Thrive or Survive –
The ‘Age of Constant Movement’
is Upon Us
By: Susan Pryor
Many believe and act as if we must attend to everything right now, there is no time to dally – yet in this busy-ness we are killing ourselves; and in taking time to dally we might just find we begin to thrive.
If you think you are too busy or you should be achieving more and more this article is for you.
She had literally just flown in from abroad, she writes, is a mother, teaches classes, has a retreat centre and delivers workshops … this is one such workshop.
She started by saying;
“I just ‘jumped in the deep end’ my aim was to live the practice; that was around 30 years ago ~ my inspiration ummmmm …. “
This warm, calm, smiling, gracious and poised woman; draped and cloaked in tones of russet, ochre and amber went on to teach ….
“Inspiration ~ to listen to myself; to live and respond to life without the push; the pressure or desire and to be in that which I am amply provided by the Universe.”
“And, stillness ~ to be in that stillness which is the ‘calming of the waves’ and comes from listening to the ceaseless mental busy-ness and the physical busy-ness of go go go; to s-l-o-w down and be within that which resonates with me.”
Her gentle voice and wisdoms led us on;
The wisdom of witnessing that we ….
…. live in an age – in the time of ‘movement’; incessent movement.
Where the senses are in a continual state of ‘experiencing’ being ‘triggered’ without rest.
And in this age of constant movement ‘nothing is so urgent, so necessary, so vital as ‘sitting still’, coming into stillness, reaching into the deeper centre inside where all is still – for there we get “a different perspective on life”.
Patanjali taught the 8 stages of yoga – sometimes known as the ‘Limbs of Yoga’
One of those ‘Limbs’ is ‘Asana’ the physical (Hatha) practice of stretching – in our modern world ‘Yoga’ has become synonymous with ‘Asana’ the ‘exercise of the physical body’; however, ‘all limbs are equally important’.
Take for example the philosophies of the Yamas and Niyamas; these are known as ‘Yogas Ethical Codes’ they include:
The Five Yamas
Are to ‘avoid’ I prefer to use the positive perhaps and say to cultivate
Ahimsa the observance of non-harm
Satyam – the observance of truth
Asteya – the observation of non-stealing
Bramacharya – the conservation of energy
Aparigraha – the observation of non-aquisitiveness
The Five Niyamas
Are to ’embrace’
Cleanliness – Soucha – the type of cleanliness that is cultivated within and expressed without; not only in physical ablutions but mentally and emotionally.
Contentment – Santosha – through discrimination be satisfied and not discontent as discontent leads to chaos of the mind,
Purify or Austerity – Tapah – maintaining equilibrium through whatever arises in life.
Continually study – Swadhyaya – maintain a steadiness of practice. Regularity, rhythm and continual practice.
Surrender to something greater than ourselves – Ishwara Pranidhana – Humility in being led or bowed down or aligned with a higher or inner power.
These are all preparations we must attend before we get to Asana – the physical (Hatha) practice.
The qualities and attitudes of the Yamas and Niyamas will allow us to feel more centred.
However, even if asana is our only limb of yoga ‘in a way they unfold naturally’ from us as we embark on the yogic path.
How? As our practice deepens and becomes more regular there is the transformation or beginnings of change – this is the ‘harmonizing’ of the prana or
vital life force; and the practice of Asana is ‘Purification’ the burning off of the ‘dross’ that brings on ‘Balance’.
Swami Karma Karuna, continued sharing the teachings of her lineage;
There are various other practices such as the ‘Shatkarmas’ which are practiced for ‘Purification’ and aim at creating ‘Balance’ in the body – which is desirable preparation for the meditation state; ensuring – says Swami Satyananda Saraswati (APMB 2013), “safe and successful progression along the spiritual path.”
These Shatkarmas include;
- Neti – cleansing and purification of the nasal breathing passages.
- Dhauti – three cleansing techniques for ‘internal’ cleansing, head cleansing and heart cleansing.
- Nauli – massaging and strengthening abdominal organs.
- Basti – toning large intestine
- Kapalbhati – brain breathing
- Trataka – intense focussed gazing such as candle gazing. (APMB – Swami Satyananda Saraswati).
However the predominant and most common practice of preparation for meditation today remains the practice of ‘Asana’. To come to stillness required in meditation, the mind needs to become steady, if you can not sit still the mind can not come into the stillness necessary for meditation.
To achieve this we activate the senses by movement. There are two stages of Asana; first the dynamic followed by the static.
The Dynamic Practice – moves blood, lymph, opens joints, activates systems and builds strength; heats up the body and warms the entire organism.
The Static Practice – leads the organism into a deeper sense of stillness, harmony, and equilibrium or balance. In the static practice we hold the poses for longer, relaxing into the posture, releasing and letting go tension held in the body and mind.
As we work gradually more and more deeply; we surrender to the practice, the mind becomes less busy and we come to a state where we can become aware of our ‘Samskaras’.
Samskaras are the subtle impressions of our past actions. These comprise our attitudes, beliefs, self limiting or self expanding stories which underpin all our behaviours.
The Sanskrit explains it in more depth than the English counterpart so I quote Pandit Rajmani Tigunait who says of Samskaras; “This process is beautifully explained by the literal meaning of the word “samskara.” The prefix sam means well planned, well thought out, and kara means “the action under-taken.” Thus, “samskara” means “the impression of, the impact of, the action we perform with full awareness of its goals.” When we perform such an action, a subtle impression is deposited in our mindfield. Each time the action is repeated, the impression becomes stronger. This is how a habit is formed. The stronger the habit, the less mastery we have over our mind when we try to execute an action that is contrary to our habit patterns”.
“Resistance”; says Swami Karma Karuna, “is in the mind”. And when we understand Samskaras we can understand our own resistance. All experiences are recorded in our minds and are held in the mind and are the forces with which we view our world, they are the ‘driving force’ behind our actions.
By developing mental stillness and the witness awareness, we come to a place where these Samskaras can ‘rise up’. When we are still we can ‘see the patterns’. This brings us to a place of ‘Self Honesty’ – whereby we can look at that which is our ‘tendency’.
At this stage we aim to be the ‘witness’,the silent observer of that which is.
All our underpinning Samskaras create attachment to the story that creates the pattern or habit that is our tendency.
Attachment leads to disharmony.
In stillness and witnessing, we can see the attachments, the tendencies and patterns, we get a different perspective on the stories because it is here that we have a choice. As we witness without judgement or opinion we are in the moment; however the instant we engage the mind with the story of what we are viewing we become stressed.
Witnessing without attachment enables us to create ‘Gaps’ and here is where we establish a different relationship with ‘what is’ – and come to an understanding of the impact of stories; as Swami Satyananda Saraswati says; “There is no peace in the Himalayas and no noise in the marketplace, both are within”. It depends on the story we attach to the ‘what is’ experience.
Physically what is going on in our body; is the story we tell ourself that creates stress and suffering which causes imbalance. The nervous system works continuously to bring the body back into balance.
The stress we experience in our busy daily lives builds up as we have not learned to assimilate or discharge it and it comes from the underlying perceptions of our belief systems. In our busy-ness we do not get time to explore these beliefs and the stress they cause creates poor health, lowered immune systems and affects our hearts, adrenals and hormones – often to exhaustion. This continues to take us deeper into inflammation and illness, dis-ease of all types which impacts on our basic functions of rest, sleep, digestion and sex.
Even the simple act of breathing is compromised by stress causing shallow, upper chest anxiety-induced and anxiety-inducing breaths.
Breath carries the ‘Vital Life Force’ known as ‘Prana’ which is the fuel that enables ‘Ayama’ the expansion and liberation of vitality or energy within our bodies.
Swami Karma Karuna shared about Emma Ferris who is a physiotherapist interviewed by Radio NZ who says “over 50% of people do not breathe properly”.
When breath is blocked – it is similar to a blocked fuel line; which anyone who has experienced will know, causes the vehicle to sputter, cough, belch, fart and lurch along the road – eventually grinding to a halt. Sound familiar!? This is what happens to the human organism under mismanaged stress.
Prana carried on the breath moves in five specific locations in the body with the purpose of activating the vital energy in the area and keeping the physical body balanced.
The locations of the Five Pranas are:
Prana – The force which draws breath inwards, throat, chest, diaphragm etc
Apana – Downwards from below navel to anus and genitals which expels toxins, helps with the birthing process.
Samana – Heart to navel activating the transformation of nutrition through the internal organs, assimilation and distribution of nutrients.
Udana – Head and senses harmonizes and activates limbs, maintains erect posture and ability to respond to the world.
Vyana – Whole body, regulating, controlling and co-ordinating all the other pranas.
So moving the body in asana to clear the blockages, facilitate movement of prana, settle the busy-ness of the body so the mind calms and quiets to be able to witness samskaras and rest in the gaps – is essential to reduce accumulated stress, discharge current stress and replace the fluctuations stress creates in the mind and body with calm, peace, stillness and ease.
In so doing the body will bring itself back into harmony and balance enabling it to maintain better health, a naturally strong immune system and heart, and reduce adrenal activity and balance hormones. Thus reducing or removing the catalysts that cause inflammation, exhaustion, illness and dis-ease. Which in turn will mean our basic functions of rest, sleep, digestion and sex will settle into their natural rhythms.
The asana Swami Karma Karuna led started with Child’s Pose she suggested keeping the eyes closed to limit the amount of sensory input as we were sliding
into Cobra which we repeated a number of times before standing (eyes still closed if possible) and coming to ‘Salute to the Sun’ as a dynamic practice. After Which we moved to into the static practice and included Mountain Pose, Equestrian Pose, Standing Forward Fold, Cat-Cow, Fish, Bridge, Sleeping Twist, Universal Spinal Twist, Downward Facing Dog, Half Spine Twist, Lunge, Swaying Palm Tree, Tadasana, and Shoulder Stand interspersed with Savasana all the static poses were held for a few minutes – enough time to feel the stretch, then the tension and finally surrender to the relaxation.
The use of Savasana throughout the sequence brought us deeply into relaxation and balance and the felt experience of the prana moving through and transforming the body.
From this place of movement the senses gradually journeyed inwards and had a pause from the continual state of ‘experiencing’ and being ‘triggered’ without rest, until the experience was almost entirely internal as if blissfully disconnected to anything external.
Which takes me back to the purpose and value of yoga in this ‘Age of Constant Movement’ that ‘nothing is so urgent, so necessary, so vital as ‘sitting still’, coming into stillness, reaching into the deeper centre inside where all is still – for there we get “a different perspective on life”.
Part Two – The Void – A Timeless Experience in Stillness – will follow.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati – Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha (2013)
Photo Credits & Contacts
Karma Karuna – Nelson – Anahata Retreat Centre https://www.anahata-retreat.org.nz/
Anandaradha Radhe – Shraddha Yoga Whangarei https://shraddhayoganz.wordpress.com/
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