Swami Kriyananda had a delightful T-shirt which proclaimed, almost warningly:
WATCH MY SMOKE!
It immediately relaxed his visitors into a humorous mood. It was just good fun!
At the same time, everyone knew that he indeed produced an amazing amount of “smoke” in his life, like Yogananda, creating a lasting and visible impact wherever he was.
“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” the saying goes but what was the fire of Swami Kriyananda all about? Where does that fire burn?
It is in the spine. It is the rising fire of all great yogis, who throughout the centuries taught how to ignite it by applying various methods. So how can we ignite it now ourselves?
A special meditative posture Siddhasana, indicates the direction for our meditative practice. Try it for yourself. Enter Siddhasana or any easier variation. Swami Kriyananda explains to us what to do:
Be conscious of the spine in this technique. Draw the energy upward and focus it at the point between the eyebrows. Apply a firm will to lift your inner energy upward in the spine. Then repeat its highly meaningful affirmation: I set ablaze the fire of inner joy.
Hold that pose for 20 minutes, as Kriyananda recommends, and lo and behold! you may suddenly feel that your inner fire is indeed lighting up within you. Make that upward flow ever stronger until you feel that you truly have “set ablaze the fire of inner joy.”
Then relax, and smilingly declare, “Watch my smoke!”
This lifting of the spinal energy is central to the ancient yogic teachings and should be a basic goal of us all during our meditations. This is why we keep our eyes lifted toward the spiritual eye, to guide the flow of prana to that point. Make this rising lifeforce a key intention with your inner silence. Swami Kriyananda writes:
The secret of meditation is to visualize the energy in the spine
rising in joyful aspiration toward the point between the eyebrows.
Try another yoga posture to help you in this central yogic endeavor: Parvatasana. Kriyananda points out how to raise the inner fire: “Inhale, drawing the abdomen in, forcing the air to rise into the upper chest. Imagine that the breath is rising still further up into your fingertips.” While you hold the breath, affirm: My thoughts and energy rise up to touch the skies.
Kriyananda specifies: “You may breathe to a rhythm of 6-12-6, repeating the respiration three to six times, gradually increasing the number to a limit of 30 times.” Don’t get stuck with any low number, but increase the length of that technique gradually and powerfully. Practice with deep concentration, and observe the amazing effect on your spine and brain.
If you do so, you will certainly light your inner fire brightly. And for a second time, you may smile and tell the world, “Watch my smoke!”
In essence, according to the original yoga teachings, we must raise the energy in our bodies through the spine to the brain, if we would know the fulfillment we seek–usually, alas, sought in misdirection a million ways.
Yogananda explains the advanced state of such a practice in Autobiography of a Yogi:
In deep meditation, the first experience of Spirit is on the altar of the spine, and then in the brain. The torrential bliss is overwhelming, but the yogi learns to control its outward manifestations.
Rising energy requires a strong act of will. But in time that effort results in a natural state of yogic happiness. In his book, Raja Yoga, Kriyananda puts it beautifully:
Spiritual awakening is accompanied by a rising energy and consciousness in the spine. In this spiritual state, one may indeed dance, laugh, and sing with unending gladness, rapt ever in breezes of inner joy, but it will be a happiness quite the opposite of that of those…who look to be acted upon, rather than to initiate any action themselves. All joy lies in giving, in the raising of one’s energy, in expansion, in the dynamic application of one’s will. All peace, to be true and lasting, lies in this sort of upliftment, not in the passive “flow-with-it” consciousness that is so popular with many people nowadays.
You may practice this central teaching also during your daily life: As you walk through your city or town, or as you sit in your office chair, or as you take care of your kids, visualize constantly an upward flow of energy in your spine. It will help you feel light. In this way, you will more easily maintain the inner joy of meditation. Once again the folks around you need to watch out…for your marvelous, yogic smoke!
Is that still not enough for you? Then you may practice, at the beginning of your meditations, one of the most powerful pranayamas, specially designed to effectively lift the spinal energy: Kapalabhati, literally translated as shining skull. The inner fire gets ignited mightily and your shining inner energy rises:
Draw the diaphragm inward sharply, forcing the air out through the nostrils in quick thrusts. Let the inhalation take place automatically. All of your efforts should be spent in the exhalation. Each respiration should take about one second to perform. Do this exercise 12 to 24 times, to begin with–then more as you become accustomed to it.
Later when you get up from meditation, you may smile again and think: “People everywhere, now truly watch my smoke!”
This rising of the inner energy can be described as the very essence of the yogic path. Swami Kriyananda explains:
You will find, especially as you go deeper, that the spine plays an important role in your spiritual progress. Try to be more conscious of it in meditation. Feel the life currents flowing there. Visualize them rising toward the brain as you soar in the skies of inner peace. If, later, you learn the technique of Kriya Yoga, your spiritual progress will be hastened, and your soul-satisfaction will be immense. For, lo! the very universe can be yours, if you will but claim it in God.
In fact, by lifting the inner energy we actively cooperate with grace. The grace of God begins to flow in your life as your inner energy moves upward. It is the fire of Spirit that will be kindled in you and through your shining eyes, you can increasingly declare to everyone, “You all, watch my smoke!”
That is then our wish for you if you are a regular meditator—that you may increasingly enjoy a good yoga-smoke!
Nooooo, wait a minute! We are not in any way even remotely talking about cannabis or ganja yoga which does exist in the world. True yoga does not teach puffing away on grass!
Joking aside—let’s at this point briefly discuss the use of intoxicating drugs as they relate to the yogic path. The thought again comes from Swami Kriyananda’s book of treasures, Raja Yoga:
Observation of drug users over the years has convinced me that they have only abandoned one form of egotism for another. Indeed, theirs is the more insidious. The aggressive person at least relates to the objective world, though not attractively. But by drugs people seem to retreat to a subjective island where even love and their so-called expanded awareness give them no genuine compassion for, or active interest in, others. Their lack of interest in relating to others, except purely subjectively, denotes not freedom as they believe, but only an excessive involvement with themselves.
Let us instead patiently learn the yogic secret of lifting our spinal energies, igniting our inner fire, trying to experience the first glimpses of divine joy and grace. After even a little success in this endeavor, we shall smile from within and joyously tell the world: