Transformational Power of Yoga

 

“Looking at the way Yoga has been embraced by the world in the last decade or so, one can safely say that Yoga has arrived. Modern world has definitely realized the benefits of Yoga. Yoga is here and here to stay.”

Article in Prana Magazine (Denmark) - click to view larger version.

(Click the image to view a larger version)

The following is a translation of the article published in Yoga Magazine of Denmark in December 2014.

Looking at the way Yoga has been embraced by the world in the last decade or so, one can safely say that Yoga has arrived. Modern world has definitely realized the benefits of Yoga. Yoga is here and here to stay. But, when we think of Yoga, immediately an image of a bendy person doing some sort of a body contortion comes to our mind. Modern world has been presented the idea of Yoga as physical exercise. Is Yoga only about stretching muscles and moving into seemingly elastic body manipulations? In this article, let us try to understand Yoga as something more than just a “class” and open ourselves to the deeper understanding of the holistic, life transforming benefits of Yoga.

Traditionally, Yoga is understood as “Moksha Shastra” or the science of liberation. Moksha commonly means “liberation”, but one needs to understand Moksha in its deeper sense. Moksha, is not any mundane liberation but is the fundamental liberation from our erroneous perceptions of ourselves. In its original sense, Yoga is the science of total mind-body transformation that releases us from the limiting perception and experience of ourselves and the world. It would not be wrong to call Yoga the philosophy and technique of correcting our own understanding and experience of ourselves.

But, is there a need for such liberation? I mean, ask yourself, how many times have we decided to do something only to be stopped by self-doubt. How many times have we vouched to be calm only to be disturbed by a wave of anger that seemingly comes out of nowhere. How many times have we suffered under bouts of repeated self-denial, guilt, regret and “poor me” syndrome. These issues have an effect on our body, posture, breath, relationships and life in turn. Yoga is a holistic science that includes all aspects of our life. Practicing Yoga in its entirety and not just as postures eases the pressures of the physical-mental (psycho-somatic) ups and downs generating a lasting sense of peace.

The Rishis or the spiritual scientists of ancient India realized that we humans do not really live with total efficiency and effectiveness. Our day to day life is compromised by limiting psycho-somatic tendencies that restrict our thoughts and actions. Once these limiting factors are transformed and eventually over powered we can live as something very profound and peaceful that we all are. This “something very profound” is known as the True Self (Atman/Shiva in philosophical sense). Simply put, the True Self can be understood as our human potential operating in an unrestricted, optimized, peaceful and loving manner. Liberation from limiting psycho-somatic tendencies that restricts our optimum potential is known as Moksha and the set of practices that help us in facilitating the liberation is called Yoga.

Thus, Yoga is much wider than a mere practice of physical contortions (asana). It is a way of living consciously, working on our limitations and allowing life to unfold the optimum potential within us all. Yoga is not just about physical exercise or a class but it is living a life of conscious transformation. Let us look at some ways in which we can consciously practice Yoga in its holistic sense and make Yoga a self-transformation process.

The process of Yoga: The objective of Yoga is to refine the body-mind complex. Since between mind and body the variable of body is grosser, more physical, we start the transformation process with the body. Yoga essentially believes that mind and body are two sides of the same coin. The body is gross of mind and mind is the subtle of the body. Whatever effects the mind will have its effect on the body and vice versa. This is why we start the transformation process via the body as it is more accessible of the two. The physical posture (asana) practice is just one part of the Yoga process.

Why do we do asana in Yoga: Traditional Yoga schools did not look at asana as flexibility training but as a method of generating self-awareness and energy alignment. Deepening of self-awareness is facilitated by making the asana practice more conscious and mindful. Such conscious, inward focus is cultivated by focusing the awareness on body sensations, breath, emotional sensitivity and through visualizations. A mindful asana practice generates self-awareness and mental stillness, bringing the mind and its movements under observation and a fairly conscious grasp. This is when the deeper work of refining the mind and emotions can start. Thus, a gentle, mindful asana practice can, over a period of time, generate increased self-awareness and slow down the restless mind which is usually responsible for stress, exhaustions and a number of mind-body ailments. A life lived with self-awareness makes the practitioner feel more alive, participative and integrated in the process of life.

Breath is the key: According to yoga scriptures, mind and breath are closely linked. It is said that the mind rides on the horse of breath. When the mind is relaxed, the breath is balanced and effortless. When the mind is agitated, the breath is imbalanced and effortful. Modern life, with its stress and speed has resulted in a hyperactive, buzzing mind. This hyperactive mind keeps us in an excitatory state which leads to a fast, shallow and confused respiratory rhythm. Such respiratory rhythm in turn leads to an agitated mind. This is how the cycle goes on, unnoticed for our whole life.

The technique of breath modulation is called Pranayama and is very useful to calm down the mind. Pranayama has not caught up with the modern Yoga enthusiasts as much as asana. Yet, one cannot rule out its importance. In fact a regular practice of Pranayama has shown to generate a sense of wellbeing, cultivate deep relaxation and increase lung capacity. But the most important benefit of Pranayama is that it makes us more aware of ourselves. It literally creates more space between two moments and allows us to consciously exercise the “choice” that we all have and that every moment encloses within itself. Pranayama practice in Yoga is a slow, gentle practice that makes us more conscious of our breathing which is otherwise usually automatic. When a person is conscious of the breath and is able to modulate it in the right time, the automatic, impulsive thoughts can be reined in. In times of conflict, when the mind and speech fires like a machine gun, one, single conscious breath can create space and give us the moment to choose our action carefully. When choice is exercised in such a way, escalation of conflicts and worries can be avoided. Sometimes all you need to create peace in life is conscious awareness and one relaxed breath. Gradually every single breath, taken consciously, calms down the mind and promotes a reflective life rather than a reactive life.

Relaxation: Yoga practices like Shavasana, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Meditation can provide innumerable relaxation benefits. Modern society needs to learn to relax. It is with a sense of urgency that we all ought to understand our mind-body system’s vital need for relaxation. Relaxation, not in the sense of getting enough sleep or resting on a sofa, rather, relaxation emerging from a deep knowing that there is no hurry, there is no need to prove anything to anyone and that it will all be fine eventually. Many of us complain of tiredness, exhaustion and mental fatigue compromising our efficiency. Unless we take the time to relax, our lives will continue to be driven by pursuits that lead to nothing but increased nervous exhaustion. One of the best ways of relaxing is a general slowing down of activities through the day. Unless we slow down, we are too caught up in life’s pace to even know where we are going. Slowing down give us the chance to pause, reflect, prioritize and channel our energies towards the desired goals. Involving more relaxation methodologies in the Yoga practice can create lasting peace of mind that can allow us to reflect on our life and take appropriate steps to slow down life’s pace, enjoy the moment and cherish small joys of life.

Faith and Patience: Last but not the least, each one of us who has been preoccupied with the external world has to one day sit up and take notice of the inner voice. This inner voice is nothing but a deeper, innate instinct of self-refinement (transformation). It is that impulse which is programmed to set us free. Listening to the inner voice will drive us safely and clearly towards self-refinement. Self-refinement happens through patiently experimenting with methods of Yoga and experiencing life consciously and totally. Experimenting means exploring new possibilities and to explore new possibilities we need to be fearless, fearless enough to objectively examine our self and to ascertain what to let go off and what to hold on to. One cannot expect the benefits of Yoga if one is not ready to invest in dedicated and diligent Sadhana (self-practice). Process of Yoga is not merely a pursuit of fitness but a process of enlivening a steady state of peace and contentment. This process of self-transformation is gradual and many a times challenging. But with patience, determination and trust we all can reach the peak of peace and true potential that Yoga promises.

Its time to get back to the Heart of Hatha Yoga.

When a student, who had heard of the foundational history of Hatha Yoga from me, was told in a Teacher Training course that Hatha Yoga was created by smoking sadhus who stand on their heads, I felt it was time to write this blog. Perhaps the modern Yogis could dedicated a little more time to Faith instead of Fascia, Humility instead of Handstand, Bhakti instead of Backbends ?

When a student, who had heard of the foundational history of Hatha Yoga from me, was told in a Teacher Training course that Hatha Yoga was created by smoking sadhus who stand on their heads, I felt it was time to write this blog.

Over the years I have seen some creatively flamboyant “free for alls” written under the topic of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a gentle “class” for beginners. Hatha Yoga is a “soft practice” for physically challenged. Hatha Yoga is a “style” of easy physical postures. A system of physical postures founded by Sage Patanjali et al, are just some of the baseless arguments I have heard and seen in the Yoga world over the last decade.

This blog, though not exhaustive, is a short write up to clarify a few things about traditional Hatha Yoga, its origins and its founders.

To start with, Hatha Yoga is NOT just a system of physical manipulations (exercises) but is a extensive spiritual philosophy (which includes practices) based in the quintessential fundamental of spiritual liberation.  It is a moksha shastra itself, the science of fundamental liberation.

Hatha Yoga as a spiritual path came to the forefront around the 9th Cent. A.D. Note: I have mentioned “came to the fore front” and have not used the word “originated,” or “founded”. (I will give the reasons for this in another blog)

The word “Hatha” has been ambiguously translated in modern English translations as “forceful”. Even though the word Hatha (pronounced as Huth) in English is translated as “forceful” it should not be viewed as effortful and compelled. In fact none of the traditional Hatha Yoga scriptures have even a single line in them that suggests that the Hatha yoga path is forceful. The word “Hatha” is never used in Hatha Yoga texts to refer to violent means or forceful effort. In fact, Hatha Pradipika warns the Yogic practitioner against being impatient and forceful. The word actually means and conveys strong determination, directed will and intense self effort in order to facilitate the mergence (samarasa) of Individual and Universal consciousness. Even today, in many local Indian languages, when a child throws a tantrum he is said to be doing “Hatha/Huth“. Thus, it does not convey pain but signifies intense longing. Hatha also has another meaning, a metaphysical one. Hatha is the result of the union of two syllables “Ha” which signifies the solar energy and “Tha” which signifies the lunar energy. The Sun is known by the syllable “Ha” and the moon by the syllable “Tha”, the active and passive energies of our Being.

Owing to the union of the sun and moon, Hathayoga is named thus. – Yoga Bija

The meaning of Ha-Tha is the union of two spiritual energetic forces which are the constituents of our materialized Being. The name itself makes one aware of the goal of Hatha Yoga. The ordinary human appears to be imprisoned in the complex of psycho spiritual embodiment, limited by the dualities of life. The goal of Hatha Yoga is to see (experience) the unity in diversity, the essential One-ness in the duality and to manifest the union of Jiva and Shiva. Thus, Hatha Yoga is neither a “class,” a “style,” nor a “sequence” of asanas, it is an extensive science of spiritual liberation.

The founder of this system is Mahayogi Matsyendranath who received the doctrine of Hatha Yoga from Lord Shiva himself.  Matsyendranath passed on the doctrine to his disciple Mahayogi  Gorakhnath (Gorakshanath). Gorakhnath is instrumental in propagation of Hatha Yoga science in the recent times. Just as Ramakrishna had Vivekananda, Yukteshwar had Yogananada in the same fashion Matsyendra found in Gorakh the spirit, motivation, devotion and faith to bring Hatha Yoga to the masses. Lord Shiva is considered to be the source of both, Hatha Vidya (Wisdom of Hatha) and Natha lineage. He is invoked as Adinatha (Primordial Lord). Guru Dattatreya is considered as the facilitator who blessed Matsyendra and Gorakh as they went about awakening the masses with this venerable psycho-spiritual science.

The founders of Hatha Yoga science through the lineage of Adinath (Shiva), Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath are known as Nathas. The word Natha has two primary meanings. First, Natha means Na+Atha, the one which is beginning-less, unborn and primal. In this sense Natha means the immortal principle of Shiva consciousness. It is the lineage and teaching inspired by the One who is the beginning less. So in this sense, the teachings of Hatha Yoga too are beginning less and immortal. Secondly, Natha also means the protector, nurturer and care taker. Shiva is called Adinath the Primal Lord and his followers who spread the wisdom of Hatha Yoga are called the Natha Yogis. Since Natha means protector or nurturer, the path of Hatha Yoga propagated by the Nathas also assures protection and nurturing of those who can offer dedication, surrender and devotion to the path. This is why Yogi Svatmarama mentions in Hatha Pradipika “Hatha is the monastery for those who are afflicted by unlimited suffering and for those who are engaged in different Yogas, Hatha is a supporting tortoise”- HYP 1:10.

Traditionally, the lineage of Hatha Yoga propagators is called Natha Sampradaya. Amongst all the Nathas there are 9 who are considered primary inspirations. They are popularly known as Nav-Nathas (nine Nathas). Their names are, Matsyendranath, Gorakhnath, Jaladarinath, Kanifnath, Charpatanath, Nagnath, Bhartrharinath, Revannath and Gahininath. (In some regions of India, depending on the inspirations, few names are interchanged)

The Yoga Siddhas of Natha Tradition are [Note: I have not used the word were] adepts who have reached the heights of spiritual evolution. They have verily become the Absolute Truth and shine forth in the union of Divine purity. They have and they do inspire us by their own spiritual grandeur and love. The main contribution of Natha Siddhas towards humanity is their very presence in the world, among the people beyond class, creed and gender. The main message and purpose of the Nathas is to guide humanity to revolt against the limitedness of mind-body complex. As one scripture says, “Yogis in diverse guises, intent on welfare of humanity, walk on the earth, unrecognized by others” –  Kularnava Tantra – 9:66.

Humanity lurks in bondage and thrives in the notion that life is suffering, the Nathas toiled hard to awaken us to work against this mindset. Saint Dnyaneshwarnath in his beautiful contribution Dnyaneshwari  says “Pinde Pindacha Grasu, to ha Natha sanketicha Danshu” means “Using the body itself to devour the ego of the body is the main principle and teaching of Natha Yogis”.

Nathas have been inspirational in bringing social change over the millennia across India and the world. The Natha Siddhas themselves are at a transcendental stage which is beyond the limited understanding of our human mind. But through Bhakti (devotion), dedication and Sadhana (practice) one can access them by being the message itself. Because of their compassion for all, they manifest again and again amongst us. It is because of such selfless liberated souls and their inspiring work that the fabric of human society is maintained.  When the Indian society was suffocating under the dominance of caste-ism, foreign oppressions and social evils it was the Nathas that went from village to village resurrecting the masses to awaken to their true freedom. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to awaken ourselves and awaken others. The work of the Nathas is for the greater good of all.

Every human, somewhere deep within, feels the urge of transcending bondage and suffering. But by the axe of societal concepts, cultural presuppositions and peer pressure this urge is prematurely killed. The Nathas tapped into this inner urge of the masses by preaching the equation Jiva = Shiva in the local language of the villagers through songs, poetry and many a times even by awakening a spirit of awe and motivation by using their spiritual powers (siddhis) to convince the people that everyone is capable of tapping into the heights of their own spiritual potential.  Since the purpose of Natha Siddhas was raising the masses they did not get involved in academic controversies, philosophical debates and metaphysical duels (as was popular during that time) to establish their rationale amongst the people. They were not interested in establishing any particular dogma, in fact their work was to release the people from accepted dogmas which were eating the society from within. Their work was to raise faith in the One all mighty which is beyond religion and dogma. In traditional Hatha Yoga and the teachings of Nathas there are no limitations based on caste, creed or gender. Everyone is considered to have the same universal potential within and everyone is inspired to reach it and this is why I deeply feel Hatha Yoga is the path for today’s day and age.

I feel modern yoga world should seek to understand the expansive perspective of traditional Hatha Yoga and approach it with humility and surrender.  Somewhere I feel the physical bit has been passed on to the west but the heart of Hatha Yoga is still missing to be conveyed. Perhaps the modern Yogis could dedicated a little more time to Faith instead of Fascia, Humility instead of Handstand, Bhakti instead of Backbends ? The Heart of traditional yoga is in humility, surrender, dedication and selfless service. Perhaps its time to step back from the “asanification” of Hatha Yoga and  move towards the Heart of this brilliant spiritual science. Adesh!

Mahayogi Gorakhnath
Mahayogi Gorakhnath

 

Oneness

Dear Friends,

I arrived a couple of weeks back from a 10 week long tour across 8 countries sharing the beautiful science of Yoga. The more I travel and meet people the more I realize how similar we are deep within, even though we may be poles apart superficially on  variables of color, language, culture etc.

Continue reading “Oneness”