(Chapter 10 from the book «Yoga: Art of Communication»)
Translated by Irina Stafeeva, Alexander Kamel
Edited by Katherine E.Charles
Edited by Katherine E.Charles
The hands are dancing, the pendulum’s swaying,
Green is the turquoise of heaven,
And in your soul the sinner and the just one
Are looking intensely in God’s eyes.
Green is the turquoise of heaven,
And in your soul the sinner and the just one
Are looking intensely in God’s eyes.
For the last few years, yoga has become increasingly popular throughout the world, including Russia. The enormous demand and interest surpasses the limited supply of qualified instructors. Unfortunately, this results in unscrupulous parties using the word “yoga” to promote just about any type of physical activity.
Faek Bireah, the head of Paris Centre of Aiengar Yoga, commented few years ago: ”Had Patanjali been alive today, he would have never recognized what we are doing as yoga…” This phrase is especially relevant today.
Since the real consequences of practicing “dynamic yoga” and “invented styles” have just started showing through, people are becoming more cautious about them. This is good news. Altering the practice of yoga does not improve the results. Therefore this chapter focuses on traditional (as have been practiced for centuries) yoga, which has been the total focus of my time and my life’s work. I continue to publish books on this topic, because of the ongoing need to present the key aspects of the technique in the most concise and easy-to-understand manner.
The main purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that your practice could be built in accordance with the essence of Patanjali texts and to explain which results could be achieved. For that, I will be relying on the Sutras 46(II) and 47(II) and I will present a series of conclusions based on my personal experience.
Thus, below are two versions of the translation of the Sutra 47(II) plus a commentary:
- “An asana is being achieved through abandoning all effort or concentrating on the infinite” (2)
- “By loosening of effort and by meditation on the serpent Ananta, asana is mastered. …
…So there should be relaxation of effort; there should be perfect relaxation in the asana.
Secondly, the mind should be concentrated on Ananta.
The word ananta means endless.”(3)
- “The person practicing the specific asana in accordance with the tradition should focus their effort on the relief of the natural tension” (2).
The meaning of the relief of tension is the resulting relaxation, and nothing else. Then, what kind of effort is implied? Obviously, it implies letting go the conventional patterns, in particular the attempt to improve an asana. This attempt is senseless because the body can not be forced beyond its plasticity limits without injury. Therefore, the essence of any asana is the maximum muscle relaxation possible in this particular posture.
D. Ebert states “ Mastering an asana implies perfecting sensomotor regulation, so the decrease in muscle activity will be indicating the growing perfection” or “The main requirements for any asana stated in “Yoga Sutra” are motionlessness and comfort. That means that each posture should be held with the minimal effort…” (4)
What is then the concentration on the infinite? The thinking process includes conscious, or directed and sporadic, or autonomic mental activity. The directed mental activity impliesfollowing the specific goal and could be controlled through a conscious effort. The autonomic mental activity represents sporadic thoughts appearing in the mind without pursuing any specific goal.
Spreading the mind on the infinite number of objects means diffusing it completely (like trying to encompass in your focus every leaf on a tree or hear 20 stories at the same time). This would cause conscious mental activity to cease and autonomic mental activity would disappear or separate from the consciousness .That would result in the silence of the mind, the temporary(for the period of practice) absence of thoughts, or quieting of the thinking process.
Now, below is the translation of the Sutra 46 (II):
- “Steady and comfortable should be the posture” (3).
“In the essence, every true yogic exercise tends to suppress any manifestation of rajas guna (5), and therefore should be static rather than dynamic” (6)
Therefore, practicing traditional yoga asanas boils down to the performing specific body posture (still achievable without stress), but at the same time, the conditions are created for:
- the maximum muscle relaxation and
- the maximum muscle relaxation and
- the discontinuation of the conventional thinking process (ordinary mental activity).
Practically, following these rules means that:
- the physical effort (while performing asanas) should not be explicitly perceived by the consciousness (unless one pays specific attention to it). The mind could only become empty when the effort and the body position are completely natural. The sensations from holding the posture remain latent (unnoticed) within the optimal exposure time. As soon as this time is exceeded, the sensation or effort starts being perceived, which signals the time to finish the asana. If the posture is held after the sensations appear, the effect of the asana reverts and becomes negative, since it can involve potential trauma.
- having a variety of asanas only matters for exercising the muscles and joints to compensate for the pitfalls of our sedimentary lifestyle and to achieve the overall holistic effect on the body organs and systems. The variety is also useful to achieve the consistent silence of mind during the posture changes.
When the conventional mental activity ceases as the result of the correct(traditional static) asana practice, any asana is being performed: - without thinking, analysis and correction, neutrally, with detachment, in accordance with the physical ability of the practicing person;
- also, without explicit (noticeable) sensations, which would inevitably disturb the mental relaxation.
- also, without explicit (noticeable) sensations, which would inevitably disturb the mental relaxation.
The absence of sensations indicates that:
- the body is not overstretched or overstrained (as in our usual day-to day activity when we are comfortable and do not notice any body strain).
- the practice complies with ahimsa (7), it meets yama (7) requirement and secures from injury.
- the body posture is optimal and its effect is holistic for the time of exposure (before the sensations start appearing).
Mastering asana is reflected in minimizing the number of muscles involved as well as the intensity of their work. Thus the beneficial exposure time lasts from the moment of becoming motionless till the appearance of sensations (it does not matter in which part of the body). The sensations signal the time to finish the asana.
The posture being performed with the involvement of the thinking process should not be considered asana! This is consideration for beginners, which will nevertheless dissipate as their practice becomes established.
Only the practice of asanas resulting in the change of the conventional thinking process should be referred to as the yoga described in the original Sutras.
Typically, a goal is implied with any conscious physical activity of an adult person. It is different in yoga. Asana is not related to any specific external goal and should be only performed in accordance with the current abilities of one’s body.
Thus, the practice of asanas should result in the absence of any noticeable current achievement (in its conventional understanding). There should be no pain, sweating or any new or unusual sensations. Yoga is the process of the unhurried change of body postures which are never achieved (or, particularly, held) in day-to-day life. This process results in a specific state of mind. This is the time when the effect of the asana is holistic, though it is as unnoticeable as digestion or blood circulation.
One should perform the asana referring to a picture of the posture or as shown by the teacher, in accordance with the current ability of the body without any attempt to improve it through the conscious effort!The posture should be held until the body remains relatively comfortable, motionless and “silent“(no sensations, trembling, heat etc.).
For every individual, asana is the posture that can be achieved without stress by his/her own body! Shall the perfect yoga posture exhibited on the picture (or video) be considered an asana? Not necessarily, since one can not tell what were the performer’s state of mind and his or her body sensations at the time.
In traditional yoga, it is not the body posture (and, moreover, its complexity) that matters that much, but rather the exposure time. Even if the posture looks very simple, it does not mean there is no exercise! Stand up straight, raise your unbent arm to shoulder level and stretch it forward, and hold that posture for a while. Very soon, you will realize how the exposure works and what kind of exercise could be achieved in this most simple posture. The simpler the posture is, the longer one could comfortably hold it and the greater its holistic effect!
Yoga is the holding of specific postures. It is passive work using the weight of the body and its parts. It is the cumulative effect of curling and takeovers, crossing the limbs and changing body position benefiting from the force of gravity.
The attempt to force the postures in yoga should be replaced by resting in the postures for the specific (exposure) time while carefully avoiding sensations. The effect is achieved through the entirety of conditions created, combined and held for the exposure time, rather than through consecutive actions performed by the practicing person and targeted at specific result.
Thus, the intentional, targeted and fast change of any kind of postures is not yoga. Highly complicated asanas are only be appropriate for people who can achieve them without extra effort and still be completely (especially mentally) relaxed. Only people with natural hyper mobility of the joints should practice complicated asanas. This complexity would be dangerous for people with average joint mobility and could even be destructive to their health.
Only yoga practice in accordance with the abovementioned criteria results in and at the same time is accompanied by total muscular and mental relaxation.
After a beginner is adjusted to the first stage of physical adaptation, he or she starts realizing that:
- one should feel rather than think during the practice! Do not analyze the asanas or pranayama(8) during the practice! Do it before or after.
- one should feel rather than think during the practice! Do not analyze the asanas or pranayama(8) during the practice! Do it before or after.
- it is impossible to bend the body as shown on the picture of the posture, “shut off” the mind or change the breathing pattern via direct conscious effort. Otherwise, there would be no need for yoga.
By its nature, yoga is the skill of indirect management of the functional psychosomatic parameters (both controlled and automatic) via establishing the specific conditions in both body and mind.
Many processes in our life which are initiated, organized and performed (up to a certain point) consist of two stages: the first one being implemented by the person (direct involvement), and the second one being a process which naturally flows from the first one (continuation and development without any personal involvement). Still, the second stage would not occur without the first one. In ancient China, these processes were called wu-wei (9) (action via non action).
Let us consider the following example. Eating is necessary for living. Having earned the money, one could buy the food, take it home and possibly cook it, set the table and take a seat, pick up the food, put it into the mouth, chew and swallow it. All of these would be one’s own manipulations. But what else could one personally do with the consumed food? Nothing at all, no more direct manipulations are possible. The body further processes the food on its own, without one’s control. While the digestion of the food continues, it becomes automatic.
It is not a good idea to interfere with the process of digesting the food. Being the result of evolution, natural processes (absent any kind of functional disorder) are characterized by their high degree of efficiency and autonomy from conscious control.
The wu-wei principle is fully congruent with traditional yoga as well. One should perform the posture and hold it for the optimal exposure time, letting one’s body take care of everything happening in its systems and organs. When the body’s “signals” appear, the posture should be ended.
Like healthy nutrition, yoga, being correctly used in the optimal quantity, results in optimal physiological and psychological well-being. And this eventually reflects into one’s life, improving its overall quality. But if one tries to directly perform everything in yoga, the result would be similar to striking random weird poses; nothing but isometric physical activity.
The first thing the beginner should learn in the process of adaptation to yoga practice is the constant re-direction of his or her attention towards the body. Usually, the eyes are the most convenient area to anchor one’s attention. They should be closed during asanas if possible since the major flow of external information is supplied to the brain through the visual channel thus interfering with the process of mental relaxation. When the eyelids are closed, the eyeballs in most cases keep reflex trembling or moving. After some practice (Shavasana would be the easiest to start with), one could succeed in relaxing the eyeballs so that their spontaneous movement discontinues. The eyeballs automatically move up or down to find the most comfortable position thus disappearing from one’s perception. The eye orbits start feeling heavy, sometimes warm, and the attention comfortably sets on this area. As soon as the mind gets disturbed by an accidental thought (picture, phrase or concept), the eyes tend to return to their normal state, get strained and start moving again. If one succeeds in keeping the eyes relaxed for a while, the thinking process slows down.
In some cases, though, people experience unpleasant growing nervous tension while trying to pay attention to or manipulating their closed eyes. These people should try another way of slowing down their mental process via directing their attention to the other parts of their bodies. Eventually, they will find the most comfortable area for holding their attention, but it might take some time.
The most common alternative areas are the bridge of the nose, the point between the eyebrows (bhrumadhya), the skin of the forehead, the palms or specific areas of the face.
The body of neurotic people could be separated from perception (or, on the contrary, the
perception is overwhelmed by chaotic signals from the unbalanced autonomic nervous system)(10). They could set their attention upon the rhythmic movements of the belly or chest area in the breathing process, or upon the air flow in the nostrils (this would be similar to vipassana (11) practice). Quite often the beginner eventually finds his or her own unique area in the body for setting their attention. No one should ever set the attention upon the heartbeat as this would always be dangerous for health.
There is no room for the external thoughts, while the mind is engaged with the body only. Sensitivity increases (the perception of the body and its parts improves, the emerging sensations become more vivid). However, they should not be followed too thoroughly or too deeply, as it also distracts from the ultimate silence of mind.
When the muscular relaxation in asanas has been achieved and the practicing person does not try to improve the posture despite the emerging sensations, the body does only necessary work, and the risk of traumas ultimately disappears.
When the result becomes consistent (the body is “silent” during the exposure time and in the pauses between asanas), the attention switches for the second time to perceive the autonomous mind activity that becomes observable.
Then one becomes aware of the content of his or her mind, and also of the features of his or her leading representation system (12). The structure of mental processes and the habitual way of describing the world are clearly reflected in the predicate words used in communication, mimics and gestures. Regardless of the preference, people can understand each other, but communication complying with their leading representation system would be much better understood, most meaningful and emotionally satisfying.
The thinking of a person could also be described as analog or digital. The analog type (in accordance with G. Bateson) is more ancient way of functioning of the central nervous system.
It is mythological, intuitive, closely linked to the unconscious, instincts and reactions of the autonomous nervous system. It works with the whole picture of reality, although it is not perfectly clear and detailed. Digital thinking is much more abstract, based on the principles of formal logic. It is thought that these types of thinking complement each other, and the absolute domination of one type would make the corresponding behavior unviable.
Regardless of the type of thinking, the received information is supplied to the brain via all five senses (if they all function). Then, the “body-mind system”sorts the information out, and the person internalizes it according to his or her representation system.
To achieve the silence of mind (chitta vritti nirodhah (13), or CVN), one should slow down his or her mental activity, which consists of the processes of conscious and spontaneous thinking.
To escape from the directed activity of the mind, one should avoid recollections or logical sequences and conclusions, but rather let the thoughts flow independently. This is not necessary if one is able to continuously re-direct his or her attention back to body.
Regardless of the type of the leading representation system, the stage of mental chaos (which mainly represents autonomic mental activity) precedes the silence of mind. The flow of images becomes dream-like and sporadic, their content can not be recalled after finishing the asanas or the pause between them. Inner dialog/monolog regresses to a senseless buzz. Kinesthetic people can experience trembling of limbs, uncontrolled movements in their body and/or face, or perceive the ”sound” of the work of their separate muscles or their groups, or of blood circulation in the body.
Sometimes, representation may vary in the process of achieving the silence of mind. For example, the practitioner L. would start from “watching” the scrolling text reflecting her day working activities on the “screen” of her mind. Next, along with the deepening relaxation, the text would disappear and be replaced by the sound of dialog. Further, the dialog would vanish, being replaced by images, and her consciousness would start drifting. The whole process would take about half an hour.
The complete (true and clear) silence of mind can not be immediately achieved. Not every practicing person can achieve it, only some “digital” and kinesthetic people. The ultimate silence would not necessarily be achievable by the sadkhaka (14) who “sees” or “hears” his or her thoughts (though there are some exceptions). As the rule, the spontaneous mind activity recedes to the background and fades out. Thus one continues practicing, observing the absence of sensations in the body and being alerted to the signals to finish the posture, while there is something moving, flickering, talking somewhere at the very back of the mind. The practicing person observes this sporadic activity without getting involved or affected, or simply becomes oblivious.
Generally, one needs to practice for quite a while to achieve the silence of mind (various stages of CVN) and its quality depends on a number of factors that can not be traced or perceived and can not be generalized. Some people experience indeed silence and darkness, others – the starry sky, phosphenes (15), dancing colors, “movies”, dreams, the feeling of submersion, or even blackouts. According to the descriptions of some practicing people the consciousness sinks, dissolves, drifts, fades out, defocuses, becomes intermittent, slows down, almost freezes. Nevertheless, this residual mind activity is always present and it represents the third “switch” of the consciousness that eventually becomes ekagrata (16).
Continuous tension of skeletal muscles always accompanies the flow of thoughts of a person whose mind is active and overwhelmed by routine material even if the body is still and relaxed.
The appearance and degree of this tension depends on the current emotional state, the content of the thoughts and general hyper tonus of muscles caused by the over-strain of sub-consciousness.
Even at the beginning of the mental relaxation process, one starts perceiving the blockages (groups of chronic tensions) which were not noticed earlier and did not disappear during sleep. Neurotics, people stressed or abused in their childhood, or those experiencing constant routine stress always have this kind of blockages.
Each blockage is the specific pattern of tension which is typically relatively limited and stablein the body. A locus of persistent pain emerges in the areas where these patterns overlap. The pain does not seem to have any apparent cause. In the process of calming down the mind in asanas, the body starts transforming as well. As soon as the consciousness “blurs” in the process of mental relaxation, the body responds to it with spontaneous movement towards the body’s limit in the asana.
Put some ice cubes into a glass. The ice cubes are frozen water. But the water in its solid form can not fill the whole glass, unless the ice melts. The usual pattern of body tension can not “melt” in the muscles until the mind activity slows down. The body will “flow into” the best shape of asana that could be achieved within one’s plasticity limit, this will happen naturally, in response to the mental relaxation. One can not reach the plasticity limit and, moreover, hold itthrough conscious effort without a high risk of trauma (this risk becomes a 100% if one consistently “forces” the body). The wildest of the “modern styles of yoga” require significant dynamic workout, combining holding breath with bandhas(17) or staying in hot-rooms in order to achieve the maximum plasticity. Obviously, this does not contribute to maintaining health, let alone mental relaxation.
But if one approaches his or her plasticity limit daily without effort in the CVN state of mind, the plasticity starts changing to reach its maximum for a given individual. This level of plasticity results from quality yoga practice and could be maintained for many years, thus prolonging the youth of the body. Ageing can be understood as the entropy of the body increasing. Practicing Hatha yoga(18) can offset this trend and thus slow one’s biological ageing.
Moreover, the practice of asanas in the state of mind approaching CVN results in spontaneous relief and rehabilitation of the psycho-somatic system.
The process of rehabilitation can be initiated by only a specific amount of stimulus. Traditional Yoga deals only with mild or moderate stimuli on the body.
Mild stimuli cause a resonant response similar to that in homeopathy and acupuncture. It is the mild practice that is optimal for people with health problems who begin practicing Yoga to heal their functional disorders (19).
It is the motionless body and the silent mind (achieved both in asanas and in pauses between them) that are the basic conditions for initiating the process of spontaneous rehabilitation of the system.
In Yoga practice, one unconsciously affects a number of secondary parameters of homeostasis (for instance, his or her own plasticity, blood pressure etc) through influencing the musculoskeletal system, the configuration of organs and blood and lymphatic circulation. At the same time, the practice allows the body system to “repair” unrecognized internal problems.
Between waking up in the morning and falling asleep in the night, one is busy achieving numerous goals with one’s intellect calculating, and the body executing the actions. A person is stressed by external circumstances requiring his or her constant involvement and attention. Even during one’s free time, the individual is engaged with the pursuit of his or her interests and desires. Thus, in everyday life, the awake mind is constantly involved in the process of interacting with the external world and never remains empty. This emptiness (and further - silence) of mind could only be achieved in the practice of asanas in accordance with Sutra 46, chapter II.
As soon as your psychosomatic system recognizes that you routinely leave it in peace (at least for a while), it will immediately start resolving its own vital problems. It will pursue the internal system goals, rather than those dictated by the intellect. As soon as all external tasks and goals are postponed, your “body-mind system” chooses by itself the priorities of rehabilitation. The entire structure is being rebuilt, targeting the best possible (for all living creatures) outcome –the stability of the inner milieu – homeostasis.
The process of relief and rehabilitation of the body system which always accompanies the practice of traditional yoga is its inherent and distinctive feature. It is nothing else but psychosomatic therapy built into the technology of traditional yoga.
As a result of the practice, any person could gradually restore his or her naturalphysical andmental health (of course, corresponding to his or her age). Theoretically, they could be restored from the lowest possible level. However, in reality the beginners should take into consideration that even the mildest yoga practice still requires an adaptation period. The results will become noticeable only after this period.
Yoga restores the stability of homeostasis of the body system, regardless of the nature of disorderprovided that it is still correctable. Namely, this kind of rehabilitation (Yoga therapy) heals only functional disorders, including chronic disorders which have not yet involved organic lesions (damage to organs).
The above was about the body. As far as the psyche is concerned, it only starts being restored after the daily practice of mental silence becomes consistent.
If you were patient enough to read the book to this point, you should have the legitimate question: Why don’t either Hindu teachers of yoga nor their Western successors mention all this? Why has nobody, nowhere (even in India, let alone Europe or America) ever explained to Western beginners practicing Yoga, the issue of mental relaxation and everything flowing from it? Is this information “classified”? Are the Hindu teachers unable to explain it while they do everything correctly by themselves?
In my opinion, the situation is much simpler: European philosophers noticed a long time ago that the mentality of Hindus is very different. They follow their heart rather than their head. Many western visitors notice and are struck by the amazing psychological relaxation of the local population in India. Naturally, the religious beliefs of local people also contribute to this state of mind. The people are not depressed at all by their poverty and struggle for survival. The belief in eternal life and better reincarnations keeps them content with their livesdespite the circumstances. It is a major issue for western people to learn to “switch off” the head in order to avoid endless mental hustle and overstrain. Typically Hindu people do not have this problem at all! Thus any discussion with them about the problems of psychological and emotional overstrain is not likely to be understood. It is similar to Russians (and also Europeans and Americans) not understanding me when I say that the practice of Yoga must lead to silence of mind and be performed in this state! Mental relaxation is unfamiliar to western people while mental strain is unknown to the average Hindu.
The entire Western type of civilization (including the sciences) resulted from the high level of mental activity of Western people. This activity is induced by dissatisfaction with the existent state of affairs and the resulting anxiety. Originally Yoga was created by people with a different type of world perception and mentality and a different information environment. This is why the concentration on the infinite (in the other words, complete mental relaxation or silence of mind) which is a well-known conceptin Patanjali’s Sutras becomes a stumbling block for Western people. No wonder! Their brain works relentlessly (like convicts on a chain gang).
If one were to take a closer look at the teachings of “yoga” in the schools of Ayengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa, he or she will notice that the originators of those “styles” had no idea how to approach the problem of the extreme tension of Westerners. The authors of the “modern styles of yoga” make the same mistake today.
B. K. S. Ayengar chose to focus on numerous details and on the perfect shape of the asanas because Westerners did not have the genuine relaxation of Hindu people. Idealizing postures further served to distract his students from their day-to-day problems and thus make his system understandable. But as a result, the mind of practitioner becomes overwhelmed with the details of performing asanas and does not come anywhere near to silence. P. Joyce introduced the flow of movements accompanied by physical overstrain for exactly the same purpose. In that case, all mental activity is suppressed, but overall psychosomatic overstrain appears instead of total relaxation, and existing problems only become worse.
The people in the modern world desperately need to learn ways to release psycho-emotional over-strain and successfully deal with mental hustle. The goal of traditional yoga is mastering full relaxation leading to the silence of mind.
Routine stresses (that are fundamental to the life of Westerners) include basic survival as well as social interaction. Let us take a closer look at the consequences of these routine overstresses.
The human sub-conscious serves as the buffer and, at the same time, as the “septic field” for information and emotions. The informational and emotional fragments that become obsolete or hazardous for the mind are suppressed under the threshold of the sub-conscious and accumulated there. The protective suppression mechanism functions properly if the amount of stress the person experiences in his or her childhood and teens does not exceed an acceptable level.
If stresses start at too early an age, and their intensity and frequency exceed the adaptation ability of the child’s psyche, the sub-conscious gradually turns into a kind of a “cemetery”, overwelmed with fury, fear, despair and unbearable memories. From a certain moment on, the sub-conscious can no longer play its role of protecting the psyche. On the contrary, the emotional content of the suppressed material begins to develop into psychosomatic conditions.
Memories related to ongoing stressful situations are suppressed as well. Thus, the person loses access to many fragments of his or her past (this is called emotional amnesia). The entire structure of interactions between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the psyche is thus distorted, which causes a total aberration of perception, awareness and thinking.
Of course, no one is miraculously protected from allaccidents. It is the role of the parents to protect their children from the hazards of the externalworld. But when the parents’ behavior appears to be abusive, the future condition of the child’s psyche and his or her ability to communicate in a social context becomes endangered even though the child’s development looks normal.
Radchenko (20) states: “Along with the progress of mankind, there appeared new types of stresses. There were no genetic protection programs against these stresses. Nowadays the adaptation to the environment depends on one’s mental abilities rather than on muscle strength, the integrity of bones and tendons, or running ability. Words became more dangerous than weapons. Human emotions were originally intended to mobilize the body for defense. Nowadays, they are quite often suppressed and distorted by social nicety. Over time they are not even recognized by the person and could cause destructive processes in the body”. In other words, the sub-conscious overwhelmed by suppressed negative emotions and unsatisfactory communication with the world initially causes functional disorders and later thedamage to the organs and systems (21).
Therefore the effective and safe “discharge” of the sub-conscious becomes the most vitally important task today. Even if the family environment appears to be good and the suppression of material does not appear to interfere with routine functioning, the day-to-daystresses are still accumulated.
In the modern world, maximum capacity of complex mental activity and accelerated reactions are required. Emotions interfere with the abstract thinking which is necessary for the majority of activities performed by Western people. The hormone support of emotional sphere is constantly suppressed (22). But at the same time, the stress-related adrenaline is not properly utilized through necessary and sufficient physical activity (23).
This leads to the constant overworking of the sympathetic nervous system (and underutilization of the parasympathetic nervous system) and a resulting excessive muscle tonus (which does not relax even during sleep). General nervous tension exceeds a safe level. This is accompanied by all corresponding symptoms: the narrowed field of perception, distorted thinking process, broken communication with others etc.
Our perception works in an amazing way. We believe that when we are of sound mind and have good memory, our consciousness (attention) should act like a spotlight highlighting a landscape in the dark. We would then clearly perceive (and, respectively, view) anything that comes to our attention. However, this is no more than an illusion complicating our life. Distorted consciousness in fact imposes projections rather than works as a spotlight. It would add its own distortions to the perceived picture of reality. This state is toxic to the mind.
Usually, a person is oblivious to this. He or she perceives himself (or herself) as being in the right while the external world is constantly viewed as being wrong. The mistakes in behavior add up. They frustrate plans and expectations and, eventually, all of life. “Life is a tale told by an idiot -- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (24). It would potentially result in adaptation failure, neurosis, depression, borderline states and psychosis.
The total amount of psychic energy is constant for a given person. The amount is optimally distributed by the system to satisfy all functional needs of the person. During the daytime, most mental energy is consumed by the working consciousness. During sleep, most of it is used by the inner activity of the unconscious.
As was already mentioned, active consciousness does not happen to be empty in everyday life. When this happens in the practice of Yoga, the unused part of inner psychic energy (since the total amount remains constant), gets absorbed by the sub-conscious. Its activity increases, stimulating suppressed pathological material.
Therefore when the activity of the consciousness slows down to zero and the sub-conscious possesses sufficient resources, the conditions are created to release the suppressed material. This occurs through the protective barrier from the suppressed areas of the sub-conscious to the surface of an emptying mind (like overheated steam through an open valve).
Thus, the main condition of initiating the process of releasing sub-conscious material is the complete termination of mind activityaccompanied by the activity of parasympathetic functions for the whole duration of practicing asanas. It is the ”body-mind system” that decides how and to what extent the released material will be understood by the mind. The “body-mind system” would take care of presenting it in the least traumatic way. It would then re-distribute the released material between the appropriate perception channels. This would conform to whichever representation system was in place for the person (visual, auditory, kinesthetic).
The leading representative system organizes the released material, presenting it to consciousness in a certain way, but the practicing person (until the completion of the process) is only partially aware of the content of the released material. In most cases the release occurs without conscious involvement, through sensations in the body (pain without any apparent cause) or through intense emotional release, somehow reflected in dreams.
Many modern methods of relief and rehabilitation of the psyche (psychoanalysis, rebirthing, NLP, hypnosis, autogenic training, gestalt therapy etc.) are surpassed by Yoga in this major aspect: it is absolutely safe. Althoughthe person practicing yoga triggers the process of spontaneous relief and rehabilitation, it is further carried out by psychosomatic processes without any personal (and, in most cases, conscious) involvement or any external influence. Therefore, the resulting process is not based on a system of rhetoric but instead simply allows the “body-mind system” to repair itself.
Let us consider the most typical options of relief. In each case, I highlight the leading representative system of the person. This information is helpful if one should do substantial work to “clean out” the subconscious. A successful Yoga therapy (as well as any other kind) requires a high degree of communication with the practitioner. The knowledge of the leading representation system is crucial to choose the appropriate technique of meditation.
The internal family environment very often becomes the source of long and heavy stresses. This happens partially because “kinesthetics complain that auditory and visual people are insensitive. Visuals complain that auditories don’t pay attention to them because they don’t make eye contact during the conversation. Auditory people complain that the kinesthetics don’t listen, etc. The outcome is usually that one group comes to consider the other deliberately bad or mischievous or pathological” (25). It’s necessary to remember that in any given person a prevailing representation system doesn’t fully exclude the others. Many people think in images and words at the same time, while kinesthesia can be found in nearly all people (except for those suffering from psychosis and severe neurosis).
The first option is the motoric discharge. It could be accompanied by intense negative emotions without recalling the original source of problems.
Case #1 was a man of 35 who with was somewhat frail, with average physical abilities. He had some problems in his childhood. He had been suffering from hay fever with bad summer flare-ups for half of his life. He had a high level of anxiety, an excessive general muscle tonus, scoliosis, chronic fatigue and insomnia.
While practicing yoga he was able to improve his general condition slowly but surely. After two years of practice, only traces of his allergy remained, and his health became basically normal.
There was another interesting thing, too. His leading representation was kinesthetic. He never had any pictures or sounds in his mind, thoughts seemed to appear from nowhere. When his relaxation reached certain depth, he started experiencing muscle tremors in his body (around the eyes, in the right thigh, in the biceps). While practicing Shavasana, he would perceive slight convulsions which would begin in the little left toe and then slowly spread to the whole limb. At the same time, the similar process would start in his right leg, the body and the arms, until his whole body would begin to convulse in a strange way as in the Saint Vitus dance. No unusual emotions accompanied the process. The man would not try to interfere with it until the sensations became unpleasant (in a few minutes). Then he would clench his body and then relax, simultaneously opening his eyes, and this would discontinue these spontaneous movements. These manifestations would regularly appear in his practice of Shavasana for about six months. Then they gradually disappeared, and his mood and world perception improved. It was the case of spontaneous release of suppressed material via motion.
This person also once experienced a full visual discharge. While watching a movie with his family, he suddenly felt so sick that he barely had time to reach the bathroom. During a very bad fit of nausea, he clearly recalled something forgotten many years ago: a drunken bully catching a little boy by the collar of his shirt and knocking his head on the village street.
Case #2 was a thick-set lady with a generally poor state of health at the beginning of her practice. Her leading type of representation was kinesthetic and digital. She had been primarily responsible for raising her children and supporting her family for many years, since her husband was often engaged in continuous drinking bouts. As a result, she suffered from insomnia, chronic fatigue, general depression and a complete loss of interest in life. By the time the husband sobered up and the children grew up, both her mental and physical health were ruined. All attempts to improve them (trips to India, life in ashrams, etc.) failed.
After six months of very mild yoga practice, her mind started to quiet which then triggered the active motoric discharge of suppressed material. It was quite a sight! While practicing Shavasana, the lady’s whole body moved in waves like a rug being shaken while held by one end. Her back thrashed against the floor, scaring the other people relaxing next to her. However, she didn’t lose the state of mental relaxation! Sometimes (and no wonder) she experienced aches in her back and belly muscles after performing Shavasana.
Her general state of health and mood remained unstable during the period of subconscious relief (which continued for about a year and three months). Sometimes she would experience anguish, causeless tears or physical discomfort. Then her condition quickly improved, starting with her mood and complexion, and followed by her health. Her perception and attitude towards current problems improved, and the nature of her dreams changed. Her former stresses disappeared and new ones didn’t accumulate any more. Although her past didn’t change, it was no longer oppressive. She became steadily optimistic towards her future and life in general.
Case #3 was a man of thirty, who was athletically built and had a powerful intellect. His leading type of representation was auditory. He survived surgery of melanotic sarcoma at the age of twenty (which was an exceptional case). After that his work involved extreme strain for a long time. When we met he was both physically and emotionally over-tired and suffered from insomnia. He used to drink over two liters of vodka in one sitting in order to achieve some relaxation.
His mental relaxation was successful nearly from the very beginning of practice. He was meticulous and focused in whatever he undertook. His motoric discharge of accumulated overstrain was extremely active. It was exhibited in powerful muscle spasms in the limbs and the body. He could lay down on the floor in one part of a room in order to listen to Yoga Nidra(25) and come to in a totally different place, having no idea how he happened to get there.
Case #4 was an hysterical lady of thirty five. Her childhood and youth were passed in an extremely complicated family environment. She engaged herself in DanceSport until graduation from school in order to minimize the amount of time spent at home.
After six months of practicing Yoga, she developed the following pattern. While listening to Nidra, she would relax almost at once. Then in the middle of the practice she would rise and begin to move around with her eyes half closed. I cannot explain what it was like: while she wore the face of a sleepwalker, she engaged in a kind of slow acrobatics and incredible movements with some elements resembling asanas. It could last up to half an hour, when she would sink into Pavanamuktasana and rest still for about ten minutes. She wouldn’t remember what had happened, but she would feel wonderful. If a phone would ring or anyone would make a sudden movement, she would snap out of her trance and would commence a fit of hysterics followed by a faint. These motoric discharges would happen about twice a month in her daily practice of asanas and Nidra. After six months they ended and her general health substantially improved.
Another possible type of discharge is emotional. People with any type of leading representation could be subject to this kind of discharge. The only difference is that those who see and/or hear might be able to recall memories of the past associated with their current feelings (emotional instability). As a rule, this type of recollection is impossible for digital and kinesthetic people, though some exceptions occur.
Case #5 was a middle-aged lady who had been suffering from heavy depression for three years. She spent several months adapting to asanas. After that, she began to progress in her general relaxation (including mental relaxation). After a certain point, when the greater part of muscle strain in her body disappeared and her consciousness began to diffuse, she began to shed tears. She would cry incessantlythroughout the duration of her practice and would only stop in Shavasana. After that, she would be overwhelmed with anguish. It would be intense but would have no apparent reason and would not go away. Tears would cause headaches. This would disrupt her routine work, since this lady practiced Yoga in the morning. She had to limit deep relaxation to once every two days, in order to let her eyes to recover. Then the flow of tears was replaced by nausea, and nausea was replaced by dizziness.
All these ”tricks” of the autonomous nervous system lasted for about six months. Only after the critical mass of suppressed material was annihilated did the mental condition of the lady return to normal (before the depression). She, in her own words, “came back to her old self”. The memories remained, but became neutral and were no longer troubling to her. The entire process of rehabilitation took about a year.
Case #6 was a lady of thirty who had been seriously abused in her childhood. At the beginning of her practice, the set of her problems included the fear of bridges and of height in general, over-reactiveness resulting from any contact with her parents, intolerance of heat and cold, amnesia of the greater part of her past, ongoing depression, chronic fatigue, a lack of normal social contacts, poor functioning of her stomach and bowels, severe hysteria and the absence of any ability to concentrate. Her representation was mainly auditory. Her mind was overwhelmed by ongoing chatter that would often turn into continuous buzz. It would exhaust her completely and disturb her concentration.
The rehabilitation by Yoga practice was slow because it was exacerbated by bad circumstances at her workplace (because of her poor mental and physical health) and unsatisfactory living conditions due to her poor functioning. After her work and living situation improved, the process accelerated. The typical forms of discharge were through emotions, the body and dreams.
Initially, the lady complained that past traumas to her back and knees (acquired from sport classes in her childhood) would not let her adapt to yoga practice. But later on it became clear that the ache in her knees would mainly appear after emotional frustrations. It would get worse in general since her poor health condition would not allow her to listen to her body and respond appropriately in asanas. She had developed a tendency to store suppressed emotions in her knees, face and eyes in childhood.
After practicing yoga for some time, her general condition improved. The stresses ceased to bother her knees, and they in turn didn’t obstruct performing asanas. She began to properly feel her body. Her face became the next “area” of discharge. There was lots of grimacing in Shavasana and, especially, in Nidra. After her practice, the lady looked as if she had been whipped on her cheeks.
Her past traumas were processed in detail both in relaxation and dreams. This uneasy process took about three years. Her memories regressed from the present to the remote past, down to early childhood. The focus of the practice was to carry out the discharge of suppressed material in a way which allowed her to live normally and work productively. Finally she could remember everything. She became another healthy and adequate person who had risen from hell, who could begin a new life after reaching the age of thirty five.
Frequently old physical traumas come out in the process of a motoric (muscle) discharge. This interesting experience is worth discussing, because the body seems to remember everything that has happened to it; its memory is absolute.
Case #7 involved a retired marine engineer of 50 who complained of a problem with his spine. His practice developed normally; he had already acquired sufficient experience. But one winter day, he told me that he had overstrained his knee while practicing Virasana. “How come?”– I asked him. “You ought to know what to do. Leave your leg in peace and choose another posture which doesn’t affect it.” That was what we agreed upon.
But that evening he got extremely chilled on his way home waiting for a bus in a severe frost. After that, the pain in his knee became so intense that he had to stop practicing for a couple of weeks. I could not figure out to why it had happened, but he called me with the answer. He just remembered that he was engaged in wrestling in his student years. His knee was so badly injured at a wrestling competition that he was limping for several months and was not even able to squat. “It is good, then everything’s clear,” I answered. “You were practicing correctly, but it was time for the old trauma to come out. If you hadn’t been frozen, the trouble would have passed without this recollection, but the chill added up to the discharge aggravation, and you got it in full”.
Case #8 involved a lady of 40 who had accumulated a number of health problems. She had to straighten her spine, as her scoliosis caused skewedness in her pelvis which resulted in varicose veins in her right leg.
At some point, when her practice was progressing, she complained of pain in the fingers of her left hand emerging at night. Since I knew that she used to be a professional handball player, to the level of master of sport, I wondered whether she had ever traumatized the hand. “Of course I did, lots of times! What is handball all about? You swing and throw with your right hand, and then fall down on your left side”. For two weeks she could not sleep normally because of the pain in her left hand, but then the pain disappeared and the hand became as good as new.
Later she had another remarkable incident (this time of a different nature). Her father had passed away when she was five years old. Her mother raised her together along with her big sister. Evidently, their mother’s style was quite authoritative. My student had subsequent difficulties in relating to her mother. She grew up unsatisfied and always finding fault with herself, her own life, family, children, husband, job etc.
Her leading representation was visual, she thought “in pictures”. But one day (during the second year of her practice), she clearly heard in mental silence of Nidra, a distant voice. She realized that it had always been there. It blamed her continuously, called her good- for-nothing, mocking her, shaming and swearing at her. “Of course” –she said in dismay – it was my Mom. Her way of talking to me could not be mistaken”. Having appeared once, the voice insistently continued its monologues, there seemed to be no respite from it.
But soon the lady came to a session deeply moved and told me that she had a dream that night. She’d had a bad quarrel with her father, and he gave her a severe spanking. This happened not long before his death, and she had completely forgotten it. Then she was finally able to recognize the voice which had obsessed her all her life. She realized that it belonged to her father rather than to her mother. “And now it has disappeared and I do not hear it any more! Something turned in me….” From that day on, the world’s count of optimists went up. (Whether the dream reflected an actual event or not was immaterial - it provided the required solution – to resolve the distinctive pattern in her psyche).
Case #9. Here is the story of the previous lady’s husband (it was a remarkable family in general). Actually, I started working with him initially, and his wife joined in later. His spine became “like a glass” starting from his first experience in farm work during his student years. This disrupted his normal life. It ached virtually all the time with some short and unpredictable periods of relief. All attempts to heal it were in vain. According to visual examination and X-rays, one of the vertebrae, located below the shoulder blades, was shifted over half an inch anteriorly. In fact, there was a kind of a pit in his spine. It was a mystery why nobody noticed that in his childhood. Moreover, he claimed that he was totally unaware of any problems with his spine until it failed after lifting the fifth bagful of potatoes.
We had to work a lot with his spine. At the first session, he laid straight as a post his face down on the rug. I asked him to prop his chin on his hands so that I could assess the plasticity of his back. He glanced at me reproachfully over his shoulder. Then he cautiously propped his chin on his fist placed on the floor and said: “It is already painful”. He performed the simplest postures using a very elaborate route and used another one to quit them. We had to search and search for acceptable ways to perform asanas. However, after ten months of practice the pain in his back suddenly disappeared. It wouldn’t re-appear for weeks and months. His plasticity in asanas was gradually improving. He was enjoying life. Then, unexpectedly, he started getting nervous. I asked him: ”What’s the matter? Your spine isn’t giving you any trouble, just live and enjoy your life. I think we’ve taken care of it for now.” – “It’ is great” he answered. – “But what if the pain starts again?”
One day he came to his session with a strange look on his face. At first he only shook his head unable to find words in response to my questions. Finally he confessed: “I had a dream. At first it was quite ordinary, a sort of a typical detective action story, I get a lot of these. I’m hanging around Moscow, there are fights all around, bandits, shooting. And then there is a rumor about a black beast (something like a gigantic panther) wandering the city and mercilessly crippling people. And after some time I realize (in my sleep!) that it’s me that it’s looking for! From that moment the dream becomes a nightmare. I find a place to hide and stay there for the whole day, then two days, three days. The beast has settled in across the entrance and is waiting for me. I’m hungry, my family has no idea where I am, there’s no phone – I’ve got to do something. I understand even in sleep that the situation may not be what it appears. I search all over the house and find a rusty revolver. I can’t even tell if it will work. The beast doesn’t move from its place. Well, I brace up and put the gun in my pocket – just in case. I come out, nobody is around, I am trembling inside. The beast approaches, rears, puts its paws on my shoulders nearly causing me fall. Its breath stinks. My mind is full of doubt: Should I shoot or not? I’m aware even in sleep that something is wrong with this picture and that it’s better to stay still. Suddenly, the beast takes its paws away, turns around, makes three leaps and disappears in the air. I was pushed from my dream like a champagne cork. I woke up drenched with sweat. My brain didn’t work. My wife asked if I was sick. It was already half past three a.m. I took a shower, changed my clothes and went to bed again, but couldn’t fall asleep. I had the sensation that something had changed….
“Congratulations!” – I said. “First the pain went, now the fear related to it has gone as well. It is good that you behaved correctly in your dream. If you had gotten frightened, who knows what could have happened…”
The limits of rehabilitation are always individual and unpredictable, as demonstrated by example #10. A couple of years ago some guys from “Vympel” (26) brought me their former comrade. He was 32 years old. Judging by his current condition, he had been perfectly trained and used to have exceptional health. In fact, this had saved his life when someone attempted to kill him by delivering a terrible blow to the back of his head with a baseball bat. He was diagnosed with a vast hematoma in his brain. He went through two surgeries followed by a coma. The surgeons did not expect him to survive, but he regained consciousness after a month. “Miracles do happen!” – said the doctors. – “But maybe, it would have been better to die than to live like a vegetable like general Romanov who got injured by a blast near Grozny.” (27). However, after three more months, the man began to talk, and after another six months, he could walk. The doctors were absolutely floored and refrained from any more dire forecasts.
Initially he walked like a drunken man and got regular attention from policemen. Only his disability certificate with the full description of his coordination disorder would excuse him. I frankly told him that nobody could say whether Yoga could be helpful in his case. One could always try, but without any guarantee. However, I was pleased to see that his friends tried so hard to help him. Initially, his condition included a lurch, poor coordination, “wooden” movements (without the natural smoothness of an adult), poor sight, stumbling speech, expressionless face. Still, his intellect was intact. A person in his situation was not supposed to be alive, yet here we are learning asanas! Outrageous!
His daily focus was on practicing Yoga (as he thankfully had lots of time). When I asked him about other physical activities, he answered that he did chin-ups and push-ups. Unfortunately he was unable to jog because of his lack of coordination. As a daily exercise, I suggested that he try throwing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it with alternate hands.
After a year of practice, his coordination, sight and speech improved considerably. Some of the indices of his stabilogram (28) rose from a negative reading to practically normal. Now I am waiting to hear him say that he has started jogging.
After all these extreme cases, one might wonder: how could a young and healthy person (or someone who is naturally well-balanced emotionally, i.e. a naturally born sanguine person), benefit from yoga practice?
Through yoga practice, people acquire the ability to voluntarily quiet their mental activity (including autonomous activity) for some time. Then their intellectual productivity increases. Over a period of time, the ongoing thinking process that used to be present in their mind sinks beyond the threshold of perception. The mind gets rid of mental hustle. The aberration of perception is minimized. The person in the state of mental calmness is aware of events and nuances which would have gone unnoticed in his or her previous state.
The very structure of intellectual activity changes. The mind collects and accumulates information on a certain issue which then disappears from perception as if it was forgotten. From this point on, the only thing the mind has to do is to wait for a ready answer to “pop up” in one way or another. There is no more need to mull over complicated issues as one used to do before, as if one were turning heavy grindstones in the brain.
Typically, people who practice yoga notice that their involvement with the thinking process has significantly reduced. Apparently, the mechanics of thinking process shifts from the awareness to elsewhere.
This indicates that communication between the unconscious and conscious mind has become optimal, and also that the information is now being processed with the involvement of all available resources of the psyche rather than by the aware mind alone. Thus, the capacity of the mind is naturally extended and the outcome improves.
A person can now be completely present in the moment (if necessary) - here and now. His or her intuition becomes available and responds appropriately.
Further, overstrain and its consequences don’t accumulate in the body. The body’s plasticity reaches its fullest potential and health and well-being become optimal.
Social communication becomes most effective as well. This is the consequence due to the power of calmness. This power is nothing other than the accumulated sattva (29). It helps a yogi to communicate with the external world via the quality of his/her inner state rather than attempting to impose his or her direct influence on it.
Those who have already practiced yoga enough to experience this state need no further explanations. I’ll try to explain further for those who have not experienced or understood this state, though this will be quite a challenge.
The “response” of the external world to our actions depends only in part on what we are doing and how. Our psychic (emotional) state during our actions provides an even greater influence on that response.
In fact, it is the state of our psyche that becomes the major factor determiningthe development of events initiated by us in the external world, not the quantity of our personal efforts nor the resources and time spent on them, but exclusively the quality of our inner calmness.
Emotions (the first signaling system) are the most ancient method of communication of mammals. They function via the most archaic brain structures.
Contemporary Western people strive to put emotional manifestations under tight control, to suppress and carefully hide them. But this does not exclude their latent influence on interpersonal communication.
Moreover, the more suppressed they are, the greater their influence on the unconscious aspects of our behavior.
Emotions, the first signaling system, are an invisible but powerful part of any verbal communication, with words beingthe second signaling system. Thus maximum efficiency of transmitting or concealing information is achieved from a system’s point of view. Our own emotional condition greatly influences the perception and response of anyone we talk to. This happens regardless of whether we are aware of this influence, whenever our verbal communication is targeted at someone else’s consciousness.
As a rule, the unconscious exchange of emotions occurs during one’s verbal communication. The influence of a highly “overheated” subconscious (and, consequently, a highly distorted consciousness) on interpersonal communication is specifically powerful. Individuals having this kind of distortion in their mind often become a source of psycho-emotional contamination (they could even cause a social epidemic. One always feels awful after socializing with them and ultimately loses any desire for further contact.
The overwhelming majority of the people with an overheated subconscious and an unbalanced psycho-emotional system have little chance for successful self-realization. They automatically attract people with the same psycho-emotional state regardless of their environment (or no matter how often it is changed). ”Birds of a feather flock together”. The unconscious (acting like a self-guided missile) selects only targets with a similar kind of distortion from the total range of opportunities, ignoring the rest.
I possess sufficient data to assert that people with a higher degree of mental calmness (harmony) achieve better results from their communication with the external world than those with more chaotic minds, everything else being equal.
According to analogy, the practice of asanas and pranayama is a specific “tempering” of the body and the mind in the “fire” of Yoga. When the body and the mind have been purified, the siddhis (30) appear. Rather than specifying their entire list, we will consider only one of them, “power”. It is acquired only via lengthy and quality practice of yoga.
It is hard to fully describe what happens to the practitioner when it appears. Everything in life tends to happen in the best possible way and the person always obtains whatever he or she needs. That is: what is really needed rather than what is wanted! Real needs as opposed to wishes are very different things. The “power” does not seem to work in support of wishes which are produced by one’s mind.
“Power” is inner harmony and calmness, an unshakable sattvic state and is the result of true yoga practice. One feels as if his or her “unit weight” has increased and his or her mere presence (in a given place at a given time) tangibly influences events as well as the well-being of surrounding people.
A person possessing the power, which is essentially ”light”, would always positively influence the well-being of the people around him or her.
A person possessing “dark power” (unfortunately, that happens as well, Gurdjieff is a well-known example) would tend to use surrounding people as raw material to materialize his or her own wishes and ideas.
This will result in the suffering of those being used. But the “consumer” will have to bear responsibility for all that at some point.
In ordinary life, yoga is merely a fragment of the general human being. It is a specific activity in a specially designated period of time intended to bring life to its best possible quality. Therefore the appearing “power” is initially tested on a narrow circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances. The practicing person no longer requires any kind of support. On the contrary, from a “consumer” of calmness he or she progresses to generating it and becoming a supporter, a “shoulder to cry on”, a “source of energy”.
”Power” always returns manifold no matter how much one releases to surrounding people (say to alleviate their suffering).
People practicing Yoga notice the following to their surprise: after inner calmness is acquired, the success (and positive result) of any complicated sequence of actions, events or processes initiated by them, depends exclusively on the quality of their calmness at the beginning.
Even if the forecast of the development of events is unfavorable, the stable inner harmony may re-direct the development along the most favorable path.
Thus, the well-being of any person can be significantly improved with practicing yoga. Even those who are naturally healthy and emotionally well balanced acquire many additional benefits and opportunities.
They include the prolongation of life in general and particularly of its active period.
It’s clear that the described technique of practicing yoga in a state of mental silence relates not only to the asana stage. It also relates to:
-yama/niyama. Presumably, any adult who starts practicing yoga has already developed his or her own ethical principles;
- pranayama (discussed later);
- pratyahara as well as dharana ;
- elements of dhyana(31).
Thus the traditional style of practicing asanas makes them something greater than hatha yoga.
In fact, the practice of asanas accompanied by mental silence is partially a meditation with all the consequences flowing from it. I said “partially”, because to meditate, one needs to stay motionless for a long period of time which is not possible in the majority of asanas. However, this practice includes bahiranga yoga and the two stages of antaranga yoga (32) in all their entirety.
In summary, the technique as presented resulted from following literally the definition of an asana given by Patanjali in Sutra 46 of the 2nd chapter of Yoga Sutras.
As a conclusion, I will describe a final techniqueof practicing Yoga. It can be implemented only by those who have learned traditional yoga perfectly. Although beginners may also try it (there will be no any negative effect), they are not likely to benefit from it.
The first condition for practicing this way is the permanent and complete relaxation of all body muscles (except for those participating in holding the asana), especially the muscles of the abdominal area. These muscles must be completely relaxed during the entire practice of yoga while entering an asana, holding it, quitting it and during the pause before the next one (of course, except for those postures in which these muscles are directly engaged).
The abdominal muscles should not be participating in the practice of yoga at all! Their relaxation should not be affected by any changes in the position of the body. They are only passively engaged in the breathing process which must always remain free and spontaneous in an asana.
Therefore any movements during the practice of yoga automatically become smooth and slow (one simply won’t be able to make quick or jerky movements).
If the first condition is met, a yoga practitioner notices after a while that the pattern of his or her breathing has changed. It becomes light, shallow and slow. A new breathing pattern appears: a brief, hardly noticeable inhale followed by a slightly longer exhale, and then a long pause. This rhythm is continuous and automatic like the slow rhythmic moving of beads along a rosary.
Another pattern is also possible. The breathing cycle becomes so prolonged that the practitioner is unable to tell at a certain moment whether he or she is in fact inhaling or exhaling.
Normally, while practicing asanas, the breathing pattern changes as a result of the change in body shape and consequently in the lungs’ available volume. However, if while bending forward, one makes (and this would tend to happen spontaneously) a deeper than usual breathing cycle, then, in the following asana the breath will keep the same pattern and rhythm as it would if one were simply in a pause between postures while resting (i.e. there will be no compensatory speeding up of the breath).
When unbending, several spontaneous deeper breathing cycles occur, and then in the starting position the breath resumes the same pattern and depth as it was before performing an asana. In other words, one’s breath is as consistent as if one were doing nothing.
If this kind of breath appears, one should take his or her attention away from trying to relax the abdominal muscles and instead focus on this breathing.
If you listen to it attentively, the spontaneous short inhale sounds like the syllable “so” and the slightly longer exhale sounds like “aham”. Actually, this kind of breathing is nothing else than the natural mantra “so–aham” reproduced by the body.
Continuous repetition of a mantra is known as Jappa. Spontaneous repetition of a mantra is the meditation called Ajappa-jappa. In this particular situation it occurs in traditional practice of asanas. This breathing mantra should be followed! – Followed incessantly, both in asanas and in pauses between them.
Then the consciousness becomes dream-like. Still there is no tendency to fall asleep. One’s attention is set on the sound of breathing continuously but without any strain. When the breathing pattern starts being disrupted, it’s time to quit the practice.
This kind of practice results in a state of perfect well-being and over the period of time, leads to the state known as samtosha (33).
Sutra 49 of the second chapter states that while asana is being achieved pranayama is practiced. It is the change in breathing pattern that is spontaneous pranayama!
Thus, following only two Sutras, we naturally came to the point where pranayama as well as mantra are practiced along with physical yoga exercises. That is to say, the exercise of asanas becomes meditation without any special effort by the practitioner.
Thus, the interpretation of practical aspects of yoga in PatanjaIi’s Sutras has not become outdated. On the contrary, it provides the practitioner with unlimited opportunities of self-actualization.
This is why it has been preserved over the ages.
10.10.2006 – 9.01.2007 Hammamet – Langkawi – Kuala Lumpur – Moscow
1. Patañjali is the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, an important collection of aphorisms on yoga practice.
Sūtra (Sanskrit sū́tra), literally means a rope or thread that holds things together, and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual.
2. Классическая йога (Йоша-Сутры Патанджали и «Вьяса-Бхашья»)
перевод с санскрита, введение, комментарий и реконструкция системы
Е.П. Островской и В.И. Рудого
Е.П. Островской и В.И. Рудого
М.: Центр исследований традиционных идеологий Востока "Asiatica", 1992
3. Swami Satyananda Saraswati Four Chapters On Freedom Commentary On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali ISBN : 81-85787-18-2
4. D. Ebert. Physiologische Aspekte des Yoga. 1986 Stuttgart: Thieme
5. In Samkhya philosophy, one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, rajas (Sanskrit rajas, or rajoguna) is the quality (guna) of activity. If a person or thing tends to be extremely active, excitable, or passionate, that person or thing is said to have a preponderance of rajas. It is contrasted with the quality of tamas, which is the quality of inactivity, darkness, and laziness, and with sattva, which is the quality of purity, clarity, and healthy calmness.
6. Б Смирнов, Книга о Бхишме, 1963
7. Yama (“discipline”) — the first “limb” (anga) of Patanjali’s eightfold path, comprising moral precepts that have universal validity (such as nonharming and truthfulness); also the name of the Hindu deity of death
Niyama (“[self-]restraint”) — the second limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path, which consists of purity (shauca), contentment (samtosha), austerity (tapas), study (svâdhyâya), and dedication to the Lord (îshvara-pranidhâna)
8. Prânâyâma (from prâna and âyâma, “life/breath extension”) — breath control, the fourth limb (anga) of Patanjali’s eigthfold path, consisting of conscious inhalation (pûraka), retention (kumbhaka), and exhalation (recaka); at an advanced state, breath retention occurs spontaneously for longer periods of time
9. Wu Wei: in Taoist thought, "actionless action;" related to the concept of de as efficient power, Wu Wei refers to action that is in accordance with the Dao ("Way"), which is therefore seen as ultimately more productive than energy-depleting friction that pushes too hard, i.e., against the Dao, for its goal.
10. In some people suffering from severe neurosis, the body and its sensations can become alienated from each other and some important signals from the body may be missed by the consciousness, while “ghost” ones (not relating to actual contact of the body with environment) may actually dominate the attention.
11. Vipassana: This is a form of meditation known as insight meditation, and is considered key to enlightenment by Theravada Buddhists.
12. Representational systems (also known as sensory modalities and abbreviated to VAKOG or known as the 4-tuple) is a Neuro-linguistic programming model that examines how the human mind processes information. It states that for practical purposes, information is (or can be treated as if) processed through the senses. Thus people say one talks to oneself (the auditory sense) even if no words are emitted, one makes pictures in one's head when thinking or dreaming (the visual sense), and one considers feelings in the body and emotions (known as the kinesthetic sense).
13. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (1,2) defines yoga as following: yogas chitta vritti nirodhah - Yoga is the cessation of the thought-waves of the mind. (To block the patterns of consciousness is yoga.) Here and later CVN means blocking conventional thinking process.
14.Sadhaka (Sanskrit) is a practitioner of a particular sadhana (practice). The term is often synonymous with yogi
15. Phosphene - a luminous impression due to excitation of the retina
16. Ekagrata -Concentration of mind on one object or thought
17. Bandha: Internal lock. There are several types, the most common ones are mula bandha (root lock), uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) and jalandhara bandha (chin lock).
18. Hatha yoga – asanas and pranayama.
19. In modern society many people function in state which has a certain stability but which is far from optimal, for example spinal scoliosis. Drastic physical activity in this condition is difficult and can even be dangerous. The mild practice of traditional yoga, when done correctly, can bring such a body into alignment without risk
20. Радченко А.Ф. Роль и возможности психотерапии в лечении некоторых соматических заболеваний (2002)
21. Example: Unhealthy nutritional habits combined with on-going stress could result in gastritis; the inflammation of the mucous coat of the stomach. If this situation continues for a while and is further aggravated by smoking, the gastritis gradually evolves into the chronic stage (duodenitis). Ulcers could be formed. In some cases, the lengthy inflammatory process could even cause tumors.
22. Example: you always try not to behave angrily with your boss even if you have good reason to be angry with him or her.
23. Example: running away and screaming
24. A line from William Shakespeare's Macbeth, from Act 5, Scene 5.
25.Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation technique also called “yogic sleep” in which mind and body is at complete rest but with complete awareness.
26. Vympel is the Russian elite military unit.
27. Russians prefer to spell things out for you.
28. Stabilogram is the test measuring the severity of balance disorders resulting from the lack of adequate muscle response due to a deficiency of sensory inputs or damage in the central nervous system.
29. In Hindu philosophy, sattva (Sanskrit sattva "purity", literally "existence, reality"; adjectival sāttvika "pure", anglicised sattvic) is the highest of the three gunas in Samkhya, sāttvika "pure", rājasika "dim", and tāmasika "dark".
A person or creature can be called sāttvika if the creature has predominantly sāttvika tendencies.
A sāttvika individual always works for the welfare of the world. He is always hardworking, alert and lives life moderately. He leads a chaste life. He eats moderately. He speaks the truth and is bold. He never uses vulgar or insulting language. He does not feel jealous nor is he affected by greed and selfishness. He does not cheat or mislead anyone. He does not even allow any evil tendencies to enter his mind. He has good memory and concentration. He also has keen interest in improving his spiritual knowledge, and spends time worshiping god or meditating. In the extreme state he may even perform penance or uninterrupted meditation. A satvic individual can be recognized if his mind, speech and actions synchronize. Manasa, vacha, karmana are the three Sanskrit words used to describe such a state.
30. Siddhi (Sanskrit: siddhiḥ) is a Sanskrit word that literally means "perfection", "accomplishment", "attainment", or "success". It is also used as a term for spiritual power (or psychic ability). The term is used in that sense in Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism. These spiritual powers supposedly vary from relatively simple forms of clairvoyance to being able to levitate, to be present at various different places simultaneously, to become as small as an atom, to materialize objects, to have access to memories from past lives, and more.
31. Pratyâhâra (“withdrawal”) — sensory inhibition, the fifth limb (anga) of Patanjali’s eightfold path
Dhâranâ (“holding”) — concentration, the sixth limb (anga) of Patanjali’s eight-limbed Yoga
Dhyâna (“ideating”) — meditation, the seventh limb (anga) of Patanjali’s eight-limbed Yoga
32. Bahiranga Yoga (the first four “limbs” (anga) of Patanjali’s eightfold path) consists of:
Yama - Morals
Niyama - Ethics
Asana - Posture
Pranayama - Breath Control
Antaranga Yoga (the next four “limbs” of Patanjali’s eightfold path) consists of:
Pratyahara - Control of the senses
Dharana - Concentration
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi – Enlightenment
33. Samtosha is Contentment; one of the five attributes of niyama (self-restraint)