Granthi means knot or blockage and granthis refer to pranic obstacles in the course of the central pranic channel, Sushumna, that prevent Kundalini from rising beyond a certain level. Due to this, insights and revelations beyond that level cannot be gained. Granthis are manifesting through the power of one’s previous actions (karma). They need to be broken or dissolved, a process in shastra (scripture) usually called ‘piercing’, so that spiritual evolution can take place unimpeded and swiftly.
What makes the subject of granthis hard to grasp is that they are awkwardly named after the three main Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (the third granthi carries the Vedic name of Shiva, i.e. Rudra). This conjures up the image of an anthropomorphic God who haphazardly throws obstacle into your path. However, understand that the names of the three deities are metaphors for the three realms of human existence, for societal realms. They imply realms of human development, evolution and experience. Let’s look into them more closely:
The first granthi is the Brahma Granthi, the blockage of the force of the creation. The knot is so called because Brahma is the Hindu god of creation. This granthi blocks the most basic and elemental aspects of our life. It can block either of the two lowest chakras or both, so the blocked chakra is ill-supplied with prana. With blocking the base chakra (Muladhara) one’s survival is at risk, and one may display either risky or destructive behaviour with no apparent understanding of the dangers, or suicidal tendencies may play out.
Brahma Granthi can also block the sacral chakra, the Svadhishthana. In this case, one can either suffer from extremely low libido, i.e. incapacity of owning one’s sexuality, or the granthi can cause the inability to mature beyond one’s sexual identity, which is the case in the perennial gigolo or seductress. Males, for example, who excessively use pubescent, penile vocabulary are also inhibited by this granthi. The granthi can also cause the inability to conceive offspring, to adequately care for one’s progeny, and also to own and express one’s emotionality. This granthi inhibits proper limbic brain function.
The second granthi is the Vishnu Granthi, which can again block either of two, or both, of the navel-, and the heart chakra. The Hathatatva Kaumudi of Sundaradeva confirms that the blockage of the navel chakra (Manipura) is brought about by the Vishnu Granthi 281. The term knot indicates that the life force (prana) cannot flow into or beyond this chakra. The blockage is so named because Vishnu in Hindu mythology is the maintainer of society. All aspects of our life that deal with how we interact with the larger society around us, with the role we play in society, are directed by the navel-, and heart chakras. The Vishnu Granthi may stop you from becoming a fully integrated individual operating within society, i.e. asserting yourself from a position of power (navel chakra) if necessary and coming from a position of unconditional love (heart chakra) if possible.
The Vishnu Granthi can block the navel chakra in two ways. First, it can prevent life force (prana) from entering the chakra at hand, so the evolutionary brain circuitry associated with this chakra is not available to you. This is the typical scenario of a powerless person who may get victimized and cannot take the mantle of the leader, even if needed. Let me clarify that I am not indicating that victimization is the fault of the victim. A perpetrator will skilfully scan for a suitable victim, but the karmic responsibility is still with the perpetrator and the civil code of law must protect any victims. It is, however, a blocked power chakra that lets a predator skilfully select a suitable victim over another person, whose defence code would be more difficult to crack. For a predator, this is a necessary skill they usually can perform to great accuracy.
The other way the Vishnu Granthi may operate, is that it prevents us to go beyond the navel chakra, thus activating the heart chakra (Anahata). This is the present dilemma of our human society. Although increasing attempts are being made, our society still creates toxic hierarchies, such as the one’s driven by wealth, power and status. With the heart chakra activated, we will see each individual as a manifestation of the Divine, we see them for their essence, even if they themselves cannot yet see this. The heart chakra powered the life of visionaries like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and, of course, Jesus Christ.
If the Vishnu Granthi is powerful, it may block the navel and heart chakra simultaneously. If so, higher spiritual exercises (such as meditation on awareness or on the higher chakras) may provide mentally destabilizing. Instead of that, the focus should be on activating these middle chakras first. This is done through pranayama, chakra-meditation, and particularly exercises such as Bhastrika or Nauli. If through an accident, the higher chakras open, while Vishnu Granthi blocks the two middle chakras, schizophrenia may ensue. A typical scenario in which this can occur is through psychedelics such as LSD, DMT, psilocybin or ayahuasca. I have described spiritual problems associated with psychedelic use in Chakras, Drugs and Evolution – A Map of Transformative States282. Schizophrenia here means that one cognises such powerful knowledge that one cannot integrate it into one’s life. With the navel- and heart chakras opened, most of life’s challenges can be handled, but without them we may find ourselves in a deep crisis. Especially the heart chakra fosters submission to a higher intelligence and power, which is the key to overcoming crises. Another dangerous constellation is if the heart chakra remains closed and chakras above it, such as the throat-, or third eye chakra, open. Such a case could lead to the formation of a cult-leader, somebody who may place higher spiritual insights into the service of their power chakra, fulfilling their need for self-aggrandisement and adoration through recruiting gullible followers.
The third and last granthi is the Rudra Granthi. Also, this granthi can block either, or both, of the throat-, and third eye chakra. The throat chakra (Vishuddha) enables us to see that the entire cosmos is a crystallization of sacred law and that everything, including all matter, is crystallized spirit. With an activated third eye chakra we can see that plants, animals, microbes, rocks, mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests are forms of intelligence that can teach us, if only we can understand their language. It is this chakra that opens to us the world of indigenous experience, the world of animism and shamanism. It would not be wrong to say that modern industrial society’s ignorant beliefs that the cosmos is an insentient world machine consisting of dumb and dead matter, that animals may be tortured with impunity in laboratories or bred in captivity to be eaten, that forests are at our disposal to be cut down for woodchips, that lakes and oceans are little more than latrines and chemical waste dumps, that indigenous people are primitives and savages, are proof that our modern materialistic culture collectively suffers from a dormant throat chakra, blocked by Rudra Granthi. An active throat chakra would enable us to feel the pain of all the life forms and entities listed above and would therefore render us incapable of metering out to the magnificent natural world the level of primitive brutality we still exert to coerce and bully it into submission.
The Rudra Granthi can also block the third eye chakra (Ajna), as confirmed by Hathatatva Kaumudi of Sundaradeva283. Different to the throat chakra, the Ajna empowers us to have a direct experience of cosmic intelligence, the intelligence that crystallizes itself as the sum total of all universes. In the yogic tradition, this intelligence is usually called the Divine, but the term does not imply an anthropomorphic god. The belief in an anthropomorphic god, a god in the likeness of a human, results from projecting into the sky our need for a father figure in form of a giant tribal chieftain. Michelangelo’s image of the Father giving life to Adam is clearly a copy of the pagan god Zeus rather than an approximation of the Biblical Yahweh.
Rudra Granthi blocking the third eye chakra expresses itself as the incapacity to personally experience divine revelation. This can either lead to materialistic reductionism and empiricism (the belief that only matter exists and sensory perception is the only valid means to obtain knowledge) or the belief that the Divine cannot be personally experienced at all. We are made to believe that the Divine has authored a certain book, which now represents the only means of understanding the Divine, and any other books dealing with the same subject are false, and their adherents infidels or pagans. Again, it is easy to see that most of modern humanity suffers from a collective blockage of the third eye chakra through Rudra Granthi.
Rudra Granthi is blocking both chakras in the majority of modern humans. Under the influence of this granthi we manoeuvred ourselves into a situation where we are now gazing into the yawning abyss of ecocide, environmental holocaust and omnicide (the murder of all life). The granthis are caused by karma, in this case, the collective karma of humanity. They are caused by all the suffering we have caused each other, to nature, to all species, and to the supposedly inanimate world. Imagine what could happen if Rudra Granthi was broken in most humans? Our children, grandchildren and their progeny would certainly thank us for it!
(Note: The following passage is highly technical and only suitable for those who have an interest in the technicalities and practices of granthi-breaking.)
The granthis need to be broken in the right order with Brahma Granthi first, then Vishnu Granthi, then Rudra Granthi. This is corroborated by Yoga Kundalini Upanishad I.63-65, which also confirms the location of the granthis as stated in the present text 284. The Upanishad again confirms in stanzas I.80-81285. The same is also stated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika286 and in Hathatatva Kaumudi, stanzas XLIII.9-10287. If Rudra Granthi is broken without previous activation the heart chakra, psychotic or schizophrenic tendencies can develop. Fortunately, this is unlikely unless one takes psychedelics or engages in extreme practices. This then is a warning not to engage in extreme practices but to act responsibly. An extreme practice would be to engage in the practices described in this chapter without suitable preparation through asana, pranayama and kriyas, such as, for example, Nauli. The mudras listed in the dharana section of this book must be seen as Stage 3 granthi-breaker. Hathatatva Kaumudi of Sundaradeva states that prolonged practice of Shakti Chalana Mudra pierces the knots288. To prepare for Stage 3 granthi-breaking, we must first prepare the body through asana. Then we enter into the process known as Stage 1 granthi-breaking. Stage 1 means to apply all three bandhas in both internal and external kumbhaka (breath retention), while practising the pranayama method Nadi Shodhana (or, depending on individual tendency, Chandra or Surya Bhedana). Only when established in Stage 1 granthi-breaking, do we go on to Stage 2 granthi-breaking, which is Bhastrika. This is confirmed in Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad stanza 39. If you are not properly prepared for Bhastrika, you can have a similar disorienting effect as when taking a hallucinogen. Some teachers advise going straight to Bhastrika and there are dubious versions of it on the internet. No surprise then that people have so-called Kundalini-accidents.
The process briefly listed so far is described in great detail in my textbook Pranayama The Breath of Yoga. Once this process of granthi– breaking (or piercing as it is sometimes called) is completed, we can then engage in Stage 3, comprising of the mudras described in the following section. Do not practice these dharana mudras, i.e. mudras designed to raise Kundalini, unless you have largely attained the state of hemisync (brain hemisphere synchronization) with Nadi Shodhana pranayama.
281 Dr M.L. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Hathatatvakaumudi, The Lonavla Yoga Institite, Lonavla, 2007, p. 690
282 Gregor Maehle, Chakras, Drugs and Evolution – A Map of Transformative States, Kaivalya Publications, Crabbes Creek, 2021
283 Dr M.L. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Hathatatvakaumudi, The Lonavla Yoga Institite, Lonavla, 2007, p. 690
284 Dr. M.M. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Critical Edition of Selected Yogopanisads, Lonavla Yoga Institute, Lonavla, 2017, p. 126-7 stanzas 66- 69, and again stanzas 85-86
285 Dr. M.M. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Critical Edition of Selected Yogopanisads, Lonavla Yoga Institute, Lonavla, 2017, p. 137
286 Hatha Yoga Pradipika (10-chapter edition), V.50
287 Dr M.L. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Hathatatvakaumudi, The Lonavla Yoga Institite, Lonavla, 2007, p. 505-506
288 Dr M.L. Gharote et al (eds. & transl.), Hathatatvakaumudi, The Lonavla Yoga Institite, Lonavla, 2007, p. 72
This is an excerpt from my recent book MUDRAS- Seals of Yoga.
I love this article, its depth both in scholarship and personal experience from practice! Thank you Gregor!
Thanks for the positive feedback, Yvonne. I’m glad you found the article helpful. Warm regards, Gregor
How long does it take to learn proper nauli if you are starting from scratch?
A few weeks or a few years (like some of the bandhas take)?
Many students can learn Nauli within a week. There is a significant amount of people whom it takes about three weeks. Then there are students who find it quite difficult and take longer. Among those are women who gave birth by caesarian section, those who have low body awareness and also those who find it difficult to learn the skill of isolating the various layers of abdominal muscles. However, most students report some level of success after a couple of weeks.
Hope this helps