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Three stages of Pranayama - Perspiration, Tremors and Steadiness

In classical Hatha Yoga the practice of Pranayama is has been considered extremely important. There is a reason for this huge emphasis given to Pranayama. In Kaliyuga controlling the mind using purely meditative practices is very difficult. Many reasons can be sited for this difficulty. Wrong diet, environmental degradation and pollution, modern life style are some of them. Hatha Yoga tries to address the problem using Prana. Hatha Yoga says Prana and mind are two sides of the same coin. If you control mind Prana comes under control and if you control Prana mind too comes under control.

Prana or the vital life energy has countless manifestations ranging from breathing, heart beats, bodily movements, circulation, digestion and many others. However, not all of them can be willfully controlled. For example, you can't willfully change the pace of bodily blood circulation or heart beats. Breathing, on the other hand, is a manifestation of Prana that can be willfully controlled. This control leads to the control of mind if practiced in systematic manner. That is why some ancient Hatha Yoga texts mention breath retention for three and half hours, something beyond a possibility for an ordinary practitioner!

The bottom line is - Pranayama is an indispensible tool for any practitioner of meditation. Now let me come to the main subject of this article.

In Hathayoga Pradipika it is mentioned thus:

कनीयसि भवेद्स्वेद कम्पो भवति मध्यमे |
उत्तमे स्थानमाप्नोति ततो वायुं निबन्धयेत ||

The above verse from HYP talks about three stages of success during the practice of Pranayama namely Kanishtha, Madhyama and Uttama. In the Kanishtha or a stage of low degree body perspires. In the Madhyama or middle stage tremors are felt in the body and during Uttama or superior stage steadiness of Prana is attained and Prana reaches its destination.

When you start the practice Pranayama the internal purification starts. As a part of this purification process Sun and Moon energy channels are balanced. A way to dispel these impurities is to increase bodily temperature. This is quite natural process. Increase in the body temperature results in perspiration. It is obvious that perspiration is not a permanent stage. When Pranic purification occurs there won't be any perspiration. My observation is if one begins Pranayama after strict detoxification routine (Neti, Dhauti, Basti and other techniques) the perspiration is mild because certain purification has already been attained. So, the level of perspiration varies from practitioner to practitioner.

When your Pranayama Kosh becomes strong due to the practice of Pranayama and other yogic kriyas the second stage sets in. During the practice of Pranayama as well as during meditative practices including Japa tremors are felt in the body. Body starts shaking involuntarily. Again the amount of tremors varies from practitioner to practitioner. In some practitioner they might be uncontrollable at times. Some others simply feel tingling sensations at various places such as finger tips and spinal column. The second stage of progress indicates that the Prana is now "ready to jump". It has attained certain stage of strength and is "exceeding" its previous capacity.

The superior stage is when the Prana becomes steady. Remember what I mentioned earlier - Prana and mind are two sides of the same coin. So, steadiness of Prana means steadiness of mind. This steadiness also has various stages, the final being Prana reaching the Brahmarandra.

HYP says that since Prana can be seen gradually making progress through these three stages a practitioner must resort to the practice of Pranayama.

Being a meditation teacher I have seen many practitioners who complain that they are practicing Pranayama for many years but never witnessed any of these three stages. To understand the reason for the lack of these stages one needs to understand a few things.

Firstly, these three stages are the result of practicing Pranayama in a specific way. What is that specific way? Ancient texts suggest that Pranayama should be practiced four times a day - at four Sandhyas of a day.  Sandhya means twilight period. Four Sandhyas are one in the morning, afternoon, evening and midnight. The count of Pranayama should be eighty at these twilight periods. If you are practicing a very mild flavor of Pranayama you won't see any of these stages.

Second important factor is your diet. If you wish to practice Pranayama as per HYP or other ancient texts you diet must (let me repeat - must be) Satvik. If you eat junk food or spicy / oily food or food that is difficult to digest the impureness keep on accumulating again and again. Your whole practice is wasted in removing these impurities and you are adding more and more with every intake of Tamasik food.

Third factor is the environment in which you practice such a rigorous Pranayama. Cool places free from disturbances are therefore recommended. Seclusion is the best option whenever possible. Discipline is a must at every level. One cannot expect that these signs will manifest by following an uncontrolled lifestyle.

If you practice Pranayama as per the strict guidelines given in the ancient texts, sooner or later success will ensue. Guidance of your Guru is also important because not everyone is fit to take up  such a rigorous practice and discipline.

Before I conclude this article, I must mention that these signs such as perspiration and tremors should not be confused with Kundalini awakening. I have seen tendency of novice practitioners to equate any kind of "tingling sensation" with Kundalini awakening. That's not correct. They are related but different things altogether. Purification and strengthening of Pranamaya Kosha is one thing and awakening of dormant Kundalini energy is another thing. I have written bit more about these differences in Devachya Davya Hati and Natha Sanketincha Danshu.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a yoga mentor, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 25 years. To read more about him go here.

Posted On : 01 May 2017