Saturday, February 28, 2015

What did I learn from Yoga-tarangini?

There is, of course, much more to the story, but we will leave it for here and I will conclude by giving a summary of the contents of my first lecture on Yoga-taraṅgiṇī.

The GS course in yoga starts with a lesson in anatomy. This is something that needs to be learned as the beginning of the yoga journey inwards begins with an internal inspection of the physical body, which especially in later Nath Yoga texts is seen as the microcosm, where everything found in the universe can be found. The later Nath Yoga texts like Siddha-siddhänta-paddhati take this quite seriously and have a series of meditations on these correspondences.

Nowadays research into yoga by the empirical method is being given increasing favor, and this means that the yogis' understanding of the body as viewed from within is not given anything more than arcane importance, without much scientific or objective value. But thousands of years of investigation through practice should not be minimized or discounted. Subjective knowledge of the body, in the way that one knows one’s tools to do one’s work, is the first lesson of yoga, and indeed, progress in yoga means fine tuning one’s awareness of it.

The main elements of yoga anatomy are the chakras, the ten airs and their functions, and all the nāḍis. A basic principle is any movement in the body is caused by the movements of air, which is mediated into the body through the breath. It is a bit difficult to see the muscular and joints, etc., all moving by the actions of the breath as it takes these different forms in the body. From the modern perspective, we tend to see them as electric current nerve signals, but by meditating on the main channels of energy in the body, and mentally associating the breath to acts of tensing and releasing wherever there is a stretch or stress in the muscles, one can start to see the relation.

The stillness of the body, free from twitching and other unnecessary movements, voluntary or involuntary, on even a subtle level, means that the airs are coming under control and are being properly channeled.

Within the description of the chakra system, GS gives particular emphasis to the yoni-sthāna in the perinaeum and the kanda bulb in the small of the back. Both of these places are said to be loci of the kuṇḍalinī.

The emphasizing of these two zones, as well as the prāṇa and apāna of the ten life airs, and the iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā of the ten nāḍis, shows that the principal purpose of this anatomy, its primary goal, is centered around the raising of the kuṇḍalinī. Raising the kuṇḍalinī or śakti-cālana thus comes at the beginning of one's practice immediately after being able to sit properly with the spine erect. Indeed, its immediate effect is to further straighten the spine and to add pranic energy to the seating posture. And when the channel is cleared, then one feels the effect in the crown no doubt.

But raising the kuṇḍalinī is far from being an end in itself, as this clearly illustrates. It is more or less a prerequisite for meditation. The holy grail of “raising the kuṇḍalinī” that one hears so often, is not mentioned in the GS, but it should be understood that if one’s meditation session begins with kuṇḍalinī, it serves the meditation itself. The “setting into motion of the power” (śakti-cālana) means the redirecting of the bodily energies, mainly the sexual energy, inwards. This is meant to be a permanent state when those energies are raised to the crown and flow there.

There are said to be 8,400,000 āsanas, but they are reduced to only two in GS. This indicates clearly that the purpose of all the āsanas is to be able to sit in a meditative posture. The two, siddhāsana and padmāsana, are also the correct postures in which to most efficiently practice all the other bandhas and prāṇāyāma exercises, in particular those that raise the kuṇḍalinī. Siddhāsana emphasizes the activation of the yoni-sthāna, while the baddha-padmāsana favors the kanda.

The five bandhas, which includes two mudrās (at this point in the tradition, no strict separation has yet been made), are mūla-bandha, uḍḍīyana-bandha, jālandhara-bandha, khecarī mudrā and mahā-mudrā. Of these, it is possible to do the first four while in a meditative pose, while mahā-mudrā, being done on either side with one leg outstretched. I have found this to be especially good for relief of the legs after long sitting cross legged. It also relieves the back while helping to settle the balance of the left and right meridiens. Since the heel remains firmly in the yoni-sthāna while in this posture, the stimulation of the kuṇḍalinī energy continues throughout.

As to the question of whether mūla-bandha is to be maintained at all times or not. This is not stated in the GS, but I have heard Swami Veda say both yes and no, so obviously it is dependent on the adhikāra of the sādhaka, the level of achievement of the practitioner. Certainly it is not the diligent and intensive practice that is meant to simply strengthen the complex of muscles used in these contractions. But as one internalizes the smooth diaphragmatic breathing of a yogi, a gentle contraction will naturally follow on the exhalation, which will not require conscious effort.

Yoga is probably the only exercise system in the world where the original and only purpose is to master of doing nothing. Those who think that it is only about relieving you of stress so you can go back to working hard like a mule are only partially correct, i.e., for a certain level of adhikāra. Yoga āsana is the art of sitting completely still for long periods of time; that of prāṇāyāma, that of settling the breath ... the goal of kevala-kumbhaka being to stop it for long periods of time, at least so that it becomes practically unnoticeable. This then frees the mind to begin its inward journey. This also frees one from desire as one starts to experience the joy that comes from the inner life.

The first stop is the gross body, as viewed from within. This is concluded in the pratyāhāra stage, when one visualizes and interacts with each joint and muscle from the tips of the toes to the crown of the head. As one progresses, one becomes more aware of the subtler energies that are flowing in and out of those regions. This enhances the power of the mind to take control of any anomalies that may be occurring in them. This consciousness should be carried over to any yogic posture that one takes up. One relaxes and lets go, step by step. But once one is finished with pratyāhāra, one is now ready to forget the body entirely. That is the meaning of pratyāhāra.

Of course, the GS has a special alternative meaning for pratyāhāra, which is one of its unique and original esoteric features. But in this opening lecture we did not have time to discuss that.

So that is why the first three of the six aṅgas are considered external, while the three that follow are considered internal. The first three are about mastering the body and breath in order to forget them. Then one is ready to start directing the mind into definite meditations for increasing lengths of time until one forgets the mind.


Maccidānanda Nātha said...

Ādeśa - Dear Jagadananda Das,

May one ask if you are video recording your lessons? If so, will you be releasing your lecture of the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī (Gorakṣa-śataka) on YouTube?

Kind regards, Mac.

Jagadananda Das said...

Dear Maccidananda Nathaji,

Pranams. I have taken note of your messages on Thanks for your interest.


Maccidānanda Nātha said...

Ādeśa - Dear Jagadananda Das,

The reason one inquires about a video lecture of your translation of the Gorakṣa-śataka is that upon reflection of having seen the other seven YouTube videos at which were made three years ago; YouTube is a good medium to directly guide those engaged in self-study of the Yoga-tarangin.

Your translation of the Gorakṣa-śataka is very important, your advice to those studying the translation will be equally important in finding the truth within its words.

Thank you for your kind attention ( ),