This is lesson one of Advanced Hatha. OM NAMAH SIVAYA!
Before each lesson is the opening and closing mantras. I recommend you learn them by heart and repeat them with awareness and intention before you begin and when you finish reading the lesson. Perhaps this seems tedious, but it helps us to remove the ego and makes the mind more receptive to the teachings. Remember, yoga teaches us to never accept blindly. Exert and discover for yourself.
OM SAHA NAAVAVATU, SAHA NAU BHUNAKTU
SAHA VIRYAM KARAVAAVAHAI
OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI
OM. May That protect us both, teacher and pupil. May That cause both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our learning be brilliant. May we never quarrel with each other. Om, peace,peace, peace.
Each of us begins practicing yoga for our own reason, whether it is to restore our health, reduce our stress or keep our body fit and flexible. Whatever the case may be, yoga often delivers more than we originally anticipated. For most of us, we begin the practice of yoga through the physical body. Even after a short period of practicing yogasanas, something about the practice intrigues us and we find ourselves coming back for more.
Although yoga will help us to restore our health, reduce our stress and make our bodies more fit, these are only the side-effects of the practice. The aim of yoga is to return the student to Truth. Yoga means union or Oneness. The yogi is joining the individual consciousness with Supreme or Universal Consciousness. It is the joining of Self with other, subject with object, Siva with Shakti, purusha (pure consciousness) with prakriti (Mother Nature or causal matter).
Even if we bring it down to a more practical level, the science of yoga balances the body, emotions and mind thus improving the quality of the practitioners’ life. Physiologically, yoga harmonizes the various organs and systems of the human body. The body becomes more efficient and pleasant to live in as the various systems of the body begin to work together as a whole.
For the sincere student, yoga makes the practitioner a kinder and more gentle being as the sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) begins to understand his interconnectedness with the beings and the world around him. This was the ‘something’ that initially intrigued us, but it is subtle and we are not necessarily conscious that anything is happening to us. We just know that we are feeling better, more alive, and inspired. Yoga takes the unknowing fragmented being and subtly begins to make the being whole, harmonized, balanced, One.
Generally speaking, humans are rarely satisfied. We may have moments of contentment, but usually, we are looking for something more to fill us. Perhaps we are hoping for a different job, a new partner, more money, food, alcohol, more yoga etc. Once we attain what we desired, it opens the door for countless more desires. We want more of what we attained, maybe in a different color or maybe the object of our desire didn’t meet our expectations. Our mind is always changing, fluctuating guided by the insatiable cravings of the senses.
Yoga says that beyond this continually changing mind and intellect, there is an unchanging formless Spirit that is unaffected by time, space, cause, name, form and is veiled (maya) in the individual (jiva) according to his/her stage of evolution. Yoga claims that our insatiable appetite for external objects is simply our longing for something that we innately feel is missing. The yogis claim we are all longing for union, Oneness.
Yoga is an exact science, but the goal is spiritual. Each path, each method leads to the same goal: Oneness. Swami Vishnu-devananda explains in his book, “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” that for every one idea that the student comprehends, there will be a hundred that will surface consciously only when the students’ mind is ready to both understand and accept the idea. As a student of yoga, this is very exciting! There is never a dull moment on the path. Every moment is an opportunity for growth and understanding.
Each moment we have the choice to create unity or division with our thoughts, words and actions, therefore, every moment is an opportunity to practice. Yoga is not something that we go to, it is something that we live.
If you are planning to answer the questions from lesson to lesson, I recommend getting a journal or notebook for the task. Your journal is providing you with a service, it is helping you to discover unknown potential hidden within you. It should be treated with deep respect as it is deeply serving you. Handle your journal mindfully. In this way, you will begin to understand how everything that surrounds you has its purpose and you have your purpose in regards to the things around you. This practice creates humility, develops the heart and the awareness that even though the objects around us appear to be lifeless and insentient, they do in fact have life or consciousness and should be treated with value and respect.
This is same practice that is applied to why we take our shoes off before we walk on to the practice floor, or our yoga mat. The practice floor or our yoga mat is sacred. We are literally transforming ourselves into our Higher Self on that space. Taking our shoes off is symbolizing taking off the lower self, the ego, the outside world.
The same principle is applied to the yoga props. They are supporting, grounding and expanding you throughout class. When it comes time to put your props back, you don’t ‘get anything’ out of taking a little extra time to fold your blanket neatly, especially when there are a pile of messy blankets. But when you begin to look at the service objects you use provide you and understand the purpose that you serve the object, you begin to care for the things around you even if that brings you no benefit. It is selflessness and that is yoga.)
Why did you begin to practice yoga and why do you practice yoga now?
What is the aim of yoga?
Do one selfless act this week and write about the experience in your journal.
Suggested Further Reading:
pages 1-11 of the CIBY
pages 1-6 APMB
There will be many books that will be suggested throughout the year. Building a yoga library takes time but these first few recommendations will be the books that I will be referring to over and over again. They are delightful!
“The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY)
“Asana, Paranayama, Mudra, Bandha” (APMB)
“Light On Yoga” (LOY)
ASATO MA SAT GAMAYA
TAMASO MA JYOTIR GAMAYA
MRITYOR-MA AMRITAM GAMAYA
OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI
Lead me from the unreal to the Real
From darkness to light
From mortality to Immortality
OM, peace, peace, peace