Raja Yoga Insights #11

This entry is part 11 of 18 in the series Raja Yoga

Session 11 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Focus on “the Guru”.

Ananda’s Raja Yoga course covers 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).

As incredibly illuminating and inspiring as the program has been, there are a few places where I feel it could be improved. Should you take the course (and I highly recommend that you do), you might want to print out the PDF of suggested enhancements for this already exceptional course of instruction. I hope they wind up producing as much benefit for you as they did for me!

Thu, 9 Nov: Session #11 – Guru

The Personal Touch

Darn good definition of a guru:

The guru sees who you are, and helps you become that.

Reminds of my martial arts master, who helped me become a writer, and helped everyone she taught to become whatever it was they really wanted to be. (Elsewhere, I’ve written about the opportunities she gave me that made it possible to become a writer. And one time after I took some singing lessons and then doing some Karaoke, I overheard her asking someone, “Why didn’t he tell me he wanted to sing?”.”

She used to say, “The greatest teacher is the greatest student.” For one thing, it takes smarts to learn something. And in the process of figuring out your own stumbling blocks, you find better ways to teach the subject to others. But that’s a general thing. In terms of specifics, each person is different!

Since people differ so much, the things that work on one person don’t work on the next — or even on the same person, at a different time. So whether you cajole, scold, praise, or support depends on who you’re dealing with. For another, what motivates each person differs, as does the ideal image of who they want to become.

Because if you really want someone to put their heart and soul into their effort, you’ll make sure they understand how their actions are making it possible for them to become the person they desire to be!

Two Kinds of Doubt

Interesting concept: Two kinds of doubt. One guarded, cynical, disbelieving — that one is detrimental to the learning process. The other is more beneficial: “I don’t know…”. Sort of a wondering, not sure, “I’ll try it but…” kind of doubt.

Sometimes the World Needs to Soften You Up

That one was in the Raja Yoga book (in Chapter 11, I think). Resonated with me. My process of spiritual growth began after a failed startup. I was emotionally devastated, and could only blame myself. It was what I didn’t know that caused the effort to fail — so clearly there were things about myself that needed to improve. For perhaps the first time, I stopped considering myself as “infallible”, and began to realize that there were things I didn’t even know existed that I needed to learn!

Calm Enthusiasm?

Enthusiasm is regarded as very positive thing. But in Yoga tradition, “excitement” is considered a negative. It means “excited” in the sense of hyped-up, on edge, or agitated. Is that a simple matter of definition? Is it simply the case that there are two ways in which one can use the word “excited”? Or is there something about “excited enthusiasm” that is detrimental? If so, then what the heck is “calm enthusiasm”?

Thinking about it, it is at least possible that calm enthusiasm is equivalent to “focused attention to detail”. It’s something I learned from my martial arts master — to really be aware of what you’re doing and put everything into it. So when someone likes to have the Yoga mats sorted by color, I pay attention to that and make sure to arrange them that way. And when I set up chairs, I make sure their is sufficient distance between them that people can sit next to one another comfortably.

Those aren’t things I do in any kind of “excited” way. But they would certainly qualify as a kind of “enthusiastic service”. On the other hand, anticipation is one of the great joys of life, to my mind — and there is a certain quality of excitement that goes with that.

So yeah, I’m pondering the matter…

Continuing Insights

Orbital Lift Directions

Got a sense of the impact of the different Orbital Lift directions:

  • Forward — Spirit
    Lifting forward seems to be the most “spiritual” of the lifts. I notice feelings of love and adoration when I do that. I also get a sense of a child breastfeeding, looking up his mother with the same sense of love, adoration, and gratitude. So I’m sensing that we are hardwired for that kind of response. I also had the sense of being a child in school, sitting at a small desk and looking up at a teacher who, in a sense, was also “feeding” me. Similarly, preachers stand at a pulpit, while performers and lecturers take the stage.
  • Center — Mind/Emotion
    This direction seems to be quite literally the most “centering” of the lifts. It provides emotional balance and equanimity (a desirable Yogic trait.) It’s a way of detaching from the situation — whether positive or negative — so it doesn’t bring you down or inflate your ego. As described in several of these missives, it’s an antidote that turns frustration, anger, and other negative emotions into something more akin to bemusement. (And it seems to work for strong praise, as well! (more below)
  • Rear — Body
    Lifting the eyes up and back feels like it promotes a very physical kind of detachment. In Scientology, they used to say, “Be above and behind your head”, or words to that effect. They called it being exterior — as in no longer being identified with the body, and gaining a 360-degree field of perception. From the standpoint of meditation, it feels like a great way to invite your guru, saint, or god to sit behind the wheel. It’s like you’re saying, “Please take over, drive the car for a while, and show me the best way to operate this thing.”

Orbital Lift for Praise!

Had a couple of occasions where my activities were praised. The Orbital Lift helped to keep it all in perspective, so it didn’t go to my head. It really is an emotionally balancing practice!

With the Orbital Lift you can accept the praise, but at the same detach from it and watch it flow by. That’s important for the person giving it. It means the praise they tried to communicate was delivered! But it means that as the recipient, you don’t have to choose between accepting it, taking it to heart, and risking an inflated ego, or deflecting it to prevent that, which has the unfortunate effect of short-circuiting the energy flow the other person is generating, and appearing ungrateful or undeserving in the process!

Cooling Breath?

The Raja Yoga mentions that the air coming in the nose is cooling to the brain, which is calming — while of course air going out is heated.

It recommends the breath where you curl your tongue between your teeth and lips, inhale through the mouth, and then exhale through the nose (Sitali Pranayama).

But of course, the “circular” breath should be cooling as well. That’s the Tantra breath, where you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. It’s extremely useful for swimming, when engaged in physical activity, and for playing the digeridoo. Funny that none of the Yoga texts ever mention that one.

Mostly though, I was concerned though, about the instruction in the Raja Yoga course to “hold the breath” after inhaling with the Sitali Pranayama technique. You see, the Raja Yoga book itself points out, “The breath, as it comes up through the nasal passages, has a cooling effect on the brain” (p. 336). And when discussing the complete breath, and becoming aware of the breath in the nostrils, both it and every other course of instruction point out the air is cool coming in, and warm going out (after it has been heated in the lungs).

Why then, would someone hold the breath before exhaling through the nose? Turns out that least one other web practitioner doesn’t. In Cooling Breath, Ester suggests, “holding for just a second or two at the top of the breath, just to feel it” and then after exhaling, “just stay empty for a second or so”.

Those instructions make more sense to me, if the intent is to cool the brain. (Interestingly, none of the major tomes on my bookshelf — Hatha Yoga Pradipika; Yoga and Kriya; Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha — have anything to say on the subject. They don’t even mention that particular breath. Others certainly seem to know about it though!)

So the best explanation I can give about the injunction to hold the “cooling” breath after inhaling, and then to exhale through the nose, is the same as the one that makes the Moola Bandha error forgivable. As explained in the epilog that follows the observation, “The book was published in 1968, when there was precious little information available in this country, long before the advent of the Internet, by a extremely proficient practitioner who passed on an immense wealth of valuable information, but with a few mistakes sprinkled in!”

What Ananda “Discipleship” Entails

Found what I was looking for on the web:

If I take Kriya initiation, what am I committing myself to?


  1. You are affirming your discipleship to God, Yogananda, and the line of Kriya masters of our path, and
  2. committing yourself to practicing the Kriya techniques faithfully as they are taught to you, and
  3. regularly—at least twice each day.
  4. You also promise never to reveal the Kriya techniques to anyone unless given authorisation to do so.

I get #1, and #4. But I know myself better, these days, so I know that while I would hold to #2 for a while, I wouldn’t do it forever! And, interestingly, my own practice is growing organically into a two-times-day-habit, I would expect anyone to promise to do the practices I teach twice a day. I would expect the frequency of their practice to increase gradually and organically, as mine did.

This page gives a nice justification for #2:

Yogananda had said that he “wanted people to recognize his mission as a spiritual path, and not as merely an organization that sent out printed lessons. “They take Kriya initiation,” he said, “then wander off to other teachers and teachings. They should understand that ours is a path to God, and not merely an intellectual study.”

I grant that. I do. Wandering off to do intellectual comparisons is not the goal. It’s like making a scientific comparison of the water used in different villages. You can analyze it right down to the molecules, but unless you want to die of thirst, you need to drink the water.

On the other hand, there is a big difference between practices you glue together from a hodgepodge of things you were introduced to, and one that evolves out of your own experience!

Then, too, as the evolution occurs, you may well be guided to alternative practices, at which point you may well find things that fit nicely into the practice you have been evolving. Is that bad? The claim is made that a “guru” is a necessary part of the process. But for every real guru one might point to (aka “saint”), there are many pairs of clay feet lying about!

So I’m not saying that a guru won’t be helpful. I’m just saying that it’s hard to tell in advance which one is right for you. And if you’re the kind of creative, intuitively-driven person who maybe has a chance of moving the practice forward in useful directions, then perhaps a guru who tells you to never vary the instructions is not the right guru for you!

So the bottom-line question is, Where is the middle way? Idle intellectual curiosity is, of course, of limited value. Doing things as they were instructed is also helpful. I trained a long time to learn how to throw a punch with speed and power, and land it accurately — without hurting my hand in the process. I could vary that technique, sure. But there are a lot of ways to go wrong.

On the other hand, other systems of martial arts have different ways of throwing a punch! They’re effective, too. What will work best for you? What makes the most sense, in your philosophical framework? If you never investigate, you’ll never know what the options are, much less which ones might be most effective.

And if you never evolve your own versions of the energy-flow and meditation practices, you miss a chance for “revealed wisdom” to, well, reveal itself. After all the point of the practice is to know that you are God, too. And the point is to be in contact with, and connected to, that source of wisdom. So what is the point of making people commit, in advance, to never ever doing that?

Somehow, too, I doubt that there have ever been any enlightened masters who ever took such a vow — or who held to it, if they did.

The thing is, it’s a matter of intent. If the Kriya technique is short then, sure, I might do it twice a day. But what if it isn’t? My full practice already runs to an hour and half! (Fortunately, I’ve found ways to schedule it in parts, so I’m back to half an hour a day. But things to tend to grow and expand. They just do!)

At one point in the Raja Yoga book, it says that if you really want to advance, you’ll spend an hour and half a day — maybe an hour at one time during the day, and half an hour at another time. Sure, that makes sense. If it’s your only practice! But on top of my current practices, that’s a big ask.

Then, too, there is the simple fact that while it makes perfect sense to make discipleship a requirement for teaching the practice (undoubtedly with other requirements, as well), I’m not sure I see the sense making it a requirement for learning the practice — especially given it’s potential value for uplifting the human race!

Granted, it’s a tough question. Wish I had an answer!

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