About the body the body  – In time

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Verses 103-104

“All of the all the processes of hatha and laya yoga are but the means to attain raja yoga. (samadhi) One who attains Raja yoga is victorious over time (death).” (Bihar edition and translation)

Perhaps when you were a child you experienced being measured. Sometimes parents make marks on the wall to emphasize how much a child has grown physically. As children we were measured physically, intellectually, emotionally… how we are growing? Then at some point the nature of that measuring starts to compare itself to an end point rather than the beginning point.  We mark a wrinkle (one step towards old age) A gray hair (another step towards old age). Perhaps we worry more about a physical symptom than we would have when our hair was colored rich and deep and our skin was rosy and clear.  One great blessing of combining the inner and outer yogas is that the processes are designed to liberate us from time. A mark of a well-done yoga practice is that decline is minimized and many times even reversed. One advantage of studying the tales of the great accomplished masters is that they completely transcend time. They choose when to leave the body behind. It’s a great teaching. There are many records  (Paramahansa Yogananda, Shri Brahamananda Saraswati ) of enlightened beings whose bodies did not compose after death but remained intact as their devotees prepared the funeral rites. When Shri Brahmananda Saraswati was cremated it is said that his ashes were pure and white as snow. He also regenerated his body and brain after a stroke through study and practice of Sanskrit (an energetically based yoga practice).

What does that mean for us as contemporary yogis? We don’t really know. We don’t really know what that means. Will we be immortal? Do we want to be immortal? Will we just stay lively? Will we live on as souls beyond the body?

What we do know is that well-done yoga is a rejuvenating practice.  It’s hormonal, it’s energetic, it’s the nervous system but essentially to tap into the field of consciousness is to tap into that place beyond time and that is infinite.  To keep the spiritual dimensions of the practice front and center. Serenity makes for a great facelift.

How do we make this more tangible? The usual choices for this kind of experiment are meditation or chanting. The point is your body will change through these practices.  And you can practice it and find out.  Just note that other lifestyle choices will mitigate your results.  Wise lifestyle choices will enhance them. 

For me the door which opened the understanding of this spirit body connection was yogic chanting. I knew it immediately even though I was not spiritually or athletically accomplished. I was living in New York and had much pain in my body — weight training, aerobics, desk work, crazy diet — so many possible culprits for the pain. After finding no remedy that was clear through the western medicine lens I started yoga to ease the pain.

I noticed almost immediately that if the class started with an Om  my body didn’t hurt as much during class. I thought it was a goofy thing and I made jokes about it. I figured I was imagining things, but then I found the Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York. Chanting was central to that practice,  and I learned there that the ancient yogis understood that the body is made of sound. To those I spoke with and studied with there, when I made the statement that my practice was better if I Om’d first, it made perfect sense. I stayed with that practice for years and experienced many complex postures that I never imagined that I would do in part because my relationship with my body changed as I worked with this understanding that the body was made of sound. Things I could never imagine at 29 opened up for me as I moved towards and through a so called middle age. I am now 58 and I have less pain in my body than I did at age 29 – even in the wake of injury.

For this I rely on my yoga practice.

For the practitioner I believe that the bottom line of this is that we begin to consider that our bodies are not our masters — our hearts and our souls are. To embrace the spiritual aspects of the practice is not to deny the body but to nourish it at a deep level — beyond DNA, consciousness (which is experienced through practice) nourishes our very cells. You will be strengthened by it and it will cost you nothing to try.

Kaladanda – Beat Death

Sometime in the early 2000’s , a series of teachings on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika were presented at the school where I taught.  At that time yoga branding was all the rage- a new thing =  and people were using Sanskrit words to define their yoga, their clothing brand, their travel agencies.    We had great fun with this.  You see, at that time most of the people who were branding that way were part of this kind of geeky cool strata of the New York yoga world in which everyone studied Sanskrit because it was “cool”  I’m not making this up, there were fashionable New Yorkers participating in this.  Someone had branded the word Kaladanda for something, I don’t remember what, but we all were given baseball caps with a beautiful design and the word Kaladanda on them.  Kaladanda is a staff carried by the Lord of Death, Yama, in the Ramayana an important Indian epic.  The word is composed of “Kala” which is time and “Danda” is staff – the club with which we beat time.  In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the Danda is the Yogi’s staff (see Dandasana) or the energy channel that runs a long the spine, formally known as the sushumna nadi.  If we beat time there is no death.    The reference is to our capacity to visit worlds without restrictions through  our yoga practices.  If you’ve ever experienced a truly blissful moment of joyful absorption in your creativity, in love, or on your mat,  you have touched this timeless unrestricted space.  Many of us have, although the magnitude appears to be somewhat more dramatic in the yoga practices.  A well done Hatha Yoga practice empowers the yogi to enter these states of consciousness at will.

How does this work – we spoke last week about the way Arundhati, or kundalini, travels up the sushumna nadi along the spine – and travels through and opens three knots called the granthis – each of these being a conditional experience of limitation.  The Rudra granthi placed at the juncture before the  opening of the third eye is what keeps us anchored in time and space.  To experience a state of consciousness that is beyond time is to know true liberation.

What practical value does this have?  A lot.  You know that wound you are carrying from age 15?  (Forgive me if you are beyond that, but most of us humans carry a little baggage) well, it can be resolved through the practice.  How can that be?  When we carry those moments we don’t really move forward, we keep feeing the same feelings and choosing the same things over and over.  When we touch the space outside of linear time the clarity that arises at that moment allows us to choose differently,  Taking ownership of that power to choose anew heals the wounds from choices made long ago, before we knew better. 

What other practical value does the experience of yogic liberation have?  Entering a transcendental space, the relationship to the body changes.  It ceases to define our experience of life, instead the yogi defines the body.  To me this is a great power of the practice of Hatha Yoga.  One can attain transcendental states  in meditation or chanting or study, but the relationship with the body is transformed uniquely through Hatha Yoga.  Transforming the relationship to the body is pivotal to the spiritual journey.  To be comfortable dealing  with the body as things arise is a form of freedom. 

It is worth reading the stories of the great jivanmuktas of India – as this unique relationship to the body is frequently demonstrated to their followers.  There are many validated tales of Neem Karoli Baba, Ramana Maharshi and others taking disciples disease states into their own body, and by transforming the disease themselves leaving the disciples body healed and whole.

In practical terms in our Hatha Yoga practices a transformed relationship with the body points to an opportunity to shift our yoga experience from confining to liberating.  Through directing how we interact with the body via our thoughts and beliefs while on the mat, we lay the groundwork for a different life with the body.  Some practical tools to begin transforming the relationship with the body:

  1. Om – Om always resolves unclear thinking.
  2. Tune into sensation rather than labeling.  If a knee hurts in postures breath and observe and feel.  But I avoid going into the realm of “there is something wrong” or even “pain”.  I also don’t push it away.  The recommendation would be to stay present with it without developing a story about it.
  3. Make the breath primary and layer the body experience on top of that.
  4. Practices turning the mind towards breath or Om, love or devotion, as you practice.

The tales of beating death are glamorous and enticing. For today we can understand this idea of transcending death is really about changing our experience of time, and our relationship to the body.  This opens the doorway to  understanding and living our lives in a new, less restricted way.

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