Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
Testimonies from Actual Practitioners
• Using the Key to Unlock the Practice of Asana
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Teachings of Shri Mahayogi:
Translation of Satsangha
January 19, 2008
The Ashrama, Kyoto
Pain-Bearing Obstacles Block Sushumna Nadi
Ms. Nagaoka: Today, I’d like to ask about kundalini. Lately, the flow of energy has stabilized more, and it’s getting more intense. In the books, it says something like, “When Shiva and Shakti unite, then one attains liberation.” But I don’t understand anything more about it than that. Does having Shiva and Shakti unite mean that energy is passing through that very narrow passage? What happens when they unite?
MASTER: Shiva—in other words is God, or Pure Existence. That Existence abides in the seventh chakra, the sahasrara chakra, at the top of the head.
Ms. Nagaoka: Precisely speaking, does that sahasrara chakra exist at the intersection of the midway point between the top of the head and the point that sits slightly between the eyebrows (pointing with her index fingers to the respective points between the eyebrows and the top of the head)?
MASTER: No, it is exactly at the crown of the head. And kundalini dwells in the muladhara chakra—the first chakra, counting from the bottom—which is said to be located around the tailbone.
The pathway between muladhara chakra and sahasrara chakra is called the sushumna nadi, and it is the pathway of prana that runs through the middle of the spine. In addition to this, there are other nadi that flow from muladhara chakra, such as the two main pathways, ida and pingala, which are also known as the path of the Moon and the path of the Sun, through which prana runs along separate paths to the left and right respectively.
In normal physiology, for example, with the respiratory system or with other facets of the physiological functions in the physical body, the prana moves through the nadi on the right and left. [In this state,] prana is not going into the sushumna.
Ms. Nagaoka: (drawing a vertical spiral with both of her index fingers) So it can be understood as a movement like this?
MASTER: Yes. And there are five chakra, and these two nadi, [the ida and pingala,] interweave all the way up to the chakra between the eyebrows. In kundalini yoga, one attempts to stop the prana from going inside the pathways of the sun and moon, and instead make it flow only through the sushumna nadi at the center.
The question is, “Why doesn’t prana flow through the sushumna nadi?” An important issue is hidden here, which is that what actually obstructs the entry [of prana, or kundalini,] into the sushumna nadi are the pain-bearing obstacles. In other words, as long as one has a lot of karma and many pain-bearing obstacles within the mind, kundalini cannot enter into this central pathway.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, if I apply what you have just mentioned to my condition, I still have pain-bearing obstacles and various attachments, so then is it correct to think that although the flow of energy right now is rising up from muladhara, it is not rising up the sushumna, but rather flowing through the ida and pingala?
MASTER: Yes. That’s why if you do it forcefully, or in other words, if you try to trap prana using kumbhaka by stopping the breath, then that prana loses its outlet and can potentially damage the nervous system.
Ms. Nagaoka: Regarding the pain-bearing obstacles and attachments…but to eliminate them—will the practice of Yoga eliminate them? Or do they disappear through the grace of the Guru?
MASTER: Both are absolutely essential.
(Ms. Nagaoka began meditating from wanting to know the Truth. However, she is now being troubled by the sense of something like kundalini rising from the muladhara chakra.)
Ms. Nagaoka: So, then the course of action that I should take, based on your guidance, is that there is no other way but to strive towards eliminating the pain-bearing obstacles? Isn’t there a way to keep the prana in a tranquil state?
MASTER: Yes, you can control it.
Ms. Nagaoka: How can I do that?
MASTER: It is not a physiological issue, but rather, a psychological issue.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, psychologically, I direct myself in a certain direction?
MASTER: No, that is not what I meant; it means that you need to completely renounce all attachment through discrimination, and at the same time, you need [to have, and therefore cultivate,] bhakti—bhakti towards God [is crucial]. If one wants to raise kundalini up to Shiva, then one must only think of Shiva, of God.
Ms. Nagaoka: Then the readiness of that condition will be truly optimal?
Ms. Nagaoka: I am experiencing this condition where I can’t read anything other than scriptures, so much so that reading anything else makes my head hurt.
MASTER: Yes, that’s fine. That’s the way it is. That is why, another name for kundalini, is Shakti. It is the Goddess.
Ms. Nagaoka: (thinking for a little while) So, I should think that right now I’m not in a condition where Shiva and Shakti are united.
MASTER: Right now, you’re still in preparation.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, then what about this sense I get when I feel as if I’m going to faint, and at the same time, something feels like it just leaves from my body?
MASTER: Well, think of kundalini as a big, huge mass of prana. From it, prana is flowing in the form of smaller activities. What you are experiencing now is the rise of that prana.
Ms. Nagaoka: From my perception, even that seems very intense.
MASTER: Yes, that is normal.
Ms. Nagaoka: Then how about when kundalini actually rises?
MASTER: (immediately) You will know. Indubitably, you will be able to verify that it is rising up through the subtle pathway in the middle of the spine.
Ms. Nagaoka: Whether it’s intense or mild, it’s recognizable as kundalini either way?
MASTER: Yes. It is recognizable. In addition, you will be able to recognize the chakra. Chakra are too subtle to be recognized in a normal mental and physical state. However, when kundalini is working purely, it passes through the chakra.
Ms. Nagaoka: …Is that moment scary?
MASTER: No, not at all.
Ms. Nagaoka: Is it a joyful, or rather, a happy experience?
MASTER: Well, it is more like that. There is no fear at all. Because after all, fear is one of the pain-bearing obstacles that the mind creates. (laughs lightly) So, unless one eliminates these things, too, one cannot have a smooth experience.
(Ms. Nagaoka says that she is starting to recognize that she is still not quite there yet. She then asks about what happens to the breath when kundalini rises.)
MASTER: There is no breath.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, from the external appearance, is it the same as the condition of death?
MASTER: Well, you could say that if you were looking at it from a conventional medical perspective.
Ms. Nagaoka: Then if one is gone for two days, there will be a funeral.
MASTER: You don’t have to worry about that (laughs lightly).
Ms. Nagaoka: (laughing lightly too) But onlookers may not know, will they?
MASTER: Normally, two or three days is not a problem.
Ms. Nagaoka: But, the person who left the body may be fine coming back, however the surrounding people may think this person is dead, and start the funeral. (Everyone laughs.) This is how I am thinking, but is this a weird thought?
MASTER: That is strange. (Shri Mahayogi and everyone burst into laughter.)
Ms. Nagaoka: (laughing curiously) I don’t know what’s strange about it.
MASTER: (while laughing) I have never heard of a Yoga practitioner who worries about such things. (Shri Mahayogi and everyone burst into laughter.)
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh no, that means someone who worries about such things is a worldly person (laughing). In that case, I have a long way to go (laughing). But seriously, I really think so.
MASTER: (laughing lightly) No, that has nothing to do with it, whatsoever.
Ms. Nagaoka: Really? Why?
MASTER: There are no whys or anything like that. (laughs lightly and heartily)
Ms. Nagaoka: Let’s say you’re out of your body for two days.
MASTER: You say “out of body” but one is still inside the body.
Ms. Nagaoka: But there is no breath.
MASTER: There’s no breath.
Ms. Nagaoka: Then what would the surrounding onlookers think? (Everyone laughs.)
MASTER: You shouldn’t worry because the stimulus coming from these onlookers will bring you right back. (Shri Mahayogi and everyone laugh.)
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh, I see. (laughs)
MASTER: It would be ideal if one could continue [without interruption].
Ms. Nagaoka: So, then if others tap on the person or talk to the person…
MASTER: Yes, then one is pulled right back.
Ms. Nagaoka: One comes back right in that moment?
MASTER: Yes, that wonderful experience gets interrupted.
Ms. Nagaoka: (slightly surprised) Oh really? (laughs) I seriously thought there would be a funeral. (laughs)
MASTER: That is only if kundalini reaches the crown of the head, and then continues on.
Ms. Nagaoka: I understand that may be the case (laughs slightly) but who knows if that’s always the case, no?
MASTER: No, there have been no exceptions for thousands of years, and I’ve never heard of stories where someone was cremated in the middle of such an experience. (Everyone breaks out into roaring laughter.) You see, that means that, on the contrary, it is that difficult. (laughs)
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh, is that so? (laughs)
MASTER: It’s not that easily experienced. (laughs)
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh well, I suppose that’s the way it is… (Everyone laughs.)
MASTER: Anyhow, in order to experience it safely too, what you need to do, as I’ve just mentioned, is to discriminate—and in order to discriminate, it is important to study the scriptures and to learn from them well. Because [what is written in the scriptures] is the Truth, so through [learning and discriminating between the thoughts in the mind and the Truth] you must eliminate the attachments completely. On the other hand, you must steadfastly direct the mind only to bhakti. Then, while having this pure mind, concentrate on God. By doing this, you will, as a result, safely experience this (laughing), and you won’t trouble anyone else because of it. (Shri Mahayogi and everyone laugh.)
Ms. Nagaoka: Well, I’m glad you have clarified this. I was seriously so worried about it. (laughs)
MASTER: Indeed. Well, surely it would be worrisome if you didn’t know. (laughs)
Ms. Nagaoka: But I also understand now that it’s not that easy to be in that state even if we want to be.
MASTER: Well, that is the reality of it. That is why, as I just said, it all comes down to how much you are able to be thorough in renunciation, while at the same time heightening bhakti. This is what can remove the dirt inside of the sushumna nadi, and move the Goddess Shakti, kundalini, swiftly. (laughs a little)
Ms. Nagaoka: Thank you. I’ve always wanted to ask about this but I was so hesitant to do so. I’m so glad you have graciously spoken about it today.
MASTER: Yes, so regardless of what may happen, your mind should not think of unnecessary things, but only of God.
Ms. Nagaoka: Through your guidance today, I think I will be able to meditate without thinking about unnecessary things.
MASTER: Yes, (Shri Mahayogi and Ms. Nagaoka smiling) proceed just like that.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, just to confirm, about how many people in Japan have had the experience of prana passing through the sushumna nadi?
MASTER: How many people in Japan?
Ms. Nagaoka: Compared to the general population, for example, people who are interested in this sort of thing, Yoga, is already a small number, and let’s say there is one person out of a thousand who is interested. Then, out of these thousand people who are interested, is it possible that one person among them can go towards samadhi? I’m thinking that’s about the right probability.
MASTER: (laughs slightly) That’s a famous passage from the Bhagavad Gita.
Ms. Nagaoka: Yes.
MASTER: It’s actually not one thousand, but rather, it means several thousands. (Shri Mahayogi and Ms. Nagaoka laugh.) It’s plural. (laughs lightly)
Ms. Nagaoka: (while laughing) Well, then we have a long way to go.
MASTER: The probability is low (laughs lightly).
Ms. Nagaoka: Is it like “it’s kind of easy for it to rise, but it should not to be raised because it is dangerous”?
MASTER: No, it’s not that easy. As I said earlier, that is because what obstructs it are the pain-bearing obstacles and karma.
Ms. Nagaoka: Then I really wonder how I got into this condition? (laughs a little) Truly…
MASTER: Kundalini is an especially sacred power. It is working within this body too, of course, as normal prana. What can be said about your condition is that that power is currently heightened.
Ms. Nagaoka: How are you able to determine it? Through my character?
MASTER: Had kundalini been activated, then [your] body would have been destroyed already.
Ms. Nagaoka: (whispering) Is that so…destroyed?
MASTER: Yes, for example, the nerves [would be damaged].
Ms. Nagaoka: So this is just normal prana.
MASTER: Yes, prana. Well, it can be understood as prana working powerfully [within your body].
Ms. Nagaoka: Ah, I see. But I feel that something is rising up from muladhara, even so, is that still prana?
MASTER: Yes. It’s this power, prana, that supports the physiological body, this physical body. And its source is in the muladhara chakra.
Ms. Nagaoka: I don’t quite understand.
MASTER: In other words, since the source of prana lies in the muladhara chakra, this physical body is physiologically supported by that prana as well. It’s been said that we have billions of cells in the body, right? These cells generate the metabolism needed daily to maintain the body; the heart is also working. All of this is due to the power of prana.
Ms. Nagaoka: But I still feel it through my spine.
MASTER: Yes, because the nervous system goes through the spine.
Ms. Nagaoka: Hmm. I am aware of it going through the spine, but I can’t recognize it passing through the chakra. So even if it’s going through the spine, I should just think of it as prana.
Ms. Nagaoka: (small voice) I see. So I really have to revise my thinking (laughing a little). In a way, I feel more at ease with your guidance.
MASTER: Then, as you practice what I’ve mentioned before, true kundalini will activate safely.
Ms. Nagaoka: (as if a little surprised) Oh, is that so? Then, if I work to eliminate this current agony through discrimination, if I work on removing the attachments and pain-bearing obstacles, if I read the scriptures, and live like that day in and day out…
MASTER: (immediately) Bhakti (laughs a little). Don’t forget that. (laughs lightly) Shiva, as Pure Consciousness, is an Eternal Existence, yet since it is Shiva, Shiva is a personified God, so above all, think constantly of the existence of God.
Ms. Nagaoka: Yes, I understand. Thank you so very much. I am sorry I took up your time. But I am glad that I asked you these questions.
MASTER: (while laughing) Yes.
MASTER: (laughing) Good.
Ms. Nagaoka: I couldn’t figure it out by myself at all.
MASTER: Yes, of course. It’s rare to find someone who has experienced it.
Ms. Nagaoka: So, then Shri Mahayogi really experienced the prana going through the sushumna?
MASTER: Yes, otherwise, (laughing) I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it like this.
Ms. Nagaoka: (laughing) That’s right. However, a while back you had told us, “kundalini is only a supplementary and incidental byproduct of Satori.”
Ms. Nagaoka: Hearing that, whether kundalini rises or not, I thought that maybe there was this real deal Satori that exists separately somewhere.
MASTER: That is so.
Ms. Nagaoka: So even without the rising of kundalini, those who realize Satori, realize Satori.
MASTER: Yes, well to be precise, they realize it “without noticing the rising thereof.” On the other hand does one attain a complete Satori by only experiencing the rise of kundalini? In other words, you may think that when Shiva and Shakti unite, (pointing to a spot a little above his forehead) Satori occurs just as if a huge ball of light appears here, but that is not the case.
Ms. Nagaoka: (laughs) Thank you very much. (Shri Mahayogi laughs calmly.)
Ms. Endo (Mirabai): Earlier, you spoke about discrimination, and how in order to discriminate, one must study the Truth.
Ms. Endo (Mirabai): Then, you mentioned the need to eliminate attachments by practicing this. Please teach us again the way to practice discrimination.
MASTER: (slowly) Learn about the Truth—that means learn by hearing the words of Truth or by reading the scriptures. There it is said, “Only Atman is the True Existence. The body and mind are but temporary phenomena.” However, even though the mind, holding karma and pain-bearing obstacles, may be able to understand this intellectually, in reality, the mind continues to attach itself to the physical body, and it continues to seek and attach itself to various pleasures and happiness in the world. This working of the mind comes from ignorance, which is not the Truth.
Discrimination means to bring the Truth to battle against this ignorance. While ignorance has the upper hand in the mind, the mind gets dragged towards ignorance. (laughs a little) However, as you seriously continue to practice this discrimination, and also, as you are able to continue forward in spiritual connections like these, then ignorance ought to eventually disappear.
It means that the mind transforms. If we refer to the guna, it is when the mind, previously ruled over by rajas and tamas, instead relinquishes these, and becomes the quality of sattva. Then, all the attachments based on ignorance, will be renounced.
Ms. Nagaoka: (whispers impulsively) …that’s difficult.
MASTER: What, why? (laughs slightly) It’s not that difficult.
Ms. Nagaoka: I feel like you can’t get rid of attachments and ignorance until you truly realize Satori.
MASTER: No, it’s the opposite. You can’t realize Satori unless these things disappear. (laughs)
Ms. Nagaoka: We may think they’ve disappeared, but they bubble up again.
MASTER: Right, that can happen as well. That is why you must eliminate them completely. Otherwise…
Ms. Nagaoka: (continuing his sentence) …you cannot realize Satori.
MASTER: Right. (laughter from Shri Mahayogi and Ms. Nagaoka)
Ms. Nagaoka: Eliminate…seems unlikely. How do we eliminate them?
MASTER: Well, become enthusiastic for practice. (laughs lightly)
Ms. Nagaoka: Enthusiastic.
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Strive to Remove Your Own Superiority
Ms. Higaki: What should I do in order to become humble?
MASTER: (in a very clear tone) You must make your discriminative wisdom work. If you haven’t been able to be humble, then it indicates that you have a sense of superiority about yourself. Don’t you think so? So, then as you use your discriminative wisdom on this, you will inevitably conclude that it is nothing other than arrogance. Once you realize that, strive to bring yourself down. For this, too, you must make an effort. This is a more difficult sadhana than practicing asana. (laughs lightly)
Ms. Higaki: We have to make an effort because we’re not good at doing these things?
MASTER: Right…you must. (laughs lightly) It is very important in Yoga. Better for you to be humble, than be able to do even a single asana. (smiles a little)
Ms. Yamashita: Regarding the “act of bringing yourself down” that you mentioned earlier, does that mean to bring ourselves down in relation to everyone around us? (tapering off into a soft voice)
MASTER: To all and everything that is outside of your body… (laughs a little) Whether it’s family, acquaintances, strangers, animals, plants, or nature—all and everything.
Ms. Nagaoka: That’s because we are not able to bring ourselves down, so it’s just a training to become humble, right?
MASTER: (immediately) No, no, no. Everything is a manifestation of the One, the Only Existence. Well, either that or it can be replaced with God. (laughs a little) The manifestation of the Pure Existence that is God, is this universe, all things—and everything.
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh I see, that’s where bringing ourselves down comes in. To become humble.
MASTER: Yes. It is the natural, most obvious course of action. (smiles lightly)
Ms. Nagaoka: Is “bringing oneself down” the right way to express it, linguistically?
MASTER: Yes, because the mind is arrogant (laughs a little) one must describe it as an act of bringing oneself down. (both laugh)
Ms. Nagaoka: Because of arrogance.
MASTER: Yes (laughs a little). If you have truly assimilated that Truth, then even if you are not told to be that way, you will act equally, kindly and with humility towards everything.
Ms. Nagaoka: Oh, so this means that, “Because one’s ego is so strong and arrogant, so much so that it is impossible for it to be humble, one should practice bringing oneself down, which would be enough to just meet [the right level of appropriateness].
MASTER: Saying “just meet,” (Master and everyone laugh) means that I am asking you to actually put this teaching into practice. This is the teaching.
Ms. Nagaoka: Yes…but I think I don’t quite get it. So I should suppose that it means “bringing yourself down” then.
Ms. Nagaoka: …I have an image of cowardice when I think of “bringing oneself down”—don’t you think that’s the case?
MASTER: Hmmm, you may have a bias towards those words.
Ms. Nagaoka: That’s a bias that I have…
MASTER: I suppose so. (laughs gently) If it’s a problem, use the word “humility” instead.
Ms. Nagaoka: I have an easier time accepting “humility.” (laughs)
MASTER: They have the same meaning. (laughs a little)
(After some silence, the Master continues.)
Historically speaking, when you look at advanced practitioners in the East and the West, they bring themselves down often, referring to themselves as, “this little being” or “this insignificant being.” (laughs a little) So “bringing oneself down” might be just the right level of appropriateness. (the Master and Ms. Nagaoka laugh)
Ms. Nagaoka: After all this, I get it now, I’m arrogant. (both the Master and Ms. Nagaoka laugh)
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Yogadanda: It may be related to that arrogance, but about a year ago, I felt a premonition of the mind’s death. There was an experience where the senses of my entire body were gone, and only consciousness remained. When I spoke to Shri Mahayogi about it, you mentioned, “Beyond that point, there is nothing the mind can do by mere effort. Afterwards, only grace remains.”
I have understood that the duty of the disciple is to maintain oneself in that state so that one is prepared at all times. However, honestly, I have not been able to maintain myself in that state throughout this past year.
I have been thinking about what the various causes might have been, and I have found that there are several. At the time, I was mainly practicing jnana yoga meditation, doing “neti, neti.” In The Universal Gospel of Yoga, I think it is written that Shri Mahayogi said something like, “When practicing jnana yoga or raja yoga there is a great likelihood that new thoughts will emerge and fill the space you thought you had ‘just cleared,’ and that is the challenge. So that is why you should fill the space with bhakti instead.” When I think about it and about myself, in a way, I have thought about it and suspected that there is something in me that feels like a strong presence of arrogance that thinks “I can get there by myself.”
So, then what I need to clarify within myself is, “how do we distinguish between one’s self-effort and relying on the help of others,” and “whether that can become something different in bhakti yoga.” Would you please clarify these points?
MASTER: I think that the recent issue of Paramahamsa had some hints, perhaps in Sananda’s passages, [in the closing words from the Jayanti of 2007]. Sananda, could you speak about that a little more? (laughs a little)
Sananda: (after a long silence) …I used to think that through my own effort, somehow, I could accomplish, or I could realize Yoga, but then there was one time when I felt that the only way that would be possible for me to eliminate my ego and my arrogance, the only way…(gradually getting choked up on his words) is “to take the shining dust of the Guru’s feet upon one’s head.” …So, to me, with regard to that question, the only thing that I can say is, for me to constantly bear this in my mind so that I will never forget that feeling.
（Sananda completes his sentence as if squeezing out his voice. Silence ensues, and then Shri Mahayogi begins to speak.）
MASTER: Yes. That is what is called pure faith.
The word “faith” is used in various ways… Some have faith in health or beauty, others have faith in benefits during this lifetime. Even with spiritual paths—there is faith towards Satori, faith towards the perfection of Yoga. Even so, you can’t yet say that these are pure… When everything falls out of the mind, and only the form and words of the Existence, that is, the Truth, remain in the mind, only then for the first time, faith becomes pure. And unless this pure faith is born in the truest sense, there is no spiritual actualization possible… Even Shri Ramakrishna pled with the Goddess Kali, “I can give up everything, but please leave pure faith behind.”
(Shri Mahayogi quietly ends his talk. In silence, Ms. Nagaoka’s low tone of crying can be heard.)
(As Shri Mahayogi spoke, Ms. Nagaoka suddenly began to bawl, as if she realized something. Shri Mahayogi lookes at her with deeply compassionate eyes, nodding again and again.)
(Shri Mahayogi seemes to be very pleased to see the disciples’ realizations, and as if to confirm their understanding, he gazes at Yogadanda.)
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Testimonies from Actual Practitioners:
Using the Key to Unlock the Practice of Asana
by Sadhya, February 2018
“In the space after the exhalation…Stop. All is forgotten. I suppose this is the space in which the body gains its flexibility and perhaps those other things that are so sought after in our world today. However, this is precisely the space in which all of those things lose meaning. It is a space of serene stillness.”
(A Note from my experience during the time I was demonstrating asana in Washington Square Park, NY, September 2014)
“The breath is the key. Long and complete exhalation each time.” These are words we may often hear during Asana and Meditation class. But what does it mean? The key? The key to what?
Why so much focus on long exhalation? What happens when everything has been exhaled…how can I possibly exhale more? What does it mean in class when I keep hearing that I can exhale much more than what I think I can…doesn’t Anandamali, the teacher of the class, see that I have exhaled everything out already??
From the beginning, we are taught that, despite what it may seem, the practice of asana is not really a physical practice. When I first started, I could recognize this in my mind, but my efforts during asana practice were largely focused on the physical. It wasn’t necessarily that I was making efforts to gain flexibility or strength, but I wanted to go deeper in whatever way I possibly could, and so I tried to push the physical body to the maximum, simply because that was the best way I understood how to go deeper at that time. And while I was doing that, I was constantly trying to figure out this breath.
Again and again I would try for long exhalation, which was really quite a puzzle for me. At first, my efforts mostly consisted of trying to physically force all of the air out. I tried to squeeze the abdomen and lungs in any way possible to get out each drop of air. But that usually led to a lot of tension in my body and an exacerbated need to inhale afterwards. Using physical force didn’t seem to be the thing to do, so I then tried to slow down the breath as much as possible, to make my exhalation as long as I possibly could, thinking that perhaps this is what was meant by “long exhalation.” I would do this all day long, whether I was practicing asana or not—whenever I thought of it I would do it.
It seemed that practicing in this way at least had a new and different effect from the forcing I had been doing before, so I thought I was onto something. But then one day, when Yogadanda, a disciple who lives in Kyoto, came to New York during Shri Mahayogi’s visit, Anandamali created an opportunity for us to watch his practice of asana during the class. As I watched his demonstration of asana, I was shocked to see how quickly he seemed to finish his exhalation, comparatively speaking, and then how long he seemed to be still from the time he finished the exhalation to when he next inhaled. Curious to know why his approach seemed so different from my own, I commented, “I see that your exhalation is not that long, but once you finish exhaling there is a lot of time that passes before you inhale again,” and then asked, “why is that?” He then spoke about the state of no-breath, the space beyond the exhalation, when the breath seems to stop.
Of course, I had heard Shri Mahayogi speak about this, and that this may be something that happens spontaneously while practicing, but I had not witnessed it, let alone experienced it for myself. In that moment, I again reevaluated my approach to the breath. The exhalation must not have anything at all to do with the length of the exhalation, so then what is this feeling of no-breath, how is it that the breath can just stop?
I realized that I had yet to interpret correctly the instruction about the breath. “Long and complete exhalation” isn’t about forcing the air out, and it isn’t about slowing the exhalation down or lengthening it to the max either. There must be something that I had yet to discover.
“The true Self is beyond the body and mind.” From the beginning, we are taught that the practice of asana is not really a physical practice. But that we are to use the physical as a tool to, little by little, still the mind. And then, as the scriptures say, “Once the mind is still, the Truth that is beyond the mind, is revealed.” When I first read and heard the teachings of Yoga my mind was so fascinated by them, everything seemed to make so much sense, and I thought I understood what they meant. But slowly I was coming to find out that, like with the breath, perhaps I didn’t really understand, or that the understanding I thought I had was purely intellectual.
As I began to realize this, my focus in asana began to shift again and I started to yearn more and more to really understand—understand the teachings, understand the asana, understand the breath, the pranayama, the meditation—everything!
It was probably around this time that my practice of asana started to shift more and more away from the physical and towards the internal. Many things in my personal life were changing at record speed and more and more I was realizing that the only truly stable thing was Yoga. Again and again I turned to the teachings for guidance, I practiced asana and meditation on a daily basis, and no matter which one of my whirlwind emotions had overtaken me that day, I laid it all on the line to bear when I began this sadhana. In asana, I devoted everything I had, no matter what it was, tried to surrender the mind, and without fail, by the time I finished, my mind, my body, my breath, my emotion—everything would be transformed.
I may not have been able to articulate it at the time, but looking back now, I was beginning to discover that as my dedication and devotion to Yoga grew in practice, so did the depth of its effect, and vice versa.
The practice of asana does indeed have many physical and external components, so even though we are using these physical things, like the body and the breath, they seem to only be meant as tools. We are directed to focus on the breath in asana, but for me, the focus on the breath has come to be just a quick reminder for the mind to remember its habit of turning inward. Once the concentration is given this direction, then devotion and worship quickly follow, and the power that lies within the asana takes care of all the rest. If we aim for flexibility, health or other physical benefits in asana, they may happen or they may not, but even though such things may come, there is something that will be missing, or that will not be complete.
But if we put all of our attention on the breath, the key of asana, and on the true aim of our practice, whatever that may be for each one, then we will each gradually be led to unlock the door and cross the threshold of the physical, which will then result in many things coming naturally, without effort and without much notice. Then we can really begin to shift our understanding of Yoga out of the intellectual realm. And our faith in Shri Mahayogi and in the teachings of Yoga will only grow stronger and deeper.
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