Sandhya Kriya Pranayama or Sushumna Awakening

Sandhya: Wedding of Sun and Moon

Sandhya Kriya or Sushumna awakening is described here for those participating in Yoga Mentoring with Radhikaji.

Sandhya means twilight. Dawn and dusk are the times of twilight, a mystical time when day meets night and night meets day.




In the Samaya Tradition, we see Sandhya as:

  1. a simple technique to open both nostrils and allow the breath to flow freely from both nostrils.
  2. a simple meditation technique, allowing the mind to be aware of the breath at the meeting of both open nostrils, letting the thoughts rise and drop away.
  3. the mystical threshold to unconscious state of mind, where the practitioner gains access to the immense potentials of the mind and learns "sandhya bhasa", the twilight language spoken only by yogis.
  4. the transition to the other shore, where all mysteries of life and death are revealed.

The practice or technique of Sandhya that leads to a natural meditative state is so simple that it is often underestimated and dismissed as "too simple". This simple yet subtle practice is also known as Sushumna awakening, Sushumna application, Sukhamana or just Breath Awareness. 

One of the most mystical practices of our Tradition, this practice leads to Sandhya, threshold to the deeper states of consciousness. It is that natural state which is contemplative and meditative and the one travels naturally to higher and deeper states of consciousness. The technique of Sandhya is different from the state. The technique will eventually lead to the state.

The Natural Cycles of our World

There are many cycles in nature, the cycle of day and night, the lunar cycle, and the annual cycle of seasons. There is one more cycle in nature that we are not aware of. Most of us are surprised to hear that the flow of the breath shifts between the left and right nostrils. This change of flow is a natural cycle of the body. 

The breath flows more freely through one nostril than through the other. The nostril through which the air flows more freely is called the active or dominant nostril while the other is the passive nostril. In a healthy person this process of nostril dominance will shift approximately every ninety minutes.

This is a physiological fact that was confirmed by the yogis thousands of years ago through empirical study. You too can observe this cycle by simply placing your finger in front of the nostrils and testing the exhalation. The side from which you feel the greater and easier flow of air is the active nostril at that point in time. You can record the nostril flow during different times of the day and confirm the shift in flow.

The Breath Cycle, the Brain and the Nervous System

Having observed the breath cycle the yogis continued their experiments and discovered the connection between the breath and the brain. They concluded:

  • When the left nostril flows freely, the right brain is active.
  • When the right nostril flows freely, the left brain is active.

In his lecture series on the Mundaka Upanishad, Swami Rama explains, "Now, your left breath is called 'ida' and your right breath is called 'pingala'. This is called moon (pointing to left nostril) and this is called sun (pointing to right nostril). Your human body is made of two currents. One is female one is male. Both, female and male in you. As you have negative and positive, two wires going together to the battery and then battery charges. So is the case with this. Negative does not mean bad here, it should be understood."

The left side or ida is the called the moon and the right side or pingala the sun. This is a symbol of the dualities of day and night, good and bad, man and woman, black and white, happiness and sadness, hot and cold. When the wedding of the sun and moon takes place, then one goes beyond all dualities to the Non-dual Self. 

Carrying on their experiments they discovered that when the breath flows through both nostrils simultaneously, the mind attains a state of joy, known as sukhamana. The mind goes naturally inward and travels to deeper levels of consciousness. 

How to practice Sushumna application 

After pranayama practices you may notice that one nostril seems blocked and the other may seems to be more open. Now, you need to apply sushumna.

There are essentially two kinds of methods to practice sushumna application.

With external aids:

1. applying pressure under arms

2. lying on the opposite side

3. using fingers

Without external aid: 

4. using sankalpa shakti (will power)

The first 2 methods are not practiced by our Tradition, being unsuitable for deeper meditation. The third method is described, being acceptable, though only for a short duration.

Using Fingers

Using your finger check which nostril is flowing freely and which one is blocked. Use Vishnu Mudra to close the nostril which is already flowing freely. This will force the flow of breath through the nostril which was blocked. 

The disadvantage of this technique is that the nostril that is flowing freely must be closed and this causes subtle disturbances in the flow of prana. 

Though rare, it may also happen that this technique could cause the freely flowing nostril to be blocked. Thus, once again leaving us with only one nostril flowing freely. This method is inefficient and should be used only by beginners who have not as yet mastered the fourth method, without fingers.

Without using Fingers

If you have been practising the pranayama as taught by the Samaya Tradition, then you will feel the subtle flow of breath even without fingers. You may notice after pranayama that you can easily inhale through one but not the other. One nostril is flowing freely and the other not.  In this case, pay attention to the blocked nostril. Use attention and will power to open closed nostril and you may be surprised to notice that in a few seconds time the blocked nostril has opened.

In his lectures on Saundarya-lahiri, Swami Rama explains Sandhya or Sushumna application:

"When you first learn how to change your breath from right to left and left to right, then you try to concentrate. It might take some time - three to six months - to attain this. But if you can do it, sometimes it can take nine months or one year. Then you have done. It is called sushumna application. The sign and symptom of sushumna application is wonderful - to have a great joy. You don't find any reason: your financial position has not increased, you don't have any new girl friend, you don't have any boy friend, nothing new. But you find great joy from within. What's the matter? Sometimes you feel, where will you go? The joy is trying to burst! You cannot retain such a joy. Oh my Lord! Such a great joy! You cannot explain. That is a sign of sushumna application. Another clear symptom is, both nostrils start flowing freely."

To some this may sound amazing or impossible to use the power of attention to get the nostril to flow freely. If you have correctly prepared yourself before, this should not be difficult. Experience has shown that if the preparation is correct, then with daily practice, it is possible to master the fourth method, without fingers, using only will power, in about 10 days.

The Threshold to an unknown world

It is only when both nostrils are freely flowing that sushumna, the central channel is open and you start meditation. Everything else before that, is preparation for meditation.

Swami Rama explains this in his Lectures on the Mundaka Upanishad:

"How sun weds to the moon? That is called 'sushumna'.  When that wedding is performed that is called 'sukhamana'.  When you learn how to wed that moon with the sun, that wedding brings pleasantness, joy, and that is called sushumna.  Sukhamana - mind becomes joyous.  Such a mind who is prepared, who feels, who is elevated to joy, is prepared to do meditation. Not without that. If breath is not understood properly, not arranged, if it is not serene, it will disturb you and you cannot control your mind. For breath and mind, these are twin laws of life, like a coin having two sides.  One side is shining, another side is dark, is not the point.  So you'll have to learn the relationship of left breath and right breath and with the yogic breath, you apply the third, their wedding, and you call it sushumna, which brings joy, and then you start meditating.  You prepare to awaken that fire."

Sandhya is the wedding of the sun and the moon, that is when ida and pingala are both flowing freely. This wedding of moon and sun brings joy that is called sushumna or sukhamana. 



Inviting the hidden to come forward

When sushumna is open, then you are on the threshold of the unconscious mind. A well prepared student, who is fearless, invites the hidden to come forward. For most beginners of meditation, what this means is coming in touch with what Swami Rama describes as the first layer of "unacceptable qualities". 

What is meant by "unacceptable qualities"? The many layers of thoughts, feelings and memories that the conscious mind does not wish to identified with, does want to be aware of, is meant. As the meditator progresses in the internal journey, he comes in touch with the deepest recesses of the mind, including:

Memories and Emotions: Memories are not acceptable when they are far too painful and unpleasant. Besides these unacceptable memories, there are also emotions that are perceived as unacceptable, such as anger and jealousy. 

Desires: Many desires are unacknowledged or remain unfulfilled such as desire for wealth and material possessions,  the desire for fame, success and recognition and the strong desire of sexual attraction and for offspring. 

Fears: Some common fears such as  of poverty, fear of losing loved one, loneliness, disease, old age, and death. Or individual fears such as fear of spiders, snakes, heights, drowning, closed spaces.

Many practitioners believe that they can skip the internal journey and attain the treasure of Pure Consciousness. It is not possible to bypass the difficult and dangerous terrain of the unconscious mind. This is why guidance on the internal journey is absolutely necessary, until the meditator is experienced enough. 

Those rare few who know their way in the dark forest of the unconscious mind have access to the immense and limitless potentials. These rare ones recognise each other, for it is said, in the Tripura Rahasya, just as one thief recognises the other, only a jnani recognises a jnani. 

These rare masters of meditation know the secret of the three worlds, the  three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. These yogis, seers, sages and saints speak a mystical language known as "sandhya bhasha", the twilight language. 

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Sandhya Bhasa: The mystical language of the Yogis

In his masterpiece, Living with the Himalayan Masters, Swami Rama explains Sandhya bhasa: "Several modern scholars have tried to interpret and translate Sandhya Bhasha by calling it 'the twilight language'. Actually, the way I was taught this language, it is entirely different from the concept the modern writers have of it. It is a purely yogic language, spoken by only a few fortunate yogis, sages, and adepts. Sandhya Bhasha can be used only for the discussion of spiritual matters and contains no vocabulary for the business affairs of the world. When the day weds the night are not mere moments created by the rotation of the earth, but have a deep symbolic meaning."

Thus, one who has knows the secret of the three worlds, has access to the immense potentials of the unknown, understands the symbolic language of the yogis known as Sandhya bhasa. The meaning of different symbols are revealed to him.

Transition from death to life and death again

Such a one, is master of all yoga sciences and the library of infinite wisdom and knowledge. And the most ancient of all mysteries, the mystery of death and life, is unveiled before him, for Sandhya or twilight is also the transition between death and life and death again.

To such a one all questions fall away and the Truth reveals itself. Nothing remains to be done. All is a play of Consciousness. Such a one is a Master of the Self and knows how to live in the world, yet above it.