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Spiritual Awakening: Hints for Daily Life — Jnana Yoga

Spiritual Awakening: Hints for Daily Life — Jnana Yoga

By Swami Karunananda
Depending on our temperament, we can pursue the journey of awakening in various ways. If we wish to develop the will and gain mastery over the mind, we can take a Raja Yoga approach. If we tend to be analytical and intellectual, there is the path of Jnana Yoga. If we are more devotional by nature, we can take a Bhakti Yoga approach. If we have an active temperament, there is Karma Yoga. Whatever approach we choose, we can transform our daily lives into spiritual practice, preparing us for the highest realization.
Jnana Yoga is the path of wisdom. It is suitable for people of an intellectual nature. Jnana Yogis see all of creation as the play of Maya, or illusion. They seek to experience that which is permanent or unchanging midst all the changes in life. They develop keen discrimination and ultimately experience the Supreme Witness within.
Hints for Daily Practice:
  1. Cultivate the attitude of the witness at all times. Identify with the level of the mind that is aware of all that is happening, rather than the part that is undergoing all the changes. This will help you to maintain your peace in all situations.
  2. Try designating certain times of the day, (e.g., before meals or answering a phone call), when you pause for a moment and just observe the mind.
  3. As a meditation practice, witness thoughts as they come and go.
  4. If the mind gets disturbed, question the thoughts. Ask, “Where did these thoughts come from? How did they come? Who is disturbed? How do I know this? Who am I then?” A little analysis will reveal that anything you can observe 
is not you. This technique is called Self-inquiry. It helps you to transcend the changing mind and attunes you to the eternal Witness within.
  5. Remind yourself that everything you see has a beginning, middle and end, and therefore, is not eternal or “real.” This is the “neti, neti” approach, meaning “not this, not this.” By negating what is not real, you ultimately arrive at what is real, or always existent and true.
  6. To help cultivate greater awareness, practice introspection before retiring at night. Replay the tape of the day’s events, noting the actions and reactions of the body and min
     

     

     

    Swami Karunananda is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda. In 1975, she was ordained as a monk into the Holy Order of Sannyas. She has had over 40 years experience teaching all aspects of Yoga and specializes now in workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs that focus on the science of meditation, the philosophy of Yoga, personal transformation, and Yoga breathing techniques for better health and wellbeing. She developed, and for 25 years has taught, the Integral Yoga Teacher Training programs in Raja Yoga and in Meditation.

    Swami Karunananda served as president of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia and in California, as well as director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and as the chairperson of the Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, VA.

    Interested in fostering interfaith understanding and harmony, she is featured in the interfaith documentary entitled, With One Voice. She also compiled and edited the Lotus Prayer Book, a collection of prayers from various faith traditions, and Enlightening Tales as told by Sri Swami Satchidananda. She served as contributing editor for The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, as well as a senior writer for the Integral Yoga Magazine. In her book, Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga, she describes the spiritual path and provides guidance for the journey.

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Students, the Brain, and Stress: Why Yoga in Schools is Critical

Students, the Brain, and Stress: Why Yoga in Schools is Critical

By Juliet Kaluzniacki, Founder of Planet Namaste

The notion that schools are a safe environment is eroding quickly. Schools are supposed to be havens for students, a place where they learn, grow and thrive. Unfortunately, over the last several years we have witnessed Columbine and Sandy Hook, and have heard stories of bullying and teenage suicide. We have seen teachers and professors shot by disgruntled students. For decades, schools have had fire drills and earthquake drills in some parts of the country—and now they carry out active shooter drills.

Growing up in this type of environment wreaks havoc with our students. Colleges are reporting an increased need for mental health services, and the number of students reporting stress and depression is at an all-time high.

Two main issues are at play: the teenage brain and the environment. Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegal describes the brain as having two distinct areas: an upstairs/logical part that houses the cerebral cortex and the downstairs/emotional part that is more primitive and is responsible for innate reactions such as the fight or flight response. From birth until the late teens, the brain’s predominant decision-making mechanism is the downstairs/emotional part of the brain. The upstairs brain is not fully developed until the age of 27. Inherently, students are not equipped with the brain power to handle the amount of stress that they experience on a daily basis.

The environment, including the school environment, additionally plays a key role in stress. According to licensed psychologist Monica Neel, “Any type of threat, real or imagined, and remembered stress or threats have the same physiological response in our bodies.”  When humans are faced with stressful situations, real or imagined, the stress feedback loop is activated, telling us to fight or flee; however, rarely are we required to do either one. Without being able to release the stress via fight or flight, the trauma remains in our cells and becomes chronic. Psychology Today reports that chronic stress leads to a multitude of health issues, including anxiety, depression, digestion, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory. Simply being exposed to threatening images can cause trauma.

Imagine what students are experiencing 24/7. Biologically, their hormones are surging; emotionally, their feelings are rampant and overwhelming. Then add traumatizing images from the media, headlines about the “Mother of all Bombs,” images of migrants who have perished, and videos of immigrants being arrested and deported. Furthermore, being friended/unfriended on Facebook and having your entire life under scrutiny via social media can be personally traumatic. These factors all trigger the stress-feedback loop to release cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase the heart rate. Physically, the body is preparing for battle, yet the brain is not developed enough yet to make sense of it. Add the pressure of school. Every day, every hour, students are competing with their peers. Only one person can be valedictorian.  Only one teammate can be MVP. Only one student can be first chair in the band. Students’ brains are not fully developed to be able cope with such pervasive and constant stress.

Yoga can help students manage their stress. We can’t control brain development, we can’t control the environment, but we can control how we interpret and react to the world around us.  Yoga can teach students how to listen to their bodies so they can recognize the physical feelings of stress and adjust, through tricks like controlling their breath. Simply by controlling the breath, students can immediately lower their heart rate and decrease blood pressure. Yoga is a comprehensive system of wellness that incorporates the mind, body, and spirit. If more schools offered yoga, there would be less stress in our students, and our students would be better focused, happier, and learn lifelong skills of wellness, health, and resilience.

 

Juliet Kaluzniacki, founder of Planet Namaste and member of Burbank Unified School District’s Department of Mental Health and Wellness, is working to integrate yoga into the schools as a way to teach children and young adults coping mechanisms and mindfulness to enhance their mental health.

Adventuring Through the World with Yoga : A Travel Memoir

Adventuring Through the World with Yoga : A Travel Memoir

By Djahariah Mitra

Several years ago, Integral Yoga teacher Djahariah Mitra traveled to India. Her book, Dancing in the Bamboo Forest: A Travel Memoir emerged from deep within her as one fruit of her travels and she shares an excerpt here.

I braved the thought of attending my first Hatha Yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute of Coimbatore the evening of my arrival. I dragged my stiff joints and tingly calves down the hallway, through the dining room and through the back door that led to a little patio outside. I clambered up the tight, winding spiral fire escape stairs to the roof, arriving a little befuddled with my black foam mat, ready for Yoga class.

There were only two other women; classes tended to be primarily male attended and taught. The Indian women wore full salwar kamise (a long tunic over pants) with the ends of their dupatas (shawls) either tied around their waists or left draped over their shoulders and constantly adjusted throughout class. The men wore western style sweat pants or slacks, and t-shirts. I was the only westerner. The other teacher trainees would arrive in a few days. Half the class would be foreign, half Indian. This Yoga class followed the same routine I had known for years in the US. It was a bit of familiar amidst the unfamiliar. It was comforting.

The warm air and crisp view of the surrounding mountains relaxed my joints and muscles, abused from days of travel. Breathing in the sunset enlivened my heart. Watching the moon watching me in savasana (corpse pose) balanced my energy, my sense of being, my place on this little planet.

Lying on my back on the roof at dusk, looking up at the moon and just awakening stars, I felt my body rotating with the Earth, glued to its surface as it hurtled through space–a tiny living being staring into space on the opposite side of the planet than usual.

In the dining room the next day, I met two foreign women who had already been staying at the ashram for a while. Jan and Madalena were returning from their mountain travels and partying in Ooty. Jan was tall and blonde, a centered Swiss woman full of adventure, traveling by herself through India. Madalena was a small, 17-year-old Mexican girl, with almond colored skin and big green eyes.

“Hey did you just arrive?” Madalena bounced up to me.
“Yeah. Did I miss lunch? Can we use the kitchen? I’m still figuring things out.” I slowly drawled.
“Sure. I don’t know. We ate out. I’ll show you where the tea is.”
She was moving too fast for me, a vibrating orb of energy.
… “You just have to get out there and not be afraid. I’ll take you out later. Just come find me.”

I smiled at this young girl telling me to not be afraid. At 30, I had traveled extensively, lived in many countries, and lived adventurously. Sometimes teachers arrive in our lives in unexpected packages.

Madalena became, not exactly my guide, but a trajectory for me. She was taking a year break to travel and explore her passion for Yoga before going to college. She chose India for her year off while her friends went to Europe to travel in luxury and party before university. Her priority was to continue her Yoga studies and spiritual journey. She had recently dyed her hair. Its coarse nature and golden hue transformed her into a lion with a wild mane.

Madalena felt a profound connection to Swami Satchidananda during her time at Yogaville, his ashram in Virginia. She felt his presence and received his teachings on a deep inner level. She knew she was on the right path, her path. She knew he was her Guru. I wondered how that felt.

How do we know who our Guru is? Guru simply means teacher, but in a profound sense on a spiritual level. A Guru is someone who has experienced higher levels of consciousness and spends his or her time guiding others along their own path.

I felt Swami Satchidananda’s presence for the first time in Mexico at a Teacher Training program the previous year. His shining eyes smiled out at me from the altar and warmed me. I began to read more of his teachings and I heard his voice through Swami Ramananda, his disciple and our teacher during the program.

I felt Swami Satchidananda in India. His presence would appear within me here and there, a wordless voice offering guidance. I felt him laughing–guiding us all to laugh. Life isn’t so serious, so heavy, so dire, so permanent. That was his guidance for me. We are beings of energy, not stone. Life is movement and change. Let go and be moved. Let go.

Laughing is love. Life isn’t so serious.

Djahariah Mitra began traveling at the age of three, lucky to have parents with a connection to the world and the desire to satisfy the need to experience that connection. She chose the degree of World, Arts and Cultures at UCLA as a continuation of that interest and as a catalyst to travel extensively and live in different countries. She continued her study of culture and movement by delving deeper into her Yoga practice. Inspired by the peace she felt at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City, she trained to become a Yoga teacher. She spent a year living in India studying Yoga from asana classes to meditation and Sanskrit chanting workshops. She is the author of Dancing in the Bamboo Forest: A Travel Memoir. She blogs about yogic philosophy at djahariahmitra.com.

Fact or Fiction: What Do You Believe? A Dive into the Yoga Sutras

Fact or Fiction: What Do You Believe? A Dive into the Yoga Sutras

By Beth Hinnen

If there is one thing we start to see with Yoga practice, it is that thoughts constantly bombard our minds. Remember being in Paschtimottanasana for what felt like forever with a tornado of swirling thoughts, from that embarrassing event 20 years ago to what’s for dinner tonight? Not to mention how much more glaring it all became in meditation. With the mind being one of my great interests since I started practicing Yoga, this now is more understandable, given that current research, according to the Internet, suggests that humans have a thought somewhere in the range of just under one to a whopping seven per second. No wonder first-time yogis and meditators can walk away with a spinning head! Where does one even start to restrain the modifications, those vritti, modifications of the mind-stuff in order to experience Yoga, as Patanjali guides us in the Yoga Sutras? How can we move past the bombardment to have just one millimeter of space between thoughts?

To answer this, I distinguish between the two, vritti and individual thoughts, because in my experience, the brain has just one job, to create separate thoughts. In that way, I liken it to the heart, which has the sole purpose of circulating blood in the body. As individual thoughts are created, I imagine they can come and go “like clouds on a summer day,” a phrase often used in preparation for deep relaxation in Integral Yoga classes. Except, what tends to happen, is that one thought provokes a connection to another thought, which leads to an entire storyline that then gets blown up into a novel. Suddenly, deep relaxation is over in a second (at least it feels like that) because instead of letting go, I am caught up in, mentally experiencing, a whirlwind story and not relaxation.

For me, these vritti, or whirlwinds, are what happens when thoughts do not pass straight through the mind. The thoughts themselves aren’t necessarily the problem. It’s when they connect and build upon each other to create storylines that seem as real and believable as what is actually happening in the moment, that becomes the issue. For instance, when doing the dishes I may be caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts of what life would be like to never to have to do dishes again, how lovely that would be, how much time I’d have to do super important stuff, how soft my hands would be, and suddenly, my finger is cut by a knife. Being off in a whirlwind took me away from what is true, handling a sharp knife! Such whirlwinds are the vritti Patanjali would have us restrain. “But they (vritti) feel so real!” many a student (including myself) has remarked. And as devoted yogis, intent on restraining those vritti, we finally ask, “Are any stories or whirlwinds accurate, helpful? Which ones are harmful? How can I tell the difference?”

Enter Patanjali’s sutras 5 to11* in the first pada (or section). These seven sutras offer the very good news that out of all the billions (yes, billions) of whirlwinds a person can have over an average lifetime, each one falls into just one of two categories and into one of five types. Indeed, sutra 5 directly states that every whirlwind, no matter how long, involved, mesmerizing, horrible or fantastic, is either categorized as painful (leading toward suffering) or painless (leading away from suffering). So simple, so refreshing! And yet, there is a clue here that it will take some practice to see which is which as Patanjali did not say the opposite of painful is pleasurable. It turns out that vritti can convince us that a story/event is pleasurable when it is actually painful.

Let’s go back to washing the dishes. The whirlwind about having soft hands, and time to do other things appears pleasurable, though what it clearly led to was a painful event, a cut finger. Now, instead of being caught up in a whirlwind, if while washing the dishes I am present to every thought that arises in each moment such as, the water is hot (I add cold water if too hot); the dishes are dirty (I scrub a bit more); an unidentifiable object is at the bottom of the sink (I take my time to retrieve it); it’s a knife! And I carefully wash the knife without a single nick or scratch. Not only have I experienced a painless episode, I have also realized that perhaps the vritti are not true or accurate! The story that is woven from a simple thought may take a kernel of truth (I’m washing dishes) and lead me into a fantasy (if I weren’t washing dishes my hands would be soft, I’d be doing something important, this is not a lovely way to spend time). This fantasy vritti is telling me a story I have no way of experiencing unless I actually stop washing the dishes! However, if I attend to washing the dishes, I can experience a vritti (which may feel like a gentle, refreshing breeze) that is true, and includes the temperature of the water, the state of the dishes, an unexamined object. In this case, the true vritti is painless, and indeed, is simply bringing me information.

Which leads to sutra 6 where the vritti are broken down into five types, “They are right knowledge, misperception, conceptualization, sleep and memory.” These types can help us identify vritti as painful or painless, though not always, as we will see. However, Sutra 7 is fairly straightforward stating, “The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference, and authoritative testimony.” The word “right” is a clue for pointing to painless vritti. However, it can be loaded with its own vritti, as what is “right” can vary from person to person! For me, I like to instead use “helpful,” “reliable,” “timely,” “accurate,” or even “compassionate” as a qualifier for knowledge. And to alleviate confusion later on, I will capitalize the word Knowledge, implying that Knowledge means it is “right,” helpful, reliable, timely, accurate, and compassionate.

So, going back to our dishes example, I gained Knowledge through direct perception when I attended to the dishes. Direct perception is my own experience. If I am off in a whirlwind about never doing dishes again, I am not experiencing doing the dishes. Not only do the chances of hurting myself increase, I actually never allow myself to see if I do like doing the dishes! Without being in a story, I may experience the warmth of the water, or laugh at the soap bubbles, or find joy from a dirty dish becoming clean, or feel gratitude for a sparkling kitchen. Which is why the word “direct” is critical to gaining Knowledge. If I do the dishes with any story in my head, it is not a direct experience. Only when I am truly present to the moment am I having a direct experience or perception.

Must that be the case all the time? Not according to the second source of Knowledge, inference, which has an indirect quality to it. A dictionary definition, “to draw a conclusion, as by reasoning,” leaves this source vague. Indeed, it almost suggests jumping to a conclusion. Rather, Reverend Jaganath’s Sanskrit interpretation* resonates with me: “the process of drawing a logical conclusion regarding an experience through accurate recall and assessment.” This clearly outlines a higher standard. If we go back to the dishwashing experience, perhaps my fingers brush the unidentified object hidden at the bottom of the sink (experience). Instantly I remember using a knife to prepare the meal, setting it by the sink to be washed (both recollections), and when I carefully touch the object again and feel smooth metal (assessment), internally I exclaim, “knife!” without seeing it or feeling its entirety per direct perception. Over time, with experience and memory (another type of vritti), my ability to infer can become more accurate and counted on as Knowledge. I may even begin to experience intuition, or insight, what I define as an instantaneous dropping in of Knowledge that might come from a Divine source or through consciousness simply piecing together facts gathered over time coupled with experience.

Which could be the very reason why there are three ways to obtain Knowledge. This way, Knowledge can be corroborated, backed up, verified; it is not subject to the whim of dogma or what is “right” at this point in history. And in fact leads us directly to the third source of Knowledge— authoritative testimony. By including this Patanjali states that we can rely on what the spiritual trailblazers ahead of us discovered and wrote down. These writings, collected as scripture, have stood the test of time because they resonate with each new spiritual seeker. Different words may be used (right vs. helpful), different parables or allegories told, but the concepts and lessons ring true, the directions and places being pointed to are valid, and new readers/seekers have a similar or exact experience that has already been pointed to, described, and practiced. Often, when we have a direct experience, or a flash of insight, we can read about someone else having had the same, or a similar one. And vice versa, we can read about others’ experiences which becomes intellectual knowledge until we actually experience that and it becomes Knowledge for us.

It is key then, to cultivate, use, and refer to these sources of Knowledge on the spiritual path. And yet, in my experience, the least regarded of these is direct perception, my own experience. How many times do I overeat at a buffet only to feel sick a few hours later? Why do I continue to do it? It’s the definition of insanity: repeating the same behavior hoping for different results. Simply put, instead of heeding my Knowledge gained from direct experience, I am listening to a vritti (I’m starving, I must try everything, I can’t let food go to waste!). That’s how powerful vritti can be, and why restraining them is the experience of Yoga.

So it is in sutra 8 that Patanjali gives us the definition one of those powerful whirlwinds that can lead to pain. “Misperception occurs when knowledge of something is not based on its true form.” Back to the dishes. Perhaps while I was so wrapped up in the never-do-dishes-again whirlwind I grasped the unidentified object at the bottom of the sink, felt metal, and mistook it for the soup ladle. Since I was not present until this point, I don’t remember I used a knife, I don’t remember I already washed the ladle. What I have is incomplete information, or misperception, as opposed to direct perception. This is the classic jumping to a conclusion. And it is so believable because it is based on a kernel of truth (both the ladle and the knife have metal). Possibly, this is the most common whirlwind we encounter; and it is very much a place of stories running away with us.

Are we doomed? Can we change misperception into Knowledge? Yes. We can practice patience; taking the time to find out more information with direct experience. We can practice presence, attending to what is happening in the moment, another way of gaining direct perception. A ripe place for misperception is in interacting with others. When we hear someone say something, before we instantly jump to a conclusion we can ask questions, we can clarify what they mean by what they said.

Which leads into the next pain-inducing whirlwind, sutra 9: “Knowledge that is based on language alone, independent of any external object, is conceptualization.” Here, there is no kernel of truth, no external point of reference, no basis of a platform from which to jump to a conclusion. This is pure imagination, subjective realities created from the mind’s incessant inner dialogues. Referring to it as lower case knowledge, this, in the vernacular, is gossip. I also see it as garbage in, garbage out. And yet, there are two places where conceptualization could be painless. In the creation of art; and in the use of visualization for healing the body. I project that art comes from a fantastical amalgam of experience, imagination/conceptualization, and Divine inspiration. It may not be true or accurate (novels, plays, paintings) and yet, we can resonate with the universal messages of human emotions, such as love, sadness, anger, disappointment, joy. This could be painless vritti as it connects us in common experience and reminds us, we are not alone. As for healing visualization, there have been numerous medical studies now that support whatever the mind believes, the body goes along with it. So if the mind’s whirlwinds are directed toward healing images, the body responds. Now that sounds like a painless vritti indeed.

Until now, the previous three sutras addressed gathering information (which may or may not turn into Knowledge). Sutra 10 addresses no input: “That mental modification which depends on the thought of nothingness is sleep.” Here the concept is dreamless sleep, the absence of any mental activity (i.e. no dreaming). This can also be experienced in deep states of meditation, where one can be conscious of this “nothingness” whereas in sleep, it is most likely remembered only upon waking. Such an absence of mental activity is a very healing state for the body and mind, lending to this vritti being painless. Recent research shows that the brain has its own lymphatic system that drains toxins over a six to eight hour period, adding to the importance of a good night’s rest.

Finally, we arrive at sutra 11: “Memory is the recollection of experienced objects.” This vritti is important as a learning tool. We remember how to drive a car, how to cook food, indeed, how to wash dishes. And yet memory can be affected by current vritti, and even more suspect, could have been affected by vritti at the time the memory was made. It is also helpful to consider that memories are built from all previous four sutras. So, is this a vritti that is painful or painless? Here is where discernment will be a useful tool. While memories keep stores of good information for future use, they can also keep us stuck in our ways, living in the past, and harboring ill-will far into the future. My practice with memories is the same as with emotions. I figure a memory can last anywhere from one to ninety seconds. After that, it’s a whirlwind that could be leading me toward suffering.

So how do we practice with vritti going forward? Focus attention on the sources of Knowledge: direct perception, inference, and authoritative testimony. And drop, yes drop, everything else. Then, when you do find yourself caught in painful vritti, start asking, “How do I know that?” Before long, the spaces between the whirlwinds will get longer, the whirlwinds will slow down to thoughts, and the thoughts can come and go “like clouds on a summer day.”

*All translations taken from Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by Reverend Jaganath Carrera.

Beth Hinnen began her Yoga teaching path with the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Program in 2001. Afterward, she took the Intermediate, Advanced, Raja, and Prenatal trainings. With over 1,000 hours in Yoga certifications (including Structural Yoga Therapy), Beth taught in the New York City area for over 10 years, both privately and in classes. In 2013 she moved back to her native state, Colorado, to open a common-denominational spiritual center named Samaya (“right timing” in Sanskrit) following Sri Swami Satchidananda’s teaching, “Truth is one, paths are many.” She currently also studies Buddhism.

How To Have a Successful Meditation Practice: One Without Break that Continues For a Long Time

How To Have a Successful Meditation Practice: One Without Break that Continues For a Long Time

By Bharati Gardino

You may be an experienced meditator. Even so I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you go through periods of a few days, weeks, or months, when for one reason or another you don’t get up in time to have a formal sitting. This is not unusual. And, you are not alone if you still struggle from time to time with your mind about the necessity of dragging yourself out of bed before dawn possibly to deal with pins and needles or even worse, nodding out from time to time. Then there is the endless barrage of other obstacles to your practice that the mind invents and you must confront.

If this sounds familiar, you might find solace in the fact that this same situation is being experienced by most of us right here at Yogaville and elsewhere in the extended family of Yoga practitioners. Despite the obstacles, many of us are doing very well on this path and are presently engaged in what is known as a regular meditation practice—a daily practice which has been going on for many years and without any break.

You may recognize these words from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which states “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.” Up until a few years ago, my own meditation practice of over 25 years was very erratic—a year of meditating regularly, a few weeks or months of inconsistency, then back on track for a while, and so it continued. I had certainly been meditating for a long time, but not without break and not with all earnestness!

Then, several years ago, circumstances in my life led me to a heartfelt conviction that the only thing that made sense in my life was the task of getting directly in touch with the part of myself that was beyond the mental modifications, or thoughts. In one moment I knew that the most important thing in my life was to develop a deep and continuous practice of meditation. And so that evening I set the alarm for 4:30 AM and my daily meditation practice began. Like an ever-ready battery it’s been going, and going, and going ever since.

I’d often wondered about the ingredients for success of other Yogaville sangha members who had been able to keep up a consistent meditation practice. After interviewing several Ashram and community members about their practice, I found some common threads. There seem to be five necessary ingredients in the process of developing a daily practice that continues for many years, and without break. They are:

  1. Having a personal conviction
  2. Knowing how to discipline the mind
  3. Vigilance
  4. Love for what you are doing
  5. A strong desire to succeed

Conviction

You need a strong unshakeable conviction that meditation should be an essential aspect of your life. You need to feel on a very deep level that what you are trying to do is crucial to your success in the realization of your inner peace. Such a conviction may come quickly from one very personal and moving life experience, or it may develop more slowly from years of accumulated experiences.

All of the long time meditators I interviewed so far have stated that the major motivating factor in their regular practice was the fact that they were absolutely convinced that this practice was beneficial to and important in their life.

You may not think that you have a personal conviction. Perhaps there is no single dramatic experience that comes to mind, which is responsible for your certainty that this practice is important for you. However, if you have a keen interest in developing a daily meditation practice, the chances are that you also have a personal conviction about it.

Close your eyes for a few moments and put yourself into a relaxed state of mind. Think back to how your life was before you began practicing Yoga. Recall the incidents leading up to your interest in Yoga and the reasons why you began your practice. Then take some time to reflect upon your life right now. Also take a few minutes and consider how you would like your life to be in the future.

Somewhere in the beginning, middle, or end of this review, you are likely to find a personal conviction that meditation is an essential aspect of your daily life. This belief, and the experiences that led you to this belief will help to carry you through the probable maze of obstacles that the mind will invent to undermine your efforts to develop a daily practice that continues for many years, without interruption. In times of dryness in your practice, and in times of doubt or other weakness, you can draw upon your conviction as you remind yourself why it is important not to give in to the minds attempts to undermine your daily efforts.

Discipline

Discipline is needed when controlling the mind. Discipline is the understanding, training, and reshaping of the thought patterns. You have to learn to recognize which thoughts are helpful and which are not. Then you have to know how to encourage the helpful thoughts and discourage everything else. In developing a consistent meditation practice, the need for discipline will make itself known very early on.

To begin with, when the alarm goes off in the morning, you have to decide which thoughts or voices to listen to and which to ignore. Consider yourself especially blessed or lucky if you go to sleep thinking about how great it will be to wake up the next morning at 4:40 AM or at whatever time you have decided will be the appointed hour. And, know that you are doubly blessed if, when you awake, you are able to jump out of bed without a thought. I know, because the first six months or so of my practice was exactly like that.

There are a few people who from day one have absolutely loved to arise before dawn and have never had to face the obstacles I’ll be talking about. I sincerely wish that you are one of those people. If so, reading on may increase your gratefulness, if nothing else! It is more common that most of us who have been meditating regularly for years, found that at some point our enthusiasm waned, and we were confronted with a number of early morning voices that made it difficult just to get out of bed.

These voices exist only to sabotage the willpower. The crucial point is that the voices you hear are nothing but echoes of a mind that is used to doing what it wants. It is testing you. Accept the fact that you may hear them when you awake and learn not to be influenced by them. And, be sure to create planned responses that can deflate the influence they could have on you. Below are a few of the voices people spoke about during our interviews and some or their responses:

Voice #1:

I’m so tired. Even though I went to bed early, I didn’t fall asleep until late and then I woke up every few hours. I’ll just go back to sleep for another hour and tomorrow I’ll get up on time.

Possible Responses:

  1. I’ve just decided to have a daily practice, without break and in full earnestness. If I don’t get up and meditate now I probably won’t do it tomorrow. For “x” number of years I have periodically succumbed to your voice. I am not going to spend the next 25 in the same way.
  2. When I am 60 or 70 years old and I have to decide once again for the umpteenth time to have a daily meditation practice, I will still have to face this very same voice speaking to me now saying “I’m too tired, Start tomorrow.” This thought is too unbearable to live with.
  3. I have awoken each day of my life for the last “x” number of years to start a new day. This is just a little bit earlier.

Much of our life drifts away from us because we allow ourselves to be deluded by the mind. For example: “I’ll start my diet tomorrow. I’ll sign up for that Yoga class next week. I’ll spend more time with my family as soon as I get a better job.” We allow the mind to trick us into believing that what we are unable to do in this moment will miraculously be very easy for us in a day, a week or a month.

Voice #2:

This meditation stuff is getting me nowhere. Look at the rest of the world. There are plenty of happy people who are leading productive and creative lives. They don’t torture themselves with this nonsense. Go back to sleep. You can meditate later if you really want to.

Possible Responses:

  1. It may be true that other people are happy without meditation. But the fact is, that for whatever reasons, I have never found the kind of happiness and peace that I am seeking in going about my life without some serious discipline.
  2. I know that meditation is an important part of my life and I’m going to stick with it no matter what excuses you make up. Besides, once I get dressed and am in a sitting position, I really enjoy meditating.
  3. If I go back to sleep as you have suggested, I won’t have time to meditate because I have to get to work, or the kids will be up and they’ll need me, or . . .

Voice #3:

Sitting meditation isn’t really that important. You can meditate all day by keeping your mantra going in the back of your mind while going about your tasks.

Possible Responses:

  1. This is a blatant lie! Of course meditation is important. You know you have heard Swami Satchidananda talk about this year after year.
  2. An important purpose of sitting meditation is to prepare me to be able to experience my inner bliss, love, joy, and wisdom, every waking moment of my day. Now get up and get to it!

All the above voices are very difficult to ignore, but we can analyze them and see them for what they are: attempts of an untamed mind to undermine the good intentions we have. These intentions come from the part of the mind that is struggling against all odds to help us connect to the spirit within. They come from the part of the mind that is at odds with the willpower. The willpower, still in its infancy, needs the support of our determination and conviction. We need a determination to forge ahead and not listen to the illusions that the mind presents us with. These illusions trick us into believing that we can find happiness in life simply by following the dictates, whims, and desires of the mind.

We each must recognize and confront our own individual brand of morning voices that want to undermine our practice. Once you become immune to their influence, you have won a major victory. You are that much closer to your goal of developing a daily meditation practice

Vigilance

Vigilance is watchfulness or alertness. It is the unwavering attention to the minds’ various impulses and activities. And through that attentiveness, it is the effort made to decide what kinds of thoughts are to be allowed and what is not permitted. It is by watching what the mind tells us and deciding whether to let the idea pass or not, that we can be successful in our practice. If you do not develop this skill, you may find yourself embroiled in some unwanted habits that interfere with your ability to meditate. My own lack of watchfulness began at a point when I thought I was not getting enough sleep. When I awoke, my body and mind cried out for more rest. If I really needed more sleep, I could have found a better, more effective solution than what follows.

Remaining true to my conviction that the act of getting up and going to meditation was more important than going back to sleep, and, not wanting to sabotage the previous couple of years of regularity, I dragged myself out of bed. But, one morning, I allowed my vigilance to take a nap by making the following compromise with myself. Since I was doing such a great thing by not going back to sleep, I would allow myself to doze off during practice, thus catching up on the rest I thought I needed. Little did I know how big of a mistake this was to become.

I found myself experiencing months of doing nothing but falling asleep during my practice. Once this became a habit, it was tremendously difficult for me to break out of. And it was very unpleasant to have to go through. It took just as many months to finally begin to pick up where I had left off in terms of my focus during meditation. If a similar situation should occur in the future, I plan to handle it differently. One possible solution could be to make certain that I went to sleep earlier. Another could be to drink some energizing ginger tea before beginning my morning practice.

Not all compromises are unhelpful. In fact, a healthy compromise may at times be the only lifeline you have to maintaining your daily practice. One successful comprise I made had to do with a change in my routine one day a week. Instead of attending group morning meditation seven days a week, on Sundays, I allowed myself to sleep late and meditate in my room later. This was what I call a healthy compromise. It was this agreement I made with myself that helped me go the other six days, without exception. For the last year or so I have reduced my attendance to Monday through Friday so that I can practice my sadhana at home with my husband on the weekends.

It is important not to become rigid or unhappy as a result of our disciplines. On one level, the whole purpose in developing any spiritual practice is that we become more peaceful, easeful, and useful individuals. If we find ourselves tense, and inflexible we will most assuredly be useless and perhaps even hurtful to ourselves as well as to others.

Love

Out of all the meditators I have interviewed so far, one person thought to mention what is probably the most important ingredient of all: love. If we don’t love what we do, the effort is dry and likely not to succeed. We may not experience the feeling of love at every moment. But, at the heart of the practice, if there is nothing in our experience that we can say we love to do or love about it, our inner personal conviction, our discipline, and our vigilance may not be enough to enable us to achieve our goal of having a daily practice for many years, without break. My friend talked about how she needs this quiet time every morning so that she can put herself more in touch with her love for God. She also spoke of her love for the early morning walk to Guru Bhavan, the building where the ashram group meditation takes place.

You may be thinking that there is nothing you particularly love about the discipline of a regular practice. But, if you have a sincere interest, backed up by a conviction, you probably can find some love in there. It may be the peaceful feeling you sometimes experience while you are concentrating.

It may be the moment you wake up and feel or smell the fresh air coming in the window. Or, it may be the sounds of the birds in the early morning hours, or the moonlight or the quietness in the house or apartment. If you look, you will be able to find at least one or two things that you really love about what you are doing.

Desire to succeed

Like anything else, desire in and of itself is neither good nor bad. The desire to develop a daily and continuous meditation practice is the thread that weaves itself together with all the other threads to form a beautiful fabric. Without a desire to succeed, your conviction of how meditation benefits you may not be enough to carry you through all the challenges to maintaining a consistent practice. Without a desire to experience the inner peace that reveals itself through a focused mind, your vigilance could lose its grip. Without a desire for the mental and emotional satisfaction that comes to you through a deepened practice, your love for the practice could easily fade away for long periods of time.

Desire and personal conviction go hand in hand in this dance of using one part of the mind to discipline and control the other part of the mind. All of this occurs in and through the mind. The mind is not our enemy on this sublime journey to our higher Self, to our inner peace, or to the Divine within us. It is a mischievous friend that needs to know its limits so that we can enjoy each other’s company more fully.

The daily act of getting out of bed and onto the meditation cushion is a major step toward controlling the thought waves in the mind. And now that you have disciplined the mind enough to be getting up every morning, another kind of discipline is called for: the practice of concentration. After all, you didn’t get yourself out of a warm, cozy bed at an unbelievably early hour of the morning to sit while your mind proceeds to behave in the usual fashion. Left to its own devices, the mind will run rampant and you will be doing nothing more than day dreaming. This will produce little, if any, inner satisfaction and may later become another one of the mind’s morning voices, saying, “There is really no point in getting up early. All you do is sit and daydream anyway!”

Every last one of us who practices meditation has to learn how to keep the mind from wandering. The moment I notice that my mind has wandered from its given focus, I call the meditation hotline and they put me in touch with someone who can help. Some mornings I’m on the phone a lot! These are some of the helpful hotline regulars:

  1. The Witness

The witness simply sits within and watches each thought as it appears. The witness doesn’t say hello, doesn’t tell the thoughts to go away, and doesn’t whisper boo! It patiently watches and waits until the thought leaves on its own accord. After all, what would you do if you entered a room and there was no one there to talk with, no one to disturb, and absolutely nothing to do? Probably you would leave too. The power of the witness is in its ability to remain uninvolved in the mental movements.

  1. The Night Watch Person

This watch person prevents intrusions by fending off trespassers. The moment a trespasser enters the mind, the watch person requires that they leave. This is done by saying to the thoughts: “You don’t belong here. If you’d like to speak with the owner, come back after meditation and he or she will be happy to give you the full attention you would like.” The power of the watch person is in its resolve to keep the unwanted thoughts out of the area for the time being.

  1. The Pearl Diver

The pearl diver visualizes a treasure deep within the ocean. That treasure might be a light, a sound, or an inspiring image. The pearl diver thrusts its entire self into the darkness of the ocean. The power of the pearl diver is in its ability to never lose sight of its treasured goal.

  1. The Thunder

The thunder helps us mentally shout out the mantra as loudly as possible. It gives the mantra such a booming voice that nothing and nobody can stand to be in its presence. All thoughts scatter to the nether lands in fright. The power of the thunder is in its ability to make the mantra completely dominate the scene.

The responses we give to the obstacles that arise in the mind and the tactics we use to bring our minds back to center are tools to be used temporarily. After some time of consistent practice, the mind becomes somewhat tamed. We look forward to getting up early. No longer is it a struggle. Of course the time frame varies from one person to another, but with a daily routine for quite a while and without lapses, the mind does becomes quiet and calm more easily and more quickly. Then it is no longer necessary to use these tools on a regular basis.

Earlier, I quoted Patanjali’s sutra 14 in Book I that says, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” The word “practice” refers to a great deal more than our sitting meditation. It means nothing less than our entire Yoga practice— the practice that continues the other sixteen or so hours each day. And that practice is to learn how to live our lives so that every circumstance we find ourselves in becomes an opportunity to remain a peaceful, easeful, and useful individual.

To all our readers, whether just beginning a meditation practice or having been meditating for many years, we invite you to share your tips for success. If there is room in future issues, they may be included for the benefit of others.

Bharati Gardino has been practicing Integral Yoga since 1970. Before moving to Yogaville with her husband, Joe, in 1986, she served at the Integral Yoga Institute of New Britain (Connecticut) and later became a Special Education teacher. Joe and Bharati managed the Lotus View Organic Garden at the Virginia Ashram from 1987 to 1994. Bharati has served in the Yogaville Credit Union and in the Integral Yoga Teachers Association. Since retiring from public school teaching eight years ago, she serves as a community volunteer in the Satchidananda Ashram Prison Project, teaches Hatha Yoga classes at the ashram, and enjoys sewing robes for the monastics in the community. After first writing this article in 1996, she continues to have a regular meditation practice.

Spiritual Awakening: Hints for Daily Life — Raja Yoga

Spiritual Awakening: Hints for Daily Life — Raja Yoga

By Swami Karunananda

Depending on our temperament, we can pursue the journey of awakening in various ways. If we wish to develop the will and gain mastery over the mind, we can take a Raja Yoga approach. If we tend to be analytical and intellectual, there is the path of Jnana Yoga. If we are more devotional by nature, we can take a Bhakti Yoga approach. If we have an active temperament, there is Karma Yoga. Whatever approach we choose, we can transform our daily lives into spiritual practice, preparing us for the highest realization.

RAJA YOGA

Raja Yoga is the science of meditation. It addresses of every level of the individual – physical, mental, intellectual, social and spiritual – and aims at total self-mastery. Through daily practice, the body and mind are purified and strengthened, making them fit to handle any challenges that may arise. The Raja Yogi realizes the Self within and then sees that same Spirit in everyone and everything.

Hints for Daily Practice:

  1. Practice meditation daily. If you are a beginner, try to have two sittings of at least fifteen minutes every day. Gradually, increase the length till you can sit for thirty to sixty minutes at a time.
  2. Practice pranayama daily. It is an excellent preparation for meditation and will help you to maintain optimal health and vitality.
  3. Observe your breath as you go about your daily activities. If it becomes disturbed, make it calm, slow, steady, and smooth. The breath and the mind go together. By regulating the breath, you will bring the mind under control.
  4. If you have an emotional or behavioral pattern you would like to change, employ Pratipaksha Bhavana. This technique helps to overcome negative patterns by consciously cultivating the opposite positive ones. It can be combined with the breath. As you inhale, visualize that along with the breath, you are drawing into yourself the positive quality you wish to develop. Feel like it is filling you completely. When you exhale, visualize that the negative pattern is leaving with the breath.
  5. To help retain your peace in all situations, practice the “Locks and Keys.” Cultivate the attitudes of: friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked.
  6. Select one of the precepts of yama (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-greed) or niyama (purity, contentment, accepting pain as help for purification, spiritual study, worship or surrender to God) and try to practice it throughout the day.

 

Swami Karunananda is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda. In 1975, she was ordained as a monk into the Holy Order of Sannyas. She has had over 40 years experience teaching all aspects of Yoga and specializes now in workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs that focus on the science of meditation, the philosophy of Yoga, personal transformation, and Yoga breathing techniques for better health and wellbeing. She developed, and for 25 years has taught, the Integral Yoga Teacher Training programs in Raja Yoga and in Meditation.

Swami Karunananda served as president of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia and in California, as well as director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and as the chairperson of the Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, VA.

Interested in fostering interfaith understanding and harmony, she is featured in the interfaith documentary entitled, With One Voice. She also compiled and edited the Lotus Prayer Book, a collection of prayers from various faith traditions, and Enlightening Tales as told by Sri Swami Satchidananda. She served as contributing editor for The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, as well as a senior writer for the Integral Yoga Magazine. A newly released publication of hers, Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga, describes the spiritual path and provides guidance for the journey.

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