What is Yoga?
What is yoga?
In this fast paced, superficial, extroverted world of lets take a pill to deal with the suffering comes along this in depth, ancient knowledge of how to stop the suffering, what is health, how to extend the length of life as well as be blissful.
Yoga, Ayurveda, (sister sciences) and Chinese medicine is all based on energy. In the western culture we don’t even have a language for energy much less even believe in it. Chinese medicine was lost when the allopathic docs got their hands on it, yoga as well and ayurveda is on its way.
Asana alone is not yoga at all. It will not and can not bring you there. You do not become enlightened from exercise. In truth, it does just the opposite. Exercise is Rajasic (specially from the western theory of exercise) or the force which promotes action. It pulls you away from the light. It will just spin you further away, further into the external. It creates activity of the mind. Like increases like. But it is so much more than that.
In ayurveda and yoga, Vaata is the air and ether elements combined. It is one of the three elemental energies or humors. It is responsible for all of the sensory and motor functions of the body or in other words it is energy, prana, chi, or vital force. It is subcategorized into the 5 pranas.
- prāṇa : The inward moving energy. Responsible for the beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circulatory system.
- apāna : The downward flowing energy. Responsible for the elimination of waste products from the body through excretory systems. It is responsible for birth, menses, and all the other stuff that moves downward down there.
- uḍāna : The upward moving energy. Responsible for producing sounds through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying. Also it represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of the being. Hence Samyama (holding and contemplation) on udana gives the higher centers total control over the body.
- samāna : The digestive energy. Responsible for the digestion of food and cell metabolism (i.e. the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth). Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body.
- vyāna : The circulatory energy. Responsible for the circulation, expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.
There are 5 more in yoga:
- naga : Responsible for burping.
- kurma : Responsible for blinking.
- devadatta : Responsible for yawning.
- krikala : Responsible for Sneezing.
- dhananjaya : Responsible for opening and closing of heart valves.
Asana is simply and only to balance the five pranas of the body. This balance creates health in the body mind by creating healthy functioning of these energies. Every organs functioning is due to the proper functioning of the proper flow of energy. Every asana has a specific energetic effect on the body as well as an energetic focus. If you are just going through a yoga class that the teacher has strung something together because he or she likes it, well…. Disastrous. Actually more than that. Disease forming.
In yoga there are 72,000 nadis or energy channels that this Prana is carried through. There are three main channels that are focused upon in yoga.
Sushumna (alternatively known as Susumna) Nadi connects the base chakra to the crown chakra. It is very important in Yoga and Tantra in general. In Raja Yoga or Yoga of Patanjali, when the mind is quietened through Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama the important state of Pratyahara begins. A person entering this state never complains of Dispersion of Mind. This is characterised by observing the movements/jerks in Sushumna, the central canal in the subtle body. The movements indicate the flow of Prana through the central canal and in the process, the sushumna makes the way for the ascent of Kundalini.
Pingala is associated with solar energy. The word pingala means “tawny” in Sanskrit. Pingala is masculine energy. Its temperature is heating and courses from the left testicle to the right nostril. Pingala is the extroverted, solar nadi, and corresponds to the left hand side of the brain. Pingala nadi controls all the vital processes.
Ida is associated with lunar energy sometime it is based on solar energy. The word ida means “comfort” in Sanskrit. Idā is the feminine energy and has a cooling effect. It courses from the right testicle to the left nostril. Ida nadi controls all the mental processes. Ida is the introverted, lunar nadi, and refers to the right hand side of the brain.
right solar channel
masculine, logic, action, external, objectivity, sympathetic nervous system, couscous mind, rajas, physical activity, eating, intellectual study, commerce and business deals, travel and sex. When you are about to eat the right nostril should be open as to create a proper digestive capacity.
the opposites apply for the left.
Left nostril open is good for sleep.
In the morning at sunrise the center channel is open in a healthy being, same as at the sunset. Between these times the air flow changes between the two nostrils from left to right and right to left, about every hour and a half. The biorhythms, one might say, are controlled by this rhythm of change of the flow of the nostrils. Right nostril open and the left brain is active. left… well what other choice is there. Right is Pingala, left is Ida. They are those solar and lunar channels. The left nostril open is cooling of the body and mind, an introverted mind is active and the PH balance of the body is alkaline. (sorry all of you PH balance diet people out there, you are off the mark) When the right is dominant, just the opposite occurs. When sushumna nadi is open, the mind is calm and quite. You are in your unconscious mind in a dormant state. This is why you can enter into deep meditation and samadhi, without much effort. Rishis, Yogis, and scriptures speak very highly of these two periods of time.
In the 1970s “chronopsychology” was the science of the biorhythms of the body and how they effect the mind, emotions and physical activity capacity of the body. Funny how western science continues to try to reinvent the wheel but forgets the hub every time. They still didn’t correlate the breath in their findings.
The entire health of the body is based upon the energy balance and proper flow at the proper times. For example if you were to take a cotton ball, try this, and close one nostril for several hours, you will definitely feel what I mean. Actually don’t try this, it is dangerous, it can create emotional disturbances, ph chemistry and functioning of the physiology imbalances, among many other disturbances.
What does this say for a yoga practice, well check this out. Try this out for yourself. If you have any awareness of energy of the body and how it flows you can easily feel that if you are to do a sun salutation with only one nostril open it imbalances the bodily energy system. Try it. Then compare it to another time when sushumna nadi is open and both nostrils are equal.
This is why an asana practice is only practiced when the center channel is open at sun rise or sunset or if you know how to manipulate it open.
As you can see a yoga practice is meant from its foundational understanding to be an extremely aware solo practice or under the guidance of a true guru. Every asana has an energetic focus and result on the body. A sun salutation, when done correctly is quite balanced and balancing to the system. It is also the easiest to learn and perform. Done improperly, it will imbalance the entire system.
Chakras are nothing more than large nadis or energy vortices within this subtle anatomy; a spinning sphere of bioenergetic activity emanating from the major nerve ganglia branching forward from the spinal column. We usually have only heard of the 7 basic ones. There are many more but these are them. The deeper understanding of the chakras unfolds the subtle anatomy and understanding about how these energy centers are linked to your actions, thoughts, physical health and how you relate internally to externally. They also are at a focus of asana and creating expansion and liberation or dissolving karma. There are also front (conscious) sides to the chakras and back (unconscious) sides of them.
- Muladhara मूलाधार Base or Root Chakra relates to discrimination.
- Swadhisthana स्वाधिष्ठान Sacral Chakra relates to detachment
- Manipura मणिपूर Solar Plexus Chakra relates to balance
- Anahata अनाहत Heart Chakra relates to happiness
- Vishuddha विशुद्ध Throat Chakra relates to love
- Ajna आज्ञा Brow or Third Eye Chakra relates to spiritual achievement
- Sahasrara सहस्रार Crown Chakra relates to truth and destroying preconception of the “reality”
- and there are more…
Koshas are sheaths and are connected intimately to the chakras. They are more how we are seen in the world or how we relate to the external.
The physical sheath (annamaya kosha) is made of food. It is the physical body.The physical body is the grossest form of thought. The food consumed by the parents is converted into Sukla (semen) in men and Sonita in women (the reproductive fluid or apparatus) and by the combination of these the physical body is formed. After birth, the body grows drinking the mother’s milk which is only a transformation of the food consumed by the mother. The body is further developed by eating food. It gets dissolved in earth which is another form of food. The body is itself a food for other creatures. Hence it is called the food sheath, the material cage of the soul. The food sheath is an object of perception. The Atman (self) is the cogniser and the body is the cognized. Self is different from the body. In dream and deep sleep there is no consciousness of the body. The five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth make up the physical body. They are only modifications of Maya (illusory world) and are not the truth. The body, its name, shape, color, size, form, birth and death are not of the Self. The are qualities of the body. There is no physical body either before birth or after death. It is non-eternal. Existence, birth, growth, modification, decay and death are the six Vikaras (defects) of the physical body. The space inside of a pot is not changed by the dropping and shattering of the pot. Atman (self) is the space.
The Pranamaya Kosha consists of the five Pranas and five Karma-Indriyas (organs of action). Prana is vata or the five pranas discussed earlier. It is devoid of sensation or consciousness; it is inanimate. Prana is only the active working of the mind. When clear headed we breath easily and healthfully when we are disturbed the breath is disturbed. Controlling the mind allows the prana to be controlled. The Pranas are the rajasic manifestations of the mind which make up the individual existence. When the prana leaves the body the body dies, just as a car is with its gas, when it runs out the engine can no longer run.
Within the vital sheath is the mental sheath (manomaya kosha)
Made up of thought patterns. It consists of the mind and the five Jnana Indriyas (organs of knowledge). It is a means of enjoying pleasure and pain. The mind causes egoism in the body and “mine”-ness and passes outside through the avenues or channels of these five Indriyas. It is the internal instrument for gaining the experiences and knowledge of this world. Mind is associated with the Vrittis (mind stuff or eddies), and is a terrible objectifying agent. Mind constantly changes itself.
Within the mental sheath is the wisdom sheath (vijnanamaya kosha)
Made up of detachment. It consists of the intellect in conjunction with the five organs of knowledge or the Jnana-Indriyas. During sleep it gets involution (Laya) along with Chidabhasa (the reflection of Pure Consciousness). During waking state it is the doer. It is an effect like a jar and is inanimate. It is just like the moon borrowing its light from the sun. It is not the eternal Self.
Within the wisdom sheath is the bliss sheath (anandamaya kosha)
Made up of pure joyous awareness. It is made of Mula-Ajnana (root potentialities) . It is the Karana Sarira (causal body) which is the substratum of all other sheaths which are external to it. Its three attributes are Priya (affection), Moda (delight) and Pramoda (intense happiness). It is the indescribable beginningless Avidya (ignorance), the nescience of the Atma (self), and is composed of Malina Sattwa (Sattva mixed with Rajas and Tamas). It is inanimate, beginningless, but has an end in Atma-Jnana (self knowledge).
– Taittiriya Upanishad and Moksha Gita
(Okay, here is the rant)
How many teachers even understand the five pranas or any of this stuff much less heard of them? How many teachers understand what each asanas purpose is or have ever read the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras or any of the other ancient texts of Yoga? Not many, very few in fact. Not their fault though, our culture has sold yoga to the lowest bidder. Did you know that 85% of the yoga teachers out there have only done a 200 hour teacher training? That is most of the time 8 weekends only. The public does not know that you pay Yoga Alliance to authorize your teacher training then your students that have taken that training pay them as well. Much less is there any checks and balances or tests in these trainings. All of them that i have taken, you show up and you get certified. The trainings i have attended have been pathetic in the terms of education of what yoga is really and completely exercise based from a western lens. Yes, they do touch, for an hour or two, upon some of the other aspects of the yoga science but only in a side bar mention. Most of the trainings are about asana from a form of western exercise. Unfortunately, a good yoga teacher in America is based upon their looks and their charisma more than their knowledge base and their experience. How do you know a yoga teacher is good? Can you refer a good brain surgeon based off of his charisma?
(okay, now back to the good stuff)
In the body there are other channels or srotas. One of them is the ambu maha srotas or water channel. This as well as other channels (srotamsi) get completely imbalanced and cause disease when you over exert. Lets talk of that for a second. In yoga and ayurveda the limits of vyayama (exercise) is to half capacity ever, dependent upon the season and the individuals overall health. This is the limit to the point you have to breath through your mouth or when you start to sweat. Beyond this means you have passed your limits. What happens is that when you have these physiological changes the energies of the body (5 pranas) are going out of balance. In both Western and Eastern systems one of the main cause of disease in later life is ativyayam (excessive exercise) or atisaahasa (excessive exertion) in earlier life and you don’t see the results till much later.
When you start to sweat or break perspiration on your brow or under your nose, the body heat has increased to the point that the body needs to cool it off. If you open your mouth to breath there is a conflict between heat and cold within your body. It confuses the body and creates an imbalance of doshas and harm to the tissues. The strength of the body tissues weakens in time. This is why in yoga you only breathe through the nose.
Think about what turning the heat up in the “hot yoga” room beyond the core temperature of the body does. The body tries to cool itself down and shuts down the digestive function as well as pours out the water of the system by sweating (Sveda Vaha Srotas is the sweat channel) to cool off. This will destroy the digestive system as well as others internal organs functions. It depletes and weakens body and mind as well as weakens the tissues, creates an imbalance of doshas and creates disease. The digestive capacity is know as agni or the digestive fire. In the summer the digestive fire is weak due to the heat of the long days of sun. In the winter the digestive fire is strong due to the external cold and how it pushes the heat to the koshta or torso and the hands and feet get cold. Not only this but then from a hot room you walk wet with sweat out into a cool or colder environment. This shocks the body, again vitiates the doshas, moves any disease that are already prevalent deeper or even worse, to the periphery where it is either impossible or much worse to treat.
So asana is not yoga and Yoga is not asana or exercise, especially when only seen through the western lens or theory of exercise. Yoga is the science of enlightenment. So lets start from the beginning with the entire basic ladder of ashtanga yoga.
* Yama – code of conduct, self-restraint
They are found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (YSP), Sadhana Pada Verse 30 as:
- Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-harming or violence. This is the first because it is the only basic choice that separates us from animals; the very first step in being of a higher vibration. Animals do not have this choice.
- Satya (सत्य): absence of falsehood, truth
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): celibacy
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice
* Niyama – religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
They are found in the YSP, Sadhana Pada Verse 32 as:
- Shaucha: in the traditional codification, this item is listed under Yamas; this word means purity.
- Santosha: contentment.
- Tapas: austerity.
- Svādhyāya: self-study or study of spiritual scriptures.
- Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to the will of god, or as I like to call it… it is all good and meant to be exactly how it is
These two are the first because following this lifestyle path clears karma from being created by you, your thinking, your speech and your actions from here onwards. It is about the control of your conduct and all the ripples that you create from it. It is what grows the strength and balance of the three main mental functions of dhi (learning), dhriti (retention), and smriti (long-term memory). The ability to determine what is a healthy choice, strength to make healthy choices and the follow through maintain making those healthy choices in all speech and action which later works on thought. Without these faculties functioning clearly, the mind is lost and unstable. Prana effects the mind’s three functions: 1. dhi, or acquisition of knowledge, 2. dhriti, or retention of knowledge, and 3. smriti, or recall of that knowledge. Any imbalance of prana and these functions are disturbed in some way.
If you break the yamas and niyamas down, they truly are the subcategories of the same underlying principle of a healthy life in all facets. Most of them you cannot live without living the others. They are all quite black and white with no wiggle room as they all have their deeper meaning and functions within the mind and/or physical body. Because of our misunderstanding and lack of depth of knowledge or studies, many people have tried to bend them to their own desires, such as bramhacharya meaning controlling of sexual energy rather than celibacy. With a much deeper understanding of why and how, form and function, bramacharya can only be celibacy and nothing else. The upper levels are not reachable when lower level functions are not in balance.
How about Shaucha. This one is loaded because it speaks to so many things like food, lifestyle, action, speech and thought.
The reason why yogis are vegetarian is not of morality because doesn’t a tiger kill to eat? Are you saying a tiger is immoral? It should eat asparagus?
No, the food that you eat is you. Meaning that the food you eat becomes you, if you are digesting properly. Really you are what you digest, mind, body and all. Food and your digestion affects how you think and act as well as the quality of tissue and your overall health. With this, a yogis diet is very simple. This is one of the very first steps. It applies to Santosha (cleanliness), one of the niyamas. It would also apply to Ahimsa or nonviolence.
From the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a tantrik text (not to be confused with being the same yoga that Yoga Sutras is about:
kaṭvāmla-tīkṣhṇa-lavaṇoṣhṇa-harīta-śāka- sauvīra-taila-tila-sarṣhapa-madya-matsyān | ājādi-māṃsa-dadhi-takra-kulatthakola- piṇyāka-hingghu-laśunādyamapathyamāhuḥ || 61 ||
Bitter, sour, salty, hot, green vegetables, fermented, oily, mixed with sesame seed, rape seed, intoxicating liquors, fish, meat, curds, chhaasa pulses, plums, oil-cake, asafetida (hînga), garlic, onion, etc., should not be eaten.
bhojanamahitaṃ vidyātpunarasyoṣhṇī-kṝtaṃ rūkṣham | atilavaṇamamla-yuktaṃ kadaśana-śākotkaṃ varjyam || 62 ||
Food heated again, dry, having too much salt, sour, minor grains, and vegetables that cause burning sensation, should not be eaten, Fire, women, travelling, etc., should be avoided.
athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ | ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||
Posture becoming established, a Yogî, master of himself, eating salutary and moderate food, should practice Prâṇâyâma, instructed by his guru.
“When a yogin becomes qualified by practicing Yama and Niyama, then the yogin can proceed to asana and the other means.” — Yoga Bhashya Vivarana (II.29)
* Āsana – physical poses based on energy that balances the panchavayu (5 Pranas) of the body. The proper practice balances the physiology and it starts to function optimally but only if the proper rules of nutrition, biomechanics and posture are followed. Just doing a forward bend does not mean that the prana is flowing in the correct fashion that it is supposed to in a forward bend. There is so much more to it than just a movement. Take breath for example. Breathing in when you stand up verses exhaling when you stand up. The energies move with the breath. Just try this on your own. When you exhale to stand up or worse hold your breath, you will experience lightheadedness. this is because of the incorrect movement of energy with the breath connected to the movement of the body you are doing. This is why there is a specific breath with every asana. Inhaling or exhaling.
Another example for your experience; do a forward bend. Stand back up and feel what happened. Take a breath and feel where the breath is moving to, shallow or deeper, up or down more. Now do another forward bend and keep the weight in your heels when you fold forward. Stand back up and check the same. Do this a third time but this time keep the weight in the balls of the feet. Do the awareness and breath test. You wil notice that when you forward bend with the weight in the balls of the feet 1. your abdomen and internal stability turns off. 2. when you stand back up the breath is smaller and more in the neck and shoulder region. 3. you may feel light headed or ungrounded, in fact you have no grounding after that. When you do a forward bend with the weight in the balls of your feet and not hyperextending the knees 1. you will notice the abdomen and core muscularity are on and support you. 2. it was easier and more stable. 3. you feel grounded and maybe even feel more of your feet on the ground. All of this is the movement of prana during the asana. Once again, not knowing what is supposed to be done or doing things attention-less or uneducated will disturb the pranas and cause disease.
Asana clears karma of the physical body, the Annamaya kosha. It creates health of the physical being, balance in the mind due to prana and creates balance within the Pranamaya kosha.
* Pranayama – Pra and na denotes consistency, being a force in constant motion, life force. Pra is a root word meaning first or original. Na is a word meaning the subtlest unit or in other words energy. Prana and ayama are the roots that pranayama comes from. This means pranic capacity or length. The whole thing is regulation of energy or cleansing the pranic body, assimilating prana and cleansing karma from the pranamaya kosha. It is the same thing as Qi Gong (energy skill).
In Sutra 49 of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali states that only retention (kumbhaka) is pranayama.
Pranayama clears the karma in the pranamaya kosha. It is very much about building the energy of the body now that it is balanced due to asana. It is concise as well, if done wrong it will effect the entire physiology and mind very easily. Doing less and starting from the beginning is very important. The first step is yogic breathing or three part breath. It involves the balancing of the nervous system and breathing. In 3 part breathing the first part of the inhale is into the belly and low back. It continues into diaphragmatic breathing or the bottom of the rib cage opens to the sides and backwards like bucket handles being lifted off the side of a bucket, not forward as if you are doing a back bend. this stops the diaphragm from moving properly and forces the breath to be only from the neck and scalene muscles. The third part of the breath is now the neck and shoulders. The scalene muscles in the neck contract at the end of the breath filling the very top of the lungs. The exhale is just in reverse order. Shoulders, ribcage/diaphragm and then belly. Doing this balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Most people are stuck in sympathetic breathing which is seen by that back bend from the kidneys to inhale as well as the shoulders lifting and the neck breathing that happens when the scalene muscle works as the primary muscle of breath. This pranayama is difficult for most people and needs some practice before moving on to anything else. If it is skipped, the imbalance of the breathing is magnified and strengthened with other pranayama practice causing troubles in the physiology, mind and disease forming down the line.
* Pratyahara – abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
Withdrawl is complete withdrawl, where the external disapears completely and you are not distracted by the outside world because it is no longer there. I mean it is there of course, your attention is just so deep that sounds and other sensory input from the external just can’t get in. This practice needs to be more than just like going to church on Sunday to repent what has been done throughout the week. It is to extend into your daily living as well. When the senses are withdrawn, the outward sense desires start to lessen and contentment is left. A balance of inner and outer remains. A knowing of ones self is the result. The practice of pranayama prior draws one inside anyway. It makes you quiet and internal as long as you are not using your pranayama practice to get high. The term bliss bunny applies here. Someone who is completely ungrounded, vata (the five pranas) disturbed and is actually gonna have a big crash sooner or later. This turning of the senses inward is really the start of the true yogic path or nivritti marga. It is a path of renouncing the external and is the path that leads through unfolding back to the spiritual worlds; often called the path of light or luminous arc.
Okay these next ones go quickly one into the other.
* Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
Single pointed focus in practice melts duality and the object and subject combine. You and the object of focus become one, nondual.
This and only this leads to..
* Dhyana – meditation
Quiet mind with no vrittis (eddies) or monkey mind. No thought waves at all. No daydreaming as well. Seriously, yogic meditation is not mindful. The mentalism is not embodiment. It may be someone else’s thought of what meditation is but not to the depth of what yoga is speaking about at all. Most of us in this culture are stuck in our heads. Our minds are going so much that we don’t even recognize it at all. There is no spirituality there. It can only become narcissism. That is far from spiritual. Get out of your head and into beingness with meditation.
And only this leads to…
* Samādhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness, super-conscious state.
This state may be brief at first but then over extended time it extends and much like the recitation of japa with a mala becomes ajapa or the lack of the recitation but just silence and bliss. No conscious thought.
Then if you believe it or not there are nine more levels to samadhi. This would only be but the first and only now have you gotten to the gates of the mansion not anywhere near the front door even.
When was the last time this was taught in a class of “yoga”
The “union” that Yoga (to yoke from the word yog) is talking about is samadhi; the connection of the earth and the stars, the material and the immaterial, the balance of the cosmic and individual, the terrestrial and the celestial. Whatever way you want to say it, it is still the same thing.
This is a ladder, a path to take to get there, clearly described. There are many other parts to it as well. The details in-between even break down into more details. For a uneducated, untrained or unexperienced layman, it might seem inexplicably rigorous and hair splitting but to get there, this very subtlety and vigor of the details is what bring the beauty, the different hues, the true experience and growth on this path that makes this metaphysical or esoteric system actually work and also stand the test of time and tide of fashion. Unfortunately today, the world is selling spirituality. It is in fashion and the true teachings are hard to find in the dense ignorance of 200 hour teacher trainings taught by others of the same lot.
As soon as you put a western mechanical lens on to see a energy science you have blinded yourself completely. It is absolutely impossible to see the Chinese medicine meridians by cutting the arm open to look for them. You must learn the science of yoga without trying to understand it from another lens, then and only then does it opens to you.
It is akin to trying to learn a new language by having it translated to English to understand it. Doesn’t work.
And believe it or not, everything written above is superficial and just the icing of understanding the depth of yoga. Seriously, this has only scratched the surface.