Helpful Hatha Yoga Hints: (General advice for Asana Practice)
Food, Water, Air, and Environment
Practice asanas with an empty stomach because many of the asanas may place pressure on the abdomen (forward bends or laying on the abdomen) or place us in inverted postures that will conflict with the body's natural processes of digestion. Once the food has left the stomach (usually after three hours) the conflicting concerns between the energetics necessary for digestion and the energetic dynamics available for efficacious asana will be resolved maximizing the benefits of our practice.In other words to break down and digest our food, requires energy at first. Only later after the food is digested and assimilated we able to utilize the energy. Thus eating a heavy meal usually requires so much energy from other reserves, that one often becomes drowsy. For too many over-eating becomes is a sedative/tranquilizer. For tea or small quantities of fresh fruit juice, allow two hours before asana practice. For steamed veggies or light salads allow 3 hours minimum for best results. For heavier dinners that include grains, legumes, roots, cheese, and so forth it is best to wait 4 hours or more before asana practice. Never do asana or pranayama under the influence of stimulants such as caffeine, because the whole point of functional yoga is listening to one's natural energy, heeding it, communing with it, respecting it, and letting it move and breathe you. Obviously outside artificial stimulants create a disruption to such a communion.
Yogic food is purifying and eating is performed as a sacred celebration enhancing life. Eating non-irritating, clean, non-contaminating, and easily digested food helps rapid progress. This is why yogis are advised to not eat meat, eggs, poultry, fish, garlic, onions, black pepper, asafoetida (hing), mushrooms, and other irritating, over stimulating, or polluting foods. For example meat, mushrooms, poultry, and so forth are considered tamasic zapping the metabolic fire. Garlic, hing, and onions are irritants thus they have the potential to disturb the yogi. Other foods may be tamasic (deficient in fire). Hence if some one eats mushrooms which are tamasic and deficient in fire) then they will crave more fire (garlic or peppers) and so a cycle is created in one's search for balance. A yogi however will eat sattvic (balanced and pure) food only.
For example, mushrooms have no heat and are heavy (tamasic). They require much heat to digest, so if one's third chakra heat is low, mushrooms could zap it. People who do eat mushrooms might desire to spice them up with some peppers and cook them thoroughly.
when our systems become more sensitive and cleaned out, we become more conscious of the negative effects of poisons
and irritants to our nervous system. Again sattvic (pure and balanced) foods should be eaten.
Likewise we should eat foods that can be easily digested, not rough, woody, sharp, tough, gritty, or harsh. Invigorating and good food should not cause gas, discomfort, drowsiness, anxiety, or deplete or scatter our energy. Natural and unadulterated food should be our mainstay.
We should eat organic foods because most foods today have been poisoned with pesticides, preservatives, artificial colorings, additives, artificial flavorings, or other adulterates. Organic foods also do not pollute the water supplies, other people (farm workers), or destroy habitat (Such as waterways and lakes). Hence one is not perpetuating or contributing to himsa (violence) by eating and buying organic foods. Food in moderate or light quantities is most beneficial in order not to overburden our system, lowering our energy, or otherwise creating setback or disease.
Drink plenty of pure water during the day to help rid the system of toxins and wastes and thus aid the muscles, nervous system, glands, and organs of elimination such as the skin, lung, liver, and kidneys. Because most tap water contains many impurities, poisons, chemicals, and toxins we should drink pure spring or well water that has been tested. City tap water contains too many chemicals to be healthy so a highly efficient filtering system is recommended.
Even our air in this age has been poisoned in most areas so we should try to live in areas that have not been so self polluted by such an unethical, sick, alienated, and confused society, thus it is most beneficial to our progress to live in an environment which provides pure air. Thus a pure (sattvic), quiet, and natural environment surrounded with other "connected" beings is the ideal setting for rapid progress and self-liberation.
What is a sattvic (pure and balanced) diet depends on one's constitution. Here the idea of purity is easy (eat organic, home grown, or wildcrafted) but BALANCED is the difficult part because some constitutions are overly hot and some cool -- some wet and others dry, etc. So we need to eat what brings us in balance and this will depend ultimately on inner or self knowledge. This will change day to day depending on conditions like the seasons, weather, emotional environment, vocation, and so forth. Always seek out balance and wisdom. Balance is wisdom. Awareness tells us all which we need to know, but most are not listening/seeing -- most have lost touch with their instinct, intuition, and inner wisdom. That is why we practice yoga -- to remove the veil of ignorance.
Clothing, Modesty, and Ahimsa
Wear comfortable and loose clothing. Clothing that restricts movement may not only prevent certain muscles, ligaments, or nerves from being stretched, but may also place undue strain on other muscles and ligaments that are not more obviously involved who may overcompensate for those more obviously restricted muscles, nerves, ligaments, or etc. Wear natural fibers and avoid irritating, rough, or hard clothing. Leotards are nice because they stretch easily without resistance. Dress warm for early morning, fall, winter, or early spring classes while at Harbin always feel free to take off as much clothing as is desired if you are hot.
Bring a blanket for long periods of relaxation, meditation, and use it as a mat or rolled up as a cushion. The surface should not be too hard as to create discomfort or pain, nor too soft as to diminish beneficial counter-pressure or balance.
Attitude, actions, and an ethical stance can be summed up by an attitude of integrity and harmlessness (Ahimsa). Maintaining this as a governing ethic, we will not create the unfavorable fruits of detrimental action even while we still abide in partial ignorance. By communing increasingly with true integrity (our true identity) the need for neurotic externalizations and identifications such as ego, pride, competitiveness, jealousy, envy, hatred, etc vanish by itself.
Having benefited greatly by living at Harbin Hot Springs Wholistic Community (clothing optional) many people wonder how I reconcile nudity with yoga. Personally I find it both liberating and a spiritual accelerator. Classical yoga advocates modesty which has been incorrectly interpreted in today's antiseptic, nature phobic, anti-body, and anti-sexual milieu as the opposite of what natural yoga teaches. If modesty has any benefit, it is to help us go beyond humility into the great Integrity or great Self. It's purpose is to save us from going too far astray into ego adornments or external appearances of self deceit, pride, and delusion. Thus modesty dictates that wearing "fancy" clothes is counterproductive. Clothes more often enhance our masks, pretension, deceitfulness, pride, vanity, and false identifications. Nothing is more modest and non-pretentious than a loin cloth or nakedness.
It is truly best to shed pretentiousness and masks altogether and rather go around as if we were naked, no longer putting on "airs" or holding unto the world of pretense, acquirement, symbol, appearance or other false identifications. In asana practice, we should be modest and careful not to show off "our ability" or consider ourselves better than any one else. True modesty comes from true humility which in turn comes from true wisdom and understanding of our true nature.
Both words, modesty and humility, connote the pre-existing state of a lower self or separation. WE should aim at going beyond modesty to humility and then beyond humility into the deeper transpersonal space of the heart, and then realizing the state beyond alienation, beyond fragmented existence and confusion into the unborn innate essential Oneness, great beauty, and integrity of bare and naked existence as-it-is uncolored by the veils or coverings of false appearance. Here we are not concerned what clothing or image we are presenting to those who relate to superficial appearances. Much injury would be avoided in asana practice if we only listened to the truth of our own body and did not try to be better than others.
Acceptance of our true nature includes our acceptance of our animal nature as a part of nature, creation, and life. It is only counterproductive to be ashamed or deny this aspect of our being. Indeed Hatha, Kundalini, and tantra yoga recognize that we must integrate our vital animal nature within a wholistic life style. Is it more modest to be humble and naked than to be pretentious and show off the body? Which enhances sexual fantasy and desire more, clothes or nudity? Performing yoga with the attitude of true modesty means that we are in non-competition with our fellow beings because we love them -- we are practicing ahimsa. We have nothing to hide from them as well.
Even today there exist naked yogis of great attainment in India living humbly and in material poverty who have gone far beyond today's hypocritical and puritanical misinterpretation of yoga's dictum toward modesty. In conventional terms, if we take modesty out of the context of humility and define it as being, action free from extremes, then we may fall into the trap of allowing the "norms" of society (even if that society is sick) to dictate our actions. My interpretation is that the sages of old really did not advocate conformity to neurotic behavior however it is wise not to offend, disturb, or harm other beings in our practice even if its purely mental intimidation or shock. However at the same time it is best to live a life of integrity free from pretentiousness and true to our real values, spontaneously, open, uninhibited, non-corrupted, uncompromised, and up-front.
Here we need true wisdom as a guide, as it is true that some people actually will benefit from being shaken up (or shocked) from their tunnel vision and narrow minded ways; while others will only cringe up tighter and close themselves off more in confusion, fright, and disgust. A wise yogi will take each situation on its own merits as a healing field and nurture wisdom and life in an effective manner neither contributing to stagnation and complacency nor creating circumstances for negative reaction and further withdrawal from life.
Humble attitudes actually manifest more deeply in the attitudes of compassion, equanimity, love, sympathetic joy, sharing, and healing. Certainly the idea of being better, superior, competitive, or exploitive over another has no basis in the context of wholism. Ego based attitudes are a serious pitfall to overcome both in daily life and also in our specialized spiritual discipline such as asana practice.
Honoring, Respecting, and Revering Life is the Opposite of Arrogance
Especially in our asana practice we should never strain! Rapid progress can be achieved with entering the "edge" before any pain where the stretch still feels good. Pain means we have gone too far and injury can occur. Not only is injury a possibility when we go into the pain, but the enjoyment and healing of the shakti of the asana are lost. We must always be aware that we are doing the asanas to commune with the power behind the life energy which is the power behind creativity and bliss itself. Keeping this correct attitude as guide we will always look forward to doing the asanas every day because this act of worship and surrender is joyful bringing us peace, happiness, health, true security, understanding, and power not pain, discomfort, disease, tension, conflict, insecurity, pressure, or contortion. Part of the self-healing process is being kind to ourselves, finding our own limits at our own speed, and coming to terms with our unique situations, learning about our own biopsychic organism, and focusing in on the depth and great creative potential of the present.
Practice with conscious attention. Breathe deeply from the abdomen massaging the muscles, organs, glands, and nerves of this area. Be aware of any arising emotional components and breathe into them as well.
Enjoy and feel the benefits from each asana. If you find that you may be losing enthusiasm eliminate the asanas that you do not like and continue with the ones that give you joy. Investigate new asanas that appear "interesting" or gain your attention. Here we follow the message that Shakti is giving us to see if it is really from her. Most often the reason we like certain asanas is because they are healing us, giving us energy, strength, relaxation, and vitality. Find new asanas that offer strong energetics for you, rather than waste time on asanas that "are supposed" to be "good".
Toward the end of each asana session set aside a few minutes to play, explore, and experiment with the energy and allow any spontaneous asanas to occur.
Going to classes can be helpful especially in the beginning in order to make contact with one's own internal shakti, to establish a working pattern and later to learn new approaches or unlearn bad habits. Hatha however will not bear its higher potential until we take it home with us and establish a daily practice according to our own unique requirements.
Practice meditation, pranayama, asana, mudra, kriya (shat karmas), and bandha at home regularly. Set aside a reasonable time each day and "enjoy". The more we practice/worship the more good energy and efficiency will permeate our day.
Even for working people, an efficacious yoga practice for the weekdays may be:
calls of nature
kriyas (such as nasal cleansing (sutra neti), dhauti, etc.
5:30 Hatha Yoga
7:20 -- Leave for work
Fast or hot liquid
Noon Prayer -- walk -- juice, smoothie, hot liquid, salad or
6 PM Prayer - Dinner (vegetarian organic foods)
7:45 Evening kriyas such as nasal washing (dhauti neti), tongue cleaning, forehead rubbing, tooth and gum cleaning, etc)
8 PM Pranayama, bandha, mudra, meditation
The above gives us seven hours of sleep which will be more than adequate because of the added energy we will be receiving through the yoga practice, yoga nidra, and through eating a pure diet. The above schedule most likely will have to be modified according to each person's specific conditions. On the weekends we can take a real holy-day by extending the above practices according to our desire. Sometimes I just treat myself to a yoga vacation by doing asanas all morning and into the afternoon slowly and with as much rest in-between as is desired. Then if I am really good to myself, pranayama, mudras, meditation, a walk, more asana, study, pranayama, meditation, kriyas, and bed.
Meditation and Stress
It is helpful to observe our thoughts and body stances during the day for negative patterns, stress, or tension. Hence we become conscious of their interconnection (body/mind interconnections and their patterns), what stimuli activates their occurrence, and how can we become free of their dissipations and negative influence. Yoga practice turns us on to greater consciousness of the interplays of the life energy in our biopsychic interactions and we are best off when we can continue and enhance this communion in all our activities.
Common areas of stress, blockages, or tension to be conscious of are the face, the eyes, eyebrows, eye-socket, forehead, jaw, chin, cheeks, trip of tongue, back of tongue, neck, throat, shoulders, chest, heart, armpits, upper arms, elbow crease, forehands, wrists, fingers, stomach, solar plexus, middle back, lower back, sacrum, genitals, tail bone, anus, perineum, pelvis, thighs, knees, calves, ankles, feet, toes, bones, capillaries, muscles, glands, organs, tissues, nerves, cells, and the like. Taking inventory of these points or other known tension spots in the body throughout the day may prove to be a considerable aid in conserving our energy, health, and well being.
Become aware of all that takes us away from grace, harmony, love, and well being and learn to nurture Self (our state of Integrity) more continuously. Feel free to utilize breathing exercises, asana, or visualization throughout the day to bring Self back into a conscious relationship and harmony. Practicing meditation daily helps us to orientate our daily in closer harmony with the source of creation, consciousness, and bliss.
Bathing in ancient India was most often performed in cold river water and such was generally prohibited directly after finishing asanas, in order to avoid chills to the system because hatha yoga activated the fire of kundalini. A warm or hot shower however after hatha will not harm our system or present distress as long as we perform our actions by honoring the life energy within. Indeed sweating, opening the skin pores, and the hatha yoga cleansing activities (the shat karmas or kriyas) are very helpful at first to remove irritations and energy blockages.
Sweating, shat Karmas (yoga cleansing exercises), fasting, hydrotherapy, and other purifying activities are mutually synergistic with yoga.
Survival (Earth Chakra)
Hatha yoga practice augments, activates, and strengthens all our body systems, glands, and organs including the reproductive system. Some people who have mistaken spirituality to be the opposite of sexuality may become temporarily disturbed or even frightened when such increased health and power occur. Such difficulties are easily overcome when we realize that we also have more control and options through our increased understanding and purification on how this sexual power and energy can manifest.
The true yogi/yogini does not suppress, inhibit, or sublimate the generative procreative functions, but rather allows it expression in the wholistic context of ahimsa and spiritual practice. Brahma is the aspect/god of generation and creation and hence pro-creation. True Brahmacharya thus is acting in accordance with this powerful dynamic within creation/nature. As yoga embodies spirit uniting heaven and earth, crown and muladhara chakras, mind and body, male and female, shiva and shakti, here one strives for the realization of this non-dual spiritual union.
Neurotic sexual activity for mere excitation, pleasure,
discharge, release, gratification, control, power, vanity, acceptance, or security
is thus displaced with the enlightened attitude of regeneration, healing, and spontaneous
wholesome re-integration. Sexuality no longer is seen as a fragmented isolated activity,
but increasingly in the greater context of the manifestation of evolutionary
life energy, nature, or creative life affirming activity.
Because the present culture does not understand sexuality within a coherent context (as it does not honor, acknowledge, nor understand nature or life itself), there is much aberrant, incoherent, irrational, and negative pathological thought prevalent today about what is "proper" sexual behavior. this subject requires more indepth attention in order to effectively deal with the dissociation and disempowerment from feeling pleasure and the subsequent war on feelings in general. Functional yoga however empowers us to feel more deeply and get to the heart of existence, rather than to overly objectify. The current anti-nature and anti-sexual cultural presumption reflects a tragic misunderstanding of creation and embodiment. There there is absolutely nothing anti-spiritual about our animal nature; but rather conversely it is necessary for us to honor life (our animal nature) in the context of spirit and become empowered or in-spirited in our daily intercourse. That is what functional spiritual attempts to bring home. Thus integrating Crown with Root -- Sky and earth, Shiva with Shakti. mind with body, spirit with nature/creation, and so forth is the functional goal of hatha yoga. In this sense our physical environment as well as emotional/psychic environments will interact with our conscious practice as it is part of an overall dynamic. These environments will have an effect on our practice, and our practice will have an effect on these environments.
Just as our eating habits will change once we start yoga practice, hatha yoga practice will affect our body, psyche, and habitat; and this in turn will change our own self image and social relationships. As these new attitudes and forces become integrated in our lives there may be times of apparent tension or conflict as we move from the old patterns (stagnant order) to the new. Various phenomena, variously called healing crises or purification crises, may occur where this transition may incomplete or there is attachment. Sometimes other people in our lives in which we shared projected negative roles may try to hold unto the past image of our old stagnant self may resist seeing you as you are now and thus fight any evolutionary spiritual change.
When such hindrances occurs, we can:
Increase our practice thus burning up faster the old conditioned pattern or
Fast, practice silence (mouna), undergo increased purification practice (tapas), and so forth.
Go on a nature retreat or spiritual retreat.
Associate more with authentic and dedicated spiritual friends. In short discontinue associations and relationships with presumptuous, prejudiced, haughty, arrogant, judgmental, bigoted, assuming, narrowminded, narcissistic, smug, self centered, jealous, greedy, paranoid, angry, contemptuous, hateful, and ignorant people; while spending more time with open minded, open hearted, loving, compassionate, humble, tolerant, patient, generous, and wise people.
These activities may help accelerate painful transition processes, effectively accelerating growth and progress. Our other alternative than to "ride it out" is to investigate the underlying cause of the pain, the attachment, or the disturbance and to find its root within us and eliminate it. Through functional practice which increases self understanding we eventually activate previously innate dormant power that we never before realized, and hence we increasingly take more responsibility for our own health, destiny, and freedom. We eventually realize that all disease and health is a result of the internal prana circuitry or rather the kundalini or its blockage (disease).
Human animals are engaged in the evolutionary process of awakening from a sleep. We are becoming aware of the familiar prisons that we have become comfortable with. We are becoming aware of our estrangement, conditioning, illusions, and dysfunctional modalities. When we release our grip on these we affirm the beauty and sacredness in life. We have a choice to either awaken and thus drop the old past patterns (conditioning); or else succumb to the old dysfunctional identifications and relationships by suppressing the kundalini energy, evolutionary energy, creative, prana, or shakti. When we are at a spiritual emergence plateau an illness may occur because of the tensions of these two energies (conditioning and evolutionary energy). Instead of suppressing the life energies through food, drugs, alcohol, or other dissipations, we must learn to joyfully "take the ride" and learn to be deeply calm, peaceful, and centered with the increased or rising shakti energy -- as a deeply peaceful and intelligent energy.
Yoga practice increases our awareness, presence, and sensitivity, which means that we become more sensitive and aware of other people's tragedies, attachments, aversions (fear and hatred), passions, delusions, and insecurities as well as their creative potential. This heightened awareness of egoic or fragmented existence must be balanced with a heightened awareness of animated nature, a living creation. An our sensitivity increases, as we awaken we must increase our ability to remain centered with deep integrity, wholesomeness, love, and healing energies which we bring with us evermore in all our situations.
As our awareness of suffering increases and manifests as compassion so too must our awareness of the great harmony, of divine love increase, and manifest as joy. Here we go beyond sadness and happiness, beyond an equanimous state, beyond symptoms of separation altogether. A truly balanced and enlightened yoga practice will pro-actively prevent rough edges or the need of healing crises in the first place.
An ideal environment for rapid spiritual progress with yoga is a quiet, clean, warm, and natural location amongst spiritually mature, humble, and aspiring fellow beings who naturally honor, respect, and revere the life force and the sacredness of nature. Of course our prevalent society is not yet this way; and so for most of us this is good reason to increase our practice in order not to be too adversely affected by the present alienated and mean spirited milieu. The more effective our practice, the less affected we become by potential adversity in our environment.
Other synergistic aids are the meditative arts, song, chanting, ritual, drumming, creative music, sacred art, dancing, prayer, visualization, ceremony, psychotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, naturopathy, massage, tai-chi, authentic dance, chi dance, improvisation, chi gong, akido, caporeia, eurthymy, nature walks, spiritual gardening, peacefulness, and other body/mind therapy or movement therapy.
May we be conscious of what energy centers and chakras are operative, being activated, or depleted throughout the day and thus be able to reside in balance, energized, interconnected, healthy, and whole. May we be able to abide in the wholistic state of compassion for those lost in fragmentation and ignorance, just as we would wish compassion and help when we ourself are learning our next lesson.
May we attune our body, our heart, and our consciousness so that we honor the life force, follow it throughout all our activities and relationships in a sacred manner, and heal self and others as the imperative operative in all opportunities in which we allow consciousness to manifest. May we realize our place with respect in the deep and sacred community of life. May we remember and honor in justice all our relations and accept response-ability for our actions as conscious beings to acknowledge, revere, and nurture life wherever it resides and to do only justice toward it. May we go beyond justice into healing the earth and bring our fellow human beings into this harmony, light, and love: into their true residence and full resonance. May we become this wisdom, compassion, peace, healing power, and strength. May we be graced not to wander astray in order to fulfill this task of unending love -- the task of truth.
Ho. It is Sacred!
The Attainment of Non-attainment
"Once Tilopa advised his disciple (Naropa) to go off to an isolated retreat and avoid any meditation. Now, this may seem a little unusual for a meditation retreat. He explains, however, that when you go to meditate, you normally take up something to meditate on, some thing. That thing, and therefore that meditation, is necessarily artificial. The practice of Mahamudra is not like that all. It is not taking up a thing called Mahamudra and meditating on it. Ultimately, Mahamudra practice is meditation directly on reality itself. Reality is not something devised or made up. What you have to do is accustom yourself to that, practice that."
HH Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, The Practice of Mahamudra, Snow Lion, New York, 1999
The Variety of Yoga Teachings and Teachers: How to Contact Your Inner Teacher (a large document)
Hatha Yoga Asana Practice: An Energy Body Approach (New 12-08-04)
The Energy Body, the Five Koshas, and Three Kayas
Chakra Purification Meditation
Hatha Yoga Portal/Index