Raja Yoga Insights #7

Week 7 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus on energization.

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, 19 Oct: Session #7 – Energization

In this session, I discover a process for overcoming procrastination — a process that turns out to be enormously energizing.

Yoga Twist

Some of the nicest instruction I’ve ever seen on the Yoga “twist” pose.

Highlights:

  • The important thing is for your spine to lift up as you twist. Otherwise, it’s hard to breathe.
  • Sit on the edge of a cushion, so you can sit more upright. (Same advice was given for Maha Mudra and Seated Forward Bend. Turns out to be very helpful in all three cases.)
  • With one leg tucked under you so the bottom of the foot is touching your backside, you have a choice about what to do with the other leg:
    1. Cross your foot over the bottom knee only if your hips are level in that position.
      If your hips wind up tilted to one side, it means that you are not yet flexible enough to do that! In that case:
    2. Place your foot on the ground in front of, inside of your other knee, rather than crossing over it.
      (Frankly, that’s a fairly brilliant piece of advice!)
  • 3-Stage Twist
    This was an interesting wrinkle. I don’t know that it is absolutely necessary to twist in 3 stages, but doing it that way gives you three breaths in which to lift upward as you twist, and that is a very good thing:

    1. As you inhale, lift your spine upward. As you exhale, twist your lower body (pelvis mostly), keeping your head and eyes to the front.
    2. Inhale and lift upwards again. As you exhale, twist your mid-body (torso), keeping your head and eyes to the front.
    3. Inhale and lift upwards again. As you exhale, twist your head and neck.
    4. Stay there a few breaths, relaxing into it. The reverse in stages, inhaling and lifting upward, then exhaling to unwind your head and neck, torso, and lower body, in that order.

Maha Mudra

Maha Mudra is where you sit with one leg straight out in front, with the other foot tucked in. It’s like a meditation pose on one side, and a leg stretch on the other.

Key points:

  • If you put your straight leg out to the side, you work the groin and hips more. With it straight ahead, you work the hamstrings and glutes more.
  • The important point is to lift your heart upwards to the sky, and lead with the heart as you stretch into position.
  • You can bring arms overhead and use their weight to intensify the stretch, or bring them in from the side and glide them down your leg, whichever is more comfortable.
  • After you get into your fully-extended position with your head up and heart forward, you can relax your head and neck to sink into the pose.

Enthusiasm

The root words of enthusiasm are “in divinity” (which I would also translate as “divinely inspired”).

That was a good point. It helps to explain why I love being enthusiastic! And naturally, when you are extremely enthusiastic, you are also highly energized.

But the question, of course, is how to tap into that enthusiasm for things you must do, as opposed to things you want to do. As you’ll see, I got a number of great answers, and got even more in the days that followed.

Thoughts = Energy

Ok. I’m still having a hard time with this one. But if it’s true, it’s an important concept to grasp. And there is reasonable evidence for its truth.

Item #1: Some people accomplish great things. Others barely get off the ground, despite similarities in every obvious respect.

Item #2: In the book, Autobiography of a Yogi, most of the experiences were foreign to me, on first reading. But after a lot of processing in various forms of training, nearly 2/3 were quite familiar to me! All of those experiences — and most of the siddhis (internal powers) possessed by Yogis and masters of many Oriental arts are nothing if not some form of mental energy.

So while I’m still struggling to understand this concept, there is a reasonable basis for assuming it to be true.

In her talk, Shanti gave an interesting point to consider, as well:

Below the level of the atom, we know that matter is basically made up of stuff that vibrates. (And if you take away the vibration, there is no more stuff! So at that level, matter is vibration.)

The fundamental unit of energy is the photon — basically a vibration with zero matter, which allows it to travel at the speed of light.

Thoughts are photon-energy, too, so thoughts can have an effect.

Again, I’m still struggling with this bit. I’m not sure that syllogism actually holds, logically. And what sort of effect can a photon have, anyway! But especially after my experience “energizing away” procrastination, and feeling the resulting energization, I’m more inclined to give this concept some credence.

Procrastination and Fatigue

At this point in the proceeding, it became appropriate to ask the question that has been bedeviling me for so many weeks:

It occurs to me that when you first start the process of inner transformation, it takes a lot of discipline to sit down for your practice. Thankfully, I’m past that point, but that has created a new problem.

I love it when I’m in my practice, connecting and being inspired. And I love it when I’m working on my books, recording the results of those inspirations.

But then comes a day when I need to pay bills, do some cleaning, and do other chores. On those days, I’m so fatigued, I can barely get out of bed!

In fact, if you’ve read the earlier posts you’ll know that I once spent several days in a torpor, before I figured out what was going on. And even then the solution I could find was to break the disagreeable tasks up into a small chunks — which meant that I had significant task avoidance issues multiple times! (They were smaller and easier to manage, but there were still a lot of them!)

I’m happy to say that I got no less than 4 great suggestions — one from each of the four teachers in attendance, at different times in the evening. The first two were given in the “lecture” portion of the evening I was sitting in. The next two came in the practicum that followed:

  1. Shanti: Know that you already are everything you desire to be. When you arrive at that inner certainty, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing…
  2. Keshama: Think of yourself as “A joyful __X__”, where you fill in the blank with what it is you need to do. For example, “I am a joyful bill payer”.
  3. Sita: Do the Kapalpathi breath (described next) to get more energy for the task.
  4. Rammurti: Any time you make a statement about yourself, add “I choose to…”, either mentally or out loud. So in response to “How are you?”, you might respond, “I choose to be (good/great/what have you)”.

As I left, I spoke my truth (as I knew it to be at the time):

I’m highly enthusiastic.
I’m extremely disciplined, about anything I’m enthusiastic about.
I’m not very disciplined about things I’m not enthusiastic about.

My sports, music, professional, and spiritual activities attest to the first two points. But of course it is the third that needs some work!

Almost immediately upon making that statement, before I even got through the door I was exiting as I made it, I realized that I needed to add “I choose”. So the statements become:

I choose to be highly enthusiastic.
I choose to be extremely disciplined about anything I’m enthusiastic about.
I choose to be not very disciplined about things I’m not enthusiastic about.

That seemed to help, too. At the very least, I felt good about who I was! The next question was how to put the various bits of advice together. I was certain there was a program in there, somewhere. (It turns out there was. Didn’t take long to discover it, either!)

Kapalpathi (“Breath of Fire”)

This is a great pranayama technique. I wrote about it in the Asana plus Pranayama workshop that Swamiji Asanganand gave. (That’s where I learned it first, and the instruction was terrific. But I learned a few things this evening, as well.

One thing to note about the pronunciation is that “th” isn’t pronounced like “the’. Rather, it’s an aspirated “t” — a “t” with breath. So it’s like saying “ti-hee”, only without the vowels. (To get it, start with the long form and then gradually shorten the vowels until you’re no longer pronouncing them.)

Another thing to note about the pronunciation is that the Sanskrit letter directly after “Kapal” is precisely halfway between an English “p” and “b”. So if you grew up speaking English, sometimes you’ll hear the name as “Kapalpathi”, and other times you’ll hear it as “Kapalbathi”. (It’s the same word either way, but tiny variations in the way it comes out will make your brain register it as one of the consonants you’re used to hearing.)

In the tradition I’m used to, that technique is known as the “skull cleansing breath”, or “skull polishing breath”, each of which is a reasonable translation of the term. But Ananda calls it the “Breath of Fire”, because it is warming and energizing. (It also promotes fat burning.)

It’s a stellar prelude to meditation, too. In fact, Swamiji Asanganand Saraswati said to finish the practice with a deep inhalation, followed by a slow exhalation. Then just sit quietly. Then (here comes the brilliant part…) when your mind gets active again, it’s time for another round! (I passed on that tidbit in an act of spiritual cross-fertilization.)

Continuing Insights

Fri, 20 Oct: Thoughts Begin to Coalesce

At the start of the day, I began to see how the anti-procrastination suggestions could be put together. By the end of the day (after sleeping a few times, so I was both fully rested and inspired), I began to see exactly how it could be done.

Anti-Procrastination Protocol!

On Saturday, the thoughts came together, big time. By mid-day, I saw how to put together a solid protocol.

Did the practice Saturday, and had a number of additional insights in the process, so I spent most of Saturday writing it up. Got a little bit of other work done in other areas, too, but not much. That night as I went to sleep, I ran some more affirmations with respect to cleaning (as something of a continuation of the practice earlier in the day, rather than as a new practice).

On Sunday, the effects were noticeable. And incredible! A whole new me! I could not wait to get to the bill paying, and do some cleaning, and investigate insurance options (the major chores of the moment). I mean, I simply could not wait. And doing them, I was fully energized and enthused! I felt as connected, as motivated, and as happy as I have ever been, at any time in my life!

I decided to call the procedure the Anti-Procrastination Protocol, but so far it looks to be good for all kinds of internal changes.

Sun, 22 Oct

Meditation Breaks!

After I’ve been writing for a while, I get tired. I tend to take a break, have something to eat, maybe take a nap. But it’s difficult to take a nap if you’re at work! And if I get to the point that I need to take a job once again, it’s going to be important to work on someone else’s more normal schedule — even (or especially) if it’s a short-term contract.

Meditating this morning, the answer came to me: Meditation Breaks! When I sit to meditate, all sorts of inspirations and ideas come flooding in. So it occurred to me that maybe the answer, when I’m getting tired at the computer, is just to put my hands in my lap and sit quietly for a few minutes! (Turns out it is. Big time!)

Computer Solitaire

Just figured out why I like computer solitaire so much.

Growing up, of course, my mom used to play solitaire with a deck of cards. As much as I liked card games, I never really got into solitaire, myself — until computers came along.

These days, there are a number of computer solitaire games where (I’m guessing) the computer makes moves backwards to set up the position, and where the number of moves it makes determines the complexity of the resulting game. The thing about those games is that, if you’re clever enough, it seems that you can always win.

The first step in solving those puzzles is to figure out the principles you need to follow to be successful. The second step is, when playing the game, to apply the principles in the right order for the current game, in order to win it. The good ones make it easy to go back to the beginning and try again, so it’s no trouble to do that.

This morning, as I was playing a couple of games, I noticed a little burst of pleasure when I won a game — the same little burst of pleasure I feel in my Yoga & Meditation practice. (When you’re first learning the game of course, the wins are few. But each time you figure out a new principle, that insight also produces a small burst of pleasure.)

So now I see why the computer solitaire games are so addictive! It’s for the same reason that my Yoga & Meditation practice is so addictive, and that running was so addictive — endorphins! Or something like that, at least. At rate, that little burst of pleasure is the nature of the addiction!

It’s the same “Eureka!” or “Aha!” moment that drives scientists, and lovers of detective mysteries. (Come to think of it, my mom loved to read detective fiction, and I love PBS detective shows. My favorite is Death in Paradise — each one is a “locked room” mystery that appears at first to be totally impossible!)

Of course, computer solitaire isn’t quite that “positive” addiction that running and meditation are. But it’s not terribly harmful, either. So maybe we could call it a “neutral” addiction. (You waste time of course, but there are a lot of ways to waste time. At least you’re not harming yourself!)

Additional Observation:
Interestingly, now that I’ve recognized that, I also notice that I get a major burst when a game turns out to be difficult to solve. As with different forms of the game I’ve played over years, it’s very difficult for a while, but then it starts becoming easier. After I’ve played for several months I get to a point where (as now) I win most every game. Once I’m in that state, the games that are really interesting are the ones that are hard to solve!

Orbital Lift and Golf

There is no more frustrating game in the world than golf. I mean, on TV it looks so easy. But in the tournaments that most people watch, the TV camera is focusing on 7 or 8 who are leading the pack — in other words, the best of the best.

But every once in while they’ll need some filler, and they’ll show someone in the back of the pack. Or you can watch early in the broadcast, before the leaders tee off. Or you can watch a small tournament a couple of weeks before a major. Then you’ll see a game that looks recognizable — complete with a world of mistakes.

And these are professionals, mind you. People who spend anywhere from 6 to 8 hours a day on their game. And it’s hard for them, never mind how hard it is for you.

There is a reason for that! Someone once analyzed the way the joints move in the golf swing, and identified 19 different degrees of freedom — that’s 19 things that all have to occur in just the right sequence, to get the result you want. But we’re just getting started! In addition to those 19 degrees of freedom, there are half a dozen degrees of freedom in the equipment you’re using (length of club, type of grip, loft of club, etc.). There are more degrees of freedom in how you set up to the ball (ball forward or back, closer to the ball or farther from it, …) and how big a swing you take. Then there are is the lie (uphill, downhill, sidehill, short grass, long grass, sand, dirt) and the landing area (uphill, downhill, fairway, green, or rough), and finally the weather (cold, hot, windy, direction of wind, dew, …).

In all, there are 54 different variables that determine the outcome of a shot when you’re playing the game. And if you hold the external variables to a minimum by going to the driving range, you’re still dealing with 24 or more!

In short, repeatable results are at a premium! So the game tends to be pretty darn frustrating. The solution: The Orbital Lift! Keeps you sane, man.

Orbital Lift and Dance

I was a dancer for a while in college. And when Irish dance became popular, I was all for it! But it’s something like golf, in that it can be really tricky to master the steps.

I did it for 5 years, and got to where I could even fool some Irish people into thinking I knew what I was doing. I saw a lot of people come and go during that time, too.

I noticed was that I could tell pretty quickly who was going to be around for a while, and who was going to get frustrated and give up. The “tell” for people who stick with it was that, when they screwed up, they laughed!

Now partly, the laughter comes from an internal confidence. You know you can do complex physical movements, so when one seems impossibly difficult, it’s so incongruous that you laugh. That confidence, in turn, suggests a track record of success in some other endeavor — the foundation for the confidence. So the expectation of success, coupled with the giggle you get when you mess up, keeps you coming back.

For those that have not mastered some endeavor that gives them confidence, or who find failure to be frustrating, the Orbital Lift represents a potential rescue!

Orbital Lift, Mechanics, and Traffic

I’ve always had the laughter response, when dancing, because I know I’m good at it. So that has never been a problem for me.

But I used to get immensely frustrated when I couldn’t get a bolt started without dropping it. At first, it wouldn’t bother me. But after getting tired and dropping tools or parts a dozen times, the failure to get things to work bothered me a lot.

I’m happy to report that Orbital Lift “works a charm” (as the Irish say), in that circumstance, as well. As with golf, traffic, or anything else that tends to be frustrating, the Orbital Lift keeps you sane!

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