The Space Between

Hamsa .. the singular mantra that every breathing being is born and dies with.

 

Ham is our first breath from the womb.

Sah is our final relaxation as we shed the body.

 

Traditional Yoga relates that Yoga occurs ‘between the breath’, or the natural retention of  the breath (kumbhaka).   Due to a misunderstanding, many will hold their breath, seeking the elusive sensation of Yoga.

 

Think on this:

First there is birth and with it, our first breath .. Ham.

Then there is death and with it, our last breath .. Sah.

What occurs between those two is life .. or the retention / kumbhaka.

 

This is no mystery.  Breath naturally falls into three parts: inhale, retention, exhale .. repeat.  So lets look at it another way ..

Beginning, Now, End

Morning, Noon, Night

Below, Middle, Above

Child, Adult, Senior

.. and the list can go on.

 

Poetically, yes, ‘life occurs between breaths’, but from a practical perspective, it means the entirety of our life and the stillness of our life.

 

Yet another poetic expression is that Hamsa means “goose, swan”, and in Traditional Yoga is a symbol of vitality, purity, divine knowledge, prana, and highest spiritual accomplishment.  As a mantra its role is said to encapsulate all the Upanishads (practical wisdom teachings), specifically:

Hamsa = I Am That

Soham = That I Am

So with every breath we are affirming: I Am That, That I Am!

 

As a Westerner, when I think of ‘swan’ I think of Mother Goose and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.   Mother Goose is either an old, wise woman, or a bonnet wearing goose that dispenses wisdom; she is a fertility goddess, a giver of life, wellbeing and nourishment.  Likewise, the goose gifted its golden egg – divine aid – only to the most humble.  Additionally, in Western mythology, the stork / swan / goose delivers a new born baby, whereas in Traditional Yoga the supreme swan is a degree of highest emancipation.  So there again, where East meets West, is the Beginning / Ham, and the End /Sah.

 

Back to the Middle .. our life is filed with business, working, learning, studying, all on several levels of consciousness.  All this amounts to experience, and the more experience we can have during a lifetime – the space between breaths – and approach these experiences in a positive manner, the more capable we are of balancing the instinctive with the intellectual, the better able we are to mold the atoms / Atman (soul) so that it aligns with the spiritual force that is the Absolute Reality.

 

You see .. the instinctive mind will re-act and resent some experiences, and the intellectual mind will rationalize others, but when we tame the two, we find the middle ground – Raja, Tao, Middle Way – of the superconscious , which is the gateway to our spiritual self.

 

Ham = instinctive

Sah = intellectual

the Still Quiet Center = our true self

 

So it is that we should identify with the kumbhaka, the retention, the pause between breaths, for therein lies true Yoga.

 

Prem and Metta!

Yogini Devi

 

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Live Deliberately!

Our everyday should be an exercise in deliberate thoughtfulness, where we take action after careful consideration.

 

Every breath should be one of deliberate intent, for there is only one goal in life, only one yearning, one desire, one direction.  Live Deliberately because god – the creatively lifeforce – resides within you .. within all that lives.  That is the number one defining realization of all time, the one conclusion that all saints and sages have drawn to, the one direction that every heart is naturally inclined towards.

 

All knowing is within you.  The light that we see in the eyes of wise men and women is the light of their soul, the reflection of their superconscious mind.  That light resides within all of us!

 

Yet .. we feel far removed from this, as if it only happens to ‘other people’.

 

To begin, we must be taught Hatha Yoga, the ‘physical’ practice, the basic bodily movements.  Why?  Because most of us do not observe our natural inclinations.  We must learn by repetition because we have become de-sensitized to our natural, divine self.

 

But how did that happen?  Why is our life so complicated?  Why can we only touch the divine for mere moments, only to be dragged back down to the reality of daily stress?

 

This has happened because we have not been taught to use the mind.  For example, the moment we enter school we are taught that the rational mind is the only mind, and that rational pursuits the only worthy ones.  We have been taught that anything not rational is wrong or bad so needs be discarded; things like religion, ritual, mythology, sensitivity, environment, intuition, instinct .. we are told these are wrong so must be thrown it out!

 

No wonder we feel so disconnected.

 

Woman in ‘primitive’ tribal societies know the most natural means of childbirth.  In the West, woman have to take a class.

 

Hatha Yoga is a Philosophy .. the practice of the mind, a practice that re-establishes our relationship with the external world and the internal world, with the lower world and the higher world.  Hatha Yoga helps us exercise our life deliberately.

 

Sthira Sukham Asanam, means “Steady Joy Existence”.  That is a single verse from the Raja Yoga Sutras, a book on the mind practice that comes with Hatha Yoga.  Raja Yoga is akin to Taoism or Zen Buddhism, for it is The Way .. the ‘eternally nameless’  effortless action that prompts us to live as we were born to .. to Live Deliberately!

 

Prem and Metta!

Yogini Devi

 

 

Contemplative Nature

Before I realized what I was doing, I was cultivating a contemplative approach to life.  You see, it was natural for me to seek stillness in the chaos of my life, natural to seek light where there was darkness, natural to identify with the infinite when confronted with the finite.  Over the years, some have accused me of “escapism”, saying that I have “run away” from life’s challenges.  To this I can only answer, “Not even the saints and sages have been able to escape the slings and arrows of life.”

 

As a child it occurred to me that I was auspicious, that life was auspicious.  Not that I was special, because anyone who either has children or has spent time with children, realizes that all kids view the world with such happiness and promise.  Maybe my discovery of Yoga philosophy at the age of eleven allowed me to keep that favorable perspective, even in the face of uncertainty and calamity – which befalls us all as we grow through life – because in my Yoga readings, at such an early age, I was encouraged by the promise of  mercy and metta (loving kindness).

 

What occurred to me later was that all of us are auspicious, that we are Auspicicus Sapian, or that this is our real identity.  After all, as I rationalized early on, we are all born this way.  And those slings and arrows of life, well those are ego and ignorance, or the darkness that comes over us the further we move away from our auspicious self.

 

A few years after discovering Yoga (while still in my teens), during meditation, I heard a clear voice say, “In the darkness of our lives, there was a spark of existence”, and in that moment, a light literally came on inside my being.  That fire – that tapasya, that heat, that incandescence – transformed me.  Where there was heat to digest and metabolize the food I ate, now that fire sent the Prana of what I ate and drank through the seal in my head.  Where there was experience there was now knowing, where there was learning there was now perception, where there was past and present there was now Now, where there was deception and uncertainty there was truth, where there was separateness there was shared-ness, where there was many there was now One.

 

Beyond making a connection, beyond finding higher self, beyond replacing the negative with the positive, there is simply a presence of being, an identity as ‘I Am’.

 

You see, Yoga means ‘yoking’ or ‘union’ of body and mind.  But it also means the union of the lower self with the higher self, the base nature with the exalted nature.  It is not a matter of bailing out of the troubles of the world but embracing them as part of the larger self. It is not about ignoring or destroying or overriding the lower / ego self, to replace it with the higher self .. but to wed the two.

 

We all live in the world, along a horizontal line, yet many seek the higher world, along a vertical line.  Life is about living at the intersection of those two.

 

Prem and Metta!

Yogini Devi

Guidance

Guidance.   We all need it .. whether we like to admit it or not (darn that ego thingie!).  But honestly, guidance is what we have needed since birth .. no one has ever truly gone it alone.

 

That makes guidance paramount.  Likewise, it makes it something that comes in the most unexpected places.  Such as, when we dont think we need guidance .. when we are strumming along at a nice pace, then someone comes along and makes a suggestion .. which we then see the simplicity of .. then implement it, then .. Viola! .. we find ourselves at a new level.

 

And thats just daily stuff.  So what about the real issues .. like spiritual matters?

 

Well, first its a matter of finding out, ‘What sort of spirituality’.  (Ok .. for those of you who know this answer .. no shouting it out and giving it away to those who havent arrived yet!)   😉

 

So .. here are a few ideas for you to ponder regarding guidance.

 

First, is your personal practice assisting in quieting your mindbody energies?  Meaning, is what you are doing along the inward path helping to purify and refine the mind and body?  If what you are engaging in eases the emotional tempest, soothes restless sensations, calms longing, keeps a positive perspective within reach, and gently nudges you towards generosity instead of greed, contentment instead of jealousy, loving kindness instead of hate, and joy instead of anger .. then your doing just fine.

 

Many of us need guidance to realize that we are not the mind, and we are not the body, but that we are radiant, conscious and eternal souls.  And it is our splendid soul – our true self – that guides the mind and body.  Or, as C.S. Lewis so clearly reminded us:  “You don’t have a soul.  You are a Soul.  You have a body.

 

When we realize this .. truly real-ize this .. then the soul that we are directs the mindbody towards the fulfillment of duty and the resolution of action.  (Or, in other words: the fulfillment of dharma and the resolution of karma.)

 

You see, daily living often includes fear and sickness, worry and doubt .. which work to distract us .. keeping us from the truth of our brilliant self.  After a time, we begin to think that we are these things .. even affirming, “I get sick a lot”, “I’m always stressed out”, “There is just so much to worry about”, “I cant do it”, and the like .. all of which are a brick-in-the-wall, or the acceptance of limitation.

 

This is where we need guidance, for before beginning any spiritual path we must first better our self, which means finding out where we are hurting our self.

 

Wow!  Talk about Catch 22!

 

Lots of time is needed here on self-examination .. lots of contemplation and meditation.  Lol .. in fact, this is where we get ‘brutally honest’ with our self.  ‘Brutal’ because many have become adept at sweeping things under the rug.  But you know what happens when you always sweep things under the rug?  Well, after a time, a pile is created, and that pile grows into a road block, which trips you up.  Which is when many ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’  When it truth, that ‘trip’ was created by you.

 

You know .. the whole ‘forest for the trees’ scenario!    😉

 

So, in truth, there is nothing to do .. no ‘spiritual path’.  There is only realizing that you are already that which you seek.  There is only realizing that you must allow your true self to be; and when you do, it will transmute – like an alchemist – those base qualities into gold.

 

Prem and Metta!

Yogini Devi

 

Wild Standing

Tadasana or Samasthiti?  All too often I read that they are the “same”.

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Yoga Journal – which is more an Iyengar tradition magazine than a Yoga one – tells its readers that these two standing positions are identical.  This mis-education then radiates throughout Yoga circles, perpetuating itself.

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To plum the difference, lets look at the Sanskrit meanings of each word:

-Tada + asana.  Tada means, “at that time, at that moment”, it then suggests,’upright, straight, unmoved’.  Asana means, “sitting down, to sit down” (though most often rendered as “pose”).  Combined the two parts amount to “upright in the moment”, or “unmoved at this time”.  Mostly however, the word is given as “Mountain Pose”.

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To attain Tadasana one:

-Balances over the arches of the feet,

-Firms the thighs and slightly tucks in the tailbone, balancing the hips over the arch of the feet.

-Lifts the chest to balance the heart over the hips.

-Allows the Crown Chakra to rise upward, leveling the chin with the floor, to balance the head over the heart.

Commonly, the hands are placed along the sides of the body, often, with the middle finger (the finger of Compassion) resting on the center of the outer thigh.  Conversely, and preferably, the hands are centered at the heart in Anjali Mudra.

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The word “mountain” is more readily found in giri and Parvati – the former means “mountain”, and as an honorific means “venerable, elevated”.  The latter means, “She of the Mountain”.  So that sometimes, ‘mountain pose’ is given as Parvatiasana.

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Likewise, lets look deeply at the word asan / asana.  In Sanskrit the word (as given above) denotes a ‘steady and comfortable meditative position’, and a means to ‘channel prana (the lifeforce), to activate the chakras (psychic centers) and remove ‘knots’ (granthi) or energy blocks’.

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Atha / Now ..

-Sama + sthiti.  Sama means, “unaltered, equal, equipoise, equally, equilibrium”, and sthiti means, “established, steadfast, upright, abiding”.  Combined the two mean, “established equality”, “equal abiding”, “upright equipoise”, “steadfast equilibrium”; and is commonly rendered as, “equal/same standing” or “mountain pose”.

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The two appear to be identical, but upon closer inspection their differences emerge.  Tadasana is the more dynamic of the two.  As a preparatory position it is engaged prior to movement.  For example, Tadasana is the first position of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) in that it signals the beginning of vinyasa (the ‘special place’ of breath, flowing movement with breath).  Samasthiti is a resting position, best likened to a standing Shavasana (“corpse seat”).  It is best thought of as an opportunity to rejuvenate – where one can re-establish Ujjayi Pranayama while emotionally, intellectually and spiritually assimilating the previous asana, without lying down.  Therefore, Samasthiti is an excellent pause between the standing poses.

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Attaining Samasthiti is very similar to Tadasana except that the body is relaxed.  So that the body is still centered – again, balance is established at the foot’s arch, the hips are balanced over the arches, the heart over the hips, the head over the heart – but the ‘seat’ here is soft.  When done correctly, Samasthiti feels like one is levitating (laghiman, “lightness”).

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Simply, and from a physical perspective, Tadasana is dynamic, Samasthiti is passive.  So upon visual inspection, one can clearly see the difference between the two.  Now, lets explore the internally definitions.

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Tadasana means, “upright in the moment”, or “unmoved at this time”.  And Samasthiti means,”established equality”, “equal abiding”, “upright equipoise”, “steadfast equilibrium”.  Herein is why they are confused – simply because when translated their definitions sound the same; or their differences are so subtle that they are beyond ordinary (non-meditative) comprehension.

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Tadasana is very much in the ‘now’, in the ‘moment’.  It is also a fluid asana, one ready to embark into another asana, making it akin to but one pearl on a thread – but one bead within a whole.  Samasthiti is an established whole – it is upright and steadfast, unmoving and centered (even urdhva, “unmoved, upward”).

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As understood from a Yogic perspective – the philosophy of union, the metaphysics of Yoga – the two can be understood as:

-Tadasana:  Prakrti (matter), Saguna (with strand, form ), Cataphatic (limited).  Tadasana is the beginning, a first cause, the physical starting point of activity, the prelude to manifesting movement.

-Samasthiti:  Purusa (consciousness/spirit, transcendental Self), Nirguna (without strand, form), Apophatic (unlimited).  Samasthiti – seated in Sameness – is resting within the Absolute, the imperceptible unknowable.

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Wild Standing is the movement away from Form (Tadasana) to merge with Force (Samasthiti).  It is the difference between ordinary awareness (Tadasana) and spiritual awareness (Samasthiti).  It is the limited understanding of self (Tadasana) instead of an unlimited understanding of self (Samasthiti).  The very act of recognizing these two is a crucial turning point in the unsteadiness/uneasiness (dukha) experienced when letting go of insights and self-perceptions.  For, as in daily living, as long as one feels that being in Samasthiti is simply standing still, one will be unable to directly experience the benefit of doing so, and so be tempted to ‘firm up’ and get ready to do something (Tadasana).

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Samasthiti is not ‘standing’ or ‘stillness’ or ‘doing nothing’, but the core of our perceptivity, the seed of our spiritual / intuitive knowingness.  As the beginning of movement (Tadasana) it is the core of unity consciousness – the very bedrock of Self.  It is physically experienced as the sensation during meditation when one feels ‘weightless’ or ‘out of the body’ or ‘one’ – for it is true Yoga levitation (laghiman, the condition of lightness).

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Stand at Sameness with Self.  Stand at Zero.