• Spiritual vs non-Spiritual yoga practice

    Spiritual vs non-Spiritual yoga practice

     More and more frequently I hear these days when I encounter new students the words “spiritual” and “non-spiritual practice”. Recently I had a conversation with a new coming student about his preference into spiritual yoga classes rather than classes with too many and “difficult” asanas. When I asked him to tell me why he chose that kind of approach the answer was:

    “I need a peaceful, meditation, relaxing state of mind and not a fitness programme. Something more spiritual than physical”. That was the phrase that intrigued me to write this article.

    The profile of the student was a middle age man with an office job and a family. The extreme needs of modern life prevented him from “physical” exercise, something that was evident from the beginning of our meeting. So the first piece of the puzzle is that we as humans have forgotten the natural state of our bodies and the purpose that we have been given them : for to use them in their full potential so that our soul can be expressed and manifested!

    The student was probably influenced by someone else, or by something he has read. So he made the connection than the equanimity of the mind, thus your whole existence, is irrelevant to the equanimity of the body. And by the word equanimity I’m not referring to something “pleasant” because most of the times the things we perceive as “pleasant” are leading us to the most unpleasant situations. Imagine someone who finds pleasure in eating a lot. After a very short period of time the unpleasant situation that he’s into, not only gives him a hard time in his daily life, with the extra weight, but it also compromises his inner organs and as a result his health. Equanimity is a state that most of the time requires physical practice to take place for a long period of time, and as in all practices we will encounter difficulties and failures along with effort.

    Now that we have cleared all the above going back to the request of the student we’ll notice that most of us want inner piece, in one way or another. Most of the times we find “tools” that after a while add to us more frustration than peace. Eventually most of us get the picture, and try something else. But the truth is that we still want, we need that inner peace. We need to shut down the mind which is shooting us with thoughts in bursting mode. In our mind core, even if we don’t know it, we seek the state of nirodhah. In the sanskrit text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the word nirodhah is referred to as control, restrain and we find it in the beginning of the first book (samadhi pada), in sutra I.2 yogas citta vritti nirodhah, which means that with yoga practice we can control the changing states of the mind. The changing states of the mind or activities (vrittis) are influenced by the kleshas (YS II.3), which empower those activities. Ignorance (avidya) is the most important of the five kleshas because it’s the origin of the other four, ego (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and clinging to life (abhinivesah).

    As you can see, ignorance of the mind produces all the others, and in our case the ignorance of the mind drives the “ego” (asmita) to identify something by giving a label or a name, because the known, can become understood from the mind and manipulated. All of these occur just to avoid the unpleasant (aversion) which in our case is physical exercise. The labels which discriminate one practice from the other are “spiritual” and “non-spiritual”. So we already fell into the trap of our confused mind. The vicious circle of aversion combined with attachment (holding on to “pleasant things”) gives more room to ignorance, which in turn empowers all the previous four. So the vrittis are becoming stronger, and more established in the citta (mind) and the peace we’ve been looking for is more illusive than ever. These vrittis create, depending on their establishment five types of thinking mind. Kshipta (disturbed), Mudha (dull), Vikshipta (distracted), Ekagra (one-pointed), Nirodhah (mastered).

    To create an ekagra (one-pointed) mind the practitioner is required to have an intention, combined with an action towards a focused practice, thus to cultivate a sattvic (from sattva, peaceful) state. This forces the other two gunas (tamas and rajas) to be transcended, therefore the mind can be still (nirodhah, mastered) and start higher meditation. This is something extremely difficult to understand and accomplish by simply sitting down in a meditative posture (lotus pose, or worst with crossed legs and a curving spine). Someone with no or little experience and knowledge (vidya) in order to acknowledge the imprinted subconscious behavioural patterns (samskaras), confronts outstanding difficulties in the process of thought cessation because of the very patterns that the mind manifests and keeps him imprisoned. If it was a simple process all people on earth would be balanced, well thinkers making acts through good will. Imagine after a very stressful day we would need only minutes in our couch to completely solve what is bothering us and continue uninterrupted and focused with our happy and peaceful life.

    To overcome this pitfall and find a way out from our mind maze, in Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives us a map, a “prescription” to follow if we want to search deeper and seek for the true Self, which will bring peace in the mind and happiness to the individual. There among certain technics, he introduces us to the term asana, which means posture. He describes the asana as sthira and shukham (YS II.46), meaning steady and comfortable. This instantly unfolds the purpose of the asana, which is nothing more than a “preparation” of the yogis body, to be still and without distractions for a prolong time, when the next step of the “prescription”, the next area of the map, pranayama (breath expansion), takes place. Meditation techniques, which eventually come after years of practice lead to the nirodhah, the cessation of thoughts and the peace of mind.

    That’s why we take advantage of the body through the asana (exercise) which in combination with our breath, it creates a moving meditation. Another reason for using the asana is that we are simulating equivalent situations of our daily life that distract us or manifest through them certain emotions, and we observe those emotions and reactions in a safer and controlled environment. When after years of practice, we can keep our calm, inside a sequence of asanas without losing our breath, without losing our focus from physical pains or restrains and most important when we realise and acknowledge our emotions that arise, then we might be ready for a still meditation. This doesn't mean that a certain level of proficiency in the asana must be reached to meditate, but on the other hand we can see the connection of the two tools and the tricks that the mind can play to avoid something that is not desirable.

    The practice, like all practices is the tool, which is irrelevant to the final goal. The knife for example can be used both for peeling an apple and for hurting someone. The same tool, the knife, produced a complete different result, coherent with the intention of the user. Maybe someone is practicing a tone of asanas and at the same time is meditating and someone else looks like “meditating” in a sitting position but he can’t even breathe correctly, and vice versa. The tool is always a tool and from that tool we can’t jump to conclusions for the outcome of the practitioner. The intent, the effort and the duration of the practitioner using that certain tool gives the final outcome.

    So is your practice spiritual or non-spiritual ?

    - dimitris -

  •  I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)

  •   I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)

  •   I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)

  • Should the asana hurt?

    Should the asana hurt?

    In our days the yoga asana is a trend, and more and more people are practising it, while a different kind of practice comes out every day, promising to give the same results, at least on a physical level. "New" techniques, as well as traditional systems, that have to do with the asana proper, give the asana the leading role, while by passing basic elements of the real practice, which disorientate the practitioner, not only from the real aim of the practice, but also from the practitioner's approach to it. Pain is synonymous to the practitioner's evolution, so that the body in western countries can get used to the demanding asanas. But how much pain does the practitioner have to go through so as to, eventually, enjoy those benefits?

    The basic idea of the traditional yoga practice combining breath and movement, which was originated with the wise man (Rishi) Vamana, is quite misunderstood nowadays. Vamana through his old saying "Vina vinyasa yogena asanadin na kareyet" which means "Yogi, don't practise asana without vinyasa", actually created a system that combined breath and movement in a garland (mala) made of asanas. Every movement that has exactly the same duration as an inhalation or an exhalation, has a certain counting (vinyasa count), and is therefore not confined to impressive jumps through, from down dog to landing in between the hands, or any related acrobatics. The aim of this system (breath and movement) is to divert somebody's attention from the asana and to fix it on breathing, in order for us to realise, in time, that the posture, like all shapes, is only temporary. On those grounds, Krishnamacharya created the foundations of Ashtanga vinyasa, which was spread in its contemporary form, by one of his first students, Pattabhi Jois. (Picture:Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Padmasana. A position that causes much pain and many injuries to many practitioners)

    The shapes, asanas, bodies and genarally anything related to the living matter, comes and goes.Yoga seeks what doesn;t have a shape (conscience) and also what pre existed long before the living matter was formed, along with what will continue to exist when this living matter disappears. Vinyasa Yoga is a meditation to the eternal. The only thing that is permanent in the practice, is the continuous focusing on breathing. According to Brahma Sutra 14, ata evah pranah, breathing is, in actuality, the Brahman. This claim is based on Chandogya Upanishad when the question is asked: "Who is this divinity?". Answer: "Really the breathing. It is true that all creatures come to life with breathing and leave (life) with breathing."

    Identifying the practice with the asana results in focusing on the body exclusively. The practitioner's increasing pressure on his body so as to achieve a posture, plus too many teacher adjustments, can not only harm the body tissues, which contradicts one of the first moral rules of non violence in the practice, but also help create subconscious impressions (samskaras). These imressions tend to repeat, resulting in accumulating more and more pain, keeping the mind preoccupied with the body, which comes to complete opposition with the "aim" of yoga practice. Any pain related practice will strengthen the bond between the visual self (jiva) and the body. In this very bond lies the yogic interpretation of all sufferings. Those techniquespractices may be gymnastics, since they borrow the asana, but in no way are they Yoga, which aims in realising the false combination (Samyoga) of the observer (drashtar) and the object (drshyam). [11.17]

    The expression "No pain, no gain", may apply on some areas of our lives, but when it comes to the asana the results are destructive. When I personally asked David Swenson on that, his answer was that "No pain means no pain." Yoga postures do not aim to achieve the position itself. On the contrary they aim to heal the practitioner. So the teachers as well as the students, ought to approach the asana in such a way that it serves the needs of every different body, without considering it a kind of physical form, or a mould that everybody has to fit in at any cost. In this light, any potential injuries are pervented through the practice.

    In any system, the practice should be performed under the light of the practitioner's ralationship with his practice. Yoga is experienced by changing the way we approach it, so that it becomes a diagnostic tool, whereby we understand what happens to the body, how we treat it, and not a competitive means to social status. By being mindful of the asana, you can observe the information tha emerges, setting aside any methods of achieving it.

    Behaving aggressively to the asana or to ourselves, implies a respective behaviour to our environment, which can be manifested in various ways. Besides what's the use of all those positions when, at the end of the day, we end up having the same arrogant behaviour towards every person and living creature around us. In actuality this constitutes the most disarming question that can be asked by someone who doesn't practice: "So what's the use of your doing all those asanas?"


  • Samskaras : The imprints of our subconscious mind

    Samskaras : The imprints of our subconscious mind

    According to the Indian philosophy, the law of karma functions incessantly, throughout the successive lives, and inside every life it is separated by degree, time and place. Desires and imprints are stored in memory and connect the model behaviours of past lives, to the present and future ones.

    It is claimed that only one correlation to yoga practice in a past life, can lead to practising it in the present. In other words, when you find yourself doing this practice, it means that there is a calling, a desire or yearning for it inside someone's consciousness. Everything we experience is imprinted to our consciousness. All our thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviours and experiences create imprints in our subconscious minds, which are like "scars", like scrapes to a metal surface. The sanscrit word for these scrapes, "scars", is samskaras. Every imprint or impression gives way to an affinity or aversion to repeating the experience. This affinity or aversion that comes out of it, is called vasana, which literally means "scent". Our whole personality is made out of these "scents". Pattabhi Jois used to compare these "scents" to cooking garlic in a pan. When garlic is cooked for a long time, its scent will continue to exist, even when it is removed and the pan is washed. The impression will affect us either way, either positively or negatively, regardless of how this impression was created, whether from a positive behaviour ,action, experience (like our practice) or from a traumatic, negative behaviour.

    Impressions differ from habits. Habits affect only our behaviour. They are profound and difficult to change. Although habits lead to certain outcomes,(for instance, addiction to sweets leads to obesity and consequently to depression) the feeling itself (depression) is not connected to the habit (sweet consumption). On the other hand, impressions tend to have an emotional and active component, which affects our feelings, our state of mind and our behaviour. Those components can cause the impression to manifest at any given time in our consciousness, although impressions are usually manifested through specific memories.

    Impressions that are created by love, generosity, offer and honesty, help to cultivate spirituality and lead to a harmonious, creative and disciplined life. They empower the practice (abhyasa), the effort, the vigilance of consciousness, the daily practice and the detachment, non attachment (vairagya). Impressions that are created by painful, traumatic experiences and situations, bring to surface fear, anxiety, anger and tension. Although those feelings can be consciously connected to an experience we had, sometimes the experience is deeper and very difficult to be connected. In any case, negative impressions disturb our lives, until we get rid of them. Our practice is a procedure of purification and spiritual evolution, whereby the positive impressions are empowered, whereas the negative ones are devitalized until they are completely eradicated.

    The theory of karma is, in concept, way too far from a fatalistic theory of a pre defined result, like many people reckon. On the contrary, it is there to draw our insight to our responsibility and the power it has to affect our future evolution. It works as a guide, inspiring us to perform righteous acts, which will gradually lead us to the ability of action without desire (nishkama karma).


  •   I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)

  •   I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)

  •   I'm tranlating the greek article! Thank you for your patience :)