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Who Am I?

March 29, 2010
Perhaps you’ve been practicing asana for six months, a year, three years even, yet somehow you sense that something is missing. Maybe you find yourself coming up against the same wall of tension or resistance in familiar postures, despite having moved in and out of them innumerable times. By deliberately bringing your consciousness to specific points in the body and mind throughout your practice you will experience the power of that mindfulness as bundles of tension dissolve and useless thought patterns are unveiled like the Wizard of Oz hunkering behind his flimsy curtain.

Let’s begin with identifying the consciousness. Mindfulness and consciousness can be likened to the breath and prana. Just as we use the breath— through breathing exercises and breath awareness— to access and ultimately manipulate prana, mindfulness is a vehicle that ushers us toward our consciousness. What is consciousness in Yogic terms? Consciousness is your very core. It is also referred to as the Golden Egg, the Atman, or the Self. You might think of it as the divine spark residing in each of us, which many call Bliss. It is also known as anandamaya kosha.

What is the relationship between asana and identifying with the Atman? YOGA. Hundreds of articles and texts begin by breaking down the literal meaning of the word: Yoga means yoke, balancing the mind, body, and spirit…yadda yadda yadda, but do we ever ask: balancing to what end? What does it mean in fact to create such equilibrium? Balancing the koshas, in essence, clears the path for direct perception of the Self. The Self is not the body, the Self is not the ego, it is not the intellect, or the Karma. Ask yourself in meditation: Who am I? You are not the body, you are not the career, you are not the clothes, you are not the ego, you are not the possessions, you are not the intellect, you are not the good or bad luck, you are not the karma— you are consciousness.

To accelerate your process of unlocking tension, unraveling useless thought patterns, and plucking neurotic splinters, practice Yoga Nidra. In Sanskrit, Nidra means sleep. However, we are not sleeping in Yoga Nidra but achieving a state of relaxation even deeper than that which we achieve in ‘normal’ sleep. This practice is considered a type of meditation; through it the practitioner develops a greater awareness of the physical, mental, and subtle bodies. This awareness of the various parts should then be brought into our asana practice, which in turn deepens and facilitates intimacy with our own personal vehicle, whose outermost manifestation is the physical body and its various systems. (See “Befriend Your Psychic Network“)

Let us now consider a two-fold approach: the regular practice of Yoga Nidra and conscious inquiry throughout our practice of asana. Yoga Nidra will help you answer the question: Who am I? Conscious inquiry into each asana will tell you: What is That? The latter practice helps practitioners to identify and root out tensions in the body, along with their mental twins, which in effect moves you yet further along the path toward liberation.

Practice: There are many variations of Yoga Nidra, this is only one suggested practice. Begin Yoga Nidra in Savasana. Make sure you are completely comfortable so that you are able to remain absolutely still throughout the practice, which should last between forty-five minutes to an hour. Do your best to guarantee that you will not be disturbed during your practice. You can do this by choosing a time that tends to be quietest in the space in which you practice. You might also turn off your telephone and close the door to your practice room. Tell yourself that if you are to be disturbed, you will handle the disruption peacefully and continue with your practice should you choose to. Beginners will do best to begin Yoga Nidra practice with a recording of the guided meditation or by joining a class with an experienced teacher who will talk you through it. Those who have practiced for some time might find themselves inclined to take themselves through the meditation.

Become aware of your whole body. Tell yourself that you are going to practice Yoga Nidra and that you will remain awake throughout the meditation. Deliberately relax the entire body and make no more physical movements. Spend two or three minutes consciously relaxing the entire body. Become aware of your breath. Allow your breath to contribute to the relaxation of your muscles, skin, and bones. Now, repeat in your mind your Sankalpa. The Sankalpa, or resolve, is the seed that you plant in your own mind during Yoga Nidra. It should be positive and stated by you with confidence. This should be the seed that you want to plant in your mind so that it will grow and become a reality in your life. You might choose to focus on liberating yourself from a destructive pattern by making a sankalpa that situates you in an opposite or constructive behavior. Alternatively, you might decide to use Yoga Nidra to help you deepen an asana and therefore plant a seed such as: I am becoming aware of my psoas muscles, my psoas is softening and I am contacting my core. Whatever your sankalpa may be, plant the seed with confidence and know that it is already taking root.

Still in Savasana and completely still bring your attention to your right thumb and then each finger, one after the other. Don’t linger on any one part. Just shift your attention second by second first to the thumb, each finger, the palm of the hand the back of the hand, the wrist and so on. Continue to scan the entire right side of the body. Focus on the forearm, the upper arm, the shoulder, and the chest. Move on to the right side of the chest, the waist, and the right hip. Then move your awareness along the leg, front and back, and down to the feet. Again, bring your attention to each toe, the heel, the arches, and the ball of the foot. Now repeat this guided awareness on the left side of the body. Become aware of the front of the body and the back of the body. Become aware of whole parts, the whole right leg, the whole left leg, the right arm, the left arm, the whole back and so on. Again, become aware of your whole body and the plane between your body and the floor. This is the rotation of consciousness to the various parts of the body. You can choose to also bring your awareness to the organic and skeletal bodies.

Imagine your entire body is heavy. Rotate your consciousness again around the various parts of your body and feel those parts become heavy. Feel the whole body as heavy, sinking into the earth. Next, repeat this process but imagine the body as light. Imagine your spine floating, your limbs lifting from the floor as if you are floating in space. Your brain is light, your body is light. Feel the body floating. Next bring your awareness to each of the seven major chakras. Feel the energy spinning in each space. Look into the light of that space. Travel into the softness at the core of each chakra. Now imagine pain. It can be pain in the body or a painful thought, feeling, or mental tendency. Go into that pain and allow yourself to experience it. Go into the pain. Next, allow yourself to experience pleasure. Complete pleasure, contentment, and happiness. It can be a memory of a time when you felt great happiness and pleasure, or it can be an imagined pleasure. Create now in your mind complete pleasure, contentment, and happiness. Go into the pleasure and experience it.

Now imagine the universe rolling on and on, forever unfolding and limitless. Now imagine your inner space but not what is contained with it. Experience your inner space as vast and limitless as the universe. Feel your consciousness expanding. Feel the inner space unfolding, infinitely. Visualize yourself in a Yoga asana. View your body actualizing the posture, become the observer. Watch yourself practicing the perfect posture. You can choose a posture that you enjoy in your regular practice, or you can imagine yourself achieving an asana that you never seem able to get in your regular practice. Watch yourself practice this posture with ease, confidence, and peacefulness.

Next, imagine yourself in a situation in which you behaved badly. Perhaps you were impatient or somehow emotionally or physically violent to yourself or others. Don’t become entangled in the situation, become the spectator and watch yourself as you behave badly. Next, observe yourself behaving kindly, with love, attentiveness, and non-attachment. You are not concerned with the outcome of your kindness, you are merely being kind. Allow yourself to experience yourself as kind, open, and attentive. Now ask yourself: What am I thinking?

Remind yourself to remain awake. Remind yourself that you are practicing Yoga Nidra. Now you will go through rapid visualization, one image after another. You can choose your own group of archetypal images or garner from these: a yogi sitting in meditation, you sitting in meditation with each of your chakra centers illuminated, Christ standing, a candle flame flickering, a weeping willow tree, a winding river, you sitting on the bank of river watching the water pass by, the symbol of yin-yang, the symbol of AUM, a golden spider on a golden thread, a golden egg.

Now imagine the very center of your brain and see the golden egg. Move into the Golden egg and tell yourself, I am the Golden Egg. See the Golden Egg in the very center of your brain illuminate, and repeat to yourself, I am the Golden Egg, I am consciousness. I am not the body, I am not the thoughts, I am not the Karma, I am consciousness. Continue to travel into the very center of your brain, where the observer is situated and remind yourself, I am consciousness.

Now it is time to repeat your sankalpa. You will repeat three or more times the resolve you made at the beginning of Yoga Nidra. Now, become aware of your breath and slowly bring your attention outside. Hear the sounds in the room, in the space outside the room. Slowly open your eyes and look around the room. When you have made contact with your surroundings, gradually wake up the body. First bend your toes and fingers, stretch the body and slowly get up.

Notes: Regular practice of Yoga Nidra will greatly increase your awareness of your body and mental patterns. You will find yourself feeling much more balanced and peaceful. You can bring Yoga Nidra into your asana practice by exploiting the greater body awareness. For example, when you find that a particular muscle or space in the body is resisting movement, bring your awareness to that space and simply ask, kindly and without judgment, What is That? We will further explore bringing consciousness into asana practice in future columns. Hari Om Tat Sat.

This article originally appeared on Souldish.com under the same title.

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