Raja Yoga Insights #4

Week 4 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus: “Life is a battlefield”

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, 28 Sep: Session #4 – Uni-directional Pranayama

Back of the Neck Long

Good addition to the list of instructions for good meditation position today: “Make the back of the neck long.” Nice!

Nadi Shodhana

Most everyone is familiar with Yoga has experienced Nadi Shodhana, at one point or another. That’s where you close off the right nostril, breath in through the left, hold for a moment, and breath out through the right. Then you reverse the process, breathing in through the right and out through the left. That’s one round. (You generally do several rounds.)

That breath is known as “balancing” breath. To tell you the truth, it never did much for me.

But this night, they broke that breath into two parts, the left-to-right breath (Chandra Bheda, or “expanding moon”) and the right-to-left breath (Surya Bheda, or “expanding Sun”). Those were positively electric.

Chandra Bheda (Expanding Moon): Left-to-Right

It was explained that this breath is in the direction of the natural flow of prana, in through the left channel (Ida) and out through the right channel (Pingala). To do it, you close off the left nostril, and out through the right, then do the same thing again, without reversing the nostrils.

That breath was said to be calming and relaxing — and cooling, too, I expect. But as for calming and relaxing, I would like to testify! Indeed it is. I had been on the sleep/wake border most of the evening, during the talk after dinner and during the practicum that followed. Couldn’t really keep my eyes open, in fact. But I was always sitting fully upright, and was never in any danger of falling asleep.

Whether the explanation is accurate with respect to why this breath is calming and relaxing, I couldn’t say. But I can say that I was even more deeply ensconced at the sleep/wake border, after we did that.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, given that I started out that way. But it certainly did nothing to dispel the feeling. If anything, the breath cemented it.

Surya Bheda (Expanding Sun): Right-to-Left

This is the one made a believer out of me. It was said to be an energizing breath that promoted mental alertness. Was it ever! We did it three times, and the effect was incredible. I was wide awake. In fact, I was literally buzzing, inside, as though a strong cup of coffee had just taken effect.

Again, the explanation given was that the breath goes in the opposite direction to normal prana flow, so it’s like a rubbing a cat the wrong way, so the all the hairs stand up. Once again, I can’t say whether the explanation is valid, but I can say for certain that the effect was real!

Applications

It seems that I gave up playing pool a bit too soon! It was really good at bringing up the kind of nervous energy I get when speaking in public. I’d really like to see if the Left-to-Right Moon breath provides the requisite calming without affecting performance!

On the other hand, there are days when I’m playing that I’m not particularly alert. Maybe I didn’t get enough rest, or not enough food, but for whatever reason, I’m not “sharp”. On those days, I notice that I play terribly. Perhaps the Right-to-Left Sun breath would provide an antidote for that situation. Worth a try!

Hand Position

The hand position for the breath was described as thumb of the right hand on one side of the nose, pinky and ring finger on the other side. (The index and middle fingers can be placed at the third eye, or folded down to the heel of your palm, whichever is more comfortable. The one that has them folded actually has a name though, so that’s the one I use — not that I recall the name!)

As was taught by my Yoga guru, Swamiji Asanganand, the fingers go on the side of the nose, above the part that flares out at the bottom. That’s true for the ring and pinky fingers, as well. Both fingers go above the flare.

Nostril-Opening Move

One tip worth recording was that one or both nostrils are blocked, the edge of the nostril can lifted up and out to create a small passageway for air. When doing Nadi Shodhana or one of the Chedra (expanding) breaths, whichever fingers aren’t being used to close one side of the nose can be used to push at the flare on the other side.

Continuing Insights

Thu, 28 Sep: I’ve Already Seen the Star!

Driving home from the session, I recalled the meditation I used to do when I was deep into my martial arts practice. I recall that with my eyes closed I saw the star in the distance then! I remembered asking my martial arts master about it, too. She said that was good, and that next I should attempt to focus on it, so it grows larger–the same way she does when using a Samurai sword to cut an apple off of an assistant’s head!

That brought to mind the experience I have of seeing a speaker grow large. It also brought to mind the bright sun I experienced as Babaji’s presence. Perhaps that presence was indeed the distant star, brought up to very, very close!

Wed, 4 Oct: Other Breaths

Spoke to my Yoga-teacher friend from India, who did her teacher-training there. She added two more breaths to the mix:

  • Left nostril only.
  • Right nostril only.

That’s another technique I haven’t seen anywhere else. Presumably, using the left nostril only to breath in and out stimulates the right-half of the brain (the “creative side”) while the right-nostril breath stimulates the left-half (the “analytical side”).

Might be worth trying the left-nostril breath when facing writer’s block, or when stuck for an idea in some other field. And maybe the right-nostril breath when playing chess or analysing data. It’s something to try, at any rate.

Orbital Lift to the Rescue

One of my missions this week was to fix a broken toilet. Got the parts on Monday, and began the repair process. Like all such matters, doing a little at a time makes it easier. (There is another bathroom in the house, so doing that wasn’t a problem.)

As always, when doing mechanical tasks like, I dropped tools, got things slightly wrong, and had to take things apart to fix them, and had problems getting some things to fit. The directions left a bit to be desired, as well, so after doing one thing, I kept finding that it would have made more sense to do something else first!

For me, that is a recipe for frustration! When enough of it mounts, it leads to swearing and throwing things. But this time, the Orbital Lift came to my rescue. Immediately, I felt more positive and cheerful. The problems were still there, and needed to be solved. But they didn’t impact me the way that a succession of mechanical problems have always done in the past.

That was pretty cool.

It came to my rescue the next morning, as well. I was waking up for a dream where I was about a car length from the vehicle in front of me, heading for the exit, and another car shot into the gap to take that exit — even though there was about a mile of empty space behind me!

That happens a lot, out here in Silicon Valley. And it drives me nuts. Driving in Silicon Valley is more like driving in New York than it is like driving most anywhere else in California, with the possible exception of L.A. But I guess it affected me even more than I realized, because here I was waking up from a dream about it!

But because I was just waking up, and was in a semi-conscious state, I did the Orbital Lift without even thinking about it. Voila! I could marvel at the insanity, and laugh at the idiocy, without getting all mad and upset. Very cool!

Rough Week

I’ve gotten a bit done, but not a lot. Have made several good additions to the Yoga book, and have notes for quite a few more. But one of the big items on the ToDo list this week was paying bills — and every time I’ve decided to spend the first couple of hours the day getting that out of the way, I’ve wound up getting nothing whatever done, the entire day!

That sort of debilitation — inability to bring yourself to do anything — is a classic symptom of “depression”. But I’m not particularly sad! The Orbital Lift has helped that much, at least. But at the same, it’s hard to get motivated when I know that I’ll be watching money (and security) fly out the door!

But the fact that I wasn’t particularly sad made the situation harder to recognize. So it took me awhile to get wise to it. Got very little done for a couple of days, until I identified the problem. Then I started breaking up the task into smaller chunks — do just this much today, then do a little bit more tomorrow, and so on. That helped. But I haven’t set any world records for productivity this week!

And naturally, I’ve started looking for work to resolve the situation. But I have so many books to write! And I despair, frankly, that I’ll have the energy I need once I return to working! (“Never fear!,” he said to himself, “The right opportunity will turn up!”)

I feel positive, knowing it will. But the one thing I know for sure is that I’ve got to keep writing. (One option, of course is to sell my place here in the south San Francisco Bay, and find a place I can rent for the what I’m spending on space rent (it’s a modular home, which means it’s mobile — sort of. That would give me 10 years to write, if I move somewhere that rentals are inexpensive — but only about 5 years, if I stay in this area.

Ah well. Life is tough. Then you die. But before that time comes, my mission is generate a “core dump” of what I’ve learned in my time here. (Who knows, if I wind up coming back, maybe my future self can use it to go further!)

Possible Teaching

I did talk to a couple of Yoga-teacher friends about what I need to get started teaching. Alas, that too will be a labor love. It’s not like I can expect to make enough to keep myself going, unless I teach quite a lot!

Still, if I can get some other teachers started, it will accrue beaucoups karma points! It will be worth doing, for that reason alone. Then too, every teacher out there will introduce the book to a few others, and out of those who read the book, some will be inspired to teach! So the whole thing could snowball into something that makes a difference!

That would be cool. But clearly, it will be a “karmic” effort for quite a while. :__)

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