Yoga Is Union
Without self-knowledge, we cannot go beyond the mind.
The proliferation of yoga classes and yoga centers throughout the Western world is a tribute to yoga’s indisputable power to enliven physical well-being. In cities across North America, Europe, and Australia, yoga studios offer students a vast range of styles and techniques designed to enhance fitness. Yoga postures can increase your flexibility, strengthen your muscles, improve your posture, and enhance your circulation. Athletic programs from gymnastics to football now incorporate yoga for its systematic approach to stretching muscles, tendons, and joints. Fitness enthusiasts are often pleasantly surprised by how quickly the addition of yoga postures to a workout routine can improve tone and posture.
If the practice of yoga provided only these physical benefits, it would fully justify its place in our lives. However, at its core, yoga is much more than a system of physical fitness. It is a science of balanced living, a path for realizing full human potential. In these tumultuous times, yoga provides an anchor to a quieter domain of life, enabling people living in a modern technological world to stay connected to their natural humanity.
Yoga offers the promise of remaining centered in the midst of turbulence. The essential purpose of yoga is the integration of all the layers of life—environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to unite.” It is related to the English word yoke. A farmer yoking two oxen to pull his plow is performing an action that hints at the essence of a spiritual experience. At its core, yoga means union, the union of body, mind, and soul; the union of the ego and the spirit; the union of the mundane and the divine.
The Seven Spiritual Laws in Action
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program will raise your level of physical vitality, clear emotional blockages from your heart, and awaken your joyfulness and enthusiasm for life. Since its release in 1994, Deepak’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success has improved the lives of millions of readers around the world. Through seven easily understood principles, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success proclaims that harmony, happiness, and abundance are available to anyone willing to embrace a consciousness based approach to life. Our yoga program brings the seven laws into action through the principles and techniques of a consciousness-based practice.
We celebrate the rising popularity of yoga in the Western world. Even if your primary motivation for taking a yoga class is to lose weight or to develop a more muscular body, you cannot escape the subtler benefits of enhanced vitality and a noticeable reduction in your stress level. Yoga is a practical system to awaken human potential. It does not require you to believe in a set of principles in order to reap its benefits. On the contrary, the regular practice of yoga naturally generates a healthy belief system based upon your direct experience of the world through a more flexible nervous system. Perform yoga poses on a regular basis and your mind and emotions will change.
Yoga is a central component of the comprehensive system of Indian philosophy known as Vedic science. With roots in the Indus Valley civilization going back over five thousand years, the Vedas represent the poetic cognitions of enlightened sages on the origins of the universe and the evolution of life. The English word wisdom traces its origins to the primitive Germanic word wid, meaning “to know.” Wid, in turn, is derived from the Sanskrit word Veda, meaning “external knowledge.” The Vedas are the expression of perennial wisdom, and yoga is the practical aspect of Vedic science. Yoga is a system through which human beings can directly access the wisdom of life. Practitioners of yoga yogis—are dynamic and creative forces for positive change. A yogi knows that his mind and body are in the ever changing world, but his essence—his soul—resides in a dimension that is beyond change.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program is designed for those who wish to take their yoga practice to a deeper level, using their bodies to access more expanded levels of their minds. This is the time-honored value of yoga—to cultivate an inner state of centered awareness that cannot be disturbed by the inevitable turmoil of life.
Layers of Life
People are complex and multifaceted beings with many rich layers, although the Western scientific model of a person tends to reﬂect the Newtonian mechanistic view of life that sees people as primarily physical entities—biological machines that have learned to think. Despite the fact that almost a century ago the discoveries of quantum physics revealed that the material model of life is incomplete, modern medicine and physiology continue to view people as primarily composed of molecules. According to this predominantly physical perspective, if you are feeling depressed, it is not because you are harboring anger and resentment over the affair your spouse had with your best friend; rather, it is the result of inadequate levels of serotonin in your brain. If you simply enhance the level of this neurotransmitter molecule through the appropriate selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, your depression will vanish. If your blood pressure is elevated, it is not the consequence of constant strain with your demanding boss; rather, it is the result of excessive levels of the chemical angiotensin. Take an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor and your blood pressure will normalize. If you have trouble sleeping at night, your excessive credit card debt is not to blame; your brain is simply not producing sufficient concentrations of gamma-aminobutyric acid. Any of a number of medications will correct this deficiency and you will sleep as soundly as a baby. This material approach can be remarkably effective in the short-term relief of symptoms. Unfortunately, it rarely promotes a deeper understanding of life, it rarely leads to healing and transformation, and the side effects of medications are often limiting.
Expanding the vision of life beyond a purely biochemical perspective, yoga reminds us that we live life simultaneously on many levels. The essence of yoga is to find the unity in the diversity of our multidimensionality. Throughout the centuries, great yoga teachers have awakened their contemporaries to the fascinating paradox that although to the mind and senses the world is an ever-changing experience, from the perspective of spirit, the infinite diversity of forms and phenomena is simply the disguise of an underlying nonchanging reality.
Adi Shankara, the Sage of Sages
One of the most influential teachers of the philosophy of yoga and Veda was the ninth-century sage Adi Shankara. Known as the greatest revivalist of Vedic science, he elegantly elaborated the layers of life that mask the essential spiritual self. Born in A.D. 805, Shankara is said to have been fluent in Sanskrit by the age of one and to have mastered all sacred literature by age eight. He began writing his own commentaries on the Vedas by age ﬁfteen and was recognized as the leading authority on yoga by the time he turned twenty. He established seats of learning throughout India with one goal in mind—to help human beings overcome their suffering through the wisdom of life. His approach to truth was called Advaita, meaning “nondualism.” The essence of Shankara’s teaching is that one underlying field of intelligence manifests as the multiplicity of forms and phenomena that we call the physical universe. It is helpful to recognize the disguises consciousness dons so you can see through to the underlying reality. This is the great game of hide-and-seek that spirit plays with us. The nonlocal field of awareness gives rise to the sensory world that overshadows our experience of the underlying unity. At some point we recognize that the world of sensations alone cannot bring us genuine peace or happiness, so we begin our journey of uncovering the layers that mask our essential unbounded nature. Shankara called these various layers koshas, meaning “coverings,” and he categorized them into three primary divisions—a physical body, a subtle body, and a causal body. We can also say body, mind, and soul. Let’s explore each of these primary divisions and their three secondary layers.
The Physical Body— The Field of Molecules
Within your physical domain, you have an extended body, a personal body, and an energetic body. Your extended body is the environment, containing the never- ending supply of energy and information that is available to you. Every sound, sensation, sight, flavor, and aroma you ingest from the environment influences your body and mind. Although your senses may tell you otherwise, there is no distinct boundary between your personal and extended bodies, which are in constant and dynamic exchange. Each breath that you inhale and exhale is a reminder of the continuous conversation taking place between your physical body and your environment.
This recognition requires you to take responsibility for what is happening in your environment. As a yogi, you are an environmentalist because you recognize that the rivers flowing through the valleys and those flowing through your veins are intimately related. The breath of an old-growth forest and your most recent breath are inextricably intertwined. The quality of the soil in which your food is raised is directly connected to the health of your tissues and organs. Your environment is your extended body. You are inseparably interwoven with your ecosystem. Of course, you do have a personal body that consists of the molecules that temporarily comprise your cells, tissues, and organs. We say temporarily because although it appears that your body is solid and constant, it actually is continuously transforming. Scientific studies using radioisotope tracings convincingly show that 98 percent of the ten trillion quadrillion atoms in your body are replaced annually. Your stomach lining re-creates itself about every five days, your skin is made a new every month, and your liver cells turn over every six weeks.
Although your body appears to be fixed and stable, it is continually metamorphosing. The vast majority of the cells in your body are derived from the food you eat. Recognizing this, Shankara named the physical body annamaya kosha, meaning “the covering made of food.” To create and maintain a healthy body, yogis pay attention to the food they consume, minimizing the toxicity they ingest while maximizing the nourishment they receive. Certain foods are said to be particularly conducive to a yogic lifestyle. These foods are known as sattvic, which means they contribute to the purity of the body.
The four most sattvic foods revered by yogis are almonds, honey, milk, and ghee (clarified butter). Getting a daily dose of these foods benefits the body, mind, and soul of a person dedicated to creating greater mind body integration. When acknowledging the relationship between your personal and extended bodies be certain to consume only organic dairy products. Shankara called the third layer of the physical body pranamaya kosha, meaning “the sheath made of vital energy.” There is a difference between the cells of a corpse and the cells of a vibrant living being. This organizing principle that breathes life into biochemicals is called prana. There are five seats of prana in the body, localized in the head, throat, heart, stomach, and pelvis. These centers of movement govern the flow of life force throughout the body. When prana is moving freely throughout the cells and tissues, vitality and creativity are abundant. Yogic breathing exercises, known as pranayama techniques, are designed to awaken and purify the vital energy layer of the body.
The Subtle Body—The Mind Field
Most people identify themselves with their mind, intellect, and ego, which are the components of the subtle body.
The seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes is famous for his statement, “Cogito, ergo sum,” meaning “I think, therefore I am.” People continue to believe that they are their minds, but Shankara encourages us to recognize that the components of our subtle body are simply coverings of the soul. According to this framework, the mind is the repository of sensory impressions. When you hear a sound, feel a sensation, see a sight, taste a flavor, or smell a fragrance, the sensory experience registers in your consciousness at a level of your being called manomaya kosha. The mind cycles through different states of consciousness, and your sensory experiences change with these changing states. The impressions that enter your awareness during a waking state are different from those generated during dreaming. Yoga reminds us that reality is different in different states of consciousness—different filters of the mind layer.
The second layer of the subtle body is the intellect, known as buddhimaya kosha. This is the aspect of mind that discriminates. Whether you are trying to decide what kind of toothpaste to purchase, which partner to choose, or what house to buy, your intellect is at work, attempting to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of every choice you make. This layer integrates information based upon your beliefs and feelings to come to a decision. According to yoga, the ultimate purpose of this intellectual layer is to distinguish the real from the unreal. The real is that which cannot be lost whereas the unreal is anything that has a beginning and end to it.
Knowing the difference is the essence of yoga. The third layer of the subtle body is the ego. The ego is known in yoga as ahankara, which means the “I-former.” According to Shankara, the ego is that aspect of your being that identifies with the positions and possessions of your life. It is ultimately your self-image—the way you want to project who you are to yourself and to the world.
The ego is the boundary maker that attempts to assert ownership through the concepts of “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” The ego seeks security through control and often has a deep-seated need for approval. Most emotional pain is the result of your ego being offended because something that it believed it had control over was actually outside your jurisdiction. It is easy to become lost in the subtle body, with its attachments to roles, relationships, and objects, but Shankara encourages us to go deeper. Letting go of the body and letting go of the mind open the possibility of experiencing an aspect of your being that is beyond your usual limitations. This is the realm of spirit, which Shankara called the causal body.
The Causal Body—The Field of Pure Potentiality
According to yoga, underlying the field of molecules we call the physical body and the field of thoughts called the subtle body is a realm of life known as the causal body or the domain of spirit. Although we cannot perceive or measure this sphere of life, it gives rise to our thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires, and memories, as well as to the molecules that make up our bodies and the material world. Like the physical body and the subtle body, the causal body has three layers. The personal domain of spirit is the layer where the seeds of memories and desires are sown. According to Shankara, each person arrives on this planet with a specific purpose and a unique set of talents. Given the right environment, the seeds sprout, and you become capable of expressing your gifts in the world. Although the modern material model of life suggests that their genes determine people’s talents, we only have to look at identical twins to realize that the same molecular structure does not determine an individual’s nature. Pregnant mothers report that even in the womb, different babies express different tendencies. According to Shankara, every individual has a personal soul with its unique memories and desires. These memories and desires guide the course of your life. When you nurture the seeds of your innate gifts with your attention and intention, they sprout, and your personal soul finds fulfillment.
The second sheath of the causal body is the collective domain. This realm impels you to live a life of mythis proportions. The gods and goddesses that reside in the collective domain within your soul have one desire—to express their creative power through you. Each of us is on a heroic journey in search of the Holy Grail. Along the way, obstacles and challenges arise, forcing us to reach deeper into our being. These collective aspirations are translated into the archetypal stories that people have been telling one another for millennia. For example, we learn the risks associated with the arrogance of power through the tragic story of Icarus. Ignoring the advice of his father, he flew too close to the sun, melted his waxen wings, and crashed into the ocean. If Bill Clinton or Martha Stewart had heeded the wisdom resonating in their collective domain, they might have avoided their foretold painful outcomes. A woman who closes down when a relationship becomes too intimate is living the myth of Daphne who, overwhelmed by the pursuit of Apollo, is transformed into a laurel tree. A young man seeking to reestablish a formerly successful family business is reenacting the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The stories unfolding in our lives and those around us are perennial stories.
The mythic gods and goddesses are alive and well within our collective domain. We can see the expression of Queen Juno in the powerful women of our era—Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Hillary Clinton. The goddess of nature, Diana, shows her modern face through Jane Goodall and Julia “Butterfly” Hill. Venus made her most direct appearance via Marilyn Monroe, while Dionysus, the god of intoxication and excess, has a tendency to show up in the stream of people who require stays at the Betty Ford Clinic.
You are a living story. Become aware of the stories you tell about yourself and your world. Participate consciously in the writing of the next chapter of your life. Yoga encourages you to expand your sense of self to embrace the collective domain of your soul. This is where the deepest aspirations of humanity find fulfillment through the perennial stories we tell ourselves and our children. According to Shankara, the deepest aspect of your being is beyond time, space, and causality, yet gives rise to the manifest universe. This is the universal domain of spirit in which all distinctions merge in unity. Having no qualities of its own, this ﬁeld of pure potentiality manifests as the infinitely diverse world of forms and phenomena. The unbounded ocean of being disguises itself in the sheaths of the causal, subtle, and physical realms. This non local, unbounded realm is the source and goal of life. Yoga encourages us to bring our attention to this universal domain so that we become imbued with the deep stillness and creativity it represents. Then, even as we are engaged in dynamic activity, we retain the silence and centered awareness of universal spirit. The vision of life as elaborated by Shankara is as useful today as it was centuries ago. For seekers of greater well being, vitality, and wisdom, Shankara offers a map that ultimately leads to the soul.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program provides the technology to support this journey. Whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing for some time, we intend for this program to shift your awareness. Marcel Proust wrote, “The real journey of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” It is our intention that the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program will enable you to see your environment, body, mind, and emotions from a new perspective.
This subtle shift in consciousness can be a powerful catalytic force for healing and transformation in your life. Try this program for a month, and you will see changes, not only in your practice of poses but also in your life as a whole.
Our body is a field of molecules. Your mind is a field of thoughts. Underlying and giving rise to your body and your mind is a field of consciousness—the domain of spirit. To know yourself as an unbounded spirit disguised as a body/mind frees you to live with confidence and compassion, with love and enthusiasm. To remove the veils that hide the deepest layers of your being, Maharishi Patanjali elaborated the eight branches of yoga—Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. They are sometimes referred to as the eight limbs (asthanga) of yoga, but they are not to be seen as sequential stages. Rather, they serve as different entry points into an expanded sense of self through interpretations, choices, and experiences that remind you of your essential nature. These are the components of Raja yoga, the royal path to union. Let’s review each of them in some detail.
The First Branch of Yoga—Yama Yama is most commonly translated as the “rules of social behavior.” They are the universal guidelines for engaging with others. The Yamas are traditionally described as
1. practicing nonviolence
2. speaking truthfully
3. exercising appropriate sexual control
4. being honest
5. being generous
All spiritual and religious traditions encourage people to live ethical lives. Yoga agrees but concedes that living a life in perfect harmony with your environment is difficult from the level of morality—through a prescribed set of shoulds and should-nots. Patanjali describes the yamas as the spontaneously evolutionary behavior of an enlightened being. If you recognize that your individuality is intimately woven into the fabric of life—that you are a strand in the web of life—you lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful to yourself or others. You adhere to the rules of social conduct because you are behaving from the level of spontaneous right action. This state of behaving in accordance with natural law is called Kriya Shakti. Although the Sanskrit words kriya and karma both mean “action,” kriya is action that does not generate reaction, as opposed to karma, which automatically generates proportionate consequences. There are no personal consequences when you are acting from the level of Kriya Shakti because you do not generate any resistance. People sometimes describe this state as being “in the flow” or “in the zone.”
Acting from this level of your soul, you are incapable of being violent because your whole being is established in peace. This is the essence of the first Yama, known in Sanskrit as ahimsa. Your thoughts are nonviolent, your words are nonviolent, and your actions are nonviolent. Violence cannot arise because your heart and mind are filled with love and compassion for the human condition. Mahatma Gandhi championed the principle of nonviolence in the independence movement of India from Britain. He said, “If you express your love in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your socalled enemy, he must return that love . . . and that requires far greater courage than delivering of blows.” The second Yama is truthfulness, or satya. Truthfulness derives from a state of being in which you are able to distinguish your observations from your interpretations. You accept the world as it is, recognizing that reality is a selective act of attention and interpretation. Recognizing that truth is different for different people, you commit to life supporting choices that are aligned with an expanded view of self. Patanjali described truth as the integrity of thought, word, and action. You speak the sweet truth and are inherently honest because truthfulness is an expression of your commitment to a spiritual life. The short-term benefits of distorting the truth are outweighed by the discomfort that arises from betraying your integrity. Ultimately you recognize truth, love, and God to be different expressions of the same undifferentiated reality. Brahmacharya, the third Yama, is often translated as “celibacy.” We believe this is a limited view of this yama.
The word is derived from achara, meaning “pathway,” and brahman, meaning “unity consciousness.” In Vedic society, people traditionally chose one of two paths to enlightenment—the path of the householder and the path of a renunciate. For those choosing the path of a monk or a nun, the path to unity consciousness naturally includes forsaking sexual activity. For the vast majority of people choosing the householder path, brahmacharya means rejoicing in the healthy expression of sexual energy. One interpretation of the word charya is “grazing,” suggesting that brahmacharya connotes partaking of the sacred as you are engaged in your daily life.
The essential creative power of the universe is sexual, and you are a loving manifestation of that energy. Seeing the entire creation as an expression of the divine impulse to generate, you celebrate the creative forces. Brahmacharya means aligning with the creative energy of the cosmos. Ultimately, as your soul makes love with the cosmos, your need to express your sexuality may be supplanted by a more expanded expression of love. The fourth Yama, asteya, or honesty, means relinquishing the idea that things outside yourself will provide you security and happiness. Asteya is being established in a state of nongrasping. Lack of honesty almost always derives from fear of loss—loss of money, love, position, power. The ability to live an honest life is based upon a deep connection to spirit. When inner fullness predominates, you lose the need to manipulate, obscure, or deceive. Honesty is the intrinsic state of a person living a life of integrity. According to yoga, life-supporting, evolutionary behaviors are the natural consequence of expanded awareness. The fifth Yama, generosity, or aparigraha, derives from the shift in internal reference from predominantly ego-based to predominantly spirit-based. A yogi who knows that his essential nature is nonlocal spontaneously expresses generosity in every thought, word, and action. Constricted awareness reinforces limitations. Expanded awareness generates abundance consciousness. This Yama implies the absence of aversion. Established in aparigraha, your attachment to the accumulation of material possessions loses its hold on you. It doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the world; you are simply not imprisoned by it. The practice of yoga, which cultivates expanded awareness, awakens generosity because nature is generous.
The Second Branch of Yoga—Niyama
The second limb of yoga as outlined by Patanjali is Niyama, traditionally interpreted as the “rules of personal behavior.” We see them as the qualities naturally expressed in an evolutionary personality. How do you live when no one is looking? What choices do you make when you are the only witness? The Niyamas of yoga encourage
4. spiritual exploration
5. surrender to the divine
Again, these qualities do not arise by making a mood of moral self-righteousness, but they emerge as a result of a person living a natural, balanced life. H. G. Wells said, “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo,” and yoga would agree. Like ideal social conduct, evolutionary personal qualities derive from your connection to spirit. Focusing on the first Niyama, purity, or shoucha, adds no value to life if it encourages a judgmental mind-set, but it is of great value if you see your choices in terms of nourishment versus toxicity. Your body and mind are constructed from the impressions that you ingest from the environment.
The sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and smells carry the energy and information that are metabolized into you.
Yoga encourages you to consciously choose experiences that are nourishing to your body, mind, and soul. Contentment, or santosha, the second Niyama, is the fragrance of present moment awareness. When you struggle against the present moment, you struggle against the entire cosmos. Contentment, however, does not imply acquiescence. Yogis are committed in thought, word, and deed to supporting evolutionary change that enhances the well-being of all sentient creatures on this planet. Contentment implies acceptance without resignation. Contentment emerges when you relinquish your attachment to the need for control, power, and approval. Santosha is the absence of addiction to power, sensation, and security. Through the practice of yoga, your experience of the present moment quiets the mental turbulence that disturbs your contentment—contentment that reflects a state of being in which your peace is independent of situations and circumstances happening around you.
The third Niyama, tapas, is traditionally translated as “discipline” or “austerity.” The word tapas means “fire.” When the fire of a yogi’s life is burning brightly, she is a beacon of light radiating balance and peace to the world. The fire is also responsible for digesting both nourishment and toxicity. A healthy inner fire can metabolize all impurities.
People often associate discipline with deprivation. The lives of people established in a yogic lifestyle may appear to be disciplined because their biological rhythms are aligned with the rhythms of nature. They arise early, meditate daily, exercise regularly, eat in a healthful and balanced way, and go to bed early because they directly experience the benefits of harmonizing their personal rhythms with those of nature. Tapas is embracing transformation as the pathway to higher consciousness. Self-study, or svadhyana, is the fourth Niyama. Traditionally, this is interpreted as being dedicated to the study of spiritual literature, but at its heart, self-study means looking inside. There is a difference between knowledge and knowingness. Yoga advises us not to confuse information with wisdom, and self-study helps you understand the distinction. Self-study encourages selfreferral as opposed to object referral. Your value and security come from a deep connection to spirit rather than from the things with which you are surrounded. When svadhyana is lively in your awareness, joy arises from within rather than being dependent upon outer accomplishments or acquisitions. The final Niyama, Ishwara-Pranidhana, is often translated as “faith” or “surrendering to God.” Ishwara is the personalized aspect of the inﬁnite. Even when considering the boundless, the human mind wants to create boundaries. Ishwara is the name applied that makes familiar the infinite and unbounded field of intelligence. Ultimately, Ishwara-Pranidhana is surrendering to the wisdom of uncertainty. The seeds of wisdom are sown when you surrender to the unknown. The known is the past. True transformation, healing, and creativity flow out of present moment awareness, which means relinquishing your attachment to the past and embracing uncertainty. A deeply spiritual friend of ours once contacted us from the coronary care unit at a New York hospital to say he had just had an emergency three-vessel coronary artery bypass operation. Only forty-two years old, he had never smoked, he was a vegetarian, and he meditated regularly. We obviously were very concerned about how he was doing and feeling, but he quickly reassured us he was doing well and was confident that everything would work out fine. He explained that a few days earlier he had been visiting Long Island and had driven to Coney Island to ride on the roller coasters. He enjoyed riding the roller coasters because despite the turbulence, he knew he was safe. In an analogous way, because of his deep connection to spirit, our friend was able to surrender to the unknown when a blood vessel to his heart suddenly became blocked. He trusted that despite the twists and turns his life was taking, he would be okay whatever the outcome. This is Ishwara-Pranidhana—surrender to the divine. The Yamas and Niyamas represent the inner dialogue of a yogi. These are not qualities one can make a mood of or manipulate. They arise spontaneously as the natural expression of a more expanded sense of self. You can see them as milestones of your spiritual progress. Allow them to resonate in your awareness, avoiding the impulse to be self-critical or judgmental when you occasionally fail to express the highest value of each principle. To awaken spontaneous evolutionary thought and action in your being, Patanjali encourages you to put your attention on more refined aspects of your body, your breath, your senses, and your mind. These are the next branches of yoga.
The Third Branch of Yoga—Asana
The word asana means “seat” or “position.” When people consider yoga, they usually think of this branch, which refers to the postures people enter into to achieve physical flexibility and tone. At a deeper level, asana means the full expression of mind-body integration, in which you become consciously aware of the flow of life energy in your body. Performing asanas with full awareness is practice for performing action in life with awareness. In the great Indian epic, the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructs the archetypal human Arjuna first to become established in being, then to perform action in accordance with evolutionary law. The expression in Sanskrit is “Yogastah kurukarmani,” which means “Established in yoga, perform action.” Yoga here refers to the unified, integrated state of body, mind, and spirit. The postures of yoga offer tremendous benefit to your body and mind. They help create balance, flexibility, and strength—all essential qualities for a healthy, dynamic life. When performed vigorously in sets, yoga can also be a powerful aerobic exercise to improve your cardiovascular fitness. In addition to the direct benefits during the performance of postures, asanas provide enduring value throughout the day. If you perform asanas regularly, you will feel more flexible physically and emotionally. Flexibility is the essential difference between the vitality of youth and the lassitude of old age. Here is a yogic expression that we find inspiring: “Infinite flexibility is the secret to immortality.” Like a palm tree that adapts to rather than resists gale force winds, a flexible body and mind enable you to adapt to the inevitable changes that life offers. Regular practice of yoga asanas cultivates flexibility while helping to release stagnating toxins from your body that inhibit the free flow of vital energy. In the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program, we have chosen asanas that enhance the flexibility of your joints, improve your balance, strengthen your muscles, and calm your mind. If you combine flexibility, balance, strength, and inner peace, you can surmount any obstacle.
The Fourth Branch of Yoga—Pranayama
Prana is life force. It is the essential energy that animates inert matter into living, evolving biological beings. As first-year medical students, we took classes in gross anatomy in which there was the implied assumption that studying a cadaver could teach us about life. At the turn of the twentieth century, scientists would weigh someone immediately before and after they died to see if they could quantify what had left. (They did not record a difference, concluding that the soul did not weigh anything.) From the perspective of yoga, the difference between a living being and a cadaver is the presence of prana, or vital energy. When prana is flowing freely throughout your body/mind, you will feel healthy and vibrant. When prana is blocked, fatigue and disease soon follow. The concept of an animating force is present in every major wisdom and healing tradition. It is known as chi or qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine and ruach in the Kabalistic tradition. According to Patanjali, a key way to enliven prana is through conscious breathing technique known as pranayama. Pranayama means mastering the life force. There is an intimate relationship between your breath and your mind. When your mind is centered and quiet, so is your breath. When your mind is turbulent, your breathing becomes disordered. that are designed to cleanse, balance, and invigorate the body. Just as your breath is affected by your mental activity, your mind can be influenced by conscious regulation of your breathing. Pranayama is a powerful technology to enhance neurorespiratory integration.
Prana is the life force that ﬂows throughout nature and the universe. When you are tuned into the pranic energy in your body, you spontaneously become more attuned to the relationship between your individuality and your universality. In this way, pranayama can take you from a constricted state to an expanded state of awareness.
The Fifth Branch of Yoga—Pratyahara
Patanjali encourages us to take time withdrawing our senses from the world to hear our inner voice more clearly. Pratyahara is the process of directing the senses inward to become aware of the subtle elements of sound, touch sight, taste, and smell. Ultimately all experience is in consciousness. When you look at a flower in your garden, your eyes receive frequencies of electromagnetic radiation that trigger chemical reactions in the rods and cones at the back of your eyes. As a result of these chemical changes in your retinas, electrical impulses are generated that eventually reach the visual cortex at the back of your brain. The interpretation of these fluctuations in energy and information takes place in your consciousness.
Although you imagine that you are seeing the flower outside of you, you are actually experiencing it within you on the screen of your awareness. This is why the great yogis say, “I am not in the world; the world is in me.” Pratyahara is the process of tuning into your subtle sensory experiences known in yoga as the tanmatras. Within your awareness are the seeds of sound, sensation, sight, taste, and scent. By going inside yourself, you can access these impulses and directly experience the knowledge that the world of forms and phenomena is a projection of your awareness. You can awaken the tanmatras by consciously activating subtle sensory impressions on the screen of your awareness. Ask a friend to read these descriptions to you while your eyes are closed.
SOUND :: Imagine . . . the ringing of a church bell the buzzing of a mosquito in your ear the roar of an ocean wave crashing against the shore
TOUCH ::: Imagine . . . the feel of a ﬁne cashmere sweater the softness of a baby’s skin drops of rain falling on your face during a summer shower
SIGHT::Imagine . . . a sunset over a calm ocean a ﬁreworks display the face of your mother
TASTE :::Imagine . . . biting into a luscious fresh strawberry a spoonful of rich chocolate ice cream a pungent jalapeno pepper
SMELL::Imagine . . . the smell of the rich earth after a spring rain the fragrance of blooming lilacs the aroma of a bakery
Pratyahara is the process of temporarily withdrawing the senses from the outer world in order to recognize the sensations of your inner world. In a way, Pratyahara can be seen as sensory fasting. The word is comprised of prati, meaning “away,” and ahara, meaning “food.” If you stay away from food for a while, the next meal you take will usually taste exceptionally delicious. When your senses are withdrawn for a time, you are able to tune in to the subtler tastes and smells. Yoga suggests that the same is true for all your experiences in the world. If you take the time to withdraw from the world for a little while, you will find that your experiences are more vibrant. In practice, Pratyahara means paying attention to the sensory impulses you encounter throughout the day, limiting to the extent possible those that are toxic and maximizing those that are nourishing to your body, mind, and soul. Choose sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and smells that inspire you. Be aware of and do your best to reduce situations, circumstances, and people who deplete you of your vitality and enthusiasm for life. When it comes to your yoga practice, Pratyahara means defining a space where you are less likely to be distracted by distressing sensations in your environment such as loud music, blaring television shows, and aggravating arguments, so you can bring your awareness to quieter realms within your consciousness. It means taking time on a daily basis to close your eyes so you can settle into more expanded states of awareness through meditation.
The Sixth Branch of Yoga—Dharana
Dharana is the mastery of attention and intention. The world at its essential core is a quantum soup of energy and information. What you actually perceive is a selective act of your attention and interpretation. The difference between an apple and an orange or a rose and a carnation boils down to differences in the quantity and quality of the energy and information that comprise the object of your perception. Through your attention and intention, you freeze the energy and information contained in a fragrant, soft-petaled, thorny-stemmed flower and create a multisensory representation in your awareness that you identify as a rose. Without the unique biology of your human nervous system, the concept of a rose would only exist as a potential. Whatever you place your attention on grows in importance to you. Whether your attention is on building a business, becoming physically fit, improving a relationship, or developing a spiritual practice, the object of your attention is enlivened by your awareness and becomes a more predominant force in your life. By learning to value your attention as a precious commodity, you will be able to consciously create well-being and success in your life. An essential component of yoga is refining your attention in order to facilitate healing and transformation in your body/mind. Once you activate something with your attention, your intentions have a powerful influence on what things manifest in your life. According to yoga, your intentions have infinite organizing power. Your intention may be to heal an illness, create more love in your life, or become more aware of your own divinity. Simply by becoming clear about your intentions, you will begin to see them actualize in your life. When your awareness is established in being and you have a clear intention, nature rallies to help you fulfill your deepest desires. Be aware of your intentions. Make a list of the most important things you would like to see unfold in your life. Review them twice daily before you go into meditation. As your mind quiets down, release your intentions, surrendering your desires to the universe. Then pay attention to the clues that arise in your life that are directing you to the fulfillment of your desires. We’ll explore attention and intention in greater depth in the next chapter.
The Seventh Branch of Yoga—Dhyana
Dhyana is the development of witnessing awareness. It is the expression of knowing that you are in this world but not of this world. Throughout your life you have experiences, which change moment to moment. Your environment changes, your friends change, your employment changes, your body changes, your feelings change, your thoughts change. The only constant in life is perpetual change. Dhyana is the cultivation of your awareness so that in the midst of this unending change, you do not lose your self in the objects of your experience. Although situations, circumstances, people, and things are ever changing in your life, the aspect of you that is witnessing these changes is the essence of your being—your soul.
The most direct way to cultivate this state of ever present witnessing awareness is through meditation, during which you learn to observe the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and sounds that arise in your awareness without needing to react to them. As you develop this skill in meditation, you are able to apply it in your daily life. You learn to stay centered and awake to all possibilities whenever a challenge arises, so that you are able to choose the best course of action that will maximize the chances that your intentions and desires will be fulfilled.
The Eighth Branch of Yoga—Samadhi
Samadhi is the state of being settled in pure, unbounded awareness. Going beyond time and space, beyond past and future, beyond individuality, Samadhi is tasting the realm of eternity and infinity. This is your essential nature. Immersing yourself in Samadhi on a regular basis catalyzes the transformation of your internal reference point from ego to spirit. You perform your actions in the world as an individual while your inner state is one of a universal being.
This is a state of being in which fear and anxiety do not arise. You surrender your need to take yourself too seriously because you recognize that life is a cosmic play, and like a great actor, you perform your role impeccably but do not lose your real self in the character you’re playing. This is the goal of yoga—to know yourself as a spiritual being
disguised as a human being, to be established in union and perform action in harmony with the evolutionary flow of life.
We’ve now explored the map of yoga as elaborated by Patanjali, the great voyager of inner space. In the next chapter, we’ll delve into the principles that support the foundation of yoga—the Seven Spiritual Laws that govern the relationship between the body, mind, and soul.
By : Deepak Copra