Archive | Ancient Literature

Yoga – The Reliable Raft

Gary Kraftsow has long been a hero of mine but I did not know of his own personal health “opportunity” until I read this piece, Radical Healing, in the current issue of Yoga & Joyful Living (formerly Yoga International). Kraftsow won’t allow his brain tumor and surgery to be called an ordeal.

I’ve admired him because of the medical studies on yoga he conducted which got wide coverage:

Kraftsow may be best known as the architect of rigorous studies of yoga’s efficacy. He showed that yoga can alleviate chronic back pain in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the results of which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

That’s the sort of credibility yoga needs and won’t garner with gym rats taking a weekend yoga teaching course and hanging out a shingle.

In the three hour teaching seminar I took with him, Gary Kraftsow also impressed me greatly with his knowledge base, intuition and approach. So I own both his books. Perhaps he simply resonated with me because of my own health opportunities. He articulated my experience. I feel I have a sense now of how and why.

Of his health crisis, he says, “I would never wish it on my worst enemy. But if it happens to you, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to grow.” In the hospital, when the haze lifted, Kraftsow discovered new depths of stillness. “The stillness of meditation is one thing, but this stillness—I hadn’t had any experience of it before,” he says.

I’ve said, and never lightly, that yoga saved my life. Not simply the poses, but all of it. This article on Kraftsow explains what yoga teaches beyond the asanas.

Kraftsow stresses two aspects of yoga – the individuality (which is the primary difficulty in conducting medical studies) and that yoga is more than the physical poses (asanas). He properly notes that asana is mentioned only twice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

“My desire for all those who have only been exposed to the asana part of yoga is that they have an opportunity to appreciate the depth and breadth of this great tradition,” he says. “When you have a life-threatening or serious condition, you can’t rely on what you could rely on before. Yoga is like a raft that can help you go through these things. But in my case it wasn’t asana. It wasn’t even breathing. It was attitude, prayer. These are going to help you when you can’t do anything else.”

Just as illuminating, the piece fleshes out the Kraftsow’s principles by following Ellen Fein’s pilgrimage after she became ill. She came to study with Gary Kraftsow and he helped her. Regarding his teaching method –

“It’s so individual,” says Kraftsow. “You never know what it’s going to be, what gives somebody a sense of pleasure, fulfillment. What we as teachers are trained to do is read body language. When someone makes a connection to something that’s meaningful, they’ll light up. That’s like a clue, and then you’re like a treasure hunter. You follow it, try to bring it out, and help them make a connection to something that can give them some sense of joy.”

Here’s just a clue to one part of his teaching which touches on the layers of the body (some translations call the layers sheaths).

The cornerstone of Kraftsow’s practice is pancha maya, a model of the human system referenced in ancient Indian texts. According to this model, also known as the kosha model, we are comprised of five dimensions or layers: the physical body (annamaya), the breath or life force (pranamaya), the intellect (manomaya), the personality (vijnanamaya), and the heart, which is the seat of bliss (anandamaya). In the days leading up to surgery, Kraftsow plumbed every dimension of his being.

Yoga teaches so much, so much that is valuable and helpful.

Setting Intention

You are what your deepest desire is.
As your desire is, so is your intention.
As your intention is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
~ Upanishads

I got that from Chopra’s newsletter. The Chopra Center’s newsletter also includes a guided meditation for setting intention that you can listen to here.

Yoga Nidra – A Restful State of Being

Yoga Nidra. What does it mean?

Well, the answer to that has varied over the centuries. It’s often translated as yoga sleep, but sleep is understood very differently in yoga.

Patanjali wrote of sleep in the 10th Sutra of Chapter One –

Sleep is the mental activity that has as its content the sense of nothingness. – trans. by Alistair Shearer

Sleep is the turning of thought abstracted from existence. – trans. by Barbara Stoler Miller

So in yoga, sleep is not the absence of consciousness. It’s just a different stage of consciousness. In the earlier centuries of yoga, yoga nidra even was considered the highest form of consciousness, the closest to God. In this altered conscious state, one experiences continuous awareness of the self and a merging or even engrossing with God’s consciousness.

But today, yoga nidra most often refers to a state of deep relaxation in which the senses are aware of external stimuli but do not in any way react, even in the mind.

How does one get to that state of relaxation? Here are some steps:

  1. Put your body in a comfortable physical position. Typically, this pose is corpse pose or savasana – you lie on your back, palms up. You can support your neck and head and put a cushion behind the knees. Just be sure you’re comfortable.
  2. Set an intention – this could be to let go of an irritation, to forgive someone who wronged you, to make this deep relaxation effective – whatever you’d like.
  3. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Slowly try to match the length of the inhalation to the exhalation. As you exhale, try to image the carbon dioxide, the waste, that your body naturally exhales.
  4. Survey your body – think in your mind of each body part, right side and left side separately. You can be as specific as thinking of each toe. The more precise you are the better. As you think of each body part, concentrate on relaxing that part. Do all of this in quickly. Don’t linger in any place of the body.
  5. When the survey is complete, think of the whole body, supported by the floor. (hopefully by now, you’ll have a slight sensation of floating)
  6. Think of your intention.
  7. You can repeat the body survey or simply focus on your breath. You can stay in this for 10 minutes or 60. You should feel calm, a calm abiding. You are aware of sounds, the floor touching you, smells. But you don’t react to them, either actually or even in your mind. You may even fall into a different state of consciousness (sleep).
  8. Come out gently.

You can do yoga nidra on your own. Admittedly, it’s easier to have someone with a kind and gentle voice to guide you in, through your body survey and back out.

I’ve actually transferred some of Shiva Rae’s yoga nidras onto my Ipod and sometimes go into yoga nidra to help me transition into night or during the day when I need deep rest. (See review of her Yoga Nectar CD next month, but if you want to check out her web site, click here.

I also really relish doing it. I come out feeling refreshed and renewed. Nectar, indeed.

For general background on Patanjali click here and the Yoga Sutras, click here.

A Yoga Creation Story

From the Taittirïya Upanishad:

In the beginning this universe was not.
There was just pure potential, from which was then born Being.
And from Being was born the Self, which is known as perfect.
Truly, that perfect Self is the essence of existence.
Truly, in tasting the essence one rejoices in bliss.
Indeed, who could breathe, who could live, were there not this all-pervading bliss?
Truly, it is this essence that bestows bliss.
Truly, when a person discovers a foundation of fearlessness in the Self, in that which is invisible, formless, unlimited, and self-sufficient, then has he found true fearlessness.
If, however, he makes in this unity even the smallest gap, then fear is born.
To all whose self is small, the form of the formless brings fear.

For more on the Upanishads, click here. The Taittirïya Upanishad is one of a school of Vedic philosophy that outlines the five sheaths (kosas) of the self in order to know – intimately, intellectually, experientially – the supreme self (paramatma-jnana).

Poetry: “The Ocean” By Moschus

The Ocean by Moschus
3rd century B.C.
Translated from Greek by Percy Bysshe Shelley

When winds that move not its calm surface sweep
The azure sea, I love the land no more;
The smiles of the serene and tranquil deep
Tempt my unquiet mind. – But when the roar
Of Ocean’s gray abyss resounds, and foam
Gathers upon the sea, and vast waves burst,
I turn from the drear aspect to the home
Of earth and its deep woods, where intersperst,
When winds blow loud, pines make sweet melody.
Whose house is some lone bark, whose toil the sea,
Whose prey the wondering fish, an evil lot
Has chosen. – But my languid limbs will fling
Beneath the plane, where the brook’s murmuring
Moves the calm spirit, but disturbs it not.

Check out other poetry in nilambu’s poetry gallery here.

Come to a class, and you’ll hear other lyrical words to guide you into your savasana (corpse pose).