We tend to think of food as providing our energy but the truth
is that half of your energy comes from the air, that is a law of chemistry.
Depending on the circumstances, your body can go without food for perhaps
40 days but most people will lose consciousness after only two or three
minutes without air. This tells us something about the relative importance
of these two things and it is why traditional yoga places such emphasis
The reason for the great disparity between the importance of
food vs air is explained by a central principle in all the eastern systems
of medicine and martial arts. It occurs because the life force, Prana
or Chi, rides into your body with the air. It is not just the oxygen.
Life force uses air as a vehicle and we are renewed and, in a very real
sense, recreated every time we breathe.
All the eastern healing systems and the martial arts had their
origins in the Yogic traditions of India. In our time and day, adepts
of the various martial arts use their breath and concentration to direct
and control the flow of energy in their bodies to produce explosive strikes
and kicks. It can also be used for health and healing which is our
primary focus in yoga.
When you breathe you should be relaxed and the diaphragm should
be pulled down until the stomach, not the chest, actually moves out.
This action should be smooth and continuous without holding the breath
between inhalations and exhalations. Most people would find that vast amounts
of tension simply melted away if they would learn to do only this much.
People today are worried about their diets and getting exercise
but they should be far more concerned about breathing badly. Most
people engage in chest breathing, shallow breaths just sufficient to keep
them going. This is almost always coupled with other bad habits including
poor posture, shoulders rammed up towards their ears, and muscles tensed
up all over their bodies.
This is not the minor problem it might appear to be! Tension
of this kind releases stress chemicals which should be burnt off with physical
activity but are not. That sets off a host of other reactions, all
of which are bad. Additionally, keeping muscles tensed up like this
also drains away huge amounts of energy, far more than you might think,
because the process is continuous.
The study of yoga counteracts these problems by bringing you
into touch with yourself. The postures stress the body in a way
which trains you to process the associated stress. Eventually you
will begin to recognize stress when it occurs outside the class and deal
with it effectively there too.
Unless you learn to get in touch with your body not only will
you fail to recognize that you are being stressed, you will collect it
and build it into yourself on a continuous basis. This can begin
a stress cycle that feeds upon itself with each increment of stress giving
rise to even more stress.
This is one reason why traditional yoga includes meditation.
It will open our eyes to situations of that kind. Meditation is not
meant for tuning out the world. It is a tool used to obtain access
to a much deeper understanding of ourselves and everything else.
People also rarely realize that they need to control their
thinking. Meditation is an important tool in the process of doing
that. The fact is, you cannot allow your mind to just ramble about
seizing on anything which presents itself. The reason this is so
dangerous is because of the way we are built. As it turns out, we
have two minds. We have the conscious awareness which we identify
as being “me” but we also have a subconscious mind.
Exactly what this subconscious mind consists of is a matter of
some dispute among academics to this day. In the context of yogic
tradition and for our purposes here, your subconscious is your autonomic
and sympathetic nervous system and the controlling intelligence which resides
in every system and every single cell in your body. It is axiomatic
in yoga that we have intelligence and consciousness in every single cell
in our bodies, not just in our brains.
It is this “other” intelligence which does most of the actual
running of our bodies. We may, with our conscious mind, decide to
lift our arm but it is the subconscious which attends to the actual doing
of it. In fact, all of our so-called voluntary acts are ultimately
under the control of the subconscious because that is what it does.
It takes instructions from you and executes them. It sees what
you see, it hears what you hear, it feels what you feel, it never sleeps,
it knows everything you know and it remembers everything. It is not
fooled for an instant by wishful thinking or platitudes and it has one
other quality which is worthy of special consideration: it is incredibly
So, we have two minds. One of them is a hell of a lot stronger
than the other one and over 99% of the time we haven’t got the slightest
idea of what the stronger one is doing.
All you may be sure of is that it is following your instructions
and, unfortunately, you probably do not even remember what they were or
when you gave them, or if they were good instructions or bad instructions.
This should be a matter of some concern to you. You have undoubtedly
heard the saying that you are what you eat, but I wonder if you realize
that you will also become what you think? Not what you wish and hope
but what you really believe and constantly hold in mind.
The mechanics of this involves something which is increasingly
being called the mind-body connection by Science. These two things
are not as separate as it was once believed.
Stress and ill health are not always purely physical in
origin. A thought is most definitely not, nothing! Bad news
can affect you physically. An idea can not only change the
way you feel and act, it may alter the very context of your life and the
way in it unfolds. This is far from being nothing and if the thought
is a command to the subconscious the importance of it is even more compelling.
One continuous source of bad news and misinformation is the media.
This can be very upsetting and our nervous system is simply not equipped
to deal with it all the time. However, many of the worst, and
most destructive thoughts arise from within ourselves. These can
be the most dangerous to us because they are taken for granted.
If a man eating tiger brought up an idea you would regard it
with great suspicion because we do not trust man eating tigers. But
when a thought originates within our own mind, we do not screen and consider
it in the way that we should. We are not likely to ask ourselves,
is this a good thought, or a bad thought? Will this line of thinking
lead to good things, or bad things? Should this line of thinking
continue or not? We have that choice and it is important because
our subconscious mind is systematically building our thoughts into what
Mind-body processes can be very slow, but they tend to be inexorable.
None of us was born being able to ride a bicycle or drive a car.
We had to learn how. This took time and was not simply a matter of
exercising muscles. Each one of our fumbling efforts was refined and literally
built into our nervous system as a habit by the subconscious. Our
muscles and associated body systems literally changed during the process.
As adults we no longer think about walking, swimming or
driving a car. We consider only the highest level inputs in the process:
Where we are going, how fast etc. The subconscious mind takes care
of the all details, millions of them.
The thing is, the exact same process is going on with everything
else you think. Our thoughts can affect and change body systems we do not
think of as being voluntary. It takes time for these things
to occur but they tend to manifest inexorably. Moreover, this
will also manifest to some degree in the external world because
the way we behave seriously influences what happens there.
So, it is very important to learn to control our thinking.
The yoga postures bring us into touch with our bodies, with meditation
we start to gain control of our minds. Just because a thought pops
into our consciousness doesn’t mean we should allow that line of thinking
to continue. Just because someone or some special interest group
says something does not mean we are obliged to take the bait and allow
them to control how we feel or what we think about.
Most of us have the same thoughts over and over again.
This usually involves things which happened in the past or may happen in
the future. Unfortunately, we have no power there and if we are giving
up all our energy to do this there will necessarily be less to do anything
with today. Uncontrolled thinking of this kind is a direct cause
of continuous failure for many people.
On the plus side, we can focus on constructive thoughts and develop
good habits instead of bad ones. We can control our thinking and
direct it in avenues which are profitable. The thing is, we
do not have the slightest chance of succeeding at that unless we learn
to develop concentration. That is a big part of what meditation is about.
It is not easy to give a clear explanation of exactly what meditation is.
Its purpose is to get in touch with your inner self.
Unfortunately, it is not always clear to everyone just exactly
what the inner self is. At its simplest, your inner self is your
subconscious mind, not exactly in the sense that contemporary psychology
thinks of it but in the traditional yogic sense of the controlling energy
and consciousness which resides in every single cell and system in our
bodies. This energy and consciousness is associated with and is a
part of a universal consciousness which pervades the entire universe.
We are all different so no single meditation method works
for everyone. Generally most approaches involve stilling the external
senses and turning our focus inward. This is not easy for most people
to do. Their concentration will be continuously interrupted by external
stimuli and a flood of unwanted thoughts.
It is almost impossible for most people to stop thinking because
their objective mind, always on the lookout for saber toothed tigers, problems
to solve, judgments to cast is not structured to work that way.
That is what the ego or conscious mind does, it keeps you alive in the
external world. By its very nature the ego does not want to be still
and quiet, and it will take practice to change that.
Nevertheless, these distractions to our meditations are very
important. If we can learn to be honest with ourselves, they will
eventually reveal the ego for what it really is. Everyone else sees
our egos, but we usually can’t. For most of us, meditation is the
only process ever likely to accomplish that.
During meditation, the ego cannot be fought. Neither meditation
or enlightenment can be forced. What is required is being quiet and
getting out of our own way. This means gently shifting our focus
back to the meditation without passing judgment on the intruding thought
or distraction. Typically the student is told to keep their spinal
columns straight and to focus their attention on their forehead Chakra,
which is located at their pituitary gland. This lies approximately
in the center of the skull just behind and above the nasal passage.
Students are also sometimes instructed to breathe into the forehead
Chakra or Third Eye using their mantra if they have one, or using the mantra
so-hum if they do not. The mantra is not spoken out loud. If
so-hum is used, it is “so” on the inhalation, “hum” on the exhalation.
Some people also count. One, two. Generally the less method
which is used the better.
What will happen is not easy to predict. Some people achieve
enlightened states in this manner. This may include feelings of love
and well being, it may include being enveloped in light and it may include
the transfer of knowledge. Often what happened will not be remembered
or realized for some space of time.
It is true that energy flows through energy channels and the
seven charkas in a certain way during enlightened states but you cannot
force it to do that, nor should you try. If your concentration, development
and intention are correct all of that will take care of itself.
In certain traditions the state being sought is called Nirvana
which is often translated as being nothing. However, when we have
transcended vanity, envy, inconstancy, insincerity, and false judgment;
when we have set aside the personal ego and learned how to shut up and
get out of our own way what will be left is not nothing, it is everything.
At that point the gate is open, the blind can finally see, the
deaf can finally hear. People do not realize it but they tend to
see the world not as it really is but as they really are. Just that
much is a great lesson. When the ego is transcended, our lives will
change in many ways.