Talk at the End of the Asana & Meditation Class
Sunday, May 8th 2022
Part 1: In Remembering the Purpose of Asana, a Rigid Body Can Bring Great Benefit
Part 2: A Hint for Reading ~ Pranavadipa Vol. 90
Part 1: In Remembering the Purpose of Asana, a Rigid Body Can Bring Great Benefit
It is inevitable that most of us will from time to time experience days when the body feels unusually rigid or stiff when we go to practice asana. The reasons can be many…the time of day, the day of the week, our previous activities, etc. The reason really isn’t important because, as Shri Mahayogi teaches us, the body is constantly changing (as is the mind!) so it is inevitable that some days the body feels more comfortable, stronger, more able…and some days…it’s exactly the opposite. Whatever the condition is and however it changes, we learn from Shri Mahayogi that it’s best not to pay much mind to it, as that is inevitable, and regardless, stick to the consistent and continuous practice of asana, with full concentration. And further, Shri Mahayogi has emphasized to us that practice of asana is not for aim of the physical body being able to do or achieve various positions or poses, but that it is to transform the mind and prepare the mind for meditation. Actually, Karuna also reminded us of this recently at the start of an Asana & Meditation class, that the purpose of asana is to bring about the state of mind needed for meditation, and that each asana we practice and each breath we take during the practice is an opportunity to prepare the mind for that aim.
Now the question is, what is the connection between practice of asana, bringing about the state of mind for meditation and the body that can become stiff or rigid, making the practice of asana more challenging and difficult? I’ve heard Anandamali speak about how actually it may be difficult for an extremely flexible person to receive the benefit of asana just from practicing the basic ones, which is one of the reasons as to why many advanced asana have developed, and that once she witnessed a person that happened to be flexible to the point of the body being as loose as spaghetti attempt to practice asana, but unfortunately that person seemed to not be able to receive the benefit of it since there seemed to be no stimulation at all in any of the positions; in this way, asana is not about being flexible, having a flexible body or not, but rather anyone can receive its great benefit if one practices correctly, and therefore we can welcome discomfort. We should remember that when we feel the body is stiff, there is a great opportunity in that, and actually, a very good possibility of receiving heightened benefit. In fact, Shri Mahayogi teaches that one of the purposes of practicing asana is to conquer duality, which becomes possible through correct practice, meaning practice with proper attention to the detail of Shri Mahayogi’s instruction, with proper focus on the breath, with effort towards the aim, and with passion.
Admittedly it is probably easy and common for us to mistake practice of asana as a physical practice even if we have heard otherwise, yet Shri Mahayogi teaches us that there is a significant part that has to do with the mind. When the mind is met with a condition of discomfort and complaint of a stiff body while trying to practice asana, the concentration of the mind must be heightened much more in order to persevere and to not give up and give in to the body’s complaints, which sometimes may also mean letting go of the concern of the body itself. One of the things so unique to the way Shri Mahayogi teaches us asana is the way of focusing on the breath. Perhaps some of the keys of focusing on the breath may be its ability to give our mind something concrete to concentrate on, while drawing our mind away from its habit of constantly obsessing over or identifying with the body, thus at the same time minimizing the mind activity and further still, training the mind to eventually come to experience overcoming both comfort and discomfort—or as it is taught by Shri Mahayogi and indicated in the Yoga Sutra, overcome the duality that keeps our mind constantly being pulled from one direction to another as we react to the inevitably changing conditions of everyday life, so that the mind can rather enter into meditation…be it while sitting or while going about daily activities.
If I reflect on my own experience of asana, I think what Shri Mahayogi points out to us is really true, and there is a great value for the mind when we have to face various challenges or discomforts of the body during practice of asana. And, as I mentioned earlier, it has also been pointed out to me that one of the reasons some practitioners are given “advanced asana” can simply be to bring that challenge when the time comes and it is needed in order to create the condition for the practitioner to continue to receive benefit from the asana.
To share one example, I remember once when Shri Mahayogi was giving the class in New York, I was instructed to fold forward in samakonasana, or wide-leg pose. Now generally speaking, in full samakonasana the buttocks should come down to rest on the floor in one straight line with both feet. I wasn’t to that point yet, but even so I was instructed to bring the buttocks down where I could and then bring the chest and chin down to the floor. Well, I must say that I certainly felt a great intensity in making this position and wasn’t sure if it was even possible. Yet somehow it became possible. Every ounce of concentration was and is needed for me in order to allow the body to go to this position…so much so that it quite literally seems to take my breath away. But through experiencing it and through continuing to practice it, I feel that there is a great gift in it. And that gift is a gift for the mind. Because when such a heightened concentration is needed to face such a challenge in the physical body, all other mind activity must be put on hold and stay on hold in order to continue. So, that in itself becomes a valuable and precious break in the mind that can be busy and constantly active, that can bring about a more rapid and heightened state of silence. And even if it is only for a relatively few moments while holding steady the pose, I feel that it can really have a strong impact on the mind as it may be quite opposite to the mind’s common state. As it is repeated over time in daily practice, it feels like the mind starts to learn about something new through that experience. And perhaps it is moments like these that bring about conditions that can greatly speed along the mind’s preparedness for the state of meditation.
All that being said, experiencing rigidity or stiffness in the physical body when practicing asana is not only not a problem at all, but I feel it is really a gift of great value that is given as our opportunity to train the mind in a much more intensified and impactful way.
Part 2: A Hint for Reading ~ Pranavadipa Vol. 90
What does it mean to read? And, how do we learn from what we read and the way we read? These are questions that I have been considering for some time now after they were brought up for consideration during MYM’s Study in Practice group a year or two ago, and now again recently as several of the gurubai in New York are meeting for a book club and again these questions are coming up as a main theme as we read and learn together.
With these questions in mind, I was reflecting as we prepared the latest issue of Pranavadipa (Vol. 90), which was just published for May 2022. As many probably know, Pranavadipa consists in part of recorded Satsangha, where various questions and answers transpired between Shri Mahayogi and seekers, as well as Testimonies, which are writings from the experiences of different practitioners as they are learning Yoga under the guidance of Shri Mahayogi.When it comes to the process of editing a recording of Satsangha, which originally takes place in person and is all spoken, Anandamali speaks about how in order to prepare it for a written-only format there are various considerations that need to be taken into account. For example, when someone asks a question, sometimes due to the natural spoken nature, that question may not come in a neat, straight-to-the-point package. What does the editing team do…does the editing team cut the question down to its essence for ease of reading?…does the editing team leave exactly as is?…something else?…and what guides that decision?
Being involved in the editing team process, I have been learning that there are really two general things very important to be aware of. One has to do with the words themselves…what is being said or written. But the other, harder to grasp but absolutely vital, is everything that is behind the words, beyond the words and surrounding the words…everything around what is being said or written. Anandamali has naturally been teaching me about the various aspects of these as we work together on MYM’s publications and as time goes on I think my awareness and clarity is perhaps always growing little by little.
Each month Anandamali chooses very carefully the content of Pranavadipa, always considering what may be particularly beneficial for readers and for the particular moment the publication will be released. In this particular issue of Pranavadipa (Vol. 90), Anandamali shared with me that actually many of the questions and answers in this Satsangha may have quite a different type of content than what we may be used to reading or than what typically may be given first priority in being published among the various content of teachings—but that through this content we will have the opportunity to meet Shri Mahayogi, and get to know his extraordinary capacities, and depth of sagacity and penetration into the Truth, by being able to read the types of questions and answers that most readers probably have not experienced in the Satsangha in New York or Taiwan. And, that we may not only learn about Yoga from different angles we may not have heard, read or considered before, but also by seeing the questions themselves, there is much we can learn about how different practitioners may go about approaching Yoga in daily life, as well as ways of trying to learn and understand the teachings through the way one lives or the things one may be facing. And in addition, she carefully restored some parts that were previously edited away to leave only the essential points, so if we as readers are paying close attention, we may be able to learn from the atmosphere surrounding the question and answer that may be revealed through the dynamic of the question and answer itself.
Keeping all of these various things in mind, along with some of my own experiences, as I worked on the preparations for Pranavadipa Vol. 90 as one of the editing staff, I was sensing strongly that “yes, it’s true…there is so much beyond what we see most evidently written on the page…and what we can learn from that is just as important as what we can learn from what is written.”
In a way it feels like whatever we see written and published, whether the questions and answers that transpired or the written experiences of the practitioners, the words we see are all a result. What we read and what we see is always the result of something. And because it is a result, that means that there is much that has come beforehand—thought, study, practice, action, experiences, time, discipline, etc.—all things that we too can engage ourselves in. None of that is explained or spelled out for us—it would be impossible to include every detail or explain every little thing. It is up to each one of us, as the readers, to reach beyond the resulting words, and catch that seemingly invisible part. However, if we read the words and take only the surface, the words themselves, then the richness of everything that has led up to those words coming to the point of being spoken is taken for granted and missed.
I’m becoming more and more interested in the process behind what we see take form, whether that’s in someone’s words, questions, actions, way of being etc…because I’m seeing that nothing comes about in isolation. I think this is an important learning for me, because I see that in the past I have tended to look over that part, particularly when it comes to expectations I have for myself. I may expect myself to “have it already.” And in looking over or not putting my attention towards the process that comes before the result, it makes it more difficult for me to recognize the practical ways of developing Yoga more thoroughly and comprehensively within myself. So, I must say that I am grateful that this learning is opening up within myself and hope that if there are others who may see something similar within themselves, that perhaps trying out this looking beyond the surface, the words, the form, the result…in order to discover and learn from the process, may be a helpful clue.
Certainly, in Pranavadipa Vol. 90 there is a lot of excellent and rich material for us to practice reading the surroundings, not only in the Satsangha, but in the Testimonies that are all messages shared on the occasion of Sanatana Dharma Avatara Mela (Celebration of the Divine Manifestations of Eternal Truth), back in April 2022.
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