or pranayama (Yoga Sutras 2.49-2.53). When the breath is balanced, and the Prana is flowing in Sushumna, the senses truly begin to turn inward, which is Pratyahara, the fifth of the eight rungs. It sets the stage for deeper meditation and samadhi.
Self-training brings you to this place: So why is it that, in Yoga, there is so much emphasis placed on your relationship with the world, purifying and training body and senses, exploring your habits, and doing breathing practices? (Yoga Sutras 2.30-2.34) In a sense, it is solely so that you can come to this place, this plateau of peace from where you might begin the final climb to the peak of the spiritual mountain. All of these practices work together, like fingers on a hand, to bring you to this place where Prana flows in Sushumna.
Critical point on the journey: Prana flowing in Sushumna is one of the critical points of the inner journey. The entire inner journey can be summarized in 3 steps:
As the spiritual journey can seem quite complex at times, this brings a simplicity to the process, by providing a sort of first bench mark to aim for (Prana flowing in Sushumna). All of the practices can then be seen as having a common goal, that of bringing Ida and Pingala to an inner balance, where Prana then flows in Sushumna. While the balance between Ida and Pingala brings a state of peace and calm, in which the mind wants to meditate, the awakening or application of Sushumna brings that meditation. This is a pivotal point of Yoga meditation. (Yoga Sutras 2.52-2.53)
Prana in Sushumna brings joy: Prana flowing in Sushumna brings a great feeling of joy, sukhamana (sukha=joyous; mana=mind). The tremendous peace of mind can seem to be enlightenment itself, for those not familiar with the further reaches of Kundalini Awakening and spiritual experience. Here, with the awakening of Sushumna, it is useful to recall that in the ladder of Yoga, as described by Patanjali, contentment (santosha) is a part of step 2 of the 8 (Yoga Sutra 2.42). Thus, contentment is a prerequisite for deep meditation and samadhi, not the goal itself.
Compared to the typical day to day experience of the external world, there is a feeling of intoxication of sorts, as the external world is forgotten. It is as if one is temporarily dead to the external world, though still in the body. Dispassion, non-attachment, vairagya is there, as there seems to be a reprieve from the many attachments and aversions of the mind. (See Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16)
Fearlessness begins to come: When the Prana flows through Sushumna, the body seems indestructible, as it has been left behind in attention. One begins to experience fearlessness, or so it seems. It is a surface level of fearlessness, related to mind and the possible events of the world. Still deeper is the fear related to loss of individuality itself. So this fearlessness, however nice it is, is still not the fearlessness that comes from being one with the One.
Mistaking Sushumna for Kundalini Awakening: Prana flowing in Sushumna is extremely peaceful, and can easily be confused with Kundalini Awakening. As you feel the tranquility, along with the warmth flowing through the levels of the spine, this calmness is very alluring, and when reading the books about Kundalini Awakening, it can seem as if, "This is it!" There is a difference between the flow of Prana through Sushumna and full Kundalini Awakening, with that Kundalini energy itself rising. Both Prana and Kundalini are forms of the universal energy of Shakti, though here, at this stage, it is still Prana that is flowing in Sushumna (To see the differences between these forms of Shakti, take a look at the article on Shakti, Kundalini, and the River). Full Kundalini Awakening is extremely powerful, as this full charge awakens and begins to move upwards.
Mind is a barrier: At this stage of the practice, a barrier is commonly encountered, and that is, you more fully encounter the contents of the mind. At this stage of the practice, this can preclude the feeling of joy. At the same time that peace and joy are beginning to be experienced, the attention is coming further inward, leaving behind the external world. Even the body and the gross breath are now seeming to be external, and are about to be left behind on the inner journey. It is here, at the door of the joy of Prana flowing in Sushumna, that you more fully encounter the contents of the mind.
Breath is subtler: In leaving the external world behind, the mental world truly comes forward. It is that depth of mind that is beyond, subtler, more interior to the senses, the physical body, and the gross breath. Breath is very subtle here. Attention is still in the flow, but less in the physical breath. It is more on the edge, the borderland of experiencing the Prana as energy in itself, rather than a manifest flow of material breath.
One-pointedness and non-attachment: At this stage it is imperative to practice the companions of one-pointed concentration (Yoga Sutras 1.30-1.32, 3.1-3.3) and non-attachment (Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16). The ability to concentrate means having the ability to stay with the feeling of joy arising from the central flow of Prana. The ability to remain non-attached means that as the stream of thought impressions naturally increases, they can be allowed to rise and fall on their own accord, while the attention remains focused. The aspirant remains undistracted, unaffected, and uninvolved. It means cultivating determination, or Sankalpa. Long before the coming of the Kundalini Shakti is Sankalpa Shakti, the Shakti of determination. If this concentration and non-attachment can be maintained, while the Prana flows in Sushumna, one is ready for the next step on the journey, which is Kundalini Awakening itself.