Hatha Yoga as Spiritual Practice by Swami Ramananda

It is not surprising that part of Yoga’s approach to its goal makes use of the body. We identify ourselves with body and mind. The body and mind are more concrete to grosser senses so it is easy to acknowledge and experience them more fully than the spiritual aspect. Sometime the spiritual aspect is more subtle more challenging to be in touch with than the grosser. The grosser aspects give us a pathway to connect the subtle aspect. So we use the body and the mind for the goal of being in touch with the spirit.

Hatha as Spiritual Practice 1The goal of Yoga is to experience this innate nature and to allow that aspect of our being to guide the way to everything. At peace with ourselves, innately we are in a loving relationship to what is outside of us. It is our nature to express love. When our action is an expression of love, there is joy in that. The classic approach we find in the sutras from the Yoga’s tradition is to make, on one hand, an effort to experience the spirit in stilling the mind, and on the other hand, to live in line with our spiritual values. Patanjali calls it practice in non-attachment.

In Hatha, we can combine both of those efforts by acting and attempting to act as if guided by the spiritual self. How do we do that? An obstacle to experiencing the spirit is when the mind is motivated by the goals of listening to the body, serving, and having compassion for the body, rather than having the mind impose an agenda on the body. So many actions are unconsciously motivated by fear. Fear of not being good enough, not succeeding, not being loved, a fear of maintaining an image that helps us be happy.

We use the Hatha Yoga’s practice as an opportunity to disengage from conditioning to be moved by a desire to create and maintain an image. We want to disengage from that desire and ultimately that fear. Instead, to be fully engaged in the present and with the energy of listening with compassion for the body as it is rather than how we might want it to be. We are using the mind to work with the body. When the mind can function in this way, you can say the mind becomes an instrument of our intention, rather than an instrument of our ego identity. When the mind functions this way then the ego temporarily loses its grip. We experience something; we can act and move outside of the normal grip of that identity, or outside of the way that we have defined ourselves. So this way of moving, disengaging from the ego, allows this more spiritual awareness or energy to move us instead. Allows the spirit to guide us instead of some lesser motive. Spirit is such a vague thing. The movement of spirit is compassion or love or joy.

Question: Is the witness equivalent to the Spirit that is listening and is observing the body when the mind is focused enough?

Answer: You can say that we are actually using a part of the mind to witness the rest of the mind. But in doing so, we are having an effect on the mind; we are loosening the grip of our conditioning, and we are allowing the spirit to begin to function through the mind, which is another kind of witnessing beyond the way our own mind can witness. Our mind has the capacity to witness but there is a deeper kind of witnessing that is a real ground of absolute peace, that is even deeper than that. We are working with the idea of witnessing using the mind to witness, but we can get to an absolute witness Self that is beyond that.

Student: Part of the mind is doing witnessing and in addition, there is the Spirit that is doing the witnessing as well.Hatha as Spiritual Practice

Ramananda: Ultimately, the witnessing by the Spirit is going on all the time. We just do not experience that.

Student: The way I understand, you are training the mind to reflect the Spirit rather than the needs of the body and attachments of the person that you have to be all the time. Student: So you identify Spirit verses the mind when you are cultivating the witness.

Ramananda: You are aligning the mind to function as a vehicle for the Spirit rather than the vehicle for the ego. However, the ultimate witness does not identify with the individual self. The ultimate witness knows It has to be a part of everything so it cannot even feel a separation. So working this way has two effects among others, it does help us engage the mind and ultimately unite body and mind with the spirit and that is the practice of all the Yogas. This way it frees of us from the root cause of tension. It frees us from the fear of not being enough. So that is what we want to practice.

We will do some asanas that are challenging. We are not looking for a degree of difficulty so much as attention, practice that will engage our attention well. Some difficulty is good for the body. The body appreciates being challenged in the right way The ego mind will always think more is better. In our society, there is a tendency to push. We have to be careful with that. Let’s start practicing. This is the last thing I will suggest, is that you create for yourself a brief intention for the practice. Why do you practice? Think about that a little tonight. At the end of chant, reflect, “What is your intention for your practice and revisit that intention throughout the class.

swami-ramanandaSwami Ramananda is the President of the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco and a greatly respected senior teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, who has been practicing Yoga for over 35 years. Ramananda offers practical methods of integrating the timeless teachings and practices of yoga into daily life, and transforming the painful aspects of human experience into steps toward realizing one’s full potential.

He leads beginner, intermediate and advanced level yoga teacher training programs in San Francisco, and offers a variety of programs in many locations in the U. S., Europe and South America. Ramananda trains Yoga teachers to bring Yoga into corporate, hospital and medical settings and has taught mind/body wellness programs in many locations. He is a founding board member of the Yoga Alliance, a national registry that supports and promotes yoga teachers as professionals. His warmth, wisdom and sense of humor have endeared him to many.

(by Swami Ramananda, from the November, 2010 IYTA Newsletter)