Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yoga and Mind

Avidyaya mrityam tirtha vidyaya amritam snute.
"By ignorance we cross through death, by knowledge we achieve Immortality."


“The eight fold path provides a number of tools that yoga practitioners can use for personal development and in teaching practice with their students by influencing the aspects of mind.”

Manas is the Mind; particularly, the Lower Mind. Manas interacts with the external world, taking in sensory impressions and making a perception and judgement. The lower mind is constantly in a state of alertness- it is the conscious mind, as there are external and internal stimuli everywhere.  As said by Patanjali in sutras 1:30 Disease, dullness, doubt, procrastination, laziness, craving, erroneous perception, inability to achieve finer stages and instability are the obstacles. Applying these obstacles to the Mind, it can be seen, for example, disease and dullness in the mind comes from wrong thought patterns and an overload on external stimuli. The eight-fold path provides a way to burn these obstacles of the mind. Particularly, according to sutra 1:32 In order to overcome mental distractions one should steadily adhere to the practice of one method. Following the eight limbs of Patanjali, if one were to practice pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, one would then naturally be able to practice dharana, which is concentration, or one-pointedness of mind.
Chitta is Consciousness. When manas receives external and internal stimuli, it is chitta that stores all this information. The mind translates all these stimuli into a sensation or experience, and chitta then stores all that information as a perception. The habits of chitta can drive manas. Sutra 3:1 Dharana, concentration, is the fixing or focussing of consciousness on a particular point or place. Both pratyahara and dharana are to be used to regulate chitta. Using these practically, in an asana class, one could apply pratyahara and dharana during a pose. Particularly, if one is in a balancing posture, it is especially helpful for remaining balanced in the pose if they practice pratyahara and dharana – withdrawl of the senses will help them to stay focussed, which inevitably leads to dharana, which is a furthering of that focus.
The karmendriyas are five organs of action. These are grasping, moving, speaking, reproduction and elimination. These receive direction from the mind in its voluntary state. They are the five means of expression, the way in which the mind manifests itself through the physical body. When the mind is under constant stress and unhealthy thought patterns, the body is put under excessive stress. To know who a person really is you need only to look at their body – their body signals, the way they talk, move, and grasp things. How they interact in their mind in regards to reproduction can manifest itself as anxiety in the mind, which would manifest in the body as possible injuries, reproductive disabilities or problems, issues with the hips, wild emotions and difficulties with sleep, etc. To help the body get back in to a healthy state, the karmendriyas need to purified. Saucha (purity) is the first niyama. Niyamas are the second limb of the eight limbed path, and are the five practical observances. One such way to start purifying the karmendriyas is to practice asanas – the third limb of yoga. These will physically purify the body of any toxins and start to work on stabilizing and purifying the mind.
Jnanendriyas are the five sense faculties, the organs of perception. They are influenced by manas and chitta. These are hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. Together the karmendriyas and jnanendriyas make up the ten indriyas; senses. One needs to apply the niyamas - saucha, santosha, tapas, swadhyaya, ishwara pranidhana. They should practice pranayama to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Pranayama is the extension of vital life force, through breathing exercises. Then one should practice pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. Pratyahara then becomes the most important aspect in regulating the jnanendriyas. When the senses are fully present in consciousness, they can drastically affect thought patterns. The mind is stimulated via the senses, it is how it receives its information of the world. When manas is stimulated, chitta stores this as a memory and creates a perception of what it received. This in turn can affect your every thought and action with perhaps an erroneous perception (sutra 1:30) by creating in the mind a klesha. Therefore it is best seen to burn these perceptions and calm the senses by practicing pratyahara.
Jnana is knowledge or understanding. It is right knowledge, which resounds with the True Self – specifically, knowledge of the True Self. Jnana is a pure wisdom. Before practicing yoga, a person may have little or no jnana. By applying the eight fold path in their life they can build up their jnana to get closer in reaching Samadhi, liberation or bliss. Without jnana, one is wandering around aimlessly and flitting from one thought and thing to another. They are constantly bombarded with sensations from external and internal stimuli, and if they do not have knowledge of their pure internal Self they will never find enlightenment. To find jnana one must start with the first two limbs of the eight fold path. These are yamas and niyamas, ten practical teachings to follow. The yamas are basic morals to follow, that really are the true self. They are the first things to start with, and can be the hardest for the mind. As the mind has been wandering aimlessly from one thing to the next, filled with terrible non-yamas thoughts, to reign in these thoughts and put a complete stop to them can be difficult. The niyamas are five observances to follow which help the progression on the path to understanding the True Self. The fourth niyama, Self-study or study of the scriptures, is exactly the observance to follow in strengthening jnana. This one teaching is full of power as it is dedicated to really understanding the True Self. It is saying, “Look! I give you the time and commandment to go deep within and find your True Self. Do it now, before you go any further!” Other limbs of the eight fold path which are especially useful in cultivating jnana are dhyana(meditation) and all meditative asanas, which give the possibility of delving deep within the self.

Mental Hygiene
Mental Hygiene is clarified by a pure state of mind and positive thinking. It is a state of harmonious mental and emotional wellbeing. It is a holistic term used to describe an ability to enjoy life. A more commonly used term is Mental Health. Some mental unhygienic patterns could manifest itself as a mental illness e.g. depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, eating disorders etc. Negative thinking can lead to negative thought patterns. These have the potential to, in time, create a mental illness. Prolonged negative thinking alters certain chemicals in the brain, blocking the release of serotonin and others. There is a build-up of toxic chemicals, and these sometimes get sent to a certain part of the physical body to manifest as a physical ailment. Most people will either ignore the problem, being in denial, or attempt to treat the outcome (i.e. the physical ailment). Treating the just physical ailment will not touch the root cause of the problem, as the problem is in the mind. People may also get anti-depressants, which do work well for people with no knowledge of yoga. Certain ones like SSRI’s(Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) will build up and allow an easy flow of serotonin, which has been nicknamed one of the “happy chemicals.”
According to Yoga, everything stems from the Mind. When someone identifies a physical ailment, first they would see which part of the body it is in, and then relate that back to the mind with yogic principles. In my personal yoga practice I have identified certain unhygienic mental processes in me. Some of these are anxiety and depression, with negative thought patterns. To break these patterns I must first apply the yamas and niyamas. These moral observances and restraints will cleanse my mind of negative, harmful thoughts and reign in my “monkey mind.” I would be doing asanas, certain ones that help with anxiety and depression – calming the mind – like yogamudrasana, any meditative posture e.g. padmasana, head stand, hip openers like pigeon pose, chest and throat openers. Next I would combine pranayama practices with meditative postures to further still my mind. I have personally found pranayama calms my mind a lot faster than asanas, as my eyes are shut and I have that focus on my breath. I would practice pratyahara to stop my mind flitting from one thing to another with external stimuli via the senses. This would make me into a witness – sakshi bhavana. Here is where I can study my thought patterns, and start to change who I am in response. I will start to practice dharana to still the jumping thoughts of my “monkey mind.” This will create a meditation, dhyana, which will bring me closer to those sweet feelings of happiness and bliss. It will bring a sense of peace and joy, concentration and focus, and, above all, cure my so-called mental dis-order. With further meditation I will then be able to achieve Samadhi, bliss. I will be uniting with my True Self – free from perceptions and negative thoughts. There will be nothing negative, it will be light a bright illuminating light spreading jnana to all parts of my mind, body and cells. This is Patanjali’s Eight-fold Path of Yoga.

Bondage and Liberation

Bondage and Liberation are two terms used often in yogic philosophy. Bondage can be described as continuous, thought patterns; negative, attachment, judgemental thinking, blind devotion. Bondage is what we as humans are in constantly every day. It is the so-called “normal” state of being. It involves rampaging thought processes and patterns, kleshas that affect your conscious thoughts and actions, and vrittis that are your subconscious coming forth in dreams and states of fatigue. It is a constant search for happiness, without having a direction. Or maybe they have a direction, but it is the wrong one. This life is full of intoxicants, external and internal stimuli, nightmares, hallucinations, toxins, bad decisions, a lack of intuition, pills for every dis-ease, pills that make you “go up” and pills that make you “go down”, fake smiles and cold stares, evil is everywhere, filled with nothingness. Evil is the Ego.
Liberation is the absolute opposite of all the above. Liberation is knowing the True Self, being in the Light, having clarity and discernment, Being full of Love. Liberation is detached, adaptable, flexible, free, being aware, still, stable and balanced. It is a unity of the cosmos; the macrocosm and the microcosm. It is an awakening and spiritual experience with God. It is the knowledge that all matter is simply energy, concentrated into a slow vibration. This vibration is Aum. Liberation is knowing the Aum, becoming One with the Aum.
I am personally still in bondage. Yet, I am slowly breaking free, walking the path to blissful liberation. That path is Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path. My own experiences with bondage include all the above examples mentioned. An example is my use of intoxicants to dull my mind. Perhaps I have had a “hard day" involved with all the external and internal stimuli flooding my senses and wiring up my nerves to an electric channel. My anxiety is at breaking point, am about to have a full blown panic attack. One of the first things that come to my wild psyche is, “I NEED A DRINK!” This thought will then circulate in my mind and I will start to believe this ostensible nonsense affirmation. My anxiety will peak and I believe whole-heartedly that I will have a mental break-down, or even die, if I do not have a strong alcoholic beverage within the next two minutes. Finally, I have a drink. Even pouring the drink I’m excited, knowing that soon I will be free from this madness. I gulp it down and soon my head is buzzing, my mind has quietened down and is only proclaiming thoughts of love and happiness to all beings.
Alcohol is a poison to the body, mind and soul. I believed with all my heart, mind and soul that I would “die” if I did not have a drink. This is a poison that has somehow leeched its way into my thought processes and rooted itself firmly there. Even without the physical substance of alcohol, it had already started to poison my being as soon as that voice entered into my conscious thinking. “Alcohol” can be a metaphor for anything that holds the soul bondage. In this way, anything that holds the soul bondage by seducing the weak mind, is merely a distraction from what is True. I had used alcohol as a distraction, but have many other times differed only in substance. Sometimes it would be food, or violent music, or possibly even self-harm.
Thinking of a similar experience I had recently, I did not go into bondage but carried on faithfully the path to liberation. I was going through much the same sensations, that little voice did scream in my head “I NEED A DRINK!” This time I did not reach for a drink but thought instead of my yogic teachings, gazing at all the pretty colours I had decorated my house with, the bright positive affirmations I posted up on my wall. The inspirational books and gurus scattered about, my yoga books and assignments all lined up in easy reach. This time, I ignore the negative voice and make a positive affirmation to myself that I Do Not need a drink, that I Will be able to calm down and continue life without some distraction. I sit myself down in a meditative posture and close my eyes. I search frantically for my breathing, trying to calm it down to something more humane. I start to practice pranayama, dharana, ahimsa and dhyana. I sit there in meditation on my breath and do not move until I feel better. And yes, I do feel better. My spirit rises with joy, bright light washes over me, I align the colours of the rainbow in my body energetics. I feel a peace within my body, and a buzzing starts. My cells vibrate with prana, love, and joy. I can feel, taste, smell, see and hear the vibration of aum within my body. This, truly, is the path to liberation.
Liberation can be achieved through Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path of Yoga. The eight fold path merely is The Way to achieving Samadhi, liberation, bliss, enlightenment. The path is Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana Samadhiyo Ashtavangani. Each limb leads on to the next. Once one has practiced and mastered one step will they be able to progress to the next step. One may practice all at once but not until the first has been mastered can one truly understand the greatness of this Path, and Liberation. There is a liberation of sorts, each time one limb has been fully realized and implemented into one’s life. When the eighth limb, Samadhi, has been fully realized, they will become an enlightened master. The final stage of Samadhi can only be achieved once one has passed on from their physical body. Liberation be.


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