Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga

I wanted to blog today about the meaning and practice of yoga from the perspective of hatha and raja yoga. Have some patience. The theory developed in the first part will pay off in a deeper understanding of the practical application in the second part.

Today's 'yoga' is almost always derived from hatha yoga. What is hatha?

Hatha is defined in several ways as 'forceful', 'willful', even 'violent'. This last definition seems to go against the first principle of the classical yamas as defined by Patanjali which is ahimsa or 'non-violence'. We have to be careful with that one.

The way that I take this definition is that Hatha involves a certain intensity of will. It is an attitude that is undertaken when we practice that involves sharpening our dedication to yoga in a way that cuts like a sharp sword through the obstacles that inhibit us.

One of the meanings of yoga is union. From that meaning, let us look at another definition of hatha as given by Brahmarandra in his commentary on the Hathapradipika:

"The word hatha is composed of the syllables ha and tha, meaning the sun and the moon, i.e. Prana and Apana. Their yoga or union, i.e. Pranayama, is called Hatha Yoga. In this stanza (which says the hathayoga is a 'stairway for those who wish to attain the lofty Raja Yoga) and throughout the work (the Hathapradipika), it is stated that Hatha Yoga is only a means to Raja Yoga. 'There can be no Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga and vice versa.'"

Hmm. Lot to unpack there...

Rewording a little bit, we have:

'Hatha Yoga, also known by Pranayama, is the union of the Prana and Apana, the Sun and the Moon. Hatha Yoga is a means to attain Raja Yoga.'

Lets leave aside the meaning of Raja Yoga for a second and take a look at these concepts Prana and Apana.

There are many ways to discuss Prana and Apana. I am going to talk about these concepts from the perspective of direct experience as I find it easier that way.

Prana is that attractive force of life, centered in the core of the body (spine). Apana is that repellant force which removes that which is unwanted. It is centered outside of the body. Some of you may be saying at this point, "Well Yajnavalkya says the prana is in the chest and the apana is in the legs and lower regions..." Yes, yes, yes, these are just other ways of looking at very complex forces. Here I am following the teaching of Tantra and the Yoga Vasistha, which places Prana central and Apana peripherally. I'm going to go with that for now...

Hatha Yoga, according to Brahmarandra is nearly equivalent to the practice of pranayama. Here, pranayama is not simple breath exercises, but is rather the direct manipulation, or the 'forceful or willful' control of the life force essences. These forces exist prior to the physical breath. By gaining control over these forces and then ultimately uniting them, we have Hatha Yoga.

Before moving on, lets look again at the breakdown of hatha into its two parts. Ha and Tha. The Tha sound here by the way is made by pushing the tongue up to the top of the mouth. It doesn't sound like an actual th sound as in 'the' but rather more like a 'ta' but with the tongue curled back and up. Hatha sounds more like 'ha ta' with the tongue up. Anyway, ha can also be sun, tha can also be moon. We can interpret these as prana and apana but we can also use them as defining the primary polar channels of the nadis, which run alongside our central column and connect to the nostrils.

The word nadi means river. Many think of the nadis like Chinese acupuncture meridians. I don't have expertise in acupuncture but from my little understanding of it, I don't think this is the case at all. The classical nadis are actually described from a sensory perspective. This means that all of the nadis have their openings at one of the classical sense doors, the ears, skin, eyes, tongue (taste), and nose. These just described are called the jnanendriyas or jnana indriyas, the knowledge senses. However there are also nadis at the tongue (speech), hands, feet, genitals, and anus. These are called the karmendriyas or karma indriyas, the action senses.

Yajnavalkya tells us that the nadis have their terminus in the sense organs and their origin in the navel, a place called the kanda (described in the texts like an orphic egg). The upanishads tell us that the nadis have their origin in the heart. Other tests describe the origin in the sexual center. What does this tell us? That the texts are confused and that no one actually knows where the center of the nadis is? No. What this tells me is that the nadis have their connection to all of these places.

What is this central place that all of the nadis connect to? It is the central highway, the central river, the central column. What the texts call the susumna nadi. It can be thought of as the central river into which all the peripheral rivers merge. It can be thought of as the world tree, with many peripheral branches. It can be thought of as the central mountain, surrounded by the other hills. All of our main life centers or cakras exist along this column or river. Depending on what we are needing, the nadis may route differently during different times.

The main polar, peripheral nadis are the pingala and ida. The right and left channels which have exits at the nostrils. There is much to say about these. From our perspective here in the defining of hatha yoga, we are interested in these two channels as the channel of the sun and the moon respectively. These channels have different qualities as described in the Siva Svarodhya, an excellent text on the ancient science of Svara Yoga, the yoga of divination based on the current flows in the nostrils. The right nostril governs activity, exertion, sex, eating and other active expressions. The left nostril governs more passive activity, contemplation, rest, and retreat. The deranged expressions of these two nostrils, when unhealthy are manic activity and torpor or sloth.

The union of these two forces is like a calming of their excess, so that they are able to balance out. In this balancing, the twin nostrils come to equality in their flow and it is then said that the life force enters the central column. This is true in my direct experience. When this happens, the mind stops and there is a deep calm all throughout the body.

The Hathapradipika tells us when the mind and life energy centralize in the Susumna nadi then the mind becomes objectless. This gives us a clue for something which will be discussed later on.

I will talk more on the practical side of this later. Lets first come back to our definition which was extrapolated from Brahmarandra above. I'll repeat it again:

'Hatha Yoga, also known by Pranayama, is the union of the Prana and Apana, the Sun and the Moon. Hatha Yoga is a means to attain Raja Yoga.'

So what is Raja Yoga?

Raja yoga is the 'royal yoga', a term oftentimes used to describe methods of mind control. The tradition of raja yoga is expressed beautifully in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Vyasa, one of the classical commentators of the Yoga Sutras, gives a wonderful explanation of Raja Yoga, broken down for us in a more practical way in his commentary on Yoga Sutra 1.1.

I will quote part of the commentary here and then we will look at it:

"Yoga means Samadhi (a highly concentrated state of mind). It is a feature of the mind in all its habitual states. Such states are five in number: kshipta (restless), mudha (torporous), vikshipta (distracted), ekagra (one-pointed), and niruddha (arrested)."

Ok, a lot to unpack again...

Lets start with the definition of Yoga here as samadhi. Yoga, depending on its conjugation as a word, means union or samadhi. These are not entirely unrelated as we shall see later. Here, Vyasa is choosing to define yoga as samadhi, a highly concentrated state of mind, wherein the mind is focused exclusively on one object or alternately with no objects of mind at all. These two states of highly focused concentration are called ekagra or niruddha respectively. The types of samadhi, Vyasa goes on to explain, that correspond to these two states of mind are called samprajnata and asamprajnata respectively.

Having only briefly discussed the two yogic states and samadhis,  let us look first at what is not a concentrated mind.

The first state of mind talked about by Vyasa is kshipta, which means restless or agitated. It is a state akin to busyness, freneticness, distraction from too much thinking, and an over active mind. It can occur when we have too much air and/or fire, or what is termed in Indian philosophy, an imbalance of the Rajas guna. The gunas are three in number and compose the base elements of our psychic, physical, and emotional constitution. So when the guna corresponding to air and fire is out of balance, then we have the potential for a mind dominated by the restless or kshipta state. Going back to our discussion of the nadis, from a nadi perspective, this would mean that we have an imbalance in our right or solar nadi, which could either give us a lack of fire or too much of it. In this case we would have too much. This could be indicated by a lack of flow in the left nostril or too strong of a flow in the right. I am talking in very simple terms here and this is a very general diagnosis. The complexity can be far greater but this is a good first approximation.

The second state talked about is mudha, which means torporous or stupefied. It is a dull, blank, tired, distracted state. It is like frozen mud. Too much water and earth. It is an imbalance of what Indian philosophy would call the Tamas guna. From a simple nadi perspective, this could mean an overactive left nostril which might bring an almost immobile state, or a blocked right nostril.

The third state talked about is a mixed state, called vikshipta. It means distracted. It is a state that is mixed with the other two. The mind is more concentrated and balanced in this state than the first two but it still doesn't have the capacity for concentration and clarity that the yogic states do. Most likely the nostrils in this case will be fairly open but one of them dominant over the other in its flow.

In life, we alternate between these three states, only occasionally and usually accidentally, without purpose, finding ourselves in the yogic states.

I have discussed these two yogic states of ekagra and niruddha (through the processes of samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhi) before in several of my previous blogs:

In brief, the ekagra state is one in which the mind holds one thing. It is sattvic in nature which means it is almost pure sattva guna, or ethereal or space-like in nature.

In practice, one-pointedness can also be on many things (not just one thing) but those many things should all be the many things that the practitioner has chosen to focus the mind on. In other words, the mind is doing what we want it to and not just acting in a conditioned and unconscious way.

The niruddha state is one in which the mind itself is held in its ground state and is not allowed to arise. The sub-impulses which hold the mind in check are conditionings in themselves, called nirodha samskaras by Patanjali in sutra 1.18.

There is much more to say on this process and what it involves in theory but we may find the practical application of learning how to find these states more interesting, at least for now.

Lets try to bring it all together. How can Hatha Yoga bring about Raja Yoga? 

If we examine the five states of mind in terms of relating them to the 3 gunas we come up with the following (easier to see this chart on a computer screen):

State                                                Guna                                        Nadi Functioning
kshipta (restless)                             rajas                                         right dominant
mudha (torporous)                          tamas                                       left dominant
vikshipta (distracted)                      mixed rajas, tamas, sattva       one dominant but more even
ekagra (one-pointed)                       sattva                                       even flow through both (centralized)
niruddha (resolved or held)             all gunas resolved in source    breath cuts out (deep central)

This is a very generalized chart but it gives us a good first approximation of the actuality of meditation that occurs due to yoga.

Just by the studying and examining of this chart, we have much of the understanding of what to look for in terms of finding the yogic states of ekagra and niruddha.

What do we need for ekagra? We have to find a balanced state, not too restless, not too tired. Our nostrils should be in even flow.

How does this relate in practice? Lets take a few postures from hatha yoga to discuss how techniques can help.

Seated meditation positions (padmasana, siddhasana, svastikasana, and others):
In the seated positions our main attention should be to our spine and its two "legs", the sit bones. The sit bones go down so the spine can lift up. Sitting on a cushion takes away the feeling of the contact force so ideally should be eliminated. There are techniques to work with this for stiff beginners. I almost prefer beginners to start sitting in a chair, a hard chair to really find this. Anyway, once the seat goes down and the spine goes up, we draw our attention into the spine. Sinking to the right or forward is going to increase the tamasic guna, inducing tiredness or the mudha state. Sinking to left or backward is going to increase rajas guna, making us more restless. Sitting upright needs to occur in order for the sattvic and thus one-pointed state to arise. Longchenpa, a famous Buddhist teacher from centuries ago, said in one of his meditation manuals that to sit correctly is 90 percent of meditation. Just sitting correctly alone can bring about the one-pointed state of mind. Once we are sitting correctly, we examine the nostril flows. If they are not even we can either correct that through breathwork or engage certain asanas like twisting postures or work with the groins or shoulders to release blockages and then bring the flows back to even, thus driving the life force more central. If there is major restlessness or torpor not fixed by this, we may need to look at our sleep or diet. The yamas and niyamas should be followed for maximum ability to overcome restlessness and torpor as really these are just symptoms which come to us from the conditionings of our life. The yamas and niyamas will help with this. Lastly, another way we can address the adjustment of flows is through the practice of mudra. Mudra, defined very simply, is a powerful practice within the hatha yoga toolkit that centralizes the life current and brings evenness to the peripheral channels and breath.

What is mudra? Very simply, mudra is a process of 'tuning'. It is like tuning a stringed instrument. We know we want to come to a centralized even flow. So we adjust. We employ one of two 'remedies'.

The first remedy is for the kshipta or restless or distracted state. To overcome restlessness, we need to relax. Our mind or body is contracting and we have to learn to feel that contraction to let it go. Thought itself can be felt, most often in the front brain, mid-brow region. We learn to feel that contraction and let it go. Focusing on the pause at the end of the in breath will help us here. This is the remedy of relaxing.

The second remedy is for the mudha or torporous state. We are too tired so we need to wake up. We rouse. We can make a crazy face, open the eyes, hold the breath in deep, focusing on the in-breath hold.

These two remedies can quickly adjust the state of body and mind. There are many more techniques which we can use to relax or rouse. This is just a brief introduction.

Let us look at one other position we encounter in Hatha Yoga.

In pascimottanasana we start seated upright as in dandasana. Danda is a staff. The staff is related to fire. The column of fire is our central column. Thus, the Hathapradipika tells us "this most excellent of all asanas, pascimottanasana, makes the breath flow through the Susumna (the central nadi)..." In pascimottanasana we are not going to be able to get central flow functioning if we just relax everything and flop forward. Remember how I said before in the seated position that the forward movement of the spine may induce the tamasic guna? This is why we get tired when we fold forward in pascimottanasana. We can correct this by the remedy of rousing, sharpening our consciousness and employing Shambhavi Mudra, focusing our attention on the feeling in the mid-brow and spine. Doing this will brighten our consciousness and reduce the tiredness. This will further feed back into the centralization process and soon we will be wide awake and alert and even one-pointed in the forward bend. All forward bends can be employed like this.

Use your deductive powers to figure out what will be required in backward bendings and some of the other postures...

The important point in asana practice is to notice the present state and continuously adjust it. Our attention is like the Buddha told us to have, "to live like you were living in a room with poisonous snake." In other words, we become very alert. The attention demanded here strengthens our resolve and we start to understand why hatha is 'forceful or willful' here. It is the same will and mental resolve that gets us to pass a semi-truck on an icy highway at night. We don't go to sleep.

This is the way we ideally practice throughout our asana practice. We first adjust and then move. In other words, the feeling comes before the form. Many of us try to find the feeling after imitating the form. But we can imitate for a long time without ever discovering the feeling. This would be akin to playing a stringed instrument incessantly and hoping that somewhere along the way in our practice of it that it will somehow tune itself. It won't. The tuning comes first. And it happens again along the way.

So coming back to Hatha and Raja Yoga, let us once again look at our reworded definition given us by Brahmarandra:

'Hatha Yoga, also known by Pranayama, is the union of the Prana and Apana, the Sun and the Moon. Hatha Yoga is a means to attain Raja Yoga.'

By adjusting the nadi flows through breath and asana, observing balance in sleep and diet, following yama and niyama, we begin to unite the flows, come into our center, and find the one-pointed state of mind.

This is Hatha Yoga.


Obviously there is much more to say. The subject matter is a lifetime of study and this discussion is very brief and only talks about the subject in a limited way.

I have not discussed here diet and the relationship of yama and niyama to centralizing the flows and calming the mind. There is more to say on the union of prana and apana. I have also neglected to discuss asamprajnata samadhi and the fifth state of niruddha. Another time.

In the meantime, here are a few of my other posts which go deeper into the study of mudra, which may help deepen the understanding of this discussion.

I wish you all blessings on your journey of yoga.

Additional Posts on Mudra

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I believe in Magic.

Not the parlor trick kind of magic but real Magic.

The kind of magic that shapes Reality. Causes Reality to open doorways before your very eyes.

Its there whether we see it or not. Whether we choose to believe or not.

We are Creators.

The world is in sync with our minds, our intentions, our wishes, our dreams, our fears.

Creation can go many different ways. It is infinite in potential.

If we live in a world where we don't believe in magic, that same magic will manifest in front of us in such a way to confirm such a belief. Our world will appear more random, more 'fact' based, more sterile. If we believe in our powerlessness, the world will reflect that.

However, if we live in sync with the world, knowing that we are inseparable from the world, it will be like engaging with it in a beautiful dance.

Everything we tell ourselves consciously and unconsciously will reflect in some way in front of our very eyes.

At one point, as a young child, I knew this. Then at some point, as I grew older, I allowed someone to convince me otherwise. The repercussions from this were vast. I became a victim of the outside world. I felt powerless. I built a web of self destruction around myself. The world began to reflect my belief in a disconnected world.

Years later, after I had struggled and wrestled with myself, I must have finally gotten tired. One morning I decided that I was tired of the struggle and I realized somehow that I was creating my own darkness. I was hiding from my own light, afraid of its brilliance. I was creating my own lack of power, of ability.

When I first realized this, (or was it remembering?), my first feeling was complete and utter awe. Awe at the vastness and potential. I screamed in joy at the 'discovery'.


The longer I sat with this 'discovery' the more something else, something other than joy, began to fill my mind...

What did I feel?

Fear. Perhaps it was actually more like terror...

Fear of responsibility. Fear of the innate power of my word and my thought. Fear of actually inhabiting the driver's seat. Fear of my own limitlessness. Fear of space, free and unrestrained in any way possible.

The more I explored and sat with this 'discovery' of this realm of magic, the realm I had forgotten, the more I saw the fears of my conscious and unconscious mind reflect outside of me.

I was existing simultaneously in awe and fear. 

It was like I was learning how to drive. Simultaneously liberating and terrifying. 

Then came my driver's test.

A short time after my 'discovery', a person who I will call the 'witch' came into my life. A manifestation and reflection of my deepest insecurity testing me, to see whether or not I really did believe. Testing me to see whether or not I could actually pull off living from that highest place. Testing me to see whether I actually knew how to drive.

The 'spell cast', obstacles arose. My belief wavered. Doubts began to creep into my mind. Life began to reflect that doubt.

It intensified. Everything crumbled. Everything. I fell long and hard. Was it all real? Was magic really true or had I just deluded myself all along?

Dazed and depressed, I lay there at the bottom of the pit for some time. No wait, I was still falling...

I continued to fall, if that was possible.

Then. At the lowest point I looked up. To the highest point I could see. I held my gaze there.

And I remembered.

Who I was. I remembered that Magic was real.

I remembered that it was not the witch who put me there. I remembered that it was me.

It was me all along who had placed these obstacles in my path. Reflections of past choices finally coming to fruition.

I bowed my head in deep gratitude. I realized I was already filled with abundance beyond measure. 

I wrote something on a piece of paper and filled it with my intention. Breathed life into it.

Then I burned the paper. And forgot about it.

A month later, a light opened up in the sky and from that light a brilliant Goddess appeared.

And shattered the walls of the pit in which I stood.

She picked me up and carried me high at incredible speed up into the expanse above me.

Acceleration of Light.

An unending Orgasm of Fire, burning through the spine of the Tree of Life.

A waterfall of Nectar over the Cosmic Mountain.

I stand here now in space. No ground. No ceiling. No walls.



My mind even now tries to contract in the old ways, to bring back the comfort of that dark hole.

Yes, it can be unnerving in space.

But in space you can see the doorways of lightning opening in the clouds.

A demonstration of the infinite power of Mind and its Light.

Will I forget again? A cloud passes by in the sky.

As I smile in complete awe and wonder, the glorious rainbow that appears shows me colors the like of which I have never before seen...


On this eve of Navaratri 2014, I offer immense thanks to my Guru, fractal in nature and inhabiting the heart of all beings, who are also in reality my teachers and mothers.

I especially offer thanks to the Glorious Goddess, who manifests as Divine Mother, Lover, Witch and far more.

Born from the altar of the Fire of Light, Her form glows with the brilliance of a thousand rising Suns.

The tears in my eyes flow with such joy at her Sight.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Some Reflections on the Last Year

            I write mostly because I like writing. Nevertheless with another personal update there is a part of me that hesitates. Revealing processes, thoughts, feelings to the world at large can be both an act of vulnerability and freedom, and on the flip side of that even an act of self-sabotage. I wonder sometimes if my personal posts of the past year were a bit of both.
            Nevertheless, I feel that I started down that road for some reason last year. Writing about myself and my processes that is. Many letters came back to me. Letters of gratitude for my honesty and openness. Some were grateful to have the experience of looking through a window into processes that reflected their own, or showed them a perspective from one who walked in the feet of two genders. And then there were those that threatened my life or said things that don’t bear repeating any more. What a crazy year it has been for me…

            My divorce finalized today. Here's how it went...
Standing in front of the ‘commissioner’ with my lawyer. I answer a bunch of questions. I am supposed to say yes to them all and yet I’ve taken a vow with my hand raised to tell the truth. But part of me lies when I say yes to every question. I forgive myself for it anyway. It would have cost too much, both in money and emotion to do otherwise…
            I didn’t want it. Or did I? Is the outside world really a reflection of what I have been asking for? Perhaps. Yet I still feel anger. Frustration. Sadness and tears. A world fallen apart and dismantled that I had so obsessively tried to maintain for so many years. I have many words. And yet I almost feel that the words don't really communicate truth. Not really. I really don’t feel that I have all the answers right now. Most of the time I feel the call to just surrender to the quiet and just know that I can’t really know the whys as much as I would like to. My feelings in the matter almost feel irrelevant. A part of me a hopeless romantic, loyal to the end, still in love… I struggle sometimes to understand it. Like making a square fit through a circle, maybe my perspective has not opened wide enough yet. I have struggled so much this year wrapping my head around what I could have done different. Can we ever do anything other than our best at the time? That I suppose is the most frustrating thing. Looking back and knowing it couldn’t have been any different.
            To say that I haven’t had my moments of peace with the changes would be a lie though. There are moments. Possibilities. Things I haven’t considered that continue to dawn in this strange new sky. These windows in the sky beckon me. I know in my heart the door has to close and despite the pain I'm choosing to walk through it. Anger, sadness, possibility... It is all of the above.
            My gender. Oh what a roller coaster ride I have been on this year! There is a term in the trans community called genderfluid. This term seems to resonate with me more and more even as I'm hesitant to even use any terms anymore... Genderfluid? Because I don’t feel myself or my gender to be the same from day to day… Gender is a strange thing. Much struggle occurred with me over the year when I resisted myself. I didn’t want to be female. I didn’t want to be male. Oscillation occurred. Then a strange thing happened. I know. I use this word strange a lot. Sometimes I feel that I want to call myself ‘gender-strange’. :) Well, I started to just feel more comfortable. This began to happen as I realized the more important underlying factor. That for years, literally most of my life, I have not loved myself. When that began to happen, in other words, I began to love myself, through a lot of force and effort mind you, I began to feel more comfortable inside. I began to not rebel so much against myself. I began to relax into me.
            Then a huge wave of relief hit me. I didn’t want to ‘transition’. I didn’t have to transition. And yet, I felt the freedom that if that need hit me strongly that it would also be ok. Whatever it was, it was ok. I feel freer in the world now, not really caring what people think so much about that anymore. Well, maybe I still don’t entirely feel comfortable with stares if I go outside in a skirt, but I do feel more comfortable breaking traditional boundaries for the most part and just living more fully as I am. Genderqueer, genderfluid, genderstrange, two-spirit. And I do have moments where I feel more one than the other... Call it what you will. I guess I’ll go back to mostly just calling it me. I can’t honestly tell you what tomorrow or even the next moment will bring though… Do we ever know?
            Depression. Depression is an interesting thing. I have found that the more I am depressed, the more it seems I welcome more depression into my life. Sometimes it can take a monumental amount of faith, energy, motivation, and force to cause that track to shift. Where does the energy come from? The energy required to shift it? I think sometimes in those moments that in the call, the true wanting to be free from it, that grace dawns. Personally, I’ve already started climbing. I’m sick of sitting at the bottom of the well. Joy is my birthright and I’m ready to claim it.
            Gratitude. I’ve learned a lot by observing those who are grateful. I watch what happens in their lives. Their lives become more prosperous. They bring more into the world of what they are grateful for. I was reluctant at first. Cynical. I’ve harbored so much bitterness and blame over the years. I’d like to say that it was because of such and such or so and so but the truth is that I accept the responsibility for my own bitterness and blame. I forced myself to start keeping a journal every morning. Writing down every little thing I was grateful for. Not publicly. To myself. I began to notice things. More things. I began to see more and more the things I was grateful for. I also began to see magic again. For that, I am grateful. I've decided to keep writing in that journal...
            Public and private life. I came out to the world last year as trans/gender-strange mostly to break down the wall that I saw growing thicker around myself. It was suffocating me. I felt trapped by my own guilt, shame, and fear. Was 'coming out' necessary? I suppose so. That particular wall did have to come down. However, it did simultaneously at times feel self-sabotaging. Both from a personal and a public perspective. I attacked myself and opened myself up to attack. I can only speak from my own perspective but I think it felt this way on a personal level because I still clung to this idea of the ‘right way to be in the world’. I’m not sure what that right way is so much anymore. To react, to rebel in a strong way to fight that ‘right way’  can be simultaneously an act of freedom and an act of self-sabotage. And I do acknowledge that I have felt both in the process. I’m grateful for the lovely mirrors that have shown me the multiple facets of this. Maybe its all about finding balance anyway. And being comfortable with what my good friend calls 'the power of and'. Despite the complexities, I do feel that sometimes stories have to be told. Even if they are just stories…  And... I do believe that some things, some stories, are best left unsaid, some things still kept close. All of our lives are far more complex than any of us ever let on I think…
            Stories. Oh the stories we tell. I’m coming more and more to the place that it isn’t so much that the stories themselves are the problem. Oh the guilt that I have felt over the years about that, feeling like I was supposed to be fucking Zen or something (sorry Zenners). I think it’s really just more that it is important to pick the right stories that work for us. The ones that will feed us. The stories that resonate with our heart. The ones that help us evolve and grow. Expand. Even as we let some stories go, knowing they are just stories, we cannot entirely escape their lessons. They mold and shape new stories. Our human life is a story. A story of wonder, pain, joy, love, loss, growth, evolution and much more. And with that said, onward to the next chapter…
            Much love to you all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Field

In the last post on meditation, I talked a little bit about an analogy of a field of clay and potential shapes that arise within that field.

This analogy can be understood as a finger pointing to the very field of awareness that is us. The elaborate world that we inhabit, think, and feel are akin to the shapes of that field and the constant fluid that is awareness itself is like the substance of that field. The shapes and substance are one.

We hear sometimes these little spiritual snippets of wisdom such as "be in the now", or "discover yourself", or "find yourself", or are given various techniques for somehow shifting from our current state to another. These directions imply a duality that somehow we are separate from the field that we are. Nevertheless, sometimes we identify with name and form in such a way that we feel polarized from ourselves and our fundamental condition.

If we do take the route that suggests that something actually shifts, that somehow our focus transforms or shifts its identification, what then does it really mean to shift states or to go from one state of awareness to another? If we realize that the shapes of the clay are actually clay, does it now mean that there are no shapes? Are the shapes somehow less than they were before? Do we actually seek to somehow unmake the shapes in order that we might realize clay's nature?

In attending less to something's shape, and focusing more on its substance, what is it that actually shifts? Is it the shifting of one shape to another? Or is recognizing substance of an entirely different level of understanding?

If we come back to the analogy of the field of clay and the various shapes that arise from it, we might see that the substance itself is not a shape. It is that very thing that gives rise to shapes to begin with. It is that very thing that shapes dissolve back into.

From this standpoint, we might be tempted to say substance isn't seen, it is that which sees. We might be tempted to also say substance isn't felt, it is that which feels. The same goes for the other awareness avenues that we call the senses.

This is all true from a certain perspective...

But what if it is also true that substance is both that which sees and that which is seen? And also true that substance is both that which is felt and that which feels?

Taking this latter perspective, we are uniting our experience as noun and verb simultaneously. There is no separation.

I struggled for many years, and honestly still do sometimes, with this idea of being an imperfect being, of needing to attain this or that, or get rid of this or that, in order to become more fully perfect, enlightened, awake, better, a more spiritual being, blah blah blah...

This attitude however is akin to just trading one shape for another. "I prefer the shape of the holy one wearing white on a mountain top to the shape of this heaping crying mess on the floor," for example. Truly funny when you think about it. The substance has no judgements.  I am not so sure that the substance even has a plan. Plans are shapes. The field is infinite in its potential.

Starting from the substance, any shape is possible. Substance is like space, unlimited and unimpeded. In fact there is no need to hold to the shape that says that we must hold to the substance in order to be free even. What? But what about liberation? What is liberation from form but a shape though? Perhaps liberation is the relaxing of identification with shape? Is this a shape too? Who is liberated? Perhaps this shape of liberation is spontaneous and continuous, moment to moment, as we fluidly let go of identification with one shape and then another. And if we so choose to participate in creation, perhaps the shape-like movements that cause more shapes to arise will bring that same shape again. But is it the same shape? Or just similar? Does it matter if we like it or hate it? Does it even matter if it arises again? Some shapes we may like, some we may hate.  The relationships between shapes themselves just more shapes.  Do we embrace our shapes with the shape of shame or perhaps acceptance? How do we relate to the shapes? What gives us greater freedom? Perhaps in this way freedom is quite unique. Quite individual. Different for each shape. Can we discover for ourselves what freedom is?

What is inner? What is outer? Do we draw lines at our skin? Are we truly this body or is that too another shape? Perhaps my shape of the body is different than the shape that you see. My self, my gender, my life, seen differently through every pair of eyes or awareness that witnesses it. A square looked at from a far distance might appear to be a triangle. The shadow of a sphere might appear an oval. What perspective do we take?

Roles, professions, categories, preferences, all the various check marks that define us. That we agree to accept. That we agree to accept.

Perhaps though, we are not that triangle which one sees from a distance. No! We are really that cube. No wait! Perhaps we are not even that but a larger double cube! No wait!

Perhaps we are really the field itself just playing... And... Next we are also a torus, a double ... no quadruple helix!

Maybe we are a fountain, continuously renewing, water at play with itself.

Shape out of substance, dissolving, and rising forth once again.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Yogic Meditation, Samprajnata, Asamprajnata, Shape, and Substance

The yogic process of meditation as discussed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras can very simply be understood as a progressive shift of attention through different layers of awareness. Whether there is a "goal" in mind with this is up to the individual. The "results" of this meditative work are myriad. I believe that to hold to one view in an effort to achieve "final liberation" is a bit misguided. It is the difference between seeking and creating. Do we want to be seekers or do we want to be creators? If we take the perspective that we are already creators, then why would be confuse ourselves by creating a 'seeker'?

When one looks at the sutras themselves, there is a certain purity in how they relay the process of meditation to us. The commentaries and culture that have come down to us however, oftentimes interpret the information in a way that might have us think that somehow the separation of Spirit and Matter is a good thing. This paradigm encourages us to seek our true nature, Spirit, and simultaneously separate ourselves from relative reality, or 'Matter'. Although times have changed and evolved, this old paradigm still exists even in our subconscious somehow, which gives rise to judgment, spiritual elitism and other problems.

These different layers of awareness are sometimes interpreted from these limited perspectives as being like obstacles to be overcome in favor of Consciousness/Awareness resting in itself. This paradigm follows from a dualistic separation of Consciousness and Matter handed down to us by traditional Samkhya thought. This kind of paradigm has subtly infected not only Eastern but also Western modes of perception, philosophy, and spiritual culture, leading many in the tradition of the sutras to even condemn or to consider the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras on powers/manifestation as somehow less than the more pure 4th chapter of liberation or kaivalya.

I don't hold these views.

It is possible to take a different perspective, one that allows for the expressive creativity of Consciousness. From this different perspective, a more tantric perspective, one not explicitly stated by Patanjali, these different layers can be seen as the ornamental display and infinite potentiality of Consciousness to play and create, to shape reality around us.

In tantra, one of the most beautiful expressions of this display of Consciousness is the Sri Yantra, the geometrical form body of Lalitha Tripurasundari, the Goddess. Each of the many triangles, petals, corners, and shapes signifies one of the holographic manifestations of Consciousness itself. We might be tempted to cut the display, to only focus on the center, the bindu. But this is like cutting a beautiful tree at its stump. The yantra comes to us as a whole, with all of its "separate" parts equally important.

Lets explore the process of yogic meditation from several different perspectives.

From the perspective of the dualistic paradigm, in yogic meditation we are attempting to separate Consciousness progressively from its contents. In classical Samkhya philosophy, which goes hand in hand with this paradigm, Spirit or Purusha is considered to be eternally separated yet somehow also intertwined with Matter or Prakriti. The goal of yogic meditation here is to somehow disconnect the spirit from matter and let it rest in itself. This is like separating the sediment out from pure water. The sediment and the water, although interrelating, are not the same thing and must be separated from each other. From my personal perspective in practice, this paradigm can be useful in a limited way in the sense that learning to separate pure awareness from the contents of awareness can be a valuable learning practice. Ultimately though, there is a limitation here. The world is somehow separate from us.

Lets try another perspective. Lets say instead of water and sediment, we considered Matter or Prakriti as somehow not separate from Spirit. Even if we do this, there is still something which might need to be addressed. Something is still constant (awareness) and something is still shifting (contents, thoughts, forms, names). Confusion and frustration can still result when we somehow relate these two as equivalent. Nevertheless, lets just say that instead of water and sediment, we had a large field of clay and within that field, many elaborate sculptures of different shapes existed. So we have one field of clay (or many, depending on your take) and many possible shapes that the clay can take. 

From this second perspective, the "goal" of meditation would be to progressively take our attention from the shapes of the clay into the substance of the clay. The substance is constant and the shapes are varying and shifting. From this perspective, in discovering the substance, we do not need to change the shapes. We do not need to forcibly separate or strain out the sediment from the water. One could argue from the first perspective that one could theoretically realize the water in the midst of the sediment, but the problem with this first perspective is that the water is still separate from the sediment.

Hopefully you are following me here. This may seems like a crazy philosophical exercise but it actually has deep roots in practice and direct experience. The words are just pointers to something important.

In the Yoga Sutras, two major processes of meditation or samadhi are described, Samprajnata and Asamprajnata. I'll try to keep technical discussions to a minimum here. Traditionally, from the first perspective given above, these processes are linear and follow the progressive descent from objective (thought, name, form), through instrumental (sensory awareness), down through subjective (the pure "I"), until awareness itself is separated from matter.

In the second perspective, the one I am proposing, the objective and what is perceived to be the subjective layers are released at the same time and one drops into the instrumental layer. Why do I say, "what is perceived to be the subjective layer?" Because the actual subjective layer cannot be perceived. It is the very locus of perception. In effect, the objective and what we perceive to be the subjective layers are both noun layers. They are things. The instrumental layer, while some would argue is a relationship between the subject and object, actually isn't. It is a verb. The sensory awareness layer is pure in and of itself. Seeing does not require an object to be seen. The expansive space through which feeling arises does not actually require some "thing" to be felt. I am proposing here that the instrumental layer is deeper than the "known subjective" and the objective layers.

The subjective layer I am referring to above is kind of a "false" subjective layer. It is the "I" masking itself as the objective. When we say, "I am this or I am that," in effect we are just playing around in the objective layer. What we think of as "I" is just identifying with the myriad names and forms of mind. The true subjective layer is more like a locus of awareness, like a whirl in a vast ocean. This whirl can only be understood directly, and through accessing the pureness of the instrumental field.

We run into an interesting question here. If pure Consciousness is like the fullness of the Ocean, and the subjective layer is like a whirl in the ocean, what is the difference if we just recognize the water?
In recognizing water, do we recognize the fullness of the Ocean? Perhaps not. There is a depth of understanding here that I admit, I am at a loss to fully comprehend. Nor do I think I have met any being on this planet that actually understands this. To be embodied is to inhabit a whirl. At least from what I can recognize from my limited perspective. Nevertheless, I can't stop inquiring. And it is here that I can't stop recognizing that the periphery of the Sri Yantra is just as important as the bindu...


Back to these two words, Samprajnata and Asamprajnata.

In Yoga, from the first perspective, holding the sediment in a fixed configuration gives us Samprajnata. Holding the sediment separate from the water, and not allowing it to agitate further gives Asamprajnata. Liberation comes when there is complete recognition of the water and separation or kaivalya of the water and the sediment. I'm not really into this perspective, regardless of its limited uses in practice.

From the second perspective, holding to a particular shape in the clay gives Samprajnata, holding the field of clay without shape (in other words, letting the shapes dissolve into the base field) gives Asamprajnata. In this perspective, neither of these practices can actually be done without recognizing the substance of the field itself. Why? Because the substance and the shape are one.

In plain English, through yogic meditation we can 1. steady form within the mind, we can 2. hold the mind empty of form, and we can also 3. recognize the nature of the mind.

It is important to recognize that 2 and 3 are not the same thing. In fact, I would claim that 3 is a natural requisite to establishing 1 and 2. In other words, if we understand intimately the nature of the mind, we can shape it or un-shape it. Ultimately finding success in 1 and 2, which can be done through sheer force of will (as per Yoga Sutra 1.15) is not nearly as powerful as finding the same success which results from understanding 3 (as per Yoga Sutra 1.16).

From the perspective of the clay, the nice thing that arises is that once the field substance is understood/recognized, the shaping of the field comes under control of the whirl in clay that is us. In this way, yogic meditation becomes not just some linear ascent or descent (however you like to think about it) to a fixed point, but rather becomes like the yantra, in that we can go outwards (from the bindu) and inwards (towards the bindu), we can shape the field or wipe it clean. Inward and outward are all arising from the same field. The clay is one, the shapes (or lack thereof) are many.

This brings up deeper questions about will and what drives the movement itself. Rather than engage that question at this time, I will just quote the words of my Guru to appease that for the moment,

"Do as you like, minimize harm."

From this perspective, there is divine play, Lila. The field of clay is allowed to manifest and can be done so with yogic discipline if we so desire particular forms to arise. Simultaneously, the substance is recognized. The only difficulty might come in if we attach too much to the shapes, not recognizing the field out of which they arise. Why is this a potential difficulty? Because our mind wants the shapes to be permanent, which they are not. It is only the substance which is permanent, the clay itself. But hey, new shapes are always possible...

I want to say more but I'll save it until next week. 

The field of infinity is perfect, the play of the Divine throughout that field is radiant, just as it is.

Personal Update, on Fate and Effort, and on Loving One's Self

It has been some time since I've written personal updates on this blog.

It was an interesting experiment making myself vulnerable enough to write about very personal processes that I have been undergoing through the past year. It was always my belief that we are all going through some of these places. To verbalize these spaces however, exposes us. It does make us vulnerable.
 It is a strange world we live in, the cultural conditioning runs so deep. We are living made up lives, living in castles made of sand or cloud. It is all very ephemeral. We are all going to die. Yet, the beauty, the complexity, the depth of what we are and what we live...

I hold no grudges against those who judged or maneuvered against me during this last year as I exposed myself more and more. In fact, I am a lot stronger now. In accepting my own role in determining my life, external projections take less meaning. Especially when I see them for what they are. Then, only compassion arises.

I recognize, after much forgetting and then re-remembering, that it is only I who controls my destiny.

It is not astrology, it is not others or their opinions, it is not circumstances, it is not God's will, it is not fate.

Regardless of what happens to me in this life, it is only I who have the power to decide how to receive information that arises in my mind or 'externally'. It is only I who can cause action to occur in the way that I so desire.

How refreshing. And yet, for that part of me that forgets, how terrifying.

To navigate the constantly arising terror and depression of that part of me who forgets is the practice. It is constant.

The conditioning is not so much due to external forces but rather how I have chosen to react to those very forces throughout my life.

I can say, "oh its so hard," or "if only this or that", or "when this then that" or "well its just due to this/that" or any number of other excuses.
But the fact remains, that these are all just fabrications/creations of my mind.

What do I want to create?

To sit on the bindu of all creation is neither easy nor hard. In fact, to take any perspective of it at all causes a potential movement which can have vast repercussions.

Personally, just so some of you know, as I know that many of you care, I am doing ok.

Some days anyway.

The days I remember who I am and where I am standing.
The days that I remember that it is me that is actually driving the car.

Other days I forget. Then I am a 'victim' or I fall prey to believing that others, culture, society actually has it all right and that somehow I am not perfect just as I am. Those days are like walking through a thick swamp.

Then somehow I realize it is all my story. I remember.

Vigilance is the main thing that causes me to remember. Well, there is also what I think of as grace. Like a gift from the sky. I can't claim to understand that exactly... It is interesting that prayer is often answered. The prayer comes from my intention though.  So is grace due to vigilance? I'll leave that for the moment...

I am female. And I am male. Does it matter? It does in the moment that I choose it. It might matter a lot. In other moments there is just clear sky. Or perhaps it is a stormy day. Either way, it is ok.

One thing I know, and I know this for sure now.

To love one's self is the most important thing.

We cannot truly love others until we really love ourselves. How long I avoided this ... this... love.

Loving ourselves is loving God. It is loving the bindu. It is loving the source out of which all of our actions and thoughts arises. It is loving the very thing which appreciates beauty. It is loving the thing itself which loves.

This is not some egoistic thing I'm saying but rather the very thing which will set us free. Well, I suppose I can only speak for myself but I will say that for me it is powerful. There has been nothing comparable to it so far.

What do we want to create today? What is the feeling we want to feel? What is the life we want to live? Do we seek endlessly for ever shifting goals or for answers to questions that are only manifesting as a result of our inherent power? Can we recognize our own power and where we are actually standing in this moment? Where we are always standing whether we realize it or not? Can we love that which is standing there at that pinnacle?

I choose in this moment to love my self. Again. And again. And again. And I begin to smile at what arises from that self.

For it is good.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Long Dream

"Vasistha replied: O Rama, whatever one thinks within oneself in his or her own intelligence, that alone is experienced by him or her. Even nectar is experienced as poison by him who fancies it is poison. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends, depending upon one's inner attitude. The object is experienced by one strictly in accordance with one's inner feeling. To a suffering person a night is an epoch; and a night of revelry passes like a moment...

The yogis knows that it is one's own mentality that turns sweet things into bitter things and friends into enemies.

Qualities are not in the objects but only in one's thinking.

This world is nothing but a mere vibration of consciousness in space. It seems to exist even as a goblin seems to exist in the eyes of the ignorant.

All this is but Maya: for there is no contradiction between the infinite consciousness and the apparent existence of the universe.

It is like a marvelous dream of a person who is awake."

Yoga Vasistha 3.60 , from "The Story of Lila"

Friday, April 11, 2014

Physics of Yoga Asana (second write, more detail)

I have written previously on the physics of yoga and decided today to write again about this important topic. I feel that this work builds a powerful bridge between the understanding of physical forces and energetics that are utilized in yoga but not oftentimes understood. This work is powerful in that it involves direct sensory perception as immediate feedback which acts to create form out of feeling.

This article will start by defining a few terms from physics. Bear with me and hopefully it will all come together and make sense. I do think the definitions are important and at some point will elaborate further on them with diagrams.

The first definition I want to lay out is the concept of force as defined in physics.

Since I've long ago sold my physics texts, I will use Wikipedia to help out.
According to Wikipedia we have,

"In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a certain change, either concerning its movement, direction, or geometrical construction. In other words, a force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity (which includes to begin moving from a state of rest), i.e., to accelerate, or a flexible object to deform, or both. Force can also be described by intuitive concepts such as a push or a pull. A force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. It is measured in the SI unit of newtons and represented by the symbol F.
The original form of Newton's second law states that the net force acting upon an object is equal to the rate at which its momentum changes with time. If the mass of the object is constant, this law implies that the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force acting on the object, is in the direction of the net force, and is inversely proportional to the mass of the object. As a formula, this is expressed as:
\vec{F} = m \vec{a}
where the arrows imply a vector quantity possessing both magnitude and direction."

Basically, since we are dealing with fixed masses in yoga (our bodies), what we are doing is influencing acceleration in a given direction. Lets stick with the definition above as including a change in velocity or speed as well as direction and leave aside the deformation of an object. We are considering force as it is communicated through bone, and bone for the most part can be considered stable for our purposes here.

Before defining the specific types of forces, lets take a look at the definition of Newton's third law.

(from Wikipedia)

" The third law states that all forces exist in pairs: if one object A exerts a force FA on a second object B, then B simultaneously exerts a force FB on A, and the two forces are equal and opposite: FA = −FB.[24] The third law means that all forces are interactions between different bodies,[25][26] and thus that there is no such thing as a unidirectional force or a force that acts on only one body. This law is sometimes referred to as the action-reaction law, with FA called the "action" and FB the "reaction". The action and the reaction are simultaneous, and it does not matter which is called the action and which is called reaction; both forces are part of a single interaction, and neither force exists without the other.[24]
The two forces in Newton's third law are of the same type (e.g., if the road exerts a forward frictional force on an accelerating car's tires, then it is also a frictional force that Newton's third law predicts for the tires pushing backward on the road).
From a conceptual standpoint, Newton's third law is seen when a person walks: they push against the floor, and the floor pushes against the person. Similarly, the tires of a car push against the road while the road pushes back on the tires—the tires and road simultaneously push against each other. In swimming, a person interacts with the water, pushing the water backward, while the water simultaneously pushes the person forward—both the person and the water push against each other. The reaction forces account for the motion in these examples. These forces depend on friction; a person or car on ice, for example, may be unable to exert the action force to produce the needed reaction force.[27]"

Understanding Newton's third law, we can then apply it directly to forces in a specific way with two more important definitions, the contact force and the normal force.

What is the contact force?

Again according to Wikipedia we have

"Contact force is the force in which an object comes in contact with another object. Contact forces are ubiquitous and are responsible for most visible interactions between macroscopic collections of matter. Pushing a car up a hill or kicking a ball or pushing a desk across a room are some of the everyday examples where contact forces are at work. In the first case the force is continuously applied by the person on the car, while in the second case the force is delivered in a short impulse. Certain contact forces describe specific phenomena and are important enough to have been given unique names. The most common instances of this include friction, normal force, and tension. According to forces, contact force may also be described as the push experienced when two objects are pressed together."

Normal force is (again, according to Wikipedia),

"In mechanics, the normal force  F_n\ is the component, perpendicular to the surface (surface being a plane) 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."


Ok, so we have all of these definitions. How do we manage to put all of these concepts together to form an understanding of how to work with asana?

Lets make sense of it...
We have an active component (muscle) that engages a change in momentum and acceleration, interacting with a solid object (usually the floor), which in turn triggers a contact force (because the floor resists the foot with its friction, assuming it is not too slippery) and simultaneously increases the normal force, which is felt through the bone, equal and opposite in direction to the direction of the contact points.  In other words, if we press into the floor with the leg, the floor will push back into the bone with equal and opposite strength. This "return" force can be directly felt through the bones and carried all the way through the body. The extent that we can carry this feeling of the contact force all the way through the bone pathways of the body gives rise to our sense of connection and the engagement of the body as a whole.

Lets break it down further. Try this exercise. 

Stand with our feet apart several feet distance, with our feet turned out 45 degrees and our legs held straight at the knee.

Push the feet both down and out with a bit of effort. The feeling will that of "ripping the floor in half with the feet". What muscles are being utilized? The plantar flexors of the lower leg, or in other words, the muscles in the deep posterior (back) of the calf. We can consider these the "shin" muscles. This is what is meant by "engage the shins". We push the feet and lower leg strongly into the floor and separate the feet from one another. Do NOT attempt to raise the thighs here (I'll explain why in a moment).

Notice that as we create the force (our mass plus the change in velocity of the leg in a given direction parallel to the leg and downwards both out and down simultaneously), that there is a return force coming back into our leg, equal and opposite to the force which is pushing down. This is a direct experience of both contact force (leg coming into contact with floor) and also normal force (the floor prevents the leg from going into it and gives rise to a contact force). This direct experience leads to the experience of Newton's third law, in which we feel the equal force pushing back into our leg as that which is generated by the leg downwards into the floor. How high up can we carry this feeling? It will depend on if we can keep the force of the legs in the downward and outward direction constant and how strongly we can do it.

In yogic terminology, there are two things that have to be observed here. According to Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras 2.46, we have "sthiram sukham asanam" or "the asana has both firm components and components which are at ease". Do we understand the difference?  The firm or sthiram component is the engagement of the shin which pushes the foot downwards and outwards.  

The firm or sthiram component sets up the contact force

We may be tempted to engage all of the muscles of the legs which include the quadriceps of the thighs and more. Our hips may want to engage. We may think that the more muscle we engage the better. However, every muscle above the knee that comes into the picture is actually going to interfere with the ease or sukham component of the asana.  

In other words, we have to relax everything above the knee, including the hips, in order to actually feel the contact force coming up through the bones. This is sukham or ease, which allows us to receive the contact force.

You may notice that at some point along the "return journey" of the contact force through your bones that there is a jamming feeling. This is where we actually are resisting the contact force. Good for muscle building as this sets up a standing wave of felt energy in the leg, but bad for the deeper feeling of connection that we want to establish in terms of connecting the feeling all the way through the body. 

One of the most difficult parts of the body to get the contact force through is the hips. If we consider the legs as beginning with the coxal bones of the hip rather than at the femur head (or another way of thinking is that the legs start at the navel), we have the capacity to relax the upper sections of the leg and hip much more greatly. Another way of thinking about it is that the navel is sending an intention out to the shin and foot. Information comes back through the leg to the navel. Out from the navel, and back from the earth to the navel. It is really just our shin that is working on the physical level, but the feeling is that the whole leg is being pushed out from the navel. The more we push out from the navel, the more that we feel coming back through the bones of the leg to the navel, as long as we can relax everything above the knee. 

What then? The twin vectors of force (force with magnitude and direction) which are returning from the floor from both legs (which are working in opposition to each other) add up to drive the contact force directly up the legs and into the spine. From here, we relax the periphery of the spine, including the ribs, the obliques, abdominals, organs and everything around the spine, to allow the spine itself to feel the fullness of the contact force surging through the central column. We keep pushing into the feet until we feel that contact force rise to the crown.  

It may seem a little bit strange at first, but we can also wire the hands and arms to this contact force by connecting to it at one of the lower centers. The texts usually recommend the navel center but it can also be done lower down. If we consider the arms as starting at the navel rather than the shoulder, we attempt to "separate" the arms and the spine at the navel. We then distribute the felt contact force upwards into three sections, the spine and the two arms. It will then feel almost as if the arms are "floating" on the contact force as they lift, with very little muscular effort. This can be done with the arms at either the sides or in the upward direction. It can be done until the feeling of the contact force drives right into the fingers. 

All of this work is driven by the legs. My teacher used to say, "the legs generate the power, the arms manifest it". If you understand the contact force, this will make sense. 

This way of working can be applied to literally all of the standing postures. This way of working has released deep seated injury and emotional blockages for me and given rise to a much deeper understanding of connectivity throughout the body. I had to unlearn many years of "raising the thighs", squeezing the pelvic floor, and many other unnecessary and actually obstructive muscular actions. 

Ok, so fine for the standing postures, what about the rest of the postures? The important point to remember with this work is to set up the contact points with the floor. In other words, we have to know, what (muscularly) is driving something into the floor and what is getting out of the way in order to receive the return contact force upwards? 

Lets take downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana). Come into down dog. Relax the hands and feet and step the feet close enough in that the heels contact the floor (this may be difficult for first timers so if so ignore this one for now, I don't really consider this a beginner pose). Don't worry about hip tilt or anything like that. Begin to push the hands at the base of the wrist down and forward while simultaneously pushing the shins and feet down and backwards. Two different contact forces are established here, one in the arm and the other in the leg. Is it possible to relax the upper torso and arms and also the thighs to allow the contact force to rise through to the hip and navel? Can we equalize the twin contact forces so that there is a feeling of connection of the twin forces joining at the center? It will feel like the building of a bridge. Separate the spine from the arms at the navel so the feeling is that the arms and legs are what is building the contact force bridge. Then, utilize the feeling coming back up the leg and separate it into the spine and extend the crown from that feeling, separate from the arms. If you do the posture in this way it will feel almost effortless and simultaneously very energizing.

Lets look at some more poses.
Take dhanurasana or bow pose. We lie on the belly. We lift the legs behind us and grab the ankles. By pulling the hands against the ankles we are pulling the arms and legs apart. But the hold of the hand resists that pulling apart so there is a force which is driven down through the arms and legs directly into the navel spine which is in contact with the floor. From this downward contact point, we set up a contact force which then travels back upwards into the body. The key here is to separate the arms and spine at the navel. The spine can then carry the contact force in the upward direction. It helps if we can relax the "horizontal muscles" of the gluts (butt muscles) and the rhomboids (muscles between shoulder blades and spine) as these muscles actually inhibit spinal extension (backward bending). To do this, inwardly rotate the arms and legs just a little bit. The spine is then freed to rise upward on the feeling of the contact force, assisted by the erector spinae (spinal muscles). There are other factors as well, such as the turning up of the eyes (which engages the suboccipitals, which further drive the spinal extension deeper). 

The seated posture. Try sitting up straight with legs crossed and knees lifted and shins crossed in front of you. Wrap the arms around the outer legs and hold one wrist or clasp the fingers. Pull with the arms the legs in as you simultaneously push and resist the legs out against the arms. This sets up a force which drives the sit bones down into the floor, setting up a contact force which then surges back up through the spine. The more we drive the sit bones into the floor, the more the spine can receive the contact force in the upward direction, given we can relax enough of the peripheral muscles around the spine to allow it to receive the feeling that derives from that force. Then the trick is to slowly let go of the legs with the arms and allow the action of the sit bones and spine start to take over on their own. In other words, can the sit bones and spine become like an isolated system? Can we get the sit bones to drop without the peripheral muscles? Can we relax enough in our peripheral body to allow the central column to rise on its own? It is very important not to sit on cushions or height here, but rather to allow the spine to learn to support itself.

Inversions are also engaged in this way. Many systems of yoga teach utilizing the shoulders for sarvangasana. Lifting the c7 vertebrae of the neck while driving the shoulders down, especially on height actually does not create a contact force established by the spine but rather by the arms. And it weakens the spine. More powerful is to drive the cervical spine into the floor, setting up a contact force in the spine, relaxing the arm lines in the manner of niralambha sarvangasana (without arm support) to allow the spine to bear the full weight and allow the normal force to rise through the central column and carry it up through to the legs. In the beginning this will look more like "banana pose" but over time, it will really get through. It takes time and a lot of concentration and perseverance but the end pose will be vastly different than the "ram rod straight" pushing that many have been taught.   

There is so much more to say. 

Working with the physics of contact and normal forces are a very powerful way to enter what Patanjali calls the "instrumental body". This is the body of feeling. Forces are felt. The body of feeling is connected to what the ancients called prana. Prana is felt. Physical forces are felt. Deep in the bone. This is very direct work. If you follow the feeling of this work and learn to get out of the way of the contact forces, a deep sense of connection will arise throughout the body and a deeper learning will take place.  

Have fun with it and let me know what you discover.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Meditation Part 2

Hold a small object still in your hand, with the arm outstretched.

Is the hand moving or still?

If you answered still, you may want to think again. If your hand becomes still, the object drops.

When we drive a car and keep the car steady in the center of the lanes, are we keeping our hands still or are they moving?

If our hands become still, the steering wheel will veer.

Attending to the movement that holds an object within a particular configuration is meditation. Specifically in Yoga, it is termed Samprajnata, as per Yoga Sutra 1.17.

The movement itself is called parninama, also defined in the Yoga Sutras as a 'transformation of state'.

When I began the process of meditation many years ago, my mind attempted to attach to the stillness of mind and object. When the stillness wasn't present, I would have difficulty. This was like starting to veer off the road and instead of course correcting, I would just have driven off the road...

In Yoga, we talk of two distinct aspects of the practice of staying on the road or holding an object steady. These twin processes are called abhyasa and vairagya.

Abhyasa, oftentimes translated as 'practice', is the setting of an intention and holding to that over a period of time. For example, "I will stay within the lines of the road", or "I will hold this object steady in my mind", or "I will regulate the breath in this particular way".

Vairagya is oftentimes translated as 'dispassion' or 'non-attachment'. I don't feel these translations even come close to expressing what this part of the practice really is. To me, vairagya is much more like course correction. It is witnessing movement pulling consciousness away from the chosen form/object and redirecting the movement back, according to our intention set with abhyasa. In other words, if our abhyasa/intention is to stay in the center of the road and we find ourselves veering off, we course correct and come back to center.

In the driving example given, we realize that every day when we drive our vehicles, we employ these twin principles. Abhyasa holds us to center, vairagya brings us back every time we veer. To a lesser extent we employ them when we pick up a plate or a cup of coffee. If we didn't have enough concentration to hold to these simple tasks, nothing would get done.

To fully understand meditation from the yogic perspective, I find it helpful to examine these places in our daily lives where we are concentrated, even if for brief moments. More important than thinking about these processes, I find it important to learn to feel them. What does it feel like to drive a car and keep it steady? What does it feel like to work for an extended period, even when you feel that part of you wants to escape it?

The felt motion out from chosen point and the corresponding return felt motion back to chosen point are important sensations to notice. They are pre-mental and give us a deep clue to the processes known in yoga as mudra. When we start to really get inside of and work with these movements directly and immediately, we gain a much greater degree of control over the mental processes which usually distract and dull us. In fact, we start to witness the relationship between the mental forms and the underlying feelings of movement that give them birth.

Meditation is movement. It is not about stillness. Even when we 'become still', what are we doing but relaxing? Relaxation itself is movement. Surrender is movement. Allowance is movement. When we truly come inside the inside and it seems that everything stops, there are micromovements which cause the further arisings of form to cease. Patanjali calls these the nirodha samskara. The subliminal habituation to the clear state.

Pay attention to movement. Not to the content of mind but to the feeling of mind. Which is movement. Attend to the feeling of how the mind concentrates, 'steadies', and focuses. Attend to the feeling of the movement toward laziness and distraction. Not with judgment but through pure observation. Attend to how movement 'turns around'. Begin to feel the magnetic like pull of habituated movement. What is that magnetic force? Can it be increased? Decreased? What controls it?

As we drive the attention inward on itself in this ever deepening process we dive through the various levels of mind that are discussed in the Yoga Sutras. I will talk about these levels next time.

Happy investigation.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Meditation Part 1

I have been receiving questions lately on meditation, samadhi, and mudra. These topics have been covered previously but I will attempt here to elaborate. I may write several posts on this topic in order to elaborate. In my opinion, with the yogic method of meditation it is extremely useful to understand a few terms and their meanings. This first post will discuss a few terms in general and then later posts will go into more depth.

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, talks about two distinct forms of meditation or samadhi.

The first is called samprajnata and the second is asamprajnata.

The first, samprajnata, is when we learn to hold an object with the mind.

The second, asamprajnata, is when we learn to hold the mind in its basis.

Both forms of meditation involve control, or skill in utilizing the radiant reflection of consciousness that we call the mind.

When the mind is steadied one pointedly on a chosen object form, we have what is called ekagra.

When the mind resolves into its basis completely and becomes objectless we have full nirodha, according to Vyasa, the main ancient commentator on the Yoga Sutras.

To achieve this control of the mind there are several concepts that will be useful for us to learn.

First of all, we need to understand abhyasa and vairagya.

Abhyasa is akin to staying in the lines when we are driving a car.

Vairagya is akin to course correction that keeps us from swaying to the side when we deviate from the center while driving.

In other words, abhyasa keeps us on our chosen object of meditation, and vairagya brings us back when we stray.

Another useful term to understand is parinama. Parinama is translated sometimes as 'transformation of state'. In practice parinama is felt. We notice a distinct shift from one state to another. In our driving example, we would feel the car begin to veer to the right or left and would make the necessary course correction to right the car in the middle of the road. We use our kinetic felt sense to determine 1. when we are going off course, and 2. when we are bringing ourselves back to center.

When we are able to access this 'feeling body' in order to correct the mind during meditation, we have entered what Patanjali calls the instrumental state. Prior to this we may be 'in our heads' or thinking about names and forms, or the content of thought or the mind. This level is what Patanjali calls the objective state. The difference between the objective state and the instrumental state are like the difference between the form of a wave and its substance (water). When we are able to access this direct feeling body of the instrumental state, we can begin to notice the distinct movements that give rise to the forms and names of the objective and thus more readily bring them under control.

It is a mistake to think that we can separate ourselves from the object of meditation. This is like trying to pick up a book from the floor without using your hand. When we hold an object with our mind, we are actually attending to the movement within ourselves that contains the object. In this way we 'feel the object', rather than attempt to hold its form and name in our mind. In practice, this may feel almost like you have swallowed the object deep into your feeling body.

The practices of mudra help to get us deep into our feeling or sensory body, thus giving us access to a deeper level of control of the mind. There is a continuous biofeedback loop that is created through mudra that allows for a continuous recognition of the feeling layer of our being, a place where we can connect intimately with objects that we are choosing to steady and hold.

For more information on how mudra plays a role in meditation please see the following posts:

The number of objects that our mind can hold are infinite. Just as we practice with many asanas and the process for doing them is one, we can also practice with many objects of meditation and yet the process for holding those objects is one. As my teacher used to say, "if you know the one, you will know the many." It is far more important to understand the process of meditation than it is to 'develop success'. The success will automatically arise with regular practice and understanding of the process. It is very helpful in this way to understand what is being described here as well as the landmarks (understanding objective vs instrumental modes).

So far we have mostly been discussing samprajnata, or the meditation with form/object. What about asamprajnata, the meditation where we drive the mind back into its basis? Both meditations are actually the same, but in asamprajnata, instead of holding something, we purposely don't hold anything. One might be tempted here to focus on the form of nothingness or some conceived notion of emptiness but this is incorrect. There is a little 'jump' that is required.

In not holding anything, the 'one' thing we can 'attend' to is the basis. Or rather the basis attends to itself. This is described in sutra 1.3. The Light is always on. In other words, we just rest and 'allow' the light of consciousness to just shine as it always does. It doesn't ever go out. We just rest in that Light. Or the Light rests in itself.