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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 58-68

Bhramari Pranayama as an aid to meditation: A review of classical yoga texts

1 Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission11-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance23-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication21-Aug-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Judu V Ilavarasu
Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, 19, Eknath Bhavan, Gavipuram Circle, K.G. Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijny.ijoyppp_21_19

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Bhramari Pranayama is said to be an aid to attain Samadhi or contemplative absorption. It is a yogic technique that comprises attending to self-produced sound emulating a bumblebee along with breath control. The vibration of sound produced is the aid to enhance the level of consciousness to reach the state of Samadhi. In this review, an attempt has been made to understand the processing of sound-Bhramari in particular, right from the origin of the sound, with the help of ancient texts such as Saivagama texts, Yoga Upanishads, Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, and various other texts. Features of Bhramari Pranayama are dealt in detail with its suitability to spiritual practice, research, and its potentiality as a therapy tool.

Keywords: Bhramari, meditation, pranayama, sound, yoga

How to cite this article:
Ushamohan B P, Rajasekaran AK, Belur YK, Srinivasan T M, Ilavarasu JV. Bhramari Pranayama as an aid to meditation: A review of classical yoga texts. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2020;8:58-68

How to cite this URL:
Ushamohan B P, Rajasekaran AK, Belur YK, Srinivasan T M, Ilavarasu JV. Bhramari Pranayama as an aid to meditation: A review of classical yoga texts. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 24];8:58-68. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2020/8/2/58/292938

  Introduction Top

Meditation is derived from the word “meditari,” in Latin which means “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” Meditation is an umbrella term used to define various meditation techniques, practiced for thousands of years within the religious and philosophical traditions of the East, such as Yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Tai Chi and only within the past few decades within the medical, health care, scientific, and psychotherapeutic traditions of the West. A meditation technique comprises a family of practices that train attention in order to heighten awareness and bring mental processes under greater voluntary control. The ultimate aims of these practices are development of deep insight into the nature of mental processes, consciousness, identity, and reality and development of an optimal state of psychological wellbeing and consciousness. However, they can also be used for a variety of intermediate aims, such as psychotherapeutic and psychophysiological benefits.[1] Various meditative techniques are practiced to achieve these essential states of awareness.

Styles of meditation in the west are segregated into two, based on the deployment of attention. It is classified into focused attention (FA) or concentrative meditation and open monitoring (OM) or mindfulness meditation. Meditation techniques based on FA are segregated based on a specific stimulus used to achieve the state of thoughtless awareness.[2]

Transcendental meditation, Nada Yoga meditation, Vipassana meditation, mindfulness meditation, Sahaja yoga meditation, heartfulness meditation, OM meditation, and cyclic meditation are among few well-known researched meditation techniques.[3] Some studies focus or attend to the state of mind, produced by meditation technique. Some practices involve attention to a particular sensation, some on inhalation, and exhalation of breath. While others involve attending to the sound, mantra, or auditory mental image, the silent repetition of mantra, words or phrases, (e.g., as in loving-kindness meditation) a visual object or a visual mental image.[4] Different varieties of meditation may be useful in cultivating specific components.[1] Meditative practice actually comprises a multidimensional array of stimulus components. Each component of stimulus may attribute to varied effects. This dimension in meditation research, i.e., the component analysis, is essential. Not much has been done to conceptualize the stimulus dimension. Component analysis and identification of effective components and their combination have to be characterized. The study of stimulus side of meditation will lead to a better understanding of the process of meditation and its benefits.[2]

There is little agreement in the field of meditation research on what should be measured and what the most useful measuring instruments may be. Brown suggests that a practical way to approach this issue would be to research with the understanding of the variables as defined in various classical meditation texts.[5] He segregates the techniques involved in various meditation practices into kinds of variables that can be subjected to empirical tests: (a) specific variables of specific meditation practice, (b) nonspecific variables such as attention, common to all meditation systems, and (c) time-dependent variables or stages of meditation practice.

  Classical References for Different Tools Used as an Aid to Meditation Top

All cultures contributing to meditation have their own multiple techniques to suit to the needs of varied aspirants. Ancient Indian texts have a wide array of literature pertaining to various approaches to meditation. Few meditation techniques, as revealed in some well-known yogic scriptures in modern times, are mentioned below.

The yogic text Patanjali Yoga Sutras has dedicated the whole of its third chapter, Vibhuti Pada, to a range of meditative tools/objects and the processing of the same in meditation. The process of meditation dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi, together constitutes the complete process of meditation termed as Samyama.[6] The chapter also explicitly specifies that the composite process of Samyama is a common application to any object/tool/aid selected for meditation.[7] The process activates or manifests the latent properties of different elements of the object of meditation, which is perceived in the light of heightened consciousness or awareness. However, the complexity of the object/tool/aid makes all the difference in the results attained or siddhis (super physical accomplishments) acquired.

From sutra lll-16 of the same chapter, the text enumerates various objects for meditation and its corresponding siddhis (super physical accomplishments) to be attained by practicing the process of meditation. The ancient Saivagama text Vijnanabhairava has defined 112 dharanas or objects/tools or definite techniques of meditation, to be selected according to the competence of the aspirant. The techniques utilize developing of prana shakti, arousing of kundalini, mantra Japa, bhakti, Jnana, and Bhavana and few other informal modes. It also describes the level of accomplishment of the aspirant as a result of practice.[8]

The great sage Adi Shankaracharya in one of his seminal works “Yoga Taaravali” expounds that, as taught by Lord Shiva, there are 125000 methods of Laya Yoga through which self-realization can be achieved. It is further stated that Nadanusandhana Yoga or Nada Yoga dealt in this article is the best of all other methods of Laya Yoga.[9]

Sage Gheranda in his work Gheranda Samhita defines six tools to attain Samadhi:

(1) Shambhavi mudra for Dhyana yoga Samadhi, (2) Bhramari Pranayama for Nada Yoga Samadhi (dealt in this article), (3) Kechari mudra for Rasaananda Samadhi, (4) Yoni mudra for Laya Siddhi Samadhi, (5) Devotion for Bhakti Yoga, and (6) Manomoorcha kumbhaka for Manomoorcha Samadhi.

Malini Vijayottara Tantra an authority among Agama texts, in verse 21 of its 2nd chapter, has broadly classified the tools for meditation into five categories: Uccara, Karana, dhyana, Varna, and sthana-kalpana.

  • Uccara: Gross Prana- life force
  • Karana: Use of own body and certain dispositions of its organs, usually known as mudras
  • Dhyana: Mind (absorption in the divine consciousness)
  • Varna: Anahata nada (subtle prana) – impact less, inarticulate sound (Nada Yoga)
  • Sthana-kalpana: Objects external to the body like inhalation-exhalation of breath, an image of a deity, etc., body components such as navel, heart, throat, brumadya.

Of the above-mentioned objects/tools of meditation, the aspirant practicing Nadayoga, i.e., using sound or Varna or Nada is said to achieve a very superior stage of Samadhic state. The concept of creation as expounded by Shaivagama scriptures gives an understanding of the source of sound and its efficacy in aiding the aspirant to attain the highest level of consciousness, the spiritual goal of meditation.

  Sound Vibrations as a Rationale Aid for Mediation Practice Top

The source of sound and its role in the yogic process can be understood by comprehending the process of creation. According to the Shaivagama texts, the very nature of Parama Shiva, the ultimate reality is to manifest. On the course of manifestation, the first movement (Prathama spanda), the creative aspect of Parama Shiva is Shiva, the supreme consciousness. Shakti is the energy of Shiva. Shiva expresses into Iccha (will), which immediately translates into Jnana (knowledge) and Kriya (action). From the union of Shiva and Shakti, the cosmic creative vibratory movement, the very first sound in the creation of the universe, known as Para Nada (Kriya shakti) or Nada Brahman/Maha nada the Great Sound or Great Melody evolved, out of which the whole universe evolved.[10]Para Nada is pervading in everything that exists in this universe, both animate and inanimate. It is the creative power of highest consciousness and in the course of its manifestation into the physical world, has correspondingly manifested into different eternal sounds known as anahata nadas (spontaneous, impact less sound in Sushumna Nadi). Anahata nada is an inarticulate, unmanifest subtle sound, also known as Varna. Para Nada somewhat consolidates as Para Bindu. Upon bursting of this Para bindu rises an unmanifest sound, Shabda Brahman, the universal conscious sound.

Out of Shabda Brahman evolves the endless diversified creation constituting from Mahat, the aggregate of trigunas (tamas, rajas, and sattva as iccha, jnana and kriya shaktis), to the grossest energy constituting the physical world. Out of Mahat, under the influence of ashudda adhva or impure order known as anava mala, the individual living beings constituting the 24 tattvas (principles), the four constituents of antahkarana (mind, individual-consciousness, intellect, and ego-sense), five jnanendriyas (sense organs), five karmendriyas (motor organs), and their tanmatras (subtle principles of mind); smell, taste, form, touch and sound and locomotion, dexterity, excretion, reproduction, speech are evolved.

Anahata Nada manifests in all living beings (prani) as Kundalini Shakti (biopsychic energy). It manifests as Shabda Shristi (creation of sound)-varnas (letters-articulate) as Matrakas (form of subtle gross speech with limitation in perception, considered as mother). Matrakas lead to worldly activities and feelings. It is the basis of limited knowledge, as it will not lead to investigate the fullness of I-consciousness of Shiva. When the process of evolution has reached Prthivi tattva, the grossest of the pancha mahabhutas (five basic elements of cosmic creation), at mooladhara chakra (lowest psychic and pranic center in the human body), she takes the form of Kundalini, a coiled state, and lies dormant at the base of the spine,[11] denoting that she is at rest.[12] Due to this dormant state, under the influence of Maya-shakti (limiting power of divine), the individual is veiled from the universal consciousness and the perception of universal sound as well. The individual distinguishing himself as separate from others is limited to his limited self.[13] Due to the limitation of anava mala, it draws a veil of limitation of awareness on the self, owing to which the individual forgets his real nature. He becomes further limited by mayiya mala caused by Maya and karma mala, the limiting condition due to vasanas, the residual traces of the actions of previous births.

The creative function has two aspects: the arc of descent, from the divine down to the empirical individual, and the arc of ascent, from the empirical individual up to the divine consciousness, centrifugal and centripetal.[8],[14] When an individual, a seeker of one's true nature, wants to unveil or reveal his veiled essential divine nature, the original innate, pure I-consciousness, there is the provision of yoga. The purpose of all scriptures is to guide the empirical individual to mount the arc of ascent and reach the stage of divine consciousness, the goal. The methods recommended are the tools or means for reaching the goal.[15] According to Shiva sutras, to attain this goal, the aspirant has to undergo the discipline of Yoga.

Ordinary individuals (Anu) with limited means and limitations to understanding can begin the yogic process with grosser means called as Anavopaya. They are predominantly activity oriented (kriyopaya) and is to be acquired with effort. The seeker here needs a tool/object, as support for his sadhana. The tools as classified by Malini Vijayottara Tantra mentioned above are Uccara, Karana, dhyana, Varna, and sthana-kalpana.

Of all the above-mentioned tools, uccara or anahata nada is the sound-based means. It is stated that the very first sound in the process of creation of the universe is Paranada or Nada Brahman. It manifests into the physical world as different eternal sounds known as anahata nadas and in individuals as Kundalini Shakti. The rousing of the dormant Kundalini from the base of the spine, in an upward movement on the arc of ascent, retracing the path of descent, via the Sushumna Nadi is the path for realization.[16] To facilitate the ascendancy of the Kundalini, stimulating the anahata nada inherent in Kundalini is one of the upaya or means.

Sri Adi Shankaracharya in his work “Yoga Taaravali” states that the samadhi state attainable by tuning to anahata nada known as Nadayoga is the most superior of the 1, 25, 000 laya yoga methods imparted by Lord Shiva for the benefit of humanity. According to Shiva Sutras, tuning to the anahata nada is one of the best means for self-realization. Many of the major 108 Upanishads consider Nada Yoga as one of the exalted techniques that can lead an aspirant to the highest reality. “Vijnanabhairava tantra” enlists Nada yoga as one of the 112 dharanas (FA) and postulates that it is one of the distinguished ways of sadhana.

  Bhramari Pranayamaas a Sound-Based Aid for Meditation Top

Tuning to the anahata nada is not possible in ordinary individuals, as it is said to be audible only to the ear that is competent to hear it. Anahata nada vibrates in the prana shakti, the eternal energy of consciousness, present in the Sushumna Nadi. It is heard when the Kundalini that lies dormant at the base of the spine is aroused and moves upward in the Sushumna Nadi.[8] However, Sushumna Nadi is usually closed in the common man. Bhramari Pranayama predominantly a sound-based technique practiced along with breathing and shanmukhi mudra enables the aspirant to tune to the anahata nadas.

Bhramari Pranayama, a simple and unique yogic technique, is a combination of attending to the self-produced humming sound emulating a bumblebee with breath control.[17]

  Bhramari Pranayama Highlighted in Classical Yoga Texts Top

Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Swami Swatmarama and Gheranda Samhita of Sage Gheranda are among the foremost texts of classical hatha yoga, written between the 15th and 16th centuries. These texts emphasize that Bhramari Pranayama is one of the ashtha kumbhakas (eight major pranayamas) and also one of the six techniques to attain samadhi. This also is considered as a tool for pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and it is usually practiced with shanmukhi mudra.

  The Practice of Bhramari Pranayamaas Described in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika And Gheranda Samhita Top

Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes breathe in quickly, humming like the male black bee, and exhales slowly when softly humming like a female bee. By this yogic practice, one becomes the lord of yogis and the mind is absorbed in bliss.[17]

According to Gheranda Samhita, a yogi after midnight, choosing a quiet place where there is no sound of any living beings heard, should practice inhalation and breath retention, closing the ears with the hands.[18]Bhramari Pranayama has been referred to as a medium to samadhi in the same text. Inhale at a slow pace humming like a female bee and retain the breath. When exhaling slowly humming like a male bee, focus the mind on the internal sound. When the Bhramari nada is heard, total merger of the mind happens, leading to Nada yoga samadhi arising in the bliss of spontaneous sound of Soham, “I am That.”[18]

It is interesting to observe that Bhramari has been described in one of the Puranas (mythology) as well. In the tenth canto of Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Bhramari Devi is said to have manifested when devas (gods) prayed for protection from the demon king Arunasura. The legend has it that when incarnated, the Bhramari Devi appeared surrounded with a large number of bees, buzzing incessantly the sound-Hrimkara (the first vibration of force). She was therefore named Bhramari Devi as she was surrounded by large black bees, and then the Bhramari Devi sent out all sorts of black bees, who destroyed the demons and returned to the Devi.[19]

  Differences in the Practice of Bhramari Pranayamain Classical Hatha Yoga Texts Top

According to Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, during the practice of Bhramari Pranayama, when inhaling, the sound produced is similar to that of a bhrunga or a male bee, both pitch and speed are high (veghodghosham). When exhaling, the sound produced is similar to that of brungi, a female bee, slow and low pitch (mandam mandam). With the practice of this pranayama, a yogi will achieve a blissful state of mind.

Gheranda Samhita describes the practice of this pranayama with kumbhaka accompanied with ears closed with the fingers. In the subsequent verses, it is explained that one should focus on various internal sounds inclusive of Bhramari nada (sound) heard in the right ear. Later in the chapter on samadhi, under the section Nada Yoga Samadhi, the instructions are to perform antar kumbhaka-Bhramari kumbhaka with slow breath followed by slower exhalation with the sound of buzzing of a male bee. Later, the instruction is to focus on internal sounds in the right ear. When Bhramari nada is heard internally, the mind merges in it. Eventually, continued practice will culminate in Samadhi.

  The Technique to Practice of Bhramari Pranayama According to the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Top

  1. Sit in any comfortable meditative pose, relax, and keep the body steady
  2. Keep the eyes closed throughout the practice
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, listening to the sound of the breath
  4. Close the ears through the index or middle fingers by pressing the middle outer part of the ear ligament into the ear hole
  5. Keep the ears closed and exhale, making a deep soft humming sound
  6. Concentrate on the sound, keeping it low pitched
  7. When exhalation is complete, lower the hands to the knees and breathe in slowly
  8. Continue to practice in the same way, performing ten to twenty rounds
  9. When completed, keep the eyes closed and listen for any subtle sounds.

  Variations in the Practice of Bhramari Pranayama Top

  1. Produce sound like a male bee during inhalation and female bee during exhalation
  2. Produce the buzzing of the bee sound only during exhalation
  3. Produce the buzzing of the bee sound like “mmmm” or “nnnnn” or “ng
  4. Perform antar kumbhaka after inhalation
  5. Perform bahya kumbhaka after exhalation with mahabanda (all the three bhandas)
  6. Perform by closing only the ear with thumb or index finger
  7. Perform by closing the ear with the index and middle finger by pressing the outer part of the ear ligament into the earlobe.
  8. Perform with shanmukhi mudra
  9. Perform with shanmukhi mudra and moola bandha.

  Features of Bhramari Pranayama Top

  1. The sound produced with rechaka (exhalation) and pooraka (inhalation) in two frequencies/speed along with antar kumbhaka
  2. Self-produced overt sound emulating the buzzing of a bumblebee with breathing
  3. Hearing to the self-produced sound with shanmukhi mudra
  4. Hearing to the sound in the right ear
  5. Vocalizing of the Bhramari sound with the consonant “ng” may activate the uvula
  6. Transformation and processing of sound
  7. Prelude to Nada Yoga Samadhi.

The purity of nadis (pranic channels) is a prerequisite to Nada yoga.[11] In Yoga Taaravali, Sri Adi Shankaracharya says purity of nadis is essential for the anahata nada to be heard and performing nadi shuddi pranayama (purifying and balancing the flow of breath) prepares the aspirant for this. The pranayama aspect of Bhramari Pranayama also called swara pranayama involves inhalation and exhalation, respectively, along with kumbhaka (retention) with the humming sound of a bumblebee in high and low pitch. This may expedite the nadi shuddi or purification of the pranic channels. As prana and apana in the Ida and Pingala nadis, running beside it, are equilibrated, by performing pranayama, Sushumna Nadi opens up. It enables the awakening of the dormant Kundalini. This view is also endorsed by other texts such as Yoga Yajnavalkya Upanishad and Shiva sutras.

Satchakranirupana one of the ancient texts enunciates that when Kundalini is roused, sweet murmur like the hum of swarms of love-mad bees is heard.[12]Shiva Samhita states that the first of the sounds heard in Nada yoga is Bhrunga nada.

This could be the reason for Sage Gheranda to choose the humming sound of a bee as a prelude to Nada Yoga. The humming of the sound “n,” “m,” or “ng” known as varna prakalpana, with breath control, is said to produces resonance. This can happen when the sound produced at the throat matches with the natural frequency of the body.[20] This is the most important aspect of Bhramari Pranayama. It is said that anahata nada is a mystical resonant vibration. The resonant vibrations evoked by the practice of Bhramari Pranayama may be conducive in arousing the dormant Kundalini in whom anahata nada is inherent.[8]

Sage Gheranda specifies that after performing Bhramari Pranayama, the aspirant should try to hear to the anahata nada in the right ear. It is already mentioned earlier that anahata nadas cannot be heard by ordinary ears. Shiva sutras state that only “patrakarne,”[8] the competent ears can hear the anahata nadas. Practicing Bhramari Pranayama enables the ordinary ears competent to hear the anahata nadas.

In any meditation, pratyahara, reversing the mind from the external sense objects, internalizing it,[21] and arriving at a thoughtless state, is prerequisite.[22] Appling of shanmukhi mudra aids in the internalization of the sense organs, enabling to achieving the state of pratyahara.[18]Shandilopanishad states that by adopting shanmukhi mudra, not only the external perception is dropped but also the internal perception, i.e., chitta vrittis, the mental modifications are dropped. In Shiva Swarodaya, Lord Shiva imparts to Parvati the method of adopting shanmukhi mudra: fix the thumb in the ears, place the middle fingers on the two nostrils, the ring and little fingers on the mouth, and the fore fingers on the upper eyelids.[23]

Vocalization in Bhramari Pranayama depicts the buzzing of a female bumblebee, making use of the consonant “n” with the strength of “ng” of the words such as king, sing, and ring.[24] Spiritual practice performed with beeja mantraHrim” vocalized as “Hring” by some sect of sadhakas, depicting the buzzing of a female bumblebee, to worship Devi is mentioned numerous times in Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam.[19] This typical method of vocalization is said to activate the uvula at the back of the throat. The activation of uvula may further facilitate to propagate the sound vibrations to the brain. Swami Gitananda Giri notes that activation of uvula by the practice of Bhramari Pranayama may induce secretion of soma (nectar-like fluid) down the throat.[25] The mention of the “uvula like organ” has been made in many Upanishads. The 6th chapter of Shiksa-Valli of Taittiriya Upanishad says that the bodily location of the potential energy source is in the nipple-like structure that is hanging between the two palates.

[26] It also states that through this organ, Sushumna nadi pierces between the two sides of the skull. It is called the Indrayoni: where Indra i.e., Brahman manifests itself. Hamsopanishad of Shukla Yajur Veda also mentions about the structure like uvula as Indra yoni. Soubhagya Lakshmi Upanishad and Shandilya Upanishad (from Atharvana Veda), also make similar statements.

Bhramari Pranayama having these unique, lofty features is simple, easy to follow, and practice with a minimal requirement of expert guidance, makes it relevant in today's scenario.

  A Probable Mechanism for Reaching Higher States of Consciousness Using Bhramari Pranayama Top

In Gheranda Samhita, Sage Gheranda states that the practice of Bhramari Pranayama enables the aspirant to reach higher states of consciousness. Performance of pranayama with self-produced humming sound facilitates the purification of nadis and balancing of the flow of breath, prana and apana in Ida and Pingala Nadis. As they get equilibrated, the closed Susuhmna Nadi opens up. The resonant vibrations produced by the humming of Bhramari Pranayama is said to rouse the Kundalini that lies dormant at the base of the spine. Kundalini whose quality is moving upward, Urdhva Gamini, propels the soul upward in the Sushumna Nadi and the aspirant starts to spontaneously hear the anahata nada. By spontaneous hearing of the anahata nada, it can be inferred that the practice of Bhramari Pranayama has enabled the ears of the aspirant to hear the anahata nada and also that he has reached the stage of ajapajapa, the stage of effortless hearing.[27] As one starts hearing the anahata nada spontaneously, need to effortful practice Bhramari Pranayama will cease.

This is one of the ancient techniques known as anusandhana (exploration) of anahata nada or nadaanusandhana that leads to Nada Yoga Samadhi. Vijnanabhairava tantra states that anahata nada is Brahman in the form of sound, i.e., Shabda Brahman.[8]Anahata nada is a natural, ceaseless vibration occurring without any impact, imperceptible to ordinary ears. It is inarticulate, as all the letters lie latently in it, in an undivided way. It can only be meditated upon. Tuning to the anahata nada will eventually lead the aspirant from grosser sounds to subtler ones and finally culminate in realization of Parabramhan, the Ultimate Reality.[18]

In the practice of Nada Yoga, nada is considered as means to pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi.[28] With further advanced practice, refined sounds are heard internally which becomes a strong anchor for the mind to remain in that state for a longer time. Nada Bindu Upanishad states that the yogi with an interiorized mind should listen to the sound in the right ear. Yoga Chudamani Upanishad states that when practiced with Shanmukhi mudra and moola bandha, nada will manifest distinctly.[8] With constant practice, it will lead to turiya state (the fourth state of consciousness, beyond the wakeful, dream, and deep sleep state). In Yoga Taaravali, Sri Adi Shankaracharya postulates that through the sustained listening to the anahata nada, the yogi can overcome the external sound and mental turbulences within 15 days and feel the blissful state.[29]

The anahata nadas heard during the sadhana of nadaanusandhana are ten, known as dashavidha nada. According to Hamsopanishad: 1stsound is-Chin, 2nd-Chini-Chini (sound of anklets), 3rd-ghanta (sound of bells), 4th-Shankha (blast of a conch), 5th-Veena (like the note produced by the wire of a harp), 6th-Thala (cymbals), 7th-Venu (flute), 8th-Bheri (tabor), 9th-Mrudanga ( kettle drum), and 10th-Meghanaada (sound of thunder of a cloud).[30] It is further stated that Nada yoga culminates in the Pranava Nada. According to Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, the sound of the ocean (samudraghosha), the humming of the bees (bhrunga nada), and trumpet (kahale) are also included.[17]Hamsopanishad further states that the sounds are heard in the above-mentioned sequence, but not all sounds are heard by all aspirants. It may slightly vary according to purva samskara (mental impressions of past) and individual sadhana. Each successive nada subtler than the previous implies higher levels of consciousness and correlates to the level of one's spiritual attainment. The nine stages of consciousness are known to be the subtle forms of nine nadas culminating in the highest state known as Unmana [Table 1].[27]
Table 1: Subtlety of vibration of Pranic energy measured in terms of time at various levels of consciousness

Click here to view

In this course of spiritual discipline, on the path of ascendance of the aroused Kundalini, the aspirant has to clear the obstacles in the Sushumna Nadi in the form of six chakras and three granthis, the psychic knots called as the Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra granthis. These three granthis (psychic knots) are also known as Maya Granthis. They are the cause of the limitations of the individual. Brahma granthi causes attachment to the physical, material world, and excessive selfishness. Vishnu granthi causes emotional attachment and Rudra granthi leads to attachment to siddhi s and I-consciousness. These knots bind the sentience with the insentience and make the nonself, appear as self, causing bondage.[27] The six charkas are the essence of the five Pancha mahabhutas and the Chitta.

As and when the aspirant progresses in his sadhana by anusandhana or mental awareness of the anahata nadas, Kundalini, transcends the three granthis, and the six chakras, starting from Mooladhara chakra in the Sushumna Nadi, crossing the mayic and material plain, to transcend various stages of the spiritual domain. The awakened Kundalini on her upward journey first pierces the Brahma granthi. Then, she pierces mooladhara chakra; rising further, she passes through the Svadishthana and Manipura chakras. Next, she pierces through the Vishnu granthi and the Anahata and Vishuddha chakras. Further, she pierces the Rudra granthi and then Ajnacakra leading to the internal vision of Jyoti (light). It is also stated in the text Vijnanbairavatantra that by adopting shanmukhi mudra, Bindu, a point of brilliant light is perceived leading to a higher state of consciousness.[8] Transcending the material domain, many stages of universal consciousness, the aspirant reaches the source of the nada, the Parabramhan (The Highest Reality).[27]Sri Adi Shankaracharya in his work “Yoga Taaravali” states that, of the 1, 25, 000 laya yoga methods imparted by Lord Shiva, the Samadhi state attainable by nadaanusandhana as most superior, as it leads to the highest state of Samadhi directly and it is regarded very high for spiritual practices.[9],[31]

  Discussion and Conclusion Top

Bhramari Pranayama is a unique tool used for meditation. Attention to the stimuli evoked enables the aspirant to tune to the anahata nada, which is inherent in every individual yet, imperceptible to ordinary ears. It leads to Nadayoga Samadhi, which is hailed by many of the ancient scriptures as an exceptional means to attain the reality. An attempt to understand its possible mechanism based on ancient literature in this review could kindle an aspirant to pursue this proven technique with a fair understanding of its processing, especially the origin of sound to retracing the same to reach the Supreme Reality. The aspirant can assess his progress as and when he reaches various stages-dashavidha nadas, which encourages him to further his spiritual practices.

Research on various meditations based on chanting as a tool, inclusive of Bhramari Pranayama has been growing of late [Table 2]. Opportunity to study the properties of stimuli causing meditative states is not common in research. The overt features of Bhramari Pranayama, as presented by the classical references, when studied in the light of already existing scientific literature, seem to offer great scope to explore its numerous measurable features. The properties of self-produced humming sound, proprioceptive, as well as kinesthetic feedback qualifies it as a bottom-up approach to meditative states. The classical texts testify to the participation of senses well up to a very high level of consciousness in meditation.[27] Research of these features in both short term and longitudinal studies may provide a host of information about the importance of the link of proper sensory perceptions, its effect on attention, and cognition in meditative process. Attending to the self-generated stimulus in meditation amounts to sensory-motor integration. As per the scientific literature, it is already known that the self-produced sounds are processed differently from the externally heard sounds. Interesting features such as corollary discharge, efference copy may add a new dimension to the understanding of the meditative process, as well as understanding its therapeutic value in many psychiatric conditions and cognitive processing. It may as well provide a rare opportunity to study the vicissitudes that ensue, more so in the sensory domain, at different stages of meditation using appropriate research tools. Bhramari Pranayama leading to Nadayoga Samadhi is suitable to study both stimulus and its response. This aspect may help in understanding the cause and effect of meditative processes. It may also lead to the development of new therapeutic applications appropriate to various physiological, psychological, and cognitive conditions.
Table 2: Review of scientific literature on chanting based practices including Bhramari Pranayama as an aid to meditation

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