Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yog Nidra…..the art of complete Relaxation

To be able to relax completely is an art. So many methods have been described, from just sleeping, to sitting in silence, to listening to music, just closing one’s eyes, counting down from 30 to 1 but what is not talked about much is the method taught by our sages of yore…Yoga Nidra, which is a method in which one is fully conscious but relaxed completely. This is how it differs from sleep. Sleep may not relax us fully since the very moment sleep dawns, the dream state starts, the mind remains active and is not at peace. It is only during deep sleep that we achieve rest but how much of deep sleep do we manage to get? Yoga Nidra, on the other hand restores the mind to a state of tranquility and profound peace. Yoga Nidra is also known as ‘Chetan Nidra” and, in my experience is the best method for achieving complete relaxation. i, therefore, wish to share it with all of you. Yoga Nidra literally means “Sleeping Consciously” and is a state in between wakefulness and dreaming during which our subconscious and still deeper layers of our mind open up. These, as we are aware are very powerful levels of the mind, indeed. It thus brings about deep relaxation at all levels namely physical, psychological and mental and results in a higher level of energy in the body. It is at this stage that we become more amenable to suggestions and the subconscious mind, the obedient servant it is, ensures its attainment. Incidentally this is the stage which is used for “Hypnosis’ by Psychiatrists during ‘Hypnotic meditation” or Regression. During Yog Nidra our consciousness travels from one layer to another resulting in wonderful experiences. The Method: First Stage…resting in “Shavasana” Lie on the back, with the legs spread one and a half feet and arms a little away from the body and palms facing up, fingers spread out. Relax the body completely, close your eyes gently, and breathe slowly and deeply. Second Stage: Start observing the body with the mind’s eye…..as if a person standing way from you is observing you lying on the floor (it is like your atma observing your body). Direct your “mind’s eye” to the great toe of the right foot, followed by the second toe, then the third, the fourth and finally the fifth…all very very slowly. Look at the sole of the foot, the upper part, the calf of the leg, the thigh and the buttock. Turn your attention to the left foot and very slowly follow the same sequence from the big toe to the buttock. Keep relaxing the part or organ which you see with your mind’s eye. Now look at the centre of your abdomen, which is the seat of ‘Saman Pran” followed by all the internal organs, namely the stomach, liver, pancreas, spleen, intestines. This should then be followed by the right lung, the left lung, the pulsating heart, the right side of the waist, the left side. Then look at the spine from the lower to the upper end. Remember to relax whichever structure you see. Look at the right thumb of your hand, the second, the third, fourth and fifth fingers, the upper part of the palm, the wrist, front of the arm, elbow, the upper part of the arm and the shoulder. Similarly observe the left thumb, fingers, palm, arms etc in the same order. Divert the gaze of your mind’s eye to your throat, chin, teeth, the two nostrils, right and left ears, right and left eyes, right and left eyebrows, the space between the eyebrows and the crown of the head. Keep concentrating on each relaxed part of the body. The Third Stage…..Meditation on the Five Elements: You now need to meditate on the Five Elements or “tatvas” starting from the earth Element. Feel the heaviness of the bones, flesh, muscles and the skin. These represent the Earth Element. Basically there is no difference between the Earth element and the parts of our bodies represented by it. Try to appreciate the smell of the earth. Now think of the blood flowing in your arteries and veins flowing from the great toe to the crown of the head. These represent the Water Element. There is basically no difference between the outside water and the fluids flowing inside our bodies, therefore try to visualize the taste of water also. Come to the Fire Element now. Concentrate on the warmth (better expressed as “oonshrata”) present in your entire body. This is representative of the Fire Element. Body heat does not differ from the heat present in the environment, therefore, try to feel this warmth. Now gently concentrate on you inhalation and exhalation as this represents your Air Element which does not differ from the air you breathe. Feel this connection between your body and the environment. Gently observe the spaces in your body representative of the Space Element. Our body is completely “saturated” with space and does not differ from outside space. Try to feel the connection with the inner and outer space and also to appreciate the inner primordial sound, carried by the Space Element. Fourth Stage…Meditation on the “Super”Element: This “Super” Element gives rise to all the other Elements which are ephemeral in nature while this is permanent. Try to stay in this stage of Divinity for some time. Imagine a beautiful white (or golden) light surrounding you and feel it travelling down your entire body. The longer you can stay with it the more peaceful and relaxed you get. Fifth Stage….Meditation on your breathing: Concentrate on the process of breathing. Breathe deeply, draw the breath from the “foot” to the “crown” of your head while inhaling and vice versa while exhaling. Do this 6 to 7 times, and gradually sit up. It is important not to go to sleep during Yog Nidra as it would deprive you of all the benefits. Yoga Nidra is very similar to the process of feeling energy internally. As you observe every organ or part of your body, it is possible to observe and feel whether that part or organ is energy depleted or not. If so it indicates the presence of disease in that area, which can easily be “replenished” by transferring “cosmic” energy to it by the different methods of Energy Healing. It is like scanning your bodily energies from the great toe to the crown of your head. i have found it Yoga Nidra to be an extremely good tool for relaxation as well as meditation. It is also a great method for managing stress which is plaguing our lives. Since it relieves stress and anxiety it is greatly beneficial in heart disease as well. Those who practice Yoga Nidra find that their need for sleep decreases significantly. It is a wonderful method to practice for all of us. Source: ‘Asan And Yog Vigyan’ published by Bhartiya Yog Sansthan Seventh Edition 2008, “Miraculous Health” by Dr Rick Levy 2008,and The Internet.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"God...Self....And The Connection"

YesWe are always being taught that if we wish to connect with Him we need to connect with our selves. Even Jesus Christ said “Know Thyself”…but what is this “Self”? Most of the time we stumble since we ate not sure what this elusive “Self is! What is it after all? Volumes have been written about it but us most do not know what it is or whether it exists at all! We have been told that “The Self is one. Ever still, the Self is Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses. Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit. Without the Self, never could life exist”…….and further “The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self, Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise, Immanent and transcendent. He it is Who holds the cosmos together” ( Isha Upanishad). It has been considered so important that even the gods have found it difficult to understand it…what to say about us humans !This is brought out very clearly in the Chandogya Upanaishad, which i am briefy recapitulating. Prajapati, the great teacher said "The self is pure, free from decay and death, free from hunger and thirst, and free from sorrow. The Self desires nothing that is not good, wills nothing that is not good. Seek and realize the Self! Those who seek and realize the Self fulfill all their desires and attain the goal supreme. When Indra learned about this, he along with Virochana approached Prajapati, lived with him for thirty two years as they wished to realize the Self....but by the end of it they still felt that the self was the body. Prajapati told Indra should live with him for another thirty two years and that he would teach him more about the Self...this went on for many years till Indra had lived with Prajapati for a hundred and one years when he was taught that (among other things)"Those who know this Self and realize this Self obtain all worlds and all desires" The above mentioned quotes from the Upanishads are so beautiful but still we fail to translate them into their practical meanings. The following story as told my Respected Guruji makes the predicament we are facing abundantly clear. There was a lion cub which got separated from his mother. As luck would have it, he was then picked up by lambs and reared by them…he started behaving like a lamb as he had no concept of being a lion’s offspring and grew up like a lamb. One day a full grown lion passed by and was surprised to see this ”lamb” and went to it and tried to remind it that he too was a lion like him but the grown cub refused to accept it. The lion then took him to a pond and asked him to compare the reflections of both and told him that both of them looked alike. He then roared and asked the cub to do the same…when the cub roared himself he understood that he was not a lamb but a lion. This is the situation of most of us as we do not realize our true potential since we see ourselves as small while in reality we have immense spiritual power as we have been made in the image of God. This power only needs to be harnessed! So how did the Self come into being? The “Self” is integrally associated with the ‘Spirit”, which as we know is the same as God beyond Creation. Spirit has always existed, it has no birth, no death as it is immortal, it cannot be destroyed, is all powerful and just exists. When the Spirit , which is ONE decided to become many, it created this and so many other Universes, with a part of it in everything created. Hence there is a part of this spirit inside us too, our soul, or atma which is, therefore the reflection of Spirit inside us. This “atma” or soul is our true essence , a reflection of the Spirit and, therefore, our” core” which has all the “ingredients’ of the original spirit of which it is a part. It stands to reason, then that if we wish to merge with the Almighty, we need to realize that this atma is a part of God and that to find God we need to “connect” to the core of our” self”, the atma. It has been rightly said that “we are spiritual beings having a physical experience and not physical beings having a spiritual experience”….de Chardin Hence basically there is no difference between the Spirit and our Atma (read ‘Self’) except that we are not aware of it. The reason why we are not aware of it is because of our Ego (There are two types of egos which exist....the first is the Cosmic Ego, which has been given to us as a part of our evolution as for us to exist as humans we need to have an individuality, but when this sides with our body rather than the self, it creates the sense of separation...this is called the body identified ego ….a deterrent to spiritual evolution). Where is the Atma located? Our “Self” or Atma is located at the Third Eye or the Agya Chakra in between the two eyebrows. It is contained in five sheaths or “koshas” as described in yoga. We have an “Annamaya Kosha’(the food sheath), Pranamaya Kosha ( the Energy Body), Manomaya Kosha (Mental Body) Vijnamaya Kosha ( Intelligence Body) and finally the Anandmaya Kosha (the Soul or bliss body) . The agya chakra controls the Manomaya and the Vijnamaya Koshas and is related to the mind. The Agya Chakra, as we know has two petals (all chakras have a certain number of petals, each symbolic of some important aspect or the other). These two petals in the case of the agya chakra indicate “Atma’ and “Paratama”…..indicative of union of the two. What is this mystical “Third Eye”? We are aware that the human body has nine orifices…..two eyes, mouth, two nostrils, two ears, the excretory orifices, all of which open to the outside. The Third eye, however, is the tenth also called the ‘Daswa Dwar”, and opens to the Inside. When this actually opens to the “inside” meaning , the Manomaya and the Vijnamayaya Koshas have been transgressed and Atma is” layed open” in the “Anandmaya” kosha, the last sheath. Hence the Third Eye, is the flimsy veil which covers our “Atma” or “Self”. When this veil is “lifted” the Atma is free to go on its onward journey to merge with the Supreme Being or Paramatama. This Third Eye is also called “and”(the “a” here is pronounced as the letter a as in ‘anda or ‘egg”)’the border of human consciousness and Divine Consciousness. The chakras below this are associated with the body or “pind” while anything above the Agya chakra or the Third Eye is called ‘Brahmanda’. How does the Third Eye open? In order to achieve this four paths of Yoga (Union) have been described . Gyan, Bhakti, Karma and Raj Yoga. Unfortunately , a lot of controversy exists as to which path is the best, whether reading the scriptures alone, praying, doing action (Karma Yoga) or Meditation is the best. All the four paths lead to Union but as i understand, Raj Yoga is the best. No matter which path one follows ultimately one practices all four. If one sees someone becoming enlightened or becoming ‘Realized’ ( it means that he has “realized” or understood what “truth’ actually is and has achieved the connection with the Divine Being) by the other three methods…..this is because of him having meditated in his earlier birth and to have been born again in an advanced evolved stage and full realization occurred by any one of those methods in the present birth. Dhyan or Meditation, is the most effective method for opening the Third Eye, as taught by a Realized teacher. What happens when the third eye opens? The opening is associated with the “hearing” or appreciation of “Aum” or ‘Shabd”. This is the primordial sound which brought about the creation of this and all other universes and comprises of sound and light. When the Third Eye opens this “unstruck” sound or “Anhad Shabd” is “heard”…..this may either be appreciation of the various “sounds” or divine music or beautiful vistas may open up. As the atma travels higher and higher beyond the Third Eye through five different stages or “Khands”, namely Dharam Khand, Gyan Khand, Saram Khand, Karam Khand and finally Sach Khand……the sounds change along with the beautiful vistas and different coloured bright lights finally culminating into union with the Divine. The path travelled by the atma is simply beautiful and virtually impossible to describe. It is just like asking a dumb person to describe the taste of honey! The Shvetashvatara Upanishad describes some of these experiences as ‘They may see within them more and more light: Fireflies, lightning, sun, moon. These are signs That they are well on their way to Brahman” All the above experiences are associated with tremendous changes both in the human body as well as temperament. One becomes calm, wise, love for all beings becomes more and more pronounced, one becomes all powerful as one rises above Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mad and Matsya and one becomes “ONE” with everything and everyone, more and more humble till ego dissolves completely, the last “bastion’ so to speak, and the atma merges with the Parmatama and one loses oneself into Him …to remain in this state or, take on a form of a Being guiding and helping humanity from afar or come back again to act as beacons for seekers for their onward journey! “Aum”, “Shabd” or the “Holy Ghost” is the link between the self and Him…..and this connection is what we need to seek. Sources: “The Upnanishads” Eknath Easwaran, “God Talks to Arjun the Bhagwat Geeta” by Sri Parmahans Yogananda