TO KNOW YOGA AS YOGA
Understand this important concept before stepping into Yoga…
As part of this years Yoga Gita European tour, Vijay Gopala – master in Yoga and philosophy and founder / main teacher of Yoga Gita in Mysore India, was invited to teach at the World Yoga Festival in Reading, UK.
Held at the beautiful Beale Park in Reading, the festival is now in its third year. It is run completely as a ‘not-for-profit’ under the UK registered charity Arsha Kula Foundation – and was created to promote all aspects of the ancient wisdom of Yoga to the West.
From start to finish there was a genuine intention to learn, teach and share the authentic knowledge of the complete and scientific approach to life that is Yoga.
Festival-goers came from far and wide to take in as much as they could from the array of credible teachers and personalities scheduled over the weekend. This collective intention allowed Vijay to take students on a combined journey deep into important aspects of Yoga… as it is.
It was heartwarming to see the true spirit of Yoga being spread in this genuine way over the three days of the festival, with practitioners and teachers alike receiving scientific and philosophical background to the subject.
However, over these three days a common misunderstanding and confusion on a central part of Yoga also became very clear and prevalent… and this was the subject of Pranayama and its application to Yoga practice. The concepts behind Pranayama are an important and fundamental part of Yoga that an individual should understand before starting their Yogic journey.
The concepts behind Pranayama are an important and fundamental part of Yoga that an individual should understand before starting their Yogic journey.
Since the popularisation of Yoga in the West, the concept of Prana has had a lot of confusion surrounding it in the field of postures, meditation and even in the field of breathing. Unfortunately, it has been influenced by many wrong ideas, as we saw at the festival.
Due to the confusion and misconceptions that surround this subject we wanted to write this blog summarising the introduction to Vijay’s Sunday session of the Festival, where he took the audience on a journey into exploring, in actual sense… what is Pranayama..?
CONCEPT OF PRANAYAMA
Prana means… life energy
Ayama means… dimension of life energy
Prana is present in all the parts or layers of existence, so… if we know Prana is everywhere, how can we access it? It is often asked that if everything needs life energy and therefore it is everywhere, then why can’t we touch or access it? However, the bigger question is really… why do we feel we need to access Prana from outside of ourselves if it is everywhere? It is like trying to read this blog post whilst your computer or phone is moving. Try it… make the screen you are reading this on move quickly up and down and try to continue reading. It is impossible. You need the device / page to be still to see the words. Consider the fact that everything in creation is moving – from an atom, to the whole galaxy. Nothing stays in the same place. In each moment something is there, but in the next moment it will be different. In constant movement nothing is permanent.
It is the same with Prana, we cannot harmonise with Prana because everything is moving and in effort expressed state. For harmonising with prana which is the base of all expressions we need to be in effortless state. So then comes the question… how do we access Prana if everything is in this constant movement, change and perishing state? To understand this, try a similar concept to before, but this time, instead of your device moving whilst trying to read this blog, move your head rapidly from side to side. Here, you need to be still to read the words.
What is happening with these examples is that both the observed and the observer is moving. This movement affects our perception of what is there in front of us.
It is important to grasp here that our minds perceive things to be moving because our sense perceptions are related to either the past or the future. The things we observe only appear to be moving because of this reference…It is this concept that needs to be understood before stepping into Yoga..
Imagine a situation… you are driving a car and you see a friend in front of you riding a bike. You want to talk to your friend so when you get to them, you bring down the speed of the car to the speed of the bike. This matching of speed creates a stillness between you. Now you can talk – yet you are both moving. Stillness happens so that communication can happen… when the communication is finished, you again speed up.
Just like this situation, the creation is moving and you can access it through bringing stillness.
How can you bring stillness? Bring the mind to presence. When the mind is in presence, there will be no movement. A movement is nothing but a series of still images. Our minds perceive these series of still images as movement due to a reference of past and future. Take away the reference and it is always in presence. In the same way, irrespective of any movement happening in the outside creation, if you are able to create stillness of mind, the presence of mind, then you are able to be with the pace of creation.
Stillness should start with the body. When you are present, then the body is present. But if body is moving, mind is moving. We all have our urgencies in life, our acts of ‘doing’ influenced by societal pressures, but all of this is irrelevant to the creation. You need to look beyond the conditioning of your mind. The real truth of life is to experience the life in ‘being’. When you are being, you are present. The things you do to create meaning in life, for example, working to have a successful career and to have nice things, they do not matter to the creation. What matters to creation is… are you in presence?
It is the understanding of this concept that you should start your journey of learning Yoga. Because Yoga is not just postures where you move your hands and legs. It has a beautiful science behind it – a well-established path for many 1000s of years that has answers to all the questions – social, psychological, political – Yoga is a complete subject that can be approached from any angle
People are trying to experience the state of meditation through the movement of the body, by flow posture or building series. The conditioning of the current society has influenced every aspect of our being so much that it is like we only feel through doing – through gaining, through getting somewhere.
The beauty of creation is that nature is not moving. Once you begin to establish your mind in presence, the movement of nature stops. When movement of nature stops, then you are able to facilitate the stillness of the body – you prepare the body to practice posture. So then, body is still, mind is still and you are with Prana… then breath becomes still. If you have a wish to know what is, then every part of you should be still. When mind is still, then nature is still and you can see everything that is there in front of you.
YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI
This is exactly what Patanjali speaks of in his Yoga Sutras… the stilling of the mind, the serration of the practice. When he starts the Yoga Sutra explanation, with “Atha yoga anuśāsanam” – This is Yoga, Patanjali is like a thousands scientists of modern day, he was a brilliant, realised soul that was telling us … This is Yoga – a definite article comes here. Not out of ego, but out of presenting the fact to come out of experience.
Then he follows with the next sentence … “Yoga citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ” – he finishes the whole Yoga approach in one sentence – Yoga means to control the modifications of the mind. If you can achieve this one sentence, then you have access to life. When you control the modifications of the mind, you are not identifying with the change of the nature, but you establish with the presence of nature. From this state you know for the very first time in life, you know something for fact – it is there in front of you.
If this stillness is not accessed then it is because mind and body are always moving. This is why there are so many aggressions, holdings, possessions, judgments, illnesses etc in society – because we do not have leaders that know the truth. We are walking around with blindfolds on, trusting and believing in people to lead us who also have blindfolds on – it is no wonder we all bump heads – bumping into wars, capitalism, exploitation. It is all a result of not being able to understand what is.
To understand what is, allows you to understand oneness…. you, me and everything is one. The understanding of this oneness is to understand and feel true love – real love to come from the heart. From this feeling of love, comes compassion, and from compassion comes peace. Throughout life, we end up identifying through our differences. Differences are the life of nature – a plant is different to an animal, an animal is different to us etc. Differences are everywhere, they must be because this is the manifestation of nature from the consciousness. But, out of this difference, you should not be different. Do not be affected by the difference… difference is beauty, difference is celebration. When you break it down to think of even the very many differences in your own body – each finger is different, your shoulder is different to you knee, right hand is different to left hand, yet we see ourselves as whole – you still consider you as limited you, because you end up considering your body as last surface of you.
Establishing oneness allows you to extend your expressions to infinite dimension. This creates such a depth and success of life – this is the source, the nature of your consciousness. Quality of expression of nature is one thing and the quality of expression of your consciousness is another. Quality of expression of nature is to change, to replace, to perish and move… it is the outside. Quality of expression of consciousness is oneness, love, affection and compassion… it is the inside. To bring the inside to the outside, is to bring a union of consciousness in the nature. This brings a realisation, an unconditional way of expressing life.
To achieve all of this … that is why we practise Pranayama – to access stillness and become one with creation.
Lucy Hackett in correlation with Vijay Gopala
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