Raja Yoga Insights #3

Week 3 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus on the various paths of Yoga.

Note:
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, 21 Sep: Session #3 – Paths of Yoga

Jnana Yoga (“Gyana Yoga”) 

This important path of Yoga is transliterated to “Jnana” from Sanskrit, but pronounced “ghee-yah-nah”, according to my Yoga-teacher friend who trained in India. (Interestingly, the Ananda program chose to spell the word the way it sounds, rather than the way it looks.)

The content of the talk was a terrific summary of this branch of Yoga. (Patanjali’s “Ashtanga” Yoga is a word that combines the Sanskrit number “8” with the word for “paths”. This is one of the critical three covered this evening.)

Translations for this branch of Yoga include “Path of Knowledge”, “Path of Wisdom”, “Path of Discrimination”. [“Path of Knowledge” is what analytical thinkers would consider as Jnana as they study Vedanta — wisdom recorded in the sacred literature of India, originally passed down by word of mouth alone.]

But the practice pointed to here was the notion of “Inner Knowledge” — wisdom and intuition that comes from within. Another interesting way of thinking about it is “The Path of Discrimination” — but not in terms of discriminating against others, rather in terms of discriminating for oneself, about what is good for oneself. 

The exhortation was to think about each action you undertake, and about the effect it will have — on oneself, and on others. (Heck of an idea. Something I need to try. Most of the time, I’m pretty much on auto-pilot.)

Karma Yoga

This was the big awakener, for me. Because even when you are doing good things, Karma Yoga is not about what you, but rather about how you do it. In particular, the idea is to be, not the doer, but rather the instrument of doing — so you feel as though it is god / universe energy / higher consciousness that is doing the action — you are merely the means by which it is done.

One of the results of that thought-belief is that you don’t take the results personally. You what should be done, period. If it doesn’t work out, you don’t take the blame for that. If it does, you take no credit. You merely did what was required.

Of course, in choosing what to do it helps to have good internal guidance (as in, internal connection). It also helps to have a bit of Jnana (wisdom, insight, intuition). But after making the best choice you can, it’s all about doing it as a service to others and/or a manifestation of god!

In fact, one of the questions that was asked was how to choose. The answer was that if it makes you feel closer to god, that’s the right choice!

Bhakti Yoga

The Yoga of love and devotion. But like Karma Yoga, its not about what you do, but about how you do what you do. If you have that love and devotion in your heart, you could be doing anything. (The devotional practices are about awakening that spirit within you!)

3rd Eye Fire, Inverse Energy

The practicum session of the evening expanded on the idea of drawing energy upward to the 3rd eye. The Raja Yoga book had mentioned burning it there in the true light of spirit, but this evening’s practice added another dimension:

  1. As you think of the negative energy you have to release, think of its inverse: For sadness, happiness. For anxiety and nervous energy, confidence and eternal calm.
  2. As you inhale, draw the negative energy up your spine to the third eye.
  3. Hold it there as you hold your breath, and consume it with the inverse energy, burning it away with divine fire.
  4. Expel the residue of the negative energy as you exhale — forcefully, and at length. (So it’s not short burst, but rather a long, forceful push.)

Have to say, it was a nice feeling!

It was a practice run, of course, as we thought of an energy we wanted to release. It will be interesting to see how it works in an actual situation — on the freeway, for example! :__)

Bee Buzzing

This technique is recommended as a way to calm the mind for meditation, or for sleep. It’s a variation on an ancient Yoga technique called Pratyahara, where you attempt to “cut off your senses” by putting your fingers over your ears, eyes, and nose. (And to my mind, it’s a better variation.)

This one focused on closing the ears with thumbs, and after that putting your fingers anywhere they were comfortable. (After all, you can always close your eyes. And how often is what we smell a serious problem, when we’re practicing?)

The way in which the ears were closed, though, was interesting. Rather than putting your thumbs in your years, you place them on the small flap just in front of the earhole (the tragus). Then you push that inward.

You don’t have to push very far, either, to block off the ear. Then you hum. And while you’re humming, you focus on hearing/feeling the vibration deep inside your head.

That was a nice thing to learn. It’s like the nostril-closing technique I learned from Swamiji Asanganand Saraswati. (Instead of pushing on the flare at the end of the nostril, you lightly push just above that, on the body of the nostril.) As I learned in my athletic career, the little details make all the difference!

Continuing Insights

Fri, 22 Sep: Affirmations & Asanas

The Raja Yoga program definitely has an Ananda flair. When doing Yoga asanas, for example, the asanas are coupled with the affirmations that Yogananda came up for each pose.

To create them, Yogananda tuned in to his body to see which energy centers (chakras) were being released or energized by a given pose, and to see what the effect was. Based on those sensations, he came up with an affirmation for each posture. (Example: “All good things come to me” in the seated forward bend on the floor.)

It really helped to have their origin explained. Suddenly, I understood affirmations in a new way.

An affirmation is:

  • != words (not the words)
  • > visualization (more than a visualization)
  • ~= imagining (somewhat similar to an imagining, or image-ing)
  • == experience (equivalent to experiencing the feeling)

As the instructor repeated the affirmations for each pose, I focused on literally experiencing the sensations and feelings implied by the words. Internally, it felt powerful. And the new understanding led to additional insights, recorded below.

In other words, an “affirmation” is not the words. The words are a reminder of what you should be conjuring, internally.

The WORDS of an affirmation are simply a reminder of what you should be CONJURING, inside. Click To Tweet

Handling Nervous Energy?

Earlier in the evening, we had been talking about directing unwanted energies upward. (There was more on that subject in the after-session practicum. See 3rd Eye Fire, below.) But then, in the Karma Yoga portion of the talk, we were talking about being the instrument, rather than the doer.

As it happens, I was playing in a pool tournament a couple of weeks earlier. (My last, for a while.) In the first couple of racks, I was playing lights-out. I mean, I was playing like god. Couldn’t miss a shot I attempted. If I didn’t have a shot, I was playing great safeties. In a word, I was dominating.

But after two and half racks at that pace, I noticed that I was internally buzzing with nervous energy! It’s something I’ve noticed before, but this was intense a sensation as I had ever experienced.

The same nervous energy rises up when about to start speaking in public, being in a fight (verbal or physical, or even in a controlled sparring situation), or about to do some kind of performance (dance, music, or singing, for example). It also comes up when playing a game that is mostly mental, like chess.

With a more physical sport, after the first few minutes you’re responding to your training, and you forget about it. Golf is somewhere midway between those two extremes — which is why even good players can lose their concentration down the stretch so, as Johnny Miller likes to say, “You have to learn to win” — in other words, you have to learn how to keep your focus and perform well when everything is on the line! (Even in the very-low level “tournaments” my golf club organizes, I note that I am much less relaxed than I am normally, and that I play much less well, as a result!)

In fact, it is probably worth continuing to play pool, just because that nervous energy rises up with such intensity. When shooting, you don’t think about it much. But when it’s your opponent’s turn, you become very aware of it. And then when it’s your turn to shoot again, you go to the table with condors flapping in your stomach! (Never mind butterflies.)

That buzzing is undoubtedly the result of an adrenaline flow. The question is, What to do with that nervous energy? 

When I was playing in the tournament, I focused on deeper, slower breaths. That helped with the nervous tension. But I also started to play worse — and wound up losing, to the detriment of the team. (I don’t mind the loss, but I would have liked to continue playing at a high level, regardless of the outcome!)

There are at least three reasons that might have been the cause of my drop in performance:

  1. The act of slowing my breathing caused me to relax, but my performance depended on not being relaxed.
  2. The act of focusing on my breathing and my internal state brought me out of the moment, and into my head, so I was not totally immersed in the moment and, “in the flow”.
  3. My mental concentration began to slip — as it is known to do, until you build up the capacity to concentrate intently for longer periods of time. 

So I question I have been wondering about is how to channel that energy positively, or release it in some way that doesn’t impact performance — in other words, either harness it or let it go, but maintain concentration on the task at hand when you do so!

So as of this evening, I have two techniques to try:

  1. Raise the energy upward.
    Draw the nervous tension up the spine to the third eye while inhaling, burn it in a fire of everlasting calm (its inverse) while holding the breath, and release it in a long, forceful exhalation.
    or
  2. Be the cue.
    In other words, it is not me using the cue stick to shoot a shot, rather it is me as part of the cue stick (the “cue”) that is being used to shoot the shot. In other words, do my best and release responsibility for the results over to the god-energy of the universe.

Which technique will turn out to be best remains to be seen. It might be a combination of the two, or it might be something else entirely. Certainly, putting oneself in a particular situation multiple times will help with that situation. You just get used to it. But it would also be helpful to have a more general tool at one’s disposal!

Lifting the Eyes = All 3 Paths!

As was pointed out in the book and in the talk, it’s not that there are several different kinds of Yoga. Rather, there are multiple aspects of one Yoga — the Yoga of union (yoke) with inner spirit / higher consciousness /god.

Interestingly, the simple act of lifting the eyes activates all three major branches described in the 3rd session:

  • Bhakti – The “soul uplift” that accompanies the raised eyes awakens an inner sense of love and devotion — so our actions are motivated more by god-consciousnesses than by selfish concerns.
  • Jnana – The soul uplift leads to inner connection and insight, helping us to choose wisely.
  • Karma – The soul uplift and connection allows one to “become the cue”, so to speak — to become the instrument of action, rather than the performer of the action, performing to the best of our ability, without attachment to results. (The same attitude with which Zen Archery is supposed to be performed, interestingly enough.)

As an additional insight, I would add that Jnana Yoga in the sense of “inner connection” or “inner wisdom” (from on high) is necessary to discern right action in the moment — but Jnana Yoga in the sense of knowledge (as in Vedanta) is also necessary.

To take my experience in the pool tournament as an example, I had my eyes lifted, so I was connected and enjoying the experience, but I didn’t know enough to treat the situation as an opportunity to practice Karma Yoga!

Sat, 23 Sep: Cobra Breath + Orbital Lift!

If you have been initiated into a Cobra Breath technique, such as the one taught in Ipsalu Tantra Level One, or a similar Kriya Yoga tradition that doesn’t include the Orbital Lift in its curriculum, then let me suggest doing the Orbital Lift just before the Inner Smile! (I think you’ll find it quite effective.)

Note to others: 
I’m sorry that I can’t be more descriptive! But Cobra Breath is passed down by word of mouth, from teacher to student. It is never written down. It has been so for ages. The good news is that, because it is passed down that way, you can trace your lineage through a sequence of recognized teachers, back to the source of the technique you learned. (As it happens, I have been called to teach a variation on the technique that has come to me in meditation. The time is not yet ripe for that — but it is drawing near!)

Sun, 24 Sep: Dealing with Nervous Tension

Ananda’s Raja Yoga book reminded me that biathletes (cross-country skiers who shoot at targets) deal with a lot of nervous tension as they settle down to shoot. So I did a search, and found a couple of interesting articles on the subject.

Relax in a Hearbeat – Copy the Athletes
A summary of the techniques that biathletes use to shoot straight after long intervals of intense cardio—not by slowing their heartbeat, but rather by “quickly relaxing their mind and muscles to shoot accurately through their still-pounding heart rate.”

The article goes on to say, “Biathletes generally start adjusting their ski speed right before hitting the shooting range, and start to narrow their focus to everything that’s important at that moment such as the current wind speed and the shooting lane that’s assigned to them. Once they’re in the lane, their focus shrinks again to just everything in that one lane, As soon as they have the rifle in position and [are] starting to look through the sights, their focus goes down to the trigger and looking down the sights.”

And, “It doesn’t apply just on race days. Athletes using this technique are in demand to do public speaking, host events, and participate in a variety of activities off the track that require the same kind of focus. In these non-athletic settings, they simply physically relax their bodies and use the (focus techniques) to find their calm.

Too Nervous Before You Perform? No Problem. Just Relax!
Ah, if it were only that easy! But the article provides a number of great tips to help you do that, mostly by controlling your mental focus:

  1. Control your focus of concentration.
    Focus not on the situation, the outcome, or the opponent, but on you and your performance.
  2. Keep your pre-event ritual the same.
  3. Do not allow yourself to dwell on uncontrollable factors.
  4. Recognize that the problem itself is not the problem .
    It’s how you react to the problem that is the problem (or the solution.
  5. Focus on the feel and rhythm of your breath.
    To slow and deepen your breathing. (Breath Wave should help, there.)

Mon, 25 Sep: More on Nervous Tension

As I was thinking about my notes on Affirmations, the issue of “nervous tension” sprang to mind. In a flash, I saw a possible cause for the nervous tension.

You see, the tension arises when I’m playing well! And the longer I play really well, the more tense I get! I only start relax when I’ve missed a few shots — and once that happens, it’s difficult to get back to playing well!

Thinking about affirmations as an “experience”, it occurred to me that Tension arises out of discomfort with your own greatness! Click To Tweet

“Feel your greatness” is a phrase I hear a lot in the Tathata golf training program. That’s where that part of the phrase comes from. But it occurs to me that when you really are playing great, and you do it for quite a while, it’s at odds with who you really imagine yourself to be, deep down in your heart of hearts.

The inner conflict then surfaces as tension in your body! (That insight also helps to explain Johnny Miller’s slogan, “You have to learn to win.”

One of the ways that positive affirmations help then, is by predisposing yourself to be comfortable when you’re performing really well! That way, when excellent performance happens, there is less cognitive dissonance, where the world does not agree with your inner certainty, and you have to find a way to resolve it.

I have to admit that I have generally thought of affirmations as so much psychological snake oil. It didn’t seem like they could have any real effect. (I’ve known a lot of underachievers who think incredibly positively about themselves — however much their belief is unwarranted — so their inner certainty, coupled with their performance, cast the entire subject in a dim light.

But now, it occurs to me that those kind of positive affirmations before an event, and possibly during it, could help to tame down the internal tension that can arise when you’re doing well!

Solution: Look at Yourself!

I’ve long said that once you learn to laugh at yourself, you have a never-ending source of amusement! The Orbital Lift coupled with a look at yourself (from “outside”) makes laughter happen!

Was pretty dejected about the money situation, this morning. Short version: I have two books that need to be finished and in the publishing pipeline by the end of the year. But I’m getting so many insights that in addition to these articles, I’ve started yet another book on the dynamic version of Yoga I do — augmented with recent insights, of course.

The problem is that I’ve been so busy capturing those insights, it has been hard to find any time to spend on the books I need to get published! (It will take a while to complete the Yoga book, so that one is unlikely to come in on time. The best I can do, I think, is to get a lot of it written this year, and finish it by the middle of next.)

With the situation on my mind overnight and this morning, I was pretty dejected. Kept trying the Orbital Lift, but it didn’t seem to help. Then it came to me:

Look at yourself! 
(with the Orbital Lift, of course)

The results were pretty impressive. After all, the situation is entirely of my own making. So looking at myself (with the Orbital Lift) was like looking at a clown taking a pratfall. It was hilarious!

Suddenly, the Orbital Lift was working, and I was feeling fine.

I suspect that this technique could possibly be an answer for “nervous energy” problem, as well! Given that positive affirmations are most helpful before you start, the question becomes: What do you do in the moment?  The answer: Lift your eyes, stand back, and take a look at yourself. Realize that you are having an extreme nervous reaction to doing well! How could that not be funny? :__)

One thing that technique does beautifully is to remove any attachment you might have to a particular course of action, or to a particular outcome. You become non-attached. In other words, you become free, and you’re able to practice true Karma Yoga! 

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