Raja Yoga Insights #6

Week 6 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus on Meditation (part 2).

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, 12 Oct: Session #6 – Meditation, Part 2

Took a lot of good notes on the meditation process. It will take time to reproduce them here, but I’ll do my best. (In the meantime, the Continuing Insights that came afterward — mostly from the readings — will be worth examining. So if the notes that follow begin to seem a little long, by all means skip past it, to the remainder of this missive!)

4 Kinds of Meditation

Rammurti described the 4 kinds of meditation taught at Ananda:

  • Hong Sau (breathing technique)
  • Energization Exercises (energy control)
  • AUM technique (listening to inner sounds)
  • Kriya Yoga (inner spine magnetizing)

Hong Sau

This was one covered in the first session. (Many more details have been coming out of the Raja Yoga book. For details, see the Continuing Insights below.)

Energization Exercises

The idea of the Energization Exercises is that you learn to direct the flow of energy to particular areas of the body. In the process, you increase your energy and learn to control different parts of your body.

We went through “Yogananda’s contribution to Yoga” in the form of several light exercises, accompanied my affirmations.

For example:

  1. Pump your fists while marching in place with high knees.
  2. Expand your arms out to the side with hands in fists, the extend them forward with strength. Finish by throwing your arms upward with fingers spread wide, optionally accompanied by a jump.

There are a number of such exercises, with affirmations for each movement. Physically taxing, they’re not. The good news is that most anyone can do them. The bad is that I doubt they’ll make anyone much healthier. (The people who have been doing the practice the longest in fact, have clean souls and bright energy, which is terrific. But I wouldn’t describe them as models of physical health, alas.)

Also, it should be noted that my affinities are colored by my martial arts practice. But the reason that practice appealed to me in the first place is that it addresses Body AND Mind AND Spirit. If nothing else, that practice gave me the best of all possible rationales for focusing on all of those aspects:

  • If you’re healthy and strong, but have no spiritual basis for what you, you may well wind up doing all manner of things–harming others and squandering your health in the process. If nothing else, you will undoubtedly pass up many an opportunity to do good.
  • If you are the most spiritual monk in the world, but don’t have health and strength, you are generally incapable of having an effect in the world! You will undoubtedly do some good, but how much more would you have done, had you been stronger, healthier, and able to inspire others?

In short, I believe the energization exercises I recommend are better! (They’re basically isometric movements, which means you exert exactly as much as force as you are capable of! And they’re targeted at developing the ability to sit in a cross-legged position. So odds are that a lot of people will find that they do a lot of good!)

About Ananda Yoga

My observation about the energization exercises notwithstanding, the Ananda Yoga program is highly recommended for anyone who is just started or who find a standard Yoga class a bit too draining (as I often do!).

My observation was something of a quibble, of course (as is my note with respect to Hong Sau, below). I don’t want to be unduly critical, because the program is fantastic in many ways, and I’m learning a ton. But at the same time, I want to report my observations accurately!

Still, it is important to note that the Ananda Yoga program is one of the world’s best at:

  1. Warning you about health situations in which a pose may be problematic.
  2. Giving you details about the best way to go into a pose.
  3. Giving you many possible variations, and constantly giving you “permission” to use the one that is right for you, as you are today.
  4. Constantly reassuring you that are free to come out of a pose, or go back to an easier version.
  5. Letting you relax in a pose, instead of straining.
  6. Giving you plenty of time after a pose to feel it’s effects, and meditate on the sensations for a bit. (Not long enough for me, the way my practice has evolved, but much longer than is generally the case!)

I do believe that my particular version of the practice is more effective for stretching and for creating elastic tissues. And I believe it to be both more energizing, more relaxing — and that it is more effectively focused on the meditative goal of Yoga, by focusing on the strength and flexibility you need to sit more comfortably for meditation, and by making asana an extension of your meditation practice. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be offering it to the world!) But among extant Yoga programs, the Ananda version is still one of the best!

Aum Technique

This one is covered in the series “Kriya Yoga Prep #2” (of 3!).

Kriya Yoga

As much as I would like to learn the Kriya Yoga technique, there is a long ramp, with a major hurdle at the end of it!

The long ramp comes in the form of no less than 3 sets of classes, each one a series. Although not as long as the 16-week Raja Yoga series, I suspect that it will take a year or so to go through all 3 sets.

Of course, the good news is that I will probably learn a ton, and my practice will be continually inspired, as has happened with the Raja Yoga series. And it makes a least a degree of sense that they want the people they instruct in the Kriya technique to have a regular practice, and to have established enough of an inner God-connection to be at least semi-ethical!

So even though the ramp is long, it will most likely be worth doing. The bigger problem is the hurdle at the end: Before being initiated into the Kriya Yoga technique you’ve been building towards, you need to commit to “discipleship” in the Ananda program.

Just what that discipleship consists of, I have yet to find out. Of course, it is possible that by the time I go through the entire series, maybe that’s what I’ll want. But it’s somewhat doubtful — if only because the way I practice (and plan to teach) Yoga seems to me to be so much more effective. (It will be interesting to find out if others agree!)

In addition, there is a bit of history to draw on. I did the recommended Ipsalu Tantra diligently for three years running, plus a variety of things that came to me during the process. But eventually, I left off the “standard” practice, and began to be guided my intuition to combine and or use elements of multiple practices. (And I took notes, which is about to become a book, and which I swear has led to even more inspirations!)

So given that my plan is to teach the style of Yoga that has been coming to me as a flood of insights, and that I bound to migrate to my own version of the practice in any case, I don’t see a way to take any sort of discipleship vows in good conscience, unless I cross my fingers behind my back!

Stages of Meditation

This was an interesting breakdown. They took Panatajali’s steps and divided them into 3 major stages:

  • Relaxation
    Physical, with asana. Mental with chanting, and other “centering” practices — because any kind of tension draws the mind. (The accurate observation was that if you’re feeling anxious, you’re thinking about the past, and if you’re worried, you’re thinking about the future. So coming to the here and now is the first stage.)
  • Concentration & Interiorization
    As you focus the mind on something internal like the breath or an inner sound, you draw away from the external and go within. Focusing on the spiritual eye is particularly recommended, because positive feelings increase, while anxiety and negative emotions are reduced.
  • Expansion
    Further elaborated on the Raja Yoga book, the last of Patanjali’s 8 stages is a process of such intent focus and connection that you experience Spirit and, in essence, become one with God.

Another interesting observation was that when you meditate, you recharge yourself physically as though you slept, but you recharge yourself mentally even more than if you slept. (In some ways, it’s like doing something completely different, which takes your mind of whatever you were struggling with. But it’s even better than that, when solutions come to, problems seem to magically resolve themselves, and you are filled with positive emotions that make mountains into molehills!)

Eight Aspects of the Higher Self

The key given for expansion was to focus your attention on one or more of the 8 aspects of the higher self:

  • Sound and Light (things you hear or see inside)
  • Peace and Calmness (a feeling you experience)
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Wisdom
  • Power

Another great observation was to harness the power of expectation — because anticipation of the experience helps it to arrive. (My 2 cents: So does advance gratitude!)

But the most important point was that, whatever you’re feeling, go with that!

“Prana” = Energy, Life Force, Breath

The observation was that the term “prana” is used to mean either energy, or life force, or the breath. (The interesting question is whether they really are one and the same, or whether it is worth distinguishing what is meant in any given context.)

That observation did remind me of my martial arts master, though. She would typically admonish people to, “Use your awareness!” — but awareness could mean observation of your surroundings, memory of past events, common sense, empathy, or an understanding of how things work!

Intuition

Last week, we had the great observation that intuition is “hearing the voice of God”, whether in words or as a feeling in your heart. This week, that thought was expanded.

Yogananda pointed out that to develop intuition, you need to sit quietly. So after you do this or that meditation practice, just let all of the practices go and sit there quietly. In other words, “Don’t just do something. Sit there!”.

In fact, Yogananda recommended that about 25% of your meditation time should be spent just sitting — especially when you’re expanded.

Inner Sounds

As for inner sounds, the different chakras were said to make different sounds, and that you should listen for them in your right ear. (I’m not sure I buy any of that, just yet. But I’ll record it, if only to have a list I can consult when one day I hear a mysterious sound.)

  1. Root – buzzing, motoring, high power line
  2. Sacral Plexus – flute, water flowing over rocks in a small stream
  3. Solar Plexus – harp, plucked strings
  4. Heart Chakra – deep bell or gong
  5. Throat Chakra – soft wind in the trees
  6. Spiritual Eye – distant thunder, roaring ocean, rushing water
  7. Crown Chakra (Sahasara) – AUM

My question is this: If I have a massive ringing in my ears, does that count as a roaring ocean? (If so, my spiritual eye is going mad… :__)

Continuing Insights

Sat, 14 Oct:

Raising Energy

I like doing my practice in the early morning hours, writing what I can, and then going back to sleep. (This morning, in addition to the notes I took, I was inspired to write a letter to Oprah, asking for her help. Now I need to find out where to send it!)

After that, I do my spiritual-practice reading, and then go back to sleep! (By then, I need it! As energized as I have been by my practice, and as much as I learn in my reading, my body wants to rest to digest it all.)

The problem, of late, is that when I wake up again, I have a lot of energy at the base of my spine! It’s a problem, because it hasn’t been rising very far. In short, I’ve been horny as hell.

I know several Tantra practices for raising that energy, but despite the exceptional experience of the Yabba Dabba Yum Yum dream I had a few weeks ago, nothing seems to have been working.

Of course, one thing I learned in my martial arts / celibacy practice was that the energy flow has cycle, where it’s strong for about 2 weeks out of the month, and almost imperceptible for the other two weeks. So clearly, I have been in the strong part of the cycle for a while!

Now, I am not committed to long-term celibacy. No way. (It’s definitely not recommended, after what I learned in my martial arts practice!) Still. it is a bit inconvenient to be super horny every morning. I’m mean it feels good. But too much gratification wears you out! If you know what I mean.

But this morning, the solution arrived. It was something that was mentioned in the meditation class:

When you focus your attention on your spiritual eye (your 3rd eye), energy is drawn up the spine. Click To Tweet

Now, while that technique was mentioned, it wasn’t mentioned in the present context at all. In fact, I almost missed it! Because it didn’t seem to do much at all, when I am just sitting and meditating.

But in this context, it’s like a lightning rod. Focus attention on the spiritual eye, and voila! Energy just magically flows up the spine!

My Tantra techniques are good, too. But they are about generating energy, and then lifting it up. When I do them (and I do love doing them!) the energy is generated, and it is lifted a ways. But however far up it goes, my attention is always there, on the root chakra and/or swadhisthana, so there is always more!

The simple solution is to simply stop all practices, completely relax with long exhalations, and focus all attention on the spiritual eye. Wonderful!

Note:
On this occasion, I was focused on the front (positive) portal, between the eyebrows. But there are several other places worth trying: The “natural focal point”, about a foot and half in front of that, the center of the skull (where the 3rd eye actually resides), and the back (“negative”) portal at the Mouth of God (base of skull, top of spine). I’ll have to experiment to see if there is any difference between those focal points.

Book Progress

Wow. Every time I do my practice, I get a few notes for the book. I keep a pocket-sized notepad by my practice space, so I can jot down a reminder or two. Typically, I have 2 or 3 pages of notes when I’m done. (Then, when I go to write them up, I wind up writing about a page of text for each page of notes.)

Last night, I was positively flooded with insights. Seven pages of them, no less. Plus, I was inspired to write a letter to Oprah.

Those 7 pages, on top of my 6-page backlog, mean that I have my work cut out for me! And as the tagline of my self-publishing company promises, they represent “unique perspectives, clearly explained.” So I’m going to be busy. But every time I finish writing up a batch, I feel so good…

Wed 18 Oct:

Energy Enters Between Breaths?

On pp. 284-285, the Raja Yoga book focuses on the pauses between breaths (the “breathless” state) as do several of the Saraswati treatises on pranayama and meditation.

But the Raja Yoga book presented the interesting concept that, while in that state, you can bring in energy from God/Universe Spirit through the base of the skull — and that, to the degree you do it, you can a) prolong the breathlessness and b) even live without food.

I don’t have any experience with the more advanced results of the practice (yet!) but it seems noteworthy that if such things are possible, it must be because that energy is entering the body when we’re not actively breathing.

That would make sense of Shanti’s statement that the incoming energy causes the breath. It would also correlate with the standard Yoga dictum that energy goes up the spine as you inhale, and goes down as you exhale (Raja Yoga, pg. 283, and many other texts).

So it’s clearly a practice worth pursuing!

Location of Spiritual Eye

It is slowly becoming clear to me that what feels like several different locations for the spiritual eye may not actually be that far apart.

Take the base of the skull (aka the medulla oblongata, or Mouth of God). That feels like it is very far from the point between the eyebrows. The “center” of the head, meanwhile, feels like a position that is midway between those two distant points.

But the base of the skull is right at the top of the spine! And the spine ends (i.e. the brain stem) is pretty much at the center of the head. So the “Mouth of God” is very close to the center.

Then last night I read the following (Raja Yoga, p. 285):

“The beginning of the nose” mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita is where the nose leaves the face, rather than the tip…

That makes a lot of sense, because:

There is no subtle chakra or nerve plexus at the tip, waiting patiently to be awakened by yogic concentration.

Yeah. I buy that. And it goes even further:

Here is the seat of spiritual vision.

Normally, to make it easier to locate, this seat is spoken of as being located at the point between the eyebrows. But when the breath is considered as part of the concentrative process, it is more appropriate to think of this seat as being located at the origin of the nose. (emphasis added)

Wham! The origin of the nose, where you can just barely feel the breath, if you concentrate, is just a little ahead of the center of the skull.

So the center, the spiritual eye, and the base of the skull are actually very close together. (So close in fact, that maybe there is indeed a single point of meditation? More experimentation awaits!)

Of course, there is still a bit of separation between them — making the male/female, yin/yang poles of receiving and transmitting. But they’re way closer to each other than I was thinking.

Spiritual Eye as Evolutionary Progression?

It is interesting to note, that the pre-frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop — and it doesn’t finish developing until some time in the late teens. So you’re born with a limbic system lizard brain, and you develop consciousness a few years later.

Your brain keeps developing intellectual capacity until your mid- to late-teens, when your thinking prowess reaches a maximum. Although the raw data you have to process, in terms of experience is still minimal!

Then the pre-frontal cortex finishes developing, in your late teens and early twenties. That area of the brain is known for exercising judgement — so in combination with more data (i.e. experience), your decision making gets better and better, until you can be reasonably be considered an adult.

It is interesting, then, that the “spiritual eye” feels as though it is between the eyebrows. Fully accessing that center allows you to be guided by an inner intuition that is connected to a higher force! It’s like having a two-way radio you can use to contact a helicopter in the sky. You’re on the ground, and have no way of knowing what lies ahead. The chopper pilot, meanwhile, can’t actually do anything — but can see which way you should travel!

Perhaps, then, the ability to hear that guidance and listen to it — something we develop as individuals — is also something that is part of our evolutionary progression. Perhaps, in the future, people will find it so easy to do that they wonder why we had to work at it!

Hong Sau / So Hum

The Raja Yoga book also contains quite a few additional (and highly useful) details on the practice of Hong Sau, and it’s kindred practice, So Hum. (pp. 283-286, which I read last night, and pp. 315-320, which I’ll get to tonight.)

Interestingly, the book reports that “Yogis say that Hong Sau is the sound the breath makes”. And, as at the Ananda center, you are instructed to imagine the sounds as breath in and out. But if you do even a very mild Ujjayi (where you close the throat ever so slightly, as if you were snoring), you will hear the sound for yourself. No imagination required! (And it’s a much better meditation, too. :__)

Thu, 19 Oct:

Great Practice, Great Dreams

My early morning practice lasted an hour and half, today. Really connected. Felt awesome. Another flood of insights, another sheaf of notes (a few of them on golf, of all things). The only way to turn off the spigot, in fact, is to limit myself to a short meditation! Did that yesterday, so I could catch up on previous notes!

Looking around at the chakras, I began to make sense of the positive/negative polarities, and of the “extra” chakras I’ve been made aware of. Have a collection of notes to write up. Will probably post it as separate article, and point to it here. (I’m still wondering about the “throat” chakra, though. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be in the throat at all!)

Meditating on an energy-inflow during the pauses between breaths made for a strong connection. Later in the morning,  after sleeping and waking a few times, I kept doing that practice. In the short lucid dreaming span between being awake and falling asleep (the same state in which I have connected to Babaji in the past), I felt/saw a pulse of red energy moving down the spine. It started in the neck, and got down as far as the dantien before the next inhalation started. (As I become more “breathless”, perhaps it will go all the way to the root.)

In another episode, focusing on that practice brought to mind a large ball of white light, with a darker field around it. It wasn’t as bright as the Babaji visitation, but it was way larger than the “distant star” that is said to become visible as you do the practice. It felt like it was the star + intense focus (which brought it closer).

Then there were the dreams. I had a lovely running dream, where I ran over to a hilly city, and then decided to run up to Berkeley! But I didn’t want to forget my connection, though, so I fully connected and basked in the golden light! Lovely! The next time I awoke, I was once again connecting with a beautiful lady, completely unexpectedly. Lovely, again.

Hey, if this practice does nothing else, it produces great dreams!

Low Energy Again

Can’t seem to shake myself awake this morning, though. I’m exhausted! My martial arts master used to say that energy work drains you. Maybe that’s it.

Ah… I know. It’s because I decided to do some “housekeeping” chores like processing email, reconciling the checkbook, and looking for an insurance program. I never seem to have any energy for those. My brain is saying, “Nothing important to do, right? It’s a rest day! It takes serious discipline to get moving, those days…

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