Yoga Therapy in Troubled World – online speech (International Day of Yoga 2020)

11th June 2020 I gave an online lecture „Yoga Therapy in Troubled World” as part of the „International Yoga Festival – Yoga Mantrana”. The festival is organised by the Department of Physical Education & Sports Sciences (University of New Delhi) in cooperation with Deshbandhu College (New Delhi). Due to the current epidemiological situation, the promotion of Yoga is carried out by a series of online lectures for 21 days (01/06/2020–21/06/2020 – 21st June was declared to be the International Yoga Day). Specialists researching in the field of yoga take part in the webinars.

YOGA AND YOGACIKITSĀ

We are living in very exigent times: biological issues, social requirements, workplaces of pressure, civilisation of consumption and haste, and now – lockdown experienced in an external way and internal feelings – our own emotional seclusion. By „troubled world” I understand every situation which is stressful and painful, where we need to insert or to reestablish yoga – harmony, union, connection. This harmony should be present in every level of our internal reality: within society, with Nature (prakṛti), and within the realm. As we all know, yoga is a complex system of lifestyle which has at least 4 levels: darśana – one of the oldest Indian traditions, soteriology or mokṣavidyā – a quest of mokṣa, Mind-Body Interventions (MBIs) – a sort of complementary medicine, and ātmābhyāsa or sadhāna – one’s own practice under the guidance of a master. 

For this reason, the so-called therapy of yoga, yogacikitsā, is also a multi-layered process that embraces several activities on human structure and on one’s environment. As I wrote in my recent book called „The Himalayas. In search of the yogis” (Himalaje. W poszukiwaniu joginów): 

Yoga is not a religion, neither it is a type of fitness routine or sport. Yoga is spirituality: a slow embedding and deepening of your everyday consciousness within something that we can call, for lack of a better word, a sacrum, which according to the Indian understanding of the universe is omnipresent. 

Darśana or a special experience

In general, it is philosophy or wisdom of how the universe is functioning. It is also a vision or a special perception and experience – a vivid and authentic experience of life in its visible and invisible forms (vyakta and avyakta). This is a quest for wisdom, or jñāna/vidyā, which is gained through one’s body and mind practice. It is also very unique anthropology based on the rule of bandhu – the connection or even the identity between micro and macro-cosmos: between the universe and the human beings – the prakṛti comprises both the external world and the internal human realm. However, there is a little particle – an amśa of extra-divine: ātmā hṛdaye sthitaḥ (ātman is within the heart). The Gheraṇḍasaṃhitā 1,4 explains:

nāsti māyāsamaḥ pāśo nāsti yogātparaṃ balam |

nāstijñānātparo bandhurnāhaṃkārāt paro ripuḥ ||

There is no fetter like those of illusion, no strength like that of yoga; there is no friend higher than jñāna, and no greater enemy than ego-sense.

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Mokṣa or the final liberation and bliss

It is an act of getting the mastery over prakṛti, or kṣetra (field or body), understood as a world of experience as well as one’s body-mind structure, to become kṣetra-jña – the possessor of jñāna or the knower of body/field. It is realised through calming one’s citta (one’s mind) and prāṇa (energy of breathing) through abhyāsa or tapas, breath extension, āsana, dhāraṇā, and guru blessings. Eventually, it is an experience of the ultimate bliss, freedom, and happiness or mokṣa. So it is not about the words but about practice – constant and regular tapas or abhyāsa. 

Cikitsā or a therapy

Before analysing yoga as a cikitsā we should ask: Therapy of what? What can be ill and damaged? What can die? What can be strong and healthy? What can be cured? And what is out of saṃsāra? And finally, what is an illness, mala in Sanskrit? I propose these answers: it is the body that can be ill and damaged, for this reason, the body with one’s mind can be cured, but also the possessor of body-mind structure – śarīrin or dehin – can be treated. Ātman is out of saṃsāra, the world of suffering and death. According to Indian teachings, illness or mala in Sanskrit is twofold: mala of body and mala of mind. They are not totally separated, in fact – they are in constant interaction. The mala of mind is subdivided on: emotional troubles, moha or pramāda (as lack of concentration, of ekatvā – unity of body-breath-mind in the pure state of sattva), energetic (breath, vāsanā as subconscious residue), and caused by bhūtas (ghosts) or under influence of nakṣatras (planets and stars). Thus we have trayividyā or threefold wisdom: āyurveda – yoga – jyotiṣa (astrology).

Mala is caused by bad management of vāyu/prāṇa. This situation results in indigestion or blockages – agni (internal fire) is blocked so that tapas (internal heat of practice) can’t be activated. All is based on: 1) avidyā or lack of jñāna („through avidyā one believes that this material creation is the only thing that substantially exists, forgetting that this material world is substantially nothing and is a mere play of ideas of the Eternal Spirit” – śri Yukteshvar The Holy Science, p. 47), and 2) lack of niścala (stillness and calmness) of breath-mind-body.

CALMING OF THE PRĀṆA OR VĀYU

The answer is clear: on the level of mind – by breath control eventually aiming at kumbhaka or parama prāṇāyāma; on the level of the body and internal agni – by fasting; on the level of manas or citta – by both within the process of aṣṭāṅgayoga according to the classical rules of mahāṛṣi Patañjali. 

However, what is important, yoga can be seen also as:

The Maitrī Upaniṣad 6,18

Such is said to be the sixfold yoga: restraint of the breath (prāṇāyāma), withdrawal of the senses (pratyāhāra), meditation (dhyāṇa), concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation or right reasoning (tarka), and absorption (samādhi).

The Bhagavadgītā

समत्वं योग उच्यते || 2,48

Yoga is samatva – an equal attitude towards every experience.

समाधावचला बुद्धिस्तदा योगमवाप्स्यसि || 2,53

When buddhi (intelligence) is immovable in samādhi, you attain Yoga.

निःस्पृहः निर्ममो निरहंकारः स शांतिमधिगच्छति || 2,71

Not touched by anything, without the feeling of „miness” and without the „ego” one attains the ultimate peace.

The GheraṇḍaSaṃhitā VII,1

Samādhiśca paro yogo bahubhāgyena labhyate |

guroḥ kṛpāprasādena prāpyate gurubhaktitaḥ ||

Samādhi is the highest yoga, it is acquired by the great fortune, obtained through the grace and kindness of the guru, and by intense devotion to him.

And finally the Yogasūtra 1,2-1,4 and 1,51 describing the nirbīja-samādhi, extremely difficult to attain

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ||

Yoga is a suppression of the mind modifications.

तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपे ऽवस्थानम्||

The seer abides in itself.

वृत्तिसारूप्यमितरत्र ||

At other times, the seer appears to have the form of the mental modifications.

तस्यापि निरोधे सर्वनिरोधान्निर्वीजः समाधिः ||

In the absolute suppression, nirbīja samādhi (objectless concentration) takes place through suppression of all modifications.

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Or another version of Yoga – the kriyā-yoga (the Yogasūtra 2,1):

तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः ||

Tapas (austerity or study self-discipline – on mental, moral and physical levels), svādhyāya (repetition of sacred mantras or study of sacred words) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (complete surrender to God) – they are kriyā-yoga (yoga of action).

Kriyā-yoga is the attenuation of kleśas, or impurities, is kriyā-yoga. A man without discipline cannot attain perfection in yoga. Lack of discipline is caused by mental impurities called kleśas. The impurities in the mind arising out of the traps of objects, both external and internal – thoughts, feelings, etc. They are activated by the vāsanās from one’s previous actions (and even lives), and still, they cannot be dissipated without the practice of austerities or tapas – to get rid of them one’s has to practice stronger tapas: internal silence, breath-control, and surrender the fruits of action to God, etc. Tapas restrains everything which is harmful and painful. When kleśas became thin, they become ready for extinction by discriminative knowledge, samprajñāta or viveka. Kleśa reduced an unproductive state that does not give rise to modifications of the mind or vṛtti. For example, I am the body. I am my feelings and thoughts. I am my pain and suffering – it is an erroneous belief based on nescience. When samādhi is realised, it is correctly felt by a yogi that I am not the body and citta. The impression I am the body is born form kleśas, while the impression I am not the body is born of true knowledge, and thus, one’s mind becomes inactive through supreme detachment. 

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EVERYDAY PRACTICE

How to live by these rules of transcendence which are not always possible to apply in daily situations? I propose a complex lifestyle path: self-discipline (dama) which leads to the pureness of mind-body (regular and steady practice or abhyāsa through āsana, dhyāṇa and guru blessings) and strong ethical behavior or hṛd-śauca (purity of heart): 10 yamas and niyamas and the mokṣadharmas or duties leading to the final freedom. In the Mokṣadharma 154,15-16 we read: 

क्षमा धृतिर अहिंसा च समता सत्यम आर्जवम |
इन्द्रियाक्षमावजयॊ दाक्ष्यं मार्दवं हरीर अचापलम ||

अकार्पण्यम असंरम्भः संतॊषः परियवादिता |
अविवित्सानसूया चाप्य एषां समुदयॊ दमः ||

Patience/forbearance, constancy, ahiṃsā, sameness, satya, honesty, overcoming the senses, cleverness, softness, modesty, stillness, strength, calm, satisfaction, sweet talk, desire of knowing, freedom from envy – they are a set of dama.

Moreover, yoga adds two cardinal rules: maitrī (friendship) and karuṇā (compassion) connected to ātmāvidyā or the study of the transcendence. 

LOWER CIKITSĀ

In this perspective, mokṣa is the ultimate health and yogacikitsā is a way to attain this state. Moreover, there is also a lower cikitsā, medicine, or – more precisely – complementary medicine as a Mind-Body Intervention (MBI) – where yoga is limited to: postures, breath technics, and methods of meditation. Is it still yoga? – we can ask. Can we call it „yoga” in the classical sense? Kuvalayananda answers “yes”, Krishnamacharya and his pupils, too, and daily practice agrees with it. Spirituality (ātman) is our own business but body-mind health is our common effort, our common yoga. Stress, depression, lack of concentration, pain, lack of satisfaction, fear, anger, void… they all are more or less complex vṛttis, mental modifications. We can recall to the „subtle body” with its subtler level of Īśvara or we can simply stop ourselves on the level of MBIs practice – concentrate in āsanas, prāṇāyāma and dhāraṇā in openness to dhyāṇa.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) 

Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice, it is a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation practiced for over 5,000 years (See here). A survey released in 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), called yoga one of the most popular CAM therapy. Yoga is considered a mind-body intervention that is used to reduce the health effects of generalized stress. 

Mind-body interventions utilise the mind’s capacity to affect the body and its physiological responses. Mind-body medicine focuses on the communication between mind and body and the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, and spiritual factors can directly affect health. Mind-body interventions include relaxation, imagery, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi, yoga, and others. They often help patients experience healing for their illnesses in new and different ways. (See here)

Yoga is believed to calm the nervous system (more precisely: sympathetic nervous system) and balance the body, mind, and spirit. It is thought by its practitioners to prevent specific diseases and maladies by keeping the energy meridians open and life energy flowing. Yoga has been used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve coordination, flexibility, concentration, sleep, and digestion.

Uncontrolled Energy 

Emotions and thoughts are a form of uncontrolled energy. By yoga we transform it into a material to burn in the fire of tapas – It becomes araṇi, a piece of wood, as we can read in the Ānugītā 34,3:

अरणीं बराह्मणीं विद्धि गुरुर अस्यॊत्तरारणिः |

तपः शरुते ऽभिमथ्नीतॊ जञानाग्निर जायते ततः ||

Know the devotee of brahman as a lower arani and guru as a higher arani; tapas and sacred texts provide the friction – thus the fire of knowledge is generated.

WHOLENESS OF LIFE

By applying yogacikitsā, one becomes sweet, happy, beautiful, free from duḥkha, loved by everybody: humans, gods, and siddhas. To be healthy a human being needs fresh air, clear water, Nature, exercises, deep relationships (love, friends, family, coworkers), intellectual satisfaction, spiritual experience, and beauty of life and art. A human being is a holistic entity composed of body, mind, and heart (ātman, kṣetrajña, dehin or by whatever notion we want to express the transcendence), for good health one should feed the wholeness, not only one’s body. 

The webinar is available here and on the Facebook page of Deshbandhu College, Delhi University here.

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