Showing posts with label pranayam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pranayam. Show all posts

Monday, September 14, 2015

Breath Mastery: India's contribution to the world's treasury of knowledge

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now classic life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” wrote that “breath mastery” is “India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge.”

What “knowledge” perchance was he referring to? Knowledge of the Self.  “Know thyself.” (Gnothi Seauton, inscribed in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece.) Or as Shakespeare said in the words of Polonius:  to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Since ancient times and from the wise in every tradition comes this counsel to turn within, to introspect, to become self aware and know the Self.

Yet, so far as I know, only the yogic tradition gives us the “how” of gnosis, of going within. That, formerly secret, knowledge is the science of breath and mind: the science of yoga that is spreading rapidly throughout the world. For yoga is far more than physical movements or static bodily positions, no matter how beneficial they may be. Far too long has the word “yoga” represented only the physical branch of yoga (called “hatha yoga”).

It is no coincidence that our first breath signals our birth and our last, our death. Only the most unthinking would limit the experience of life to the simple act of breathing. As Jesus put it (John 10:11), “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”

This breath, this life is abundant when we have health and happiness. But life is rarely, if ever, a static experience. Joys alternate with sorrows. So if abundance is measured in things, pleasure, human love, material security, fame or name, few will have it if but fleetingly, while those who bask in these are haunted by the shadow of loss ever ready to darken their door.

Breath, taken as the most elemental aspect of being alive, functions like a river. For daily life appears to flow only in one direction: out through the senses into the world around. This direction reverses only during sleep. Following the life-breath inward to its source would seem, therefore, beyond our conscious control.

But just as a boat with a motor can travel upstream towards the river’s headwaters, so too, can we, if we are trained in the science of breath and mind. The legend of the Fountain of Youth has its origins in the all-but-lost knowledge of this science. The Fountain of Youth, like the Garden of Eden, has no earthly location. It is, as Jesus put it, “within you.” Every night in sleep we are refreshed and baptized, at least partially, in the river of life. But sleep returns us to neutral. It is not life changing.

Long ago, the yogis discovered the methods, the means and the science of breath mastery. They discovered how to slow the breath and heart rate so that the river becomes languid and we can “row” upstream. By analyzing the experience and the psychophysiological attributes of the state of sleep, the yogis devised methods by which to enter progressively deeper states of conscious sleep. Conscious, yes: indeed super-conscious; but this state is akin to “sleep” only in mimicking the brain’s methods of turning off the five “sense telephones” (as Yogananda put it) and slowing the heart and breath.

In sleep, we enter the dream state which is as real to us (while dreaming) as the activities of the day. While the reality of the dream state is as easily dismissed as the stars at night are by the sunrise, reflection upon the dream state reveals to us how our reactions, using the brain and nervous system as instruments, create our reality during the day. The introspective mind gradually realizes that all sensory input is interpreted and filtered by the senses and by the attitude, memory, and health of the mind. With poor eyesight we easily mistake one thing, or person, for another. We thus “create our own reality” largely by our expectations, emotional filters, and past memory experiences. I don’t mean to espouse solipsism. Rather, I am saying that our experience of life is largely, as it relates to what is important to us, a matter of our mental and reactive processes.

The yogis discovered the intimate relationship between inhalation and positive reactions and exhalation and negating responses. By slowing the breathing process we gain control over the reactive process, detaching life experiences from our unconscious reaction. We thus gain control over our life. We become more conscious; more alive; clearer; wiser, happier because no longer a helpless reactionary. We grow in detachment while intensifying our inner awareness of a silently flowing river of calmness, contentment and confidence.

The science of breath mastery allows the meditator to enter a state of conscious sleep. By calming and monitoring the breath and heart rate, one can turn off the senses (as we do in sleep) while yet remaining conscious. This is what scientists observe in meditators when the alpha brain waves coincide with the theta waves: conscious awareness paired with sleep-like relaxation.

The meditator can observe the mental processes that otherwise produce the dream state. I am not referring here to lucid dreaming (which can be interesting and useful to a limited degree), because meditation has other goals, such as to transcend the body and sense and memory bound mental processes of the brain. An experienced meditator focuses the mind one-pointedly in order to eventually strip the mind and its mental processes of all self-created images.

Ironically, or so it might seem, most meditation methods use the mind to focus on a single image or object in order to hold at bay, or pacify, the habit-induced onslaught of subconscious images. There’s a saying in India: “Use a thorn to remove a thorn.” When this finally occurs, the image or object of meditation can be released. The meditator then resides in a state of awareness devoid of objects.

[Images or objects of meditation vary widely but for the sake of clarity can include focusing on a mantra, the flow of breath, energy in the body, especially certain channels and places (chakras, e.g.), the feeling of peace and related states, the image of one’s deity or guru, or various subtle phenomenon experienced in meditation such as sounds or images of light.]

The science of meditation encompasses a large knowledge base of techniques and instructions on how to use the breath to achieve what has been called, somewhat incorrectly, “altered states” of consciousness. “Incorrectly,” I aver, because the actual experience of true meditation is so elemental and so refreshing that anyone who has “been there” with any consistency says that it is our natural state. All else is just details and the busy-ness of daily life. It is like finding the pure headwaters of the river of life that, as it runs to the sea of outward activity, becomes polluted by the debris of involvement, limitation, and identification! It is like bathing in pure water or being “born again.”

So life altering are the higher states of meditation that healing and health consequences are inescapable. In fact, different yoga teachers and traditions are resurrecting the health benefits of breath control techniques (traditionally called “pranayams”). The field of yoga therapy, for example, though still focused primarily on physical postures, is one sign of the application of yoga science to healing. Use of pranayams for various health cures is also being rediscovered and subjected to field tests.

A blog like this is not the place for a long string of health references but they can be easily found. I just typed in this question in my search engine: Can pranayams help the body? I got 394,000 results!

But when our purpose for meditation is towards higher states of being, we find steadily that the importance of technique wanes in relation to motivation and will power. In fact, in any given meditation sitting, we are taught to leave a portion of our sitting time for inner silence after techniques. Real meditation begins only as techniques dissolve into the sought after higher states.

[Don’t be fooled, as some meditation seekers fool themselves, in thinking, “Therefore, forget the techniques.” That might work once in a blue moon but such dilettantes rarely stay in the game very long.]

Techniques function much like the motorboat that takes us upstream; or, the training needed by an astronaut before lift off. Once we are in space, well fine, that’s when the training pays off. Once we bathe in the pure headwaters of the river of life, we don’t need the motorboat (we can float back down the river without it!)

People sometimes ask why kriya initiation requires almost a year of training and, when given, requires a pledge of silence, an agreement not to reveal the technique to anyone without prior permission!  The reasons for this are, in part, because it takes training and development to get used to the rarified oxygen-less atmosphere of inner stillness. The brain and nervous system require refinement. Like climbing Mt Everest without oxygen, we have to get used to the thin atmosphere where thoughts subside, the body is left behind, and the emotions have vanished like clouds beneath the intense summer sun.

You may think you want all this but your entire body, nervous system, and reptile brain and ego want nothing to do with being asked to step aside. So far as they are concerned, they are being dismissed and dissolved into nothingness. Who in their right “mind,” would accede to this without a fight! “The soul loves to meditate; but the ego hates to meditate.” So counseled Paramhansa Yogananda.

One needs not only to get used to meditation but also to demonstrate by will power and motivation the necessary “right stuff” to stick with it long enough to get results. Otherwise it’s “pearls before swine.” Not calling anyone here a pig, but what would diamonds be if they were ten cents each? They wouldn’t be diamonds. It takes will power to learn the science of yoga and to go deep into the Self.

If given too soon and one gives up in frustration, rebellion or restlessness, the seed of rejection and doubt is sown. It can take more than one lifetime before that vasana, impression, or vritti, karma, weakens sufficiently so that one’s interest and desire to try again might be re-awakened. One doesn’t give a child a gun or a hammer.

But that’s kriya yoga: an advanced pranayama given to us by masters of the yoga science for dedicated seekers of Self-realization. Only when by sincere self-effort one seeks the “pearl of great price” and knows the obstacles ahead does one accept the pure and grace-bestowing guidance of an enlightened One.

But for most new meditators, there are many pranayams and meditation techniques well suited to stress reduction, health and healing. You can use breath techniques to warm or cool the nervous system; to help you sleep; to still the mind and, as the internet search suggests, heal, help or cure lots of ailments.

Technique, therefore, is a good starting point. Motivation relative to our needs and wisdom is the fuel of our pranayama rocket. With self-effort we can accomplish much. With grace, we leave the “we” behind lest our victories revert and yield, in time, to the grinding wheel of samsara (duality).

Start where you are. Learn to breathe consciously, deeply. Try to be conscious of your breathing throughout the day as well as in meditation. Detective stories say “Follow the money.” Sages say “follow the breath.”

Namaste,


Swami Hrimananda

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Have A Deeper, Longer Meditation

Tomorrow, and in the next few days, Ananda and other groups around the world will uphold a tradition begun by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") to celebrate Christmas with a day of meditation.

Yogananda began this tradition in honor of what he called "the formless Christ." This term, like a diamond, have several facets, but let us say simply that it refers to the universal Christ consciousness latent within each person (indeed, even in every atom of creation). In meditation, when one feels peace descending upon him like a weightless waterfall washing away all cares and sorrows, he can justly say that he has felt the Christ-peace within. The dynamic and uplifting experience of states such as peace, joy, love and the inner experiences of astral sound and light are aspects of a higher, divine consciousness: a manifestation of the living (and universal) Christ.

The Christ "in form" would be any avatar (true master), east or west, who appears in vision or in flesh and blood as Jesus and other great masters have in the lives of individual devotees.

This revelation of the formless divinity of our souls is one of the great teachings of all time. It has been given anew to us by Yogananda and by other great teachers to encourage us to go within wherein lies the true "kingdom of heaven."

Feeling peace in meditation, for example, is among the easiest of these higher ("superconscious") states to access, even for a beginning meditator.

The first time one attends a day-long meditation, one surely has trepidation. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of the Ananda work worldwide) counseled us to tune into the natural rhythms of energy and consciousness during such longer meditations. By alternating meditation techniques with periods of silent, inner communion, we would more easily go deeper and into greater meditative joy than by fighting the mind to obey our will as we focus intensely upon techniques and concentration for too long.

In raja yoga we teach quite a number of simple and commonly used breath control techniques ("pranayams"). One can have an index card with their names to serve as reminders during the day to practice if we feel mental fatigue. Breaks for chanting can also revive our flagging energy and devotion. Kriyananda would advise us to stand during chanting if our body needed some change of position or relief from sitting.

The natural flow of prana during any 8-hour period of focused activity alternates concentration with relaxation. Whether you're digging a ditch or making sales calls, for example, you will break for a cup of coffee or tea, a chat with a co-worker, a bathroom break, or consult with your supervisor. The wonderful system of pranic tension exercises which we call Energization echoes and perfects this rhythm. It is the rhythm of night and day; activity and rest. You can use this, also, even sitting in meditation: as you inhale, tense the body; vibrate lightly but firmly; exhale forcibly and relax the tension; pause to feel the effects; repeat two or more times. In the Energization system there are 39 separate tension-breath movements which are ideally performed before meditation and which can be used sitting or standing, or during a break from a long meditation.

Even some brief inspiration reading material can help relax, inspire and divert the mind from the discomfort or complaints of the body or the mind in its one-pointed meditative focus.

Other spiritual practices during a long meditation include praying for others; silent, inner chanting or mantra. With open eyes, one might have periods of wordless prayer before devotional pictures or images.

On the path of Kriya Yoga, we have a veritable smorgasbord of kriya techniques: watching the breath with the Hong Sau mantra; the Aum technique of listening to the inner sounds with a special mudra; the basic kriya technique and, for some of us, advanced kriya techniques.

It is essential, however, not to barnstorm one's way, like the proverbial "bull in the china closet," through techniques. Whatever you do, technique-wise, should be followed by stillness and inner absorption of the peaceful after-poise of "pranayam" or devotional exercise. The natural pranic rhythm of which I speak here does not usually (or at least necessarily) alternate in segments of an hour or more. It can be shorter rhythms, too.

But don't take the attitude that because you "have all day," you "take all day" to get anywhere in the depth of your meditation! Many make that mistake: almost afraid, I think, to take the plunge. Go deep right away Yogananda would tell students. Remember that until thoughts cease, you are not really meditating. Gulp! I know, that's a high bar to jump over.

To describe it that way is essentially negative: not this, not that. Rather, see the goal as achieving the peace, the joy, and the love of communing inwardly with God who is within you; who IS you......in whatever form you hold dear: formless (in states of peace, joy or love, etc.) or form (as in the presence of a saint or guru or deity).

Look forward to a day of rest from worries, duties and constant motion, mental, emotional, and physical! Look forward to embracing the Silence as your Best Friend. "I am coming Home to Thee!"

A day of prayer and communion (true inner communion) will, even if it is, at times, a struggle of will power, bring blessings that, like waves from the sea to the shore, will wash over you for days, weeks, months to come.

Offer yourself at the altar of Silence! Prostrate your human littleness at the feet of your Infinite Self. Return to your Creator who is the silence behind all motion; who is the love of your own heart; the joy of your own creativity; the light of your animate life!

Wish us luck tomorrow and this coming week. We hope to offer to the world a ray of light descending to earth, taking advantage of the Christmas holiday which opens a "worm hole" to the transcendent Christ who shares the spirit of world brotherhood and universal understanding.

It is based on this day of inner communion that the social aspects of Christmas have their reality and their vibrancy!

May the Christ light of Peace shine upon you!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is the best meditation technique? What is Kriya Yoga?

What is the best meditation technique? Can a device with sound or images or other electronic stimulation really deepen your meditation? Should I use a pre-recorded, guided meditation aid? Are all the techniques which use the term "kriya" the same? There are so many mantras and pranayams and gurus, where does one even begin?

The short answer ("All roads lead to Rome") has some validity and is a tempting rejoinder and end to all these questions, but . . . . the "real answer" is both subjective (personal) and objective (demonstrable).

A proper response also requires an understanding of the purpose of meditation, whether, too, from the one's personal motivation or from the tradition and history of meditation itself. But I have addressed the question of "What is Meditation" in other articles on this site. For my purposes, I will assume that our shared understanding of the purpose of meditation is primarily a spiritual one.

"What works best for you" is a fair yardstick although be forewarned that you risk "the blind leading the blind and both falling in a ditch" of ignorance. It's like practicing hatha (physical) yoga because it's a good body workout experience: just because everybody does it, it still misses the true purpose of yoga by a "country mile."

Let's start with the personal: the meditation technique that is right for you has to work for you; it has to appeal to you: enough in the beginning to be attracted to it, and enough in the end to stick with it. This is not the same thing as saying your technique is effortless, easy, and blissful. Think of marriage (or a meaningful profession or career) as a comparison.

Notwithstanding the internet, CD's, DVD's and old-fashioned books, it is also worth noting that no effective (and long-term) meditation technique is divorced from its source: the teacher (or tradition). Partly it's a matter of your own confidence and faith in that technique. If John Smith down the street writes a book on meditation, it might strike your curiosity but I doubt it's going to change your life through daily, deep practice. Both the message and messenger are equally important. Meditation is personal: never forget that!

Not only, therefore, must the technique appeal to you and work sustain-ably for you but you must feel a connection, confidence, inspiration and/or faith in the teacher and/or tradition from which your chosen technique has come. I will stop short of talking about gurus and a disciple-guru relationship. I have written of that in other articles on this site.

There is one further point on the question of personal: the teachings and philosophy that surrounds your technique and teacher. Meditation, viewed in the vacuum of this article discussing technique (as such), might seem disconnected from the need for philosophy, theology, or teaching. Indeed, many meditation teachers say just that: you can be an atheist and practice meditation. Fine: who would argue with that! (I've said it myself!) But that, too, is a philosophy and a teaching. And maybe that really inspires you!

Thus some meditators practice under the auspices of one of the many Buddhist traditions; or Indian traditions; or Christian monastic traditions, or Sufi, Taoist, or Shinto and so on.

So, on a personal level, and as my own teacher, Swami Kriyananda put it in a talk he gave: we need to find the "right teacher, right teaching and right technique" for US and OUR spiritual evolution. All three (like Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are integral components of a successful (i.e. life changing) meditation practice.

Now, let's move on to the "objective" aspects of techniques. Almost any sincere and intelligent effort to meditate will produce positive results. That being said, we enter into the science of meditation. Keeping this article to a reasonable length, let us simplistically say that a successful technique or sitting in meditation experience will yield a mind that is focused and free from random thoughts; a body that is perfectly still (being relaxed but alert); and a "heart" or "mind" that experiences an expansion of consciousness and/or deep satisfaction in the form of inner peace (joy, love, etc.). Let's just leave it at that for now, ok?

The science of meditation teaches us that there is an intimate connection between our mind and body through the medium of breath. Our breath (in its various and measurable attributes of inhalation and exhalation) reflects our state of mind. Our state of mind affects our breath. This relationship is the bedrock of meditation.

The mind, however, can be influenced by conscious and intentional body movements (think yoga, martial arts), by mental concentration (mantra, visualization and affirmation), and by inspiration (chanting, prayer, and devotional images). Each of these, relative to breath, are still somewhat "outside" ourselves. They are effective when employed intelligently, consistently, and as guided intuitively. But the ultimate tool and the source (both) is the mind which in its purest form transcends any specific mental image or physical form. The breath has more directly than any of these other techniques a psycho-physiological impact upon the mind.

I am not saying that breath techniques are BETTER than mantra or devotion, for example. Rather, I am saying that the breath, relatively uncolored and free from the image-making faculties of the mind (which, in the end are abandoned in the higher states of meditation), works directly upon the mind. In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the core sutra states that oneness is achieved when the mind transcends creating and reacting to stimuli (mental or otherwise): Stanza 2: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha."

That fact doesn't invalidate the wide range of meditation techniques. St. Teresa of Avila discovered from direct experience how to go from formulaic prayer to silent, inner prayer and finally beyond all mentation into ecstatic, breathless states of divine communion. She was known to levitate and even bi-locate.

Nonetheless, the discovery of the mind-breath-body connection IS the science of meditation. It is HOW the mind rediscovers the transcendent state of pure consciousness even while in a body. Thus it is that breath techniques (aka "pranayama") abound and are very often at least part of the most effective and popular meditation techniques that are taught and practiced today.

I practice the popular Kriya Yoga technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar). It has been made known principally through his famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Chapter 26 of that book ("Kriya Yoga") can be read for free online: http://www.ananda.org/free-inspiration/books/autobiography-of-a-yogi/.

While most of the popularly used pranayams focus on the breath, diaphragm, and lungs, Kriya Yoga focuses on the internal, subtle breath whose movements, yogis tell us, cause the physical breath. These currents of energy (known as "prana") revolve up and down in the subtle (or "astral") body which inhabits (creates, sustains, and, at death, leaves) the physical body. The intelligent vital Life Force of prana flows out to the physical body through doorways known as "chakras." Kriya Yoga organically and gradually teaches one how to control this life force so as to consciously coax it inward and away from its captivity in the organs and tissues of the physical body so its power and intelligence (which is divine) can reunite with its commander-in-chief, the Soul, residing in the higher(est) chakras in and around the head. This goal is the state of yoga: union with the Soul and then, eventually, with the Infinite Oversoul which is God.

Each conscious rotation of the prana in the astral body through the chakras is equivalent to living one full solar year in perfect harmony with the body, with the world and with the soul. Excluding the seventh chakra, the soul, the remaining six chakras becomes twelve by the polarity of the movement of prana up and down and through these chakras (producing, in turn, in each rotation, one breath cycle of inhalation and exhalation). These twelve constitute the true inner astrological constellations under which our karma (past actions) reside and which must be untied and released so their energy may seek soul-union above in the seventh chakra.

In this manner, Yogananda taught that the practice of Kriya Yoga is the "airplane route" to God because it accelerates our spiritual evolution by resolving karmic patterns without having to wait many lifetimes to work out each and every desire and make good each and every debt.

Kriya Yoga is not only a technique: it is a spiritual path. It therefore uses devotion, chanting, affirmation, mantra and good works, right attitude....in short all the tools of the spiritual "trade" that one sees universally employed. By adding this direct perception and control of our inner, soul anatomy, we have a meditation technique suited to our cultural inclination toward science (and away from sectarianism).

I will not conclude by saying "Kriya Yoga is the BEST technique" but it is a great gift to the world for those who feel drawn to it and inspired by its preceptors and precepts.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Meditator's Monkey Mind - Or, Stop and enjoy a banana!

As a meditation teacher for some 25 years and a meditator for 40 years, I think I know what the "monkey mind" is like, and, in fact, so does everyone who sincerely tries to meditate and achieve stillness of mind as part of meditation.

Restless thoughts are unquestionably the most frequent single complaint of meditation students. Is there a solution? Well, not one single solution, but, given our own mental complexity, a bowl of bananas' worth of solutions.

I have lived for many years of my life in one of two of the nine Ananda intentional communities (Nevada City and Seattle). I have thus the experience of meditating, day in and day out, with the same people. Add to that leading meditations in classes too numerous to quantify, and participating in large-group meditations, one becomes sensitive to the meditative consciousness of others. I have, thus, from time to time, found myself feeling the need (and having the responsibility) to remind other meditators not to mistake the techniques and practice of meditation for the goal.

Since meditation requires mental effort, it is not surprising that the more years one persists in daily meditation the more likely one has developed a certain degree of will power. Few people on this planet have the desire or the will to meditate, for whatever reason (and there are many!). But putting out energy can sometimes become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. We can get so used to "pushing" that we may forget where we are pushing toward! If there is too much self-will involved in meditation than the meditative experience is all about "me."

At the same time, daily repetition of any kind can result in what becomes simply an ingrained habit. It is easier than some might imagine to fall into a mechanical meditation routine and into a semi-sub-conscious state of mind during meditation. By definition, subconsciousness means less than conscious and therefore if we slip into even a semi-subconscious state (like daydreaming vs sleeping), we lose the mindfulness necessary to even know where we've gone or that we aren't doing what we came to do! Our thoughts then drift along, pleasantly or aimlessly.

I've noticed that other meditators simply "enjoy the self." By this I mean, I can sometimes feel that a meditator is calm and centered within and focused pleasurably on his or her inner experience of peace or selfhood without making any effort of will and devotion in self-offering or prayerfulness. It's all about "What I am feeling," in other words. No harm, but very little spiritual progress. It is axiomatic, however described, that superconscious states are achieved by attuning ourselves to those states and that those experiences come from the combination of self-effort and grace---which could be defined as the descent of superconsciousness as a loving response to sincere and heartfelt effort (but never as a result of the ego affrirmation and will power).

I won't attempt to define the purpose of meditation but suffice to say, and there is an almost infinity of ways to do so, that one seeks to experience something greater than one's own ego. Such a state (Paramhansa Yogananda call it "superconsciousness") is the "holy grail" and, by definition, is quest not easily or consistently achieved. Long term meditators, therefore, often settle for far less and lapse into either habit or self-comfort. Never mind the philosophical aspects of delusion, maya, satan, or ego.......meaning the internal resistance to seeking Self-expansion. Yes, of course, this is the existential aspect of our deeply embedded unwillingness to give ourselves into a greater reality. But, for this article, I assume a meditator, at least in principle, seeks such a higher state, however described (whether philosophically, devotionally, or energetically).

"If you don't know where you went, you didn't go there (into superconsciousness)." I am quoting only myself, but I admit it looks good on paper (this is paper?).  I tell this to students: meditation is not spacing out or blanking out, or drifting off into some pleasant place or daydream. Superconsciousness is a state of intense inner awareness: not "tense" with "tension," but vibrantly alive and far more so than in ordinary conscious awareness.

"To achieve perfect stillness of mind, you have to want it." (Did I really say that? Rather deep, don't you agree?) Regular meditators can slip into the habit of merely practicing and forget to focus on the goal. Patanjali (author of the "Yoga Sutras") describes one of the obstacles to spiritual growth as "missing the point." I find this amusing given the deep nature of the sutras and it is one of the rare moments in which Patanjali lapses into the vernacular, so to speak, talking with the guys at the clubhouse. But this is so true: in all aspects of life, not just meditation! When you sit to meditate, affirm your desire and intention "To be still and know that I AM ......" To go beyond the labyrinth of the mind, you have to want to: and I mean really, really want to. We have untold numbers of lifetimes fending off threats to our survival and asserting ourselves and our desires.

(Patanjai's famous "Yoga Sutras" are the unquestioned "bible" of meditation and the stages of spiritual evolution. Swami Kriyananda's last major written work, "Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras," should be studied by every serious meditator. Padma and I are giving an 8-week course beginning September 11. We will have audio, if not video, available for those at a distance. Email contact@anandaseattle.org if interested at a distance. To obtain the book visit your local Ananda center or East West Bookshop or the publisher at www.CrystalClarity.com)

Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013), founder of Ananda and the most publicly visible and accessible direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, taught that the secret to stilling restless thoughts lies not in the mind but in the heart! This is the secret I wish to share. When you begin your meditation, open the doors of your heart, going deeper and deeper into stillness and calmness. Peel away layers of restlessness, anxiety, fear, regrets and find the eternal baseline of inner peace and security. Then, lift your consciousness to the Christ center (the point between the eyebrows) and commence your personal meditation practice.

This can be expressed, of course, also in devotional terms. For some people, in fact, it's far easier to do so. That's where focusing lovingly upon the image, feeling, form or vibration of one's guru provides a mental and heart-based focus for meditation that takes us beyond the petty machinations of the monkey mind. Feed this monkey devotion! Yearn for God; yearn for peace; yearn for the state of bliss! You have to want it. The mind doesn't want it. The ego doesn't want it. Hey, you've got problems, remember? Lots of problems. See what I mean?

The feeling aspect of consciousness can also be directed more impersonally toward superconsciousness using creative imagery to evoke inner peace, unconditional love, deep and expansive calmness and true bliss and joy. Imagery from nature contains archetypal elements of vibratory consciousness: the majesty of a mountain; the aspirational strength of tall trees; the expansiveness of the great and calm ocean; the power of crashing surf; the peace and acceptance of the moonrise; the power and wisdom of the sun; the freedom of blue sky; the eternity of the star-studded universe above, below and all around!

For us mental types (and being a meditation teacher), I find it helpful, and you might also, to do a self-guided meditation. While practicing self-talk yourself through your routine: your prayer, your pranayams, your various techniques and finally into silence. Talk to your guru (mentally). See him practicing through you: it's his breath, not yours. He knows the techniques better than you, so ask him to practice and you'll simply watch! Imagine him sitting next to you; or in front; or on your head, or, in your heart! Self-talk your way into silence!

Learn to love being still. When I experience perfect stillness of the mind, it, well, to quote a phrase, "blows my mind!" Really, it does. It is thrilling! Even if it lasts only seconds or minutes. You just want to burst with joy! Embrace silence like an old friend sitting next to you on the park bench or on the couch at home.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says famously that "even a little of this practice will save you from dire fears." Aspire always in each meditation to touch the hem of infinity in the form of peace, or perfect stillness, or loving acceptance. Even if for a moment, it will guarantee you will return to meditation with joyful expectation and confidence.

If you gaze intently but calmly into the point between the eyebrows and fix your gaze there, unwaveringly, you simply cannot fall into lower states, and you can hold errant thoughts at bay. Focused steadily but in a relaxed and enjoyable way, at this point (known as the Kutastha or Christ center: the center of our eternal and unchanging divinity, will power and knowing), with hardly a flicker of movement, distracting thoughts subside and evaporate like fog in the rising sun of a summer day.

In the process, it is sometimes like standing out in the hallway from a room filled with people chattering. You can hear the sounds of talking but you don't necessarily hear all the words. Thus the monkey mind can sometimes chatter in the background but you don't have to listen. In time it simply evaporates. It's the calm focus at the spiritual eye (between the eyebrows, as though gazing through that point and out a little bit) that silences the monkey mind (because you are not listening) . Looking up, inwardly, also re-directs the mind into "Huh, what'd you say?" mode.  The "listening mudra" is extremely effective in achieving inner silence.

Think about it: you hear something or someone slightly at a distance, and like the old train crossings, you "stop, look, and listen." Cock your head to the side as if listening and the mind shuts off and "listens up." Try it in meditation. It really works.

I will go even deeper before I sign off. Get off now, unless you want to really do this. Whether you practice mantra meditation, breath awareness, concentration on inner light or sound, Kriya Yoga and so on, it is the same. There are two aspects to higher consciousness: one is perfect stillness (the reflected bliss of divine consciousness) and the other is ever-moving, vibrating power of Spirit in manifestation. Causal and astral; unmoving and moving; male and female; thought and feeling; Kutastha and Aum. No matter what form of yoga meditation you practice, we essentially contact the movements of divine consciousness (prana, vibration, Aum, Divine Mother) and rotate this energy around the inner Sun (Son) at the spiritual eye. In time the rotation begins to slow and finally becomes still as the energy merges into pure thought, pure consciousness. "Meditate so deeply," Paramhansa Yogananda counseled, "until breath (prana) becomes mind (conscoiusness). I better stop here.

These are just some of the ways we can feed bananas to the monkey mind and keep him preoccupied. And, don't forget to reassure the monkey that when you are done meditating, you'll get right back to all of his big problems. "They are, like, SO IMPORTANT!" (hee, hee, hee).

Well, time for a banana.

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life Force - God Incarnate & Healer Universal!

The ancient metaphysical teachings of East and West, through the voice of the masters, have averred since time immemorial that the creation, the cosmos, and you and I are manifestations of the One Light of the Supreme Spirit. A further extension of this precept, discovered through intuition and proven by the methods of modern science by Albert Einstein, goes further to say that energy is the underlying and unifying force of all creation.

From the view point of the spiritual teachings of Vedanta, Yoga, and Shankhya (the core of the so-called "Indian philosophy") the link between Spirit (consciousness or mind) and matter is this energy. It is called "prana" in Sanskrit, and Chi, in the far East. The spiritual teaching is that this innate, intelligent, and divine Life Force takes the form of the subtle ("astral") body and is the repository of the matrix of our individual karma (ego, tendencies, life patterns). But, being in essence our higher Self, or soul, it is divine. It holds the key to our spiritual growth. By becoming increasingly aware of and sensitive to this Life Force, one grows in wisdom, peace, self-acceptance and all the other attributes of Life Force and our soul. This awareness begins with physical, mental and emotional relaxation from the distraction and hypnosis of body and ego consciousness. Specific Life Force control techniques, known as pranayama, form the heart of yoga disciplines.

This Life Force has its residence in the subtle, astral spine. This astral spine is analogous to and the subtle prototype for the physical spine and vertebrae. Advanced yogic techniques have for their focus concentration upon the astral spine. The astral spine includes along its length the "doorways" known as the chakras. Through these doors, Life Force goes out into the physical body and returns inward to its "source" or home in the subtle spine.

Thus it is that the science of yoga uses Life Force control for spiritual growth towards Self-realization. But it is also true that this very same Life Force control is the key to health and well being! The Spirit has descended into human form through the agency of prana, thus giving us birth, life, energy, intelligence and physical form. Retracing our steps through and with prana back to Spirit is the "anatomical" essence of spiritual growth. This knowledge can accelerate our spiritual awakening and is the unique contribution of yoga science to the sincere efforts of spiritual seekers regardless of religious affiliation.

Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple and founder of Ananda (worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, dedicated much of their teachings and public service to helping people use these precepts and techniques for self-improvement, success, better relationships and, of course, health. A healthy body and ego are essential or at least greatly helpful for spiritual growth.

The now popular yoga and meditation therapy techniques are a direct result of the intuitive and experimental knowledge of Life Force as the essential element in all life and in all healing. It has become increasingly sophisticated and works in tandem with modern medical science to assist in healing body and mind. The effectiveness of allopathic medicine depends upon the degree to which modern drugs and methods stimulate the healing power of Life Force. Western medicine acknowledges, too, that patient attitude and faith has a direct and measurable effect upon healing. Nonetheless, stopping short of working with physical or mental disease (a task which requires proper medical training and teamwork with medical professionals), yoga and meditation techniques can be offered and used by anyone for personal self-improvement and general health and well-being.

It is our hope, therefore, at Ananda in the Seattle area ("Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, WA www.AnandaWA.org) to move in the direction of developing courses in yoga and meditation designed specifically to apply the precepts and techniques of yoga and meditation for the general health and well-being.

Beyond the obvious physical health culture is the more subtle mental culture. By improving our mental well-being -- calmness, intuition, self-awareness, concentration, positive attitudes, and creativity -- we can improve our success in business or career; in relationships; and in our ability to change habits in eating, sleeping, and behavior.

This opens the doors to courses in bringing yoga principles and techniques into business, learning the superior merits of cooperation over competition; of integrity and servicefulness over short-term profits; to understandings that true success brings greater happiness, not more tension and stress.

In dietary matters, Life Force control teaches the how and why prana-filled foods bring more energy and well-being to both body and mind; why a vegetarian diet is generally better for most people. In human relations and mental well-being, calmness and self-awareness and movement of Life Force upward in the subtle spine can help us transmute harmful emotions; to love without fear; to become more expansive, joyful and creative. Even sustainable food growing represents Life Force awareness (in nature). There is so much that can be shared and applied in practical ways for a better life.

In 2007 we created the Institute of Living Yoga - "where yoga comes to life!." At present, the Institute sponsors only the yoga teacher training and the meditation teacher training. Now we would like begin developing new courses and this new direction of using yoga (and meditation) for health of body and mind.

None of this is new to yoga; none of this is new to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda (and, by extension, Ananda worldwide). But clarity of emphasis and focus can take one deeper in any direction or activity. While Ananda represents the teachings of Yogananda, this does not make the techniques themselves sectarian or narrow. The ancient yogic science is for everyone and it is universal. Nor is there any need for us to survey and represent the many excellent and varied yoga lineages in order to help others. The essence - Life Force awareness and control - is the same.

So I ask for your blessings and support for this new emphasis. It won't happen overnight and we will need help with web development, content and curriculum, and teacher development along with the tools of web supported sharing. Any sincere interest and support is welcome.

Blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda
aka Hriman




Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yoga Sutras – Part 6 – 8-Fold Path

At last we arrive at the best known stanza of the Yoga Sutras!

Stanza 29 of Book 2 (Sadhana Pada) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the famous list of the eight stages of the universal and nonsectarian awakening and ascension of the individual soul back to its Creator. I have previously written blog posts on each of these stages and refer readers to those for more details. However in those blog posts my references were not directly to the sutras but to the classic text by Swami Kriyananda, The Art & Science of Raja Yoga. I have been privileged to teach this course for some sixteen years at Ananda in the Seattle area.

Ashtanga Yoga
The term, Ashtanga Yoga, is commonly translated as 8-Limbed Yoga. Patanjali was not intending to start a yoga studio or yoga movement called “Ashtanga Yoga.” His is a clinical description of the psycho-physiological and spiritual attributes of the universal path toward enlightenment. The stages he describes have several meanings, and here are just a few:
·         First, they do represent steps (as in a ladder) that the aspirant is encouraged to take on his path to soul freedom. But this is a linear approach and a transactional interpretation. For example, the fourth stage, pranayama, may be interpreted to suggest that the one practice breath control techniques.
·         Second, as “limbs” in a tree, they are more like facets of the diamond of truth rather than steps. Each stage is somewhat holographic, for it contains within its perfection some aspect of all the others. Perfection of the consciousness of non-violence (ahimsa) brings with it or opens the door, at least, to the highest stage, Samadhi.
·         Third, the stages represent states of consciousness and degrees of mastery over life force and consciousness. Pranayama, therefore, refers not only to the techniques of controlling life force (starting with awareness and control of the breath) but refers also to the goal of said practices: the state of breathlessness.
·         Fourth, each stage brings with it appropriate attitudes and levels of mastery over objective nature. Continuing with the fourth stage as my example, pranayama relates to the heart center and great devotion and pure (unselfish) feeling is awakened and, at the same time, such qualities are necessary for the realization of pranayama. Although it is not clear from the sutras themselves, mastery of prana (pranayama), would possibly bring to the yogi great healing powers, whether of self or others. By stopping the heart pump and breath, human life is prolonged and the effects of aging and disease can be reversed. It is important to note that one can perfect an attitude but cannot perfect its outer expression. For example, perfect nonviolence cannot be achieved insofar as the very act of eating and travelling involves the “killing” of other life forms. (Even a cabbage is a living being.) But no such actions require us to hate or purposely inflict harm. And there are times when one ideal appears to conflict with another. For example, self-defense might seem to place non-violence at odds to the value and protection of human life. In such a case the higher ideal must suffice. Yogananda taught that human life is to be valued, spiritually speaking, and the protection of human life from disease and death is the higher duty where it might involve such policies as mosquito abatement, for example.
·         Fifth, Patanjali is describing “yoga” as 8-Limbed. Yoga means, inter alia, “union,” and refers to Oneness or union of soul with the Infinite Power, or Spirit. From Vedanta (the view of reality from the God’s eye), this state has 8-limbs, or eight manifestations. Thus the ladder goes both up and down, and, well, all around! The description of this reality includes the physical body (and macrocosm of the cosmos); the subtle (or astral, or energy) body (and cosmos), the causal body (and cosmos, of ideas and thoughts), and the transcendent realm of Bliss beyond creation (and the various levels of creation in between, as well).

So leaving most interpretation and analysis to my prior blog articles, let us examine the sutras and the remainder of Book 2, which describe the first five stages of the 8-Fold Path:
1.      
      8-Stages
      Verse 29 lists the eight as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight have a special correlation with the seven chakras (which become eight by the positive and negative polarity of the sixth chakra: the negative pole being located at the medulla oblongata, and the positive pole being the point between the eyebrows. Because these stages exist on all three levels of our Being (physical, astral, and ideational), the correlation between the eight stages and the chakras is only approximate. There is also an approximate correlation of the chakras with the eight facets, or aspects, of the attributes of the soul: peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss.
2.      
            Yama
      Verse 30 lists the sub-aspects of yama (“control”) as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-attachment. When these are observed under all circumstances we have achieved realization of yama. (Verse 31) When tempted to violate these “great vows,” one should employ positive thoughts, Patanjali advises (in Verse 33). Violations may occur by omission, commission, by indirect means (including ignorance) and may be minor, “middling,” or great in consequence or intensity (Verse 34). Obstacles include greed, anger, and selfishness (V32). One must remember, always, the suffering that such lapses cause. I find it interesting how simply Patanjali states that one should substitute positive thoughts in place of negative one. I have seen this principle employed very frequently in the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
3.      
      Angry or violent tendencies in others cease in one’s presence when non-violence is established in one’s consciousness. From truthfulness one acquires the power of attaining for oneself and for others the results of efforts without have to exert the effort (one’s mere word is sufficient). From non-stealing all one’s material needs are attracted to you without additional or strenuous effort. From celibacy there comes great health, vitality, and memory. From non-attachment (to one’s body and possessions) comes the knowledge of one’s past lives. (V35-39)
4.      
            Niyama
      The second stage, niyama (“non-control,” or the “do’s”), consists also of five precepts, or sub-aspects: internal and external purification, contentment, mortification, study, and worship of God.
5.      
            With realization of purification (cleanliness) comes indifference (non-attachment) to the demands and needs of the body and senses, and a disinclination for bodily contact with others. Cleanliness (of body, internal and external, and mind) lead to purity of heart, cheerfulness, concentration, control of passions, and awareness of the soul. Contentment yields supreme happiness and joyful peace. Mortification, called in Sanskrit, tapasya, refers to both self-control and even-mindedness under all conditions. The specific instructions regarding mortification should come from one’s preceptor (guru) and the result is the purification of karma. Tapasya leads to the manifestation of psychic powers related to the sense organs (discussed in Book 3, Vibhuti Pada). By remaining focused at the point between the eyebrows (an instruction given by the guru and considered tapasya), the mind becomes pure. By perfection of Self-study (swadhyaya) as a result of meditating and chanting OM, one’s chosen ideal of God appears and higher Beings (devas, rishis, and siddhas) appear before one’s inner sight. With devotion to God while focused at the spiritual eye, Samadhi and attendant siddhis (psychic powers) are achieved. Knowledge of time and space is attained. (V40-45)
6.       The third stage is asana. It means, simply, posture. It is to be found by sitting relaxed with a straight spine. This is achieved by awareness and control of the body and by deep meditation on the Infinite. By perfection of asana one is no longer troubled by the ebb and flow of the senses. (V46-48)
7.     
            Pranayam is the fourth stage and consists of controlling the breath (inhalation, exhalation, and cessation). The external breath is the air moving in the lungs; internal breath is the prana in the astral body; cessation is breathlessness. Cessation is momentary when the breath is held in, or out, but prolonged when it ceases all together in higher stages of meditation. One practices pranayama according to the instructions of the preceptor. Many variations exist and relate to timing, placement of the breath, number of breaths performed, long or short, and so on. Another pranayam is that which results from concentration upon an object, either external or internal. Watching the breath, for example causes the breath to become quiet and even to stop all together. By these four stages the inner light is revealed and obstacles are overcome. (V49-52)
8.       With the stage of pratyahara, the prana flowing to the sense organs is reversed and the energy released can be used and focused. The result is a great power of interiorized concentration. Then is complete mastery of the senses achieved. (V53-55).

Thus ends Book 2, Sadhana Pada! The last three stages of the 8-Fold Path, Patanjali consigns to Book 3, Vibhuti Pada, as they are qualitatively on a different level than the first five stages. The five stages (and chakras) relate to the soul’s piercing the veil of maya, especially on the material plane. The three highest stages are, by degrees, stages of contemplation and progressively deeper identification with higher, and finally transcendent, realities.

Thus ends this blog article!

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman