When “I” says “I’m free”, it is an admission of captivity, an expression of the self proclaiming its own limits. The thought as a tool, as any other component of the Being, must be used through practice, its own chemistry coming across body chemistry before merging with it. Insofar as thought dominates our other functions, Yoga does not lead to the release but to a reformulation of the self. The purpose of Ashtanga Sadhaka is to try and share experiences and thoughts to achieve a harmonious alignment between our Yoga practice and other aspects of our lives.
Yoga is primarily a state, nothing else. When we ‘practice’ yoga, we are seeking to reach that state. What we are used to call Yoga is in fact abhyasa, the method. Hundreds of yoga traditions coexist, and countless techniques.
I practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and other aspects of Tantra Yoga as part of an overall approach.
My hope is that through this blog we can create, together, an actual place of practice through the collective use of the tool called ‘thought’. What is suggested is to believe in nothing and to question everything. Scepticism however should not become a new positioning, this is about something else. If knowledge is illusion (maya), we may consider two types of illusions, the illusion of ignorance (maya avidhya), keeping our thought in cultural knowledge, and the illusion of knowledge (maya vidhya), taking us closer to our natural state.
So you are all welcome, welcome to read this, your feedback and questions are welcome, they will bring life to this search. You can give your feedback directly by e-mail at email@example.com or use the “Comment” link at the bottom of each article.
There is a famous Zen saying, “When the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.” Who really understood what that’s about?
Any initiative undertaken, be it a search, a praxis, a religion, an art, a philosophy, etc., requires teaching skills. Originally the purpose of these techniques is to bind us with what we call, depending on the context, the Absolute, the Universal Consciousness, Knowledge or God. Quite often we identify ourselves with theses initiatives, building a new way of life around them or, better still, an art of living. This is what looking at the pointed finger means.
Yoga is not an art of living but an inner position, a mental attitude. From the moment that we see Yoga, or any other path for that matter, as something fundamentally righteous, we break apart from those who do not follow the same path, thus generating new attachments. This is the doctrinal or dogmatic aspect of any initiative. Just imagine if major religions freed themselves from the cultural and moral barriers keeping them apart and applied the supposed message of love that they assert… wouldn’t that be a fantastic way to act out?
What I suggest here is to consider all Yoga techniques as the finger of the wise man. He wouldn’t want you to get attached to that finger, it’s his finger, but he shall point it at the moon until you see it.
(Inspired by Patanjali Yoga sutra I-12)
Ashtanga Yoga is one of many schools of Hatha-Yoga; its specificity lies in the technique called “pranasana”, when several concentration tools are associated with the postures. Certainly it has powerful effects that transform us. However, from traditional yogic texts to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), the leader of Ashtanga Yoga, all agree that practicing postures, even using that method, is not enough.
This famous quote by Pattabhi Jois (whose English was quite poor), “practice and all is coming”, by being stripped of its meaning, restricted the practice of Ashtanga Yoga to series of postures. In 2006, during his visit to Aix-les-Bains in France, Pattabhi Jois, answering a student, declared that mantra chants and sitting meditation, for instance, were necessary as part of an in-depth study of yoga. Pattabhi did not want Ashtanga Yoga to be changed or mixed with other styles, hence his sternness when it came to spread his teaching. Many yoga practitioners twisted his words and claim that an hour and a half of postures everyday accounts for a full study. This is not however what Pattabhi Jois nor ancient Yoga scriptures claimed.
If you like Ashtanga Yoga, I suggest you practice several kriyas and pranayamas and study philosophy. Studying will become a practice in itself and I believe this is what Pattabhi Jois meant, practice Yoga in all its forms and then all will come (maybe). These different aspects of Yoga are the required link to first understand and subsequently enjoy fully the benefits of teaching.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, like most Brahmin, was an orthodox, and only taught Yoga to other Brahmin Indians until the 1970s. His first non-Brahmin students were Americans (and a Belgian – André Van Lysbeth) and they were charged a lot more that Indian students. This is not about passing judgment on Pattabhi Jois but trying to understand the circumstances in which he passed on his knowledge.
Later, when foreign students flocked to Mysore, Pattabhi got his daughter Sarasvati and his grandson Sharat to help him teach. Rather than favouring the number or the experience, Pattabhi chose to be surrounded by his family only, which is also a sign of orthodoxy.
An old Indian custom consists in accepting to provide education to the “impures” without giving away the essence. This is what might have driven Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, both kind and partial when passing on his knowledge.
He must have also told himself that most of his students at the time were not necessarily interested by the inner or philosophical dimension of practice. Whatever the actual reasons that led to his teaching, it was generous although non-exhaustive as Pattabhi Jois chose to leave out key aspects of Yoga that he knew quite well.
One of the main obstacles on the path of Yoga is the identification with practice, i.e. practice without detachment. It can lead to a new set of values, non-violence, vegetarianism, Indianism, etc., like redecorating when Yoga suggests that we should move houses (or becoming homeless).
Therefore many yoga practitioners create their own barriers, which Yoga is trying to break down. These barriers usually consist in blindly reproducing what we know –or think that we know – of Yoga.
Pattabhi Jois’ approach was understandable when taken in context. But going as far as mimicking certain behaviours without questioning them, thousands of miles away from Mysore, this has more to do with neurosis than with free approach.
Pattabhi Jois’ authority was legitimate, this is what allowed Ashtanga Yoga to be spread equally worldwide. But now we must take into consideration the various pedagogical approaches as they help students without altering their practice.
The function of bandhas and drishtis is rarely understood.
Jalandara bandha is one of the bases of Hatha Yoga. Quite simply, when one is holding their head straight or up, air travels to the throat. When the chin is slightly tucked in, control of the air flow becomes easier, with less pressure behind the eyes, like a veil over the forehead. Practice then fosters interiority.
Photos of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois doing forward bending postures show Jalandhara bandha with a slightly rounded back and chin towards the chest. Later Pattabhi Jois modified those postures, shifting the gaze to the toes.
Maybe Western students had tight shoulders when trying to practice Jalandara bandha, or maybe Pattabhi Jois’ intention was to strip the practice of its tendency to a state of interiority. Anyway, you can try it, standing or sitting. When you breathe with your chin down, you can feel the practice from inside rather than from self-command. Rather than practicing with your head stretched forward, I recommend you study chest alignment with a qualified teacher before incorporating bandhas and drishtis to your practice. It will then come naturally.
The yamas and niyamas, first and second pillars of Ashtanga Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, are not a code of ethics, unlike some translations or reviews maintain, but this has mostly to do with the culture of translators and reviewers, not with the nature of Yoga.
Yoga never refers to events or experiments. Yoga is only interested in states of mind. Ahimsa is not about seeking non-violence according to our conception of non-violence at a given time. It is the pacified state inherent to our nature as Beings. Satya has nothing to do with our capacity to lie or tell the truth, it is the truthfulness inherent to our cells.
Those who claim that they apply the yamas and niyamas daily are being inconsistent. If ethics always have a point of reference, what point of reference would apply to Yoga?
No, this is no typing error but a jest on the title of the film « Breath of the Gods » that I saw this morning.
This documentary combines archival footage of Krishnamacharya’s teaching of yoga with recent sequences showing his relatives and students being interviewed.
And yet an essential part of the teaching of Yoga is missing. Krishnamacharya was a great mystic, as his written works testify. The documentary only addresses the physical balance and mental aspects of the practice, while Krishnamacharya’s study was mainly a philosophical and mystical one. By mystical I mean aspects of physical science which cannot be quantified or which are yet to be deciphered. I am referring to powerful inner experiences associated with Spiritual Achievement, which we constantly come across in the ancient scriptures. The same applies to modern authors, who are only interested in that dimension. However more and more Yoga teachers are sorry to find in those texts a truth that they cannot grasp.
Although I was a little moved to see one more time the faces of the great teachers who passed on this practice, the Bread of Gods had a bitter taste. I was disappointed at the lack of a new perspective on Ashtanga Yoga.
A couple of hours after the screening, I thought about what Sri T.K.Sribhashyam, one of Krishnamacharya’s son, said. It may be that he gave away a beautiful secret, which I leave for you to discover. Now I understand that a remarkable man such as Krishnamacharya could not leave us with an empty shell.
Teaching Yoga must not lead to a confusion that can be avoided. Sometimes students or teachers, identifying themselves with what they do, tend to criticise or rank practices and consequently the dimensions of the Being. Once more it is the dual thought, which through conditioned functions needs to assert the “I”, that expresses itself.
It is difficult to understand the direction taken by the different yoga practices, especially with all the deep-rooted popular misconceptions.
I remember a Shaivite saying, the first lesson of my Nidra Yoga teacher: “comparison leads to violence”. And yet sometime we oppose physicality to spirituality. Meditation is then regarded as a noble path of interiority, and practice as vaguely conscious gymnastics.
All practices are physical. The body is always there, we are a body. Sitting in silence is often mixed up with meditating. Meditation is a state that we seek to achieve through various techniques.
Vimala Thakar published a book called Yoga beyond meditation, a study of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. With this title, the author may have tried to tell us that the yogic state as it is described in the 8 limbs (ashtanga) is beyond the meditative state.
Our ability to perceive is altered by the practice of Yoga in all its aspects. It is always about an endeavour, about experiencing an inner state, comprehending the cosmogonic and cosmological dimension in all things.
Every Yoga tradition has its own educational method and sometimes it takes years to get familiar with it.
I sometimes get impressed by the presence of some yoga teachers. In addition to the depth of their teaching, they sometimes exude an almost tangible energy that lends another dimension to the practice.
The teacher is often the subject of all our projections and striving for perfection, with no universal value but based on moral and worldly prejudices. All that is articulated in the universe is the work of the universe – all is energy. Our representations limit us, creating expectations not in line with certain parts of the Being.
On two occasions while I was telling some friends about the shakti (energy) that I felt in the presence of some people, they referred to the charisma of those people. To me charisma was only a facade, a natural weapon of seduction. However, since all is energy, this is what emerges –the energy of consciousness, of thought, of words associated with a single source. Charisma is the shakti expressed through a person.
Yoga teachers are no different from those who do not practice yoga, they are ordinary people. A committed practice may have generated inner changes but most often those changes do not meet our expectations or projections. And yet through our experience of Yoga we can radiate energy that we neither understand nor own. Such energy can be dedicated to teaching and directed towards our own interiority. We can also turn it into a weapon of seduction using such charisma for personal purposes sustaining the ego. Practicing yoga must be a space, a light in our lives. But it is only a means – we must not redefine our social and worldly existence based on it.
Admittedly practice transforms us and gives us a new power. Maybe the real power is the power not to take it, to renounce it?
The Yoga sutras of Patanjali are not a practical handbook. No techniques are mentioned; seeing in its pages little description of the posture and much more of the meditation reflects only a cursory reading. The 8 pillars describe the states that practice will help us reach.
Yamas and Niyamas
The Being becoming one with the qualities inherent in its essence, the state of peace, truthfulness, natural honesty, moderation in all things, selflessness, purity, contentment, the inner fire, self-study, surrender to the Absolute. These are the 10 Yamas and Niyamas.
The Being in a state of unity with the Self, seated in itself.
State of unity with the energy.
Senses turned to the Self from within and from without.
The gaze fixed on a single point and
The vision of the Whole, simultaneously.
State of absolute unity.
Through practice we experience these states; repeating the experience may induce the state. Most techniques favour one of these states while always addressing all of them as they are ever present, in all things. These pillars must not be addressed as fragments or in chronological order. Yoga practice is a quest to reach the State of Yoga It brings us closer to the qualities of the Self that are present within us whatever the technique adopted.
Today a friend of mine posted a press release from a weblog apparently dedicated to Ashtanga Yoga. The introduction is awkward, built on misinformed commonplaces about Yoga. It is followed by an interview of Sharat Rangaswamy, renamed Sharat Jois, in which questions and answers show the obvious ignorance regarding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali referred to in the opening lines.
I do not wish to do a close reading, but if you would like to know more about this press release and get your own idea, I can give you the link. My considerations are not limited to that event – as a general rule, “teaching” in the Ashtanga community is totally at odds with the philosophy of Yoga. While visiting a monastery in Crete I saw an icon of Saint Michael overwhelming the demon. In the Christian religion, the demon is evil according to its moral references, which there is nothing universal about. That image is most likely inspired by the depiction of Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva, trampling upon a dwarf who symbolises ignorance. This is what Yoga is about, overcoming the ignorance that is a form of imprisonment.
Already decried in the Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 42 and 43), indulgent teaching does not help. It gives an illusion of safety to its approval-seeking followers. Such safety does not exist.
Without being pandits (Indian scholars), Yoga teachers must have a clear enough understanding of the issue to avoid communicating their own limits to their students.
Ancient yogic scriptures are usually translated from Sanskrit and commented by the translator. When comparing several versions, we find that translations can vary and that comments differ almost systematically.
The sole purpose of these translations and comments is to give us food for thought, questioning and educating us at the same time. The teacher is not to repeat what he read in books but at least rephrase it and at best rediscover it. This is why so many translations and texts are available, telling us more or less the same things using different approaches.
Nowadays the social trend is total acceptance on the pretence of good relations and positivism. This is only stagnation, forgetting a key dimension of teaching, which consists in awakening consciences. It does not call for systematic approval. Neither is it about fighting among coreligionists but trying to involve at an individual and collective level.
(Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ shala was called AYRI, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute).
For over 10 years now I followed many training courses and retreats throughout the world with highly experienced Ashtanga Yoga teachers. On the whole we met great people, shared good times as part of our practice. Yoga as a praxis was seldom addressed, theoretical tuition being limited to the teacher’s biography and spending too much time on the inevitable bandhas and drishtis.
There is no point for the teacher to talk about himself, his life and practical study in detail. It shows a lack of maturity, a need to be respected or the admission of a limited knowledge.
Likewise, many teachers tirelessly speak for Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. “Pattabhi said…”, “My guru…”, etc. Undoubtedly the meeting was intense, but we must keep an element of privacy, the source of a determination to devote ourselves to, and strive towards, Fulfilment.
(in response to a press release on ayahuasca I was sent by e-mail)
According to Patanjali (Yoga sutra IV-1), some plants are used to alter the inner state. It is not about taking drugs to experience a distorted reality but about being more receptive and improving perception.
Taking powerful substances directly induces altered states of consciousness. In some instances, these are actual practices involving supervision and follow-up. The downside when using this type of products sporadically is that it leaves memories, recollections that will form barriers or impediments when approaching these states of consciousness alone. Those we tried ayahuasca speak of a very powerful experience, which has nothing to do however with a transformation process. Yoga is not concerned with experiences. They can be observed the same way we watch the landscape when we travel. Let’s not confuse experience with fulfilment.
Roads to Fulfilment are a communion, settling in our universal dimension. The various practices represent various paths, contexts made up to lead us to sensitivity, nothing more. In most teaching methods however, the path itself, its religious, philosophical and artistic expression becomes a purpose. That is when we focus on the vehicle rather than on the target. To maintain this type of confusion, preachers and teachers of this form of confinement hold out the prospect of an ideal that is out of reach.
None of the ancient scriptures claim that Yoga is able to transform us on a social, mundane or emotional level, nor in our daily life. There is a significant gap between the modern expression of Yoga and its actual potential.
Well-being, unity of body and mind, self-control, etc. – this is not what it is about. I have been evolving in a “spiritual environment” for twenty years or so and I never met anyone who embodied that form of fulfilment. There is not one model of right behaviour across the world, it always depends on the beholder, the referent. Yoga operates on another level, an inner level exclusively, the perception of which as seen from the outside depends on the sensitivity of the observer.
Philosophical study is one of the dimensions of the practice which imparts common sense and self-sufficiency. These are chemical, cellular skills that we can feel inside of us. Thus we no longer need to look for a guide or a substitute in the teacher, we are alone with ourselves, in our original solitude.
The most widespread spiritual teachings are quite poor. Instead of teaching us to be free they create new illusions.
As with religions perpetuating childish myths, eastern spirituality teaches us twaddle like altruism being better than selfishness and happiness better than sorrow.
This conveys a type of positive thinking, which is fair as a practice. Generally the fact that it is just a practice is being left out and what we hear is that we will shine out to others and therefore change our environment. This is when we slip into belief and, consequently, ignorance.
All teachers whom I heard speak such inanities found themselves facing reality, adversity. Mind you, their desperate reaction never reflected their fine words.
In a Shintoist temple that I went to during several years, the following statement was written on the wall: “Whatever happens to you, accept it with a smile, with the greatest love for God”. The master himself experienced a dramatic event and believe you me, he did not accept it with a smile. I have seen many such examples but none the other way round, none that would turn positive thinking into a superpower.
Whatever the apparent Fulfilment of the person who teaches, do not expect that person to teach you how to live a better life. No one is to tell you how you should behave socially or sexually or what you should eat. We are all given the same access to information, it is not up to the teacher to decide of these aspects of our lives.
Take a look at the various approaches, the personality and behaviour of teachers of wisdom. Either they are no different from those with no practice, or their life itself is practice, without being however an ideal model. All that we seek outside cannot be found inside.
All literature on Yoga speaks of God. That side of the teaching is almost completely overshadowed as teachers and students dare not address it, some kind of “He who must not be named”.
The “God of Yoga” is a symbolic one – it represents consciousness and energy. This concept is known as animism, which means that the anima – the soul – is present in the plurality of the universe. It is a form of expression and not an invitation to believe.
As a general rule, polytheism is considered archaic and monotheism is seen as an evolution. Polytheism however is but one of the ways of calling the several appearances of the world while monotheism, from a dogmatic perspective, would have us believe a tale. It is not a question of opposing these approaches, both of which can have a free or doctrinal aspect, but to refer to the current popular image.
Main source de division of human population, the idea of God is all too often used for destructive purposes. Only through reflection and study may we understand what it is about. Systematic rejection and blind commitment are both a cause of division.
Spirituality is not spared the mass consumption pattern. It hurts to use such horrible phrase and yet spirituality is a business like any other.
Truths, dual belief and superstition put together gave rise to a new ideology. It would seem that adopting certain humanistic ethical values make us better persons and are a way to change the word around us.
Meditation does change the waves and structure of the brain – the Egregore concept shows that the power of thought is a reality and that it can even be a form of subtle action. There is no evidence however to suggest that this would apply to the world surrounding us. Experience and common sense tell us otherwise. Most great wise men of the past were murdered or died from disease. Those who profess illusory security achieved through meditation or inner attitude do it for money or esteem.
These beliefs give rise to insane talk, quite popular these days. As soon as we mention any type of crime, even if we were personally subjected to it, we are told that we brought it upon ourselves or that we made it up. When we are sick or wounded, we hear that we need to look at what’s wrong inside. Basically, we were asking for it. Those who speak such nonsense change their tune when it happens to them. Meanwhile however these beliefs continue.
In our daily lives, those that we turn to and who inspire us are not heads of states or armies or business leaders. And yet they are viewed as authorities in their respective spheres of activity. They are experienced, skilled people, at least partly. Is that reason enough to trust them? In the spiritual world, when eminent persons speak, we tend to believe them more easily rather than consider what has been told. They are not necessarily bad or harmful people but sometimes they foster their status and lifestyle through deceptive teaching with no philosophical content or real connection with the tradition in which they are supposedly rooted.
The true teacher needs not conceal the reality of the world to gain followers. His or her aim is neither to be charming nor to be in the forefront. He who professes core human values is at complete odds with them. When they are truly present, do they need to be mentioned?
Thanks to scientific studies, the notion of energy present everywhere and in all things is now generally accepted. Experiments and worldviews that in times past were called mystical are now “validated” by science. Beyond that, discoveries and speculations of scientists are becoming more irrational than those of mystics.
Hard to see or quantify, consciousness has not yet been acknowledged the same way energy has. Denying the consciousness present in all things, the thought prioritises.
For example, rating blood more highly than is sap is judging the level of consciousness of what surrounds us, the reference here being the humans. It is understandable as seen from our nature as human beings, which there is no question of us giving up. From a fundamental viewpoint it makes no sense and only results in limiting our spiritual capacities.
Asanas, bandhas, drishtis and pranayama are the technical features composing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as currently known. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois gave very little detail on these tools. The modern, detail teaching of bandhas does not match their primary objectives.
Bandhas are sometimes unfairly translated as “locks”, which would involve quite a stiff movement. Actually they are part of the mudras, which are used to seal and not to shut certain areas of the body like a wax seal and not like a latch.
Bandhas also contribute to steer the circulatory flow through the body, the pressure generated by holding them causing an internal movement, upwards with moola and uddiyana bandha, downwards with jalandara bandha.
As regards moola bandha, Pattabhi Jois only ever mentioned contracting the anus. Many teachers refer to an absorption of the pelvic floor. There is nothing wrong about that instruction, it is certainly as legitimate, but it does not originate from traditional teaching. In the city of Mysore, a book shop well-known by tourists sells books on Yoga for a few rupees, among which Moola bandha: The Master Key by Swami Buddhananda, most likely owned by all Ashtanga Yoga teachers, the source of that “perineal” belief.
On a physiological level the effects when absorbing the perineum are quite interesting and were taken up by other disciplines such as Pilates or even by the medical profession for post-partum rehabilitation.
There is nothing wrong with the fact that this approach is not a traditional one; I am just stating that teachers claiming Pattabhi Jois’ pure tradition went from the anus to the perineum.
After being heard from many a teacher, the idea that bandhas help control our balance has become generally accepted.
This information is as false as it is widespread. The only connection between bandhas and balance is their location: around the centre of gravity. But lifting one’s body weight to do a handstand has nothing to do with practicing bandhas – they are unrelated.
In the end, what is the correct way to practice mula bandha? Anus or pelvic floor? It doesn’t matter. Yoga is not interested in the physical body but in the imaginal body. In addition to the above-mentioned effects, bandhas bring sensitivity in the area of some of the chakras, invisible centre completely unrelated to anatomy.
I would just like to point out that no approach is rejected here. Let’s just try to avoid mixing genres. Anatomy, physiology, energetics, proprioception – knowing what we are dealing with keeps us from being led astray.
Tradition is instruction passed on from generation to generation, not repetition. In addition to its educational aspect (its form), tradition conveys energy that is perpetuated through exercising technique and through the presence of the teacher, its vehicle. Energy must be constantly produced and sustained lest it lead to stagnation or decline. And this requires continuously actualising teaching.
Actualising does not mean reinventing or misrepresenting.
Those who believe they are capable of creating their own style of Yoga are usurpers. Yoga tradition is so vast that no man or woman has yet explored it all. All forms already exist –modern schools merely focus on one side of the technique and then declare to be its creators. Conceit. This gives rise to poor styles deceptive to students, and costly short-term training misusing a praxis of liberation for private gain. And all this of course in the name of freedom to do whatever we want and to help people.
No training can make anybody a teacher of yoga. The only possible course is transformation. This can be achieved through connections – as in connecting – and practice. What takes place is not learning but immersion. This is how traditions are kept alive and passed on.
When teaching, he who speaks only on behalf of his guru, who claims to bring light from outside, is a usurper. A tradition must not be repeated, it must be discovered. It is a personal journey marked by the experience of the elders. Individual search can lead to inner conflicts, friction that can be quite unpleasant but that will have a real impact on our cells.
The fact that some practices are traditional does not make them legitimate. What is to be taken in consideration is their potential. Extreme attachment to the form of practice or to the guru figure, mechanically repeating what was already told, creating a new style, these are all dead ends. Teaching according to tradition means rediscovering and then reformulating without distorting.
The current form of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is composed of six series of postures and a single pranayama that to the best of my knowledge no one is practicing.
A document written by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1979 mentions a programme which is much more exhaustive and includes various series of postures, several pranayamas, kriyas and text analytics.
Why is it that teachers, today, have discarded that essential dimension of Ashtanga Yoga?
Admittedly, faced with the ever-growing proportion of students all over the world, Pattabhi Jois had to systematise shorter classes. We know however that this was to address logistical constraints and not in the best interests of the students. So why have those who pretend being in line with “Guruji” direct tradition forgotten a large part of the teaching?
As previously discussed, the practice of Yoga produces physical and subtle energy, which can be directed either towards interiority or towards glorification of the ego.
Is there not a direct link between self-proclaimed yogis and yoginis displaying themselves on video and photographs, their obvious ignorance of the philosophy of Yoga and such lack of interest for the hidden dimension of the study? The only kriya used, nauli, which involves rolling the stomach, is as conspicuous as the postures. Is it a pure coincidence or is Ashtanga Yoga often diverted from its purpose?
Those who stop along the way, taking advantage of the benefits of the practice to improve their worldly existence are already described in the ancient scriptures. The true sannyasin – the renouncer – does not adopt a new lifestyle. He renounces those benefits that the practice has to offer; this is self-abnegation.
This is one of the last entries. The purpose of this web log was not to carry on indefinitely but to restore the technique of Yoga to its rightful place as a technique. In all research paths there is confusion between ends and means. This is what generates opposition, what becomes violence in terms of viewpoints or actions.
Whoever your spiritual teacher might be, ascertain his attachment or lack of attachment to his path. Ask him about it.
What’s wrong with urinating on a Buddha Statue, burning a cross or unveiling a woman? To what extent can monks or swamis dressed in orange give lessons to women wearing burqas?
If these questions are embarrassing or disconcerting, it is the sign of unjustified attachment to the form of a practice. Further thinking will show a flow of repressed hatred, hatred of the others masquerading as moral difference.
Is your teacher a fashion expert? A nutrition expert? Is he or she aware of all-encompassing ethics not overlooking a single person on this planet? If not, do not become a victim of his or her projections. You don’t need anyone to advise you on your relationship to the other or to yourself. Food, clothes, sexuality, lifestyle, etc. You have access to information and have the ability to think – do not delegate these choices to others in the name of spirituality.
Let’s imagine that Achievement consisted in painting one’s living-room in bright white. Once finished, that person would appreciate living in the light. He or she would have thrown his (her brush away or put it away somewhere and would now be in a position to give painting tips to those who would be interested.
Too often the teacher has only painted one or two walls before becoming disheartened; he then suggests worshipping the brush.
This being said, future articles will be answers to your questions if any, or clarification on some technical points of Ashtanga Yoga. I urge all those who would not like what is said here to exchange via e-mails or comments.
In 2012 during a yoga seminar in Ujjain (central India) I had the opportunity to talk with Baba, a man who studied Tantrism for the past thirty years in India and Nepal. I really liked his attitude, both friendly and flippant about everything, particularly Pujas, which can either be seen as powerful ceremonies or as play-acting.
Baba said that the instruction he received focuses on the three primal instincts – fear, anger and sexuality. Only that one time did I hear of this approach of Tantrism – I believe however that it is its very essence.
Fear, anger and sexuality. These are the three life forces. Failing any one of them, life ends. This is precisely the angle of attack of both the societal and spiritual world. We are being fear-mongered or asked not to fear. Anger is considered as a lack of self-control; sexuality as an impure – or at any rate reprehensible – act whenever it does not fit the mould.
Fear can be one of the aspects of attentiveness. Telling us not to fear means trying to beguile us. Anger is a strong capacity to respond to certain situations. Abating it makes us more pliable. Sexuality builds on the powerful, original vital energy. Asking us to suppress it brings us against the movement of life. These aspects of life must not be rejected but questioned.
Insofar as the spiritual journey does not focus on the exploration of these three primal instincts, what does it focus on?
Tamasic – or dark. Stage of belief, gullibility, stagnation.
The tamasic stage is a form of spiritual inertia. It can result either in total, unreasoned atheism or in a misguided inner process. Finding in spirituality what is not there is a tamasic behaviour. Transfer, substitution, attachment to outward signs of faith, are tamasic qualities.
As part of atheism you most likely know people with whom any type of spiritual dialogue is impossible. Their way of hearing makes any understanding impossible. People who think they are in a process when they are actually operating a transfer are equally impervious. They will be able to practice Yoga, meditate, know the path they are pursuing but without experiencing an inner transformation.
Many teachers maintain their students in the tamasic stage, sustaining a mutual, alienating dependency system.
Rajasic – or active. Stage of reflection, of inner movement. The rajasic stage is about meeting with oneself. It is a step forward into solitude. First we feel misunderstood. What is expressed in ourselves becomes stronger than the drowsy peace of mind we had experienced until then. We then feel a sort of fairness that keeps us going through hard times, a feeling of potential truth that few people understand but that reassures us. Our whole relationship with social and spiritual life is fundamentally reconsidered. To get through our daily lives we constantly need to compromise at a relationship level even if it does not change our views. During the rajasic stage we see tamasic people as prisoners hanging on to their shackles. Going back to a tamasic life may sometimes seem less stressful to us but deep inside we know that it is no longer possible.
Sattvic – or bright. Stage of clearmindedness. The pure vision pure of harmony present everywhere and in all things. We are capable of understanding anything, where understanding does not mean approving, loving or condoning. We no longer believe anything we were told but only what we in-perienced (experienced from inside).
Like the 3 doshas in ayurveda, the 3 gunas are inseparable – these stages are about dominance and not exclusivity.
Fear is what love uses as a defence mechanism.
It is love.
Listen to your fears.
Either they are well-founded and kept you alive so far, or they are unfounded, part of learnt imagination and are cumbersome.
Fear is attentiveness. There is but one nature of fear. How could there be right and wrong fear?
Fear is necessary, it is a constant survival instinct that drives us.
Its expression varies as required by the circumstances but it is fear at work. Hence everything that is repressed going through food, sex or violent drive. Such fear is not heard out nor sated, which results in an excessive need.
The main manipulators of our world tell us that they are not afraid. Philosophical, religious or political systems instil trust, providing with character references that will form a framework. It inside such framework that we will live more or less in harmony or resistance, within such relationship.
Asking us not to be afraid is trying to weaken our clear-mindedness.
Everyone is afraid. No one is entitled to point fingers at yours or others’. Being afraid of everything, this is what letting go is about. Anxiety is induced by repressing emotions. Anxiety is unnecessary, unjustified. It paralyses us. Through fear we can find in ourselves the most appropriate response within our potential in any circumstances.
Fear protects us, stimulates us. To acknowledge and heed it is to be in line with it, as opposed to being its slave.
To love oneself is to fear for oneself. We fear for our loved ones because we love them. When fear is articulated beyond the reality of a situation, it becomes cumbersome. When expressed freely it protects us.
To feel it within ourselves we need to recall a situation of fear, to separate the feeling provoked by the event from the energy underlying that event, to feel that energy tinged with anxiety, to perceive that anxiety is an invention of the mind, completely meaningless in the current situation. It is a time space outside of reality. To absorb a peaceful reality. To spread anxiety-free energy through the feeling of reality. To come back to the now, drive away the anxiety which is a lot weaker than the original energy generating it. It has no more energy in this current world – break free from its past existence. Be now, this is your nature as beings.
Yoga, like religions, uses depiction of divines figures from the Hindu pantheon.
Theism is commonly defined as a system of belief in one or several Gods. Atheism means not to believe.
Indian philosophies – yoga, samkhya, vedanta, nyaya, mimamsa, vaisheshika, can be theistic – they do not oppose or contradict each other however. Since God, in such paths, is a representation and not a superior being, this is about a metaphysical quest rather than an invitation to believe. Indian philosophies are referred to as darshanas. The Sanskrit root “drsh” found in many words related to those philosophies refers to vision. Darshanas do not conflict in any way because these truth-seeking paths claim to be attempts at seeing the world as it is, as opposed to belief systems that would only restrict the mind and oppose believers.
“Theism” comes from the Greek root “theos”, which can mean vision. Therefore an atheist is not a person who does not want to believe but a person who does not want to see. Belief was imposed by dogma, it is about power, it has nothing to do with true faith, derived from Latin “fides” which means trust.
“Dieu” (God in French), etymologically derived from the Latin Deus, comes from Zeus, Greek God who by throwing lightning bolts brought light to men. The metaphor of divine light refers to an inner enlightenment. We meet God when we see absolute reality. God is no other than the “fulfilled” human being.
Today in a pseudo-scientific magazine an article described the possible influence of thought on matter, quoting Masaru Emoto – writer of Messages from Water. That article mentioned a one-month experiment involving two jars filled with cooked rice. One of the jars was labelled Thank you and when anyone passed it by they had to say good, positive things. The other jar was labelled You fool. According to the article, after 1 month there was no mould in the first jar while the other one was all mouldy. It concluded by saying that positive thinking is stronger than negative thinking.
This is a misleading interpretation using the experiment in a manipulative manner.
About fifteen years ago, in a Japanese energy therapy centre I used to go to, we conducted the same experiment. 3 jars of rice are actually used. The first one is to be labelled Love, the second one does not have any label and the third one is labelled Hate. For one month, when passing them by, love words are to be told to the first jar, the second jar is to be totally ignored and the third jar is to be told words of hate and insults. The outcome was this: there was no mould for much longer in both the loved and hated jar while the second one went all mouldy. This shows that both love and hate are powerful energies and that there is nothing worse than indifference.
Without having to measure these effects on cooked rice, looking at the world is enough to realise that hatred is as strong as love. Those who teach us all this nonsense about positive thinking changing the world do not do so for our well-being but to delude us. So-called scientific evidence of the power of positive thinking relies on a very simple technique. For instance, if you smell food you absorb some ifs molecules. This has been scientifically proven. But claiming that it is enough to feed you would be misleading extrapolation. The same process is used with positive thinking. We observe what takes place when we have positive or negative thoughts. Obviously if you laugh or cry your inner state will not be the same. Obviously. But the scientific observation of what can be spotted in your brain when you have positive thoughts is then transformed into a secret weapon that could change your life and everything around you. Where did such extrapolation come from? What nonsense! We know that it is impossible but we choose to believe it to hide from reality.
Who knows exactly where such manipulative behaviours come from? Who do they benefit? Unquestionably ruling classes, global finance and spiritual leaders. These shams stop us from seeing where we are, from thinking for ourselves and potentially from rebelling.
Nidrâ is a Sanskrit word usually translated as ‘sleep’. It can be found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Like Ashtanga Yoga, this term as used by Patanjali also refers to a technique called Nidrâ Yoga.
According to Patanjali, Nidrâ is one of the five vrittis, or fluctuations of the mind (sutra I-6). The other vrittis translate as follows: right knowledge (truth), wrong knowledge (error), imagination and memory. Nidrâ is sometimes translated as a dreamless sleep and sometimes a sleep with dreams. If each vritti requires further thought and development, this last one is particularly intriguing. How can sleep be a movement of the mind? True, the mind works differently when we sleep, but how could it act as a brake on spiritual awakening? All other vrittis involve a waking state so what is sleep doing there? Are there or are there not dreams?
Patanjali does not refer to sleep but to lethargy, lethargy of the mind. When Indian spirituality tells us that the world is an illusion, what does it mean? The world IS real. What is illusory is belief, particularly spiritual belief.
Several Indian myths mention this: the social world, as imposed by political leaders, keeps us in a state of mental lethargy. We think we can exercise our free will when all we can do is play with the pieces of the same puzzle in a number of ways that we did not choose. Refusing to play, being against it, are still positioning pertaining to that puzzle which is imposed upon us. It is not by playing differently that we can break free from the lethargy of the mind but by discovering that there are other jigsaw puzzles and other games.
The spiritual realisation that we call awakening is the opposite of Nidrâ such as referred to by Patanjali. Our understanding is numb, deadened. This is why we need practices and teachers to become awake(ned).