Yoga lifestyle: A prerequisite to the path
Lets face it, it would be incredibly difficult in our culture to live a yogic life. Living as an ascetic, away from the culture is almost impossible without a major commitment towards the yogic lifestyle. When we look at what is the path of yoga from the original literature describing the path, we see what it takes and what it is truly.
The following verses describe the underpinnings of the yogic path:
Hatha is a monastery for those who are afflicted by unlimited suffering; and for those who are engaged in the practice of all kinds of yoga. Hatha yoga is the supporting tortoise.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 10
Suffering in life is of three kinds; of the spiritual, natural or environmental and the physical. By the practice of yoga, the aspirant is creating strength to remain unaffected by these suffering. The analogy of a clay pot is used many times in Vedic explanations of tempering. A clay pot unheated and processed, will dissolve in water. Only by adding the karma (action) of heating will the clay bake and change the properties of the pot allowing it to hold water. In this way, the practice becomes like a tortoise. The tortoise is a symbol used in the story of “Samudra Manthan” or the churning of the milky ocean in the Puranas as well as the Mahabharata. The devas and the asuras churned the milky ocean with Mount Meru or Mandarachala was used as the churning stick, and Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the churning rope. The mountain was unstable in the ocean and started to sink as the dissolution of the universe started to take place. Vishnu manifested as Kurma, the tortoise to support the churning. This is what the practice does. It supports the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the aspirant while the churning and the fire (the burning away of karma and the transformation) take place.
A hatha yogi should reside in solitude in a righteous country where the government is benign and alms are easily available. One which is free from all kinds of disturbances. They should live in a small cottage, having no rock, fire or water up to four cubits (a traditional unit of length, based on the length of a forearm) on any side.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 12
Solitude and silence alone allows the process to happen. It is amazing what happens when we are still and silent. What would happen to you if you didn’t have anything to do? How many people can even comprehend this. In our culture we have been raised to be busy and separated from our self. We have a deep-set fear of just being. The trauma we have accumulated can only be released through stillness and silence, which is a process and takes time. It is not dealt with at all by running off hurriedly to the next “yoga” class, then rushing back to work or on to the next thing on our “mindful” shopping list of things to “do”.
The hut should have a small entrance and no other openings, holes or pits. It should neither be too high nor too low but well besmeared with a thick layer of cow dung, clean, and free from all insects. There should be a beautifully laid canopied platform and a well in the compound outside that should be enclosed by a wall.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 13
The cow dung is used because it is a repellant to insects, an antiseptic and a thermal insulator. Houses in india used to have the cows living in the front of the house where you entered. As you walked back towards the living section, there were no flies or insects. This is only part of why the cow is a holy cow in Vedic tradition.
Residing in this type of cottage he should be free from all worries. One should be occupied with yoga and yoga alone, always in the way advise by the guru.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 14
Yoga is futile by over eating, over exertion, talking to much, severe austerity, public contact and fickleness of mind.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 15
Yoga is successfully performed by the following six; enthusiasm, courage, perseverance, correct understanding and right knowledge, determination, and abandoning public contact.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 16
The focus is on yoga. The focus needs to be focused. Without the proper guidance of an authority that has and is living the life of a yogi, you can get nowhere but treading water and the water starts to get deeper and darker as the unfolding happens. I have coined a term “spiritual porn” meaning that it is getting you off for the moment but has no lasting effect. “Spiritual bypass” or using so-called spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs is another way of saying it. Just another treadmill running in place not getting anywhere. It is much of what we have in our culture now that spirituality is being sold. In the “seeing” that occurs with the accumulation of knowledge as to the path of yoga, you get to see what is really happening out there in the “modern yoga world”. Just as an example or two, Rodney Yee many years ago was found to be cheating on his wife with several students, John Friend is now in a load of trouble due to many allegations to sex, drug use, and cult religious practices. These are just two but most of the top celebrity “yogis” are falling into the holes that they have dug in their lack of integrity to yoga and the actual practice itself. It is easy to see how the distractions of the external world have taken them from a real practice into the maya that they have created. Regressing back to verse 10, it is the churning that creates the progress, the fire that does the baking but the practice itself that you abide in for the protection.
Over eating, over exertion, talking to much, severe austerity, public contact and fickleness of mind; these are all examples of wasting prana and indulgence. All of these and other of the same likeness will create imbalances to the health. Interesting is the one about over exertion. What is exertion and when does it become over exertion? This can be asked about all of these examples. Without having a teacher that has the knowledge one is left to make something up based upon their own experience and a road paved with good intentions leading to hell. This is also where understanding ayurveda and other Vedic sciences help out with understanding tremendously. Over exertion is when the physiology of the body changes and the prana is no longer being balanced but will go into an imbalance creating disease. The heat increases too much in the body and starts to create problem. Two of the main signs of this is when perspiration appears on the forehead or under the nose on the upper lip and also when you can no longer breathe only through the nose. Says a lot about what is being practiced out there in the masses as “yoga”.
Asana, being the first component of Hatha yoga after yamas and niyamas, is dealt with first. Asana brings mental and physical steadiness, health and a feeling of lightness.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 17
Once again we see that the practice of Yamas and Niyamas is the first step needing to be conquered in the practice. Refer to past blog “What is Yoga?” for more detail.
The next verses not written here (18 through 32) describe several asanas
Eighty four asanas have been enumerated by Lord Shiva, I am describing here the four most important of them.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 33
Wow!!! This says so much!!!! There are only four asanas that are important. Well that makes it easy.
Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, and Bhadrasana are these four; and the best among these is siddhasana in which one should always stay comfortable.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 34
And these four asanas are all sitting postures of meditation. What do you know? So asana is not about turning yourself into a pretzel?
Just as mitahara (proper diet) is foremost among the yamas and ahimsa (nonviolence) is foremost among niyamas so is this asana called siddhasana foremost among the asanas
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 38
Okay so now we get a deeper look at the ladder of the practice. The most important pieces so far is to eat correctly (what is correct eating?), live in nonviolence (what all does that entail?) and sit in siddhasana (what pose is siddhasana). Is it truly that easy? I will unwrap these in much more detail in the future blogs.
Of the eighty-four asanas, only siddhasana, which purifies the seventy-two thousand nadis should be practised daily.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 39
This means to sit still and meditate. What is asana all about? Well, asana means sitting, sitting down, sitting in peculiar posture according to the custom of devotees, the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics, halting, stopping, encamping, abiding, dwelling……….. Now think about this for a minute, sitting and halting and stopping of what? Abiding in what? Dwelling in what?
One who is devoted to yoga, practising continence, moderation in diet and renunciation, attains success in one year or a little more. There is no room for doubt in this statement.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 57
Now we go into a little more information of what to be eating…….
Eating sweet unctuous food offered first to the almighty and is not eaten for one’s own satisfaction, leaving one-quarter of the stomach empty – this is mitahara.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 58
Eating food that is bitter, sour, salty or hot; green vegetables, sour gruel, oil, mustard and sesame; consuming alcohol, fish, meat, curd (yogurt), buttermilk, horse gram, berries, oil cakes, asafoetida, garlic, etc… are not good for a yogi.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 59
These are not good because of the qualities of each. This is not a list of foods that it can be seen as by the laymen but rather a guide of the rasas (tastes) and gunas (qualities) that should be avoided. Only understanding these tastes and qualities and their actions on the body and mind will allow someone to see what the diet should consist of and why. You are otherwise left once again to it being a list and no deeper understanding will be had.
Yogis should eat food that is nutritious, sweet and unctuous. Products of cow’s milk and nourishing foods are suitable for the practice of yoga.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chpt 1 verse 63
All the products of cow (not meat) are sattvic in nature. Sattva means the quality of purity or goodness and a substance that is in an elemental state because it renders a person true and nurtures this quality in the mind and body. Review blog on Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
So all in all we are starting to see what this path entails. In the details there is the knowledge. Only when that knowledge is practiced and churned and fire applied does it become wisdom. Then this wisdom allows for a deeper knowledge to arrive. Application of this might seem like we are getting extremely detailed to the uneducated and inexperienced layman but in this detail it is seen the truth and why and how of this path. What might look rigorous, dogmatic, inflexible and ridged to most from the outside that are in avidya (ignorance) in maya and to those that are not courageous enough to take the path is actually the path to beauty of the progress and the actual path. This path has been laid out for us and has stood the test of time. it is only these details that have allowed it to stand this test. If you drop out a piece of it or decide that you don’t need to follow it precisely or add or take away mainstay details of this path, you do suffer the consequences. We see it today with the bastardizations of the path and the obvious qualities of those that are teaching those bastardizations. The path is not difficult when you stick to it. The path unfolds to you as your integrity and commitment to follow it.
As you step closer to the light and the truth the outer world is left behind, the engagement in the worldly desires become like flies on a horses back. Then true bliss is experienced and can be lived in. Then the outer world can be lived in without the suffering and attachments. Yes, it is much more secluded and alone in this place but this is the path that is that of a yogi.