All search is in vain until we begin to perceive that knowledge is within ourselves, that no one can help us, that we must help ourselves. – (Patanjali-Vivekananda 2: 27)
I started to write this blog a few weeks ago. With the quarantine for COVID-19, I am even more convinced of the wisdom and liberating power of the ancient discipline of Hatha Yoga. With the isolation and solitude of the quarantine, more than ever before, there are pieces of me everyday that I find broken. Wobbly. Stuck. Unhinged. With more time at home and less classes, I practice more. I spend more time observing each detail of each posture. I spend more time receiving classes (albeit online) observing deeply the purpose and efficacy of each Yoga Asana. The more I practice, the more I understand that the work of Yoga Asana has very little to do with Yoga asana.
I understand now more than ever that the practice of Hatha Yoga Asana has been developed so that I, and no one else, from the the inside out, can figure out how to mend, strengthen and heal these aforementioned broken pieces. It is my work and my work alone to feel and watch how these pieces manifest in my body, the rhythm of my heart and in the speed of my breath. That is your work. And your work alone. The system and structure of Hatha Yoga provides guides, teachers and books to point the way. It provides these little classrooms called Asana to teach, develop and fine tune the art and skill of observation. Of living presently. Of living freely. And there is no possibility of cheating. The only one who can enter and fully take advantage of each classroom lesson each Asana offers, is you, is me. The real work of Hatha Yoga Asana begins when we stop talking, comparing, judging, interpreting and simply begin listening.
What is Hatha Yoga?
When your mind has become controlled you will have control over the whole body instead of being a slave to the machine, the machine will be your slave. Instead of this machine (the body) being able to drag the soul down, it will be its greatest helpmate. -Patanjali – Vivekananda (2: 41)
Hatha Yoga is any kind of Yoga that uses the physical body (annamaya kosha) to influence and gain control over the mind (manomaya kosha). In the western world, the mind and body have often been separated. The body has been viewed as the enemy to the logical mind. This perception of disconnection between mind and body started to change with philosophers like Fredrick Nietzsche and psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud had many faults, but his lifelong work of psychoanalysis recognized that anxiety and stress hidden in the unconscious mind often manifested itself in destructive behaviors and physical ailments.
The physical body being influenced by mind stuff is nothing new to Yoga philosophy. A brief study of the Koshas will make that clear. The difference between Freudian psychology and Hatha Yoga is simply the point of entrance. The mind is difficult to control. It is an abstract thing that even today, no scientist can say with certainty where it exists or where it came from. It is for this reason, instead of using a mental tool like psychoanalysis, the practice of Hatha Yoga uses the physical and very tangible door of the body to change, transform and heal the intangible and unconscious mind.
The great system of Hatha Yoga has been developed and taught for over four thousand years to help human beings let go of unconscious stress and trauma hidden in the body. Trauma and stress held in the body can be related directly to our own personal history, or it may have its origin in the genetic and conditioned history of our family and culture. Scientists, psychologists and western medical doctors like Dr. Van der Kolk, Dr. Peter Levine, and Dr. Gabor Maté are now confirming the efficacy of entering the door of the body to heal the trauma that torments the mind. Statistically, studies are now showing that therapeutic body work has been proven to be even more effective than pharmaceuticals or talking therapy alone.
Through physical postures (Asana), breath awareness (Pranayama), ethical practices (Yamas y Niyamas) and the concentrated observation of all of the above (Dharana, Diana and Samahdi), Hatha Yoga provides a system that educates a student how to be FREE. It provides steps and practices for students to gain balance and control over their physical body as well as their nervous system so that they are no longer slaves to negative and destructive unconscious behaviors or thoughts.
What does HATHA mean?
Hatha literally means Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha). Yoga means the union between these two. When we reflect over what the Sun and Moon represent in Hindu mythology (and many others) it becomes clear why the union and balance of these two energies grant us liberty.
In most world mythologies the symbol of the sun is related with masculine energy while the energy of the moon is related to feminine energy. The concept of energy is not the same as gender or sex. Masculine and feminine energies simply represent different characteristics in the human experience. The two energies exist together in order to create and maintain the delicate balance of life on our Earth. For example, without the sun all of life on earth would die from the cold and lack of nutrition provided by its faraway rays. However, did you realize that without the moon and her gravitational pull, life as we know it would not exist either?
Primordial life started in the small tide pools, the small Petri dishes of creation, left behind by the cyclical push and pull of moons gravity on ocean waters. If it were not for the rising and falling tides produced by the moon and its gravitational pull, there would not be the necessary movement within the waters of the ocean to help regulate global temperature as well as move all the life sustaining nutrients held within her waters throughout the world. Without the gravitational push and pull of the Moon ´s gravity, life as we know it on earth could not even begin to exist.
The Balance of Ha and Tha Energy
´The Ida and the Pingala are currents working in every human…however the Sushuma only actively works in the Yogui because you must remember that the Yogi changes his/her body: as you go on practicing your body changes, it is not the same body you had before the practice. ´ (Patanjali – Vivekananda 1:34)
Men and women are different biologically. Women have a vagina (Yoni) and men have a penis (Lingham), obviously. Focusing solely upon the physical we can say that the female sexual organs and the female sexual act is internal while the male sexual act and sex organs are external. My opinion is that due to biology the things that we are able to observe clearly, like the light and heat of the sun, are associated with masculine energy, whereas the things that we experience that are less visible, like the gravitational pull of the moon (the very term menstration comes from the Greek mene, meaning moon), are associated with feminine energy. This does not mean that one is more or less important than the other. As already explained, the moon and the sun TOGETHER to provide the necessary conditions to create and nourish life here on earth.
The psychology and philosophy of Yoga states that the opposing and complimentary masculine and feminine energies found in the heavens above are also manifested in the human body below. In Yoga this balance is reflected in the positive (pingala- right side) and negatively (ida – left side) charged channels of energy (nadis), that rise up from the coccyx and sacrum, snake back and forth along the shushumna (spinal chord) through 6 circuit breakers (chakras) to arrive at the main circuit breaker of our nervous system, the brain.
The balance between these two opposing energy charges (the ida y pingala) is what actives the rise of energy through the central Shushuma channel. The Shushuma electrical current then exits at the seventh chakra located just above the soft spot on a baby´s skull in order to connect us with unlimited knowledge -also known as Source, God, Allah, the Universe etc. (Patanjali -Vivekananda 1:34).
A consistent practice of Asana, pranayama and meditation offers us a way to develop and maintain an equal flow of these two energies up along the spine and into the brain. A lack of balance or blocks along these channels, just like with any other electrical current, is what creates both physical and psychological discomfort.
A Balanced Body
Balance is everything. For example, if there is too much physical strength (masculine trait) and not enough flexibility (feminine trait) in the posterior part of the thigh, otherwise known as your hamstring, the pelvis will be pulled forward and create tension and pain in the lower spine. On the other hand, too much flexibility often results in hyper-extended joints and a lack of bone density. A similar thing happens when there is a lack of balance in strength and flexibility around the shoulder girdle.
All the mechanics of the body are very much integrated and connected. If one part is not completing its function, the whole system will suffer. The human organism works at its best when we are both strong and flexible, when we have the ability to observe and move with both strength and agility. This is true for the body and it is true for the mind.
A Balanced Mind
Traditionally one could say that masculine energy is associated with characterstics like
aggression, extroversion, logic, control and ambition. Feminine energy has been associated with words like submission, introversion, emotion, chaos and empathy. The philosophy of Yoga teaches us that in order to achieve balance and freedom, each one of us has the responsibility to develop these two opposing energies within ourselves, independent of our gender or biological sex.
For example, placing too much emphasis on emotions and the chaos of creativity while ignoring the everyday work and structure necessary to build and manifest desires and relationships will result in a mind without much direction and a lot of empty and broken dreams. On the other hand, a person who lives their life 100% guided by logic and ambition, void of empathy and emotion, would be labeled as a psychopath. Not only would this person be unable to enjoy the deep emotional and creative experiences that make life worth living, they also represent a serious threat to the planet and to humanity.
The Stress Response: Balance and Observation
We are a biological and integrated machine of mind and body, of thoughts and emotions. Emotions first start in the body and are then interpreted by the mind. For example, if you find yourself one day walking through some woods and you see something that looks like a snake, what is your first reaction? Literally, without thinking, the body will react with a rush of adrenaline and move blood from our vital organs to our arms and legs. The posterior part of our brain is activated while the logical processes of the pre-frontal cortex are shut down. If we are unable to override the instinctive fight or flight response caused by the spotting of what appears to be a snake, you run the risk of running and screaming from a stick. On the other hand, if we ignore our instinctive reactions we run the risk of being attacked by a possibly dangerous snake.
The stress response is not always a bad thing, the dangerous thing about the stress response is our inability to turn it off. The majority of our physical ailments have their roots in a chronic stress response which results in a continuous and unbalanced production of cortisol and adrenaline. Eventually this state of chronic stress will result in a drop in immune system function as transference of blood and oxygen from vital organs like the heart, lungs and brain, moves to our external limbs. In the short term, this shot of adrenaline is an excellent life saving response. In the long term this creates havoc on the entire mind-body complex. This is the important work of self-observation. We need to be able to take a deep breath and relax when we realize a stick is a stick and not a snake.
Hatha Yoga Asana: Classrooms of Observation and Balance
Chronic stress and associated illnesses often have their roots in our unconscious and conditioned personal, familial and cultural past. Via the doorway of the body and breath, Hatha Yoga Asana provides a way to first observe and then overcome the effects and roots of chronic stress.
The physical postures (Asana) of Yoga act as classrooms where we learn to observe and let go of physical as well as psychological blocks—unconscious and conscious. A consistent practice of Hatha Yoga is a way to continuously prepare the mind-body system for the challenges, the aforementioned snakes and sticks, that life throws our way. Each Yoga Asana is composed of various internal actions and observations that are designed to relax and balance the mind-body complex. By entering daily and observing the body where this unconscious information is stored, letting go of the need to analyze or interpret it, we start to gain control over our internal and external experience.
With the intangible mind grounded in a balanced body and nervous system, we gain freedom from conditioned and often destructive unconscious thoughts and behaviors. Acting from a balanced position of logic and creativity, strength and agility, order and chaos, we are better capable of creating and executing effective solutions to life’s challenges. Increasing our ability to respond increases our perception of control (LOC) allowing us to experience greater levels of wellbeing as well as the freedom that Patanjali eluded to when he wrote:
Karmuka Yoga: Achieving freedom and balance through precise observation
Karmuka means arch. It is also the name of the perfectly precise bow used by the Vedic warrior God Indra. Karmuka Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga that integrates the western concepts of embodied cognition with a precise and stable Asana practice. This practice stresses the importance of breath and the internal observation of opposing forces to maintain the strength and mobility of the 6 main arches of the skeletal system. Working from the base of our physical form (the bone), independent of level, age or experience, Karmuka Yoga offers a way to balance and unite the many different layers of our physical (Annamaya Kosha), psychological (Manomaya Kosha) and energetic bodies (Pranamaya Kosha).
Take advantage of your time at home to let go of the tension and stress trapped in your own mind and body with the Karmuka Yoga ONLINE Yoga classes. Two new classes every week + FREE Yamuna Work + Yin Yoga + Ayurvedic guidance.