‘The potential of Asana to hold the full spectrum of classical Yoga’

Our good (albeit virtual) friend Robbie Norris just pointed us in the direction of a really thoughtful and wonderful piece on yoga and asana. It’s by his friend, and now teacher at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop, Ty Landrum. Here’s a link to Ty’s piece and some excerpts to queue up your interest:

Modern Yoga is obsessed with Asana, the practice of postural forms. Traditionalists often complain that what we now call “Yoga” is just another trend in physical culture, barren of spiritual substance. It reflects an obsession with the body, and it shackles the mind to a lower plane of existence. In light of the Asana studios springing up on every corner, with their loud music and expensive boutiques, the critics seem to have a point. What they fail to appreciate, however, is the potential of Asana to hold the full spectrum of classical Yoga within its scope.

[snip]

In the Krishnamacharya lineage (which includes the contemporary Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Svasta Yoga styles), Asana is practiced according to an art of sequencing called Vinyasa Krama. The origin of this art is uncertain, and Krishnamacharya gave mixed reports. When asked where he learned his sequencing principles, he sometimes cited Brahmachari, while at other times, he cited the Yoga Korunta, a medieval Hatha text that he discovered in the library at the University of Calcutta. This text was written on banana leaves and, to Krishnamacharya’s dismay, was being eaten by ants. He was able to read the text, but he was not able to restore it, and although he made a transcription, it was misplaced. Some biographers have speculated that while the Yoga Korunta was an important influence on Krishnamacharya, the art of Vinyasa Krama was his own innovation. He cited other sources, however, because he refused credit for yogic knowledge on principle. He held that yogic knowledge has a divine origin, and yogic sages are but media of this knowledge.

Whatever the origin of Vinyasa Krama may be, there can be no doubt that it represents an important development in the history of Yoga, and that its transmission to the modern world owes nearly everything to Krishnamacharya and Bramachari. To place this development in relation to the classical Yoga tradition, we must look closely at the Ashtanga system described in the Yoga Sutras by the Patanjali. Then we can see how the art of Vinyasa Krama relates to the experiences of absolute reality that classical Yoga is designed to induce.

[snip]

The eight practices of Ashtanga Yoga can be thought of as successive stages in the refinement of awareness. They make our awareness more subtle by extracting it from its cruder forms, and dropping it into more subtle layers of being. The deeper it runs, the more subtle it becomes, and once thoroughly refined, it becomes subtle enough to permeate the entire psychophysical beings. When saturated with awareness, the mind becomes transparent. The light of awareness illumines its entire sphere and the Seer thus bathes in its own light, realizing its sovereignty over the mind and, indeed, over all conditioned existence. This is how the classical Ashtanga system induces Samadhi or Raja Yoga.

[snip]

The Vinyasa Krama system integrates posture, breath and gaze. It therefore appears to combine the three techniques of classical Ashtanga that stabilize the biological body, thus Asana (posture), Pranayama (expansion of breath) and Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses). These are the third, fourth and fifth limbs, respectively, of the Ashtanga system. They stand above the two lower limbs of Yama (ethical restraints) and Niyama (ethical observances), and under the three higher limbs of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi. It may seem, therefore, particularly to the unwary and unimaginative, that the practice of Vinyasa Krama is simply an intermediary or bridge practice, covering the space between the lower and higher limbs.

By the way, here’s a little bit of background on Landrum via Robbie:

About six years ago I met Ty Landrum at a Tim Miller workshop at Jennifer Elliott’s “Barn” in Charlottesville.  Ty had been practicing yoga for only a year or so, but already his practice was remarkably strong, fluid, precise and imbued with a beautiful meditative quality.  Subsequently, we became acquainted in a friendly way, seeing each other at workshops in Charlottesville and Richmond.  Ty has been encouraging of my work with inmates, and became interested in visiting the Richmond City Jail yoga class, but it hasn’t happened yet due to conflicting commitments.  He’s had a full schedule: teaching yoga in Charlottesville; maintaining a steadfast commitment to daily practice; attending lots of workshops that often entail travel; and, completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at UVA in 2011, his research focusing on human worth, individuality, love, and virtue.

I’ll admit that I don’t have time right now to give Landrum’s piece the full attention it deserves. But a resting Saturday seems a perfect time to sit back and reflect. Thoughts? Feel free to put them below!

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “‘The potential of Asana to hold the full spectrum of classical Yoga’”

  1. well, i a always felt like there is more to the ashtanga asana practice than it is credited for. i never knew how ‘legit’ my take on this was, because i started ashtanga in december ’12 only, but it really is 3 limbs practiced together: asana, pranayama and pratyahara. it’s great to read that some experts think the same 🙂

  2. You need to understand how Krishnamacharya-style VInyasa is practiced…very slow, extended breaths, and long holds in postures linked by vinyasa movements. I don’t think any of the master teachers recommend asana only…conscious breathing during asana practice is a way to bring focus and expansion, and maybe pratyahara…it’s not a substitute for a standalone (or sitalone?) pranayama and meditation practice. I think that some Ashtanga yogis would like to think they don’t need additional pranayama or meditation because they are so focussed on asana practice and don’t have the patience for the rest of it.

    1. From what i’ve read Guruji stopped his asana practice at the age of 53 but it looks to me as if his pranayama and meditation practice never ceased.

      “There are benefits at every stage of the practice. From practicing only asana one gains strength of the body; from the practice of only the yama, one develops compassion towards all living beings: from practising only pranayama, it is possible to achieve long life and good health.” ~ page 8-9 Yoga Makaranda by Krishnamacharya

      Great book here’s the link: http://www.yogapeople.eu/img/YogaMakaranda.pdf

  3. Another take on attachment to the body and the practice of yoga from the talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in the book I Am That.

    Life is Love and Love Is Life
    “Life is love and love is life. What keeps the body together but love? What is desiere but love of the self? What is fear but the urge to protect? And what is knowledge but the love of truth? The means and forms may be wrong, but the motive behind is always love—-love of the me and the mine. The me and the mine may be small or may explode and embrace the universe, but love remains.”
    Questioner: Is the practice of yoga always conscious? Or can it be quite unconscious, below the threshold of awareness?
    Maharaj: In the case of a beginner the practice of yoga is often deliberate and requires great determination. But those who have been practicing sincerely for many years are intent on self-realization all the practicing sincerely for many years are intent on self-realization all the time, whether conscious of it or not. Unconscious sadhana is most effective because it is spontaneous and steady.
    Q: What is the position of a man who was a sincere student of yoga for some time and then became discouraged and abandoned all efforts?
    M: What a man appears to do, or not to do, is often deceptive. His appearent lethargy may be just a gathering of strength. The causes of our behaviour are very subtle. One must not be quick to condemn, nor even to praise. Remember that yoga is the work of the inner self (vyakta) on the outer self (vyakti). All that the outer does is merely in response to the inner.
    Q: Still, the outer helps.
    M: How much can it help and in what way? It has some control over the body and can improve its posture and breathing. Over the mind’s thoughts and feelings it has little mastery, for it is itself the mind. It is the inner that can control the outer. The outer will be wise to obey.
    Q: If it is the inner that ultimately is responsible for man’s spiritual development, whis the outer so much exhorted and encouraged?
    M: The outer can help by keeping quiet and free from desire and fear. You would have noticed that all advice to the outer is in the form of negations: don’t, stop, refrain, forego, give up, sacrifice, surrender and see the false as false. Even the little description of reality that is given is through denials—‘not this, not this’ (neti, neti). All positives belong to the inner self, as all absolutes—to Reality.
    Q: How are we to distinguish the inner from the outer in actual experience?
    M: The inner is the source of inspiration; the outer is moved by memory. The source is untraceable, while all memory begins somewhere. Thus, the outer is always determines while the inner cannot be held in words. The mistake of students consists In their imagining the inner to be something to get hold of, and forgetting that all perceivables are transient and therfore, unreal. Only that which makes perception possible—–call it Life or Brahman or whatever you like—-is real.
    Q: Must life have a body for its self-expression?
    M: The body seeks to live. It is not life that needs the body; it is the body that needs life.
    Q: Does life do it deliberately?
    M: Does love act deliberately? Yes and no. Life s love and love is life. What keeps the body together but love? What is desire but love of the self? What is fear but the urge to protect? And what is knowledge but the love of truth? The means and forms may be wrong, but the motive behind is always love—-love of the me and the mine. The me and the mine may be small or may explode and embrace the universe, but love remains.
    Q: The repetition of the name of God is very common in India. Is there any virtue in t?
    M: When you know name of a thing or a person, you can find it easily. By calling God by his name you make him come to you.
    Q: In what shape does he come?
    M: According to your expectations. If you happen to be unlucky and some saintly soul gives you a mantra for good luck and you repeat it with faith and devotion, your bad luck is bound to turn. Steady faith is stronger than destiny. Destiny is the result of causes, mostly accidental, and is therefore loosely woven. Confidence and good hope will overcome easily.
    Q: When a mantra is chanted what exactly happens?
    M: The sound of a mantra creates the shape which will embody the self. The self can embody any shape—and operate through it. After all, the Self is expressing itself in action— and a mantra is primarily energy in action. It acts on you; it acts on your surroundings.
    Q: The mantra is traditional. Must it be so?
    M: Since time immemorial a link was created between certain word and corresponding energies; this link is reinforced by numberless repetitions. It is just like a road to walk on. It is an easy way—-only faith is needed. You trust the road to take you to your destination.
    Q: In Europe there is no tradition of a mantra, except in some contemplative orders. Of what use is it to a modern young Westerner?
    M: None, unless he is very much attracted. For him the right procedure is to adhere to the thought that he is the ground of all knowledge, the immutable and perennial awareness of all that happens to the senses and the mind. If he keeps it in mind all the time, aware and alert, he is bound to break the bounds of non-awareness and emerge into pure life, light, and love. The idea ‘I am the witness only’ will purify the body and the mind and open the eye of wisdom. Then man goes beyond illusion and his heart is free of all desires. Just like ice turns to water to vapor, and vapor dissolves in air and disappears in space, so does the body dissolve into pure awareness (chidakash), then into pure being (paramakash), which is beyond all existence and non existence.
    Q: The realized man eats, drinks, and sleeps. What makes him do so?
    M: The same power that moves the universe moves him too.
    Q: All are moved by the same power—what is the difference?
    M: This only: the realized man knows what others merely hear, but don’t experience. Intellectually they may seem convinced, but in action they betray their bondage, while the realized man is always right.
    Q: Everybody says ‘I am.’ The realized man too says ‘I am.’ Where is the difference?
    M: him, ‘ The difference is in the meaning attached to the words ‘I am.’ With the realized man the experience ‘ I am the world, the world is mine,’ is supremely valid—he thinks, feels and acts integrally and in unity with all that lives. He may not even know the theory and practice of self-realization, and be born and bred free of religious and metaphysical notions. But there will not be the least flaw in his understanding and compassion.
    Q: I may come across a beggar, naked and hungry, and ask him ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am.’ ‘Well l say, ‘since you are the Supreme, change your present state.’ What will he do?
    M: He will ask you, ‘Which state? What is there that needs changing? What is wrong with me?’
    Q: Why should he answer so?
    M: Because he is no longer bound by appearances; he does not identify himself with the name and shape. He uses memory, but memory cannot use him.
    Q: is not all knowledge based on memory?
    M: Lower knowledge—yes. Higher knowledge, knowledge of Reality, is inherent in man’s true nature.
    Q: Can I say that I am not what I am conscious of, nor am I consciousness itself?
    M: As long as you are a seeker, it is better to cling to the idea that you are pure consciousness, free from all content. To go beyond consciousness is the supreme state.
    Q: The desire for realization, does it originate in consciousness or beyond?
    M: In consciousness, of course. All desire is born from memory and is within the realm of consciousness. What is beyond is clear of all striving. The very desire to go beyond is clear of all striving. The very desire to go beyond consciousness is still in consciousness.
    Q: Is there any trace or imprint of the beyond on consciousness?
    M: No, there cannot be.
    Q: Then what is the link between the two? How can a passage be found between two states which have nothing in common? Is not pure awareness the link between the two?
    M: Even pure awareness is a form of consciousness.
    Q: Then of what is beyond? Emptiness?
    M: Emptiness again refers only to consciousness. Fullness and emptiness are relative terms. The real is really beyond—beyond not in relation to consciousness, but beyond all relations of whatever kind. The difficulty comes with the word ‘state.’ The Real is nota a state of something else—it is not a state of mind or consciousness or psyche—nor is it something that has a beginning and an end, being and not being. All opposites are contained in it—but it is not in the play of opposites. You must not take it to be the end of a transition. It is itself after the consciousness as such is no more. Then words ‘I am man’ or ‘I am God’ have no meaning. Only in silence and in darkness can it be heard and seen.

  4. It’s okay to admit you don’t really know something for sure. That’s all we really know. Chances are the Korunta is made up and vinyasa krama evolved out of uniquely aligned conditions in the 20th century. Authenticity is not in tradition or lineage but in the action and intention of people. You don’t need thousands of years of anything to make it real. Why pretend? Why dress the vinyasa system up in hyperbole and myth? It is what you make it. Just projections. That’s all. That doesn’t make it any less special….things are special because we project our need for something special on to them. Asana is just a vehicle. You could do any activity and imbue it with the philosophy of yoga and it would mean as much. It makes sense that moving the body makes us healthier and perhaps happier….this is so very obvious. There is no glory or heroism in this fact so why invent it? Why complicate things with stories and debates and narratives and opinions….my own included…..we construct everything because we are desperate for meaning and certainty….the question is whether can we live without the constant chatter, noise and babbling? Can we live without knowing?

  5. THE TEACHING OF SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI –edited by David Godman
    Chapter 13
    Yoga
    Practitioners of yoga aim for union with the Self (yoga is Sansrkrit for union) by undertaking distinctive mental and physical exercises. Most of these exercises can be traced back to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which were written about 2000 years ago. Patanjali’s system, known as raja yoga, contains eight distinctive levels and practices.
    1. Yama Conduct of life in relation to others – avoiding untruth, injury to others, sensuality and greed.
    2. Niyama Conduct towards oneself – cleanliness, tranquility, austerity, study and devotion
    3. Asana Stretching, bending, balancing and sitting exercises. These exercises are nowadays collectively known as hatha yoga.
    4. Pranayama Breathing exercises which aim to control the mind.
    5. Pratyahara Withdrawing the attention from the body and the senses.
    6. Dharana Concentration of the mind.
    7. Dhyana Meditation.
    8. Samadhi Uninterrupted contemplation of reality.
    Most of these practices can be found in other spiritual systems. The only exceptions are hatha yoga and pranayama and it is these which give raja yoga its distinctive character. When visitors asked Sri Ramana about these practices he would usually criticise hatha yoga because of its obsession with the body. It is a fundamental premise of his teachings that spiritual problems can only be solved by controlling the mind, and because of this, he never encouraged the practice of spiritual disciplines which devoted themselves primarily to the well-being of the body. He had a higher opinion of pranayama (breath control), saying that it was a useful aid for those who could not otherwise control their mind, but on the whole he tended to regard it as a beginner’s practice. His views on the other aspects of raja yoga (such as morality, meditations and Samadhi) have been dealt with in separate chapters.
    In addition to raja yoga there is another popular system called kundalini yoga. The practitioners of this system concentrate on psychic centres (chakras) in the body in order to generate a spiritual power they call kundalini. The aim of this practice is to force the kundalini up a psychic channel (the sushumma) which runs from the base of the spine to the brain. The kundalini yogi believes that when this power reaches the sahasrara (the highelst chakra located in the brain), Self-realization will result.
    Sri Ramana never advised his devotees to practise kundalini since he regarded it as being both potentially dangerous and unnecessary. He accepted the existence of the kundalini power and the chakras but he said that even if the kundalini reached sahasrara, it would not result in realisation. For final realisation, he said, the kundalini must go beyond the sahasrara, down another nadi (psychic nerve) and into the heart-centre on the right-hand side of the chest. Since he maintained that self-enquiry unnecessary.

    ‘The self is reached by the search for the origin of the go and by diving into the Heart. This is the direct method of Self-realisation. One who adopts it need not worry about nadis, the brain centre (sahasrara), the sushmna, the paranadi, the kundalini, pranayama or the six centres (chakras).’
    In addition to the practice outlined above, Hinduism contains another yoga called karma yoga, the yoga of action. Practitioners of this system aim to evolve spiritually by selflessly serving and assisting others. Although it is spoken of highly in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Ramana generally discouraged his devotees from following this path since it presupposes the existence of an ‘I’ who is going to perform the good deeds and ‘other people’ who are in need of assistance he only encouraged it if he felt that particular devotees were incapable of following the paths of jnana, bhakti or raja yoga.
    If an aspirant be unsuited temperamentally for the first two methods (jnana and bhakti), and circumstantially on account of age for the third method (yoga), he must try the karma marga (the path of karma yoga). His nobler instincts become more evident and he derives impersonal pleasure. The man also becomes duly equipped for one of the three aforesaid paths.
    Sri Ramana stressed that to be successful, The karma yogi must be free of the notion the he himself is helping others, and that he must also be unattached and indifferent to the consequences of his actions. Although he rarely gave karma yoga more than a lukewarm endorsement he did admit that both of these conditions would be met if all actions were performed without the ‘I am the doer’ idea.
    Questioner: Yoga means union. I wonder union of what with what?
    Answer: Exactly Yoga implies prior division and it means later union of one thing with another. But who is to be united and with whom? You are the seeker, seeking union with something. If you assume this then that something must be apart from you. But your Self is intimate to you and you are always aware of it. Seek it and be it. The it will expand as the infinite and there will be no question of yoga. Whose is the separation (viyoga)?

    Q: I don’t know is there really separation?
    A: Find out to whom is the viyoga. That is yoga. Yoga is common to all paths. Yoga is really nothing but ceasing to think that you are different from the Self or reality. All the yogas – karma, jnana, bhakti and raja – are just different paths to suit different natures with different modes of evolution. They are all aimed at getting people out of the long cherished notion that they are different from the self. There is no question of union or yoga in the sense of going and joining something that is somewhere away from us or different from us, because you never were or could be separate from the Self.

    Q: What is the difference between and yoga and enquiry?
    A: Yoga enjoins chitta-vritti-nirodha (repression of thoughts) whereas I prescribe atmanveshana (quest of oneself). This latter method is more practicable. The mind is repressed in swoon, or as the effect of fasting. But as soon as the cause is withdrawn the mind revives, that is, the thoughts begin to flow as before. There are just two ways of controlling the mind. Either seek its source, or surrender it to be struck down by the supreme power. Surrender is the recognition of the existence of a higher overruling power. If the mind refuses to help in seeking the source, let it go and wait for its return; then turn inwards. No one succeeds without patient perseverance.

    Q: Is it necessary to control one’s breath?
    A: Breath control is only an aid for diving deep within oneself. One may as well dive down by controlling the mind. When the mind is controlled, the breath is controlled automatically. One need not attempt breath control, mind control is enough. Breath control is only recommended for those who cannot control their minds straightaway.

    Q:When should one do pranayama and why is it effective?
    A: In the absence of enquiry and devotion, the natural sedative pranayama (breath regulation) may be tried. This is known as yoga marga (the path of yoga). If life is imperilled the whole interest centres round one point, the saving of life. If the breath is held the mind cannot afford to (and does not) jump at its pets – external objects. Thus there is rest for the mind so long as the breath is held. All attention being turned on breath or its regulation, other interests are lost. The source of breath is the same as that of the mind. Therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to the subsidence of the other.

    Q: Will concentration on Chakras quite the mind?
    A: Fixing their minds on psychic centres such as the sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus chakra), yogis remain any length of time without awareness of their bodies. As long as this state continues they appear to be immersed in some kind of joy. But when the mind which has become tranquil emerges and becomes active again it resumes its worldly thoughts. It is therefore necessary to train it with the it becomes externalised. It will then attain a state in which there is neither subsidence nor emergence.

    Q: Is the mind control induced by pranayama also temporary?
    A: Quiessence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled. So it is transient. The goal is clearly not pranayama. It extends on to pratyahara (withdrawl), dharana (concentration of the mind), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi. Those stages deal with control of the mind. Such mind control becomes easier for a person who has earlier practised pranayama. Pranayama therefore leads one to the higher stages. Because these higher stages involve controlling the mind, one can say that the mind control is the ultimate aim of yoga. A more advanced man will naturally go direct to the control of the mind without wasting his time in practicing control of breath.

    Q: Pranayama has three phsases – exhalation, inhalation and retention. How should they be regulated?
    A: Completely giving up identification with the body alone is exhalation (rechaka); merging within through the inquiry ‘who am I ?’ along is inhalation (puraka); abiding as the one reality ‘I am that’ alone is retention (kumbhaka). This is the real pranayama.

    Q: I find it said in Maha Yoga that in the beginning of meditation one may attend to the breath, that is, its inspiration and expiration, and that after a certain amount of stillness of mind is attained, one can dive into the Heart seeking the source of the mind. I have been badly in want of some such practical hint. Can I follow this method? Is it correct?
    A: The thing is to kill the mind somehow. Those who have not the strength to follow the enquiry method are advised to adopt pranayama as a help to control the mind. This pranayama is of two kinds, controlling and regulating the breath, or simply watching the breath.

    Q: For controlling the breath, is not the ration 1:4:2 for inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling best?
    A: All those proportions, sometimes regulated not by counting but by uttering mantras are aids to controlling the mind. That is all. Watching the breath is also one form of pranayama. Inhaling, retaining and exhaling is more violent and may be harmful in some cases, for example when there is no proper Guru to guide the seeker at every step and stage. But merely waching the breath is easy and involves no risk.
    Q: Is the manifestation of kindalini sakti (Kundalini power) possible only for those who follow the yogic path of acquiring sakti (power), or is it possible also for those who follow the path of devotion (bhakti) or love (prema?
    A: Who does not have kundalini sakti? When the real nature of that sakti is known, it is called akhandakara vritti (unbroken consciousness) or aham sphurana (effulgence of ‘I’). Kundalini sakti is there for all people whatever path they follow. It is only a difference in name.

    Q: It is said that the sakti manifests itself in five phases, ten phases, a hundred phases and a thousand phases. Which is true: five or ten or a hundred or a thousand?
    A: Sakti has only one phase. If it is said to manifest itself in several phases, it is only a way of speaking. The sakti is only one.

    Q: Can a jnani help not only those who follow his path but also others who follow other paths such as yoga?
    A: Undoubtedly. He can help people whatever path they choose to follow. It is something like this. Suppose there is a hill. There will be many paths to climb it. If he were to ask people to climb by the way he came , some may like it and some may not. If people who do not like it are asked to clomb by that path, and by that path only, they will not be able to come up. Hence a jnani helps people following any particular path, whatever it may be. People who are midway may not know about the merits and demerits of other paths, but one who has climbed to the summit and sits there observing others coming up is able to see all the paths. He will therefore be able to tell people who are coming up to move a little to this side or that or to avoid a pitfall. The goal is the same for all.

    Q: How can one direct the prana of life forces into the sushumna nadi (a psychic nerve in the spine) so that the chit-jada-granthi (the identification of consciousness with the body) can be severed in the manner stated in Sri Ramana Gita?
    A: By enquiring ‘Who am I?’ The yogi may be definitely aiming at rousing the kundalini and sending it up the sushumna. The jnani may not be having this as his object. But both achieve the same results, that of sending the life-force u the sushumna and severing the chit-jada-granthi. Kundalini is only another name for atma or Self or sakti. We talk of it as being inside the body, because we conceive ourselves as limited by this body. But it is in reality both inside and outside, being not different from Self or the sakti of self.

    Q: How to churn up the nadis (psychic nerves) so that the kundalini may go up the sushumna?
    A: Though the yogi may have his methods of breath control for this object, the jnani’s method is only that of enquiry. When by this method the mind is merged in the Self, the sakti or kundalini, which is not apart from the Self, rises automatically.
    The yogis attach the highest importance to sending the kundalini up to the sahasrara, the brain centre or the thousand-petalled lotus. They point out the scriptural statement that the life-current enters the body through the fontanelle and argue that, viyoga (separation) having come about that way, yoga (union) must also be effected in the reverse way. Therefore, they say, we must by yoga practice gather up pranas and enter fontanelle for the consummation of yoga. The jnanis on the other hand point out that the yogi assumes the existence of the body and its separateness from the Self. Only if this standpoint of separateness is adopted can the yogi advise effort for reunion by the practice of yoga.

    In fact the body is in the mind which has the brain for its seat. That the brain functions by light borrowed from another source is admitted by the yogis themselves in their fontanelle theory. The jnani further argues: if the light is borrowed it must come from its native source. Go to the source direct and do not depend on borrowed resources. That source is the Heart, the Self.

    The Self does not come from anywhere else and enter the body through the crown of the head. It is as it is, ever sparkling, ever steady, unmoving and unchanging. The individual confines himself to the limits of the changeful body or of the mind which derives its existence from the unchanging Self. All that is necessary is to give up this mistaken identity, and that done, the ever-shining Self wll be seen to be the single non-dual reality.

    If one concentrates on the sahasrara there is no doubt that the ecstacy of Samadhi ensues. The vasanas, that is the latent mental tendencies, are not however destroyed. The yogi is therefore bound to wake up from the Samadhi because release from bondage has not yet been accomplished. He must still try to eradicate the vasanas inherent in him so that they cease to disturb the peace of his Samadhi. So he passes down from the sahasrara to the Heart through what is called the jivanadi, which is only a continuation of the sushumna. The sushumna is thus a curve. It starts from the lowest chakra, rises though the spinal cord to the brain and from there bends down and ends in the Heart. When the yogi has reached the Hearth, the Samadhi becomes permanent. Thus we see that the Heart is the final centre.

    Question: Hatha yogic practices are said to banish disease effectively and are therefore advocated as necessary preliminaries to jnana yoga.
    Answer: Let those who advocate them use them. It has not been the experience here. All diseases will be effectively annihilated by continuous self enquiry. If you proceed on the notion that health of body is necessary for health of mind, there will never be an end to the care of the body.
    Q: Is not Hatha Yoga necessary for the enquiry into the self?
    A: Each one finds some one method suitable to himself, because of latent tendencies (purva samskara).
    Q: Can Hatha Yoga be accomplished at any age?
    A: Why do you think of all that? Because you think the Self is exterior to yourself you desire it and try for it. But do you not exist all along? Why do you leave yourself and go after something external?
    Q: It is said in Aparoksha Anubhuti that hatha yoga is a necessary aid for enquiry into the Self.
    A: The hatha yogis claim to keep the body fit so that the enquiry may be effected without obstacles. They also say that life must be prolonged so that the enquiry may be carried to a successful end. Furthermore there are those who use some medicines (kayakalpa) with that end in view. Their favourite example is that the screen must be perfect before the painting is begun. Yes, but which is the screen and which the painting? According to them the body is the screen and the enquiry into the Self is the painting. But is not the body itself a picture on the screen, the Self?
    Q: But hatha yoga is so much spoken of as an aid.
    A: Yes. Even great pandits well versed in the Vedanta continue the practice of it. Otherwise their minds will not subside. So you may say it is useful for those who cannot otherwise still the mind.
    Q: What are asanas (postures or seats)? Are they necessary?
    A: Many asanas with their effects are mentioned in the yoga sastras. The seats are the tiger-skin, grass, etc. The postures are the ‘lotus posture’, the ‘easy posture’ and so on. Why all these only to know oneself? The truth is that from the Self the ego rises up, confuses itself with the body, mistakes the workd to be real, and then, covered with egotistic conceit, it thinks wildly and looks for asanas (seats). Such a person does not understand that he himself is the centre of all and thus forms the basis for all. The asan (seat) is meant to make him sit firm. Where and how can he remain firm except in his own real state? This is the real asana.
    Attaining the steadiness of not swerving from the knowledge that the base (asana) upon which the whole universe rests is only Self, which is the space of true knowledge, the illustrious ground, alone is the firm motionless posture (asana) for excellent Samadhi.
    Q: In what asana is Bhagavan usual seated?
    A: In what asana? In the asana of the Heart. Wherever it is pleasant, there is my asana. That is called sukhasana, the asana of happiness. That asana of the Heart is peaceful, and gives happiness. There is no need for any other asana for those who are seated in that one.
    Q: The Gita seems to emphasise karma yoga, for Arjuna is persuaded to fight. Sri Krishna himself set the example by an active life of great exploits.
    A: The Gita starts by saying that you are not the body and that you are not therefore the karta (the doer).
    Q: What is the significance?
    A: It means that one should act without thinking that oneself is the actor. Actions will go on even in the egoless state. Each person has come into manifestation for a certain purpose and that purpose will be accomplished whether he considers himself to be the actor or not.
    Q: What is karma yoga? Is it non-attachment to karma (action) or its fruit?
    A: Karma yoga is that yoga in which the person does not arrogate to himself the function of being the actor. All actions go on automatically.
    Q: Is it non-attachment to the fruits of action?
    A: The question arises only if there is the actor. It is said in all the scriptures that you should not consider yourself to be the actor.
    Q: So karma yoga is ‘kartritva buddhi rahita karma’ –action without the sense of doership.
    A: Yes. Quite so.
    Q: The Gita teaches that one should have an active life from beginning to end.
    A: yes, the actorless action.
    Q: If one remains quiet how is action to go on? Where is the place for karma yoga?
    A: Let us first understand what karma is, whose karma it is and who is the doer. Analysing them and enquiring into their truth, one is obliged to remain as the Self in peace. Nevertheless evenin that state the actions will go on.
    Q: How will the actions go on if I do not act?
    A: Who asks this questions? Is it the Self or another? Is the Self concerned with actions?
    Q: No, not the Self. It is another, different from the Self.
    A: So it is plain that the Self is not concerned with actions and so the question does not arise.
    Q: I want to do karma yoga. How can I help others?
    A: Who is there for you to help? Who is the ‘I’ that is going to help others? First clear up that point and then everything will settle itself.
    Q: That means ‘realise the self’. Does my realisation help others?
    A: Yes, and it is the best help that you can possibly render to others. But really there are no others to be helped. For the realised being sees only the Self, just as the goldsmith sees only the gold while valuing it in various jewels made of gold. When you identify yourself with the body, name and form are there. But when you transcend the body consciousness, the others also disappear. The realised one does not see the world as different from himself.
    Q: Would it not be better if saints mixed with other people in order to help them?
    A: There are no others to mix with. The Self is the only reality. The sage helps the world merely by being the real Self. E best way for one to serve the world is to win the egoless state. If you are anxious to help the world, but think that you cannot do so by attaining the egoless state, then surrender to God all the world’s problems, along with your own.
    Q: Should I not try to help the suffering world? take care of the world also. If God has created the world it is his business to look after it, not yours.
    Q: Is the desire for swaraj (political independence) right?
    A: Such desire no doubt begins with self-interest. Yet practical work for the goal gradually widens the outlook so that the individual becomes merged in the country. Such merging of the individuality is desirable and the related karma is nishkama (unselfish).
    Q: If swaraj is gained after a long struggle and terrible sacrifices, is not the person justified in being pleased with the result and elated by it.
    A: He must have in the course of his work surrendered himself to the higher power whose might must be kept in mind and never lost sight of. How then can he be elated? He should not even care for the result of his actions. Then alone the karma becomes unselfish.

  6. Hello,
    I feel very strongly about his issue of yoga and spirituality, and I agree that asana holds the full spectrum of yoga. Thank you for posting this. For years I’ve been interested in yoga, but I wasn’t able to stick to a practice because I didn´t feel ‘spiritual enough’ or ‘inspired enough’. What I wasn´t seeing is that reaching those stages is as hard as (or harder) than developing the physical practice.

    I started writing a reply here, but it got too long so I turned it into a post:
    http://lunasolblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/on-yoga-and-spirituality/

    The post is just the humble opinion of a beginner, it sums up in:
    Asking a beginner to be fully commited to the spiritual aspect of yoga is like asking her to put her legs behind her head in the first class and do an arm balance too.

    I believe the asanas hold more wisdom than our limited beginner minds can yet grasp. More is just overwhelming. The practice will teach what the practice will teach whatever the intention you start it with. You will not learn handstands until you let go of fear and learn how to fall (Gracefully, and enjoy it too). You will not learn strength until you learn discipline to build it up, and focus in breath to hold it.

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