Nine Purifying Breaths: Physical Forms

2016/04/09

I mentioned in my last post why I was doing the Nine Purifying Breaths, but I didn’t make it too clear on the other reasons people should practice it. As much as I hate the panacea tone behind it, it really is one of those exercises that is pretty much good for all occasions. In general though it is great for clearing out the mind before another practice that requires focus and clarity, like meditation or skrying. It is also good before doing a lot of energy work, as it gets the channels cleaned out and primed. If your mind or energy seems to be out of balance, and you’re not sure why it can help bring your system either back into balance, or redistribute the energy so it will balance itself out soon enough. I also recommend it as a daily or weekly practice (despite the fact I let it drop recently) as a way of keeping things moving and in shape, mental and energetic preventative maintenance. Also as I get into more complicated forms of the practice you can see more specific uses.

In talking about the physical side of this practice there are a few assumptions readers will have to work with. First there are energy channels in the body, secondly the carry different types of energy, one of those types of energy is the type you’re breathing in, it’s connected more to the breath than anything, and these subtle energetic channels can be affected by physical posture and pressure, especially the ones connected to the breath energy.

“All lamas have their own rituals” as discussed last time, so the descriptions of the physical actions that go along with this practice are varied, though many of them share the same logic or symbolic purpose, just expressed different. Before I discuss the version I favour there is a variant I want to share.

Previously I mentioned physically blocking the nostril to direct the breath and energy into the appropriate channel. I have read instead of lifting the corresponding arm up. So for instance if you’re drawing energy/breath into the right channel, instead of blocking left nostril, you would reach your right arm out to the side at the height of your shoulders. This raised right arm opens the right channel, makes it dominant. It doesn’t prevent energy/breath from entering the left channel, but it makes more enter the right. For exhaling though you would still block the nostril to force the energy out the other channel, but if that isn’t an option you can raise the opposite arm to open the corresponding channel. I mention this alternative form, because while I don’t prefer it or find it as effective, if you do this practice regularly there are times when inhaling through one nostril will be impossible/uncomfortable; cold, allergies, sinus infections, deviated septum flaring up. This way you can breathe normally if you can’t do single nostril breathing.

Every method I’ve read or been taught that mentions the position of the fingers in the hands says the same thing, thumb pressed against the ring finger. Oddly though I cannot find a reason why this is done, while the fingers represent different elements, those meanings shift from teaching to teaching, and no combination really seems that impressive.

For actually bringing up your hand to your nose I’ve learnt three methods (or two plus one). The first is the plus one, in that case, it’s simply just put your finger on your nose, don’t be fancy. The other two methods are fairly different in posture and purpose. I would practice the basic form without worrying about doing anything fancy with the hands. Once you understand the practice you can experiment.

The first method raise the arm out to the side on the same side as the channel you are going to clear right arm for right channel, left arm for left channel. Then bending the elbow and twisting the wrist bring the hand in to block the nostril on the same side of the body. As you bring your hand in you draw a loop in the air. Imagine you’re drawing this symbol þ in the air, but rotated so the straight line is on the top, you’re drawing a loop hanging from a line. As you make this spinning motion you’re gathering in a cloud of radiant light to inhale, pulling this cloud in front of your face. Then you simple move the finger to the other nostril to block it for the exhale.

The second method focuses more on the channels and physical practice. Starting with both your hands pressed against your legs as described last post, put your hands into fists (still holding the thumb against your ring finger). From here draw your fists up your body, roughly inline with the inside of your shoulders, between the side of your torso and your nipples. (I’m going to describe the procedure for clearing out the right channel, because it’s easier to explain one way, and reverse it. So this would be inhaling through the left nostril, exhaling through the right.) Once your fists are more or less level with your shoulders shoot your fists out to your left. Your left arm should be stretched out completely, your right arm will be bent across your chest, and you want to push your fist just on the inside of where your left armpit is. There is a muscle there, it’s the part that “frames” the shape of your armpit when you raise your arms up. Press your fist into this muscle. Bend your left elbow and block your right nostril, so you are reaching across the body. Breathe in as described previously, and then move your finger to block your left nostril and breathe out. This posture does two main energetic functions, first what you’re doing with your right fist by the armpit is pressing down on the channel connected to that arm and the breath, this prevents you from drawing the energy into the arm and forces all of the energy into your channel. Also because the right arm is held up during this movement, it’s physically opening that channel a bit more to make the expulsion more efficient.

Last post I recommended the seven point posture, this is for two reasons. First sitting up straight, without supporting your back forces the channels to be upright and open, leaning against a chair can put pressure on the channels or muscles that close it a bit. Obviously if you need to use a chair, do so, but if you can sit upright without one for a while that is the better choice. Secondly sitting cross-legged forms a loop in the bottom of your energy system. While some energy can flow out the base of your spine, or out from the soles of your feet, most of it will flow down one leg, and then get reabsorbed back into the other leg. It’s not about avoiding energy loss in the sense of you only have so much or anything, but more about keeping the internal pressure constant. If you’re trying to force energy out a channel through your nostril you don’t want any “leaking” out your feet because that will mean there is less force pushing out from your system.

I also described pressing your wrists against your legs for the last three breaths. You want to push on the “highest” part of your femur, which if you’re looking down at your crossed leg tends to be around a third of way in from the outer edge, the part of leg facing more behind you. Like pressing on the armpit, this is pushing down on the physical analog of the main energy channel connected to breath and your legs. This is again to help “seal” the pressure when you exhale through the crown of your head. The reason you bend over is a similar purpose, as you breathe out you’re bending over at the waist to close that channel behind the outflowing energy, so none of the gunk can sink back down. My one teacher described it like the way you fold or roll up a tube of toothpaste to force everything out. The channel reopens completely when you sit up.

The physicality of the practice also went a bit long, so next post I’ll begin complicating the energetic/spiritual practice.

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Nine Purifying Breaths: Basic Form

2016/04/05

I want to talk about one of my favourite Buddhist energy work techniques. Personally right now my system is a bit sluggish, and considering I’m doing a retreat and spending the next three weeks pretty much living in temple with my Rinpoche I need to be at my best, so I’m doing this a lot. Also a few weeks ago I was at a party and a friend asked about clearing out her system, and I wanted to do a write up for her and forgot.

The Nine Purifying Breaths (དགུ་རླུང་བསངས་ gulung sang) is a great technique, it’s simple, it’s effective, and it has the potential to be really complex and powerful, but doesn’t have to be. It’s also a fairly popular technique. Without even pausing to think I can come up with three books I’ve seen it in. The “trouble” is the way it’s written about differs, I’ve learnt it from four different lamas in four different forms. There is a Tibetan saying (according to my Rinpoche, google came up with nothing) “Every lama has his own rituals” which basically means everyone does things a little bit differently.

This post will be a little bit different from all the times I’ve been taught it, or read it, but I’m going to write it in a way, that will allow people to “scale up” as needed and able. What I mean is the practice, as is most traditionally taught relies on a fair amount of Tibetan Buddhist symbolism, but if you aren’t familiar with what red or blue or green symbolize, or what a snake or chicken symbolize the practice will be more bizarre than helpful. That said it’s a practice that I’ve effectively seen simplified by teachers to make it accessible, and those of us with more of a foundation in tantric practices can add in more as we go.

The Nine Purifying Breaths is pretty much what it sounds like, a set of nine breaths that purify your energy system. They do a lot more than that, especially in the complex forms, but at the basic level it’s a great way to get energy moving and cleared out. It’s practiced in all the schools of Vajrayana Buddhism, and as far as I can tell historically it predates them and comes from the Bön tradition. (I can find historical mentions of the practice, but never any mention of who came up with it, which suggests it came from Bön)

Before we can even begin you need to have a sense of the Energy System we’ll be working with. First disclaimer: If this doesn’t match the way you see your energy body that is fine, these things are our codification of abstract stuff beyond our understanding, so just practice it this way with these visuals and then you can go back to your own system, that does work. What is described here is a model, not ultimate reality.

Pay attention to the placement of the channels, don't worry about the colours or the other shapes.

Pay attention to the placement of the channels, don’t worry about the colours or the other shapes.

The practice will focus on the three main channels: The central channel which opens at the crown of your head runs through the spine (or just in front of it) and opens out the base of your spine, and the left and right channel which open at the nostril go up behind the eyes over the skull and down the side of the spine and then curl up into the central channel just above the base of the spine. There are traditional colours associated with the channels, but they differ occasionally, and aren’t important for the basic version of this practice. The central channel is about as thick as your thumb or index finger, the left and right channel are a bit thinner than your pinkie finger. Some other practices and systems have the left and right channel swirling around the central channel, or looping at certain points, in this case they just go straight down. Do not worry about your energy centres and how these channels do or don’t interact with them, it’s unimportant at this point.

Onto the actual practice: Sit in a proper meditation posture, if you can do the Seven Point Posture I recommend that. This is one of the few practices where I feel the need to stress sitting on the ground in some form of crossed legs. Getting it to work properly in a chair is a bit of extra work, though it might not seem like it, because how the subtle channels interact with the physical body it is important.

In both hands place you thumb firmly against the base of the ring finger and keep them there until the practice is done. Raise your right hand and with the ring finger press it against your right nostril to close it. Take in a slow deep breath through the left nostril. As you’re breathing in picture radiant clear light flowing in with the breath, into the left nostril, up the left channel behind the eye and over the skull, and down beside the spine, and then finally into the central channel. Don’t worry if you can’t “fill” the central channel, you’re not trying to, you’re just trying to put your breath into it. Pause holding the breath and move as much of this light into the central channel as possible. Move your right hand over, and using the ring finger block your left nostril. Breathe out your right nostril. As you breathe the light moves from the central channel into the right channel where they connect by the base of the spine, travels up the channel around the back of the head over the skull, behind the eye and out through the right nostril. As the light moves through this channel it clears out the obstructions, the negative/stagnant energy, the gunk and crap stuck in that channel, the breath that comes out isn’t the clear light that came in, but instead is a thick oily smoke. You can guide the smoke to either settle into the ground where it is absorbed by the earth and carried deep into the planet to be purified there, or it can spread out into space like smoke would and as the light and wind catch it it is scattered and purified into nothing. Repeat this two more times.

Now repeat the same process, but switch sides. Taking your left ring finger block your left nostril and breathe in clear vibrant light through the right nostril, up the right channel, down the channel, and finally into the centre. Move the left hand over and block the right nostril. Breathe out the left nostril, having the light drain from the central channel into the left channel through the connection by the base of the spine, up the channel, clearing out the gunk as before, then finally releasing the oily smoke through the left nostril. Repeat this two more times.

Place both your hands on your legs near your hips, palms up. Press down with your wrist putting a bit of pressure on your legs, your wrists should be over your femur. (I’m going light on the more technical/physical instructions, but I feel this is a good practice even in the simple form) Breathing in through both nostrils draw in that radiant clear light into both the left and right channel at once, up behind the eyes and over the skull, down the back and curling up into the central channel. Pause holding your breath for a moment to draw as much of the light into the central channel as possible. Now continuing to press down on your legs, slowly start to bend over from the waist as you breathe out. While the breath is physically leaving your nostrils, the light is actually going to travel up through the central channel, as before clearing and purifying as it goes, and out through the crown of your head as that oily smoke again. You don’t have to bend all the way over, but as far as you comfortably can. When you’ve finished breathing out the black smoke from your head sit up straight and repeat two more times.

This post is becoming longer than expected, so I’ll have to explain the more complicated/detailed elements in another post. For now practice it this way.

I will give some advice though. If it’s your first time doing it, or the first time in a long time, only do nine breaths. It might seem simple, and you might want to try again, don’t. Give you system time to adjust. After a day or two you can try doing the nine breaths twice in a row if you want. You should never do more than three sets of nine even if you’re used to it. That’s a general rule I see, and I find trying to do more will leave you more light-headed and open than is useful. You can wait a few hours and do another set, just avoid doing them too close together. Also I’ve been told you’re never to do more than three sets of three in a day, but I’ve never done that many, so I can’t say if that limit is symbolic or there for a purpose, but I can think of several reasons why it would be unwise.

The way I put it here has you do three breaths on one side, three on the other, and then three for the central channel. Another way to do it is to do one breathe on the right, one on the left, back and forth until you’ve done three each, and then do the central channel. I find that is less effective in the simple form if your system isn’t clean yet, you’re pushing some of that energy gunk back and forth, rather than slowly pushing it out of the system. If your system is in good shape though and you don’t have much to push through, then it’s fine. I find it’s less effective in general with the more complicated forms, probably because you’re doing more complex visualizations and energy work, and switching energy types and visuals back and forth is less productive than the repetition.

Since this is something I’ll have to revisit soon to explain more, ask questions and I’ll try to incorporate them into the following posts.


Black Mountain of Fire

2015/08/11

There are a variety of simple methods of establishing authority and focus within a place before a magickal working. Some traditions call it Centring, though to others that’s more of an energy work technique unrelated. It’s often a preliminary before banishing or creating space, but they can also be used to do both of those, when the practitioner is competent enough in them. The Qabalistic Cross is a great example of such a technique. (There is more to it than just that though)

It’s an alignment or realignment with the source of your authority, a recollection of your force, and a gathering of power

I wanted to share a method that was given to me by a spirit I work with. I’ve found it has a similarity to a Buddhist practice I’ve found in one ritual thus far (though it may be in more). When I need to establish a sense of stability and confidence within a practice, I will often do this, or a variation of it before hand. I find it is also great for giving my energy body a quick jolt, the energetic equivalent of a warm-up sprint.

It is a series of visualizations tied to breathing. While I mention the in breath and out breath they don’t have to be consecutive, if you need more time to do a visualization or part of the energy work, take it, but make sure when you resume to pick up the breathing pattern at the next step.

Stand or sit in a stable position, take a deep breath in. As you breathe out see yourself as a giant black mountain, a flat dull black like coal. It should be a large visualization, a mountain, but at very least cover the space you’ll be working in. As you take another deep breath in feel yourself as solid as possible, the core of this massive dark mountain, and as you breathe out feel the weight of the mountain pressing down on the Earth. You’re not just resting on the surface of the planet; your mass is pushing down into the planet.

Your in breath is used to stabilize this image, and with your out breath project your mind down into the core of the planet. Feel your awareness shoot down into the centre of the planet until it reaches the core. While the core contains molten rock and metals, you’re looking for an energy that has the sensation of fiery iron. That is actually what you’re trying to connect to, burning molten iron, red iron fire. Try to sense and locate the energy, but if you can’t project out the request, there is something down there that helps, ask for the Iron Fire.

Once you’ve connected to the Iron Fire energy take a fast deep breath in and draw that energy up through the earth, through your central energy column, the centre of the black mountain, and out through the crown of you head and out through the tip of the mountain. It erupts as light from the top of the mountain, the Iron Fire component of the energy being absorbed and transformed within you. The flow and radiance continues regardless of breath, the movement continues from the core of the planet through you into space.

(I’ve found after some time, that the light is actually connecting to a Star above me. Not a real physical star -I assume- but a symbolic star, either a representation of Celestial energy, or perhaps a higher aspect of myself. This star, or the awareness of it, is not required for this technique to function, I mention it as an observation that grew over time.)

As this energy flows up through your mountain body it begins to radiate outward from the centre, as it moves out it transforms the black material into a clear crystal. Eventually you’re left as a large crystal mountain, perfectly clear radiating a beam of light from below out through the top, and radiating a halo of light out through the crystal body. You transform your body from the coal black, to a clear crystal blazing with light.

(From here, if you so desire, you can continue to radiate out in an attempt to clear out the space, though it might take some work to become proficient at that. I find it is more efficient to clear the space normally after the next step, but it can be part of this is you so desire.)

Draw the light back in, up from the core, down from the heavens, in from the world around you, and see the mountain dissolve into your self, your body becoming the radiant crystal.


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