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Advanced Yoga Practices
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Lesson 385 - Review on Building a Baseline Practice Routine (Audio)
AYP Plus Additions:
Date: February 24, 2010
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"
Nowadays, yoga postures (asanas) are very popular. There are millions who have begun on the path of spiritual practices in yoga postures. Maybe this kind of yoga was taken up only for relaxation, for some peace, or for physical fitness. Nevertheless, this is an entry into spiritual practices, as anyone who has been practicing yoga postures for a few years knows.
Maybe spiritual practices began in the form of prayer and worship in our religion, which is an expression of our heartfelt desire to "know God." Raising our desire to a level of devotion to our chosen ideal is a key part of the spiritual path. We all begin with desire in one way or another. A path without desire is no path at all. A desire for realizing our highest potential does not have to be in a religious context, but it is fine if it is. The methods of yoga do not discriminate. Human spiritual transformation can occur just as well within a religious context as not.
We have all been doing something about our spiritual
condition up until now. Just reading these lessons is an indication that we
are considering doing more. But what? In the AYP approach, we aim for
efficiency, for optimizing the relationship of causes and effects in
spiritual practice. In doing so, we keep the control levers in the hands of
the practitioner, where they belong. With the practitioner (you) in control,
the practice routine can be built step-by-step, and managed in a way that
provides for maximum progress with good comfort and safety. No one else can
be driving our car along the highway for us, we have to do it ourselves. It
is a long journey we are on, a marathon, not a sprint, and we travel
step-by-step. This is the essence of a baseline system of practice.
Routine of Practices In the AYP approach to practices we begin with deep
meditation. So no matter where we may have begun our practices in the past,
if we choose to utilize the AYP baseline system, deep meditation will be the
suggested starting point. Once we are established in twice-daily deep
meditation, the entry into additional practices may follow flexible sequence
and timing, according to individual inclinations and experiences. The
sequence of doing a full practice routine, with suggested time and order of
learning indicated, looks something like this: Asanas (10 minutes learned sometime after deep
meditation and spinal breathing) Spinal Breathing Pranayama (10 minutes
learned second, after deep meditation) Chin Pump (2-3 minutes learned sometime after
spinal breathing) Spinal Bastrika (2-3 minutes learned sometime
after spinal breathing) Deep Meditation (20 minutes learned first)
Core Samyama (10 minutes learned after deep
meditation and spinal breathing, when abiding inner silence is
recognized) Yoni Mudra (2-3 minutes learned sometime after
spinal breathing) Cosmic Samyama (5 minutes learned sometime after
core samyama) Rest (5 minutes or more included at the end of
all sittings) Other practices, such as sambhavi mudra, mulabandha,
siddhasana, and kechari mudra can occur at the same time as some of the
practices listed above, particularly spinal breathing pranayama, which is
the best place to start with them. These can be learned according to
preference sometime after we have become stable with spinal breathing
pranayama. Later on, elements of these practices may occur naturally at
other times during our practice routine
Baseline Routine of Practices
In the AYP approach to practices we begin with deep meditation. So no matter where we may have begun our practices in the past, if we choose to utilize the AYP baseline system, deep meditation will be the suggested starting point. Once we are established in twice-daily deep meditation, the entry into additional practices may follow flexible sequence and timing, according to individual inclinations and experiences. The sequence of doing a full practice routine, with suggested time and order of learning indicated, looks something like this:
Asanas (10 minutes learned sometime after deep meditation and spinal breathing)
Spinal Breathing Pranayama (10 minutes learned second, after deep meditation)
Chin Pump (2-3 minutes learned sometime after spinal breathing)
Spinal Bastrika (2-3 minutes learned sometime after spinal breathing)
Deep Meditation (20 minutes learned first)
Core Samyama (10 minutes learned after deep meditation and spinal breathing, when abiding inner silence is recognized)
Yoni Mudra (2-3 minutes learned sometime after spinal breathing)
Cosmic Samyama (5 minutes learned sometime after core samyama)
Rest (5 minutes or more included at the end of all sittings)
Other practices, such as sambhavi mudra, mulabandha, siddhasana, and kechari mudra can occur at the same time as some of the practices listed above, particularly spinal breathing pranayama, which is the best place to start with them. These can be learned according to preference sometime after we have become stable with spinal breathing pranayama. Later on, elements of these practices may occur naturally at other times during our practice routine, and even during daily activity. See "automatic yoga" below.
Note:Increasing Spinal Breathing Pranayama, Deep Meditation or Samyama more than 5-10 minutes above the amounts above, or increasing any of the energy-related practices more than 5 minutes, could lead to uncomfortable symptoms of overdoing. This would be outside the AYP baseline system. See Lesson 384.
Finally, as our practices and their results advance over time, we may be naturally drawn to less-structured practices outside our daily sittings, during our normal daily activity. These may include devotional activity according to our preference (bhakti), non-dual self-inquiry, and a natural inclination to engage in service (karma yoga). None of these are structured, and much a functionof natural inclinations we may find coming up. An exception would be introducing the self-inquiry sutra in our structured core samyama practice (Lesson 351), which promotes spontaneous self-inquiry and an impulse toward service in daily activity.
We do not undertake all of these practices in a week, or in a few months, and not even in a year. It will take years to build a full practice routine. And, according to our preference, we may never use certain practices. It takes months at least to assimilate each of the categories of practice listed. Within each category there are multiple elements of practice which can be implemented over time, so the list here is simplified to provide an overview. Detailed instructions can be found in the many previous lessons for all of the practices, including their refinements, variations, and enhancements.
Deep meditation and samyama are primarily for cultivating inner silence. Spinal breathing pranayama, asanas, mudras and bandhas are primarily concerned with cultivating the energetic side of our neurobiology, leading to the rise of ecstatic conductivity. Together, inner silence and ecstatic conductivity form the two essential building blocks of enlightenment. It is the merging, or marriage, of these two that fulfills the promise of yoga, which is union, expressed as Oneness or Unity the actualization of stillness in action in everyday living.
The above-listed sitting practices comprise a compact twice-daily practice routine. In addition, our normal daily activity constitutes part of practice also, for this is the time we are naturally integrating what we have gained in our sitting practices. It is one thing to be cultivating inner silence and ecstatic conductivity during practices, and something else to be stabilizing these qualities as we go about our daily business in life. So keeping an active life is very important.
Besides engaging in daily practices and keeping active, we will find additional methods and behaviors cropping up in our life that will further enhance our progress. We will find them rising as natural tendencies as we develop more abiding inner silence and natural ecstatic radiance in our life. They come generally under the yamas and niyamas in theEight Limbs of Yoga, and may include:
This is not to say all of these things will be experienced or undertaken in a systematic way, or that they will happen all at once. It is through our own choices that these things will have a greater likelihood to become more a part of our life as our consciousness expands. We will find them creeping into our life naturally as we go about our activities between our daily practice sessions, and our choices will be affected by natural enhancements in our own seeing.
Throughout the AYP writings, instructions have been provided for these additional behaviors and means. Techniques are provided for the preservation and cultivation of sexual energy (the tools of tantra, adaptable to any lifestyle preference heterosexual, homosexual, solo/masturbation or celibate), diet principles and guidelines (including Ayurveda diet suggestions), shatkarmas (internal cleansing techniques), amaroli (urine therapy), principles and practical guidelines for self-inquiry, the methods of bhakti (use of desire and devotion), and the principles of karma yoga (action in service to our highest ideal).
So there is a wide range of activities that are affected in our life as we undertake daily spiritual practices. Everything, in fact.
What is the return on all this?
Peace and happiness!
And we have to do very little to bring it about. Once we have mustered the desire and a commitment to engage in deep meditation for a few minutes morning and evening, the rest is practically automatic. Once stillness is rising and moving within us, everything will be moving, and we will do as we are inclined to do. All of the resources are available for us to take advantage of as we see fit. That is how self-directed spiritual practice works.
With a twice-daily routine of practices, we place ourselves on a fast track to enlightenment. It is potentially so fast that it is essential we develop skill in regulating the practices we are doing each day, measuring duration in time or repetitions, depending on the practice. We adjust practice duration as necessary to maintain smooth and steady progress without incurring excessive discomfort due to too many obstructions being released in our nervous system.
This regulation of practices is calledself-pacing, and it too is a practice one of the most important in the entire AYP arsenal. For, without good self-pacing, we are not likely to get very far on the road to enlightenment.
A key aspect of practices is the prudent handling of experiences, whether they are mundane, dramatic, or extreme. This is a path of enjoyment, and we are entitled to enjoy thescenery we encounter on our journey to enlightenment. However, the scenery is not what will advance us on our path. It is our practices that will move us ahead. So, after an admiring look at the passing scenery, no matter how beautiful or attention-grabbing it may be, we easily go back to the practice we are doing. If spiritual experiences come while we are in our daily activities, as they certainly shall, we can then continue to enjoy the experiences, or go back to whatever it is we are doing.
If experiences become extreme or uncomfortable, either during practice, or afterward in our daily activity, the advice is to scale back our practice in order to bring things back in balance. For example, if we have gotten carried away with our deep meditation practice and are meditating for too long in our twice-daily routine, it is possible that we will experience headache or irritability during our daily activity.
It can also happen if we are getting up too quickly after practices, without an adequate rest period at the end. There is a direct cause and effect between our practices and our experiences in daily life. If we are finding discomfort, then it is time to reduce practices sufficiently and make sure we are taking adequate rest at the end to restore balance. If we have been practicing a normal amount and find some imbalance, then the scaling back can be temporary. As our adverse symptoms subside, then we can creep back to our normal level of practice. However, if we have been overdoing to the extreme, and suffering the consequences, then we should adjust our practice times to levels that are reasonable, so we can continue to live a normal life, while naturally integrating the benefits of our practices into our everyday activities. This will yield the best long term results for us.
Likewise, when time is short, we do not have to drop our spiritual practices altogether. Our routine can be trimmed to fit just about any time period, even only a few minutes. See the guidelines for fitting a daily practice into a busy schedule in Lesson 209.
We always have a choice. Spiritual life is not something that must be hijacking us from ordinary life. If it is, we have probably been engaged in excess, either recently or at some time in the past, and establishing a stable routine of practices can correct this. And neither do our practices have tobe squeezed out entirely by a busy schedule. Where there is the will, there is always a way.
Spiritual life is something that can be cultivated in a self-directed way to bring fulfillment to our activities in everyday life, whatever they may be. It is not all or nothing. The wise path is in the middle. We are free to live our rising spiritual experiences in a way that is compatible with our needs. It is our life, our journey, and our enlightenment. We have no one to become but ourSelf.
The methods of yoga have been derived over the centuries from the natural capabilities for spiritual unfoldment contained within every human nervous system. Yoga does not determine these inherent capabilities. It optimizes the application of them.
As we embark on a path of daily practice, it will not be unusual for us to experience various expressions of our inner capabilities for purification and opening. We are stimulating the spiritual neurobiology, so it is natural for there to be some response. Ultimately, the response will be wide-ranging, because the connectivity of yoga exists between every organ, nerve and cell in our body. With systematic stimulation in daily practices, the connections will awaken and there will be movement.
The movement may come in the form of rising interest in all things spiritual a desire to study and do more to enhance our progress on our spiritual path. It can also come in the form of an inner ecstatic energy flow, or other energy symptoms.
The movement can also be quite literal at times, in the form of physical movements and postures that may occur automatically during our regular routine of practices, and sometimes outside practices. These physical manifestations of yoga connectivity within us are referred to as automatic yoga.
Some symptoms of automatic yoga may include rapid breathing (bastrika) or a slowdown or stoppage of breath (kumbhaka), the head going forward, back, or around (forms of jalandhara), the torso of the body going forward and down during sitting practices (yoga mudra), or a subtle integration of our mudras and bandhas into one holisticecstatic inner embrace (whole body mudra). Or we may experience other spontaneous visible mudras or bandhas during or after sitting practices, vibrations in the body, rapid movement of the legs or arms, vocalizations of various kinds, and many other things. Or there may be nothing at all. Just gradually more inner silence, energy and happiness occurring in daily living.
Those who have experiences of automatic yoga are not necessarily more advanced or gifted than those who do not. Automatic yoga is part of the process of inner purification and opening occurring as a result of yoga practices, and nothing more than that. For some it will be more pronounced than for others. Those who are not shaking all over the place will be purifying and opening within in ways that are appropriate for the unique matrix of obstructions that is present in their nervous system. Some are purified through study, some are purified through increasing devotion or other sensations that express the inner divine, and some are purified through physical movements. Regardless of the symptoms that may be occurring, or not, all are purified and opened through the systematic application of daily yoga practices.
If physical movements or other symptoms are occurring within our practices, or outside them, what are we supposed to do? In practices, it is the same as any thought, vision or sensation that may occur. When we notice our attention has drifted off the practice we are doing, we just easily come back to the practice. If we are doing deep meditation, we easily come back to the mantra. If we are doing spinal breathing pranayama, we just easily come back to tracing the breath between root and brow. If we are engaged in asanas, we just easily favor the posture we are doing.
If automatic yoga becomes overwhelming, we can ease off our practice for a few minutes and let our attention easily be with the sensations we are experiencing. This will usually settle the energy down. Then we can go back to our practice. If physical symptoms continue to be intense, we can lay down and rest for a while.
All purification passes as openings occur, and all symptoms of energy movements will settle down in time, as our nervous system gradually becomes a purer conductor of the vast inner energies we are awakening with yoga practices. While automatic yoga during normal daily activity is less common, it can happen sometimes. In that case it is the same as any other spiritual experiences we may have. We can allow the experiences while observing them without excessive anticipation, participation or judgment. We can go on with our daily activities, knowing that we are alright. In time all such symptoms will smooth out and become synonymous with the divine flow of our life. It has a lot to do with our opening and acceptance of our divine condition. We always have the choice. Automatic yoga can only dominate us if we engage it with fear.
In some systems of practice there are certain times when automatic yoga in the form of physical movements may be permitted to occur as part of the practice. In the AYPbaseline system of practices, this may be more likely during samyama when stillness is more inclined to be moving us physically, and to lesser degrees during other sitting practices, where we do not fight against swaying and other occasional spontaneous movements that might occur during the normal course of our practices. This does not mean we depart from our practice and focus our full attention on the automatic yoga. This can be counterproductive, leading to overdoing, particularly with changes in breathing or suspensions of breath.
It is good to keep in mind that automatic yoga is not going to be cognizant of our limit for accommodating purification and opening in a given period of time. Rather, automatic yoga is an impulse to have it all right now. This is not possible without a high probability of undergoing extreme discomfort, and then not being able to continue. In yoga it is always best to let common sense have the last say, particularly when the impulses that will lead us into excess are stirring. So we always favor our predetermined structured routine of practices, come what may, and then we will be assured of good progress with the least amount of disruption. This is how our process of inner purification and opening will continue to move forward. We always easily favor the practice over the experience.
If there are a few surges, bends, jerks or ecstatic inner caresses occurring along the way, this will be normal, as will be the lack of them. It is all part of our natural unfoldment.
The Hazards of Forcing Practices
In life, we have all had the urge to "go for it" at one time or other, to push hard to reach our objective. In many fields of human endeavor, it is considered a virtue to follow this impulse the proverbial race for the finish line in whatever we are doing. It is the stuff that heroes are made of.
But not in yoga, where the hero is the one who is able to let go of acts of desperation in practices and allow the natural process of purification and opening to occur with the least amount of disruption.
Forcing yoga practices leads to excess in symptoms of purification and the associated discomforts. If forcing has been extreme, particularly when jumping too far ahead in undertaking advanced practices, then the discomfort can be extensive, to the point where practices must stop.
Symptoms of overdoing in practices are due to excessive purification occurring in the nervous system related to premature awakening of kundalini. The symptoms can be mental, emotional, physical, or any combination of these. Kundalini, the source of great ecstasy within us, can also bring great discomfort, if approached carelessly. The consideration of kundalini, its symptoms of excess, and associated remedies, is a broad and complex subject that is fully covered throughout the lessons. If yoga practices are applied in a logical sequence with prudent self-pacing, the excesses and discomfort associated with a premature kundalini awakening can be largely avoided.
When symptoms of inner energy imbalance become excessive, then special measures are necessary to recover before the spiritual journey can continue. In this way, forcing our practices can lead to a significant slowdown in our spiritual progress, not to mention the unnecessary discomfort. While we are recovering from overdoing, the clock will continue to run.
Sometimes, forcing and overdoing in practices will not produce immediate uncomfortable symptoms, leading instead to a delayed reaction that can be quite severe. This is especially true with pranayama and breath suspension (kumbhaka) methods. In fact, there can be pleasurable symptoms when first overdoing, inspiring the practitioner to take the overdoing to a further extreme. And then, wham!
So it is very important for us to establish a stable routine of practices that we can sustain over the long term, adding on in small steps from time to time when we are sure that we are ready. This measured approach is the fastest and most reliable way to cultivate spiritual progress.
If we are driving too fast in our car along a winding mountain road and fly off a cliff, we will be hard-pressed to reach our destination in a timely manner. On the other hand, if we are prudent and drive our car skillfully at a safe speed, slowing down when we go through the rough patches, we will be sure to reach our destination in a timely manner.
Grounding for Stability
If we have overdone it a bit in practices, we will know to scale back on our practice times until the imbalance of our inner energies has been resolved. An important part of this relates to our daily activity.
Even with a stable routine of sitting practices, our daily activity is very important. The inner silence we cultivate in deep meditation and the inner energy awakening we stimulate with spinal breathing pranayama and other practices must be stabilized in regular daily activity. This is very important so we can integrate these inner spiritual qualities in our everyday life. It is natural for inner silence and the inner energies to seek an outer expression in the world. Whatever we are doing during the day between our practices will become that path. So it is essential to maintain an active life according to our own inclinations. Then our inner qualities will become increasingly stable in all that we do, bringing a peacefulness, creativity and energy to all aspects of our daily activity.
So grounding is fundamental to all spiritual practice, though we may not call it that as we are going about our normal activities.
When there is an excess of inner energy due to overdoing in our yoga practices, or for other reasons, it is wise to scale back on practices temporarily, and ramp up our grounding activities. This can mean regular physical exercise, more engagement in social activity, chores around the house, digging in the garden, doing a daily Tai Chi routine, eating a heavier diet, whatever it takes to ground ourselves. During such times, it will also be wise to scale back on spiritual study, self-inquiry and devotional activities, which can also over-stimulate our inner energies.
All of these will be temporary measures, until we find our balance in daily living again. As we do, we can gradually restore our practices and adjust our daily activities according to what is necessary to maintain steady long term progress with comfort and safety.
The guru is in you.
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Note: For detailed instructions on building a daily practice routine with self-pacing, see the Eight Limbs of Yoga Book, and AYP Plus.
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