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    Samyama practice

    Thursday, May 16, 2013, 10:02 AM [General]

    Meditation is the process of bringing the attention inward to stillness, inner silence, pure bliss consciousness, the witness state, samadhi. All of these describe aspects of the same thing. We have a particular meditation procedure that we do for set amount of time twice daily. It works like clockwork and, over time, as we meditate each day and then go out and be active, our nervous system becomes naturally accustomed to sustaining and radiating inner silence. Our daily life then becomes calmer from the inside. We are less overwhelmed by external events. This is the rise of the first stage of enlightenment, which is inner silence present in our life twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

    Once we have some inner silence, even just a little, we have the opportunity to begin to operate from that level of infinite potential in us. All that exists is manifested from that, and we, being that, are capable of manifesting from that infinite reservoir of life within us. So, with our toe in the infinite, we can begin to move from there for the benefit our transformation to enlightenment. It is simple to do.

    You will recall that in meditation we use the thought of a sound with no meaning, the mantra, to systematically allow the mind to go to stillness. It is in letting go of any meaning, language or intellectual content, and just easily picking up the thought of the mantra, that are able to dive deep into pure bliss consciousness. The nervous system also goes to silence with the mind, and our metabolism slows way down.

    With samyama, we begin to go the other way. After our meditation time is up, we rest for a minute or two and we transition into samyama. We begin with an easy state of not thinking, just resting in our silence. If thoughts are coming, we just let them go without entertaining them. In samyama practice we do not entertain the mantra either. We start by not favoring anything but being easy in our silence, however much silence we have from our just completed meditation session, and naturally present in us from our months or years of daily meditation. This is the starting point for samyama -- silence.

    The only prerequisite for doing samyama practice is having some inner silence. For most people this is after a few months of daily deep meditation, as covered in the early lessons. 

    Now we are ready to begin samyama practice. Here is how we do it.

    With samyama, we are initiating meaning in silence. We do it in a simple, easy, systematic way. First we create an impulse of meaning in silence, and then we let it go in silence. 

    Let's begin with "Love." It is a good place to start with samyama. In samyama it is suggested you use your most intimate language, the language that goes deepest in your heart, whatever it may be. 

    In your easy silence, pick up, just once, the fuzziest feeling of the word "Love" in your own language. Don't deliberately make a clear pronunciation, or mental images of this or that scene or situation that represent Love to you. Just have a faint remembrance of Love, and then let go into your silence, the easy silence you are in as you pick up the faint meaning of Love. Don't contemplate Love or analyze it during samyama. Don't think about it at all. Just come to it once in a faint, subtle way, and then let go into silence. It is a subtle feeling of Love we are coming to, nothing more, and letting it go. Like that.

    Having thought "Love" once, be in silence for about fifteen seconds. If any thoughts come, let them go easily. Don't look at the clock. With a little practice your inner clock will tell you with good enough accuracy when fifteen seconds is up. Just be easy in silence for about a quarter of a minute. Then pick up the faint, fuzzy meaning of "Love" again, and let it go again into your silence for about fifteen seconds again. 

    That is two repetitions of samyama – twice picking up Love at its subtlest level of thought, and twice letting it go into inner silence. 

    What is the effect of this? What will happen?

    To the extent we are picking up meaning on the border of inner silence (the subtlest level of thought), and then letting go easily into our silence, the effect will be very powerful. Inner silence is a huge amplifier of subtle thought. Inner silence is the only amplifier of thought. It is the source of thought. Usually our thoughts come out of silence stimulated by all that is lodged in our subconscious mind. So many habitual patterns are lodged in our obstructed subconscious mind, and these are what distort and weaken the flow of divine energy coming out from inner silence into our everyday life. With meditation we are clearing out the obstructions in the subconscious mind and developing a clear awareness of our inner silence. With samyama we are acting directly within our inner silence to produce an outflow of positive effects that purify our nervous system and surroundings in powerful ways. 

    During samyama maybe we will feel some energy moving out from our silence. It can be experienced as physical, mental or emotional. Or maybe we won't feel much until later in activity, and then we are more loving and compassionate for no obvious external reason. We are changing from the inside. This is what samyama is – moving intentions from the divine level of silence in us out into external manifestation. 

    Samyama is what prayer is when it is taken to its deepest level of communion with the divine inside us – taken within divine inner silence. Effective prayer is based on the principles of samyama we are discussing here. 

    Each thought/meaning we use in samyama is called a "sutra." In sanskrit, sutra means, "to tie together, or to stitch." The English medical word, "suture" comes from sutra. In samyama, sutras are bits of meaning we give to unbounded pure bliss consciousness to amplify out into everyday life, to "tie together" our inner and outer life. So, sutras are bits of yoga we can consciously cultivate in ourselves through samyama practice.

    In the third chapter, or book, of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras on supernormal powers, many sutras are given for many different things. All this information is not for obtaining instant results or powers. If it were, it would not be doing anyone a favor in terms of gaining enlightenment. All those powers would be a great distraction to yoga if they were so easily obtained. Fortunately, as mentioned in the last lesson, samyama is morally a self-regulating practice, which means inner silence (samadhi) is the prerequisite for success in samyama. If there is inner silence, there will also be moral responsibility and conduct (yama and niyama), due to the connectedness of all the limbs of yoga.

    Samyama is having inner silence (samadhi), and the ability to pick up a thought (focus/dharana) and let it go inward (meditation/dhyana). Then the results of samyama come out from inner silence automatically. If we have the last three limbs of yoga, we will also have the other limbs, so powers from samyama will be divine in purpose. Even so, we should be clear about experiences versus practices, as always, and be mindful not to get caught up in experiences that come up. When experiences come up, we easily come back to the practice we are doing. 

    As with all advanced yoga practices, the real benefits from samyama are to be found in long term daily practice of a particular routine of sutras. If we keep changing sutras around every day or week, and are irregular in our practice, the results will not accumulate. If we want to strike water, we will do best to keep digging in the same place. In advanced yoga practices we can do samyama after every meditation session before we go into yoni mudra kumbhaka (if doing that then) and our ending rest period. Samyama is a continuation of our meditation practice. First we are going in with meditation, and then we are coming out with samyama.

    For this purpose, a balanced series of nine sutras are given here. The suggestion is for each to be done for two cycles of samyama, two times with about fifteen seconds in silence for each sutra, and going straight through the list in order like that. In a few days they will be memorized and easy to navigate through using the method of samyama, going gradually deeper in practice with each session. The sutras are:

    Love

    Radiance

    Unity

    Health

    Strength

    Abundance

    Wisdom

    Inner Sensuality

    Akasha – Lightness of Air

    Each sutra is to be taken in its entirety, with the fifteen seconds in silence afterwards. For example, "Inner Sensuality" is a single sutra followed by fifteen seconds of silence. It is for pratyahara, introversion of senses. "Akasha – Lightness of Air" is also a single sutra, followed by fifteen seconds in silence. 

    The meanings for the sutras can be translated to your deepest or first language, as discussed above. All except "Akasha," which is a sanskrit word meaning, "subtlest ether, inner space." We know from physics that we are ether, empty space inside, nothing really solid in here at all. Our body is that, and when we do samyama on "Akasha – Lightness of Air," we begin to feel very light. 

    If you do each of these nine sutras twice in your samyama session, it will take about five minutes. If there is a particular one you feel the need to do more of, then add that on to the end and do samyama with it for another five minutes. The cycles remain at fifteen seconds, and we just keep going with that for five minutes, by the clock for that last five minutes. If there is no preference, then you can do the lightness sutra for five minutes at the end. It is very powerful. It is a mental kundalini technique that brings much energy up through the nervous system. It is not uncommon to experience physical symptoms such as panting (automatic bastrika pranayama) and "hopping" during samyama with the lightness sutra. If this happens, make sure you are sitting on a soft surface like a mattress. There can be various symptoms manifested with the other sutras as well. We are moving the infinite inner silence within us, so the manifestations coming out can be very real and noticeable. Patanjali calls these manifestations "supernormal powers," or "siddhis."

    For those who are full with bhakti for enlightenment, samyama repetitions can be increased to four for each sutra, and then ten minutes with a preferred sutra at the end (default is the lightness sutra). This is about twenty minutes of samyama practice. Make sure to take plenty of rest when coming out of your routine of practices, especially when doing samyama. Lying down for five or ten minutes at the end is good. As always, use self-pacing in your practices. Mental techniques such as meditation and samyama are very powerful, so to overdo them is to court uncomfortable energy flows. We each will find our comfortable limit through prudent self-pacing. 

    Samyama greatly strengthens our presence in the silence of pure bliss consciousness. It promotes the integration of the inner and outer aspects of our nervous system. Samyama stimulates the nervous system to purify and open to the second and third stages of enlightenment, as well as enhancing our inner silence (first stage) in everyday life. Samyama makes the overall power of our desires much stronger. When we want to accomplish something that is in tune with the divine flow, resistance will be much less and obstacles will seem to melt away. 

    For those who live in the silence of pure bliss consciousness and develop the habit of functioning naturally from that infinite level of life, a constant stream of "small miracles" becomes commonplace. 

    Do samyama practice after your meditation for a few months and see for yourself. Samyama is more than a sitting practice. It is a way of thinking and doing that rises in our everyday life as we travel on the road to enlightenment. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on samyama practice, covering multiple applications, see the AYP Samyama book.

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    The eight limbs of yoga, and samyama - Melting the darkness

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 10:02 AM [General]

    It is time to move on to samyama, which involves moving outward with our attention in pure bliss consciousness, resulting in the cultivation of so-called yogic powers as a side effect. Before we discuss samyama, let's talk about the eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which we have not done yet. Samyama is a combined application of the last three of these eight limbs, and ties in with the other five limbs as well, so this is a good time to cover them. All of yoga is connected, you know. It all connects through the human nervous system. In fact, all of yoga is a product of the human nervous system. Not the other way around, as we sometimes tend to think. 

    It took a while for people to believe that the world is round instead of flat, and that the sun is the center of the solar system instead of the earth. It took some proof. Then almost everyone believed, and the rush was on to find all the benefits in the new knowledge, the new paradigm. 

    Now it is time for us to come to grips with the fact that the human nervous system is the center of all spiritual experience and all divine bliss. That is your nervous system, the one you are sitting in right now. The sooner we get used to the idea that each of us is a direct gateway to the divine, the better it will be for everyone. As with the acceptance of any knowledge, it takes some proof. In this case, the proof is in you. Open a few doors here and there by doing some effective yoga practices and you will see what you are. Then the rush will be on to open it all up. A new paradigm is born!

    Nothing is new, you know. Our ancient ancestors knew of these things. Much of it was written down. But communications were poor, and people lived so much in superstition. It is different now. We can find any information we want. There are so many doors of knowledge opening to everyone. The old wisdom is becoming new again. The human nervous system hasn't changed over all this time. It has been waiting patiently, like a treasure chest longing to be opened. It is time. 

    Patanjali's book of yoga sutras is one of the greatest scriptures of all time. Not only does it tell us what we are, but also it tells us how the doors of the nervous system can be opened. It lays out the relationships between the natural principles of opening that exist in us. This is done with the famous eight limbs of yoga. 

    We have been traveling through the eight limbs ever since we started the lessons of AdvancedYogaPractices. We have not gone in order, and some would call this non-conventional. We have gone in a way that is effective and makes sense, so there will be no apologies. We'll talk about that some more, but first let's review the eight limbs:

    1. Yama – It means "restraint," and includes ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (preservation of sexual energy and cultivation of it), and aparigraha (non-covetousness).

    2. Niyama – It means "observance," and includes saucha (purity and cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat/focus/austerity), svadhyaya (study of scriptures and self), and isvara pranidhana (surrender to the divine).

    3. Asana – It means "posture," and includes all those asanas we have come to know and love. In the lessons, asanas are used as a preparation for pranayama and meditation. Certain asanas stimulate the rise of kundalini. 

    4. Pranayama – It means "restraint of life force/breath," and includes the pranayama methods we have discussed, plus some we are yet to discuss. Pranayama cultivates the soil of the nervous system, preparing it for deep meditation and divine experience. Particular kinds of pranayama raise kundalini. 

    5. Pratyahara – It means "introversion of senses." In the lessons, pratyahara is both effect and cause, occurring as kundalini rises and ecstatic experiences draw our attention naturally inward. Then, through pratyahara, we come to know our sensory experience as a continuum spanning the full range of manifestation from the first inner vibrations of pure bliss consciousness (OM) all the way out into the physical world. 

    6. Dharana – It means "concentration or focus of attention," and is the first step in taking the mind inward through meditation. In the lessons, we don't hold the attention on anything for long. We just bring attention easily to an object (the mantra), and then let it go how it will. This brings attention almost immediately beyond the beginning perception for the object, which is what we want. The mind will take us inward if we give it the opportunity. 

    7. Dhyana – It means "meditation," and is the flow of attention inward. It can also be described as the expansion of attention beyond any object. In the lessons, the mantra is used as the vehicle for this. We come easily to the mantra, and then the mantra changes and disappears. Our attention expands, arriving in its natural unattached state - stillness.

    8. Samadhi – It means "absorption/transcendence," and it is what we experience in daily meditation. It expands over time, eventually becoming our natural state of being in daily activity. It is pure bliss consciousness, the inner silent witness. Samadhi in its various stages of unfoldment is the experience of our immortal universal Self. That is what we are.

    You may have noticed that after yama and niyama, which were presented pretty much with the classical definitions (except for brahmacharya), all the rest of the limbs were given a twist according to the way these lessons have been presenting the knowledge of advanced yoga practices. This is a normal thing. In fact, every yoga teaching has its own way of presenting the eight limbs of yoga. 

    The eight limbs of yoga are so logical and easy to understand that virtually every teacher of yoga claims to be teaching them, which is true to one degree or another, because the eight limbs cover everything one can do in yoga. In this sense, they represent a complete road map, a blueprint and spiritual checklist of the various ways to open the human nervous system to divine experience. 

    Taken together as an overall system, the eight limbs have been referred to as "ashtanga yoga" and "raja (royal) yoga." But what is in a name? AdvancedYogaPractices are the eight limbs too. So is any approach to human spiritual transformation, in part or whole, including what we find in all the world's mainstream religions. If it has to do with human spiritual transformation, it is going to be found somewhere in the eight limbs. That is the beauty of the eight limbs. When you look at any spiritual teaching or religious tradition using the eight limbs as a measuring rod, you will see right away what is there, and what is not. The more enlightened traditions will have more of the limbs covered, and the less enlightened ones will have fewer limbs covered. 

    Traditionally, the eight limbs have been taken in sequence. The rationale has been that people have to learn to behave themselves and prepare through strict codes of conduct before they can begin doing more direct spiritual practices. Once they know how to behave rightly, they can begin with the body (asanas), and, later, work their way in through the breath (pranayama), and, finally, be ready for concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and pure bliss consciousness (samadhi). With a traditional approach like this it can be a long road to hoe, especially if a guru (in the flesh) holds his disciples to the highest standards of performance each step along the way. Even Patanjali had this sequence of practice in mind when he wrote the yoga sutras. 

    That part of it (going through the eight limbs in sequence over a long period of time) doesn't work very well. This has become widely recognized in the yoga community, and Patanjali must have known it too. Maybe in his time it wasn't so easy to be jump-starting people with advanced yoga practices like deep meditation and spinal breathing the way we can do it today. 

    Over the years different teachers have jumped directly into the eight limbs in different places. Some start with asanas and others with pranayama. Some focus first on devotion and then jump to meditation, or something else. Some jump straight into meditation, and then work their way back through the limbs. As you know, these lessons are of the latter approach. We start with deep meditation, and then head into pranayama, physical techniques, and so on, keeping a good awareness of the role of bhakti/desire all the way through. 

    One thing everyone who does yoga has found is that the limbs of yoga are connected, meaning, if we start in one limb, the others will be affected, and, as we purify and open, we will eventually be drawn into all of the limbs. It is common for new meditators to become voracious spiritual readers (svadhyaya), lean toward a purer diet (saucha), and feel more sensitive about the wellbeing of others (ahimsa). In fact the best way to achieve progress in yama and niyama is by going straight to samadhi with deep meditation. Then harmonious behavior comes naturally from inside, rather than having to be enforced from outside. These things are indicators of the connectedness of yoga. It occurs on all levels of practice. Sometimes it is called "Grace," because spiritual blessings seem to come out of nowhere. In truth, such blessing are being telegraphed through us via spiritual conductivity rising in our nervous system from something we did somewhere on the eight-limbed tree of yoga. Even the sincere thought, "Is there something more than this?" is a powerful yoga practice, and it is found in the niyama limb – it is surrender, bhakti. As you know from the lessons, this conductivity in the nervous system becomes "ecstatic" when kundalini begins to move. When that happens we are really getting connected through the limbs of yoga - here, there, and everywhere. 

    If we engage in effective practices in a coordinated way in multiple limbs from early on, then our nervous system will be purifying and opening most rapidly. This is an important principle that is recognized in the core strategy of these lessons – using an integrated system of practices, having the option of working through as many limbs as possible.

    Samyama is a jumping off point from the eight limbs. It is something different from any one limb that can be used to purify and open the nervous system. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras it gets a whole chapter called, "supernormal powers." 

    Samyama is defined as the combination of the last three limbs of yoga used with an object. So, using focused attention (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and deep inner silence (samadhi) with an object, or objects, in a particular way we are able to develop supernormal powers, also called siddhis. Patanjali tells us that samyama is a more intimate practice and that it leads to "the light of knowledge." He also tells us to avoid getting distracted by the experiences that come up when doing samyama. We have been dealing with this in the lessons already. We see lights or have some ecstatic experiences, and we have to remind ourselves to easily go back to the practice we are doing. This is because experiences do not advance our spiritual progress. Only practices do. The same goes for siddhis when they manifest themselves. As was mentioned way back in lesson #76, we do samyama to expand pure bliss consciousness and ecstasy in the nervous system, and beyond. 

    If we come to samyama expecting to get some powers for our personal use, we will not get much. This is the beauty of samyama. Morally, it is a self-regulating practice. It depends on the presence of inner silence. No inner silence, no pure bliss consciousness - no samyama. It is not possible to do this practice without at least some inner silence in the nervous system. If we have some samadhi, then automatically we will also have some yama and niyama. The more samadhi we have, the more the yama and niyama, and also the more success there will be in samyama. If there is a lot of samadhi (first stage of enlightenment), there will be a lot of yama and niyama, and a lot of progress in samyama. The limbs of yoga are always hanging together like that. 

    Samyama is working on the deepest level of consciousness within us, and coaxing it into full manifestation by giving it a series of channels to move through in our nervous system. With samyama we are moving inner silence. We are moving the immovable, moving the rock of pure consciousness. Actually, we are expanding the rock. We are expanding it out through our nervous system. With most practices we are working from the outside inward. With samyama, we are going the other way. We are working from the inside outward. With most practices we begin with our limited ego-self and go in. With samyama, we begin with our universal divine-Self and come out. That is the difference between samyama and the other practices. 

    As consciousness moves outward with samyama, we experience more opening, and all of our practices move to a higher level. This is the advantage of integration of practices. Everything we do in yoga helps everything else we are doing in yoga. In this way yoga practices become like a spiral of ecstatic bliss going higher and higher. 

    So, as we continue to do the practices we have learned so far, we will also have the option to add samyama practice, which is opening our nervous system in yet another way. The prerequisites for doing samyama are not so many. It is a mental procedure, so there are no physical prerequisites. Unless, of course, you start flying willy-nilly through the air, and then the appropriate physical precautions should be taken. :-) 

    Anyone who is meditating for a few months and is experiencing some inner silence can do samyama, with effects in proportion to the amount of inner silence established in the nervous system. Samyama expands and stabilizes our inner silence, so it is an excellent complement to meditation. In the next lesson, we will cover the particulars of samyama practice.

    With the eight limbs of yoga, and samyama, we will be melting the darkness everywhere. Let's do it. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed discussion on practical application of the eight limbs of yoga, see the AYP Eight Limbs of Yoga book.
    For detailed instructions on samyama practice, see the AYP Samyama book.


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    Why practices twice a day?

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 10:49 AM [General]

    Q: What is the importance of doing practices two times daily?

    A: When we do practices, we coax our nervous system into a different style of functioning -- sustaining deep silence (pure bliss consciousness). And in later stages when kundalini is active, ecstatic bliss. To stabilize all this we go out and are active in the world every day. There is fading of the higher functioning during activity as we work it into daily living. The fading happens over 5-10 hours. Then we can do practices again and re-establish the higher style of functioning again, to be faded in activity again. This cycle can be done twice a day by doing practices morning and early evening. It provides for the most purification and growth possible during waking hours for people with active lives. 

    Doing practices once a day is much slower - it is only one daily cycle of cultivating and fading, instead of two. And it is too much fading before reinforcement of the higher style of functioning happens again the next day. Twice daily practice is a matter of effectiveness and efficiency. 

    With twice daily practice over time, the fading of ecstatic bliss in activity becomes less and less, and the higher style of functioning of the nervous system becomes steady and unshakable 24 hours a day. This is the fruit of the process -- enlightenment in daily activity, and all night too. It is the ongoing cycle of practices and activity that produces this result. 

    During retreats, where responsibilities are suspended, more than two routines of practices per day can be undertaken, alternating with meals, light activity, and satsangs (spiritual gatherings). Three or four cycles of practice can be done in this kind of environment. Maybe more for diehard yogis and yoginis. It is a matter of self-pacing for comfort and effectiveness. Then one can go very deep over a period of days, weeks, or months in retreat. This introduces another cycle between retreats that lasts a much longer period of time (weeks or months), superimposed over the twice daily cycle of practices we continue with in our regular life when we are back in the world. Retreats accelerate progress in this way. But retreats are not a substitute for long term twice daily practices at home. What we do every day over the long term is what will make the most difference in the end. 

    All of this is designed for maximum progress, making the best use of our nervous system's natural abilities for enlightenment and the time we have available to do the job. 

    You are in charge of your journey. These are tried and true principles of unfoldment you can use as you see fit to travel home to enlightenment. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on building a practice routine with self-pacing, and on increasing practices during retreats, see the AYP Eight Limbs of Yoga book and the AYP Retreats Book.

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    Sequencing of asanas, pranayama and meditation

    Thursday, May 9, 2013, 9:44 AM [General]

    Q: I combine some other strengthening exercises like push ups, squats, etc. along with yoga. Some of these exercises consume lots of energy. So, when I follow this with pranayama & meditation, I feel the 'freshness' of the meditation is reduced due to the other activities. So, is it alright if I first do the meditation and then do the Yoga/Exercises and then pranayama? I would like your suggestion to resolve this problem. Thanks a lot for the continued guidance.

    A: Thank you for writing and sharing.

    As you have figured out, exercise is best done after meditation, not right before. With meditation, we are systematically bringing the mind and body to stillness. This stillness is a primary source of all spiritual progress. 

    Asanas and pranayama are part of this process of going to stillness. With easy bending and stretching we begin to quiet the nerves, and prepare the spinal nerve for pranayama. With pranayama, we further quiet our entire nervous system and cultivate it in a way that prepares it for deep meditation. That is the traditional sequence for best results in a routine of practices -- asanas, pranayama, and meditation. And it really does work. 

    I suggest you consider doing the easy bending and stretching portion of your asanas at the beginning, then do pranayama, and then meditation, so you can get the full benefit of the above-mentioned sequence. After meditation and adequate rest coming out, then it is a good time to do more vigorous physical exercise. 

    So, first we do those things in the best order to take us in to pure bliss consciousness, and then we come out refreshed and ready to be active in the world. Vigorous activity after meditation is not a problem once we have taken time to come completely out. Activity helps stabilize the bliss and ecstasy in our nervous system. That is how we transform to become the walking enlightened, instead of the walking whatever we were before. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on sequencing practices in our daily routine, see the AYP Eight Limbs of Yoga book.


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    Shaktipat: Direct transmissions of spiritual energy

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 11:18 AM [General]

    Q: Is it necessary at some point to receive shaktipat before one can experience samadhi? Even the great Paramahansa Yogananda received shaktipat from Sri Yukteswar before he could achieve samadhi. If this is necessary how does one go about obtaining shaktipat?

    A: Shaktipat is direct transmission of spiritual energy from guru to disciple. Transmissions of spiritual energy can also occur in the form of darshan (blessing from a master), satsang (keeping spiritual company), through our chosen ideal by the intensity of our own internal bhakti, and even from reading inspired spiritual writings. It is all spiritual energy flowing in us by various influences, and it can happen in a lot of ways. It is our bhakti that determines the degree of flow more then anything. When the bhakti is intense, the energy will flow from somewhere, from everywhere. So, shaktipat really has its origin in the aspirant, not in anyone else.

    There is another stimulator of spiritual energy in all of us these days, and that is the stars. The stars are giving us their darshan every minute of every day. This is because a new age of enlightenment is rising, and we are all increasingly being stimulated to open from within. In the past dark age, spiritual awakening stimulated by other people was more important than it is today. In those days, a sage was like a candle in a vast sea of darkness. That candle was a rarity, and only a few had any hope of being lit by it. It was a time of spiritual poverty, and the flame was kept alive by being passed between a very few. Thanks to them, and changing times, it is much different now. 

    In present times, we are all on the verge of enlightenment. It may not seem like it. There are still many obstacles to be dissolved inside, but it is much easier to do it now than it has been for thousands of years, or even only a few decades ago. The sun of God is rising. Hatred is making its last chaotic stand in the world, and it will not win. When the light comes, the darkness disappears. 

    It is important to see shaktipat and the traditional guru-disciple relationship in the light of these changing times. We are no longer wholly dependent on individual sages and teachers for our enlightenment. We are all becoming spiritually self-sufficient. We are all becoming capable of generating our own spiritual transformation. 

    The best way to become enlightened is by doing daily yoga practices. It is the surest and safest way, because it is we who determine how much energy will flow from within by our prudent self-pacing as we use powerful spiritual practices that were not available to most even a few decades ago.

    There is another important spiritual influence working in the world today. It is now greater than the power of all the gurus on the planet. As more and more people come along on the way to enlightenment through their own efforts, the divine radiance of spiritual energy from so many opening nervous systems is increasing, and this is quickening everyone's opening. As more people do daily practices, the influence increases exponentially. So, doing your practices is not only good for you. It is good for the world. There is great strength in numbers, and this is how the world is being transformed spiritually. It is the ultimate shaktipat/darshan/satsang for everyone. 

    Is individual shaktipat still necessary to reach enlightenment? Maybe at some point we will get an individual infusion like that from somewhere, or maybe not. We don't have to go wandering around looking for it. Be wary of anyone who offers you a shaktipat shortcut. It does not work like that.

    All we have to do is sit in our meditation room every day, and then go out and give our love away. Samadhi (unbounded pure bliss consciousness) comes in meditation. Full enlightenment comes by giving our samadhi to the world. The spiritual energy of transformation we need will come from inside and outside as we purify our nervous system by our own efforts. If our intense desire for enlightenment is there, everything we need to achieve it will be there too. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on building a practice routine with self-pacing, see the AYP Eight Limbs of Yoga book.


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    Overdoing it with asanas

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:24 AM [General]

    Q: After dabbling for years, I have begun practicing yoga and meditation in earnest (for about a year now). During a recent yoga class, we practiced about 85 minutes of asana, and then took a short break before resuming with pranayama. During the break, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion, shaking, unable to speak or make eye contact. When we resumed with pranayama, tears began streaming down my face. It has been several days, and I am still (uncustomarily) emotional. It is painful to the point of wanting to discontinue yoga, but I know that I must continue, that I am on the brink of a breakthrough. It feels as if my chest has been ripped open, that myheart has been exposed. The opposite of the bliss that I have been seeking. I am sad about the death of my father, but this heartache seems to be directly caused by my practice of yoga. Thank you for any insight you offer. 

    A: Thank you for writing and sharing. 

    Sorry to hear you are having some difficulty. It sounds like you might have overdone it with practices - 85 minutes is a lot of asana time, especially if you have not built up to it gradually over time as a steady daily diet.

    If you didn't overdo, then maybe you did not rest long enough at the end of your routine and something went out of balance from getting up too soon instead of getting released during practices and rest. 

    It could also be the mix of your practices. Physical hatha methods are notoriously hazardous when done to excess as stand alone practice. Much better to mix them in moderation with global purification practices of deep meditation and spinal breathing. That is the approach in the lessons. A flexible guideline is 10 minutes asanas, 10 minutes pranayama, and 20 minutes meditation, twice a day.That is not including add-ons like kumbhaka and other practices we will be discussing later. The times can be adjusted up or down to fit the individual via self-pacing. 

    Anyway, none of that is going to make you feel better right now. It is just advice for the future. For now, be very nice to yourself. Back off your practices as necessary until your heart heals. But don't give up. Some light spinal breathing and deep meditation might help. Take some long walks. You will heal, and maybe in the future consider moderation and balance of practices. Yoga is powerful stuff, and works well when done in correct proportions. Too much in the wrong combination can lead to trouble – too much purification too fast. It is just a matter of education, and prudent self-pacing according to experiences.

    I wish you healing and continuing progress on your chosen path.

    Q: Thank you for your thoughtful response. I admit that I am not a moderate person, and I probably am overdoing the asanas. That particular class was filled with many more advanced people, including professional yoga teachers. My desire for progress exceeds my abilities/experience. I will practice non-violence toward myself, and will focus on meditation and spinal breathing. 

    I have found your postings to be insightful and useful in my daily life. Thank you for sharing them with me and others. 

    A: The desire is good. It (bhakti) fuels practice. Of course, the tendency to overdo is the caution. As you go through the lessons, you will see a lot of situations in the Q&As where it is very similar to what you have been through. Self-pacing has a lot of nuances to it. With ongoing bhakti/desire and wise self-pacing you can't miss. I 
    wish you all success. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on self-pacing asana routines in relation to sitting practices, see the AYP Asanas, Mudras and Bandhas book.

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    Chin pump lite (without kumbhaka)

    Thursday, May 2, 2013, 11:07 AM [General]

    Q: I have a problem holding my breath and it is very claustrophobic for me to do kumbhaka. I dunno, maybe I smothered to death in a coal mine in my last life or something. Can I do the chin pump without holding my breath? And yoni mudra too? I am OK in spinal breathing as long as I don't go too slow. 

    A: Yes, with the chin pump you can. If kumbhaka is difficult for you, even in the easy way it was instructed to be done, then don't do it.

    This question has come a few times from different angles recently, and it is time to address it. Sometimes kumbhaka is not only uncomfortable, but can stimulate excessive kundalini. In either case, the instruction is to back off and return to a comfortable platform of practices that we can be stable with until we are ready to step back up. 

    If we are comfortable in spinal breathing, and bandhas, mudras and siddhasana we use during spinal breathing, we can do the chin pump easily in the last few minutes of our spinal breathing session. If we are doing spinal breathing for, say, ten minutes, then for the last three to five minutes we can do the chin pump along with our spinal breathing. It is the same procedure as when we are using kumbhaka, only we do not stop to hold our breath. The head rotation changes at the same point in the breathing cycle as when using kumbhaka, at the top of the breath after we have inhaled. You could call this approach without kumbhaka "chin pump lite."

    This is a good time to mention that spinal breathing, and all pranayama methods, are forms of kumbhaka in the sense that "restraint of breath" (what pranayama means) places a slight challenge on the oxygen supply in the body. This is what draws prana up into the nervous system from its huge storehouse in the pelvic region. So whether we are doing spinal breathing or kumbhaka, we are doing restraint of breath. It is only a matter of degree. The more restraint, the more kundalini flows up. That is why it is okay to do the chin pump with spinal breathing. There will be good effects, just not as much prana moving as when using kumbhaka. That is okay. 
    We move what we can move without causing excessive flows. Whatever level we operate at, we will always be purifying our nervous system to more. That is the whole game – maintaining forward progress without falling off into messy energy flows that will force us to stop our practices. 

    Of course, the daily practice of global deep meditation is very important in this purification process. With the silence of pure bliss consciousness, it is purifying gently underneath everything going on in the nervous system, and this helps all other practices work much smoother and faster. 

    In future lessons we will be exploring another form of pranayama called bastrika. With that one we will be saturating the body with oxygen in one way and challenging the oxygen supply in the body it in another way, both at the same time, with powerful purifying effects. 

    As always we use self-pacing in our practices, including in spinal breathing and kumbhaka. If we find the chin pump (or chin pump lite) producing excessive kundalini energy flows, we back off to a comfortable level of practice.

    As for yoni mudra, this is a different story. Kumbhaka is central to yoni mudra, because we are using gentle air pressure coming up from the lungs to cleanse the sinuses and stimulate the third eye. So, without kumbhaka, yoni mudra is reduced to the fingers pushing the eyes toward the point between the eyebrows. That is ok, but it is probably better to just let go of yoni mudra if we are not comfortable doing kumbhaka, and stick with a good spinal breathing session with chin pump near the end, if it is comfortable to do. If we are doing good sambhavi during spinal breathing, then this is as good as doing the finger thing with the eyes. So, if kumbhaka doesn't want to be there, just forget yoni mudra and do the other practices, as discussed. 

    There is a small time advantage in doing chin pump lite. That is the overlapping of spinal breathing and chin pump in time. For busy people this might have some attraction. If you can do pranayama (with chin pump lite) and meditation in 30 minutes, instead of 35 or 40 minutes with kumbhaka, it can help preserve our practice that day when the schedule is full. Trimming practices is not the first recommendation here, but as has been discussed in earlier lessons, brief practice is better than no practice. So, when time is short, we find ways to prioritize and optimize our practice. It so happens that chin pump lite done during spinal breathing is in that direction. 

    Obviously, as we progress and become steady in our practices, whatever level that may be at, we look for our next opening to move up. Purification and growth of the inner divine presence are always happening at every level of practice. 

    In time, as your nervous system purifies as old karmas are dissolved from within, you will have less difficulty with holding your breath. In fact, you will find that the breath tends to suspend on its own more and more during easy practice of pranayama and meditation, with no intention or strain at all. It is as though we are nourished at times entirely by the prana flowing up through us from within. Then kumbhaka is no big deal. It just happens, sometimes for surprisingly long periods. At that stage it is no longer restraint of breath. It is natural suspension of breath. Then we can breathe air from outside, or breathe prana from inside. Either way is okay. No fuss, no strain.

    The divine light rises and flows in us, and we surrender into the loving arms of God. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on chin pump, see the AYP Asanas, Mudras and Bandhas book.


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    Chin Pump – Effects in the lower body

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 10:24 AM [General]

    We have discussed the chin pump (dynamic jalandhara) as being a "targeted" advanced yoga practice. Its main focus is in opening the channels for prana going in both directions between the chest cavity and the head. But it is much more than that.

    All yoga practices are linked. Sometimes we can see (or feel) the connections, and other times the connections are not so obvious. It is a matter of how much purification we have cultivated in our nervous system. The more the purification, the more perceivable the connections will be.

    Back in lesson #91 on yoni mudra kumbhaka, we introduced the static version of jalandhara, which is letting the chin go down to its comfortable limit and rest there during kumbhaka (breath retention). We mentioned that jalandhara stretches the spinal nerve for its full length from the point between the eyebrows all the way down to the root at the perineum. 

    The chin pump takes this stretching effect on the spinal nerve quite a bit further. The rotations of the head affect the spinal nerve all the way down to the root also, in a much more stimulating way. The effect is a subtle twirling of the spinal nerve from top to bottom. With ecstatic conductivity rising in the spinal nerve, this twirling is also ecstatic, and plays an important role in the union of pure bliss consciousness (shiva) and divine ecstasy (shakti) in the heart, and throughout the whole body.

    The chin pump evolves over time to find natural coordination with all of the mudras and bandhas in the body. In the end, there is only one subtle "whole-body" mudra that is made up of all the parts we are learning one at a time now. All the pieces start out "clunky" and end up subtle, smooth and intimately connected as unending ecstatic bliss is born and radiates out from the body. The chin pump is part of this refinement. Later on in practices, when the head stops, the spiritual twirling will keep right on going inside, centered around the spinal nerve, and sending divine energy out in all directions. Don't worry, by then you won't even notice, and no one will be able to tell by looking at you, except for the glowing smile on your face, and the pleasure of being around you. A mere intention on your part will be enough to set the spiritual currents in motion. Then you will be twirling the ecstatic energies without moving your head at all. 

    If you are inclined to let the inner spiritual twirling manifest outside, you can go visit the Sufi whirling dervishes and dance the night away. Many spiritual rituals and dances are geared to our inner spiritual whirling. It is natural for some to openly celebrate the inner light. Others may prefer to sit quietly and dance in ecstatic reverie within. No matter what the culture, religion or personal preference is, it is the same dance. It is the dance of the divine inside us. 

    As you become acclimated to doing the chin pump, you will notice many things happening. The energy flows between the heart and the head we already discussed earlier. You will also notice the stretching and twirling of the spinal nerve going into the lower body. As your head is on the up-swing during rotation, you may find a tendency for your knees to lift slightly, and then go down again as the head falls toward your chest after it goes around the back side of its rotation. Then, later on, you may find the knees going slightly up and down at different times during the chin pump. A kind of coordination between the rotation of the head and the small movements of the knees will develop. 

    What is this? It is the beginning of the micro-movements of subtle nauli, as mentioned in lesson #129. And what is nauli for? Twirling kundalini energy upwards. There is that word, "twirling," again. In time, the chin pump and nauli naturally team up on the level of internal micro-movements to foster this twirling of the spinal nerve. It become visible as our chin pump advances and the legs, hands and abdominal muscles naturally find their way into the practice. Do not try and put all this together at this beginning stage. Just be aware of it. It is not mainly a physical act. It is the body's response to the movement of ecstatic energy in the spinal nerve. Ecstatic conductivity is the basis all natural connectivity between practices. 

    The rise of these subtle movements during the chin pump also puts a new spin on siddhasana, making it subtly dynamic, and even more delicious. You can figure that mulabandha, sambhavi and kechari eventually get into the act as well. These are all techniques that stimulate different aspects of our nervous system. The nervous system is a single entity, and, sooner or later, all practices merge into a single multidimensional act that is the expression of the nervous system. At that point, we are no longer the instigator. God is. That is what yoga is, becoming what we are – the gateway to infinite bliss, ecstasy, love and joy.

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on chin pump, see the AYP Asanas, Mudras and Bandhas book.


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    Bhakti article (from here) in Hindustan Times

    Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:05 AM [General]

    Last month a condensed version of lesson #67, "Bhakti – The Science of Devotion" appeared in the web edition of the Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India. The article is in English.

    It finally occurred to me that I should post this information here, as it is pretty good press for AdvancedYogaPractices. If you have been wanting to pass the word to others about the lessons, referring folks to the Hindustan Times article might be a good way to do it. You can find it at:

    www.aypsite.com/hindustan.html

    Note:
     A second Hindustan Times article has been added to this link called, "The Spin on Sin" (published in 2005, and based on lesson #132, "What is Sin?").

    The bhakti article is a good reminder to all of us that spiritual practices begin with desire, continue with desire, and ultimately open our nervous system to enlightenment because of desire. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on Bhakti, see the AYP Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.


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    Chin pump: Coordinating head rotation and breathing

    Thursday, April 25, 2013, 9:46 AM [General]

    Q: This (chin pump) is just wonderful. I tried a couple of times the best to my understanding and it is indeed very powerful. Thank you for sharing such precious teachings. 

    However, before I can incorporate effectively in my daily sadhana, I need some clarification. I want to make sure I understand the technique properly. When I go from right to left and left to right, is it done in one round of breath or they are separate rounds? As the head movement is in progress, one should also breathe? 

    You have mentioned when we are first learning, we limit this practice to four breaths. Please can you clarify this point? Does it mean we do four rounds of head movement in each direction or take four breaths in each chin pump for a specific direction either R to L or L to R?

    A: One full breath (kumbhaka/retention, exhale, inhale) is with head going in one direction. Then at the end of a new inhalation, switch and go the other way with the head for the next breath cycle beginning with kumbhaka/retention again. Then switch head direction again when full of air again on the next breath cycle. 

    The head never stops, only switches direction upon starting each new kumbhaka (breath retention).

    Four breaths means four kumbhakas (retentions) with four series of head rotations, switching direction at the beginning of each of the four kumbhakas. We always switch direction with the head at the beginning of a new kumbhaka. When it gets smooth and comfortable with four breaths, then you can go from counting breaths to using the clock, and do 5 minutes. The number of breaths does not matter when we are on the clock. Just do as many comfortable kumbhakas as happen naturally until time is up. When five minutes gets comfortable, then try ten minutes. Don't rush to that level. Just go there when your practice is smooth and you can step up easily. If you go too far, then back off and bide your time at a comfortable level of practice until you feel ready to try and step up again. 

    The chin pump is very powerful, with far reaching effects. I will post some more about it in a day or two. 

    The guru is in you.

    Note: For detailed instructions on chin pump, see the AYP Asanas, Mudras and Bandhas book.


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