The Source of Energy
a meditation from the tantric Kriya Yoga
"Do you meditate when you simply sit down, close your eyes and try to let go?"
Hardly - a few might succeed in relaxing a little, but you can easily become caught in the illusion that you meditate, when instead you lose yourself in thoughts, or simply doze without going deep.
A method is important
To enter the relaxed state, to benefit and draw strength from it, you need a method. We can certainly use our will to stir ourselves up or get excited, but we can't relax by will power alone. Even when we believe that we do it, it doesn't work.The American neuro-psychologist H. Benson showed in his well known study on relaxation and meditation techniques: "The Relaxation Response" (1975), that without a method, we don't actually reach a deep state of relaxation or meditation.
Meditation and relaxation techniques are known all over the world. In Japanese Zen and other Eastern traditions, the breath is used as a means of entering the meditation. It is basically the normal - or spontaneous breath that you experience.
In Kriya Yoga, which is known in China and India, a simple breathing technique is used, the so-called Psychic Breath, to cleanse the mind and enter a deep state. This breath can be done alone or as a basis for a more comprehensive meditation. The meditation The Source of Energy (the little Ajapa Japa) is, to a great extent, based on this breathing technique.
...also called Ujjayi Pranayama, is easy to perform. It is a deep, slow and relaxed breath. With breathing exercises and the kinds of meditations where you work with the psychic energy, a proper meditation pose with a straight spine is a must. Therefore, you sit upright in a meditation pose, which ensures that the energy flows freely and harmoniously.
You make a light whispering sound with the breath, originating from the vocal chords. The sound is relaxed as from a child in deep sleep. Together with the sound, you inhale deeply and slowly, hold the breath for at least 3 seconds, then with the sound, you exhale slowly and relaxedly and hold the breath out for 3 seconds. After that follows the next inhalation and so on. Thus, there are four phases in all: inhalation, holding the breath, exhalation, and holding the breath out.
The breath influences body and mind
Psychic tensions manifest in the body's muscles; these tensions can be dissolved through various yoga exercises (see Yoga and fundamental things when using the postures). The same applies to the breath: Tensions also build up here. Over the years, we all develop a certain pattern of breathing formed by our habits of thoughts and feelings. In every state we experience, we react in the way we breathe. No matter whether we are restless or confused, relaxed or sleepy, the breath changes accordingly. Who hasn't "breathed a sigh of relief", or become "breathless" when something really exciting happens?
On the other hand, through breathing exercises (pranayama), one can directly influence the state of body and mind. There are numerous such breathing exercises in the yoga tradition, each with its precise and specific effect. Some have a stimulating effect and give an invigorating feeling of new energy, while others relax and harmonise.
By means of the even sound from the throat and the slow, regular rhythm between inhalation, the short holding of the breath and the exhalation, one can say that Ujjai Pranayama "stretches" the breath. Irregularities and blockages inhibiting the breath are gradually removed. The effect is felt both as a pleasurable relaxation and as an increase of energy.
A special way of holding the tongue completes the psychic breath. It is called Khechari Mudra; in Sanskrit mudra means an attitude, which influences the subtle energies in the body. There are a number of different mudras, and this one is considered most important.
The tongue is bent backwards, so that the tip of the tongue points backwards and touches the soft part of the palate resting there. This position of the tongue may feel a little awkward in the beginning. It has however, various important functions. When you sit for a longer time with the psychic breath, the folded tongue keeps the throat moist; also, this position stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
It is said that Khechari Mudra, for the period you hold it, suspends the direct interaction between mind and body. Impatience, and whatever thoughts or feelings that may surface in the mind will not affect the body like they usually do, creating restlessness, a nervous stomach or a headache, whilst the state of the body will not so easily influence the mind. This helps break the vicious circle of stress, where thoughts and tensions constantly reinforce each other.
Better at coping with pain
At our yoga courses for pregnant women, the psychic breath plays an important part. There are a number of different breathing techniques that can help during birth. Many women claim, however, that the psychic breath is the most relaxing during the contractions. It helps them to cope with pain and they are able to surrender to the process of giving birth.
A woman from Stockholm had a remarkable experience during the birth of her second child. She used the psychic breath during the whole opening up phase, which lasted several hours. For the majority of women, this is the most laborious part of the birth, and you often experience strong pain. She knew this from the birth of her first child. This time, however, she relaxed with the help of the breath and didn't feel any pain at all, even though she was wide awake and consciously followed the dilation of the uterus. She was so surprised by this, that she thought the birth had come to a stop. Every time she was in doubt about this, she interrupted the psychic breath "to see if there was something wrong and then immediately the pains set in."
A step by step absorption
On the basis of the psychic breath The Source of Energy evolves as a clearly defined sequence: You begin with the breath, practising it for a while. Thus, you become calm and get absorbed in the breathing. Step by step, you then learn to discover and utilise certain energy passages in the body. Later in the sequence, certain sounds (mantra) are added.
In this way, tensions and blocks in the energy of the body are systematically removed, and gradually, it becomes impossible to hold on to limiting ideas and states. Step by step, you go deeper and reach still finer states.
A complete meditation sequence lasts from 20 to 45 minutes but of course, it can't be described in detail here. If you want to know more, you will find thorough instructions in Yoga, Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life by Swami Janakananda. But it is best to receive direct instructions from an experienced teacher.
Alpha - relaxation of the grey cells
The brain activity also changes during The Source of Energy meditation. This was shown clearly in a test made at the University Clinic of Cologne under the direction of Dr. Thomas Schmidt. A number of yoga and meditation teachers had their blood pressure, heart beat and the electrical activity of the brain measured during this meditation. With the help of electrodes that were placed evenly all over the skull, the activity of the brain was reproduced on an electroencephalograph (EEG).
At first, the subjects were allowed to meditate undisturbed. Then, the doctors tried to disturb them systematically:
"...our hands were lowered into ice-cold water, a deafening noise was played through earphones, and we were even stung with needles. All this, I could peripherally observe, but I didn't feel disturbed by it." (yoga teacher Thorbjørn Knudsen).
The electronic measurements confirmed this personal experience. During the meditation, the brain changed its frequency: From a high activity (beta-frequency) to a deep and stable alpha-frequency. The frequency of the impulses in the brain can be measured with all human beings and shows clearly whether you are in the ordinary waking state (Beta), whether you relax (Alpha), whether you sleep in a light (Theta) or in a deep sleep (Delta). The alpha-frequency sets in every time we relax, and that happens by itself right before we fall asleep. On the other hand, in deep relaxation and in meditation we consciously choose to stay in the alpha state, to not go too deep and fall asleep. This state is experienced as a period where you calm down completely and gain new strength. On the way into this calmness, the mind opens up and gradually lets go of everyday thoughts often followed by a period where spontaneous, creative ideas will surface or solutions to particular problems. Finally, at the end of the meditation, you reach a state where you will be one-pointed and centred.
What surprised the doctors behind the experiment the most was that even during the extreme disturbances there were no changes in the alpha-values of the EEG. In other words, during the whole meditation the brain was - independent of the outer influences - in a wakeful and relaxed state without blocking.
Recent studies, both in the USA and Scandinavia, also show that when you meditate over a longer period of time, it can have an enduring beneficial effect on your brain activity. One who meditates regularly has a lasting relaxing effect in daily life.
The story of a student in Copenhagen shows how this can be beneficial. She was preparing for an important examination and had earlier experienced difficulties with the reading material:
"...Every time I reached certain passages in the texts, I became tense, tired and distracted. It was like I didn't trust myself confronting this material. When I started to meditate, these problems disappeared. I simply had so much energy, that I couldn't hang on to this 'I-cannot-state'. Even when reading what before had appeared to be difficult passages, my mind didn't go blank anymore, and I reached an all over understanding, that I hadn't been able to comprehend earlier. I learned the examination requirements."
The ability to remain open is very important for intellectual work, but can also be useful in every activity of daily life, and in any kind of creativity. When you don't so easily let yourself become blocked by limiting ideas, you can better put your strength into achieving your real goals.
On the way to Kriya Yoga
In the tantric tradition, two meditations are based on the psychic breath: The Source of Energy and Ajapa Japa. Together, they can also be called the little Kriya Yoga and are the first steps in the direction of the much more comprehensive Kriya Yoga.
Ajapa Japa can be characterised as a continuation of The Source of Energy. It is more deep going and extensive, in length and in the subtlety of the different steps. The last steps you learn during a few days of silence.
The learning process of Ajapa Japa takes a longer time, and therefore we teach it on 10- and 14-day retreats at the Håå Retreat Centre. Here, you live for two weeks in the countryside - without computer, mobile, tv, radio or newspapers. Such a holiday, away from all the everyday influences, creates the calmness and concentration needed for really learning this meditation and benefiting from it right from the beginning.
Those who wish to go further can learn the complete Kriya Yoga. Swami Janakananda and Swami Ma Sita are teaching the tantric Kriya Yoga in its original form, with the required conditions for such an initiation. This is taking place on the yearly 3-month Sadhana Retreat and one-month Kriya Yoga Retreat.
See also Mapping the brains activity after Kriya Yoga