In this practice we are going to circulate energy through the chakra system by using the vibration of sound. We’re going to follow the same circular path as when performing Rudra Pranayama — down the front of the body and up the spine toward the crown of the head.
The purpose of this technique is to deepen your experience of energy and awareness. You can use it on its own, or as a supplement to the core pranayama practice of Rudra Meditation.
Once the technique has served its purpose, set it aside and rest in the open space of your Awareness.
Chanting at the Third Eye Chakra
Begin by bringing your attention to the “third eye” chakra (in the forehead, just above the eyebrows). Relax any tensions in this area, then gently chant the sound OM (we’ll work with other mantras later in this article). You can perform this internally or out loud.
If you start with audible chanting, it’s helpful to move to an internal practice after several moments. This will direct the mind further inward.
We’re going to use brief sound exposures rather than long drawn out chants. This will allow us to move through the chakras relatively fast so there’s a feeling of movement and progression throughout the practice. We also want to sense the space and stillness between the sounds, so speed is not the goal here.
After you’ve practiced for a while, you’ll fall into a rhythm that will feel right to you. That tempo may change from session to session, so try not to force the timing, just allow Awareness to guide you.
As you chant OM at the third-eye, let the sound break up any tension you may be holding within that area.
Chanting at the Throat Chakra
Next, drop your awareness into the throat chakra. Most people feel this most prominently at the dip in the center of the neck between the clavicles and just above the sternum. Again, chant OM, and let the vibration of the sound break up any tension you may be holding.
Without using force, sink into OM until your attention becomes more focused. Allow the sound to deepen and clarify your consciousness.
Chanting at the Heart Chakra
Move into the heart chakra in the center of the chest and chant OM. Feel the tension drop and your awareness expand. Notice any sensations which arise.
Sometimes you may feel a pleasurable tingling. At other times, a slight pain as if you’re activating long neglected muscles.
Chanting at the Navel Chakra
Drop your awareness to manipura chakra — just below the navel and slightly inward — and chant OM once again. Each focused recitation of OM (at any chakra) is like a tiny explosion of energy. This can create an opening which allows your consciousness to expand outward beyond the physical body.
You may discover that when your attention is focused in manipura, the two lower chakras also become enlivened. Or, you may feel more of an opening in the heart center. In either case, there’s no need to tighten or narrow your awareness in order to focus on manipura alone. Instead, stay centered here while giving space to whatever else you may be experiencing.
Chanting at the Sex Chakra
Next, move into the sex chakra and chant OM again. There’s a subconscious tendency for many people to suppress any feelings within this center. That suppression leads to blockages which prevent the energy from rising.
For this exercise to work, you have to feel deeply into this and every other chakra, allowing any sensations to surface and spread.
Chanting at the Base Chakra
From the sex chakra, feel into the perinium and base of the spine. Chant OM. With time, as your practice progresses, you will experience an uncoiling of energy here, as if dormant forces are awakening and ascending upward.
Try not to bring the mind into the process. Just surrender deeper, observing what takes place without attempting to control the energy in any way.
Chanting at the Crown Chakra
Next, consciously direct your awareness upward through the spinal column to the crown of the head and chant OM. Feel the crown open and give rise to an expansiveness above the head.
Bhagwan Nityananda referred to this experience as chidakasha, which means ‘the sky of the heart’. The ‘heart’ he’s referring to here is the heart of Awareness, which is felt to be as open and vast as the sky.
This completes one cycle.
After a brief pause, begin again, chanting OM at the third-eye, throat, heart, navel, sex, base, and crown.
Speed and Repetitions
Repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times, or whatever feels appropriate in the moment. Sometimes I’m guided to perform one cycle and then to rest in the silence and allow the expansion and circulation of energies to continue on its own. Other times, I’ve been drawn into many more repetitions.
Experiment and see what works for you. The key is to hold an attitude of openness and exploration.
You can play around with the speed of progression through the chakras. Try going through the whole cycle within 30 seconds or less, or drawing it out for 3-5 minutes. Each tempo will produce different experiences.
Alternate Practice: One Long OM
Another way to practice is to take a deep breath down through the chakras into manipura, pause briefly, and then chant one long, drawn out OM. Feel the vibration move from the navel, through the sex, into the base chakra, then up the spine into the crown.
Try chanting out loud for the first several repetitions, move to an internal chant for several more, then complete a few more cycles with the breath alone. After, rest in the silence, feeling the chakras continue to expand.
I find this particularly helpful in developing sensitivity in the spinal pathway. Many people — even some beginners — sense the movement of energy down the front of the body but find it difficult to feel the rising current. This practice aids in refining that perceptual ability.
Note: I often refer to the central channel — the sushumna — as the spinal pathway. This is out of convenience. Sushumna is actually a subtle channel located within the subtle body, but it corresponds closely to the physical body’s central nervous system located in the brain and spine.
Another way to practice this circulation of sonic energy is to use a two syllable mantra such as soham, hamsa, or aham. You recite the first syllable during the inhalation and the second on the exhalation. Of course, this method is internal since there is no way to chant out loud while inhaling.
Why Chant OM?
Many mantras in numerous spiritual traditions begin with the sound of OM — aka AUM. Some examples of this are:
- OM Mani Padme Hum
- OM Namah Shivaya
- OM Tara Tuttare Ture Soha
- OM Gam Ganapataye Namaha
- OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
OM is the mother of all sounds. It contains all other sounds and combinations of sounds. OM is the vibration or pulsation at the heart of creation.
OM brings everything into form, maintains the integrity of each form, and then dissolves all forms back into the Awareness from which they emerged.
Three sounds form the one syllable ‘OM’:
‘A’ – ‘U’ – ‘M’
The first sounds like ‘ahh’. The second is a kind of cross between ‘uuu’ and ‘ohh’, because when vocalized the lips are brought together into an oval shape, rather than kept flat. The last sound is more of an ‘n’ than an ‘m’. Or like ‘nng’. It’s a nasal sound called Anusvara.
Physically, the three sounds resonate with different areas of the body.
‘A’ – the navel
‘U’ – the chest and throat
‘M’ – the nasal cavity, brain, and skull
You can really begin to feel these parts of the body resonating with those sounds when you pronounce OM in the way described above. This is particularly true when pronounced out loud, especially with the last sound of ‘m’ or ‘nng’. When pronounced as the english ‘m’ the vibration is mostly felt in the mouth and lips. If the ‘nng’ sound is used, the vibration will be felt in the sinus cavity, brain, and skull.
Philosophically, those sounds represent the trifold process of creation, preservation, and destruction. They also symbolize other triads such as past-present-future, thought-speech-action, and tamas-rajas-sattva (the three gunas).
Working with the Internal Sound of OM
If you’re in a quiet setting, away from the sound of traffic and the hum of air conditioning and other appliances, you may be able to hear the subtle vibration of OM. Sometimes it’s experienced as a high pitched ringing, other times as a lower pitch similar to the noise heard when holding a seashell up to your ear.
Whether this is the sound of OM has been debated. It could be the sound of air molecules bouncing around in your ear canal, or the sound of electrical energy moving through your nervous system.
Ultimately, all sounds can be traced back to the primal vibration of OM from which they emerged. Knowing this, you can take that internal sound to be an aspect of OM and use it as a focal point for your meditation.
Allow your attention to become fused with that inner vibration, bring it down through the chakra system, through the third-eye, throat, heart, and navel. Then draw it through the sex chakra to the base of the spine, and feel it rise through the central channel to the crown of the head and into the open space above.
Repeat this process, opening more and more to the flow, allowing the subtle vibration to break up any blockages it encounters. Continue until you find yourself in a state of silent stillness, then abide in that state.
Using Other Bija Mantras
Aside from OM, there are many other bija mantras — seed sounds — which will work well with the above practices of chanting through the chakras. Again, this is an experimental process. Play around with different mantras until you discover which is most effective for you.
Each sound vibration produces a unique effect within the nervous system and the energy channels of the subtle body. Some spiritual teachers, as well as ayurvedic practitioners, are able to assess the student or patient, and prescribe a mantra that will work best with their particular constitution.
While this can be helpful, there are many mantras for more general use which are safe for most everyone to use. The sound OM, as well as any of the bija mantras mentioned within this article, fall within that category. The key here is to listen to your inner guidance. If it’s telling you that a certain sound vibration or technique isn’t working for you, move onto something that does.
Tantric yogic philosophy teaches us that each sound of the Sanskrit alphabet is a unique energy which gives rise to a particular type of form. The interplay of those sonic frequencies brings the entire universe into manifestation.
In this tradition, certain sounds are symbolized by deities. The sounds are the sonic bodies of those deities. Here’s a few examples:
- Aim (pronounced like the contraction I’m). This is Saraswati’s bija mantra. Saraswati is the goddess of speech and her bija resonates with the throat chakra.
- Hrim (pronounced hreem). This is the main Shakti mantra, felt most prominently within the heart chakra.
- Hum (pronounced with the long vowel sound of ‘u’ like the word ‘zoom’). This is the bija mantra of Shiva and the fierce forms of Kali.
There are also certain seed sounds related to each of the five elements. Each element is dominant within a particular chakra.
The Elemental Bija Mantras
Lam – earth – base chakra
Vam – water – sex chakra
Ram – fire – navel chakra
Yam – air – heart chakra
Ham – space – throat chakra
These bija mantras are usually spelled as above, but the ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘u’ in rum or strum.
Notice that the third-eye and crown chakra do not have a designated elemental bija mantra. Instead, the sound OM is often used at the third-eye. It’s also used at the crown — sometimes with a higher pitch — or a reverent silence is observed instead.
The tantric scholar, Christopher Wallace, has pointed out that many people have mistakenly taught that each of these bija mantras are specific to a certain chakra, and should therefore only be used within that chakra. He explains how this is a misunderstanding, that the original texts associate the elemental bijas with a singular element rather than a specific energy center.
For our practice then, this means we can use any of the elemental bija sounds at any of the chakras. Without going into all the implications of that here, we can understand that if there’s a need for more fire throughout the entire chakra system we can us the bija mantra ‘ram’. We can chant that sound in place of OM as we move through each of the chakras. If the need is for more space, we can use ‘ham’. If we need to become more grounded we can use ‘lam’, the bija for earth, etc…
Here’s a few ways to work with the elemental bijas:
- Choose one bija mantra to work with in the way we previously worked with OM.
- Chant through each individual chakra, internally or audibly.
- Or use the alternative technique of one long, drawn out chant.
- Chant each elemental bija mantra that corresponds with the element in each chakra. Start with OM at the third-eye, ham at the throat, yam at the heart, ram at manipura, vam at the sex, and lam at the base chakra. Allow your awareness to rise through the central channel to the crown, rest there in the silence for a moment, then repeat the cycle.
Different Traditions, Different Approaches
In some yoga traditions, such as hatha yoga and kriya yoga, the elemental bija mantras — as well as OM and other mantras — are chanted within the spinal column (again, more accurately, the central channel or sushumna). The idea is to trace the elements back toward their Source, from lower, denser energies, into higher and finer vibrations.
You go from earth to water, from water to fire, from fire to air, from air to space, then from space into that which is beyond all the physical elements. You transcend time and space and dissolve into pure Spirit, into Awareness Itself.
This is not in opposition to the practice of Rudra Meditation. But with our work, we take a different approach. We open and surrender to the downward flow of Higher Creative Energy. We allow it to break apart our limiting mental constructs and all the other energetic blockages that keep us stuck in lower states of consciousness.
By grounding and centering, by opening and surrendering, we give space for the energy to come in, release the blockages, and then begin to rise — in its own way, and on its own time. Our work is to get out of the way and allow this process to take place.
What about the chakras? Why do some systems teach that they’re in the spine, while others instruct us to feel them in the front of the body?
The major chakras described in most traditions originate in the sushumna channel which runs close to the spine. From there, they flower outward, and this is where we most easily feel them.
For example, when you feel love toward someone you feel an expansion in the heart center. When you get angry, you feel the heart chakra contract. If you feel nervous about speaking up, or giving a public talk, you experience a dryness and constriction in the throat. When you’re among friends and feeling comfortable, the throat chakra opens and conversation flows freely.
There are many other examples I could give, but the point is that the chakras are most easily felt in the front of the body, so that is where it will be easiest to focus your attention. As your practice progresses, and you acquire more sensitivity, you will be able to trace each chakra back to its origin in sushumna.
This happens naturally, you don’t have to seek it out or try to bring the experience about. For example, if you’re sitting in the heart chakra, and you feel it open, a few things can happen.
Your consciousness may expand out from that area to encompass the entire room you’re in. Or you may feel an energy coming through this area and bringing your attention down into manipura chakra. At other times, you may feel your attention being drawn inward, not as a contracting force, but like it’s being sucked into a current. That current pulls you into the sushumna channel where the energy can then rise toward the crown.
Eventually, when you’re open and free of all inner resistance, all energy you encounter will come in, move through you, then rise.