Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sankalpa and Its Nature

 The sankalpa is a chosen resolution made during the practice of yoga nidra. It could be said that the main purpose of yoga nidra is to realize one’s sankalpa. Whether this is true or not, sankalpa has the potential to release tremendous power by clearly defining and focusing on a chosen goal. Its effect is to awaken the willpower within by uniting the conscious awareness with the unconscious forces lying dormant. It takes the form of a short phrase or sentence, clearly and concisely expressed, using the same wording each time, to bring about a positive change in one’s life. Now the important question arises: How to choose the appropriate sankalpa?
Sankalpa can be seen from different perspectives. Let us say that life is like a river that has to be crossed. We cannot step straight across from where we are standing now because the river is wide, nor can we swim against the strong current. So we search the bank for stepping stones that we can take, one by one, to cross over safely.
Crossing the river is our aim, our life’s goal. Very few people know what this is. It may take years and years to discover. Nearly everyone who has come to yoga will recognize that they are trying to achieve something, but will not be clear as to exactly what that is. So the first step is to recognize where we are now, where we stand on our bank of the river, and then to recognize what change can be attempted to begin our way over, to take the first step.
This usually means recognizing, reducing and eliminating some negative quality that we know is holding us back, where one overriding bad habit is acting like a barrier to more substantial change. This is the starting point for many people. If that negative quality can be successfully managed and dealt with, then we are in a position to recognize a positive change we can make that would improve the quality of our life. And that is the next stage of sankalpa, where we can alter the way we conduct ourselves with family, friends and society, and in our lifestyle.
Then, looking deeper and more precisely within, there may be some quality lying dormant that holds or has locked within it our hidden potential. Recognizing this is when sankalpa takes on more power because it is the nature of the inner forces, of consciousness, to be always trying to find a positive expression. But some pattern from before, some samskara or karma, has turned that force into a negative expression – or it has been suppressed and is not expressed at all. When the sankalpa is working at this level, then the attitudes we take for granted as being part of who we are will be seen not to have any real basis. Then a noticeable change in attitude takes place where everything is seen quite differently.
From here the focus of the life force becomes quite sharp, and one’s purpose in this life may be recognized, which is what we understand by sankalpa. This must come spontaneously from within as an intuitive understanding, where our nature and character, our path and dharma are in harmony. Here the spiritual dimension of sankalpa is realized.
So although four stages have been described: (i) the reforming of bad habits, (ii) improving the quality of life and living, (iii) creating a real change within our personality, and (iv) realizing what we are trying to achieve in this life – the sankalpa is really always one. But to recognize the deepest quality of sankalpa we may have to go through some of the stages along the way like stepping-stones across a river, each step within reach of the previous one.
It is said that the sankalpa should not change until it becomes realized, but many do not know what they really want and therefore in a true sense do not know their sankalpa. So, if my initial intention is to give up smoking and I succeed, then obviously the sankalpa to stop smoking will change. But really it is a transition from one stepping-stone to the next, so now a higher resolve may be made. And so on until the real nature of sankalpa is realized, as the bigger picture becomes clearer.
We may start at any point along the way, but the choice of the kind of sankalpa we make is very important and should always aim to bring out the best that is in us. Time should be taken at first to find out what level we are at and what is important to us now. Whether changing a habit or an entire personality, it must be in tune with the nature of the individual and therefore come from within, and not be a product of wishful thinking or a casual desire.
For the success of the sankalpa, certain conditions must be met. The sankalpa is like a seed that will have tremendous power, but only if it is sown in fertile ground, looked after and tended daily, with the inner certainty that the seed will produce its fruit in its own time. After the sankalpa is made, the mind nurtures it at deeper levels as the roots of the seed go further down, the emotions express it as a positive feeling that has power and strength, the body resonates with it, and the intellect does not question it – ever. Faith is where all the dimensions of the personality are in harmony, undivided and moving in the same direction together. How can it not succeed?
Lastly, the sankalpa need not be influenced by words alone. It may also be visualized symbolically as an image, felt as a sensation; it may bring up certain feelings which have a recognizable force or are just quietly known. In the end the sankalpa is not just something nice you say three times twice in yoga nidra, but it is a motivating force that you are living and moving toward all the time, every day.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


 The Vedic Period

The most ancient sacred texts of the Hindu tradition are the Vedas. According to Indian scholars, all the spiritual writings of India, include yoga, are based on the Vedas. The Vedas were originally an oral transmission, handed down from teacher to disciple for many centuries. The earliest Vedas date back to 2500 b.c. There are four major sections of the Vedas. The oldest section consists of the Vedic hymns, which include sophisticated philosophy. The second section deals with rituals and sacrifices; perfect performance of long and complex rituals was believed essential to ensure good fortune. The third section, on contemplation and inner truth, comprises the forest treatises, written for forest-dwelling ascetics. The last section contains the Upanishads, or the Vedanta, literally “the end of the Vedas,” which discuss the goal of knowing the Self. The Vedas form the basis of all subsequent Indian thought and philosophy.

In the Vedic period, Yoga was closely related to shamanism (Eliade, 1969). Early yogis placed great value on mastery of ecstatic trance and supernatural powers through the practice of severe austerities. They believed that individuals could, through superhuman self-discipline and self-mortification, compel the Hindu gods to fulfill their requests. The exercise of austerities and self-control has remained a major part of Yoga practice to this day.

The Classical Period

The classical era lasted from a.d. 200 until a.d. 800. It was the time of the development of six classical schools of Hindu thought: Mimamsa (the philosophy of ritualism), Nyaya (the school of logic), Vaisheshika (naturalistic philosophy), Vedanta (nondualist ic metaphysics), Samkya (dualistic philosophy), and Yoga.

Vedanta, Samkya, and Yoga are the most influential schools today. There are strong links among the three. Vedanta teaches nondualism, which describes Reality as a single, indivisible whole. Many Vedanta philosophers also practiced various forms of Yoga for their own spiritual development.

Samkya is mainly concerned with understanding and describing various levels of existence. The goal is not so much to explain the world as to help transcend it by developing discrimination. Samkya and Yoga metaphysics are closely related, and in fact the two stem from the same earlier, preclassical tradition.

The major difference between Samkya and Yoga is their methodologies. Samkya stresses discrimination and renunciation and Yoga emphasizes the necessity of experiencing ecstatic states of consciousness (samadhi) that bring deep insight into oneself and the world. The classical school of Yoga is based on the work of Patanjali, a second-century b.c. sage and author of at least part of
the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali’s approach to Yoga is the main focus of this chapter.

Major Concepts

Spirit and Nature
In Patanjali’s Yoga, there is a strict dualism between Spirit and Nature. Every human being is a combination of these two principles. Body and mind come from Nature, and the transcendental Self comes from Spirit. Spirit (Purusha) is pure consciousness. Spirit knows no limitations or qualifications. It includes consciousness within and beyond the universe. The manifestation of Spirit in the individual is the Self. The Self is changeless, unaffected by physical or mental activity; however, the mind distorts our awareness of the Self.

The opposite pole to Spirit is Nature (Prakriti). In Sanskrit, Prakriti means “that which brings forth” (the word is related to procreate). Nature is the ground from which all material forms spring. It is also the source of all nonmaterial forms, including thoughts and emotions. Nature is, like Spirit, eternal and unchanging.

The transcendental Self in each individual is Spirit in essence. The Self is like a wave, a form that the ocean takes on for a time. The Self is pure awareness, pure consciousness. The goal of Yoga is Self-realization-by uncovering of the Self that is hidden by our identification with the forms generated by Nature, including the body and the subtle forms such as mind and emotions. In the words of one of the great Indian sages, “Everyone is the Self and, indeed, is infinite. Yet each person mistakes his body for his Self” (Ramana Maharshi in Osbourne, 1962, p. 23).

The ideal of Yoga is to seek joy from its source-the Self within. Most people look to the world for pleasure, never realizing that the source of greatest joy is found in the Self, which lies within them. One Indian parable concerns the musk deer, whose musk glands become active when the mature deer enters
the mating season. The deer is so taken with this entrancing scent that it often runs through the forest, seeking the source of the odor. The frenzied deer can lose all sense of direction and become entangled in underbrush or even plunge off a cliff. Frantically seeking the musk without, the deer will never discover the source of the odor, which is within itself.

The Yoga Teacher

The yoga teacher is a disciplinarian, who pushes the student beyond self-imposed limitations. As one who has been through the discipline already, the guru knows from experience the extent of human capacity. Thus the guru demands that students exert themselves to the limits of their capabilities. In addition, students are inspired by their teacher’s living example to realize their highest potential.

The yoga teacher also fosters the student’s emotional and psychological development. The teacher is like a mirror, exposing faults and limitations of the student, but always remaining conscious of the essential purity and perfection of the Self behind such limitations. This kind of discipline can be administered only by someone who is relatively free of ego and strong personal biases or blind spots, which would distort the guru’s reactions to the student.

The yoga teacher’s most important attribute is spiritual consciousness. A teacher who has realized the Self transmits a sense of inner peace and bliss. One yogi describes this as follows, “If I entered the hermitage in a worried or indifferent frame of mind, my attitude imperceptibly changed. A healing calm descended at the mere sight of my guru. Each day with him was a new experience in joy, peace, and wisdom” (Yogananda, 1972, pp. 137–138).

Vivekananda points out that the guru teaches from his or her state of being:

If a man wants to teach me something of dynamics, of chemistry, or any other physical science, he may be anything he likes, because what the physical sciences require is merely an intellectual equipment; but in the spiritual sciences it is impossible from first to last that there can be any spiritual light in the soul that is impure.... Hence with the teacher of religion we must see first what he is, and then what he says. He must be perfectly pure, and then alone comes the value of his words, because he is only then the true “transmitter.” What can he transmit, if he has not spiritual power in himself? ... The function of the teacher is indeed an affair of the transference of something, and not one of mere stimulation of the existing intellectual or other faculties in the taught. Something real and appreciable as an influence comes from the teacher and goes to the taught. Therefore the teacher must be pure....

The teacher must not teach with any ulterior selfish motive—for money, name, or fame; his work must be simply out of love, out of pure love for mankind at large. The only medium through which spiritual force can be transmitted is love.... God is love, and only he who has known God as love, can be a teacher of godliness and God to man. (Vivekananda, 1978a, pp. 32–33)

Many authorities maintain that initiation is a crucial element in Yoga practice. According to Kularnava-Tantra, self-realization is not possible without initiation, and there can be no real initiation without a qualified teacher, who has been initiated into a lineage himself or herself (Feuerstein, 1989).

Initiation is primarily a form of spiritual transmission. Through this transmission the disciple is transformed physically, mentally, and spiritually. Initiation creates a special bond between teacher and disciple. The disciple enters the teacher’s spiritual lineage, a chain that may go back unbroken for centuries.

One of the later Yoga texts, the Kularnava-Tantra, classifies six different types of yoga teachers, according to basic function (Feuerstein, 1989). A teacher generally is a composite of several of these: (1) the Impeller motivates and inspires the prospective disciple, leading him or her to initiation; (2) the Indicator prescribes the most appropriate form of spiritual practice and discipline; (3) the Explainer interprets and clarifies the spiritual process and its goal; (4) the Revealer clarifies the details of the process; (5) the Teacher supervises the disciple’s spiritual discipline; and (6) the Illuminator kindles in the disciple mental and spiritual understanding.

One great danger in the role of the yoga teacher is ego inflation. Feuerstein, a scholar of yoga, points out that although enlightened yogis may live out of the identity of the Self, their personalities are still intact (1993). He suggests that integration of the personality is a necessary complement to transcendence for any guru.

A yoga teacher is not a magician who transforms students without any effort on their part. Yoga teachers are instructors of subtle truths and practices; as in any learning situation, students’ achievements are in proportion to their effort, ability, and receptivity:

The conditions for the taught are purity, a real thirst after knowledge, and perseverance.... Purity in thought, speech, and act is absolutely necessary for anyone to be religious. As to the thirst after knowledge, it is an old law that we all get whatever we want. None of us can get anything other than what we fix our hearts on.... The success may sometimes come immediately, but we must be ready to wait patiently even for what may look like an infinite length of time. The student who sets out with such a spirit of perseverance will surely find success in realization at last. (Vivekananda, 1978a, pp. 28–29)

The yoga model of the guru-disciple relationship is an example of deep love and respect for a model teacher. A real yoga teacher becomes a powerful force for change and inner growth. Unfortunately, an ego-driven teacher can take tremendous advantage of loyal students.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Subtle Energies Of Mudras

'In order, therefore, to awaken the goddess, who is sleeping at the entrance to Brahma's door, mudras should be practised well.' 
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, ch.3 , v.5

During yoga practice certain hand position- referred to as mudras - are often adopted. The word mudra can be translated as 'seal', meaning knowledge. Mudras are subtle physical movements that increase awareness and concentration. There are many different types of mudra in the yogic scriptures, some of which involve the whole body, while others are simple hand gestures. Generally mudras are said to manipulate prana, or energy flow, in the body. Hand mudras are meditation tools, which redirect the energy emitted through the hands back in the body. 

The Chin Mudra is a classic yogic meditation posture and is he gesture of consciousness. The palms of the hands face upwards while resting on the knees, and the tips of the thumps and thumbs and index fingers touch, while the remaining fingers are relaxed and slightly apart. The thumb- and finger tips contain many nerve endings, and when they they create a circuit that send energy back to the body. A variation of this is the Jnana Mudra, which is the gesture of knowledge. It has the same finger position, but the palms point downward rather than upward. 

Bhairava Mudras, meaning 'fierce gesture' is another mudra that you can assume during meditation. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and place your right hand on top of your left palm with the thumbs touching. Both hands then rest in your lap. The two hands represent the ida and pingala nadis*, symbolizing the union of the individual with higher awareness. 

*There is a vast network of subtle energy channels, known as nadis ( meaning 'flow'), that criss-cross the entire body.These are the pingala nadi, the ida nadi, and the sushimna nadi, which form the prime conduits of energy throughout the system.  One of the nadis ( the pingala ) is positive, one ( the ida) is negative, and the other ( the sushumna ) is neutral- just as in any electrical circuit.  

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

These eight  limbs were not regarded as a ladder to be climbed one rung at a time, but more the necessary ingredients in the recipe for life. The ancient yogis realized that life can be a difficult and complicated journey but its careful teachings and disciplines guide us along our path. They had a deep understanding of man's nature and of the mind-body connection, and they devised this system to help us obtain happiness and peace of mind, as well as a perfectly toned healthy body.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga 
1. Yama
There are guidelines necessary for our moral conduct and are the basic principles of right living and restraint; they are no violence, stealing or envy and they command us to be truthful  with both others and ourselves. Yoga teaches us that happiness is not in external objects but within ourselves and that the spirit of God is within each one of us. 
2. Niyama 
These are the personal disciplines of daily life. They are cleanliness of mind and body,purity, contentment, study work and devotion to God or the universal spirit. Yoga teaches us that the body is the temple of the spirit and keeping the body in the perfect condition is our duty. 
3. Asanas
There are the yoga exercises or postures. It is said that there are 840,000 of them! These movements work the entire body, freeing it from tension,toning and firming and strengthening every muscle, internal organ and gland. The balancing postures teach us the power of concentration and focus. Deep relaxation calms the mind and rids the body of chronic tension, and meditation trains the mind to achieve stillness and peace. 
4. Pranayama
This is yoga's breath control. There are many breathing exercises in yoga to stimulate life-giving oxygen to every cell, to energize the body and calm and soothe the mind. The word pranayama means 'controlling the energy flow' . Yoga teaches us how to use our breathing to control our life. 
5. Pratyahara
This is the withdrawal of the senses from the external world to the self within to give one peace and calm. This is achieved by practising the asanas and pranayama. Most of our daily activities necessitate our concentration and involvement with external objects and thoughts, but by concentrating on our body as we do the movements, and by concentrating on our breathing, the mind and body become peaceful and calm. 
6. Dharana
This is the power of constant concentration and focusing of the mind. The mind is like the rays of the sun. When spread over a wide surface, the rays will be warming, but concentrate the rays and they become powerful enough to burn. Yoga balances start us on this path. They discipline the mind to concentrate on just one spot while performing the balances. This skill develops so that eventually one is able to concentrate and focus on a subject of interest even in the midst of turmoil.
7. Dhyama 
This is meditation. Meditation is a powerful tool for freeing our minds from the pressures of life, helping us feel peaceful and calm. When this is accomplished, new ideas appear and the way ahead looks clearer. 
                                                                   8. Samadhi
This is the result of our total efforts and is the experience of the enlightenment and bliss, living in the present moment, and the realization that we can manifest whatever we wish. The mind becomes full of joy and peace. It is the state of union with the universal spirit or God. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Standing Asanas

'An asana is not a posture which you assume mechanically. It involves thought, at the end of which a balance is achieved between movement and resistance'

 Physical benefits 
  • Stretches the spine and trunk muscles. 
  • Tones the spine nerves and abdominal organs, improving the working of the bowels
  • Improves the appetite and assists digestion 
  • Promotes flexibility of the hips, spine, and legs
  • Reduces or eliminates pain in the lower back
  • Invigorates the circulation. 
  • Standing poses are especially beneficial to anyone who suffers from a shortening of one leg as a result of a fracture of the hip, thigh, bone, or bones of the lower leg 
  • Makes the ankles,knees and thighs very strong and elastic
Mental benefits
  • Alleviates anxiety and hypochondria
  • Reduces mental stress

Pranic benefits

  • Stimulates pranic flow to the spleen, liver, large intestine,gall bladder, small intestine, and heart meridians 
  • Steady the energy and give a final 'push' to the process of nadi purification begun in the other asanas.  

Various standing yoga asanas

  • Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
  • Vrkshasana (Tree Pose)
  • Utthita Hasta Padasana (Extended Hands and Feet Pose)
  • Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)
  • Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)
  • Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana  I,  II and III  (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose)
  • Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
  • Prasarita Padottanasana  I , II   (Wide Spread Feet Pose)

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where Does Yoga Come From?

Yoga evolved several thousand years ago, in India, as a system of self-enlightenment. Today, in spite of all the benefits of 21st- century living, more and more people are turning to yoga for inspiration, confirming its timeless appeal.

The meaning of yoga 
Originally, yoga evolves as a way of feeling closer to a higher, divine presence, and the focus of yoga practice was spiritual rather than physical. Today, yoga can can be enjoyed as a physical discipline, known as hatha yoga, as well as spiritual one. Many people still find that practising yoga can help to deepen their faith.
The Indians sages, or gurus, who first developed the idea of yoga believed that to attain spiritual enlightenment required a systematic approach. They devised a code of practice to follow in order to achieve all-round health, and believed that by training the physical body- the first step in yoga - they could tame the mind, improve the concentration, and find their inner self, or soul.

Nature knows best 
The gurus sought their initial inspiration from the natural world around them. They watch and studied the patterns of nature and the behaviour of animals with a specific passion. They marvelled at the power and focus of predatory creatures and birds as they hunted, at their ability to conserve energy and to sleep soundly when the opportunity arose.
Admiring this balanced, instinctive way of living, the yogis- the gurus who developed and practised the yoga philosophy-began to imitate the way the animals moved and behaved , and soon they found themselves empowered with special qualities. And so the classical asanas, or animal postures, were born.

What the yogis learned
The gurus observed the breathing patterns of animals , and note that animals with slow heart rates, like the elephant and the tortoise, lived much longer than agile and nervous animals with quick heart rates, such as mice and rabbits.
They saw the sun as the centre of their energy universe after watching how plants and flowers grow upwards to bask in its warmth and energy. They admired the huge trees because they were at the same time strong and flexible, rooted firmly in the ground but with branches moving freely in the wind. Seeing these attributes as metaphors for a human code of living, they saw that people could be happier and healthier if they, too, could be both grounded and flexible.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Sufi story: You have to know suffering; only then you know what happiness is.

A very rich man became frustrated with his riches.This rich man was really rich, and he became so frustrated with his riches that he left his palace in search of a wise man; because he was really cursed, really in suffering. He wanted to feel a little happier. He went from one wise man to another, but it was of no use. They talked much, but nobody could show him. And he insisted – he must have been a very empirical man – he insisted: “Show me happiness, then I will believe.” He must have had a scientific mind. He said, “You cannot befool me by talking. Show me happiness – where it is.Exactly if I see it, only then can I become your disciple.” Now it is rare to find a master who can show you. There are teachers, thousands and thousands, who can talk about happiness, and if you look at their faces you will see that they are in more suffering than you.
This rich man reached a village, and people told him, “Yes, we have a Sufi mystic. He may be of help. He is a little eccentric, so be a little aware of him. Be a little aware, hmm?…because nobody knows what he will do. But he is a rare phenomenon – you go to him.”
The rich man went; he tried to find him. He was not in the hut. People said that he had just gone towards the forest, so he went there. He was sitting under a huge tree, deep in meditation. The rich man stopped there, got down from his horse. And that man looked to be really in deep happiness, so silent, so calm. Even everything around him was still – the tree, the birds. It was very peaceful; evening was falling.
The rich man fell into his feet and said, “Sir, I would like to be happy. I have everything – except happiness.”
The Sufi opened his eye and said, “I will show you happiness. You show me your riches.”
Perfectly right. If you ask him to show happiness, you show your riches. He had thousands of diamonds in a bag on the horse’s back because he had provided for it. He was always thinking, “If there is somebody who has happiness, he will ask; and the price has to be paid. And there is nothing you can get in life without paying for it.” So he had brought them with him. Those diamonds were worth millions of rupees.
He gave the bag and said, “Look.”
Just in a split second, the mystic took the bag in his hand and ran away. The rich man could not believe for a second what had happened. When he gathered his mind he ran away screaming and crying – “I have been robbed!”
Of course, the mystic knew the way in the village, and he could run fast. And he was a fakir, a strong man, and the rich man had never in his life run after somebody. So, weeping, crying, suffering…and the whole village gathered, and people said, “We had told you before, ‘Don’t go; he’s eccentric. Nobody knows what he will do.’” And the whole village became excited. It was a real suffering for the rich man. His whole life’s earnings lost – and to no avail.
Running around the whole town, the mystic came back to the same tree where the horse was still standing. He put the bag near the horse, sat under the tree, closed his eyes, became silent. Came the rich man – running, breathing hard, perspiring, tears flowing – his whole life was at stake. Then he suddenly saw the bag near the horse; he took it to his heart, started dancing, became so happy….
The mystic opened his eyes and said, “Look! Have I not shown you what happiness is?”

In fact, the more money you have, the less is the value of the money. Value depends on poverty. One rupee in a poor man’s pocket has more value than the same rupee in a rich man’s pocket because the poor man can use it; the rich man cannot use it. The more money you have, the less is the value. A point comes of saturation when the money is of no value – whether you have it or not makes no difference; your life will continue the same. To be rich means to destroy the value of the money; then the money is valueless. You have the house that you wanted, you have cars that you wanted, you have everything that you wanted – now the money is nothing, just a figure. You can go on putting figures in your bank balance – of no use. Then suddenly hope is dead; and suddenly one realizes: “I have not achieved anything.