In the fall of 2017, I began a 16-week series of Raja Yoga sessions at the Ananda Center in Palo Alto, CA.This is a chronicle of personal highlights.
(Image courtesy of Greeshma Prakash and TipTop Lifestyle, from their great article on Raja Yoga.)
- Introduction to the Series
- Thu, 7 Sep: Session #1
- 1. Lift the Eyes!
- 2. Yogananda Double Breath
- 3. Breathe + Tense/Relax
- Wed, 13 Sep: Babaji Connection
- Inner Smile
- Something to Teach: Figure-8 Cobra Breath!
- Something Else: Gratitude Flow Meditation
- The “Left Hand” Path
- So Many Books to Publish!
- Dream: Yabba Dabba Yum-Yum!
Introduction to the Series
Raja Yoga is the “Royal” or “Kingly” yoga, in the sense that it integrates the many different parts of yoga —
the physical asanas of Hatha Yoga, the philosophical analysis of Gnana Yoga, the devotional aspects of Bhakti Yoga, the action-orientation of Karma Yoga, breathing techniques of Pranayama, the chanting techniques of Mantra, and more. So in a sense, it “rules” over them — not in the sense that is larger or more important, but in the sense that it is the “governing principle” that combines them into a single integrated practice — the same way a Raja directs the engineers over here, the soldiers over there, takes care of the farmers in one way, the shopkeepers in another, and so on.
Since the Ananda program is a parallel path to my Ipsalu Tantra experience, it made sense to pursue it. Their guru-paths meet at Sri Yukteswar. From there, their common lineage includes Lahiri Mahasaya and Babaji. (It’s kind of neat, really, to be able to trace your lineage back to the source of your learning!)
In this post, I’ve divided the notes into two parts: 1) The important/new/novel things I learned during the class, and 2) The experiences/sensations/lessons-learned that came in the following week, after the class. As you’ll see in today’s notes, it can take several days for the realizations to occur, but when they do, they integrate the new understandings with lessons gained from Ipsalu Tantra, from a deepened connection with Babaji.
They are also likely to integrate with my first experience with spiritual-growth/spiritual-opening practices, in my martial arts of practice of Jung SuWon. (Nothing of the kind occurred this week, but it could happen — and in any case I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my debt to that organization and its founder, Great Grandmaster Dr. Tae Yun Kim.
With any luck, I’ll be following a similar pattern for the next 15 weeks!
Ananda’s Raja Yoga course covers much more than I have described here. These are my personal highlights — the things that were, for me, either new, especially interesting, or especially illuminating. As they mention in the very first session, what they teach in this course is not unique to Ananda. Raja Yoga is an ancient science that belongs to the world. It is the “kingly” (raja) Yoga in that sense that it spans many different branches of Yoga practice — organizing them and devoting resources (your time and energy) to each in turn, for the good of the whole (you).
Thu, 7 Sep: Session #1
This first session gave me three important tidbits:
1. Lift the Eyes!
In the meditation session, I got some of the best advice I’ve ever received: With your eyes closed, lift your gaze as though you’re looking at the top of a far away mountain.
It’s so simple, so innocuous. But the effect it has on me is electric. It’s much easier than the standard Yoga injunction to focus your gaze on your third eye. (That’s something like trying to touch your nose with your tongue.) But when I do it, I feel my entire “inner skull” lifting up, inside my head. And I get very happy.
That may be something primal — something that is part of our nature — where “looking up” immediately induces feelings of respect, awe, love, and admiration. That’s why we say we “look up” to someone — and why every smart teacher teaches from an elevated position! (Just the fact that people are looking up at you makes them respect you more, and pay attention to what you’re saying!) It would also explain why a church pulpit is so high.
On a more personal level, lifting my eyes brings back my experience of making a connection with Babaji. That time, the injunction was, Turn around! Go up!, where “turning around” means inwardly turning your gaze towards the back of your head, and then looking (or going) upward. (More on that in a bit.)
But it seems that doing things in the reverse order, works as well! Here I was lifting my gaze to “go up”. (Whether the turning is actually necessary, I’m not yet sure. But lifting my gaze sure as heck renewed my connection, and brought a smile to my face!)
8 Sep: Next day. Played golf, and tried to maintain focus on keeping my eyes lifted. Guess what? My swing was way off after a long layoff, so I played horridly — but I really enjoyed myself! (Decidedly not my typical reaction, when my swing is off.) So that one simple technique kept me positive and happy throughout the round, regardless of how my swing was working. (And after a while, I began to get my swing back. That was cool, too. But much less important than my internal state!)
13 Sep: Had a call from an annoying telemarketer. A scam artist, really, trying to give me money from “the government”. Started yelling at him. Then lifted my eyes, and my attitude changed! I started telling him that he was better this, asking him why he didn’t find some positive purpose that actually helps people, and saying I knew he could do it. Yelled that, too. But I was yelling with love, and I felt good about it!
2. Yogananda Double Breath
I can’t say this particular technique has given me a lot of benefit to date, but since it was described as “Yogananda’s contribution” to pranayama practice, I want to record it.
With this technique, you inhale twice in quick succession through the nostrils (sniff, sniff!) and then exhale twice in quick succession through the mouth (hah, hah!).
Whether the doubling does much of anything, I’m not totally sure. But I do have two data points to add to it:
- One way to totally relax the body is to relax as you exhale completely — and then exhale a second time! Every so often, golfer Nick Faldo shares that technique when he is announcing a tournament. He recommends it as a way to relax over the ball. I’ve tried it, and it works. (The double breath is more of a forced-breath technique, similar to Bhastrika, but the double exhale may also promote relaxation.)
- In Tantra, it is said that breathing through the nose stimulates the brain and consciousness, while breathing through the mouth stimulates the body and awareness. To achieve balance, therefore, the Tantra practitioner inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth. (That practice also allows for long, slow inhalations and complete exhalations on the same count, as exhaling a complete breath through the nose seems to take much longer.)
So whether or not the double breath does anything on its own, it was great to discover Yogananda recommending a technique that is an important Tantra practice!
3. Breathe + Tense/Relax
The “practicum” at the end of the class appears to be a time in which you experiment with and experience energy flows. On this occasion, the injunction was to inhale deeply, breathing in energy from the universe as you inhale, and then direct the energy to the area that needs attention as you exhale.
As you hold the breath, you alternately tense and relax the muscle several times and then totally relax the muscle as you exhale the energy into.
Back Pain Relief!
The effect on my back was immediate! I strained it several weeks ago playing golf, and it has been sporadically spasming, ever since. It was hurting a bit at this point in the evening, after sitting so long. But the tense-and-relax, energy-breath technique allowed it to relax completely.
Ever since straining my back, I was fine when lying down, but couldn’t sit for more than an hour at a time before it began to tense up and get painful — creating a severe limit on how much I was able to work! So starting the next day, I began using the tense-and relax practice at my desk.
When I did, I noticed that my back pain went away immediately! Personally, I suspect it was the alternate tensing and relaxing. I’m not sure that the energy-flow visualization had any real effect. But what do I know? It could be real! Might as well stick to the program, do it! :__)
A week later, the back pain still hasn’t gone away entirely. But each time it tenses up and begins to get painful, I have been able to use this technique to relax it. In consequence, I have been able to write for 3- and 4-times as long!
It occurs to me that the technique could be useful when experiencing negative emotions, as well. As such emotions are always felt somewhere in the body, when you examine them. When you find that point and focus on, you can often re-experience the trauma the current situation reminds you of, and release it.
But another you could do would be to breathe energy into it, using this technique. Perhaps that would release the tension in the muscles and let the emotion evaporate. Or maybe it would make it easier to reexperience the original trauma and the feelings/decisions that accompanied it. Either way, it would be helpful.
Yoga Asana (“yogasana”)
Finally (and it took days to realize this), the technique could be very helpful when stretching — especially in a long, slow Yoga asana (“pose”). One of they ways you relax is to stay short of any real pain (which would cause the muscles to contract), then you lengthen the body as you inhale, and relax “deeper” into the stretch (possibly as little as a millimeter deeper) as you exhale. Over time, the millimeters add up, and you become more flexible.
But it occurs to me that breathing energy into the muscle could also help your relax. At some point, I’m sure, the resistance to stretching is psychological — especially if you have pushed yourself too far in the past, and have experienced pain in the process. This technique, performed while you still are well below your maximum stretch, could help you relax so completely that you are able to reach your maximum.
If it works, you would notice that you go several millimeters deeper in one go. Of course, you’ll do that anyway as your body warms up, but once you’ve reached what feels like a maximum, you may find that this technique gives you quite a bit more — because when you really are at your maximum, one extra millimeter is just about all there is!
Wed, 13 Sep: Babaji Connection
It’s 4:15 am. I’ve been doing intermittent fasting and isometrics for a couple of months, now. It’s something I started long before the Raja Yoga class, but it ties together, so I’m starting with it. I did a series of dynamic tension and isometric exercises, then sat for meditation. That was where the connection began.
As I inwardly lifted my eyes, I felt the inner skull lifting into the “inner smile” I had learned in my first Ipsalu Tantra session.
About the Inner Smile
With the inner smile, you have a small smile on your lips, and you feel it reach back around to the back of your head, opening the medulla oblongata at the base of the skull. In India, that location is known as “the mouth of God”. It’s where God breathes life into the body, and where God-consciousness enters.
Lifting my gaze seems to automatically induce that inner smile. Whether that is innate in human physiology, or whether it is a paired-connection — a combination of the eye-lifting and inner-smile techniques I have learned in my training, I don’t yet know. But clearly it is an important part of the process! (So far, I’ve taught the eye-lifting technique to one other person. They didn’t experience the same sense of immediate joy that I did, so perhaps both techniques need to be shared, for maximum effect. Or perhaps each of them is just a trigger for something more important that is going on, and the more triggers you have, the better!)
As I experienced the eye-lifting, skull-raising, and inner smile, I was reminding of my Baba-ji Dream! , where I first made the guru connection. As I learned in that dream, the injunction was to “Turn around! Look up!”. Here, I was looking up first, but it was still working.
As I imagined that connection, I saw the ball of white light once again in my mind’s eye, and connected with Babaji once again — which brought on feelings of joy, love, gratitude, and other positive emotions. A trickle, basically, but definitely a connection.
Another thing that came to me was the potential importance of turning left! I recalled that the doorway at the top of the stairs in my dream was definitely on the left. When I turned to look, and when I turned to go up the stairs, I don’t recall which way I turned, for sure, but I suspect that both of those were to the left, as well.
(As I went to my original writeup to add the notes on turning left, I stumbled across a continuation of my Babaji connection, when he promised to return: Babaji Promises! I had forgotten all about that. Until now! :__)
So the guidance I’m getting is apparently to “take the left-hand path”. (I’m not sure what that means, exactly. I’m sure I’ll discover more — and have included additional thoughts below.)
Something to Teach: Figure-8 Cobra Breath!
For years, in my own meditation and pranayama practice, I had been trying to figure out how to balance the two forms of Maha Bandha — one on the exhale, which floods you with energy from below when you release it, and one on the inhale, which opens you to God on the release.
What I came up with, sometime after I started practicing Ipsalu Tantra was something I called the “Figure-8 Breath”, where you find the point of total relaxation between each set of Maha Bandha locks.
Now then, when I teach that breath, I teach it without the Babaji-inspired “Cobra Breath” — because I’m not a certified Ipsalu Tantra teacher.
But it appears that I’m not giving myself enough credit! Because in this meditation, through my connection with Babaji, I essentially received permission and encouragement to teach the combination — the Figure-8 Cobra Breath!
Wow. That was unexpected. But it is definitely something I’ve never seen anywhere else — something I can teach because, in essence, it came from Babaji. (Even the Figure-8 Breath came by way of meditation and my Ipsalu practices, so that inspiration can be most properly attributed to Babaji, as well.)
Something Else: Gratitude Flow Meditation
When eyes are lifted, inner smile is activated, heart is open, and the kunda gland (seat of kundalini) is activated, life is really very good! It brings a set of positive feelings and emotions — joy, gratitude, anticipation, and more.
One of my meditations is to direct gratitude up through the Mouth of God to the universe as I exhale, and then receive the flow that comes back as I inhale. Then I direct gratitude out from the heart, and receive love back. Finally, I direct gratitude down through the spine to earth, thankful for my body and all of the support it receives, and inhale the energy of Mother Earth up through the spine.
That sequence activates all of the major energy centers, so you’re fully connected. I expect that full opening of the Sushumna channel and kundalini awakening cannot be far behind!
On the other hand, it is entirely possible that they are already open and awakened! After all, much of tantra is an awareness process. Most of the time, your attention is on other things, and you aren’t aware of the energy flows in your body. When you focus your attention on them, they become “bigger”, in the same way that something is larger when your close up than it is when you’re far away.
The “Left Hand” Path
While writing up my notes, I began to have thoughts about what the “left hand path” means. Of course, these are mostly thoughts, rather than a direct inspiration. But I’m not too far out of the meditative connection, so they could still be valuable.
One thing it could mean is to take something of a tantric path as compared to a “right-hand” path, where spirituality is developed without a lot of concern for the body.
The body is important, of course, and the Ananda program does pay attention to it, but it does so purely for spiritual growth as far as I can tell, rather than treating it as an equally important partner, deserving of equal time. So, while some of the Ananda practitioners are very fit, many aren’t.
That’s a good thing, really. Because it’s not about where you start, but rather about the progress you’re making. (It really is about progress, rather than perfection.) So it’s terrific that you don’t have to be super fit to learn there, or even to teach there. But the people who have been doing the program the longest would, by rights, also be some of the most fit, if the program addressed body and spirit equally.
Another possible meaning of the “left hand” path is one that integrates sexuality with spirituality. Ananda doesn’t go there, of course. How could it? When Yogananda came to America in the early 1900’s when Puritanism still had a deathgrip on the national consciousness! If he had taught tantric practices, he’d have been run out of town on a rail!
On the other hand, my practices have little to do with sex, and mostly to do with energy flows. (I’ve tried to integrate them. Haven’t found a way to do it, so far. Others have. Could be I’m just slow!) So maybe the “left hand path” means “energy flow meditations” — which is one of the sections I have in a book I plan to write on Hatha Yoga (focusing on the space between the poses), Sitting Yoga (focusing on the flexibility needed to sit on the floor comfortably), Pranayama (experiencing stillness and connection between the practices), and Meditation — or more accurately, energy flow meditations.
14 Sep: Or could mean, “get into your left side” — into the part of the brain in charge of insight, intuition, and big-picture awareness, so you’re drawing away from language and detailed analysis. (Of course, it is the “right” that is in charge of intuition and such. But that part of the brain also controls the left side of the body, so in terms of physical sensations it feels like the left side of the head.
So Many Books to Publish!
OMG. Yet another book I need to publish, to fulfill my mission of sharing what I’ve learned in my time on this planet. I have nearly a dozen to devote my attention to. The hard part is figuring out the best sequence in which to work on them (and how to stay alive in the process), even if I just focus on the top six!
- Gingivitis (re-publish with a new title, better formatting, and new information)
- Politics and Health (to break the hold of the lobbyists and restore the American dream)
- Sitting Yoga, Pranayama, and Energy Flow Meditations (the “right hand” path?)
- Burning Fat and Getting Fit (diet, exercise, and fasting) (the “left hand” path?)
- Trail Running (a book I wrote back when I was doing that)
- Trekking Poles (a book I wrote back when I was using them)
Then there are the other books to be published, when I get them finished:
- Short Game in Golf (to go along with the putting book I published)
- Golf Swing (a complement to the Tathata program that has been so beneficial)
- Shakespeare Authorship (recognizing the true author of the poems, and the authors of the plays)
- Magical Moments (the autobiography this series is part of)
Dream: Yabba Dabba Yum-Yum!
After being up at 3, doing my practice for an hour, and writing like mad for a couple of hours, I had a cup of coffee watched a few YouTube programs, and went back to sleep.
That’s my favorite way to get a lot of writing done. That way, I’m wide awake and refreshed — and therefore able to write well for several hours — twice a day. Since my really productive writing hours are after I get up, this schedule gives me two bursts of writing energy a day. (It doubles my productivity, in all honesty.)
So okay, now it’s late morning, and I’ve just woken up — after a terrific waking dream. I suspect it was precipitated from the practice I’ve developed of keeping my eyes lifted as I watch T.V. For that reason, a lot of my normal programs held no interest. I’d watch a few minutes of a recording, get bored, and switch to something else. That’s how I wound up on more positive YouTube lectures and informational videos.
Now, it’s quite common for me find myself waking up with some kind of “nightmare” vision. I don’t feel like I’m actually in a nightmare, but as I’m emerging from sleep I have a vision of being in some horrible situation I would never really want to be in. At that point, I fully I wake up. Those could be at least partially due to my TV habit. Or could be my body’s way of generating adrenaline so I’ll get out of bed. (Then, too, I’ve got a lot of books to write, and money is running short, so I do feel a bit trapped now that I think about it.)
Another kind of dream I wake up to sometimes is a sexy dream. Those are fun. Not typical, but it’s hard to concentrate on anything else when they occur!
That happened this morning, but this one was different. It started innocently enough, but I was full of confidence and expressed what was on my mind. As I began to wake. I kept my eyes closed and maintained my body position, as I had learned to do when experimenting with lucid dreaming, to keep the dream-vision in place. I was now doing a small amount of lucid dreaming, where I could form an intention and carry it out.
From there, things got increasingly sexy. It was a great dream! And since I was lucid, I was able to direct the action. (The best time for a lucid dream is when you’re waking. You’re sleepy enough to keep dreaming, but awake enough to direct it.)
At one point, I was imagining the Yab Yum position, where the guy is sitting, and the girl is sitting in his lap with her legs wrapped around him. I immediately christened it Yabba Dabba Yum-Yum.
The dream was precipitated, I think, by my earlier comment that I had not been able to integrate sexuality and spirituality, as an energy practitioner is supposed to be able to do. But on this occasion, I found that I was able to draw the energy up my spine quite nicely, finish waking up, and then have a productive day!
Reciprocating Breath: AC/DC?
In the dream, we were doing the Tantric Kiss (an Eskimo kiss, forehead to forehead) while in Yab Yum. We began using the Reciprocating Breath to share energy (she inhales as you exhale, and vice versa). I didn’t want us to make too much of a conscious effort, though, so I said “Let’s just be aware of our breathing, and see how they synchronize in time” — or perhaps go in and out of synchronization, with different experiences to be aware of as that happened.
As I was recalling the details of the reciprocating breath, I began to wonder about the direction in which the energy flows!
The problem is similar to the one that precipitated by the Figure-8 Breath. One of the techniques of Tantra is that the man exhales his energy down, through his lingam, and shoots it like a firehose of light into his partner. He does that as he exhales, and she draws it up. Doing that is spectacular for her God consciousness. You literally open her to God!
But at what point do you, as the man, experience that upward energy flow? And how on earth do you coordinate it?
The point of the Tantric Kiss, after all, is to complete the circuit. But doing that with a continuous flow means that the circuit only goes one way! Perhaps, then, some form of Alternating Current (A/C) is needed?
It’s something to ponder. But in the meantime, I’m happy to report a very nice integration of sexuality and spirituality this morning, with a lot of energy generated and drawn up the spine! So I’m free to focus and be productive, and at the same I’m very, very happy. :__)
It is said of a man who practices Tantra (a Tantrika) that he can leave off at any time, without disappointment. He simply draws the energy up his spine, and is content — in contrast to a normal man, who is desperate to climax, and must do so at any cost.
It is also said that a Tantrika enjoys the physical sensations of touching as much as the act of penetration, because he is so much more acutely aware of the energy sensations that accompany those movements — which makes him a much more gentle, patient, kind, and considerate lover.
On this occasion, I experienced both of those aspects of masculine Tantra, and feel as though I am well on the way towards a full integration of sexuality and spirituality. (In fact, at this exact moment, it feels as though the integration has been achieved!)
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