By Swami Rama
According to the yogic scriptures, there are 72,000 nadis, or energy channels. Among them, ida, pingala, and sushumna are the most important. As long as the mind is outward, only ida and pingala remain active. But when the mind is calm and tranquil, sushumna, the central channel, is awakened. The joy derived from the mind traveling through the sushumna channel is unique; it cannot be compared with any sensory pleasure. Because of that inner joy, the mind loses its taste for worldly pleasures.
Sushumna application is the most important factor in spiritual practice. The moment sushumna is awakened, the mind longs to enter the inner world. When the flow of ida and pingala is di¬rected toward sushumna, and distractions are thereby removed, meditation flows by itself.
According to our school of meditation breath awareness is an important step for the awakening of sushumna. Although the word sushumna cannot be adequately translated into English, it signifies the state of an undisturbed and joyous mind. When the breath starts flowing freely and smoothly through both nostrils, the mind attains this state of joy and calmness. Such a mental condition is necessary for the mind to travel into deeper levels of consciousness, for if the mind is not brought to a state of joy it cannot remain steady, and an unsteady mind is not fit for meditation. The process of awakening the sushumna is possible only when a student starts enjoying being still by keeping the head, neck, and trunk straight. This means that the student does not allow any uneasiness to occur in the three cords along the spinal column—the central, sympathetic, and para¬sym¬pa¬thetic ganglionated cords.
The sushumna nadi is centrally located and travels along the spinal canal. At the level of the larynx it divides into an anterior portion and a posterior portion, both of which terminate in the brahmarandra, or cavity of Brahma, which corresponds to the ventricular cavity in the physical body. The ida and pingala nadis also travel upwards along the spinal column, but they crisscross each other and the sushumna before terminating in the left and right nostrils, respectively. The junctions of ida, pingala, and sushumna along the spinal column are called chakras, or wheels, and just as the spokes of a wheel radiate outward from the central hub, so do the other nadis radiate outward from the chakras to other parts of the body. In other words, the chakras are junctions of other nadis with the three main nadis: sushumna, ida and pingala.
Ida and pingala, situated on each side of the spinal column, are joined at a point opposite the forehead, between the eyebrows at the ajna chakra, where one finds a small but significant ganglion called the ganglion of Ribes. Ida goes around this ganglion to the right and terminates in the left nostril. Pingala goes around it on the left side and ends in the right nostril. In passing along the posterior side of the spinal cord, these two channels change their positions several times, alternating left and right, and meet again below at the ganglion impar located in front of the coccyx which corresponds to the muladhara chakra. These channels communicate repeatedly with sushumna throughout its course.
There are only two or three techniques for applying sushumna: 1) concentrating on the bridge between the two nostrils, 2) doing pranayama breathing practices and applying jalandhara bandha (the chin lock) and 3) meditating on the chakra system. Breathing practices to awaken sushumna may include nadi shodhanam and kumbhaka. Also, use of mantra helps to awaken sushumna.
It should be understood that sushumna application is the only methodical way of preventing the dissipation of the mind. When sushumna flows, the occasion is unsuitable for external actions, and only meditation and contemplation should be done. When the breath is in sushumna, intuitive knowledge is received well.
The application of sushumna is very important: without it, deep meditation is not possible, and without deep meditation, samadhi cannot be accomplished. To apply sushumna, the accomplished yogis concentrate on the bridge between the two nostrils above the lip and allow both nostrils to flow freely. Such advanced yogis do not use any external pressures on any part of the body to change the flow of breath. The aspirant who has learned the correct method of meditation and who has control over the wandering of his mind can easily apply sushumna willfully through concentration on the flow of breath, and can attain the deepest state of meditation—samadhi. At this stage, such aspirants no longer need to use the fingers. The knowledge of turiya is easily accessible by applying sushumna. Sushumna application and the awakening of kundalini are two main aims of yoga science. Without knowing the method of awakening sushumna the joy of meditation cannot be experienced. Pranayama is important in gaining control over the mind, and the application of sushumna is important for deepening meditation.
The first step in sushumna application is learning to change the flow of breath with your mental ability, according to your wish and desire. There are many mechanical methods described in books by which you can do this, but they are not actually helpful; they are not really recommended. To really accomplish this process, you must learn to create a relaxed focus on the right or left nostril. If the nostril is blocked, but not due to some condition like sinusitis, then when the mind focuses on it, that nostril will become active because of the focus of the mind. When you have learned to change the flow of the nostrils with your mind, then after some time, a time comes when both nostrils begin flowing evenly. This may take some months or perhaps a year, depending on your capacity and the burning desire within you. When the nostrils flow evenly, the mind cannot worry, because it is disconnected from the senses. Mind does not know how to worry then. It attains a state of joy called sukhamana, the joyous mind. That state of mind is conducive to deep meditation. This is an accurate and effective procedure for you to follow, and it is important not to rush or be impatient.
To begin the process of sushumna awakening, the meditator is prepared to focus the mind on the breath as it is felt between the two nostrils. The goal is to focus awareness on the flow of the breath, where it can be perceived at the nostrils on inhalation and exhalation. When you focus the mind on the center between the nostrils, you will soon discover that both nostrils are flowing freely. When both nostrils flow freely, that is called sandhya, the wedding of the sun and the moon, or between pingala and ida. Once this experience can be maintained for five minutes, the student has crossed a great barrier, and the mind has attained some one-pointedness. Then the mind becomes focused inward.
For meditation, the finest of all breathing exercises is sushumna application. When you learn how to apply sushumna, there is no way for your mind to go anywhere but into the inner journey. According to the ancient yoga manuals and the science of yoga, there are three important points in the inward journey. The cream of the yoga science is to learn first to apply sushumna; next to awaken kundalini and lead her to the highest dimension; and then to attain the knowledge of the Absolute. This is the entire purpose of the yoga system.
Application of sushumna and awakening of kundalini are the two most important aspects of yogic practice before union between jiva and Shiva is accomplished. When sushumna is applied, the yogi feels a sensation of fire going to the brain as if a hot current of air is being blown through a tube from its lower end to its upper end. With the force of pranic energy, the muladhara and swadisthana chakras vibrate, and the primal force is fully awakened.
When the students of meditation learn to apply sushumna, then they really start practicing meditation, and meditation becomes a joyful experience. The student can notice when his breath starts flowing freely through both nostrils, and this symptom is an indication of sushumna awakening. In samaya, which is the highest of all yoga paths and tantra, sushumna awakening after bhuta shuddhi (internal and external purification) is the first requisite. Then kundalini is awakened, and in the third step it is led to sahasrara and not allowed to flow again to the lower levels of consciousness.
The science of breath actually ends with sushumna application. It is the method by which you establish harmony between the two aspects of breath. During that time, both nostrils flow freely. Without sushumna application, meditation, the inward journey, becomes difficult, so you should learn the method of sushumna application. When you attempt sushumna application, ask your mind to focus at the nose bridge. Let your thoughts come and do not be afraid. You are trying to discipline your conscious mind, which is only a small part of the whole mind.
In the Kathopanishad, the King of Death says, “There are innumerable nerves and veins in the physical system, and among them the most important is that which goes upward through the spine. That one is called sushumna. It travels through the spinal column and leads to the highest heaven as conceived by the yogis. One who can enter sushumna at the time of death can attain Brahman, the highest goal of life. All other paths are paths of rebirth. From sushumna, the yogi ultimately reaches the highest consciousness of the Supreme Lord. By yogic practice, the yogi can commune with Parama Shiva, seated on the sacred throne of the thousand-petalled-lotus. Sushumna is the key point of liberation. From the sahasrara or crown chakra, he rises finally to the realm of the absolute Brahman.”
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