The Nine Step Bottled Wind Pranayama Practice

A more forceful breathing practice, that attempts to ignite the internal  wind element through compression, is the (9 step) nine-step bottled wind pranayama practice introduced by the female Buddha Vajrayogini (also known as Vajravarahi or "Diamond Sow" Buddha) into Tibet. This practice, which is also known as the "White Brightness" practice, relies on the respiratory winds (our external breath)  to activate the body's pre-natal chi. Once activated, the real chi within the body can transform our  mai and ignite the kundalini fire element within.  If nothing else, continued proper use of this practice banishes sickness and extends one's life span. It helps open up chi channels and thus pushes out the poisons from the body, and leads to clarity of mind.

Our physical bodies are comprised of the four great elements earth, wind, fire and water, which we must transform during the process of cultivation.  The chi channels inside are filled with dirty chi of these types, and this dirty chi that clogs the channels must be extruded before real cultivation progress is achieved.

Of these four elements, it is the earth element (such as our bones) which is the hardest to transform since it is the densest element of the body. When it pours out of chi channels at advanced stages it is like sand. When mixed with the water element, the chi that comes out has the texture of lumpy apple sauce.

The wind element of the body, corresponding to our chi, is the easiest element to transform. So most cultivation paths in the world start with breathing practices since they focus on changing this easiest-to-transform wind element. Since  mind and chi (the wind element) are inter-linked, and since chi and wind are connected, these facts play a vital role in the design of many cultivation methods. Four our purposes I recommend you understand the pranayam practices of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 9 bottled wind, and anapansati practices. You can find more in the Anapana Chi Conversations between Nan Huai Chin and Peter Senge. Also the best anapanasati text I've found is here.

By making our respiration more efficient through the forced retention of the breath, which  helps open  all the tiny capillaries and obstructed mai in the body (the nadis), it becomes much easier for a practitioner to reach the required point of respiratory cessation  in all their other cultivation practices, such as  watching  thoughts or watching the breath. In other words, this practice will enable you to become more efficient in your breathing because it will clean the mai and extend the amount of time you can spend between the normal inhalations and exhalations of your breath. Thus it'll  increase the effectiveness of all your other cultivation techniques.

As stated, the popularity of breathing methods in the world's cultivation schools, such as Hindu yoga pranayama, arises from the fact that  the wind element of the body is the easiest element  of the body to transform. The water element, corresponding to our mai, nerves,  and hormones, is the next easiest element  to transform. The fire element of the body, corresponding to the kundalini phenomenon, and finally the earth element of the body (corresponding to the bones), are much harder to cultivate.  When some masters die, they can transform their physical bodies into realms of light, but they often leave behind bits of hair and nail corresponding to the earth element, as mementos for their students.

This entire process of changing the physical nature, for a practitioner who takes no detours and makes no mistakes, takes a minimum of 13 years of devoted practice.  The first 100 days of practice, wherein one must never lose their jing (seminal essence) while  relaxing the body and cultivating emptiness of mind, is called "laying the foundation" of "transforming  jing into chi". This is followed by "pregnancy for 10  months" wherein "chi is transmuted into shen". The next 3 years of practice is called "suckling the baby" wherein" shen is transmuted into emptiness", and the following 9 years  is termed "facing the wall" because it is a stage of mastering  no-thought by cultivating higher stages of emptiness. In the Tao school, these  various sequences of cultivating the jing, chi, and shen corresponding to attaining the fruit of Hinayana cultivation.  One must cultivate past this  stage of accomplishment in order to reach the higher Mahayana fruit of  attainment, and the realm of perfect enlightenment which is called Buddhahood.

Now in the  nine-step bottled wind practice,  there are  four phases performed for each of the nine rounds of practice. These four phases are:

                1.  Slowly drawing  wind (air) into the lungs
                2.  Fully filling the lungs as much as possible as if they  were a bottle or vase
                3.  Holding the air inside for as long as possible while remaining  relaxed
                4.  Quickly releasing the air from the lungs, expelling it like an arrow

One such round is performed three times for the left nostril, three times for the right nostril, and three times for both open nostrils.  This makes a total of nine rounds, hence the name of "nine-step" vase breathing practice.
The steps of the practice are as follows:

1. Begin by sitting in an upright  meditation posture. If the arms can be extended and locked with hands pushing on the legs so as to lift the chest, this is excellent.
2. Visualize that your body becomes as clear as crystal.
3. Close the mouth. Using the index finger of the left hand to close the left nostril, holding the hand as shown, press  against the left nostril and inhale slowly through the right nostril. The inhalation should consist of a long, gentle, deep breath--as long and deep as possible. Experienced practitioners can maintain this inhalation process for several minutes. During inhalation, contemplate that all of space becomes filed with light, and this brightness is inhaled into the body to dispel any internal poisons, darkness and obstructions. Continue inhaling as slowly and deeply as possible until you are "full" of breath.
4. When the "body vase" or "bottle" becomes  full, relax the body as much as possible while holding the breath within. The breath must be compressed, or held inside for as long as possible, without being allowed to leave the body, and yet one must use as few muscles as possible for this retention. It is important while restraining the breath to maintain an upright position without tightening the body so that the wind and chi can open up all the tiny  channels in the body that might be compressed during strain; if the body is  tightened rather than relaxed, even with force the chi will  not be able to pass through certain pathways that are obstructed. Experienced practitioners can hold the breath for several minutes, even as the face turns red, which indicates that the wind element  is  opening up the body's tiny chi channels.
5. When the breath can no longer  be retained, exhale it as forcefully and quickly as possible through the  other open nostril. The breath is forcefully shot out of the body with the speed of an arrow to complete one cycle or round.  Repeat this exercise of slow inhalation, long retention, and forceful exhalation two more times, for a total of three times. All the while the left nostril is kept closed while the active nostril is the right nostril.
6. Switch hands, so that the right hand now pinches the right nostril closed, and the left nostril is left open. Inhale through the left nostril following the equivalent instructions as before. Repeat this exercise three times for the new nostril. Thus, six repetitions of this exercise will now have been completed.
7. Extend both arms to  lift the chest as shown. Using  neither hand, inhale slowly through both nostrils, hold the breath within for as long as possible, and then exhale quickly through both open  nostrils. Do this for a total of three times. Altogether nine inhalations and retentions  are performed, which gives rise to the name of  nine-step bottled wind practice.

One can supplement, or expand upon this practice  by visualizing the central, left and right channels becoming filled with light during this bottled breathing technique. During the retention  or "compressing" phase of this practice, the air in the left and right channels is envisioned as flowing into and ascending the empty central channel, which shines with a dazzling brilliance. When the breath is expelled, you can also imagine that all sorts of dark and dirty humors are expelled along with it,  while clean chi is simultaneously drawn up into the central channel.   However, these visualizations are just elaborations of the basic technique. As a further alternative, you might   visualize that the incoming  air fills out  the left and right channels as it comes in, like   thin empty balloons which inflate  with air, which are then discharged into the central channel-- envisioned as flowing into the central  channel during the state of  compressed retention.

The important point is to hold the breath for as long as possible, during which time the body is not restrained tightly. One should never employ too much force in restraining the body. Neither should you try to force any internal circulations of chi. If the body is held tightly, the chi cannot pass through obstructed regions to open the mai.  If one uses force to "guide the chi", what should happen naturally may not happen at all!

After some period of practice, people are generally surprised how little muscle effort is needed to retain the full breath. If people are straining many muscles to hold  the breath, they are definitely practicing incorrectly. Nine-step breathing exercises are actually a practice of using as few muscles  as possible (maximum relaxation), to hold in as much breath as possible, as deeply as possible, for as long as possible,  and then to exhale  as quickly as possible.  People who do not obtain quick results from this practice are violating  one or more of these rules.

Now another Tibetan breathing exercise related to this one is the   vase breathing practice belonging to  the "Six Yogas of Naropa" tradition.   In this method, which is very similar to the nine step bottled wind, a practitioner sits on the flat ground, with legs crossed in a comfortable position, looking straight ahead. The back is held erect, and the two hands are loosely placed on the knees rather than locked in an extension pose meant  to spread the intercostal spaces between the ribs.

As before, one then begins the practice by looking straight ahead, drawing in air through the right nostril, gazing to the left, and then releasing the air through the left nostril by exhaling slowly and gently until no more air is left in the lungs. Then you look ahead, draw air in through the left nostril, turn the head to gaze to the right, and slowly and gently release the air via the right nostril until the lungs are empty. Lastly, you look straight ahead and draw in the air through both nostrils, and then release it through both. You  repeat this preliminary cycle of  inhalation-exhalation sequences  two more  times for a total of nine breaths, and you never allow the air to pass through the mouth during any part of this practice. If one wishes to add to this practice a bit further to smoothen the chi at the beginning, they can add a prefix by performing the famous Taoist five organ sounds before the start of this routine to help their internal chi reach a state of equilibrium, and to help calm the internal organs and mai.

Now the heart of the practice begins after the set of nine inhalations and exhalations have been performed, whose purpose was to help calm the breath and open the mai. So you continue in your sitting position with the body straight and erect, and the hands formed into fists with the thumbs inside. Different mudras (hand positions) will produce different effects, but this is how you start the practice. You then start  breathing slowly and deeply, gently pulling the air down to below the navel, which is the region of the tan-tien. You swallow a bit of saliva without opening the mouth, and without making a sound, and when the saliva has traveled all the way down, you press on the abdomen to a point just below where your navel chakra would be. In addition, you tighten the muscles of the perineum and pelvis and pull up from below so that the air seems gently trapped between these two locations; don't use too much force otherwise you'll hurt yourself. 

Next you  focus your  awareness on the region of the navel chakra, which is where the kundalini typically ignites, and you hold your breath for as long as possible in this state, maintaining your awareness all the while on a single point within the tan-tien. This practice is like holding an air ball between two hands, only here you use your mental concentration and a tiny bit of initial muscular pressure to bring about this feeling of  compression. Hence we can say the body is filled with air like a vase, or bottle, and when you can no longer hold it inside any longer, you release it slowly through  the nostrils without allowing any to escape through the mouth. So swallowing saliva, you retain your breath while pressing down a bit with the abdomen, while from below, you gently draw in air from the anus and sexual passage to the same site, holding the air for as long as possible.

With repeated practice of either of these techniques, one will be able to retain their breath for several minutes, which will clear the mai and help prepare the body for attaining the stage when it needs little external breathing; the external respiration will cease and all the pores of the body will open. It's even possible to ignite the kundalini shakti in this way.   The duration of the retention phase in this technique can and should be gradually lengthened over time, and the number of repetitions gradually increased.  Over time, this method will cause the mind to have more clarity, the body to become hardier and healthier, the tiny mai to open up, the muscles to soften,  the blood circulation to improve, and it will become easier--when using other methods--for the external respiration to reach and maintain the stage of prolonged  cessation. In this stage your thoughts will be lessened, and one can enter samadhi.


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