Any form of sensible exercise will improve our health; however, yoga produces
better results because it addresses the underlying mechanisms that are building
stress and disease into our bodies. Ordinary exercise burns off stress chemicals
but it does not keep more of them from being created.
Yoga postures stress the body in controlled way that allows the student to get
acquainted with that stress and how it is affecting them. When the beginning
student first attempts one of the postures they stress practically every muscle in
their bodies when perhaps only half of them should be doing anything. This
occurs because the untrained person is unable to distinguish muscles that are
doing something from those which should not be. They are also unable to find
their center, the point of peace and balance that should exist within the posture.
It is this discrimination and self-knowledge that is the important part of the
posture and, it does not show on the outside. It is this knowledge that tells us
when we are collecting stress so that we can do something about it.
Your body cannot fight and heal itself at the same time. This is why stress can
kill you. It triggers the fight or flight response and redirects energy toward that
end. Things like digestion and healing are suspended in the process. And,
unfortunately for us, modern life manages to keep most of us embroiled in a
constant state of stress, fear and aggravation so that the stress response can
never entirely shut down anymore.
Traditional yoga addresses this in its advanced teachings using a variety of
methods that have little if anything to do with the reputation they have in the
popular media. There is a lot more to yoga than the postures. To begin with,
there are eight rungs on the yoga ladder and the postures are only on the third.
They are very important, but not for the reason most people think.
The first two rungs on this ladder most students never even hear about are the
Yamas and the Niyamas; the morals and the observances. They amount to
being the ten commandments of yoga which is the reason you never hear about
them. They sound too much like religion. Nevertheless, they are crucial to
mastery of yoga and life. They teach us that the morals and ethics taught by
every spiritual tradition on this earth are not arbitrary.
These are prohibitions against things like Violence, Lying, stealing, Greed and
so forth. In yoga these commandments are studied in relation to how they apply
within our minds and our bodies.
Consider Ahimsa, non-harming or non-violence. How are you treating yourself?
Are you engaging in destructive behaviors and practices? If the answer is yes
you are violating the commandment against violence in perhaps the worst way
possible. Consider Satya, truthfulness. Are you honest with yourself? Do you
keep your promises to yourself? If you do not, it will have serious consequences
within your body and in your life.
These ideas are so basic to the laws of the universe that you can substitute the
Ten Commandments of the Christian tradition directly into your yoga practice
instead of the ones used in India. The effect will be the same.
The third rung of the yoga ladder is the Asanas or postures. They teach us how
to get in touch with our bodies and minds. They build health and self awareness
but the postures are not an end in themselves. The real purpose of the yoga
ladder is to enable a student to meditate. As it happens, this will require strength
because you have to be strong in order to relax. In real life, we must work in
order to become strong.
The forth rung of the yoga ladder is Pranayama or the control of breath. This
is not generally taught in most contemporary studios. The breath is used as a tool
to steady the body, improve concentration and to direct energy flow within the
body and the bodies energy system. This is an extremely important study and it
is very useful for successful meditation and good health.
The fifth rung is Pratyahara or sense withdrawal. At this level we learn to
withdraw from external stimuli. Systematic relaxation is used to draw the mind
inward. This is crucial because you cannot concentrate on the outer world and
the inner world at the same time.
The sixth rung is Dharana, or concentration. At the sixth rung, we start learning
about controlling the mind. We are responsible for our own thoughts. The mind
cannot be allowed to wander wherever it happens to go or to absorb whatever
ideas are presented to it. This would allow your mental state to be determined by
whatever is going on outside of you. This is the point at which we ask whose
thought is this? And, what is it doing here?
The Seventh rung is Dhyana or meditation itself. Exactly what this might be
is not easy to explain. Meditation is a different kind of consciousness. It is not
thinking, it is not sleeping, it is not dreaming. If you think you are meditating, you
are not, however if you ever actually succeed, you will know it and you will never
be satisfied with anything less afterwards. This point is the 8th rung. It occurs
when the eternal self shines in the mind and this represents some level of
Samadhi or enlightenment.
The higher teachings of yoga are embodied in a study known as Tantra. In
addition to the eight rungs there are also three main paths. One of the primary
differences between Eastern and Western religions and philosophies is the
understanding they have in the East that one path does not suit all people.
Samaya is the path most closely associated with Jnana yoga, the path of
Knowledge. It is internal, mental, and seeks to eliminate ego and mind to find
Nirvana or pure consciousness within us. It is frequently associated with
Buddhism though it is not exclusive to them at all. This is probably the easiest of
the paths to understand and probably the most difficult to do.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the Kaula path which is the most
closely associated with the Bhakti Yoga. This path is external, devotional and
highly ritualistic. Almost the exactly opposite of Samaya, it is very difficult
to understand and relatively easy to do. It is what most westerners would associate
with Hinduism though that is a great oversimplification of the facts and not really
true. It is also not unlike the path of Christianity.
Mishra lies in the middle between these two extremes and employs elements
from both. Each of the paths may also take the left hand or the right hand route
which basically means, with sex, or without sex but not in the sense that the
sensationalistic media represents this.
Contrary to the position taken by political correctness and academia the boys
and the girls are not interchangeable. They are very different from each other
down to the structure of their individual cells and the DNA that contains the
blueprints for their bodies. They tend to have very different mentalities,
temperaments and physical requirements. They are, if not opposites,
complementary, with each sex possessing what the other does not have.
Sex is part of an energy that fuels our bodies. For most of the 20th century
this was a taboo subject in western society. It was ignored and glossed over in
schools and churches and little or nothing was done to prepare individuals to
deal with it as they passed through life. Wishing this energy did not exist does
not make it go away. It must express itself in some manner and repressing it
does not work very well. The purpose of Tantra is learning to control and engage
this powerful energy in a positive way.
In the higher levels of yogic Tantra and most religious orders there is a tradition
of sexual abstinence known as renunciation or celibacy. Renunciation is
completely unsuited for most people. Moreover, the highest levels of
enlightenment can and have been obtained by individuals who did not take that
route. For those on the middle path what is renounced is allowing the ego to
control their lives, not giving up love, marriage or family.
A study of tantra and advanced yoga also involves the bodies energy system
and something known as Kundalini which, again, has little to do with its
representation in the popular media.
In yoga it is understood that there is energy and consciousness in every single
cell in your body. In addition to the part of your body which exists in the three
dimensional physical world there is a part of it which does not. Your yogic or
ethereal body exists in layers like an onion superimposed over the physical one.
There are said to be 96,000 energy channels in the human body. These must
not be confused with the physical nervous system. Twelve of these channels are
absolutely essential to human life. Where two of these nadis or energy channels
cross you will have something known as a Marma point or what is called an
acupuncture point in traditional Chinese medicine. There are 108 major Marma
points in the Indian Science of Ayurveda.
Where a great many of these energy channels cross you will have what is
known as a Chakra. There are 12 major charkas of which 7 are generally
regarded as being the most important. These 7 correspond in the physical body
to major Nerve Plexuses or one of the endocrine glands. And, while these
charkas do effect the functioning of these glands and plexuses they must not be
confused with the physical organs, their functions go well beyond that.
During meditation, energy flows through three of the 12 main energy channels
located in the area of the spine. These channels are called Ida, Pingala and
Sushuma. In popular literature you will read that energy known as Kundalini
Shakti is coiled at the base of the spine in the first chakra located above the
perineum. However, this may not be exactly true. Moreover, it is unwise for an
untrained person to attempt driving this energy up the spinal column anyway.
During meditation you cannot force this energy flow. What is required is
learning to shut up and get out of our own way. When the ego is silent and the
intention is correct inner attunement will occur and the energy will flow as
a consequence of that without any interference on your part. This energy flow
does not cause meditation; it is the consequence of it.
There is not one method of meditation which is suitable for everyone. If a
method is very complicated it is likely to become a distraction in itself. Generally
the student is told to quiet the external senses and turn inward. Concentration
and breath are also often used to facilitate the process. In advanced practices
something called prana dharana is used in conjunction with several other
techniques. However, none of these things is a five minute study and good
results may often be obtained with much less preparation if they are
accompanied by the proper relaxation and intention.
One problem is that your ego may intrude with unwanted thoughts or you may
hear unwanted sounds. They cannot be fought. Let them go and gently shift
your attention back to the meditation. You may feel energy rising up your spine
but you cannot force it to do so. What you need to do is to learn how to get out
of your own way.
One method which works fairly well is to quiet the body down
with diaphragmatic breathing. The shoulders should be down, the spine and neck
should be straight. It is better to lie down well than to sit badly. As relaxation
proceeds breathing will become shallower. After a minute or so it is helpful to
concentrate upon the breath itself flowing into the nose.
If you pay attention and draw it in just right you will notice that you can make it
flow over the upper surfaces of the nasal passages.
If you are careful and hold your nasal passages just right you will also notice
that you can feel the point at which the air turns down the throat. Just an inch or
so above that turning point is your pituitary gland which is the seat of your
forehead Chakra or third eye.
This is, among other things, the seat of your intuition. Concentrate upon it
with your breath. If you have been given a mantra by a master you may use it there.
If not you may use So Hum. So on the inhalation, Hum on the exhalation. Some
people also like to count. 1, 2. 1, 2.
Let go, be willing to accept Samadhi. You may experience feelings of love,
warmth and see light. Do not pass judgment upon these things. Let them fall
through you and become the light, the life and the love.