By Shameem Akhtar
Yoga can help you pole-vault the constraints of the body and perform unbelievable feats
This story from Chhandogya Upanishad puts yoga in perspective. To blunt the arrogance of his well-learned, overweening son his father asks the 12-year-old if he had learnt that by which the unhearable becomes heard, the unperceivable becomes perceived, the unknowable becomes knowable. The son realises that he had never acquired this jnana or knowledge, which is yoga. Bhagavad Gita, the most practical tome on the yoga of the mind, recognises every right attitude as yoga.
One-pointedness is ananya yoga, steady practice is abhyasa yoga. Constant awareness is yoga. To refine this further, you can say a constant dual awareness – of yourself as you experience life, and the higher awareness of yourself as the witnessing Super-self – is true yoga.
Yoga makes you deeply intuitive. As you become steady in practice, you will begin to intuit, acquire perceptions which will change your entire outlook on life. It is as if you suddenly realise that all along you have been looking at the world through distorted and chipped spectacles which have also been heavily tinted! With yoga, you remove the glasses to perceive the world the way it is. Not beautiful, not ugly, but the way it just is. With this awareness comes unadulterated peace.
Only steady practice, abhyasa yoga, will reveal the truth which defies definition. A guru can only nudge, but the strength to leap into the unexplored depth of oneself comes from within. And like a quantum physicist, you will begin to see beyond the visible dimensions of the solid world. To deconstruct solidity as whirling vortices of energy fields which changes even as it is perceived. That the world is not what it seems. To look beyond the veil of maya or illusion, as it were.
Quantum mechanics has unveiled the truth that had bypassed Newtonian laws — that the world of sub-atoms is ruled by different realities. At that level, the very fact that an observation is being made changes all the rules! Hardcore scientists like Fritjof Capra are playing with words like ‘consciousness’ that have been anathema to science till now. Here is what three scientists have to say on this engrossing subject in the book Origins. Astrophysicist Hubert Reeves, organic chemist Joel de Rosnay, Yves Coppens who is co-discoverer of Lucy are led into a discussion by science writer Dominique Simonnet on the latest scientific discoveries that tease and worry over the concept of super-consciousness. They ask:… “we ourselves are made up of the dust of the Big Bang. Could it be that we bear within ourselves the memory of the universe?” Later in the book they answer this question: “Our large, complex brain preserves the memory of evolution. So do our genes… Our bodies tell the story of our origins.”
Yoga helps us unlock this ‘unhearable’, primeval tale hidden in our bodies and our mind. As you surrender to it, you will begin to hear this story sing in all your cells. That is why true yogis can pole-vault constraints of the body and become super-human, acquiring the siddhis promised by Patanjali. Swami Niranjanananda of the Bihar School of Yoga in his book Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya records this unbelievable feat by Swami Nadabrahmananda Saraswati.
When Meninger Foundation (U.S.) decided to test his claim on breath control, he was kept in an airtight glass chamber, his nostrils and ears blocked, while his body was wax-smeared. He was able to remain inside for 40 minutes without any apparent difficulty! Electrodes attached to his body recorded a rustling sound like waterfall which, Swamiji explained, was the sound of moving prana.
In yoga, prana, though loosely translated as breath, represents life-force itself. Thus pranayama, one of yoga’s eight limbs, involves not just breath control, but unlocks the deep, untapped energies within, towards which yoga brings one closer and closer. On a simple, practical level if you wish to use your prana to fight stress, all you need to do is become aware of your breath. You will find that initially your attention wavers, like a shy child trying to escape limelight. If you can be one-pointed (ananya yoga) you will find that your breath will settle down into a steady rhythm that quashes stress. Though simple, this is a tough trick to master. But will nudge you closer to the sublime in you.
This is a pose of surrender, promoting internal peace. It also best illustrates how each practice of yoga can be a continuous process of evolution. Paschimottasana is difficult to master. But even if you master it, there are variations in it that constantly prod you further and deeper into the pose. It remains an endless challenge, demonstrating how yoga exposes, how the journey can be more engrossing than the destination.
Sit straight, legs together, stretched out in front. Inhale, raising arms above. Exhaling, bend forward, reaching out with the arms as if trying to touch the wall in front of you. Grasp your legs wherever you can, head now facing the legs. Initially you will find it difficult to reach the toes with your hands or your head towards the knee or the chest to the thighs. But regular practice will reach you there. Hold it only as long as is comfortable, breathing normally. Return to starting position, inhaling.
You learn how relaxed you are in this asana by the evenness of your breath. The more relaxed you are, the deeper you will reach into it. The muscles will unwind, as if growing to accommodate. You will also appreciate the gentle but sure manner in which your spine lengthens.
Avoid bouncing in the pose. Don’t push yourself too hard. If you do, physically you would make your muscles clam up, becoming more taut. Mentally, you are countering the basic nature of the pose, which is to surrender completely. It is contraindicated for those with acute back problems. It works out the uro-genital system, tones the spine, keeping it youthful; is therapeutic for diabetes, hypoglycemia, nervous disorders, obesity and skin disorders.
With yoga, you remove the glasses to perceive the world the way it is. Not beautiful, not ugly, but the way it just is.
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