Thursday, November 15, 2012

What is Mudra? What is Meditation?

Haven't been posting lately as I'm working on my book. Here is a little something...

What is Mudra?

            What is mudra? Mudra means gesture. There are many different kinds of mudra, from hand gestures, to the complex bodily gestures of Hatha Yoga, to the subtle internal gestures of Kashmir Shaivism. Mudras are used in various disciplines from yoga to classical dance. This short article will not address hand and bodily mudras, and will instead focus on the subtler aspects of mudra.
            What is gesture? Wikipedia defines gesture as "a form of non-verbal communication in which visible bodily actions communicate particular messages, either in place of speech or together and in parallel with words." It is easy to see the physical aspects of this, at least with hand and bodily mudras, but perhaps not so easy to see the communicative aspects. What are we attempting to communicate with?
            According to my own personal experience coming after over 25 years of practice, I would restate this definition as follows:

“Mudra is a form of non-verbal communicative movement occurring between lower and higher selves, possibly starting as an instigation of movement on a bodily level but felt/initiated as a wave-front of much deeper movement on a subtler non-verbal, instrumental level that acts to unite the lower and higher aspects of one’s self.”

Mudra, much more than communication, is actually a movement that acts to unite. This follows one of the important definitions of yoga as union. Mudra is the uniting of polarities. It is the uniting of that which is divided. It is the uniting of the various channels of flow in the subtle body, bringing the forces of prana or life energy into balance and creating a stable and clear mind.
            When I first studied meditation I focused so much on the object of meditation that it rapidly became so frustrating as I could never hold it. It was only over 20 years later that I realized that the object itself is not near as important as the energy that holds it. Take for example the simple task of picking up a cup of water. We don’t need to focus on the cup as we pick up the cup of water. We only need to focus on our arm, which is moving, to pick up the cup. Our arm picks up the cup and holds it. We cannot hope to hold the cup without the arm. While this simple example may not seem relevant to the practice of meditation it is in a most vital way.
            Meditation is the act of holding an object with our minds. If we attempt to hold the object in our minds without understanding our mind and how it moves, we will never achieve the goal of actually holding the object in mind. Our mind will shift. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna tells Krishna that the mind is as difficult to control as the wind. Then Krishna responds by saying that yes it is, but little by little with the help of constant practice and detachment, it can be done. Most people when they read this verse focus only on Krishna’s answer as the key to controlling the mind. The actual key is hidden in Arjuna’s declaration. “The mind is as easy to control as the wind.” Can we control the wind? Not the physical wind perhaps. But the wind Arjuna is secretly referring to is our internal wind. This statement is a reflection of another verse in the Yoga Vasistha that is quoted in Hatha Pradipika: “the mind and the prana are like two sides of one coin. If you affect one, you affect the other.” This is the secret of both yoga and meditation. This practice of affecting the prana, to thus affect the mind, is the practice of mudra and is the very essence and secret of the science of yoga.
            Mudra is movement. The nature of this movement is described in the Yoga Sutras in the third chapter. The name given to this movement is what is called parinama, which means transformation of state. A transformation of state is a change from one state to another. In other words from an active, busy state to a calm one. Why would we be interested in this? To understand this we have to go back to the beginning of the Yoga Sutras and examine Vyasa’s excellent commentary of Sutra 1.1.
            Vyasa in his commentary to sutra 1.1 tells us that the mind exists in five possible types of states. Mudha, kshipta, vikshipta, ekagra, and niruddha. These translate to torporous/tired, frenetic/busy, distracted, one-pointed, and restrained. Energetically, these correspond to the classical gunas of samkhya and Ayurveda. The guna of earth and water corresponds to the torporous/tired mind, which is an extreme, negative state that the mind takes on when earth and water elements are out of balance in the body/mind system. The guna of rajas, which corresponds to the element fire when it is out of balance brings the frenetic/busy state of mind. When the gunas are mixed up, we get the state we most live in, the vikshipta or “distracted” state of mind. This state allows for short-term concentration on tasks but doesn’t allow the mind to stay focused for long periods. When the guna of sattva is dominant, then our mind is transformed according to both the Yoga Sutras and the Yoga Vasistha. Our mind then becomes clear and transparent and concentration becomes very steady and can last for some time. We will leave the fifth state alone for the moment.
            So how do we bring the mind to a sattvic state? According to Vasistha as described above, the mind is linked intimately to the pranic body, the energetic body. So if we examine the nature of the energetic body and make the corresponding adjustments, the mind will follow suit. The rajasic and the tamasic energies are like the twin pillars to either side of the central pillar of the sattvic guna. If we learn to bring them into balance, they in effect cancel each other out and we are brought into what we call the middle pillar or the central column. We will discuss this in more detail in a later article. For now, let us understand that balance is key to coming into a more sattvic state. In fact, this is the very definition of yoga given in the Bhagavad Gita 2.50. “Yoga is equilibrium.” Balance is the key to the sattvic state of body and mind.
            How do we find balance? We begin to notice the movements that bring us into balance and the movements that bring us out of balance. The movements that bring us into balance are called by Patanjali parinama. The movements that bring us out of balance are the reverse of that parinama. What do we mean by this? How do we even focus on movement?
            Everything in our life is a part of this movement. According to tantra, everything is in a state of expansion, maya, called Hrim, and contraction, liberation called Shrim. Don’t be confused by what I mean here by contraction and expansion. Here contraction means contracting towards the bindu or point of creation and expansion means the creation of the universe. We are always in an act of creation or destruction. Existence is fleeting. If you look for it, it is very difficult to find (I challenge you!). So we are NEVER separate from this movement. Never. All we have to do is learn to feel it.
            Prana or energy/movement is felt. This is explained clearly in classical Samkhya which says that the air element of which prana is intimately related, is connected with the sparsa or inner touch/feeling. So if we want to understand what prana is, we need to get in touch with our inner feeling. Prana is felt. Energy is felt. Movement is felt. When I say felt here I do not mean feelings like love, happiness, sadness, etc. I mean the actual sensation of feelings. Perhaps sense would be a better word. English is a hard language here to describe exactly what we are talking about. It is important to understand intimately the meaning here though.
            So we learn to feel movement. We learn to feel the movement from contraction to expansion. We learn to feel the movement from expansion to contraction. If we learn to feel these two directions of movement then we are well on our way to understanding mudra.
            In Shaivism, the terms used for these two directions of movement are called unmesa and nimesa. Unmesa is expansion. Nimesa is contraction. The interesting thing here is that they can go both ways. In other words, Unmesa can be both an expansion of freedom or an expansion of bondage. Nimesa can be a contraction of freedom or a contraction of bondage. These are important aspects of the mudra which need to be understood. We will discuss more on this later.
            What causes the directional shift in movement? One important concept very intimately related to mudra is called bandha. Bandha is that which binds. This binding causes a directional shift from outward to inner movement. Bandha shifts the unmesa of bondage to the unmesa of freedom. Bandha shifts the nimesa of freedom to the nimesa of bondage. Bandha is like a switch. It causes us to shift direction. It is at the heart of mudra.
            The bandha that I am discussing here is far beyond physical movement. The physical bandhas may help point the way, but in my personal experience, if you don’t find that way then the physical bandhas will never take you anywhere. The real bandha is deep inside you. It is the directional shift that turns energy around and causes bondage to turn to freedom. It is the ultimate form of recycling, taking bad energy and converting it to good. It takes confusion and turns it to liberation. This is the deep secret of bandha.
            When we begin to pay attention to this movement, this parinama in all of its aspects, then we begin to understand mudra. We pay attention to unmesa, to nimesa, to bandha. We pay attention to what direction things are moving. This is Krishna’s answer to Arjuna. Practice and detachment, what are called abhyasa and vairaghyam. These twin wings of yoga are like a life saver. We hold focus on what we want and discard that which we don’t. When we drive a car to Albuquerque, we don’t drive the car to Chicago or anywhere else. It’s that simple. Not complicated really.
            But you have to really feel this movement inside you. Don’t get confused by objective mind. The answer isn’t found in the objective mode of mind. The answer is felt deep in the instrumental layer. It is vital to understand the difference of these two modes. If you don’t understand this, you will be confused, without a doubt. If you start to understand on an intimate level this movement, you will understand mudra.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Question/Comment on Sri Vidya Post

I got this question/comment in by email about a week or more ago and have had to sit with it before commenting. I find it great that so many of you are coming up with very deep responses to some of my posts. Comments and questions are always welcome and can be made to

"One of the things I find so attractive about Tantra is the absolute freedom it offers, or more accurately, I think, the absolute freedom it points to, the absolute freedom that we are born with. 
It’s the freedom that comes with being made up of the same substance that the rest of the universe is made up of - divinity, consciousness, god, goddess, love, whatever we call it.  To me, Tantra is the belief or world-view, the knowing, that God is in our very cells.  Goddess is in all that we see, all that we touch, all that we eat, all that is…    And therefore, the essence of it isn't contradictory with any other beliefs I've had, and that is, to me, more evidence of how beautiful and true it is.  For me, it doesn't even conflict with Catholicism.
I remember being taught that we are all part of the body of God.  In Catholic school this meant being shown a poster of Jesus' face that, when one got up close to it, saw that it was made up of thousands of faces.  I understood this as a child to mean that the holy spirit dwells within each individual, that Jesus is within and without.  To me, the essence of Tantra is the same.  The actual practices, and probably the results of Tantra, might be quite different, but I think one could be a practicing Catholic and a Tantric believer. 
This is where my questions lie.  I enjoy some  of the Tantric practices I've been introduced to a lot, and I'm so interested in learning more.  I enjoyed the incense of the Catholic church too… and communion, and scripture, and singing…  To me, there is perfect freedom in whatever one chooses as her sadhana.  To say, that we must be fully-in, we must commit 100%  to anything, goes against my very basic concept of what Tantra is.  If it is the acceptance that God is us, we are god, all is sacred, even the completely mundane, then doesn't that make us free to take or leave whatever feels right to us from any tradition?  Because no matter how we choose to engage, we are engaging with her.   
Once we have had the good fortune to come across such wisdom, such powerful tradition, it is it "wrong" to not dive-in fully? And what does dive-in fully really look like? Is that different for each individual? If we accept God to be in every atom of every universe, then does that make every moment of our life sadhana?  Is Tantra actually a path or is it a way of seeing the world?  If it is a path, where is it going?  How can we be going anywhere if we are already living God on earth, within our bodies, if she is who we are?  Where are we going?  If we are always connected, always divine, why do we spend so much time trying to connect with the divine?  How do we define success when it comes to sadhana?
I know that somewhere in all my questions, my answers lie.  I feel incredibly blessed to have met Sri Amritananda, and to have been taken under his wing during my stay in India.  He and I understood each other on some levels.  He understood how foreign all of this is to me.  He also understood what it is about the tradition that compels me, and he always assured me that worthiness is my birthright.  He taught me that I must embrace the Goddess within me, and that to do otherwise, is foolish.  He taught me that merely by being completely natural, I am okay, I am divine.   He also seemed to be saying that having fun is of utmost importance because he never missed an opportunity to giggle.
Thanks for making my wheels turn with your writing.  Sometimes the technicalities of it all make me feel a little dumb, or a little slow, or a little lazy, but then I remember who I am."
Thanks for your questions which make me think even more deeply about matters. Just now getting back to your question. In some ways I already answered something similar to another question on my blog but your question is also a bit different.

"If it is a path, where is it going?  How can we be going anywhere if we are already living God on earth, within our bodies, if she is who we are?  Where are we going?"

These are good questions. In some ways I suppose our "path" is very dreamlike. I don't ultimately have the answers to these questions beyond what drives us (or at least me) inside. I know for me that I just feel driven a lot of the time, with insatiable curiosity. This world is so big, so vast that I feel compelled to understand it on some, on any level. There are many answers but so many of them fail to comprehend to truly understand our magnitude.

When I speak of faith in my blog it is the deep faith that fuels one's self forward. Not so much as in a right or wrong faith but the personal faith that carries one foot in front of the other. I find personally that without it, I fall prey to conflicting ideas or passing movements and then end up muddled or confused. So in other words, I was mainly speaking in the previous article (on Sri Vidya) about how to inspire movement, how to "supercharge" it, in a way that overcomes the inertia of conditioned and collective consensus reality. Consensus reality can become so deeply ingrained that it acts as a limit to our true nature. I believe faith, personal deep faith that gives rise to conviction, can help to overcome the walls of this inertia. Even if this inertia itself is the play of the Goddess, I still feel that to lie down and let go with it is not in our nature either. Our nature is to move forward, to evolve, even if this evolution is all a dream in the grand scheme of things.
With deep conviction that comes out of that personal faith I find myself propelled into new arenas, new areas of life and exploration. Life is ever moving. Sometimes I feel that it is the God/dess herself expanding and evolving. And perhaps it is all coming from a place much bigger than myself. And hopefully I will continue to have "fun" in the process!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Questions on Physics and Sri Vidya Posts

Some very interesting questions came to me today regarding the last 2 posts.


1. The physics bit was very interesting and instructive.  I liked it a lot.  But a question you never answered is why it is good to let the energy/force run up through your bones and spine.  I of course have some answers to that question, but I think it would be good for you to speak to why this is important.  Does that make sense?  Might seem really obvious to you, but might not be to everyone.

2. Re the tantra entry.  I've always had a problem with faith.  Not that I don't have faith, but more, what is faith and what do you really mean by it.  There is a way that I do believe wholly in the forces that govern the world, us, our lives.  And there is a way that I feel I am one with them.  The latter is not a matter of faith.  If the human body is indeed a sri yantra and when we interact with these forces in our practice, we also interact with these parts of ourselves, then where is 'faith' in that?  I look at Ganapati and Laksmi and Lalita on my altar and feel both reverent and on par with them at the same time.  I recognize and surrender to those forces which are bigger than 'I' but at my core, I know I am also their equal, that we are the same.  There are times when I don't know if this is hubris or recognition.  The small, human part of me looks at them as beings other than myself, and I ask them for help and guidance.  Another part of me looks at them as old friends and what I feel is not faith as much as recognition or something harder to define.

1. I meant to answer this in a later post and will have an entire article on bone strength. Basically the short answer to this is that stresses on bone will increase its strength. So from a purely physical basis we are in fact strengthening the bones with this type of bone force work. I will explain this in more detail later. Blood quality is also increased as the bones, which are responsible for blood production, are stimulated. Different energetic centers that exist within the bones are also affected. The subjective feeling which we feel through the bone I call "energy".  The working of the bones in this way acts to store chi or prana in the bones which can actually be felt as one increases in sensitivity. This work really requires deep instrumental level awareness to notice this.

2. What I mean by faith is that which strengthens belief, creating a world view which becomes solid and thus has the power to direct the mind in a particular direction. Faith to me is a deep orientation of one's self that serves as a foundation for belief/view, that acts as a sort of "armor" to protect against opposing views that might arise from one's own potentially contrary belief systems due to the nature of the multiple egos (see my other articles regarding my thoughts on how the ego is actually many). Why is belief or view powerful? Because it is the mind which creates the subjective world view, which in turn can affect powerfully the world at large. So our beliefs actually become very important if we have any hope of creating effective movement in this world. Faith acts to strengthen that belief, which is why it is important even before faith to cultivate pure discrimination. Otherwise our deep faith leads to potentially disastrous consequences (ex. fundamentalism and acts of religious oppression/aggression). Once decided, consistency brings movement leading to success in the given area of application. Without this we potentially fall prey to indecisiveness and the inability to affect forward movement. This is a purely subjective phenomena I am discussing here, which is why I also stated that it was vital not to criticize others beliefs. More important than the beliefs themselves, which are relative, is the power behind the beliefs, which I am describing here as faith. We are not talking about objective faith which would be attempting to hold to some objective "truth". It is more an inner act of strengthening which helps to sharpen will and personal movement. I feel this is vital to understand for success in deep spiritual sadhana.

Hope these answers clarify. Questions and opinions are always welcomed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Physics of Yoga Asana (Nadi Yoga Part 14)

Understanding basic physics can greatly increase your anatomical understanding of how to approach the practice of asana. When I was taught yoga in the 80s and 90s many teachers at the time emphasized muscular practices which actually acted in opposition to natural forces and served to produce marma (obstruction) in the bodily tissues. I have a feeling many still teach this way and want to write this article to help shed light on this actually simple but apparently complex subject. Note: in this article the word energy is not so much defined as in physics but is more the subjective feeling of force in the body.

A key concept from physics that we will need to understand is called the normal force. The normal force is defined in wikipedia as "the component, perpendicular to the surface of contact, of the contact force exerted on an object by, for example, the surface of a floor or wall, preventing the object from penetrating the surface." In mathematical terms if we assume the person standing on a floor the equation is given as

                                                                   N = mg

 where N is the normal force, m is the mass of the person, and g is the gravitational field strength. (wish I had a picture to show at this point, maybe in the book...) The full equation is actually this :

                                                              N = mg \cos(\theta)

Where the angle theta is the angle of the inclined surface measured from the horizontal.
In simpler terms what we are dealing with here is Newton's third law of motion which states (as per wikipedia again) "When a first body exerts a force F1 on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force F2 = −F1 on the first body. This means that F1 and F2 are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction." When we push against something, that something pushes back with equal and opposite force. Herein lies the key to understanding "energy" in the body when applied through yoga or any other physical activity or discipline. When you attempt to jump, do you first go up or do you go down? If you aren't sure, try it just to be sure. To jump we have to push down. When you see astronauts in space, to go in one direction they have to push off from a wall in the opposite direction.

Where is the normal force "felt"? It is felt in the bones as these are the solid structure component of the body which transfers force. Try pushing your hand against the floor or wall and attempt to feel the bones directly. You will notice an inner line of force transmitting itself through the body. Where does it start? Where does it terminate? These are important investigations.

The next thing to consider is the body in the gravitational field just standing. Try standing and just notice the bones. What is the basic force which comes back from the floor when you are just standing on it without effort? Now push your shins and feet into the floor and notice what happens. When you do this, calling the shin force S, we then get

                                                                N = mg + S

In other words we have increased the normal force and we feel something coming back through our bones! This is energy, the feeling of force coming back through the bones. What is it that moves the shin down? It is the muscles known as plantar flexors which means the muscles that act to push the top of the foot away from the front shin. Tibialis posterior is the key muscle here, located in the deep posterior compartment of the calf. The same muscles push our heels off the ground in standing vajrasana (vajrasthana). The tibialis posterior is very special as well. Thomas Myers in his excellent book Anatomy Trains has demonstrated that the tib post muscle is connected fascially all the way through the deep line of the body which connects the pelvic floor, the respiratory diaphragm, and even the tongue (can any one say bandha?).

Understanding these basic principles of Newton's third law of motion and the concept of the normal force we are ready to attempt to put this into the body in yoga. The first thing we may want to consider is this question "what is it that inhibits the normal force from acting?" The answer to this is any attempt to contract the muscle in opposition to the downward force. In other words, the instruction to "lift your thighs" or "tighten your quads" in a standing pose is actually defeating Newton's third law! This is because when you contract your quadriceps in a standing pose, the muscular force is acting upwards which acts to subtract from the equation. If we call quad force Q then our equation would look like this:
                                                                    N = mg - Q

 Now our normal force is actually less than the normal force and we feel less energy coming through our bones! Not to mention that we are constricting the flow of any upward energy by contracting the muscle around the area of transfer. So stop tightening those thighs!

So now that we've explored the normal force and what potentially inhibits it lets take another look at asana. Try standing with feet apart as if you are about to go into trikonasana, with one foot turned out and the other turned in. Now push the shins into the floor. You may notice that the thighs want to contract. If they do, then a standing wave is set up in the leg and you aren't going to get the energy up farther than the lower hip. What is required is for the shin and foot to exert pressure down and out while simultaneously attempting to relax the thighs and groin/hip region. Try it. What do you feel? If you are successful you will notice that the energy flows all the way up into the spine. The two 45 degree vectors of return force up the legs add up to produce a vertical vector of power that pushes right up the central column. And if the legs behave properly (not attempting to cancel the normal force) then there will be a clear pathway for the force line to follow.

Experiment with this technique in different standing poses to begin with. The seats are harder to get this action with but it definitely can be done. Try sitting. Make sure that the sit bones contact the floor firmly. If not you will need to sit on a hard surface. Notice that if there is any tension in the hip you may be unconsciously attempting to lift out of the seat which will reduce the normal force. What is required first is to relax into the ground. Mentally put the seat down and watch/listen/feel the subtle force that comes back up through the hip and into the spine. In other words sit down to lengthen the spine up! I find that with the seats a lot of the work involves getting out of the way of the normal force, in other words learning to relax in the right places.

The same principle is applied in the inversions. In Sarvangasana, the shoulder stand (more properly called all-limbs pose) we need to get the neck down against the ground as much as possible. This goes against some common "wisdom" which says to lift the neck up and put the shoulders down. The problem with this is that the spine is what is required to lift and the best direct line to the spine is the spine itself of which the neck is a part. If we can truly release and surrender the neck to the floor then the spine will be allowed to receive the normal force fully and the transfer of energy/force will be allowed to move its way up the spine. The same applies in the headstand and is also why the variation of pushing slightly into the forehead (learn this with a qualified teacher please) gives more energy than just resting on the mid crown.

Explore these principles in your practice. I have much more to say on the topic but this should give a good start. Hope it helps.

Why Sri Vidya is a Supreme Science (Tantra Part 3)

In the undertaking of any tradition, we should ideally have faith that our tradition is a supreme one. I want to say superior but it is important to respect all traditions. Nevertheless there is something very, I would say extremely, special about Sri Vidya. This article will address why I believe that to be the case.

Why have faith in our own tradition and why is faith so important? The Parasurama Kalpa Sutra in chapter one tells us "through sampradaya and faith comes every fulfillment". In other words if we have authentic lineage or sampradaya, we have the power behind us of every practitioner that has gone before us, carving out the energetic pathways of mantric energy that bring us forward in our practice. Having faith in this strengthens our minds and our belief systems, our view, that is the foundation of directed energy and power. Faith strengthens our will. Will carries us forward to do what needs to be done and bring success to our practice and our lives.

In stating the supreme nature of Sri Vidya I should state once again the words of the Parasurama in terms of my first comment, "no criticism of any system of philosophy". All systems must be respected because ultimately faith in any system will prompt the soul forward in its work and as the Bhagavad Gita states "in whatever way men/women come to me, in that way I will receive them."

That being said, once we begin to practice the Sri Vidya tantra, we want to feel the depth and the power of what this system is. We want to feel in our deep hearts that this is THE system for us. We don't meet it halfway. We engage with it directly, with it fully. The PK Sutra also states "tenacity of attitude leads to fulfillment of all-round knowledge." So once we have the conviction, we are set forward and become unstoppable in our endeavor of the path. This is so critical to understand because it provides the power and the framework for our entire sadhana.

To help us have this conviction let us look at why Sri Vidya is such a powerful science. In the Soundaryalahari, a beautiful song composed by Shankaracarya (sometime towards the end of his life when he had left behind the patriarchal old ways and had had a direct vision of the Goddess), verse one states "If Siva is united with his Sakti (power), he is able to create, if he is not thus, he is not even able to stir." The saying goes "Siva is not able to lift one finger without Sakti." In other words, the Consciousness principle or the Divine Light Prakasha by itself is useless in this world without its divine Vimarsha, without its wonderous power and reflective nature. In other words, the Male principle is nothing in this world without the Female. Devi or the Goddess or the Divine Feminine, the Sakti, the Spanda, the Divine Throb and pulse of this universe is what creates, exists and then withdraws. This is also stated in the first 3 names of the Devi in Lalitha Sahasranama: "Shri Mata Shri Maharajni Shrimatsimhasaneshvari". "O Divine Mother, O Divine Great Queen, You who sit on the Lion Throne." The Mother is the creator, the Queen is the sustainer, and the Lion symbolizes the destructive nature which withdraws all back into itself. In other words all forms, names and manifestations are the Devi herself. She is Mother Earth, Mother Prakriti, the World, the Body, Life, Energy, Movement, Pulsation. One is bound and freed by Her alone. Even if one tires of this life, this samsara, it is only Devi who brings about the decision to do the sadhana which brings one back to her.

This above paragraph is important to understand because the way of tantra and Sri Vidya is very different from traditional patriarchal religions and systems in which matter is set against spirit, in which the emphasis is on trancendence and escape from this world of samsara. Sri Vidya embraces ALL, both matter and spirit, the world, male and female, white and black. There is nowhere the God/dess is not. This is why in our tradition Mother Lalitha is shown seated atop Siva and the throne itself is supported by the Patriarchal Gods of Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, and Isvara. She is superior. She is the ruler. By taking this way we approach God through the reflective nature of whatever is in front of us. We see God everywhere.

The Great Lalitha Tripurasundari is the prime Devi/Goddess of Sri Vidya. Her mantra is the great 15 syllabled mantra Pancadasi, which symbolizes on one level the 15 phases of the moon, encompassing all time and cycles. This mantra has many deeper hidden meanings and there are few mantras greater than this one, and those that are all belong to Her.

Lalitha's Yantra is the great Sri Yantra, also called Sri Cakra which contains within it the entire universe seen and unseen. The human body itself is the Sri Yantra, thus our bodies contain within it the entire universe. This follows the Western hermetic principle of "as above so below, as below so above". This principle is described in detail in the Bhavanopanishad and several other important texts. So our body truly is a temple. A divine temple. Hrim is the divine mantra of creation and maya, that movement that takes us out clockwise from the bindu of the yantra through the phases of creative evolution. Shrim is the divine mantra which takes us back counterclockwise into the bindu. Life is not a bindu alone though remember. Life is the fullness of the yantra itself and the bindu only holds the whole display together. We could say that this bindu is simultaneously at the center and also everywhere.

Lalitha Tripurasundari's form shows many powerful symbols in addition to the ones described already. She wears the sun and moon as earrings, emphasizing the fact that astrological forces are mere adornments to her. In her 4 arms, she carries the 5 arrows of the elements and the senses, the sugarcane bow of the mind, the noose of desire and attraction, and the goad of anger. So the entire world of the elements, senses, and mind are her instruments. The twin forces of attraction and repulsion/aversion are her instruments as well. All powers of the universe are Hers.

These things described serve to enhance our faith in this powerful tradition and to remind us that this world is sacred, that it is all God's play. It helps us to lighten up, to not be so concerned with "liberation" and to remember that we are Her. She is us. Our world is divine.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Introductory Examination of Physical Practice and Asana (Nadi Yoga Part 13)

In our discussion of the different limbs of yoga, we have now covered the yama, niyama, and also the preparatory stage of the vyayama, the physical preparatory techniques. I would like to discuss next the main format of the physical practices, including of course within this discussion the practice of asana, the traditional third limb of yoga. Today this limb has become all encompassing, sometimes without deeper understanding as to its proper relationship with the whole of the practice. We will examine this limb and also the format of physical practice.

Asana means seat. It traditionally meant the place one sat to do practice. This term is still used with this meaning today. There are some other interesting meanings of the word given which may be discussed at a later date. Asana is the 3rd traditional limb of yoga. In this particular limb, asana takes on the meaning of the seated position itself used to perform the yoga practice. In the Hatha Yoga tradition, over the centuries, many different types of bodily positions came to be associated with the word asana. In this particular article I will focus more on the hatha yogic mode of asana as any number of various positions. Later I will discuss its meaning more in terms of seat.

It is interesting to look at the postures given in the various Hatha Yoga texts that come down to us through the centuries. The Vasistha Samhita and Yajnavalkya Samhita, probably from 10th, 11th century (my approximate guess) both give 7 seats with the addition of Mayurasana, the peacock pose. Later on the Hathapradipika, one of the more famous of Hatha Yoga manuals from about the 14th century, gives quite a number of different postures, including backward and forward bends, the classical twist, savasana, and of course a number of different seats. The Gherandha Samhita from about the 16th or 17th century gives 32 classical postures, all of varying types. Later texts like the Hathatatvakaumudi and especially the Hatharatnavali give quite a number of different poses.

You hear varying accounts of asana numbers in the Hatha manuals. One will say "Siva created 84 postures" or another will say "Siva created 840,000 postures" or other varying numbers. What does it mean? Ultimately this means that the numbers of different possible yoga asanas are truly infinite in number. Really there are so many of possible combinations of positions that the human body can take.

Why do we take the body into so many different positions? Many reasons. A good quote from Gheranda Samhita 1.8-1.9 is relevant here that will explain :
"The body invariably wears away like an unbaked earthen jar immersed in water. Therefore the body should be conditioned by tempering it with the fire of yoga. The seven aids for conditioning the body are Sodhana (purification), Drdhata (strength), Sthairyam (steadiness), Dhairyam (composure/calmness), Laghavam (lightness), Pratyaksam (realization), and Nirliptam (isolation). The Satkarmas purify the body, the Asanas strengthen it, Mudra brings about steadiness, Pratyahara results in calmness, Pranayama leads to lightness, Dhyana gives realization of the Self, and Samadhi leads to isolation which is verily liberation."

It is interesting to note that in this quote from GS on the conditioning of the body, all of the traditional limbs of yoga are given above (minus the yama/niyama, which of course would also be relevant) and not just the practice of asana. Gheranda tells us basically that time is short and the body, being the vehicle of consciousness should be taken care of through the practice of yoga in order that one can discover and deepen the knowledge of Self.

If one applies all of the above to the physical practices, one comes up with a form that involves many of the limbs of yoga, including asana, mudra, pranayama, the senses and the mind aspects of meditation/dhyana. Shatkarma we have not talked about yet in the blog. I'll save that for a later date. But we can also include its function here of purification. So our practice should involve purifying, strengthening, steadying, composure, lightness, realization, and the isolation of consciousness.

When we really sit with all of these aspects that are discussed in the function of bodily conditioning we realize that all parts of the mind/body system are included. The body is not just some vehicle or beast that is worked in isolation. Body is utilized with breath, utilized with correct sensory application, utilized with mind and the highest aspects of consciousness. To really come to this deeper understanding of the physical practice we have to truly start seeing that to have success here, we have to approach the practice not just in terms of physicality but realize that our mind is inseparable from our body. Our breath is inseparable from our mind. Our senses are inseparable from consciousness. That consciousness is inseparable from body. All of these aspects are one energy, one field of potential and movement.

Where do we begin to discover this one field? It may be difficult to discern this in the beginning as our thoughts tend to separate ourselves from our bodies and also separate the different parts of the body from each other. This mode gets reinforced when we work with styles that break things down and separate elements in a reductionist sort of manner. One of the main points that I try to bring to the table in the practice of Nadi Yoga is the developing of a deep sense of one connection between all fields of awareness. This is equivalent to the instrumental layer of consciousness that Patanjali discusses in the Yoga Sutra. In this work it is vital to learn to work in the instrumental level of awareness, right from the start. Otherwise, we stay trapped in the objective mode of the mind and we actually experience a disconnect between mind and body or at best we only get blips of that connection. Please see the other blogs on the instrumental layer for further information on the instrumental layer definition.

Mudra, which is employed in the deepest possible sense here, relates to many of the limbs of yoga as described in previous blogs. Pratyahara and the deeper meditative limbs start to come alive. The technique of breathing discussed in the Vyayama blog, the pranic/apanic tantric breath method, is a powerful technique of pranayama that will start to bring the lightness suggested in the GS. With proper attention to mudra and the breath field we will be brought more consciously into the instrumental mode of working and already be fulfilling the condition of yoga required by Patanjali.

Students in the beginning, and even students that have been working for some time get frustrated that they are unable to "accomplish" the activity of the different postures and physical exercises. This is the mode of objective thinking that acts as the very wall between the student and the fulfillment of the activity. Since thought is mind and mind is in an obstructive mode ("I can't do this"), the barrier acts through the mind and body to create an effective barrier to completion. This is a simple idea but it acts on some level through even the most advanced practitioner. Injuries are another barrier that are often placed in our own way of practice. I'm not saying one should push on through their injuries mindlessly here. But we oftentimes miss the deeper significance of what injuries actually are on the deeper levels of our beings and we usually fail to address them on these deeper levels, instead resigning ourselves to look at them as mere physical phenomena, entirely separate from our minds and emotions and life. To truly "accomplish" then the physical acts of yoga, we must be willing to take in the entirety of our life wholistically, acknowledging that everything in our life affects our ability to bend our head to our knee. My main yoga teacher was a true master of this understanding. His "remedies" for students most oftentimes involved looking at areas of life that the student was neglecting.

In the light of wholistic understanding necessary for the successful execution of asana and physical practice it is vital to remember the importance of yama and niyama in the practice of yoga. Yama and Niyama will help to sort out the various life energies that may be tangled and distorted and affecting our abilities to work on a physical level.

Yoga is union. One major aspect of this union is the union of all of the various elements that make up our energetic configuration. If these various aspects of our being come together, the physical practice of yoga will be seen to be much greater than it actually is.

Vyayama - Physical Preparation (Nadi Yoga Part 12)

            Nadi Yoga is ultimately about working with the body/mind system in it’s entirety. To this end, the attitudes and practices of the yama and niyama are both necessary and also not complete in themselves. Since we are embodied beings, we are not going to understand the fullness of the deeper layers of instrumental and below without really going into our body. This involves at least in the beginning a certain faith that the entirety of our energetic being is undivided by body, mind, emotion, and sensation.
            These particular exercises of the vyayama come from preparatory techniques given in the old texts married to current teachings of techniques given me by my teachers. They are also informed by my practice of the tantra. There are many techniques of vyayama and all ultimately are designed to help one to connect with that deeper continuum within us all. They also help to point out in a very direct way the holes that we have in our energetic structure and lead us back to a deeper understanding of how well we are engaging with the practices of yama and niyama.
            I have chosen sixteen practices of vyayama. Sixteen is a powerful number in the tantra. It includes the 15 phases of the moon as well as the hidden sixteenth phase. It is a number of the Goddess, the power behind all that moves us and sustains us. I will go through each technique in turn to help give the beginner and the more experienced student some practices to follow and learn more deeply from.
            If one follows just the techniques of the vyayama alone, it will help to introduce the student to the deeper layers of oneself. These are not just mere warm ups to a more advanced practice. They contain the seeds and the structure of the entire bodily form of the Nadi Yoga techniques. All of the techniques are designed to open up the nadi pathways of the body and to start to build a deeper sense of connection to our continuity. They start from the periphery of the body and gradually move in towards the central column. The last vyayama introduces the techniques of pranic/apanic breathing and the Shambhavi mudra which are key elements of the practice utilized in the major forms.
            To assist the student in learning this foundational form, please see my youtube videos which go through each of the techniques in turn over the course of 8 short videos. The link to part one of the videos is: You should be able to locate the others from there. Let me know if you have any troubles. The different browsers should have apps that let you download the videos into a format which would work for you.
            In the beginning, one should do 5 to 15 of each of the exercises given in order. As one gains more experience, one can even do up to 100 of the exercises each, in order to more fully savor the depths that they will take one. They are a complete practice in themselves and can also be seen as an entry to the major forms of Nadi Yoga.
            In all of the techniques, one should stay as relaxed as possible. Breath should be allowed to be as it wants to be. Eyes should be held slightly down in a gaze across the end of the nose (not gazing at the end of the nose). If one knows the Shambhavi Mudra technique (given later), keep it constant throughout the practice (not necessary in the beginning). In all the techniques, unless otherwise specified, stand with the feet hip width apart, feet parallel.

Basic Warm Ups
The first techniques are basic rotation techniques given in the Hathatattvakaumudi, an ancient hatha yoga text. They help to release certain centers of tension and to free up the muscular and fascial systems of the body.

Technique 1 - Ankles
            Stand with feet hip width apart, feet parallel. Keeping thigh pointed down, bend left knee, lifting left foot back til off the floor. Drop foot down till the tops of toes are on floor. First roll left foot in a counterclockwise manner, rolling around the top of the big toe top. Think of a circle with big toe top at center of circle and ankle as the radius of the circle. Toes should ideally bend to the base of all toes. Go around in continuous circles for designated number of times (10 good to start). Then go the other way clockwise. When done repeat with other leg/foot.

Technique 2 – Neck
            Bend arms to hold the top arm bones across the chest. Alternately the arms can hang freely at sides. Drop the chin towards chest, swing chin up to right so head faces right, swing chin up towards sky, swing chin down to the left so head faces left, then swing chin back down to chest. In this way, roll the head in a continuous manner up to the right and down to the left in full circles. The entire neck should be mobilized, the shoulders and arms should remain completely passive and unmoving. After doing number of times on right, do the same to the left.

Technique 3 – Shoulders
            From the head (top) of the upper arm, move in slow backward circles. Care should be taken that the heads of the upper arm do not come up too high, resulting in tension of the neck. It is a very mild movement and should create a sense of opening across the upper back and the chest regions. After doing a number of times in backward moving circles, then reverse the direction and do the same number forwards.

Technique 4 – Under arms / Ribs
            Keeping right arm straight, swing it in a half circular arc upward, keeping hand open and alive feeling while holding the side ribs in place with the left hand. It is important to keep the right ribs held in place as the right arm goes up so that the under arm /armpit region is opened. Right arm should stay straight and as it goes up, the elbow should trace a half circle. Right arm swings down in reverse direction and fluidly switch sides. Repeat 5 to 10 times each side.

Grounding / Clearing techniques
            The next 3 techniques are clearing techniques designed to introduce you to the nadis and helping to flush them.
There is a transitional technique that is used next and in between each of the clearing techniques. This technique is not technically one of the sixteen and is used in between the next 3 techniques to clear the system.
Transitional Clearing Technique
The feet should still be hip distance apart with inner feet parallel. The arms come out to each side with elbows slightly bent and the wrists bent in a little. The arms should also slightly be rolled in. Bring the middle and ring fingers strongly together, straight, while separating the index and little fingers away from the center fingers. A mild pushing tension should be felt through the tips of all fingers with the thumb as relaxed as possible. As the middle fingers push out, the shins of the legs should push down strong. It should feel as if both arms and legs feel a push of energy from the naval center out. This technique should help to clear the system and ground it. Shambhavi mudra should be employed.

Technique 5 – Gomukha clearing
            Here turn the right palm forward and left palm backward. Raise right arm up and lower left arm to side. Bend both arms at the elbow until each hand can grab the fingers of the other (or as close as you can) behind the back.  Turn the head to the left (away from upper arm). Attempt to make a feeling connection between the eyes and the navel and the ears and the navel. Let the eyes and ears remain open and come into “focus”. Allow yourself to feel that focusing action and the release of that which impedes the focus. After some time come back to the transitional clearing technique, hold that for some time and then switch to the other side. After working that side come back to the transitional clearing technique and hold.

Technique 6 – Garuda clearing
            Next cross the right elbow forward over the left elbow and intertwine the hands, little fingers away from face. Pull the elbows down and release the head back from the base of the ear. Release the jaw, allowing the mouth to open slightly and let the eyes open up and come into clear focus. Feel that focus all the way into the navel. Let the head release and feel the pull from the base of ear down through the sternum. Hold for some time and then take the transitional clearing technique. Hold that and then switch sides with left elbow on top of right. After the left side go back to the transitional clearing technique and hold.

Technique 7 – Nadi Flushing
            Next take the arms up to about shoulder level and have the arms open in front of you like you are wrapping them around a 3 foot wide pillar. The hands should face towards you. Imagine/feel that your arms begin in the earth, rise up and become the arms that you see. Keep rooted through the earth and then begin to take the arms in and out in a rhythmic motion. The rhythm should move the arms and not some forced intention. You want to feel the rhythm which develops and it should be equally balanced inside and out. Let the breath move through the sides of the mouth, with the mouth slightly open. Let the eyes come into clear focus and let the spacious quality open up in the ears. Let the 2 nostrils come into balance. Feel the pathways of all the sense doors leading to the navel and feel the empty clarity of those pathways as you do this, feeling that the movement occurs simultaneously along all of the pathways. Do this exercise for as long as you like and then at the end of it feel that the earth pulls the hands together around a ball about the size of a basketball in front of your navel. Hold briefly and then let go.

Heating and Activating the Fire Principle
            The next techniques involve the forearm, waist and sides. These areas are all fire regions of the body and help to activate the inner fire. It is really important to activate the forearm correctly in these activities. There is a marma (potential place of vulnerability) in the forearm called Indra Basti. This region has relationship to the small intestine of the body which is another fire region. To correctly activate the forearm you have to learn to bend your wrist in either direction, pushing from elbow to wrist outward. Unlike the previous exercises in which you stay very relaxed, here in this practice there is a little tension/resistance which is created in the forearm and waist regions which helps to activate the fire.

Technique 8 – Forearms
            From the previous technique, the hands should be as if holding a ball in front of the navel. From here push the hands from elbow to wrist forward, keeping hands about navel height. Tips of fingers should turn in towards each other, with wrists strongly bent, palms away from you. Simultaneously the shoulders should stay relaxed. Activity has to be isolated as much as possible in the forearm. Then immediately bend elbow slightly and bend wrist the other way, tip of thumb to the first joint of middle finger from the palm, all other fingers straight, palm toward you, fingers now pointing down. Push from elbow to wrist (direction of movement). Then switch again to the palms away and finger tips towards each other. Do many sets. This technique should bring heating to the body.

Technique 9 – Waist
            For this technique, the position of the hands remains the same. Instead of forward, push the left hand to the right, turning fingers toward the body as you push out with palm. The right hand goes behind the body, with fingers straight and pulled toward the wrist, thumb tip to 1st knuckle of middle finger. Then pull in both hands toward navel and push right arm forward, left arm back in the same way. Each time you push with the arms to the sides, the waist turns/twists. Keep the hips as fixed as possible, pushing down through the shins to ground, emphasizing the twisting movement through the waist and spine. Do 5 to 10 rounds.

Technique 10 – Sides
            Use the same hand positions for this activity also. This time bring hands together toward the center of body and then push the left arm over the head to the right as far as possible, with arm straight, keeping the shoulder blade from lifting too much. The tips of the fingers of the left arm should be kept pointing toward the ground with fingers straight, forearm pronated. The right hand drops toward the ground with arm straight, fingers straight and pulled back toward the inner wrist, thumb tip on 1st knuckle of middle finger. The bottom arm as it comes down by the knee will look like the arm of a monkey. The waist contracts to the right side. Emphasize as you bend, going down and not out to the side. This will give an intense stretch to the lateral body and spine and also trigger the side waist strongly. Immediately come up bring the hands in toward center and repeat on the other side. Do 5 to 10 rounds.

Circulation and Chalana
            These next techniques deal with calana or churning in the standing position. They start to activate the spine and also open the hips. The finger and hand positions in techniques 12 and 13 are difficult to get correctly in the beginning but keep practicing and it will come quickly.

Technique 11 – Circulation
            For this technique push down through the shins, ground yourself and connect to your navel. Begin to rotate/twist the waist back and forth like the movement of an upright washing machine. Let the movement come up through the arms and let the wrists lead the movement back and forth. The fingers should stay straight and the hands should follow the movement of the wrists. The little fingers stay on top with the thumbs below. The movement resembles horizontal paint brush strokes with the wrist as the end of the paintbrush stick and the hand the bristles of the paint brush. Let the movement come naturally and very relaxed. Stay open and clear. Pay attention to the transitions before switching to the other side. The transition should not be choppy or halted but rather very flowing, keeping in a constant state of movement. Do this activity for 1 to 5 minutes.

Technique 12 – Standing Chalana part 1
            Inhale and raise the arms up in front of you, arms bent, wrists bent in, with fingers pointed down. The left hand should be at the level of the heart and the right hand should stay at the level of the navel. For both hands the middle and ring fingers should stay firmly together and the little and index fingers should open away from the central fingers. Keep all fingers including the thumb as straight as possible. The central fingers of middle and ring should stay lined up with each other and the palm side of those fingers should stay facing the torso, with finger tips of those fingers pointed straight down. Emphasize opening the outer fingers (the little and index) from your waist. The important point here is the feeling of connection from the navel center to the tips of the fingers. There should be no tension in the shoulders. They should be kept relaxed and down. There should be a feeling of openness and expansion in the front and underside of the armpits. Don’t let the elbows drop. Stay with this feeling of connection for a short time.
            When you feel connected, begin to simultaneously rotate the tips of the central fingers and also the hips clockwise. Draw as wide a possible circle as you can with the hips. It will resemble hula hooping. Keep the legs straight. The finger tip movement should align with the movement of the hips and the right and left fingers should move together. If you do this correctly you will notice a feeling that the finger movement connects directly to the spinal movement and thus the top hand will go more with the upper spine (moving less) and the bottom hand will connect more with the lumbar spine (moving more). Keep the palm side of the fingers still facing toward the torso. All fingers should be kept straight. After some time moving in the clockwise direction, switch to the counterclockwise direction. The left hand should stay on top for the second direction.

Technique 13 – Standing Chalana part 2
            At this point the feet come together, toes forward and the legs bend. Tuck the tailbone as you drop, “giving length to the kidney region”, and sink into a bent squat with hips still higher than knees. The arms and hands raise forward into the same position given in technique 12. Left hand still stays on top for the whole exercise. Repeat the hand movement as in part 1 but move the spine more from the lower spine not from the hip. It feels like someone is reaching through your spine, grabbing it in the lower section and churning it. First go clockwise and then counterclockwise. This exercise should bring up heat.

Activating the Central Column and the Breathing
            These last exercises activate the central column and start us on the breathing exercise which we will use for most parts of the remaining practice. Try to really connect with the feeling in the spine.
            The breath technique given in the 16th technique is a classic technique described in texts such as Yoga Vasistha and Vijnanabhairava Tantra. It is utilized to get us in touch with the twin fields of the breath, prana and apana. More will be discussed on this breath later in the book. For now just attempt it without thinking about it too much.

Technique 14 – Moving into the central column
            In this technique, stand up from the previous exercise and turn lightly to your left, extending the left leg a little forward and out about 45 degrees. Use the same hand and arm position as in techniques 12 and 13 with the left hand on top. Connect the fingers to the spine. This time instead of moving the spine in circular directions we use the fingers to direct the attention in the spinal column upwards. First pull the fingers back and down and then pull them into the base of the spine and upwards all the way to the crown. The fingers don’t actually come in to touch the spine but just come in a little way. Nevertheless there should be a feeling of connection with the fingers and the spinal energy. As you take the movement up the spine, the spinal curves should decrease and the spine should become straighter. The weight should go into the back leg more. After pulling the energy up just relax and come gently back to the first part of the exercise. After about 5 rounds switch sides. This time on the right side let the hands switch places so the right hand is on top. Then repeat 5 more times on the right.

Technique 15 – The double serpent
            In this technique take the feet hip distance apart with inner sides of feet parallel to each other. Bend the knees and ankles and then push down through the shins, slightly pushing the hips forward, letting the upward wave go all the way up the body, traveling upward through the spine until it reaches the skull. Don’t let it stop there though. At the crest of the wave, instead of stopping let the wave turn around and descend back down through the spine and legs, creating a “double wave”. In addition the wavelike movement should also be manifested through the arms, hands, and fingers, set up at about a 180 degree interval with the spinal wave. In other words, the arms will be moving in a wave slightly off timing with the spinal body wave. The arms and body will resemble the moving of serpents. Care should be taken not to initiate movement from the shoulders, keeping them relaxed. As well, keep the movement up and down more than forward and backward. Although the body will go forward and back, it should not be exaggerated. Do this technique for some time, feeling the connection to the central column.

Technique 16 – Pranic/Apanic field activation
            At this point in the vyayamas, we are either finishing or ready to transition to the main body of the form work. There are 2 stages to this technique, first the warming and second the field activation.
            In the warming activity, the feet are still hip distance apart, the hands come together about a hand or two distance in front of the navel, fingers pointing away. Care should be taken to open the armpit spaces. Begin to rub the hands together vigorously. Simultaneously stay as relaxed as you can so that you can allow the feeling of heat to disperse and flow through the body. If there is tension anywhere in the body, see if you can allow it to be converted to heat. Let the heat transform into clarity through the technique of the Shambhavi mudra. The mudra is a powerful eye and meditation technique which will be described in more detail later. If you know the mudra, apply it here very strongly waking the eyes up. If you don’t know the mudra at this point just focus on distributing the heat through the body. If excess heat goes to the head, breath out through the sides of the mouth. After you feel the whole body warm internally, clap the hands together once, pulling them apart several feet with palms facing each other.
            At this stage the focus of attention goes to what is called the bahya dvadashanta. This term means the external periphery distance around the body of about 12 angulis. An anguli is the width distance of one finger, in other words the thickness of the finger (let us use the index finger for this purpose). So in other words it is the distance of about 3 hands minus the thumbs away from the body on all sides. This external field is like our external skin or aura. Take in as much of this field as you can at this time. If you know the Shambhavi mudra apply it here very strongly. If not just take in the field as best you can. When you get more experience with this it will start to feel like the field itself is supporting the body from the outside like an exoskeleton. It will feel like the arms themselves are being supported as they are held out. Let the breath do what it wants to at this point, focusing more on the field.
            Next, when you have held the external field for some time, allow your attention to suddenly switch to the antar dvadashanta or the internal field, which is the central column of the spine (technically 12 angulis down from the nose internally which puts us at the heart. For our purposes in working with the body we have expanded it all along the central column). As the attention shifts to the central column, simultaneously allow the hands to be pulled in, slowly closing the fists around an imaginary pole held in front of the body a hand distance or so, with armpits open. The right hand should be on top of left maybe a fist distance above the left with the right hand more in front of the heart and the left more in front of the navel. It should feel like the hands close from the inside, with a deep connection of the hands to the navel center of the body. Hold the field awareness in the spine and pull it closer and closer, making the awareness more like a thin line through the spine. As you pull the attention tighter to the central column the hands will feel like they want to close more, like inner strings attach them to the central column. The Shambhavi mudra if you know it should be very strong. Hold this central column of awareness for some time and then allow the awareness to shift back out to the external field. As the field switches again, let the arms be pulled out back into their wide position. At this point let the fields switch with the breathing, focusing the outer field on the exhalation and the inner field with the inhalation. Alternate the hand on top with each inhalation. 
           Work with these techniques until they are memorized. Work with them daily for 10 to 20 minutes and a strong foundation for the physical and mental practices will be established. Utilize the videos on youtube for help. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Tantra Part 2 - Initiation and Practice

Tantra is a practical science. I see many books and posts these days with many flowery descriptions of what tantra is. I see much talk and debate and discussion of what it means to be liberated, what the good of this or that mantra is. Phds and "experts" discuss the tantra. The debates and the mental gymnastics go on endlessly. To me, this is information that goes down like junk food. Tastes ok going down and hurts on the way out.

The fact is, tantra can only be realized through practice. For this, initiation is required. I have my own opinions about how initiation can come about but ultimately to debate the "correct" way for this to happen is also to fall into the mental junk food trap. But initiation is definitely required. For those who read the instructions and the texts that describe what occurs beyond initiation is just to engage in elaborate mental play. It is theoretical and as different from the actuality as the map is to the territory that represents it. Contemplate truly how different the map is from the territory. Imagine that map to be of a foreign landscape. Can we truly imagine what it is really like? Remember a trip that you took to a far off distant land. Remember how you felt the place would look like before, and how it actually looked when you got there. Were they the same? Probably not even close. Thus, to attempt to describe these later places to those who do not put in the practice is like giving calculus to those who do not have basic math. It might seem like I am being harsh or critical and I am in a certain way because I feel that there is serious misunderstanding and false assumptions that are occurring when information is given out like this. Because the practice of tantra is quite unlike many other disciplines. It is like the unlocking of a zip file that is downloaded directly into you by the shakti of the Guru. Tantra is an initiatory tradition.

I am proposing in these series of articles on the tantra to truly focus on the practical side of things. Theory can support or help only so far with this work. To truly understand the work, practice of the techniques has to be done. "Armchair" tantra is next to pointless and only leads to the gilded cage.

In the Sri Vidya tantra, one can explore stotrams such as Lalitha Sahasranama and Khadga Mala or the many others before beginning initiation to get a sense of whether or not one feels a certain connection to this particular path of Goddess based tantra. I did this for over 2 years before my initiation and began to feel the irresistible pull towards initiation until I was drawn like a moth to the flame of my Guru's light. So one at a certain point will decide (or it may seem like you don't have a decision) to dive into the power of the initiation.

Every tradition is slightly different and of course there are differences between Gurus, even of the same lineages. To say tantra is all the same is a bit of a gross oversimplification. Basic principles are the same but there can be some vast differences. For example, one Guru in my tradition makes the students forgo the eating of meat. When I asked my Guru about it, he told me it didn't matter. Some Gurus will attempt to control the student. Others, like my own Guru, give nothing but absolute freedom of will. My recommendation would be to find one like the latter.

When a Guru asserts control over the student's will, there is a big problem. There is a limitation of the divine expression, which is necessary to flow forward in this very path of tantra. Tantra is ever expansion. It is freedom. It is divine movement. This is inhibited when the Guru's ego comes in to take over the disciples. I have seen nasty propagation down the lineage lines affect students in the same way. And sometimes, students cannot handle the intense freedom that is given by the Guru and the student goes back to a mode of contraction and control. Why is it so many of us actually want to be bound?

So having found the Guru, having found the initation, practice must be undertaken according to the instructions and the lineage. At this point, something starts to really come alive inside the individual. I say this from experience. The vidyas themselves begin to reveal things. Reality itself begins to "talk" to you. You begin to have a true dialogue with God. There is no point in debate at this point because the conversation that God has with each individual is very unique. Truth is not necessarily going to look or feel the same with different individuals. Why debate this point?

So to reiterate, I am writing these series of articles to elaborate and discuss the practices of tantra. Initiation is required. How you get that is up to you. Otherwise it is just eye candy or food that doesn't digest properly. I have been inquiring with myself and my Guru about the possibility of Self-initiation. I do believe that it is possible and may talk on this in a later post. Some or most may ridicule this idea and I wish them peace. Others will realize that we are living in a time of extreme and powerful means and that the only obstacle between us and our higher selves is us.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Svadhyaya and Isvara Pranidhana (Nadi Yoga Part 11)

I have chosen to join the last two niyamas in this post as there are fundamental interrelationships between them.

Svadhyaya is meditation or attention on the Self/self. Isvara Pranidhana is surrender or alignment with the highest aspect of Self within.

You will note that I included a small self and a big Self under svadhyaya. Examination and meditation must be done on all aspects of one's being, not just focusing on the highest aspect. In fact the meditation on highest Self cannot truly even begin unless we start to see the whole picture. Sometimes in the traditional way, we seek the cause, in an effort to undo the entire house of cards, assuming that somehow the small ego must die. Relying on others words we seek to undermine the entire foundation and bring the house down. Everything has a place in this universe. It is important to understand all elements of ourselves if we are to truly access higher Will. Proper and healthy relationship must be brought to our "lower" selves, all of our lower selves (see the post on Union and Psychological Alchemy) before we attempt to access our higher layers. Otherwise we attempt the "spiritual bypass" that leads us only into darkness. The meditation that is required here involves deep self reflection, careful analysis, intuition, the ability to feel, a full acceptance, and consistent application of effort. If we lack these tools then we act on autopilot, moving forward without true understanding as to the deeper movements of our personal and collective unconscious forces which guide us. This is a long process. There are no immediate shortcuts. This is gradual work. Otherwise we take the direct path and forsake the flowering of reality that is shining forth through us and as us. We are not only timeless presence, we are beings of space and time. We have jobs, families, purpose that is driving us forward. Do we understand all that is at play in what takes us forward?

There are many techniques, techniques that help us to sort, heal, purify, and align our different energies and wills and to list them all here is not the proper place. Perhaps more in a future blog. In the beginning it is enough to pay attention. To pay attention to our selves. To pay attention to all aspects of ourselves. Can we be open to the idea that our "external" reality is but a reflection of our self? Everything we need to study our selves is staring us right in the face daily, even moment to moment. Life is our study. Life is our self.

When we start to come to a deeper alignment internally with our different forces and energies, we realize also that there is something deeper inside of us. We are part of something much bigger. When we label this "something bigger" we have what is called Isvara. Isvara is not just some Hindu god but rather is the personal symbolic representation that our limited selves give to the highest aspect of our being. We may choose a God or some other form to represent this higher aspect or it could exist in our minds in some formless way. Isvara exists to our lower self in a form of relationship. We begin to relate to our higher Self and then as we recognize and know deep inside that this is truly us, we begin to align with that, we begin to surrender to that.

Surrender to the higher self is not just as easy as "ok, I'm going to now surrender and just give all this up". It involves the highest intensity of burning effort. The supreme alignment of personal will is required. If we choose not to do this work of surrender to our highest truth then we instead choose to swim in the murky waters of our own conditioning, the dreamlike nature of our lower movements. In the beginning, this work of surrender involves two, our lower and higher aspects. There is relationship. As we proceed, we realize that we are none other than our higher aspect and there is a deep union which takes place. A union that dissolves into the oneness of our Self.

I haven't given any techniques here. They exist but each must truly find them for themselves. In truly allowing the uniqueness of Self/self study and Self surrender to come forward we have to be very courageous and be willing to realize that our path is ultimately our own. To truly be willing to open up to the unique and powerful depths of our unique movements is the highest kind of courage one can have. And it allows for the beauty of this creation to unfold in the way that it was truly meant to do.

The Questioning of Tradition and Ralph Waldo Emerson

In light of recent questions on my blog I wanted to say a few words about "spiritual" traditions and the work undertaken by the individual in working for freedom.

To this end, I wanted to start with some quotes by R.W. Emerson in his lecture on nature.

"Our age is retrospective. It builds the supulchres of the fathers.... The forgoing generations beheld God face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? ..... The sun shines today also.... There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship...."

"The best read naturalist who lends an entire and devout attention to truth, will see that there remains much to learn of his (or her) relation to the world, and that it is not to be learned by any addition or subtraction or other comparison of known quantities, but is arrived at by untaught sallies of the spirit, by a continual self-recovery, and by entire humility. He (she) will perceive that there are far more excellent qualities in the student than preciseness and infallibility..."

We can apply all of these thoughts to our modern "spiritual practices". It is like we are building a divine house and we continually get distracted by those who tell us how to build it. We get distracted by the comparison or judgement of the right tools. We get lost in the tools themselves. We are conditioned with ideas of how to build the house. We forget constantly the most powerful possibility that life and God him/herself wants to evolve, wants to express, in the deepest fullest way that only we can bring forth. We distrust our very dharma, replacing it with the "appropriate" or "historical" or "politically (spiritually) correct" dharma of another.

To question. To question everything. To really question the axioms. To really dare to question and examine our conditioned motivations. To dare to discover the depths of ourselves and our movements without fear of consequences, judgment, and falsehood. To really examine deeply what is "right" and what is "wrong". To dare to step outside of tradition. Simultaneously and paradoxically to dare to claim those traditions that we feel connected with as our own. To make them our own. To examine that which brings us true greater freedom and that which leads us only into a shiny golden cage. To dare to be free. To dare to move in space.

These are my own inquiries. I invite all to share in the same inquires. There is not one truth. There are many. No one person or tradition holds the key to your liberation. The cage is created and accepted by yourself.