IN THE ASANA CLASS
– Swami Sivadasananda
Mental fatigue is a common complaint of many people. Yoga promises
relief, and it is surprising how much mental strength can be found in an
hour spent on the asana mat. A closer look at some of the common
features of an asana class reveals the astonishing potential of combining
posture, breathing and relaxation for increased mental clarity and focus.
We live in a world of virtual space, from a narrow computer screen to special 3D-effects in movies. Adding to this the instant way we communicate through chats and email, our perception of time and space can become far removed from the natural world. As time and space are intimately related with the mind, mental clarity and mental strength decline if hearing and seeing is mostly related to a virtual reality.
The yoga class marks a clear difference: proprioception or perceiving the body through the sense of touch from skin to muscle fibres and ligaments creates a very real connection to gravity. Whether we are practicing on the top floor of a high rise building or on a beach, gravity is always the same.
Slow and rhythmical breathing with the diaphragm stim – ulates the solar plexus. One function of the solar plexus is increased sensory perception of the abdomen. When applying this breath control while you move from the asana to the relax – ation pose (savasana) and on to the next asana, the perception of the body in harmony with gravity deepens and extends from the abdomen to the whole body. This grounding in gravity and space calms the mind which gets settled in a very real sense of “here”.
The solar plexus or celiac plexus is part of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Thus the conscious flow of rhythmical abdominal breathing helps to balance sympathetic (“fight and flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and rejuvenation”) impulses in the body. “Inhaling energy – exhaling fatigue” is a common visualisation during yogic exercises and corresponds to this connection of the solar plexus with the autonomic nervous system.
With practice, the inhalation becomes like a mirror image of the exhalation and vice versa. The smooth and balanced flow of air entering and leaving the body becomes the main reference of experiencing time, creating a very real sense of “now”.
Towards the end of the final relaxation, no more movement of the body is felt and all irregularities of the breath subside. Outer sights and sounds become irrelevant and the mind is centred in the experience of a very steady “here” (gravity) and “now” (breath).
‘Inhaling energy – exhaling fatigue’ is a common visualisation during yogic exercises and corresponds to the connection of the solar plexus with the autonomic nervous system.
The natural mental clarity and focus which you have gained during the class tends to continue for some time. Even if you have to make your way back home or back to work through loud and intense traffic, you may be surprised how little these conditions affect your mind. But as the hours go by, the mind finds less stability in the experience of time (hearing) and space (seeing), and mental clarity and focus tend to diminish.
On one hand the yoga class guarantees more mental strength and balance by tuning to gravity and to the breath, on the other hand it seems impossible to extend this equilibrium due to the unsteadiness of sight and sound in daily life.
You may ask yourself: “Is there no other way to stay clear and focussed?” – “Is Yoga making me too sensitive?” – “Maybe it is true what some people say: Yoga makes you turn away from the realities of the world?”
Nobody should worry about these questions. They simply show the limits of asana and pranayama and the necessity to strengthen our hearing and seeing through natural means. Besides a variety of inner concentration techniques, yoga also offers simple physical meditation techniques which focus on sight and sound.
Sit cross-legged and place a lit candle at eye level in front of you. Breathe slowly and rhythmically, and gaze steadily for one minute at the brightest part of the flame without blinking. Then close your eyes for one minute and visualise the image of the flame in the space between your eyebrows. Practise tratak for up to ten minutes, alternating one minute periods with eyes open and closed.
Sit cross-legged and pronounce the universal sound OM, by singing it on a medium pitch according to the natural flow of your exhalation. The humming M-sound should take about a third of each OM.
If you close your eyes, you can feel the sound vibrating in your body moving up to the space between the eye brows. Once you have found a pleasant rhythm and feel the natural focus between the eyebrows, you can move on to mental repetition of OM for a few minutes. Keep the eyes closed and mentally pronounce OM with each inhalation and each exhalation.
An interesting observation during tratak and OM chanting is that through the power of concentration the mind can create its own sensory experience: the mind can visualise the candle flame with eyes closed, and it can mentally project the sound OM without the vocal cords. With practice, it becomes clear that it is not the sense organs which perceive, but rather the mind which perceives through the senses.
This empowers the mind to act as the true master of sense perception. Like a good charioteer can direct the five horses of a chariot to run or to stand still, so also the five senses can be projected towards their respective objects or withdrawn from them at will. The body is the chariot; the Self is its master; the intellect is the charioteer, the mind are the reins, the senses are the horses and the sense-objects are the various directions where the horses can run.
Subjugation of the Mind
“As long as the mind restlessly wanders about amidst objects, ever fluctuating, excited, agitated and uncontrolled, the true joy of the Self cannot be realised and enjoyed. To control the restless mind and bring all thoughts and cravings to a stillness and sublimation is the greatest problem of man. If he has subjugated the mind, he may be said to be, in his subjective freedom and power, the Emperor of emperors.” – Swami Sivananda
Swami Sivadasananda Yoga Acharya and a senior student of Swami Vishnudevananda, teaches workshops throughout the Sivananda Centres in Europe and Teachers’ Training Courses worldwide. email: email@example.com
– This is an article from the YogaLIFE Publication
THE TRANSFORMING POWER
– Swami Kailasananda
“Meditate, meditate, this is the only way” – Swami Sivananda
In these times of lock-down and global insecurity, the teachings of yoga about meditation are more precious than ever. Turning within for peace and stability seems the only way.
We share below teachings on the transformative power of meditation as contained in “The Sivananda Book of Meditation”, which was released in 2003. This book provides guidance to the preparatory steps of meditation as well as a clear understanding of its vast potential.
The gradual progress in physical and mental well-being that comes when you meditate is mostly silent and unseen, like the quiet unfolding of a bud into a flower in the hours of the night. Try not to set up expectations or goals for change as this may well discourage you if you feel you do not reach them within a certain time. Changes occur at deep and subtle levels and only gradually will they reveal themselves either to you or to the outside world.
Of course, there are no objective tests to measure your progress in meditation. However there are universal indicators that all those who meditate on a regular basis will experience sooner or later.
Meditation, a great energiser
Meditation is a vigorous tonic to the physical system. Only recently scientists have become aware of the relationship between mind and cells. Until a few years ago they would react with extreme scepticism to yogic demonstrations of mental control over supposedly involuntary functions such as heart beat, respiration and circulation.
Each of the body cells is governed by the instinctive, subconscious mind. Each has both individual and collective consciousness.
When thoughts and desires pour into the body, the cells are activated, and the body obeys the group demand. During meditation there is generally a tremendous acceleration of positive energy to the individual cells, rejuvenating them and retarding decay. The powerful soothing waves penetrate the cells and exercise a benign influence on all its organs, setting in motion a process of healing and strengthening that prevents and cures many diseases. It is an established fact that those who meditate on a regular basis visit the doctor and hospital far less than those who do not practise.
Meditation is a great energiser. You will feel newly alive, full of vim, vigour and vitality. Meditation helps to prolong the body’s anabolic process of cell production, growth and repair and to reduce the catabolic, decaying process. After the age of 35 our brain cells die off at a rate of 100,000 a day; meditation reduces this decline, preventing or minimising senility.
Once you meditate, the time you normally devote to sleep can gradually be reduced to as little as three hours a night for advanced meditators and still you will still feel more rested and peaceful than before. You will develop a powerful digestive system, with scanty excretions and reduced food intake; you will enjoy a lightness of the body and mind. Your senses will sharpen resulting in heightened perception and enabling you to hear sounds and see objects more clearly and at a more subtle level.
Sparkling eyes, steady gaze, powerful but sweet voice, beautiful complexion and sweet smell along with a strong and healthy body will tell you that your meditation is proceeding well.
Achieving calmness of mind
By decreasing the heart rate and consumption of oxygen, meditation greatly reduces stress levels and acts as powerful tonic not only to the body but also to the nervous system. Each part of the body, down to the individual cells, is allowed to relax and rejuvenate. Real progress in your practice is really and accurately measured by the peacefulness, serenity and calmness that you demonstrate in the waking state.
Does your mind seem to be shedding a little of its dullness or heaviness? Do you feel more peaceful, happier with yourself and less prone to emotional outbursts? Are serenity of mind and a sense of contentment starting to flourish? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then you will know that you are advancing in your practice. You will become aware that you identify closely with emotions, thoughts and actions and will gradually move away from this, assuming the role of witness, as if you were watching someone else.
By observing yourself without judgement or praise, you will lessen the power of your habitual thoughts and emotions to control you. In detaching from the games of the ego, you learn to take responsibility for yourself. If you suffer from addictions of any kind, you will find that your cravings for the addictive substance or action will gradually fade.
Attachments, likes and dislikes, and their accompanying restlessness and agitation of mind will diminish. Negative tendencies will become less and your mind will become steadier; your face will be calm and serene. Balance and composure, harmony, happiness and satisfaction of life will establish themselves. You will have an unruffled mind. You will be calm, tranquil and poised.
The development of inner clarity
Along with mental strength comes a corresponding expansion in the power of your intellect. The practice of concentration increases will-power and memory, the result of which is a sharp and bright intellect. Alacrity, acumen and agility will slowly broaden your capacity to turn out tremendous work.
Your ability to clarify ideas and remove doubts will develop and as a consequence you will become skillful in making correct and speedy decisions. What used to take four hours will take only one. What was cloudy and hazy before will become clear and definite; what was difficult before will come more easily; and what was complex, bewildering and confusing will be grasped effortlessly. You will work with scientific accuracy and great efficiency. You will have a one-pointed, clear, strong, subtle mind, with mental images clear-cut and with thoughts well-defined and well-grounded. You will discriminate and detach from the trammels of day-to-day living, resulting in less stress and more peace.
The gradual transformation of the personality
As a result of this new found peace, you will experience a changed view of the universe and different patterns of behaviour will develop. Lethargy and laziness, pain and sorrow will decrease and cheerfulness and joy will grow. Because your attention to what you do as you do it will increase, you will find you live more in the present.
The time you spend in dreaming of an imaginary future or of an exaggerated past will lessen. You will find that you remove clutter from your life. Most meditators, within a few weeks’ of starting their practice, clear out drawers, cupboards and files. You will attack, with gusto, jobs and tasks that have been waiting for you for many months. Your pending file at work, instead of being piled high, will seldom be full.
As you advance in your practice, you will gradually develop a love for all, even for those who despise you. Your strength of mind will allow you to bear insult and injury and to meet the challenges of everyday life with energy, fortitude and patience. Situations and people that previously upset you will now no longer do so.
The computers will still break down, the traffic still grind to a halt, the boss still put you under pressure, but you will find that you are less affected by the turmoil, keeping a cool head and balanced mind when before you were stressed, angry and anxious. You will develop a magnetic and dynamic personality.
Those who come into contact with you will be influenced by your inspiring and more compassionate behaviour, powerful speech and spiritual nature. People will draw joy, peace and strength from you. You will attract people to you and lift their mood and minds.
The expansion of consciousness
The practice of meditation releases great amounts of spiritual energy, resulting in pure thought and, in due course, intuitive knowledge. It provides a lasting spiritual rest which must be experienced to be understood. You will receive inspiration, grace, and spiritual strength. You will attain higher states of awareness and the experience of unity which leads to divinity. You will catch the glory of God and the splendour and immanence of truth. You will develop a greater sense of purpose, a more sublime goal in life. You will learn to introspect more deeply and develop a desire and willingness to engage in selfless service.
With meditation comes freedom from fear of death. Most people think that death is the end of existence, but in fact, death means only the extinction of the present name and form. The greater the identification with name and form, the greater is the fear.
The practice of meditation develops detachment from this name and form. It makes you aware of the ever-changing nature of the body and of all phenomenal existence.
In recognising the ephemeral nature of the world, you will begin to realise that your holding on to objects, body, emotions and your cumbersome ego-identity, is the very cause of your suffering and is due to your ignorance of your true identity.
As you gradually let go of this need, and as the fear of losing what you never have really possessed vanishes, your consciousness will start to expand and a new sense of Self will emerge. Eventually, you will see the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self.
Of course, these signs of progress will not manifest immediately, and you may require many years of regular practice before you start to reap some of the more profound benefits outlined. Do not grow dejected with the idea that you are not making headway. Sometimes the progress will be imperceptible.
However, even after a month or two you will start to see improvements in your life at all levels. Your friends and family will ask whether you have been on holiday or have taken some cure!
When these changes do start to appear, try not to become complacent and curtail your practice. Do not become self-satisfied. This is so important. As we pointed out earlier, the layers of impurities of the mind run deep and it is only when you start to work on them that you realise how many there are. If you conquer one obstacle, another obstacle will be ready to manifest.
If you control the sense of taste, you may find another sense strengthens with doubled force to assail you. If you remove greed, anger may appear more forcefully than before. If you drive egoism through one door, it enters through another.
Great patience, perseverance, vigilance and undaunted strength are needed. Be firm, steady and steadfast. People may mock you. Be silent. People may insult you; be silent.
Every temptation that is resisted, every destructive thought that is curbed, every desire that is subdued, every angry word that is withheld, every noble aspiration that is encouraged, every sublime idea that is cultivated, adds to the growth of willforce, good character, and attainment of inner peace. You will engage in rich and rewarding relationships as you learn to understand yourself and others better; you will experience a full and well-lived life as you take control in ways that previously seemed impossible. Meditation paves the way for perfection; continue your practice and reap the beauty of peace and stillness that will slowly unfold within.
Swami Kailasananda is a Yoga Acharya and director of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres in England and France. She studied Sanskrit and is the author of the Sivananda Book of Meditation.
– This is an article from the YogaLIFE Publication