Here is my latest yoga white board. I have been using these illustrations in class lately to explain various concepts of yoga philosophy. Simple diagrams help me to understand because I am a visual person:
At first glance, these diagrams appear to be very simple concepts, but in my experience, upon closer examination, they are quite deep and I find that one can practice these concepts directly and always find the need to keep returning to them for many years. Let me explain…
Our conscious experience of our body, of our breath and of the processes of our mind (thought patterns) are usually UN-conscious. In our day-to-day experiences our senses and our conscious awareness is typically turned Out-ward. We watch the TV, we talk to others, we are engaged in working at our computers and various devices, when we are walking down the street – our mind is usually in the future (thinking about where we are going) or in the past (thinking about the days events) instead of being conscious of actually “walking”.
In the practice of Hatha Yoga, we seek to make our awareness of our body and movements of the body – completely Conscious. We do this by becoming conscious of our breath. Normally we do not need to think in order to breathe, but in our yoga practice we do. We consciously control the breath, we elongate it, we take a full breath, we watch ourselves breathe, we notice if we are not breathing, and in a flowing practice we align a transition from one yoga posture to the next with the inhalation and exhalation. This takes 100% conscious awareness of breath. It means our mind needs to focus continuously on the breath and movements of the body. In an advanced practice we can begin to “breathe” into various parts of the body and send prana there. Then our practice can truly becoming a “healing” practice.
In order to become conscious of our body (posture) and our breath, our mind needs to be in the present moment, 100% > tuned inward and no where else.
When this happens the awareness of body / breath / mind leads to union between the three. Some say that the breath is the “hub” of yoga and that is why is so important in the practice. The word “yoga” stems from a sanskrit word meaning “union.” When we have union between the three as shown in the diagram above, we create a whole, connected experience (or the holistic experience) – of being alive.
In this practice, we are now able to experience a meditative state by focusing on the breath, and aligning breath to movement. When we get here, we are able to bring in and retain more “Prana” within our being. The word prana = our vital life force energy. That which animates us, and makes us feel healthy and vital, it is our sense of vitality. (Please see my other posts on Prana for more on this subject).
One definition of a “yogi” (someone who practices yoga), is that a yogi is someone who can harness and retain prana within. This is a drawing of diagram from one of Desikachar’s books. It shows that someone who is healthy does just that. In someone who is unhealthy there is typically a lack of prana or more prana outside of the self, than within. In most cases an unhealthy person is “leaking” prana from a blocked chakra (energy center in the spine), or from an already present illness, or from a lack of internal awareness > If we do not spend time relaxing, meditating and tuning inward – if our minds are constantly outward with not connection to our experience in the present moment, than our prana can sometimes become depleted. It is like being a battery – if we expend energy externally without filling up then we become empty. On a positive note: when we harness prana through yoga practice, we can become fulfilled and even generate an abundance of energy so that we can help others, give to others and run at optimum vitality. This is the ultimate state that we are looking to achieve.
This is another drawing from Desikachar’s book. It explains “Samadhi” the state of absorption.
In stage 1: there is our self and another (or another object).
In stage 2: we pick a point of meditation (examples of an object: to focus on our breath, or to focus on an image, etc.). And then…we sustain…a long…and continuous…unbroken state of focus…on our object…of meditation.
In stage 3: after a period of unbroken meditation on our object, we become absorbed. This state has a feeling that can be described as > we suddenly can not distinguish the object from ourselves. There is a state of “oneness” without separation. There is no separation between the object and ourselves.
In most descriptions of enlightenment, this is the state that we are looking to achieve.