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.