Living Tantra, Part 6: The Tantric Practice of Bhastrika
The systematic practice of prana dharana begins with a tantric variation of the well-known pranayama technique called bhastrika. To practice bhastrika, sit with your head, neck, and trunk in a straight line. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders. Restore your normal harmonious breathing pattern.
Then begin to inhale and exhale forcefully through both nostrils. Breathe with the active involvement of your abdominal muscles while keeping your chest region as relaxed as possible. Each time you exhale, pull your abdomen in; when you inhale, push it out. How strongly and forcefully you move your abdominal muscles in and out and how fast and forcefully you inhale and exhale depends on your current level of strength, stamina, and experience with the practice.
Don’t go beyond your current capacity. Be especially gentle and mindful if you have had surgery in the abdominal area, are pregnant, or have high blood pressure.
A Different Way to Practice Bhastrika
In the regular hatha yoga style of bhastrika, awareness of the movement of the breath is concentrated at the opening of the nostrils—air flows while brushing this opening. But in the tantric tradition, a practitioner is led to become aware of the movement of breath at different places in the throat and mouth cavity.
For example, while practicing the tantric form of bhastrika pranayama, you can maintain the awareness of the movement of your breath at the hollow of your throat. This balances the metabolic process. If you are in the habit of overeating, it will reduce your appetite. If your appetite is devitalized, this practice will increase it. Awareness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils, on the other hand, will lead to an entirely different result—the experience of an extraordinary fragrance.
When you practice bhastrika as a stepping-stone to the practice of prana dharana, however, you focus the movement of the breath as it brushes the soft palate, at the back of the roof of the mouth. The pituitary gland sits slightly above the soft palate, at the base of the brain. This is the region associated with the ajna chakra, the eyebrow center.
When, with the help of your awareness, you allow the exhalation and inhalation to brush against your soft palate, it creates a pulsation in the region of the pituitary gland, and the energy residing there becomes active. The pituitary gland is a master gland that regulates key organs in the endocrine system. The pituitary gland’s role in the regulation of our reproductive organs and, more precisely, the regulation of our moods and emotions (which largely depend on hormonal changes), is well understood. The pineal gland is located in the same general region. The pineal gland not only regulates the secretion of melatonin, but also exerts its influence over the process governing relaxation, renewal, and rejuvenation.
The Ajna Chakra
Tantric adepts call the energy field of the pituitary gland region the ajna chakra, the command center.
The newly emerging science of psychoneuroimmunology makes it easy to understand why tantric adepts call the energy field of this region ajna chakra, the command center. The pituitary gland receives hormonal secretions from the hypothalamus. These hormones contain the information and instructions that our endocrine system and the interconnected network of other organs need in order to function harmoniously. The master glands in this region thus receive an ordinance (ajna) from the hypothalamus and pass this same ordinance on to the organs involved in complex and mutually dependent biophysical activities.
It is important to remember that we are talking about the entire region and not a particular organ or spot in that region. Vibration/pulsation in that region will activate the energy of the ajna chakra, the center of consciousness that fills the space in the area known as the “third eye.” This is the most suitable center for the concentration of prana shakti. Awareness of that center during the tantric version of bhastrika will attract the pranic forces that are diffused throughout the body.
How to Concentrate Prana Shakti
Complete the bhastrika-style breathing by inhaling deeply into the ajna chakra and retain the breath to your comfortable capacity, thus compressing the prana shakti and containing it at the eyebrow center. Then exhale and breathe normally, letting your awareness rest in the vibrant field of energy at the ajna chakra.
As the pranic forces become concentrated at the ajna chakra, awareness of that center will intensify. The greater the intensity, the more pranic force will be attracted to that center. “Intensity of awareness” is another way of referring to the concentration of mental energy. Practically speaking, therefore, the pranic force is making the mind become concentrated, and this concentration of mind is concentrating the pranic force even further. Once this process has begun, it gathers momentum spontaneously and the prana shakti becomes more and more concentrated.
This pranic concentration is seen through the eyes of the mind as a radiant field of energy. Tantrics call it bindu, an ocean of vibrant, radiant prana shakti compressed in a dot—a point of reference beyond our normal concepts of time, space, and the law of causation. Here, the pranic field is so intense, so compact, that it is lit by its own effulgence. Its healing and nourishing power is so intense, so awakened and active, that anything—yantra, mantra, mandala, form, shape, or visual object—that falls in this field instantly comes to life. It is through this power that we can breathe life into any practice—tantric or non-tantric.