7:30pm – Kirtan
8:10pm – Video of Sri Swami Satchidananda
8:40pm – Navaratri Satsang with Puja and Swami Jyotirmayananda speaking on “Staying Open to the Grace of Divine Mother”
You can also view this Satsang live with Yogaville Livestream!
Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you, yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself. He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness.He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But, if in your fear, you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love, And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
(by Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, reprinted in the IYTA Newsletter, November, 2000)
7:30pm – Kirtan
8:10pm – Video of Sri Swami Satchidananda
8:40pm – Navaratri Satsang with Puja and Rev. Kumari De Sachy speaking on “Mother Knows Best”
Arathi (closing ceremony)
You can also view this Satsang live with Yogaville Livestream!
Let us talk a little about samadhi. ln lndia, normally if you say, “He has attained samadhi,” that means he has died and is buried. That is the normal connotation for that term. ln a way, samadhi is like that. You are dead, yet you are alive. My Master Sri Swami Sivanandaji used to sing this song: “When shall l see Thee? When ’l’ ceases to be.” He was asking this question of the Lord. “Lord, when can l see You? l know that will be when ’l’ ceases to be.” That means that if the ego or “l” dies, you can truly live.
If the little egoistic “l” goes away from you, you are free from the ego. You are clean, pure. At that stage you are fit to go to heaven, to experience the highest knowledge or the highest truth. That is what we call samadhi. This is the essence of all spiritual teachings and practices — it doesn’t matter what label they have. One can be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or any religion. Even if you don’t have any faith at all or don’t believe in any organized religion, it doesn’t matter. That is not the criteria to have this realization. All you have to accomplish is to see that all selfishness goes away.
Where does the “l” dwell? ln ego. Where does the ego live? ln the mind. The ego is, in a way, the very source of mind. All developments are part of ego. So the sum total of all these things — thinking, feeling, willing – could be put together under one term, “mind.” lf the mind gets completely purified, then it’s no longer an obstruction to your experience of the Truth. When it is clean and clear, the mind doesn’t color the appearance of the pure Self. lt becomes a pure reflector forthe Self to see its own true nature. That is the essence of Yoga. According to Sri Patanjali, what is the definition for Yoga? Control of thought waves. Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah. Chittam is the sum total of mind. Vritti is the wave. Nirodhah is the absence. So when the chittam is freed of the waves or disturbance or turbulence, it becomes crystal clear. That is the samadhi state.
The spirit doesn’t have to attain samadhi. The spirit is the God in you. The Bible calls it the image of God. Can God ever get disturbed, colored, disappointed? No. The real you, as the image of God, is always pure. The Bhagavad Gita says, “I am unborn, undying; l am eternal, never-changing. l am always the same.” The Self doesn’t need samadhi. It is already in that state. It is always the same.
What looks for samadhi? The mind or the chittam. Samadhi means that the mind comes to a tranquil state, like waveless water. A Tamil saint gives this example of samadhi; “When l attain, experience the samadhi, my mind will be like a waveless ocean…like a lamp without any soot covering it, always eternally brilliant light.” Another example he gives says, “My mind should be like the pointer of a scale that doesn’t get influenced either by a lump of gold or a lump of clay.” The scale simply gives you the weight. lt doesn’t get excited if a lump of gold is put there. It doesn’t want to lean more toward that. lt is not influenced by the material, it weighs all the same. That is what we want in a balanced mind.
When would you want to prove yourself to have attained that balanced state? During adversities. When everything goes smoothly, then you are easily balanced. “Ahh, wonderful. l am so peaceful.” Fine, but what if somebody comes and says, “Hey, you rogue! What are you doing here?” Your mind should still say, “Ahh, how peaceful l am.”
Situations will arise to test you. You may think that you are in a peaceful state and have attained complete tranquility. All of a sudden somebody will insult you. You should still be able to smile at him and say, “Oh yes. That’s the way you see me. That’s fine. You are free to think any way you want.” One person might see you as a rogue. Fine. The other fellow might see you as a guru. Fine. lf you know who you are, if you have attained the stage of tranquility, nothing should affect or sway you. Once in a village there lived a wise man. He was very peaceful; nobody had ever seen him disturbed. All the villagers said, “Oh, he is such a peaceful person. lt’s hard to find someone like that.”
One fellow became a little jealous and said, “Ha! What kind of peaceful man? You just wait and see. l’ll make him angry.” So he went to where the wise man was sitting and said, “Hey! Swami! What kind of man are you? lt looks to me like you’re cheating people, presenting yourself as a big guru, getting Guru Poornima and birthday gifts!”
The wise man didn’t react; he simply smiled. So the challenger started calling him all kinds of foul names. Still the wise man smiled and said nothing. Finally the man yelled, “Hey, Swami! l’m talking to you! l’m saying all this about you. Don’t you want to say something?”
The wise man spoke calmly; “My dear friend, suppose l give you an apple and you say, ‘l’m not ready to accept it.’ What should l do? Should l throw it out? l’ll take it back, is it not so? You want to give something and the person is not interested in accepting it. You won’t dispose of it. You will take it back, put it in your pocket and go home. In the same way, you are trying to give me something, but l am not interested in accepting it, so take it back. lt’s yours!”
The equanimity should be tested now and then. lt’s easy to say, “l’m totally peaceful,” but being that way is another story. Once a swami went into a cave and stayed there for almost ten years. He didn’t see anybody. People used to come and leave some food for him; and then when they left, he would come and take it. After ten years, one day he decided to come out and meet the people. Everybody came running. “The swami is out of the cave now! He is seeing everybody, giving darshan to everybody.” Thousands came to see him. “Swami, Swami, by sitting in the cave these ten years what did you gain?”
He replied, “Years ago l used to be very angry. Even a little thing would disturb me. But for the past ten years, no anger at all. l conquered anger. That is a big achievement.”
Someone got up and said, “Swami, how can you remember all that happened for the past ten years? Maybe one day you might have forgotten and become a little angry.” “No, not at all. Not even once did I get angry.” Another fellow stood up. “Sir, it is hard to believe. Are you sure that there wasn’t one time when you were angry?” The swami sounded a little impatient. “Absolutely not.” Still another person asked, “Really? Didn’t you even feel slightly angry?” The swami’s voice roared with anger, “Never! Never! Do you hear me? l totally conquered anger!”
Yes, when there is nobody to irritate you, you are totally peaceful. When there are no pretty girls or boys around, everybody is celibate. When there is no food, you say “I’m fasting.” That won’t prove that you have conquered the situation. You should have ample opportunities to be disturbed. lf such opportunities come and you still remain peaceful, then only you have proved that you have achieved something. Of course sometimes we need a protective, supportive environment in which to grow strong. But we should never think that we are hiding from the world.
Religion is studied and experienced to learn to be free. lf you cannot have freedom in religion, you are not going to have freedom in anything else. Religion is used to free you from bondage. The aim is to be fully liberated. To help you attain that freedom, a guru or spiritual teacher will not bind you. He or she can give you some guidelines and some disciplinary practices, but it should not be a bondage.
lf you make mistakes, it doesn’t matter. Make mistakes and learn. The best teachers are your own mistakes. You learn even faster by your mistakes. Once l was at a conference with the modern great scientist, Buckminster Fuller. He was the Leonardo da Vinci of this age. He stood up and said, “Friends, forget about all the ‘Do this. Don’t do that’ business. Commit as many mistakes as possible, as soon as possible. You’ll become great!”
lt’s true. Every failure is a stepping stone. Remember though that you can’t have the same stone for each step. Every time it should be a new stone. That means, don’t keep making the same mistake. Learn well from each one. That is the trouble with many people, they commit the same mistake over and over. Even then, they will eventually learn from that mistake and move on. Experience is the best teacher, and one should learn in his or her own way. That is the reason why we even call this “lntegral Yoga.” Sometimes l hear people limiting it; “lf you don’t do such and such, you are not an Integral Yogi.” “lf you don’t do Hatha Yoga, you are not an lntegral Yogi.” “lf you don’t learn Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you’re not an lntegral Yogi.” “lf you don’t practice a certain amount of pranayama, you’re not an lntegral Yogi.” Whatever you do, you are an lntegral Yogi. That’s our approach. As long as you want to be a yogi, that’s enough for me. You choose whatever way you like. All the paths lead to Rome. Even if you take a wrong direction, it doesn’t matter. Take it. You will learn something. Don’t just stand in the middle doing nothing. That’s what is terrible. A good teacher should say, “This is the way l know. lt is positively helpful. If you like, follow it.”
Suppose you say, “l don’t want to go that way. I want to go in the opposite direction.” The teacher will say, “All right. Go ahead. Do it.” Then you go in the wrong direction, bump against a wall, and say, “Ahh. l made a mistake. lt’s the wrong direction. l’ll go the other way.” That’s what experience means. Nature itself teaches us, allows us to make mistakes.
“…the cumulative effect of the intention to still the mind has transformed ordinary humans into extraordinary ones.”
Steadiness of mind can never happen accidentally. Left to itself, the mind will wander aimlessly forever. The power to reign in a wandering mind is the result of an enormous potential that sets us apart as humans. It allows those dedicated to the cause of Self-realization to harness the dissipating and ceaseless energy of restlessness. Although achieved through moment-by-moment efforts, seemingly insignificant as isolated acts, the cumulative effect of the intention to still the mind has transformed ordinary humans into extraordinary ones. All the saints, sages and masters of all traditions have been transformed by their intention to focus or steady the mind.
In Book 1 of the Yoga Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states “The restraints of the modification of the mind stuff is Yoga” (I:2). On a related note, a few sutras later he defines practice as “Effort toward steadiness of mind” (I:13). You may wonder why steadying the mind is given such importance. The simple answer is “then the Seer (Self) abides in his own nature” (I: 3). Patanjali makes it clear, and those who dedicate themselves to practice discover, that through the tangible effort of focusing the mind something remarkable and outside the reach of control occurs: the Self reveals itself. By combining effort or intention and an act of free will, the mind can be controlled. However, this brings the seeker only to the point of receptivity to Self-revelation. This is a crucial distinction because it sets the Self as distinct from ego, requiring a delicate balance between free-willed intention and self-surrender.
In this article, I am speaking of intention in the most fundamental of ways: as being aligned with the overriding purpose of one’s life or even one’s deepest desires. Underlying all desires is the desire to be happy. In spiritual terms the desire for happiness is no more and no less than the desire to realize the Self, which by definition is eternal existence, awareness and bliss (Satchidananda). Why do you practice Hatha Yoga? What is your intention or deepest desire? Is your deepest desire for Self-realization aligned with your practice of Hatha Yoga? If not, I would say your practice of Hatha Yoga will have only a limited effect, and in the long run will most likely fizzle out.
A person is what his deep desire is. It is our deepest desire in this life that shapes the life to come. So let us direct our deepest desires to realize the Self. (Chandogya Upanishad, I:14)
. When one is deeply intent, distractions disappear entirely. One’s whole being wakes up; one moves into a higher orbit. Personal problems seem to resolve themselves. Suddenly life has a purpose. The mind becomes steady and still, and the Self is revealed.
However, one could argue that whatever one is pursuing, if intention is strong enough, the effect will be the same. Through the same steady and still mind, the same Self will be revealed. But there is a difference between the Self-seeker and one who is intent on achieving only a mundane goal. The Self-seeker stops to ponder and absorb the revelation that is the Self, and by doing so, is absorbed more deeply in it’s nature and grows in faith.
Side by side, those who know the Self and those who know it not do the same thing; but it is not the same: the act done with knowledge, with inner awareness and faith, grows in power. (Chandogya Upanishad, I:10)
For those seeking less than the Self, though deep intention focuses life’s energies, the Eternal force of existence and happiness may manifest but It is not recognized for what It is. Their treasures lie elsewhere. They feel happiness but they don’t recognize its source. They see their happiness as their own achievement, not as bestowed upon them as a gift. Everywhere, internally and externally, they make claims of me and mine. It isn’t until they are aware that“Wealth is not loved for its own sake, but because the Self lives in it” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, II: 4.5) that they spiritually ripen.
Seek nothing less than the Self. Through deep intention toward seeking the Self in Hatha Yoga practice and through all the opportunities provided during each day, we can and will receive the ultimate gift: eternal existence, awareness and bliss (Satchidananda).
(by Louis Mahadev Carlino, from the IYTA Newsletter, February 2006)
I surrender if I know one of two things:
1) I am not in charge of what happens
2) God is doing a better job than I could do
I am cooking dinner for friends. I am opening a can of tomato sauce. The grip on the can is lost. I catch it before it hits the floor (the benefit of meditation) but not before tomato sauce is spilled all over me, my socks, and across the kitchen floor to the far wall. This was not in my plans for making dinner! I begin to giggle, then laugh, then laugh so hard my belly hurts and tears are running down my face. What a sight! God is playing with me. How do I get the tomato soaked clothes into the wash without making pink tracks across the wall-to-wall white carpet? I take them off in the kitchen, wash them in the sink and carry them to the laundry, careful not to disturb the (still soaked in tomato sauce) floor. The clothes are taken care of, floor is cleaned and back to cooking, all with a good laugh, because I have surrendered my plan, surrendered myself, to being fully present to the events of the moment.
In the past, I had a personality that tended to get attached to my job, my service, my responsibilities. I had an idea of how things should turn out and a fairly fixed idea of my role in the situation. A lot of suffering arose from these ideas because, of course, things did not often turn out the way I envisioned them, and I could not fulfill my role the way I thought it should be done. After many such experiences, it dawned upon me that, quite possibly, God’s plan is better than mine. This sounds funny, I know, but it was a deep surrendering. I began to notice that things do work out in the Grace and Mercy of the Divine. Trusting that this is the Truth allows me to experience that energy of Grace and Mercy, no matter what the circumstances are.
This was shown to me yesterday [once.] The body was in pain—not unusual for me; it happens. I said, “Okay Gurudev, I know you are helping me through allowing me to have this experience.” (Feel free to insert your own name of the Divine, of course, if you want to adopt this form.) I deeply believed in the Truth of what I was saying. A sense of Peace, Grace and Mercy enveloped me. The physical pain didn’t change. My experience of it did. “But Suddhananda,” I hear you say, “there are terrible things we go through in life: sustained abuse, terror, fear, loss of a child or loved one. What about that? Do we trust God then? What do we do then?” I say, with eyes open to terrible suffering, this is when we need deep faith the most. This is when we need to reach out to the Divine the most, and if we can’t do that (if the mind is in shock, the heart too angry, or too afraid) then it is the time to say, “God, I am on my knees. I can’t feel you. I don’t even want to talk to you.” And, eventually, “You have to help me.” Then (this is the tough part for some of us) we have to allow and accept the help that comes. How do we develop Faith? I love Gurudev’s teaching about this. We develop Faith by noticing all of the gifts that we have been given in life (in my case, I wrote a list). Additionally, Gurudev recommended that we repeat, for one week, the following statement: “God is taking complete care of me.” Notice your experience in that week. Let us realize and know in our deepest heart that God, Gurudev, the Divine, loves us and is taking care of us every moment—much better than we can do ourselves. May we surrender into Divine Grace, Mercy and Love, and be in Peace.
Swami Suddhananda currently serves as a personal and group consultant for the Yogaville and the larger Buckingham communities. With an MA in Clinical Psychology and also having had to face the challenges related to life-long cerebral palsy, her gentle, compassionate approach is coupled with a strong faith in our innate emotional health and the tender mercy of the Divine. Swami Suddhananda is available through e-mail for consultation. Her email address is email@example.com. A donation to Yogaville in exchange for this service, is appreciated.
(from the August, 2012 IYTA Newsletter)
Question: “How long before you start to feel the benefits?”
Answer: How long, depends on you. Let’s go to that sutra, a phrase, from the Yoga Sutras of Sri Patanjali, that tells you how long. “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time without a break and in all earnestness.” (That means with all your heart and, for me, with all love).
This is the ingredient for success in any field you do in life. If you watch anybody who is successful in life, you will see that they’ve done it for a long time, without a break, meaning that they’re always focusing on it, and with all their heart— they love it! Let me give you an example. Henry Ford, the car manufacturer, just focused on car, car, car, car and he got a car, and when he was successful he said that he did not know where all his information came from! He didn’t learn it from childhood; he thought the information must have been there in a past life, or from the heavens above!
Some of you are very good at certain things and never studied them or never have been taught it. I’m sure everybody in this room has a talent, and it’s inborn. Sometimes when you work with this talent you say to yourself, “But how did I know this?” I used to teach dance and I used to see this in a lot of my pupils. I used to watch them, especially the little ones, and I’d tell them, “Create your own choreography, make up your own,” and sometimes when I’d just taught them three or four steps, they would come up with their own beautiful dance. They used to create beautiful movements, movements they had never done before. So where did this knowledge come from? We never take time to look at these things. This is the process of meditation. It helps us to look at our life as it really is, to see beyond the physical eye. So, how long it takes depends on you.
Later on in the same book Sri Patanjali also says, “To the keen and intent practitioner this samadhi—(which is a state of awakening, of awareness, a state of knowledge, of enlightenment) comes very quickly.” (Book I sutra 21)
So it’s up to you, not up to me. If you’re excited and you want to know about your life, and you want to make it more peaceful, then all you have to do is to decide “I am not going to talk about meditation, I am going to do it every day, five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening.” That is how I started, and in three months, just three months, I noticed a difference. I’ve now been meditating for ten years. Six years ago I made a promise and I have not missed a single day since then. I will tell you what happened.
When you start to meditate, lots of wonderful changes start to happen in your life, as well as lots of tests. Tests to test your spiritual muscles. When I first started meditation I got a bit lazy and stopped practicing every day, sometimes I would skip a day. So I decided one morning, when I woke up, “No, I really want to know this knowledge that is beyond all knowledge. There IS a Spirit in me and I want to know it, because there’s nothing interesting out there.”
Really, after you’ve travelled all over the world and you’ve seen people and you’ve seen suffering, it’s the same story everywhere, “Poor me, poor me,” and you’ll see the really happy people will never say, Poor me.” I saw that the really happy people, the really peaceful people, are the ones that say God is in everyone.
Recently we met a lovely gentleman who is peaceful like that. His face was shining. He was seventy-one and he was shining. He was sitting in the hotel talking to my husband and they were talking about business and suddenly he said, “We’re all God’s instruments,” and we keyed in right away. I had thought he was just another businessman just discussing business. It’s very exciting when you tune into this energy, because once you tune in, you meet so many who are tuned in and you say, “Oh, this is a coincidence. ” It’s not a coincidence. Once you become aware, there are many, many, many miracles.
Returning to the question, “How long before you start to feel the benefits?” how long depends on how you want to practice! I became very excited seeing some of the progress in myself I just wanted to do more and more and more, and I still feel the same. One and a half hours of meditation today, is too little for me now. It’s too little because it’s such bliss, such peace. That’s the idea of meditation. How long depends on you.
Nalanie Chellaram ,having had the enormous privilege of growing up knowing Sri Swami Satchidananda as a close family friend, became a formal disciple of Sri Gurudev in 1986. She is an accredited Integral Yoga® teacher and teacher trainer as well as a therapist trained by the British School of Yoga. Nalanie is the first of a new generation of spiritual teachers. Her particular upbringing and education has given her a special insight into both Hinduism and Christianity, inspired by her Beloved Guru.
(Excerpted from How to Meditate by Nalanie Chellaram, reprinted IYTA Newsletter, May 2012)
“Balanced Between the Two Extremes, Our Muscles Come into the Optimal Tone”
When we put our bodies in the physical positions called asanas, our aim is to practice ha/tha yoga. We are seeking to achieve the right balance between the ha of directing our energy through the body with the proper level of exertion and the tha of seeing where and how we can let go, soften, release, and surrender. Each asana requires a certain minimum expenditure of energy. The idea of the ha/ tha balance is to not use more, but, rather, to discover and release all unnecessary effort and sense of strain. When we are truly in “the groove” in our Hatha Yoga practice, we can, simultaneously, experience stretching with intensity, as well as relaxation.
Most of us think of exertion and relaxation as two distinct aspects of our practice. I find it helpful to see how they are not truly separate entities. In our ha itself there is tha: we seek to find the right understanding of our effort so that it incorporates easefulness and surrender. And in our tha there is ha: in our relaxation, there is integrity, not collapse. Also, because we are so accustomed to holding on, we need to “work” on letting go.
How to recognize a Tha imbalance
If our practice is so tha that it moves into the realm of tamas, it will have repercussions on the physical, pranic, and mental levels. Here are some identifying traits of a tha imbalanced practice:
The asanas look slouched, sagging downward, and feel compressed (dukha). Since the muscles are hardly engaged, the muscle fibers don’t elongate, causing the joints to collapse into each other. Though we may feel relaxed and may feel that our practice is safe, probably it is not. This lack of spaciousness (sukha) can eventually aggravate some weak point in the system—be it the sacroiliac joint, the lumbar spine, the neck, or some other juncture.
In tha’s attempt to avoid all discomfort, we also avoid engaging the places that resist openness and prefer to remain restricted. Not much is happening, limiting the benefit of the asana, and we find ourselves in the same position, year after year.
The tha predominance not only determines how we practice a pose, but also determines which asanas we choose for our practice. It is one thing to choose asanas that don’t challenge us—at least this is not dangerous. But, if we continually choose poses that augment areas that are already flexible, ignoring the tight spots, we can aggravate an imbalance that can, one day, lead to injury.
The physical signs expressed above reflect the state of our prana. If we continually back away from the closed, tight areas, we miss the opportunity to release and transform the blockages in our energy. We remain pranically congested, and though we may feel relaxed at the end of our practice, we can miss that magical combination of being relaxed and energized at the same time.
Much of what occurs physically and pranically also takes place mentally if tha edges toward dullness. The lack of openness can reflect in the mind as a lack of interest in learning during our practice. “I did my practice like I always do. I feel good. What else do I need to know?”
Certainly, if we are depressed or feeling beaten down, even a lethargic practice is a wonderful thing. And, of course, if we are fasting or menstruating or just feeling low energy, it is appropriate to adjust our practice and proceed extra gently. But if mental tha-ness becomes an ingrained attitude that leads to a lack of enthusiasm, eventually, we will find ourselves less and less motivated to get on our mat.
What can be done?
If you are enjoying practicing lackadaisically, don’t sweat it—literally. You can continue on, since you, no doubt, can still derive pleasure and feel the benefit. One day, it may naturally dawn on you that you’d like to make some real changes in your body and energy level. Then, you will move in the direction of Sri Gurudev’s motto of: “Take it easy, but not lazy.”
If you do choose to add some ha to your practice, you can begin to hold some of the asanas longer or add a few repetitions. You can give some more attention to the poses that awaken the vital force, for example, backward bending asanas, Mayurasana, and Uddhiyana Bandha. Most importantly, you can observe where you have physically collapsed and are energetically stuck. Then, you can breathe some life into the pose, opening up space and generating more dynamism, while still finding enjoyment in what you are doing.
How to recognize a Ha imbalance
We need to become sensitive enough to realize when, in the name of ha, we have slipped past the point of challenge and into the realm of strain. At this point, everything we are seeking to achieve in the asana is tossed aside, and the body mobilizes its neurologic reflexes to protect itself from overstretching. With this defensive reaction, the muscles tighten, waste products build up in them, and the body feels heavy, stiffer, and tires quickly.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Many of us get so used to practicing in this way that we lose our capacity to really hear what the body is actually saying. Or, we’ve seen the picture in the book or what the student across from us is able to do, and we feel impelled to push on just a little further. If we are not already a bundle of injuries from our “Yoga” practice, just wait. We will be.
Because of their physical appearance, it is usually not so difficult to locate those of our students who have a ha imbalance, through. Most likely, you will find them pushing hard to gather all their muscles in a state of hypertonicity and driving their spine and head upward. They may be sweating and shaking, but good luck in trying to convince them that they will get more benefit by backing up a bit.
If we are crossing the border into the land of pain, it is probable that we have lost touch with the flow of our breath. And, if we were able to experience what we looked like, it wouldn’t look too good—we’d be either holding the breath, panting, or breathing very irregularly.
In most cases, a ha imbalance indicates that the energy to do the asana originates from the musculature. When anasana is approached from this perspective, it tends to be exhausting, diminishing our energy level rather than augment it, and there is no sense of relaxation. In the tha imbalance, energy is not awakened much, but at least the person is relaxed.
Ha oriented people have the need to get it right: the form of the asana should look perfect. They feel impatient for the body to “get with the program,” and they are frustrated about the space between their ideal and the reality.
As I mentioned above, if the teacher tries to point out something about adjusting their attitude toward Hatha Yoga, these Type A students tend to react defensively. All they have achieved in their lives has come from their self-willed effort, and they will have a strong momentum to keep pushing. Be careful about subconsciously hoping that they don’t return to your class—they are probably already not enjoying their practice much, and their enthusiasm will eventually wane. So, they don’t need much of a nudge to move them away from Yoga. Either that, or, their injuries may move their Yoga to the back burner.
What can be done?
If you tend toward a ha orientation, you are probably, at this moment, reading this and feeling defensive and argumentative. I was a ha person for some years, and I resisted all notions of backing off and relaxing. Now that I am older and a bit wiser, (or maybe it’s my weakened lower back), I see that more isn’t always better. For myself, the tendency to create too much intensity in an asana was, to some extent, based on the insecurity that if I didn’t try harder I’d become soft, lazy, mediocre, and I would prove that I was never a sincere seeker. My experience now is that less ha can bring more flexibility, strength, and endurance. Now I can say to all of you ha folks out there, “Take your time. Slowly, allow tight or injured tissue to open up by staying with the breath, keeping it smooth and relaxed, and trusting that Yoga works. And, at least with respect to our Hatha Yoga practices, let go of the maxim, “No pain no gain.”
How to recognize the Ha/Tha balance
Balanced between the two extremes, our muscles come into the optimal tone with enough integrity to see that the bones don’t begin to sag into the joints and that they are feeling neither gripped nor compressed. The body feels comfortable, without being collapsed, and spacious. The positive physical expression of ha is experienced mostly through the muscles, whose fibers are designed for stretching, rather than the ligamental tissues, where tha stretching is more appropriate. Sri Gurudev defines a perfect action as one that brings some good to someone and no harm to anyone. Likewise, in the practice of our asanas, we want to bring some good to some part of the body without harming any other part.
You can sense just the right amount of energy to send through each part of the body at any given moment. Though more prana may be focused in a certain area, with one part of the body in ha and another part in tha, no area of the body lacks aliveness.
A large part of getting more out of our asana practice with less effort comes from learning to make gravity our friend. How much exertion is needed and how that effort is experienced is determined by where the energy of the movement originates. This requires a more in-depth discussion than I have space for here, but I’m referring to that magical moment when releasing our body’s weight to the Earth produces an upward rebounding action that effortlessly lifts and lengthens the body, especially the spine. Not only can you feel the Earth’s prana moving clearly through you, but you can also feel the prana around the body—you can call it the Sky prana—supporting that lift.
Possibly, the most important key to this ha/tha balance is our awareness of the flow of our breath. Without recognizing the intimate relationship between the smooth flow of the breath and the balanced expression of our prana, we will not find it possible to discover the appropriate intensity during an asana, so that the practice is neither stressful nor fatiguing. Your exploration of how the breath relates to the ha/tha balance will be one of the most rewarding discoveries you will make in your practice.
The ha/tha balance is expressed on the mental level by the internal state of contentment, combined with a desire to improve. Moreover, the contentment never turns into laziness; rather, it enables us to develop. In fact, we come to respect and honor our limitations.
With such an attitude, we tend to feel that progress can best be made by avoiding the polarized approaches of either giving up or struggling. We experience a sense of trust that life will support us, and this state of mind can, literally, lead one into a meditative state while in the asana by generating alpha waves in the brain.
The number one sign of a ha/tha-balanced practice may be that you love it—not just how you feel afterwards, but your enjoyment of what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Then, our Hatha Yoga becomes training in Karma Yoga: we find the practices, themselves, inherently rewarding, instead of waiting for the fruit of the action to achieve satisfaction.
Swami Asokananda, a monk since 1973, is one of Integral Yoga’s foremost teachers, known for his warmth, intelligence and good humor. His teaching comes out of his own practice and experience, having absorbed the wisdom of his Guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda since the age of nineteen. While he enjoys sharing the practical wisdom of the yogic philosophy (especially the great Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita), he also loves his practice of Hatha Yoga, and is one of our primary instructors for Intermediate and Advanced Hatha Yoga Teacher Training. He presently serves as president at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. Before this position, he served as the President of Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville® and Integral Yoga® International. He will be the lead trainer for Intermediate Hatha Yoga Teacher Training here at Yogaville from August 10-31, 2014.
(From the IYTA Newsletter, November, 2001)