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What is that, Tantric?

March 29, 2010
In “The Tree of Yoga” B.K.S. Iyenger addresses a contemporary controversy among practitioners of Yoga. Why, he asks, do we talk about ‘physical Yoga,’ ‘mental Yoga,’ ‘devotional Yoga,’ and so on, when the very purpose of Yoga is to bind and balance our various aspects? For those of us who believe that asana alone will not lead us to higher states of awareness or further along the Royal Path, perhaps we must ask ourselves: What is my practice?

In last week’s column we explored Yoga Nidra and its powerful effect in cultivating mind/body awareness in the practitioner. Regular practice of Yoga Nidra, as you may have experienced yourself, strengthens the yogi’s ability to achieve a meditative state outside of Yoga Nidra practice itself. For example, increasing your awareness of the physical body, the subtle body and continually exercising movement inward (as is done with Yoga Nidra meditation), you are able to more easily access the meditative state, in which you become the observer. If every day while laying in Savasana you identify and experience the various parts of your physical and subtle bodies, it is much easier to carry that discernment into your asana practice.

Don’t take my word for it, get on the mat and experience it yourself. This is the practice: We will begin in a simple posture and rotate our consciousness and breath awareness to various parts of the body while simultaneously experiencing our connection to the earth and above. Next we will move into a few different postures and continue the rotation of consciousness to various parts of our muscular, skeletal, and organic bodies. We will access the energy in various chakras through direct perception and facilitate movement in order to purify the plexus and intensify the posture. Throughout the process, when you come upon a point of tension, resistance, fear, anger, giddiness…simply look into each experience without judgment and ask: What is that? It’s innumerable samskara in various manifestations and your identifying it and releasing its grip on your body, mind, or otherwise is your Yoga. We become more flexible in body and mind through Yoga when we purify the body of toxins (both physical and mental) that disrupt the free flow of prana and obfuscate the essential self.

Practice: Stand in Tadasana. Be certain that you are practicing with precision and that you are aligned. Even if you have been practicing for years, remind yourself of the foundations of Tadasana. Perhaps you might want to read through your books and reacquaint yourself with the key aspects of the asana. You can also refer to an article that appeared previously on After you have set yourself up physically, remain still in Tadasana. Become alert to your breathing but do not lose sight of your body, be careful you don’t slump your shoulders or let your pelvis tuck in to shove out, maintain awareness of the body and the breath. Count the length of the inhalation and regulate the breath so that both the inhalation and exhalation are equal. This practice requires a long breath, so work here for as long as necessary to regulate the breathing. In my practice, I work with at least a ten second inhalation/exhalation (that’s ten seconds each for a total of twenty seconds) but sometimes 15:15. See where you’re at and work from there.

Here, it is useful to keep in mind another great insight that Iyenger offers us in his “Tree of Yoga.” The self, he tells us, moves toward the periphery with each inhalation and retracts back to the center with each exhalation. In this practice we are experiencing that movement of the atman through each kosha. You might find it useful to use visualization, practice and discover for yourself.

Now that you are regulating and observing the breath and remaining conscious of the physical posture, move into the subtle body. With your next inhale, feel the breath originating from the root chakra (mooladhara) and moving down the legs and into the earth. Feel the energy that originates in the root move down the legs and into the earth, and without pause, as you exhale feel the energy from the earth moving up your legs and into to root. Continue two or three repetitions (please use your own judgment, if you feel inclined to do fifteen repetitions, by all means do so). Next, imagine the inhalation originates in swadhistana chakra, moves through the root, and down the legs into the earth. The exhalation moves back up the legs, through the root and to swadhistana. Continue this process, up the seven major chakras plus bindu chakra, which manifest in the top of the back of the head.

The rotation should proceed like this: Root to earth on the inhale, earth to root on the exhale, and repeat. Swadhistana to root to earth on the inhale, earth to root to swadhistana on the exhale, and repeat. Inhale from manipura (behind the navel) to swadhistana to root down the legs and to the earth, and exhale bringing energy from the earth up the legs, to the root, to swadhistana and back to manipura; repeat. Move up to anahata (the heart chakra), inhale from the heart, to manipura, swadhistana, the root, down the legs and into the earth. Exhale lifting energy from the earth up the legs through each center leading up to anahata. Bring the inhale from vishuddha (the throat) and likewise carry the energy through each chakra, through the legs and into the earth; on the exhale return to the throat and repeat. Now from the eyebrow center, move your awareness to the middle of the brain, this is ajna chakra, repeat the entire process with breath originating from the middle of the brain, through each chakra, down the legs and into the earth, exhale and return to the middle of the brain. Bindu, located at the top of the back of the head is the bridge between ajna and sahasrara chakra (the thousand petal lotus at the top of the head). Repeat the practice from bindu chakra and then from sahasrara. After you have begun moving the breath from sahasrara, through all the major chakras and into the earth, repeat for three or so minutes and observe.

Don’t disturb the breath or your awareness of its movement through each energy center. Now it is time to move into another asana. On the next inhale as the breath and prana together originate from above sahasrara and move through each chakra and into the earth, lift the right leg up into Vrksasana (tree pose). Rotate your consciousness to various parts of your physical body. Observe the foot as it remains rooted in the earth, where it works as a conduit for prana moving between the heavens and earth. Observe the ankle, the calf, the knee, the back of the knee. Look into your hips. What is that? Are the hips open and stable? Is there tension there? Is the belly engaged? What is the sensation in stomach? Continue to rotate your awareness throughout the entire body as it remains strong, balanced, and comfortable in the asana. When you are ready, bring the right leg back to the floor. Stand in Tadasana for a moment, practicing the breath movement, and after you have reestablished your foundation, lift the left leg up into Vrksasana.

Notes: If you are accustomed to a fast–paced asana practice, which rarely allows space for reflection, this practice will be especially challenging and rewarding for you. Should you have this type of practice, you might begin applying this element slowly, one posture at a time. If you proceed with discipline and perseverance, you will eventually find yourself meditating throughout your entire asana practice. Perhaps begin with rotation of the breath in Tadasana. It is useful to be receptive throughout this practice and afterward. Try to carry your awareness so that any sensations arising in the body or mind are observed and considered. This is one way we become aware of the secrets, tensions, blockages in the body and mind- the samskaras that go on creating the karma that prevents your liberation. Hari Om Tat Sat

This article originally appeared on under the same title.

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