As we have discussed in class, the key to your success in becoming an effective hatha yoga teacher lies in developing and maintaining a 6-day-a-week asana practice. Here are some guidelines for developing an asana practice that will help you to embody the practice as taught in this course. In addition to these guidelines, it is important that you read and understand the text in the ‘Notes on Practice’ section of your binder written by Swami Vyaktamananda, Mahaswami (Kim Schwartz).
To begin with, start to use the five stages of asana within each asana you practice. The five stages will become habit in no time. The information that follows is taken from Goswami Kriyananda’s book, The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga.
The Five Stages of Every Posture
Every posture has five stages in it. Practicing the yoga postures is similar to playing a musical instrument. To a very large degree, it necessitates timing and attunement to a feeling. If you ask a musician how long a full note is, he cannot give you an exact, definitive answer. Every musician knows the length of a note is a matter of its relationship to other notes. In short, timing is proportional and relative. It is a feeling state, close, but different in each master’s mind.
In the same way, the feeling state within a particular posture is subjective, but very closely linked to that posture. From that feeling follow the five stages which make up the completed posture.
1. The first step is mentally attuning to the posture. Here the mind establishes a feeling state appropriate to the posture. For example, when a tennis player is about to serve, he must attune his mind to a particular attentiveness. He mentally goes through the delivery of the ball before actually tossing it up. This collectiveness, this attentiveness, is the feeling that was spoken about. The feeling will be different with the different postures. The closer the postures are to each other, the closer the feeling will be.
This feeling state before going into a posture is important. If you hold a positive feeling, it will cause the mind states relating to the posture to become balanced. This feeling state draws the energies into balance. It produces a quietness and brings energies to the specific energy center (chakra) according to the pose performed.
2. The second step is flowing into the posture. Move into the posture as gently, as smoothly, and harmoniously as possible. If you have ever watched how a cat stretches, you will perceive the ease and grace with which you should go into any posture. The flow or sweep into a posture is one motion. There should be no jerkiness.
3. The third step is holding the posture motionless. This is the most important. People who move awkwardly have an extremely difficult time holding the mind still ... concentration is almost impossible. People who are always fidgeting and/or always making extraneous movements, have their energies scattered. There is a relationship between bodily stillness and mental equilibrium.
The secret of the posture is the hold. It is in the hold that the bodily energies are brought into balance. It is within the hold that the life energies are lifted and sent to the chakras, healing karma imbalances. The mind always follows the feelings. If you feel anger, holding to that feeling causes the energies to become more out of balance. Eventually they become so far out of balance you will be compelled to think, speak and act in a negative way. But reversing the process, and holding to a balanced quietude, will cause the anger to soften or lift. When this feeling is held in the hold of the posture, it affects your subconscious mind. Thus, it has far stronger and longer lasting positive effects. It is also at this stage that the kriya kundalini ascends into the various chakras.
4. The fourth step is sweeping out of the posture. This should be done with one motion. Struggling to get in or out of a posture produces jerkiness and consequently an imbalancing of the energies. This defeats the purpose of the poses. In short, you should flow as smoothly out of the posture as you flowed into it.
5. The fifth and final step is total relaxation. This rest period is the second most important stage, for it is here that all the energies are balanced, reducing the emotions and producing positive feelings.
Page 3 Although the five stages are indicated, they are actually one total harmonious whole. There should be no ruptures or awkward movements between any of the stages.
Finally, there is a great difference between doing calisthenics and the yoga postures. Calisthenics is aimed at rapid contractions in order to enlarge and strengthen the muscles. Yoga stretches the muscles, toning and then relaxing them. It is, therefore, essential to learn to differentiate between stretching and straining. When the stretch becomes a strain, it is no longer yoga.
Structuring Your Practice
You can use the following as a template for structuring your practice.
Four Phases of an asana practice session
Centering – This is a transitional stage when you are transitioning from previous outward activities to your asana practice, signaling to the mind and body that your focus and awareness are shifting inward. Focusing your awareness on the breath either in a simple seated asana, or lying down in savasana, will begin to draw the energies of the mind and body inward, towards center.
Warm-up – Once you have spent time centering, begin to warm-up the body. Use this part of the practice to neutralize the spine, to stabilize and begin to open the hip and shoulder joints and to warm the muscles up. You may wish to use asanas from Unit 1 of the text.
Escalation – This part of the practice should consist primarily of standing poses. You may choose to either focus on ‘internally rotated’ or ‘externally rotated’ standing asanas (one category or the other) from Units 2, 3 and 4.
Resolution – This phase of the practice serves to prepare the body for savasana and includes the practice of savasana. For example, including a forward bend at this point will have a quieting effect on the mind and a cooling effect on the body. If you were to include a back bending pose at this point in the practice, it should be a simple backbend or a supported backbend rather than a muscular, heat and energy producing asana. If you were to include a twist in this phase, it would be best to use a supine twist rather than a standing twist for the same reasons.
Page 4 Try to include any primary movements of the spine that were not included in the previous three phases of your practice. The primary movements of the spine are: flexion (forward bending), extension (back bending), lateral extension (side bending) and rotation (twisting).
The Resolution Phase should always end with savasana or a similar symmetrical, restorative asana.
You may ask the question, how much time should I spend in each of these phases? It depends on the amount of time you have available, which will most likely vary from day to day.
Here is an example to give you an idea of how to divide your time until you are more familiar with the template. In time, the practice will flow more naturally and you won’t be so concerned about how to divide your time into the four phases.
1. Your practice should be enjoyable. Practice in a way that will leave you looking forward to your next practice session. Asana practice should become something you ‘want’ to do rather than something you ‘have’ to do.
2. Think in terms of consistency in practice. The goal is to develop a pleasant, 6-day a week practice that is suited to your lifestyle and daily schedule. Some days may present more time than others, and some days you may need to make time to practice. Try not to skip a day even if you only have a brief period in which to practice. It will help the mind and body to build and maintain a pattern; a habit.
3. Always include time to ‘center’ at the beginning of the practice and time for savasana at the end of the practice. Depending on your time-frame, these may be very brief periods within the practice, but in many ways they are the practice. Remember that the periods of non-movement or stillness within the practice hold the greatest benefits to the mind and body.
Page 5 4.The manner in which we practice affects our mind state. For instance, the practice has the ability to slow or increase the mind’s rate of activity, which will, in turn, effect the body as well. A key Ayurvedic principle to keep in mind is: Likes increase, dislikes decrease – meaning that when we do the same thing it will give us more of the same, and when we take an opposing action, or a ‘dislike’, it will decrease the effect we are experiencing, moving toward balance. For example, if the mind is particularly active, allow the breath to lengthen, and the body movements to be slow and deliberate. If the mind is sluggish, bring more energy to the breath, and let the body’s movement increase in energy as well- of course, not to be confused with forcefulness.
5. Be mindful to attach movement to breath rather than breath to movement. Allow the breath to initiate the body’s movement. The difference between the two is subtle – explore both ways to understand this concept. Each movement of the body should be linked to an inhalation or an exhalation.
6. Keep the throat, heart and abdomen soft and responsive to the breath. The inner-body is lengthened and the limbs are active while holding an asana still, but the inner-body, while maintaining its length, is fluid and open so the breath can move freely. The expression of the breath in this manner can be felt as air passing gently through water as the body is comprised mostly of water – the inner-body, this water element, ultimately, should not offer resistance to the expression of breath.
7. The breath should be effortless regardless of whether or not you are expressing it in a particular manner, such as utilizing a 3-part breath, or when allowing the breath to breathe itself. When expressing the breath in a particular manner, think in terms of conscious direction of the breath’s expression rather than forceful effort. Effortless breath is about letting go and allowing for the breath’s expression rather than physically forcing its expression.
8. Absorb yourself in the expression of the breath. While holding a pose still, or after releasing an asana, even if only truly for a breath or so, focus on the breath undistracted by thought – observing the expression of the breath in the body as it flows in and out. This is yoga, or the yoking of the mind and body by way of the breath.
Page 6 9. Hold each asana only as long as you can maintain the fluidity of the breath and the integrity of the body’s alignment. Each asana has a cycle – creating or entering the asana, sustaining or holding the asana and allowing the asana to dissolve or releasing it. Cycles share a commonality in their cyclic movement, but no two cycles being exactly the same, each time you practice the experience will differ in some way. One day you may hold Virabhadrasana I for 5 breaths and the next you may hold the same asana for 2 or 3 breaths. Try to become aware of, and open to this change. Let the breath be the guide as to when to release an asana – ideally, just before the breath begins to loose its fluidity. Knowing or sensing this point will come more easily with practice and observation. When an asana is held beyond this point, it becomes more effortful and begins to build tension in the mind and body. This is a movement away from yoga, and this movement away from yoga cultivates no benefits for the mind or body – it can be said to be himsa or harmful to both mind and body.
10. It is important at this time that your asana practice is comprised mostly of asanas taught in this course. You may, of course, include some of your favorites that are not included in the course, but it will be most useful to you to practice the asanas we are learning in class. Remember you can only truly teach what you truly know and have made your own through practice. This is how the teachings are embodied. It is not so important that you memorize the text or that you practice exactly as you are taught in class, but that you come to your own understanding of what is being taught. This is making the practice your own.
11. Please keep in mind that when asana is taught, for the most part, it is broken into fragments. During personal practice, there should be less fragmenting and eventually, no fragmenting – simply, the flow of the breath, the movement of the body and the mind absorbing itself simultaneously in the two – a oneness, which is yoga.
12. Above all else, enjoy your practice!
Page 7 NOTES ON PRACTICE
Yoga is a mental posture, a state of equilibrium and stillness. It is not a destination to be reached, it is a place where you simply are. Only through practice (abhyasa) are the fruits of yoga obtained. The method is the goal.
The Difference Between Effort and Intensity in Yoga Practice
The levels of intensity in yoga practice are defined as mild (mrdu), average (madhyama), keen (adhimatra), and vehement (tivra). The intensity of your practice will determine the quality and depth of your results. Although this would seem to indicate that the greater the physical effort you exert, the better, the answer is not that simple. The essence of yoga is balance and integration. In yoga, intensity is not measured by effort. Intensity is measured by the degree of focused awareness you bring to the physical aspects of your practice. This emphasis on focus and awareness, rather than just exerting physical ef- fort, is what distinguishes this program’s approach to Hatha Yoga.
How to Determine the Proper Intensity of Practice
In their enthusiasm for results from hatha practice, many people confuse intensity with effort. Let’s use asana as an example. If you work an asana with too much effort, injury or overwork may occur. However, if you work the asana with moderate effort, but with intensity or focus, you will achieve the desired result. Through your practice and reflection on the aftereffects of that practice, you will begin to discern the level of intensity that is comfortable and effective for you. The physical body is an excellent barometer to measure the attitude you bring into your practice. Are you pushing your- self too hard, or are you sustaining the intensity of your practice with balance? Once you gain a clear awareness of your intensity level, you can apply this awareness to other aspects of your practice.
How to Determine the Duration of Practice
Let’s take this understanding of intensity further. We could express intensity as a part of a mathematical formula: intensity multiplied by duration will equal the result- ing force (I x D = F). A modest amount of intensity over a long period of time can yield the same results that a great deal of intensity will yield over a shorter period of time. Therefore, to achieve a given result, the relationship of intensity and duration needs to be proportional. If your observations reveal that only a small amount of intensity is possible for you without creating difficulty, then the duration must be proportionally increased in order to still achieve the desired result. Since most people cannot easily sustain a high degree of focus or intensity of practice, the natural variable to increase is duration or length of practice. Increasing our effort is not always wise. For example, you cannot force a hamstring to lengthen any sooner than it should. You will only injure yourself. Therefore, if you are trying to stretch a tight hamstring, duration would be the better variable to work with in asana practice.
Page 8 There are two aspects to duration. One is the length of time involved, and the other is repetition. The true depth of an asana is most likely to be experienced as the asana is performed for greater lengths of time. So if an asana can only be sustained with integrity for a short period of time, then repetitions are necessary to achieve the desired result. Integrity means careful attention to structural alignment. In the long term, this attention to detail will be the most accurate and direct tool for affecting the flow of prana, the life force.
The Importance of Repetition
Repetition is always important, even if the asana is held for a longer duration. By repetition, we mean either a certain number of repetitions of a particular asana during your daily practice, or repeating the asana every day. It is a good idea to resume practice of an asana before its aftereffects have dissipated completely. In other words, it would be better to have a moderate practice every day than an intense practice once a week. This will help to keep a flow going. Using a moderate daily practice with the addition of an intense practice once or twice a week could also be an effective approach. The only way you can discern what works for you is, of course, through practice, observation, and reflection. The most vital thing to remember is that your practice should always be enjoyable and relaxing.
Page 9 Choosing the Best Asanas For Your Practice
The timing of your daily hatha practice is a personal choice, though what you practice will change. If you practice in the morning, you may want to start gently with some of the warm ups from month one. The session may then escalate with standing asanas and back bends, and transition through some neutral asana, like dandasana, before finishing with twists or forward bends. Always make time for savasana or an equivalent restorative asana at the end of your practice. The same approach may be employed for an afternoon practice though less warm up may be needed. An evening practice would typically be less muscular or heating than mornings or mid-day. If back bends are performed in the evening, they would best be performed in a supported, restorative fashion. Inversions, supported twists, and forward bends would also be good, as they can be more quieting and inturning.
Asana Practice and Food
It is suggested that you practice asana on a reasonably empty stomach. What you have eaten and the predisposition of your constitution will determine how long you need to wait after eating to practice. If you have a strong digestion, less time may be required. Another consideration is how long you should wait after practice before eat- ing. The greater the intensity of your practice, the longer you may want to wait. If you have given yourself a long savasana (15 minutes or more), you may require less time.
Through all asana practice, move slowly and with awareness. Remember, the articulation of the asana is much more relevant than trying to stretch. Let your practice expand to become a part of your lifestyle. The joy experienced in any aspect of life, however seemingly mundane, will be enhanced as you become steeped in the practices of yoga. Properly performed, yoga will bring you greater health, happiness, and aware- ness. Consider your practice a gift.
Hatha Yoga is both a physical and a mental discipline. The phrase “yoga asana” means a comfortable and stable pose held for the purpose of cultivating integration and wholeness, a yoking of the body and mind. Though asana practice is not literally movement oriented, yoga recognizes that within the appearance of stillness there is action taking place. In other words, the place of balance is a dynamic, not a static, state.
In hatha practice, movement can be experienced on different levels. As a teacher it is important for you to observe what is taking place physiologically and psychologically. This requires an understanding of the concepts of movement, action, momentum, inertia, and stillness.
Movement is the change of a thing’s position in space. In hatha this is the flexing, bending, and twisting of the body. This motion of the body must be perceived in relationship to something else in order for us to observe a movement. For instance, when you lift your arm to the side, the relative position of your arm changes in relationship to your torso. However, once movement stops, a dynamic state still exists. We call this action.
In the context of hatha, action refers to an isometric movement. An isometric movement is one in which there is no overt movement of the body in space, but there is still an activity of the musculature. Going back to our example, when you lift your arm out to the side, it is the isometric action in the muscle that holds it there. It is isometric activity that holds us upright while sitting or standing.
Physically, we associate the absence of movement with stillness. But even when sitting motionless, internal action is necessary to sustain balance. Though an asana may appear to be still or without movement, there are always varying degrees of internal action being performed.
Most of the instructions regarding the work we do in asana falls under this heading of actions. The quality or attitude of an asana can be determined by these internal, iso- metric actions.
Look at the nature and proportion of the muscular work which is required in your practice and where it can be released. Begin to assess the amount of concentration and intent required to perform an asana. These subtle actions of the body and mind are also quite dynamic. They will constantly change from day to day, morning to night, accord- ing to the amount of focus and time you invest in your practice. You cannot necessarily use yesterday’s experience to determine your approach to today’s practice. Memory can be a reference point, but awareness and focus are needed to be responsive to the present.
Page 12 Momentum
The way movements and actions are performed is determined, to a great extent, by two additional factors: inertia and momentum. In using these terms, we are largely talking about the predispositions of the body, our physical habits. The time and energy we have invested in a habit will determine the amount of momentum which is behind it. In order to facilitate a change in our body, we need to acknowledge what these habits are and how we can best use them.
While it is true that in yoga there is no such thing as a good habit, because “habit” implies a lack of self-awareness and volitional thought, we physically depend on certain habits in order to function in the world. Without them, we would not breathe or perform other actions necessary to sustain life. These habit patterns exist in the body, in the nervous system, and consequently in the musculature. Asana practice serves to re- educate the pathways in the nervous system to become accustomed to a more balanced condition.
Inertia is also a habit. The law of inertia states that an object at rest will tend to stay at rest, unless it is affected by some outside force. Therefore, pathways in the nervous system that have been unused for a long time may need to be reawakened. As with momentum, the length of time the pathways have been left dormant will determine the degree of intensity and duration required to open them again.
Stillness is a place in which there is no movement of the body, and the subtle action of the body and mind are quieted and focused. All of the facets of hatha practice - movement, action, momentum, inertia, and breath - can be employed to bring us to a state of dynamic stillness in body and mind which is conscious, comfortable, and stable.
We live in both physical and mental worlds. The word hatha has two syllables. Each syllable symbolizing one aspect of a pair of forces, such as mind and matter. Ha represents the Sun, our physical, active and masculine nature; that symbolizes the Moon, the mental, passive, and feminine side of our being. Hatha Yoga is a dynamic system of practices which brings these elements into harmony and integration. Yoga is a method that seeks to balance these elements into an awareness of their intrinsic unity.
Page 15 ACHIEVING RANGE OF MOTION THROUGH ASANA PRACTICE
When people talk about yoga, what they are usually referring to is Hatha Yoga. When they think of yoga, they think of stretching and relaxing the body to develop greater flexibility and range of motion. But contrary to what many people think, increasing your range of motion through asana practice is not achieved by stretching. As a matter of fact, sensations commonly associated with stretching can actually micro-tear the muscle fiber. Overworking muscles can also cause them damage. The micro-tearing which results from overworking and over-stretching muscles creates an overabundance of short muscle fiber. These fibers create muscles which are always in a partially contracted state and can never fully relax. Muscles that are constantly contracted actually inhibit range of motion.
Chronically hard muscles are very fashionable these days, as evidenced by the amount of time many people spend at the gym. However muscles that never relax not only have a limited range of motion, they are also more susceptible to injury. The structural strength of the body rests in the bones — not in the muscles. The muscles are arranged to support the natural alignment of the skeletal structure. The purpose of muscle is to hold the bones in proper alignment so they will bear the weight of the body. If the bones are well aligned, the muscles need to do relatively little work. But if the skeleton is out of alignment, some muscles will overwork to compensate, while others will be under-used. Over time, muscles that are habitually overworked lose their ability to relax easily and they become tight. Muscles that are under-worked become weak and deficient in tone. Both of these conditions contribute to limiting your range of motion.
Strong muscular actions do not need to produce muscular tightness. If proper alignment is sustained during an action, there is no need to avoid muscular work. Actions performed with proper alignment permit the muscles to release and to soften after- wards. This is what you want to achieve with your yoga practice — muscles that can be strong and then completely relax. However, if a posture is performed with poor alignment, the muscles will not completely relax when the actions are completed. This creates tightness over time, and limits your range of motion.
Page 16 How to Lengthen Muscles Without Force
To increase range of motion through hatha practice, perform the asanas with proper alignment to a point just before stretching occurs, and then breathe into the hold. Feel how each inhalation creates length and openness, and how each exhalation releases the gripping in the muscles. Lengthen the exhalations to release even more. Sustain the asana as long as it can be held comfortably with proper alignment and then release it. This is the method you want to teach your students.
Children typically have a tremendous range of motion and boundless energy. These two qualities often go together because range of motion facilitates an unrestricted flow of prana. Children also have wonderful muscle tone without tension, though it is interesting to note how soon they start to lose this tone in modern technological cultures. Remember there is a difference between muscle tone and muscle tightness. The definition of muscle tone is a muscle that can be strong when it needs to be strong and then completely relax.
As we age, our bodies become the result of all that we have thought, felt and done during our lives. It can be an interesting and enlightening experience to reflect on what has occurred in our lives from childhood on. These experiences, and our reactions to them, have created the people we are and the bodies we inhabit. Yoga is a practice that can work through this somatic memory, retraining our body.
Working with Students
Some of your students will have joints that are very loose, and others will have bodies that are very tight. It is tempting to think of people who are very flexible as having an advantage for practicing yoga, but this is not always the case. A loose-jointed person may have fewer restrictions in their range of motion, but this can also create more difficulty in knowing where their body parts are in relation to one another. Al- though a tight body is more prone to muscle injury from over stretching, a loose-jointed body is more prone to joint injury due to a lack of appropriate muscular support, which is a far greater concern. The potential for injury to occur due to hyperextension is also increased.
Yoga is balance. The student with too much muscle tension is as out of balance as the student with too little. From the perspective of teaching yoga, a loose-jointed student is often more challenging to instruct than a tight bodied student. This is because loose-jointed people are capable of many more movements, yet do not necessarily possess any greater body-awareness. Page 17 From the perspective of most students, having a tight body is frustrating at first. But with practice they will increase their range of motion. In fact, over time, due to their limitation in range of motion, a person whose muscles are tight can develop a very precise awareness of his or her body. The challenge in teaching loose-jointed students is finding ways to create boundaries that will keep their joints accurately aligned.
To achieve greater range of motion through asana practice, what we want to do is work the asanas in the direction of developing proper alignment. In this way, any chronic tightness or gripping in the muscles will release naturally. At the same time, this allows muscles that have been under-used to begin to strengthen. Developing range of motion through proper alignment and muscle tone is one of the principles that differentiates asana practice from most other systems of body maintenance.
Alignment and Prana
A well-balanced asana practice will create more energy than it uses. Although well balanced can refer to many different elements of practice, here it refers to the alignment of the body. If one side of a joint is closed and the other side open, this affects the movement of prana. The side that is too open is likely to dissipate prana while the side that is too tight is likely to restrict its flow. If the joint opening is balanced and well sup- ported by the musculature, the movement of prana will be well balanced.
Range of motion is created through proper alignment and muscle tone — not by muscles that are over or under-developed. Good muscle tone controls and directs prana in the most balanced way. This is why in the ashtangas of Patanjali, asana and pranayama are paired. They are both systems of controlling and directing prana.
Range of Motion as a Metaphor
No discussion of yoga is complete without considering the spiritual aspects of practice. One could say that there is also a psychological and spiritual range of motion. This relates to our ability to adjust, adapt and respond to life. The patterns we create either limit us physically and emotionally or serve as the foundation for our unfoldment and awakening. Flexibility is important, and so is the need to align and support ourselves spiritually. Page 18 The intensity of your practice is determined by the focus and awareness you sustain while you practice — not by effort or force. Yoga is not about twenty minutes in the morning or twenty minutes at night. It is a way of life, an attitude. The goal of yoga is to balance and align your body, mind and spirit harmoniously and to sustain that balance throughout the other phases of your life. This requires discipline and patience. To at- tempt it with force will create imbalance and injury. To embody yoga it needs to be practiced with clarity, wisdom, and gentleness.
QUALITIES OF ALIGNMENT IN ASANA PRACTICE
Alignment is the essence of good asana practice. Many times we encounter an asana that seems to require tremendous strength. Though strength is required, the real challenge is mostly one of alignment. The bones are the source of structural stability, not the muscles. If we can use the muscles to bring the bones into proper alignment, the muscles have to do relatively little work. The better the alignment, the less muscular the asana will feel. By opening the joints and releasing the chronic grip of the muscles, we can align the bones more accurately. Then even the most complicated and demanding asanas will be more easily accessible to us.
In Hatha Yoga, alignment has several levels, the most obvious being the muscular and skeletal levels. On a subtler level, however, we also need to develop visceral alignment, and on the subtlest level we want to achieve pranic alignment.
Muscle and Joint Alignment
The opposing sides of the joints should be as parallel as possible. If one side of a joint is too open, the other side will be too short. The side that is too open risks over- stretching the ligaments, and the side that is too short risks compression. What we are working toward is neutrality. In most asanas the joints will not be parallel or symmetrical, so we need to perform isometric actions to work the joints in the direction of symmetry. This practice helps to keep the joints open and mobile while maximizing their stability.
Opposing muscle groups also need to work in balance. Muscles contract when they engage. It is common to have to engage one muscle group for support so that an opposing muscle group can lengthen. For example, in most asanas where hamstring length is required, the quadriceps will need to be contracted. The quadriceps, which support the front of the leg, permit the back of the leg to release.
Muscular strength is the result of the prana moving freely, not of increasing the size of the muscles. You do not need large muscles to be strong. Despite the size of the muscles, strength comes from prana. For example, when you first wake up in the morn- ing, you do not generally have access to the same degree of strength you will have later in the day. The muscle mass has not changed, only the available prana.
The alignment of the torso is not a simple musculoskeletal matter. At a minimum, the torso needs to be seen as having a front, a back, and an inner or visceral body. In joint alignment, we are always working toward neutrality. This is also true of the spine. Whether the spine is in flexion, extension, rotation or lateral extension, the isometric actions of the body are in the direction of the natural curves of the spine.
To better understand muscle and joint alignment in the torso, let us use the ex- ample of a forward bend. A forward bend requires that the back body be longer than the front body. However, we do not want to compress the front of the body as we bend. As we try to keep length in the front of the body, we often end up tightening the back muscles, yet these are the very muscles that we are trying to soften and lengthen. This is where the visceral body needs to work. By cultivating inner body length and integrity, the front body can remain open while the back muscles soften and lengthen. The same concept can be applied to a back bend, twist, or lateral extension.
By developing accurate musculoskeletal alignment, the visceral body is permitted to function optimally. As our yoga practice develops, we begin to feel the alignment of the visceral body as much as that of the muscles and bones. Awareness of the visceral body begins to teach us how to work the muscles and bones. We begin to see how the lungs are moving, how the digestive organs are being affected, and how the circulatory and nervous systems are being affected by our practice. Sensing alignment from the visceral body requires a greater degree of inner quiet, because joints and muscles can be seen and felt, whereas the visceral body can only be felt. The less struggle in the outer body, the more easily we will be able to sense the inner body.
As we practice asana, the alignment of prana is the most important, the subtlest, and the most difficult to perceive. The movements and actions of the muscles and bones need to be nearly effortless and the visceral body very soft before we can truly begin to feel the movement of prana. This is the real model from which all the rest of the alignment parameters are established. However, due to its subtle nature, we usually cannot start here. Because of the way our awareness functions, we need to work from the physi- cal body to the subtle body. Since we must start where we are, we most often begin with the outer body because it is the most familiar to us. This is the reason that asana pre- cedes pranayama in the eight limbs of the system of Patanjali.
Page 21 THE DEFINITION AND PURPOSE OF ASANA
Patanjali refers to asana in his second book of the Yoga Sutras. The second book is called Sadhana Pada or Section on Practice. In Book Two, Sutra 46, Patanjali defines asana as having two qualities: stability and ease or comfort. Sutras 47 and 48 then elaborate on the purpose of asana.
Sutra 46: Sthira sukham asanam. sthira = stable or steady sukham = ease or comfort asanam = pose Translation: Asana is a pose held with stability and comfort.
The First Quality of Asana is Stability
Sthira means something that is stable, firm and lasting. In the classical yoga system, the primary purpose of asana practice is to prepare one’s physical body for practicing the last five limbs of the system, such as meditation. Meditation is an effortless practice and therefore the body needs to remain effortlessly still.
The sutra says nothing about becoming flexible. Flexibility is important because without it the bones will not align properly, which allows the muscles to relax. How- ever, the openness achieved by the joints and muscles balancing one another must be created with stability or tada, like the mountain.
This focus on stability raises a question. Why do we seek such great range of motion in asana practice? The answer brings us back to our equation: (I x D = F) intensity times duration equals force. The greater our range of motion in all directions and the greater our stability, the greater will be the duration of time we are able to sit comfort- ably with a neutral spine, whether that be in meditation or at our desk. The less stability we possess and the more limited our range of motion becomes, the more quickly our body will fatigue when sitting in meditation or anywhere else.
Page 22 The Second Quality of Asana is Comfort
The second quality referred to in the sutras is sukham. This means something that is happy, comfortable and filled with delight. In many physical disciplines, the phrase “no pain, no gain” is often used. In yoga, however, the opposite is true. If there is pain, it is likely that you are doing something wrong. Especially at the beginning, there can be a great deal of effort and perhaps even struggle in asana practice, but there should not be pain. Joint pain, for instance, is a very specific indicator that something is mis- aligned. Properly practiced, yoga asana brings not only health but happiness. As our body and the prana that animates it are brought back into balance, we should only feel greater and greater equanimity and joy.
The struggles we do experience in hatha practice are often our body’s reluctance to relinquish a habit. Since all asana practice should be in harmony with the natural movements of the body, the habit we are encountering is probably not harmonious with the nature of the body. At any stage of practice, the asanas should feel as though they are nurturing our whole being. In the same way that a cold, though uncomfortable, is the body’s struggle to overcome a virus and return to health, struggle in asana practice can be thought of as the body trying to return to balance.
Interestingly, there is a whole field of medicine dedicated to sports-related injuries. Not only is there no field of medicine needed for yoga, but yoga can be a therapeutic remedy for many types of sports injury. Injury from asana practice is only possible as a result of inaccurate or overly aggressive work. The cure is simply developing better alignment, comfort, and stability in your practice.
The Purpose of Asana
Sutra 47: Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam. prayatna = to sustain the effort needed to complete an endeavor saithilya = minimize ananta = unlimited, boundless, eternal samapattibhyam = encountering, meeting Translation: By sustained practice [of asana] as effort is minimized, we encounter the eternal.
Sutra 48: Tatah dvandvah anabhighatah. Tatah = then or from this moment forward Dvandvah = dualities or oppositions Anabhighatah = cession or removal of disturbances Translation: ... From this point on, [the practitioner] is undisturbed by dualities.
Page 23/24 Sutras 46-48 read: “Asana is a posture held with stability and comfort. By sustained practice, without effort, one encounters the eternal and then is undisturbed by dualities.”
In yoga, that which is eternal is spirit. It is the immortal part of you. Duality consists of opposites such as day/night, happy/sad, birth/death. All is change in this world. Yoga points out that the changing nature of the universes in which we live should not disturb us. As we come to know that which is eternal within us, we begin to see, to understand, and to live in harmony with the changing order of Life. To do this requires wisdom, self-discipline and patience, or as Patanjali would say: “constant practice and continual detachment.”
Page 25 ASANA, NADIS, AND THE MOVEMENT OF PRANA
The third and fourth limbs of the Ashtanga system of Patanjali are asana and pranayama. As we discussed last month, asana is a posture that is held with comfort and stability. Pranayama is the control (yama) of prana. Like yama and niyama, asana and pranayama are paired because they are complementary methods of directing the movement of prana. The effortless neutrality of the spine, which you are developing through your asana practice, is extremely helpful in facilitating this movement. Prana is Life-Force, the vital energy which permeates creation. It is also sometimes referred to as kriya, laya, tantra, kee or chi. It is drawn in when we breathe and is ab- sorbed through the lining of the mucous membranes, in much the same manner that oxygen is absorbed within the lungs. Prana is also absorbed from the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the thoughts we think.
Our physical body has life because of the prana that flows through it, not just be- cause of the breath. This is clearly demonstrated by observing that doctors cannot keep a body alive by simply supplying pure oxygen, adrenalin, or intravenous sugar. Our life is sustained by both the influx of prana and oxygen.
Prana moves within what we have referred to as the pranic body. In yoga this pranic body or sheath is called the prana maya kosha and is understood to be an interface between the physical body and subtler bodies. The prana travels within the pranic body over a network of pathways called nadis. These nadis form a system much like the network of nerves that branch through the physical body. In the same way that impulses travel through our physical body over nerves, prana flows via the nadis through our pranic body animating its physical counterpart.
There are said to be some 72,000 nadis through which prana flows. When we explore the articulation and alignment of an asana, what we are really exploring is how the prana is moving through these nadis. We look to see if the prana is moving in a balanced way or whether there is excess or restriction in some area. The well-being of our body is determined by the degree of balance with which the prana flows, and this movement of prana is reflected in the muscles, joints, skin and viscera.
Of the 72,000 nadis thirteen are considered important, but three are primary. These three are called Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Consciousness is affected and modified by the flow of prana when it becomes predominant in one of these three nadis. For instance, the flow of prana is more active in the Pingala nadi when we are awake, but is more active in the Ida nadi when we are sleeping. Some of the key qualities of the Ida nadi are introverted, cool, lunar, analog, emotional, passive, yin and feminine. Some of the key qualities of the Pingala nadi are extroverted, warm, solar, digital, logical, active, yang and masculine.
The Sushumna nadi is associated with a balanced state of awareness. This balanced state is not a mixture of Ida and Pingala but a balance—neither emotional nor logical. We really do not have a good translation in English for this concept. It is a state of true intuition, a place of direct and clear awareness. In the yogic model of consciousness, feeling or intuition is differentiated from emotion. An emotion motivates some sort of reaction, whereas feeling or intuition is a direct insight or perception that does not motivate a reaction.
Though Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are not in the physical body, they are experienced along the torso traversing the length of the spine: Ida to the left, Pingala to the right, and Sushumna in the center. The Ida nadi runs from the base of the spine up to the left nostril. The Pingala nadi runs from the base of the spine up to the right nostril. The Sushumna nadi is said to run from the center of the perineum to the top of the head at the fontanel.
The Ida and Pingala nadis are said to overlap Sushumna at several points (see page 63 in The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga). As prana moves through these three overlapping nadis, a vortex of prana is formed. These points are called chakras. The word chakra literally translated means wheel. The word chakra is used to describe these vortices because their basic appearance is circular. Some sources describe them as having a symmetrical flower-like appearance with petals, like a lotus. Each petal is associated with a particular Sanskrit sound. Ancient diagrams show the chakras containing a combined total of fifty petals, one for each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. These petals are also said to contain the seeds of our samskaras: our attitudinal, behavioral and physiological pre- dispositions. Each chakra also contains a bija or seed sound. This sound vibration is not associated with just one of the petals but with a total, balanced experience of the chakra. It is from this understanding of chakras and phonetics that the science of mantra was developed.
The bias of our consciousness is largely influenced by how prana is flowing through the three primary nadis and the chakras to which they are linked. The prana is given specific qualities by each chakra, which affects the characteristics of how life is experienced.
There are many chakras within our being, but six or seven are considered primary. They are associated with the vertical axis of the torso. Although the chakras are not physical in nature, they can be associated with various aspects of our physiology and psychology. Historically they have been related to the grouping of vertebrae, the cranial nerves, and the ganglions or plexuses formed along the spine. There are six major chakric levels; they are associated with the six major divisions of the spinal column (considering the head as a part of the spine).
The chakra associated with the coccyx at the base of the spine is called Muladhara chakra. Muladhara means root support. It is said to have four petals, and in its center is the seat of the Sushumna nadi. It is associated with the earth element, the sense of smell, and the planet Saturn. Physiologically this chakra relates to the skin, bones, knees, and teeth. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra ex- press themselves as practical, patient, responsible, and self-disciplined. Out of balance, they become pessimistic, rigid, depressed, and selfish. Muladhara relates to the structures in our life, our fears, and our basic survival needs. Its bija sound is lam.
The chakra associated with the sacrum is Svadhishthana chakra. Svadhishthana means its own base. This is interesting because even though the coccyx is the lowest section of the spine, the sacrum is its functional foundation. It has six petals and is associated with the element of water, the sense of taste, and the planet Jupiter. Physiologically this chakra relates to the thighs, hips, liver and gall bladder. It also rules the blood, specifically the veins and arteries. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as optimistic, generous, and compassion- ate. Out of balance, they become extravagant, excessive, and over confident. The Svadhishthana chakra is expansive in nature. It relates to our sensory experiences. Its bija sound is vam.
The chakra associated with the lumbar spine is called Manipura, meaning jewel city. It has ten petals and is associated with the fire element and the planet Mars. Physiologi- cally this chakra relates to the muscles, sexual functions, and the excretory organs. It also rules the red blood cells, bile, and the bladder. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as strong, bold, and courageous. Out of balance they become harsh, angry, and combative. Manipura is the seat of passion, power, and desire. It is associated with the sense of sight. Its bija sound is ram.
The chakra related to the thoracic spine is call Anahata. Anahata means the unstruck sound. It has twelve petals and is associated with the air element and the planet Venus. Physiologically this chakra relates to the kidneys, renals, intestines, ovaries, and throat. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as affectionate, gentle, and artistic. Out of balance they become selfindul- gent, vain, and extravagant. This chakra inspires feelings of beauty and sensuality. Anahata is associated with the sense of touch. Its bija sound is yam.
The chakra associated with the cervical spine is Vishuddha. Vishuddha means pure. It has sixteen petals and is related to the ether element and the planet Mercury. Physiologically this chakra relates to the nerves, most specifically, the motor nerves. It also rules the ears, mouth, tongue, and the organs of speech. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as articulate, perceptive, and diplomatic. Out of balance they become nervous, restless, and indecisive. This chakra level processes data and information. Vishuddha relates to the sense of hear- ing. Its bija sound is ham.
The chakra related to the head is called Ajna and corresponds to the Sun. Ajna means command. It is located between the eyebrows and contains two petals. Physiologically Ajna relates to the heart, upper back, and spleen. It also rules the circulation of blood and the general vitality of the body. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as creative, dignified and honorable. Out of balance they become proud, arrogant, and egotistical.
The five lower chakras contain right and left hemispheres, which relate directly to the Ida and Pingala nadis. The Ajna chakra also has two sides but they are situated front and back rather than left and right. The back petal of this chakra is at the base of the skull and is often associated with the medulla oblongata. It is called Chandra chakra.
Chandra means moon. Physiologically the Moon relates to hereditary traits, the stomach, the breast, and body fluids. When positive, the symbolic psychological states associated with this chakra express themselves as receptive, adaptable, and nurturing. Out of balance they become moody, manipulative, and overly-impressionable.
The Chandra chakra is the primary opening that receives prana. (see page 63 in The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga) The prana is said to enter Chandra chakra and flow down to Muladhara and then up again to Ajna where it is cognized and given expression. During this movement, the prana is modified or colored by the samskaras or predispositions and impressions of our past experiences which reside in the five lower chakras.
In this way the samskaras stored within the chakras are activated and affect the way we create our experience of the world.
Page 29 The seventh chakra is related to the fontanel at the top of the head. It is called Sahasrara. Sahasrara means thousand-petaled. This center is at one end of the Sushumna nadi, the opposite end being in the Muladhara chakra. Technically speaking, Sahasrara is not really in the chakric system. It is a doorway out of the experiential realm created by the chakras. It is an opening into subtler realms.
Asana as a Method for Pranic Balance
The way we breathe, the way we use our body, even the thoughts we think affect the movement of prana. Hatha Yoga is a series of techniques which employs the body and breath as vehicles to absorb, direct, and balance prana. Asana practice reveals the character and pattern of pranic movement and where restriction and excess need to be ad- dressed. The muscles, joints, skin and viscera become mirrors which reflect how the prana is moving through the nadis and chakras. This affects not only our physical well- being and energy level but our perception and experience of our world as well. According to yoga, any imbalance or limitation in the body or consciousness is caused by a lack or excess of prana in some part of the nadi/chakra system. The purpose of the first four limbs of the Ashtanga is to purify and prepare our body and mind to attract, absorb, and direct the prana.
Asana and pranayama are techniques primarily for creating a balanced pranic flow through the nadis and chakras. This balance assists in providing us with the most unbiased experience of life we can have. Balance is a dynamic state which should require a minimum of effort and energy to sustain. Hence asana and all yoga practice should be an effortless and enjoyable practice. The further out of balance we become, the more energy and effort we will need to expend.
Controlling the Flow of Prana The normal flow of the prana is through the Ida and Pingala nadis. This flow produces the familiar patterns of waking and sleeping, logic and emotion, thought and action. Through discipline and practice, the yogi is trying to bring the prana into the balanced channel of Sushumna so that it will flow upward from Muladhara to Sahasrara unimpeded.
Page 30 When this happens centers of consciousness (chakras), which are normally dormant due to a lack of prana, awaken. This results in enlightenment, an illuminating expansion of consciousness which broadens the horizon of awareness, and produces greater joy and wisdom. But this can only be achieved if the chakras and nadis are first balanced. If there is an imbalance in a given chakra, physiologically or psychologically, the pranic current will tend to veer left or right into Ida or Pingala, producing a bias in our body or mind.At the base of the spine in the Muladhara chakra is a pranic force which is called kundalini. Kundalini is referred to as an evolutionary energy which is tremendously pow- erful. Rather than being drawn in from the outside, this energy is already within us, though dormant or sleeping. One of the goals of yoga is to awaken this latent pranic force and consciously lift it up the central Sushumna nadi to Sahasrara, the thousand- petaled lotus.
Though kundalini is present in all of us, it is usually not an active force because of what are called granthis. Granthis are referred to as knots that restrict the ascent of the kundalini. The first granthi is called Brahma-granthi, and it is said to be located just below the navel. The second granthi is called Vishnu-granthi, situated at the throat. The third granthi is called Rudra-granthi, situated between the eyebrows. These three granthis must be “pierced” in order for the kundalini to ascend to the Sahasrara chakra. One goal of asana is to balance the movement of prana so that as the kundalini rises, it will lift unimpeded. The effortless neutrality of the spine, which we develop in asana practice, facilitates this movement.
Throughout our yoga practice, we are working to bring all of the areas of our life into balance. In this way the momentum of the samskaras—the physical, emotional, and behavioral predispositions—can be minimized and even removed. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that once a samskara becomes latent, it can be completely dissolved so that no further effect is experienced. In this way, we reach the goal of our practice and become free from the confining biases of our body and mind.
BANDHAS - PART I
Bandhas are Hatha Yoga practices that help direct the movement of prana. The word bandha means lock, closure, or containment. It is interesting that the bandhas are described as locks because containing or locking prana in one area actually encourages the prana to move into another area. A better analogy would be that of a valve which restrains the flow of water. Bandhas can also be thought of as pranayamas. Though we tend to think of pranayama as a breathing technique, the term can be applied to any restraint or control (yama) of prana.
Three key bandhas are discussed in the yogic texts: Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. Though the bandhas can be performed individually, each one helps create the other two. The bandhas not only direct prana but also help direct the movement of kundalini. Through the correct application of the bandhas, the path for kundalini is opened in a centered, unobstructed way. All of the outer-body, musculoskeletal work performed in asana practice provides a framework for utilizing the bandhas.
This month we will discuss Mula Bandha. Mula, as we explained in last month’s lesson, means root, like Muladhara Chakra. Thus Mula Bandha means root lock. One of the oldest texts on Hatha Yoga, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, describes Mula Bandha as a technique to make the apana vayu (the descending pranic current) move upward. Why, you might ask, would one want to make the descending current ascend? This is done to assist in the process of directing the prana to vitalize and awaken the upper chakras or centers of consciousness. When this occurs, one begins to transcend the negative or limiting samskaras of one’s body and mind.
When prana enters the body, it flows down through the cerebral spinal axis and is modified by the chakras. Through this process the prana is differentiated into five primary vayus or airs. These airs correspond to the five lower chakras. Vayu literally means wind and is derived from the Sanskrit root va, meaning to blow. Vayus are sometimes translated as vital airs. However, in this program we will use the word currents to refer to the vayus, and we will relate them to the chakras with which they are linked.
Apana vayu is the current that relates to the Muladhara Chakra, the chakra at the base of the spine. In Kriya Yoga we call it the Saturn Chakra. It regulates the structure, pattern, and form of our physiology and psychology. Apana is symbolically, and to a large extent literally, the grounding energy of the physical world. Like a tree, the higher we grow, the deeper our roots must be. In order to maximize the benefit of practicing Mula Bandha, the first thing we need to do is cultivate apana vayu.
Yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama form the foundation upon which yoga practice is built. Before real progress can be made through the utilization of the upper limbs of yoga, we need to develop a strong and healthy foundation in our physical, emotional, and intellectual lives. Yama and niyama establish the mental and emotional balance which nourishes and supports our relationships and our interactions with life. Asana and pranayama develop the physiological and pranic balance which is needed to consciously control prana. In the same way that we create a balanced foundation in our lives through the observances of yama and niyama, a pranic foundation is developed in Hatha Yoga through the control of the apana vayu.
Asana and Apana Vayu
Stress, visceral gripping, shallow breathing, scattered and unfocused mental activity—all of these can inhibit the movement of apana vayu. Thus, developing joint stability of the outer body is encouraged in Hatha Yoga to produce the necessary support which allows the visceral body to release its gripping. Everything done in asana practice to create joint stability, especially femur grounding in the hips, helps to cultivate the flow of apana vayu. The development of inner body or visceral softness also develops apana vayu. Releasing the throat and tongue, together with full breathing (particularly exhalations and belly breathing), cultivates the descending current. When there is a softness of the inner body, the breath can penetrate into the lower body, even all the way down to the pelvic floor. (The pelvic floor is the bowl-like series of muscles that line the bottom of the torso. See page 32 of Green’s Anatomy .)
Once the inner body experiences this release and there is a softness all the way down to the pelvic floor and the perineum, you can begin to work effectively with apana vayu and the subtle contraction of Mula Bandha.
Cultivating Mula Bandha
All the asana practice done to balance the rotation of the femurs and pelvis is de- signed to bring neutrality to the pelvic floor and the perineum. Eventually, when you have experienced what a neutral perineum feels like, this feeling or quality of the perineum can be used as a reference point to teach the legs and pelvis how to work in order to create and sustain this neutrality.
There are many variables that can affect the neutrality of the perineum. When the femurs are internally rotated, the sitting bones will lift, and this will tend to broaden the perineum. However, if the internal rotation is carried to an extreme, the perineum will feel as though it is stretching. In contrast, if the femurs are in external rotation, the sitting bones will drop and the perineum will tend to narrow. But if the external rotation is carried to an extreme, it will feel as though the perineum is narrowing and gripping. All of this needs to be understood because the actions of the legs and pelvis need to be balanced in order to keep the perineum in a passive and neutral state.
If the inner body is hard or the perineum is gripped or stretched, none of the bandhas can be performed accurately and the full scope of their benefits will not be experienced. Therefore the greater your articulation of asana becomes, the greater your potential for realizing the benefits of the bandhas.
The reason the perineum needs to be passive as you begin to learn Mula Bandha is because it will enable you to differentiate all of the various contractions that are possible in and around this entire area of your body. This is important not only for the proper articulation of Mula Bandha but to insure that you do not inadvertently over-contract the anus or urethra. Sometimes in an effort to begin teaching Mula Bandha, one or both of these contractions may be employed to cultivate awareness in this part of the body. But they are not Mula Bandha; they are different techniques. The anal contraction is called Ashwini Mudra, and the urethral contraction is called Vajroli Mudra.
Once the perineum is experienced in its neutral state, you will become aware that it has four corners. The back corner can be felt at the coccyx, the front corner towards the pubic bone, and the left and right sides just inside the sitting bones. Some sources indicate that each of these points is associated with a particular nadi. The center of the perineum is associated with Sushumna nadi, while the left and right sides are associated with Ida and Pingala nadis. The nadis associated with the front and back are not relevant at this time.
When the perineum becomes passive or neutral, the pelvic floor can be felt respond- ing to the breath like a diaphragm. In fact it can be felt moving in phase with the diaphragm muscles in the chest, which move in rhythm with the lungs. In other words, the pelvic floor, like the diaphragm, descends with each inhalation and ascends with each exhalation. Since the perineum is the outer surface of the pelvic floor, it also moves in phase. Even though the perineum and the pelvic floor are basically the inner and outer surfaces of the same thing, they can be experienced as separate. This requires a deep relaxation and softening of the viscera and a subtle awareness of the breath.
The Practice of Mula Bandha
Once you feel the breath moving within the perineum, the practice of Mula Bandha is possible. When it is first practiced, Mula Bandha is performed only during the inhalation and is released with the exhalation. On the inhalation, Mula Bandha is performed by drawing the four corners of the perineum symmetrically towards the center. This action contains the downward movement of the pelvic floor and consequently lifts apana vayu.
You need to pay particular attention to the left and right sides of the perineum to ensure that they are both drawn symmetrically towards the center. When the four corners are drawn symmetrically into the center, if kundalini moves, it will flow through the Sushumna nadi. However if one side or the other is dominantly gripped, the prana will be drawn into either the Ida or Pingala nadi rather than the Sushumna.
Because of the subtle awareness that is required for Mula Bandha, in the beginning stages it is best practiced in savasana. Because savasana requires no outer-body muscular work, you can focus more easily on the subtle inner-body. Eventually, Mula Bandha can be performed in virtually any asana or pranayama where it is appropriate. The combination of the outer-body work of asana and the practice of Mula Bandha take on a mutually beneficial relationship. The outer-body work assists in the performance of Mula Bandha, while the subtle awareness we cultivate to perform Mula Bandha assists in educating the outer-body how to work towards stillness.
Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha will be discussed next month.
Page 35 BANDHAS - PART II
Like Mula Bandha, Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandha are techniques that assist in controlling the direction of prana and eliminating any obstructions to its movement. In the same way that Mula Bandha contains and prevents the dissipation of the descend- ing current (apana vayu) at the Muladhara or Saturn Chakra, Uddiyana Bandha removes obstructions to the flow of prana at the Manipura or Mars Chakra located in the solar plexus region. Jalandhara Bandha removes the obstacles to the flow of prana above the Vishuddha or Mercury Chakra at the cervical region. All of the bandhas are gentle contractions which should never produce stress or tension in the body.
UDDIYANA & UDDIYANA BANDHA
In yoga practice, there are two slightly different actions which are both referred to as Uddiyana. One is a nonclassical purification technique (shat kriya) practiced by itself, which is referred to as Uddiyana. The other, which is referred to as Uddiyana Bandha, is used within the practice of virtually all of the asanas. Although their descriptions are nearly identical, their applications are slightly different.
The Practice of Uddiyana
Uddiyana is only performed while sustaining an exhalation, which is called the empty chalice or bahya kumbhaka. It is never performed while holding the breath in, which is called full chalice or antara kumbhaka, because this would create pressure on the heart and lungs.
Although Uddiyana can be practiced while seated in a cross-legged asana, it is more commonly practiced while standing, which is how it is described here.To practice Uddiyana, stand with the feet about two or three feet apart and the knees bent. Place the hands on the knees and exhale about 80-90% of the breath through the open mouth. Holding empty chalice, draw the digestive organs up towards the chest. The lumbar lordosis will soften and the coccyx will release toward the pubic bone. Stay in this position only as long as there is no stress on the lungs from drawing the belly up or holding empty chalice. Then with an inhalation, release Uddiyana. If the lungs feel tired after performing Uddiyana, give the breath time to normalize itself before repeating the technique (see photo page 36).
It is important that the abdominal muscles do not contract when practicing Uddiyana. The belly should be drawn up from the inner body, but not by contracting the muscles. If the abdominal muscles contract, they are shortening, and this is counterproductive to lengthening the inner body.
Uddiyana Bandha in Asana Practice
Unlike the technique of Uddiyana, Uddiyana Bandha when utilized in asana practice allows for complete breathing. (It is a close cousin to thoracic breathing, which you have already been taught.) One of the best ways to begin experiencing Uddiyana Bandha is in a soft inversion where the spine can remain neutral. Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) is superb for this because one of its primary purposes is lengthening the spine and the inner body. Since the inner body is already partly inverted, the digestive organs will naturally rest against the diaphragm and effortlessly hollow the belly, creating a passive Uddiyana Bandha.
As you become more familiar with how this form of Uddiyana Bandha feels, you will be able to create this inner body effect in virtually all of the other asanas. It has the same feeling of lifting the inner body or allowing it to “fly up” that is experienced in Uddiyana, but it does not fully draw the belly up into the rib cage. Because the belly is not drawn deep into the chest, it is not necessary to empty your lungs and you can continue to breathe.
When first practicing Uddiyana Bandha in asana, it is helpful to adjust your body somewhat. For example, if one side of your spine is more prone to compression, it will require more of your focus to insure that you are sustaining length in this area. As you continue to consciously practice Uddiyana Bandha, the experience of inner body lengthening will feel more and more as though it is expanding towards the periphery of your body.
The Value of Uddiyana and Uddiyana Bandha
Uddiyana means flying up. This is the feeling one experiences in the inner or visceral body when performing Uddiyana or Uddiyana Bandha. In the asana practice section of this program, you have been given various instructions such as: “lift the inner wall of the ribs” or “lengthen the inner body or visceral body.” All of these are references to Uddiyana Bandha.
Physiologically, the inner body length created by utilizing Uddiyana Bandha in hatha practice assists in maximizing the benefits of asana by minimizing the compression exerted on the spine and inner organs. It is healthy to create movement in the organs and joints, but it needs to be done in a balanced way. Uddiyana Bandha helps to accomplish this by softening the pressure or compression in the body during hatha practice on three levels: in the joints (especially the spine), in the viscera, and in the vascular network of the body.
It is important to minimize compression in the spine during asana practice so that the intervertebral discs are not squeezed in an excessively asymmetrical way. To avoid this, Uddiyana Bandha helps to keep the front spine lengthened in forward bends and the back spine lengthened in back bends. The proper alignment of the femur and pelvis in asana (femur grounding) permits the inner body to release its tension, because when the femur and hip are positioned in a balanced way, the inner body can soften naturally. This softening of the viscera makes it possible to create the inner body length of Uddiyana and Uddiyana Bandha.
It is especially important to minimize compression in the viscera, because if the viscera is overly compressed during asana practice, the organs will not have the space they need to move freely, and the breath can be impaired. If the inner body holds ten- sion, it contracts. This in turn can cause vascular pressure, which restricts the flow of blood to this area. This pressure is most commonly experienced in the head and throat. Practicing Uddiyana Bandha in asana relieves all of these potential side effects while encouraging visceral massage, healthy vascular function, and better digestion. Because the effects of gravity and stress have not yet taken their toll, the bodies of very young children usually experience a natural, passive form of Uddiyana Bandha. Yoga texts refer to the technique of Uddiyana as “the lion that kills the elephant named death,” and point out that one who continually practices Uddiyana will remain young. In other words, the inner body length, the improved circulation, and the free flow of prana, which are all cultivated by the practice of Uddiyana and Uddiyana Bandha, have the capability to keep the practitioner feeling youthful late into life.
The lifting of prana, which is begun by Mula Bandha, can be felt as the initiating action for both Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandha. You will remember that kundalini is present in all of us, but it is not an active force, partly because of what are called granthis, or knots, that restrict its ascent. The first granthi is called Brahma-granthi, and is said to be located just below the navel. Mystically, Uddiyana Bandha assists in opening this knot and moving the pranic energy up above the Mars Chakra and into the Anahata or Venus Chakra and the Mercury Chakra. The second granthi, or knot, is called Vishnu- granthi and is situated at the throat level. Jalandhara Bandha assists in facilitating the flow of prana to ascend unimpeded above the Mercury Chakra and into the higher centers of consciousness.
Jalandhara Bandha is usually referred to as a chin lock. This is a good description of how it looks and feels. Some texts refer to it as the water-pipe lock. The root word jala (in which both of the “a” sounds are short) literally means water. However when the first “a” is long, jala means something that is water-like, or something that filters the elements that move through the water, as would a net or a web. Jalandhara literally means net bearer, implying that Jalandhara Bandha permits a flow of prana through the Mercury Chakra, but resists or traps some of the elements of the five lower chakras.
Jalandhara Bandha regulates the flow of blood and prana to the brain during pranayama by minimizing the pressure in the head and permitting the prana to move freely. Jalandhara Bandha is often performed during seated pranayamas — either during one part of the breath or during the entire breathing cycle. It is often used with the inhalation (puraka) and/or exhalation (rechaka) and is virtually always performed during breath retention (kumbhaka).
If the breath is held too long during pranayama practice, the pressure can literally cause fine capillaries in the head to break. This can happen even when you are unaware of it. Thus, when you hold the breath for an extended period of time, such as during the practice of some pranayamas, Jalandhara Bandha should be practiced simultaneously to avoid creating any excessive pressure. Some texts suggest that Jalandhara Bandha be the first bandha that is learned, even though it seems to rely on the other bandhas for its proper execution.
The inner body lift from Uddiyana Bandha initiates the lift of the sternum toward the chin, introducing the pattern for Jalandhara Bandha. Jalandhara Bandha can be initially experienced in the bridge pose (setu bandha), the plow (halasana), the shoulderstand (sarvangasana), and other related asanas. All of the work done in these asanas in the throat, chest and shoulders is Jalandhara Bandha.
The Practice of Jalandhara Bandha
Jalandhara Bandha begins by lifting the sternum toward the chin. This lift of the sternum is sustained as the head is extended forward and down from the base of the neck (around C-7), until the chin rests against the chest. By initiating Jalandhara Bandha from C-7, the back of the neck is not overly hardened and there is still a subtle feeling of cervical lordosis, even though the back of the neck is lengthened. There is often a tendency to try to create this bandha by dropping down from the base of the head (the C-3 and C-4 area) rather than from the base of the neck (C-7). However, simply dropping the head in this way will tend to collapse the sternum.
The best way to initiate Jalandhara Bandha is by focusing on the inner body length of Uddiyana. You can also begin learning this technique by exaggerating the lift of the sternum. Then, keeping the lift of the sternum, resist the floating ribs toward the kidneys, lengthening the kidney area. This action will lift the inner body even more, as well as lift the top of the sternum, the shoulders, and the collarbones. All of this will help to release the neck forward from C-7 and permit the head to come forward and down, creating the chin lock.
Jalandhara Bandha should feel like a natural response to deep breathing and specifically to holding full chalice (antara kumbhaka). Though Jalandhara Bandha is commonly performed in seated pranayamas, it can also be employed while lying on the floor in any supine pranayama. Utilizing the two-blanket set-up recommended for sup- ported savasana — providing support for the back, neck, and head — will create the same basic model for experiencing Jalandhara Bandha but on a subtler level.
As you become more familiar with the bandhas, you will find yourself using them more and more naturally throughout your asana, pranayama, and dhyana (meditation) practice.
INTEGRATING MEDITATION INTO YOUR PRACTICE
Meditation is a way of life. It is not something to be practiced for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes at night. The philosophical aspects of meditation and the other inner limbs of yoga practice are covered elsewhere in this program. This introductory article is offered to assist you in establishing meditation as an integral part of your yoga practice.
Meditation is a practice that is thousands of years old. It is a tool for self-transformation that stills and quiets the mind, leading you to a place of peace, tranquility, and wisdom. Like all yoga practice, it does not require the belief in any particular doctrine or religious theology to be effective; people from every cultural and religious back- ground can benefit from its practice.
Meditation is a turning around in consciousness which produces an expansion of awareness. It is a movement away from the perception of your external universe to a perception of your internal universe — away from the physical objects around you to the subtle objects within your mind and beyond. It is a movement from that which is known to the Knower — from the contents of the mind in all its various forms (vrittis) back to you, the meditator. It is a completely natural process that can improve your life on every level.
Meditation is an effortless non-peripheral focusing of the mind. The key word here is effortless. Everything about your practice should be pleasant and enjoyable. You should only practice as long as you are physically, mentally, and emotionally comfort- able with the experience. This means that your physical posture and the clothes you wear should be comfortable. Your physical environment should be clean, pleasant, and relaxing, and your attitude towards your practice should always be enthusiastic. Re- member the feeling of anticipation you had when you were a child and you woke up on Christmas or Hanukkah morning? This is the feeling you want to engender towards your meditation practice. The key to developing a consistent practice is to experience how meditation enriches your life.
The Building Blocks of Meditation Practice
Meditation encompasses the practices of asana, pranayama, sense-withdrawal (pratyahara), and concentration (dharana). Asana practice supports meditation by help- ing one develop the ability to comfortably hold the body still for an extended period of time. The awareness of the breath that is cultivated in asana practice is also vital in learning to meditate. There is a direct linkage between the quality of the breath and the activity of the mind. When we are agitated or nervous, the breath becomes shallow and rapid. When we are relaxed and comfortable, the breath naturally becomes slower, deeper, and more rhythmic. As we learn to control the breath (pranayama), we learn to control the quality of the mind.
Meditation begins with the practice of sense-withdrawal (pratyahara), the fifth limb of yoga practice. Sense-withdrawal is the withdrawing of the physical senses from their natural tendency to move outward towards external stimulus. Initially this simply means closing your eyes, turning your attention inward, and becoming physically still.
The next component of meditation is the sixth limb of yoga: concentration (dharana). Like anything that is done effortlessly, the practice of meditation requires a certain amount of effort at first. Concentration is the focusing of the mind with effort. As you develop the practice of concentration, it requires less and less effort to focus the mind on the object that you are concentrating upon. With practice this becomes effortless and you enter into meditation.
Asana, pranayama, sense-withdrawal, and concentration are the building blocks for developing your meditation practice. Through their progressive and continued practice, you will easily cultivate the ability to meditate effortlessly and enjoyably. The most difficult task is beginning. There are four factors that are important to consider in developing your meditation practice: right time, right place, right lifestyle, and right technique.
Choosing the Right Time to Meditate
The right time to meditate is the time that is right for you. It is a personal choice and will be different for everyone. It should be a time when you can sit without being disturbed. You want it to be a time when you will be relaxed but are not too tired. For some people it may be early in the morning, for others at the end of their day. What is significant is that you find a time that works for you and try to practice at the same time each day. This is particularly important in the initial phases of developing your practice.
Just as the physical body can be conditioned to specific responses, so can the mind. The nature of the body and mind is to be restless. By sitting in meditation every day at the same time, even for only two or three minutes, the body and mind will become conditioned to becoming still and focused. By practicing at the same time each day, you will find that the body and mind will begin to work with you rather than against you.
In the initial phase of your practice, it is also advisable to meditate for only a few minutes at a time — just long enough for the body and mind to relax and for the experience to be enjoyable. If you do this you will establish a pleasant association with your practice and you will be eager to return to it day after day. It is better to meditate for two or three minutes at a time, two or three times a day, than it is to force yourself to sit for fifteen or twenty minutes. This is vital to understand if you are sincere about develop- ing a long term practice. As your body and mind enjoy the process, they will naturally want to extend the amount of time you practice.
If you force yourself to sit uncomfortably for an arbitrary length of time because you read somewhere that you are supposed to or you mistakenly think more is better, you will quickly find reasons not to practice. The effectiveness of your meditation should be measured in quality — not quantity. If you find meditation improves the quality of your life, you will make the time to expand your practice. If it becomes a chore that you think you have to do, you will never seem to find the time to do it. Everything about your practice should be enjoyable. Never practice longer than you feel comfortable.
Traditionally when yoga is practiced in the morning, you move from the most subtle techniques to the most physical ones. This is done because you are moving from your inner sleep state to an outer awakened state. If you practice in the morning, you would begin with meditation practice and then move to pranayama and finish with asana. In the evening you would reverse the process by beginning with asana and finishing with meditation. The order is reversed at night because you are moving from your physical universe back into your mental world.
Choosing the Right Diet
Choosing the right time to practice meditation includes considering what you eat and when you eat. Once again this is an individual matter. As a rule you should not meditate after an hour or two of eating a large meal. It is harder to sit comfortably after eating, and your mind tends to be distracted by the activity of your stomach. However, everyone is different. Some people can eat a meal and meditate without being disturbed by their digestive system and some can not.
There is no specific diet that is most conducive to meditation practice, but there are some guidelines that yogis follow. In yoga foods are grouped according to the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva. The constitution of your body and the nature of your personality are also categorized by the gunas. One of the three gunas is always most predominant in the body at any given time. The quality that is most predominant changes based on many factors including the environment in which you live, the time of day, the season, as well as the age of your body. If the body or mind is excessively tamasic or rajistic it is considered to be out of balance — tamas being too restrictive and rajas being too excessive. Sattva is the state or quality where the body and mind are balanced.
To determine which foods will bring your body and mind back into a balanced state, you need to determine their natural constitution and quality. In yoga, this field of study is called Ayurveda. In Ayurveda foods are classified under one of the gunas. If you are too tamasic, you may need to eat rajistic foods to restore balance and vice a versa. Most introductory texts on Ayurveda list the qualities of different foods. Ayurveda as it relates to hatha yoga and health will be covered later in this course.
Choosing the Right Place to Meditate
The right place to meditate is also a personal choice. It should be a place that is clean and comfortable, a place where you can be relaxed and undisturbed. For one person this may mean sitting in padmasana on the floor. For another it may be sitting in a comfortable chair or on a bed. Again, the right place is the right place for you. If you have dedicated a room to yoga practice, this would probably be the best place for you to meditate. Some people use a closet to meditate. They remove all their clothes from the closet and empty it of everything but their meditation cushion and whatever decorations or amenities they need to facilitate their practice. But dedicating a corner of a room or a specific chair for your practice will be just as effective.
Part of choosing the right place is choosing the right posture. Again, this is a personal choice. Remember that everything about your practice should be enjoyable. The only guideline for choosing a posture is that your spine should remain perpendicular to the floor. Any position that allows you to sit comfortably with your spine erect is a good place to start. There are several meditative poses described in Chapter Ten of The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga.
There is a reason why it is not recommended that you meditate laying down, at least not in the beginning of your practice. You are training your body and mind to develop greater awareness and people tend to go to sleep when they lay down. This happens all the time to students in savasana. Sleep is not meditation. It may be relaxing, but for most people it is an unconscious state.
Selecting a Meditation Technique
Once you have found the right time, place, and posture for your practice, you need to select a meditation technique. Once again this a very personal choice. There are many different methods from many different traditions. They were developed in response to the recognition that different people have different kinds of personalities. The key is to find the method that is best suited to you. For example, you may be very visual and prefer a visualization technique. Another person may be auditory and prefer a mantra or affirmation as an object of meditation. You might want to seek out a method that is used within your religious tradition. Regardless of which technique you choose, there are always three factors involved: you (the meditator), the object of your meditation, and the act of meditating.
The object of meditation is what most distinguishes one technique from another. Some techniques primarily use visualization, others use sound or mantra, while others may use a combination of these two. All of the subtle internal senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste can be used alone or in conjunction with each other to create an object of concentration and eventually meditation. The more inner senses you can involve, the easier it is to internalize your self-awareness. This is why incense and candles are often burned during meditation practice, or certain clothes are worn, or a particular mantra or visualization is used. All of these serve to bring the inner senses to one point and to help focus one’s awareness.
There are a variety of concentration and meditation techniques given in Chapters Fourteen and Eighteen of The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga. Try several of them at different sittings and find the one that is most compatible, comfortable and effective for you — and then try to stay with it. If you are unsure about which technique to use, begin with the Object of Beauty Technique given on page 304.
Whatever technique you choose, when your eyes are closed they should be gently focused upward at the Ajna Chakra, the point between the eyebrows at the root of the nose. In yoga this point is called the Sun center. In the West it is called the “single eye.” Remember, everything about your practice should be comfortable and enjoyable. Be sure that there is no stress or strain in your gaze.
There are two supportive methods that can be practiced in conjunction with all meditative techniques: The Resurrection Breath and the Neti, Neti, Neti Technique. In fact, these two can be used together as a preliminary concentration technique all by themselves.
The Resurrection Breath
The Resurrection Breath is performed just once at the beginning of each meditation practice by closing your eyes, turning your head to the left, and gently but forcibly emptying your lungs through the open mouth with a double exhalation. It sounds like haa, haaa. You then bring your head back and begin your meditation with the inhalation. It is a method that is both functional and symbolic. On a functional level it empties the lungs of excess carbon dioxide and allows the body to take a full deep breath. Symboli- cally it represents that you are dying to the external world and, as you inhale, you are reborn to your inner world.
Neti, Neti, Neti Technique
The second method is called the Neti, Neti, Neti Technique. Neti, Neti, Neti is not so much a meditation technique as it is a technique to assist your meditation. It is a method that uses the very nature of the mind to focus the mind to one point. The nature of the mind is to go wherever the least amount of resistance takes it. In other words, the mind will naturally flow with the stream of thought that offers the least amount of resistance. For most people this is a constantly changing focus that is controlled by their emotions. The practice of Neti, Neti, Neti brings the mind to rest upon your chosen object of meditation naturally and effortlessly by making the object of meditation offer the least amount of resistance to your mind.
The method itself is very simple and can be used in conjunction with any meditative technique. At the right time and in the right place, begin your practice by closing your eyes, turning your head to the left, and performing the Resurrection Breath. Bring your head forward and focus your awareness at the Sun center. Sit quietly and simply watch your breath. Just let your breath breathe you. Become aware of it as it flows in and out. Whenever you become aware that your mental focus has shifted from the object of your meditation (in this case your breath) to a stream of thought, very gently bring the mind back to the object of meditation by mentally saying to yourself: “Neti, Neti, Neti.”
Neti is a Hindi word which means not that. The first neti symbolizes the awareness, “I am not that thought.” The second neti symbolizes the awareness, “I am not this thought that is thinking I am not that thought.” The third neti symbolizes the awareness, “I am not thought at all!” Neti, Neti, Neti: I am not this thought. I am not the thought thinking, I am not this thought. I am not thought at all! Gently, and this is the key, gently and consistently bring the mind back to the object of meditation.
At first it will seem like you are chanting neti, neti, neti over and over again and not meditating at all. However, with repeated practice you will quickly find that the mind comes to rest effortlessly and naturally on your object of meditation for longer periods of time. This happens because it is less work for the mind to stay focused on your object of meditation than it is to keep getting pulled gently back to it. As this happens the spaces between the streams of thought open up and true meditation begins.
Initially what you are practicing in this and all meditation techniques is concentration — not meditation. Concentration is a focusing of the mind that requires effort, whereas meditation is an effortless focusing of the mind. The continual practice of concentration, by the use of Neti, Neti, Neti, leads naturally to meditation as the mind becomes increasingly disciplined.
The practice of Neti, Neti, Neti also develops the ability to detach yourself from your thoughts. You can observe them more objectively. Slowly you become aware that you are the container and not the contents of your mind. You recognize that thoughts are subtle forms (prakriti) that you attach yourself to. Like sunglasses, they color your perception of yourself and your world. You realize that you do not need to respond to the karmic momentum behind them. You can take off the glasses and ask some important questions: Why am I thinking this thought? What will be the effect of this thought? Where will it lead me if I follow it? Is this thought constructive or destructive to my health and happiness. Is it destructive to those around me? Whose thought is it? Is it really mine, or is it a reflection of my family or my culture?
With detachment you become free from the karmic force fields of your mind, free to think a thought you have never thought before, free to release the mental and emotional patterns within you that create feelings of confinement, and free to create something new and wonderful. This is the true practice of yama and niyama: the restraint from those thoughts, words, and actions that are destructive to your life and to those around you, and the observance of that which strengthens you and expands the horizon of your awareness.
Cultivating a Lifestyle that Supports Your Practice
Meditation is a way of life. It is an attitude and approach to life that broadens the horizon of your awareness and develops greater clarity, insight, and stillness. For meditation to be most effective, there needs to be a resonance between your practice and the rest of your life. Your lifestyle needs to support your meditation practice, and your practice should improve the quality of your life.
The practice of yama and niyama is intended to support and inform your meditation practice. Yama and niyama encourage a happier, healthier lifestyle that produces less frustration, agitation, and conflict in your life. Their practice has a calming effect upon your body and mind and facilitates deeper meditation. The effective practice of non-violence (ahimsa) necessitates the recognition of the thoughts and emotions within you that are destructive. The practice of truthfulness(satya) commits you to perceiving your personality and life clearly and honestly. The observance of contentment (santosha) leads naturally to restraint from stealing (asteya), sensuality (brahmacharya), and greed (aparigraha). The observances of self-study (svadhyaya), purity (shaucha), and austerity (tapas) are the quintessence of meditation as the mind is studied, focused, and disciplined.
You need to live your meditation. Take the feeling or vibration that you generate in your practice and consciously carry it with you throughout your day. Something magi- cal happens when you do this. Your world changes because you have changed. People respond differently to you because you are responding, not reacting, to life. You come to perceive clearly and directly a great truth: your mind is your world.
If two children are playing and a dog walks into the room, each will respond ac- cording to the bias of his or her mind. One child may run and hide in the closet, while the other child may let the dog lick its face. How many dogs walked into the room? You could say two dogs entered the room, one in each child’s mind, biased by its past experiences. One a projection of danger and fear, the other a projection of pleasure and play- fulness. But reality is neither of these subjective interpretations of the dog. The dog is neither a monster nor a toy. It is an entity unto itself, a dog. To see life as it is, and not as we fear it may be, or desire it to be, is one of the greatest benefits of meditation practice.
The world is in anguish because the mind of man is in anguish. However this should not be misunderstood to mean that when the minds of men are no longer in anguish you will be at peace. Be at peace now and in so doing recognize that you are bringing peace into the world. Similarly, do not think, “When the world loves me, I will love the world.” Love wisely and you will discover that you have helped the world to find love.
The Challenge of Family
Yoga and meditation are tools for improving your life and the lives of those around you. This is especially important to recognize because most of us are householders with families. As a parent or spouse it may be difficult for you to find the time to practice without being distracted by your families needs. This can often be more challenging for women, than it is for men. One approach to this problem is to demonstrate to your family how your meditation and yoga practice will benefit them.
Your meditation practice should be something that feeds your soul and improves your families lives as well as your own. This is not rhetoric, it needs to be the truth if you want your friends and family to embrace your practice. Meditation should soften your personality. It should foster greater serenity and less reactivity and emotionality. The regular practice of meditation should enhance every arena of your life and all of your relationships. You should experience greater clarity, patience, and peace which you then share with those around you. As the quality of your life improves, you will be inspired to continue and expand your meditation practice, and your family will sup- port it.
Living your yoga means becoming a happier, healthier, more accepting and com- passionate person. This is a prerequisite for any deeper or advanced spiritual development through yoga practice. The first goal of yoga is to become happy — to remove the root source of pain and suffering in your life. Happiness is not something that exists in a vacuum. It is not something you approach directly. Happiness is the by-product of a lifestyle — a life well lived. It is a recognition that you live in a matrix that encompasses countless other beings who affect you and whom you affect.
You need to respect other people’s choices, if you want them to respect yours. A lifestyle established on respect, acceptance, and loving kindness towards others as well as yourself will support your practice. To see people and circumstances clearly you need to become non-judgmental, but not indifferent. You need to develop the ability to accept people as they are. If you can do this with the people around you, you will begin to see yourself without distortion. Integral to this is the recognition that everyone is on the path. Each one of us has something to teach and a lot to learn. We all have our own timing mechanisms and are learning different things in different ways at different times. With this awareness we can relax and stop insisting that the world be as we want it to be, think the way we think, or live the way we live.
What to Expect from Meditation
Meditation reduces stress, improves concentration and mental focus, and can even lower your blood pressure, but these are not its greatest benefits. The greatest benefit of meditation is not what you get but what you remove. Meditation helps you let go of your fear, confusion, and discontentment. Most importantly it helps you to eliminatethe root causes of the pain and suffering you experience — emotional patterns and attitudes that are destructive to your health and happiness.
Beginning to meditate is a little like looking into a mirror, you do not always like what you see. You need to develop detachment and self-acceptance in order to see yourself clearly. The ego is the gatekeeper to consciousness. Anything that threatens its image of itself tends to be repressed, closing down your awareness. To the degree that you judge yourself, you will distort what you see and close down your awareness. To the degree that you judge others, you will also judge yourself. By practicing nonjudgmentalness you will expand the horizon of your awareness and make that which is unconscious within you, conscious.
Meditation creates a space within you where you begin to see without distortion. You see your personality, the nature of your mind, and the pattern of your life with more clarity. As you allow others to be themselves, you become free to be you. Your life improves because you are living in harmony with your environment and in harmony with the people around you. You understand the rita, the order and nature of life. The spouse is going to spouse and the boss is going to boss. The stomach is going to stomach and the mind is going to mind. It is cold in winter and hot in summer. There is a recognition of the karmic nature of life. Everything in this physical universe within which we dwell is born, sustains itself for a time, and eventually dies. This is the nature of the garden in which we live. This realization does not upset you — and not being upset by it, you are free to see it as it is, a school for the soul.
When the three aspects of meditation — you, the object of your meditation, and the act of meditating — become one, samadhi, the final limb of yoga, is experienced. This is accomplished by making the Self, rather than an object within your mind, the focus of your meditation. When this happens there are only two factors, because you are both the meditator and the object of your meditation. The act of meditation now becomes a mirror revealing the Self to the Self. Life beholds Life, unfiltered by the mechanism of the mind which has been brought to rest by the practice of vritti nirodha, and there is stillness. Neti, Neti, Neti...