What is prana?
Prana is our innate, natural life force. Prana is found in all living beings. It has numerous names in various spiritual, athletic, and cultural practices, for example, in the martial arts, prana is referred to as qi. If prana strobes through the system unimpeded, it demolishes pockets of stagnation, which are responsible for ailments, both physical and mental. That’s why practitioners of yoga stand up straight, lengthen their bodies, and move with breath – to improve pranic flow.
Flexion vs. Activation
Flexion, as used in weightlifting, creates power, but activation, coupled with lengthening and deep breathing, releases prana and provides more power for longer periods of time. This is why yogis can hold seemingly back-breaking asanas without straining. In the first stages of training, I use a handful of basic postures to teach students how to utilize activation.
Body restoration to boy or girl state and “Learning to Unlearn”
Part of yoga practice is to restore the system to its boy or girl state. As adolescents, our bodies are durable, strong, flexible, and rippling with energy, but with age and improper habits, our bodies become tight and knotted. Negative stimuli and trauma, both physical and mental, cause our psyche to change as well. We stop exploring. We get tired, jaded, and lose our luster. We stop seeing the possibilities of life.
I utilize the following techniques to restore the system:
1. Proper posture
2. Building trunk strength
3. Rigorous, regular practice to stimulate the nerves, circulation, and promote digestion
4. Moola bandha to draw vital energy from the lower chakras upwards and tone the uro-gential region
5. Prananyama as a source of self-nourishment
6. Mastery of both full activation and complete deactivation
7. Asana training as a method to build confidence and problem-solving skills
8. Mind stilling and concentration through pranayama, trataka, and meditation
9. Step-by-step prep work that re-circuits the brain for challenging asanas
10. Exploration of ethical questions through the Yamas and Niyamas
11. Postures that promote balance, rid staleness from the system, and massage and stimulate the internal organs and glands, and reverse the “pulling down” of the body due to gravity and aging
“Learn to unlearn,” one of the class mottos, is an integral aspect for restoration. In this process, we explore “new” (ancient, actually) techniques, replacing bad habits with good habits and shedding that which is unnecessary.
Atman is Brahman
“Atman is Brahman. Brahman is Atman.” This commonly used phrase in yoga study traces its origins to the teachings found in Hinduism’s sacred, ancient text, the Upanishads. Atman is Brahman means that the light of the divine is within us; that our soul is linked with the everlasting divine. It is the highest expression of human reality. With steady contemplation of the divine within, the following realizations may occur:
1. Recognition of the Light of God within me. Now, I no longer defile myself or engage in self-hatred. Self-defilement is blasphemy. I realize that I have a connection with pure eternal. I am a soul, and no matter what my accomplishments may be on this earth, my soul will always be my essence, my highest and purest. In the realm of this highest form, there are no VIPs; we are all VIPs.
2. Recognition of the Light of God in other people. Now, I see all men and women as spiritual cousins, regardless of their choice of faith. Cruel and destructive behavior against members of the human family is actually an affront to myself and an aberration to God.
3. Recognition of the light of God in all living things. Our family tree expands to all sentient beings. We see the vibration of God in all creatures. All creatures represent different, complex symphonies all written by the same composer.
4. Living in the light of the Almighty. Once these truths are internalized, we live in the light. We are part of a larger light, and it is to that light that we will return. We are part of an infinite, perfect structure. With this realization, our day-to-day worries seem mundane. We follow the flow of life from cradle to grave, seeing each day that we are free from pain and want as an absolute blessing.
Problems in our lives are often problems with perception
Many of our anxieties and agitations stem from inaccurate perceptions. We should not let gossip, stereotypes, peer-pressure, or jealousy shape our outlook. We should rely on evidence and direct perception. Don’t let negative past impressions hamstring you in the present. Look beyond form (don’t judge a book by its cover), and try to tap into the essence. Harness your abilty to differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy; what is fact and what is speculation.
He who is free from expectations/enthusiasm is truly liberated
If you live according to your expectations, it is as if you have written a play, and you have decided what the characters will do and what the outcome will be. This is false reality, and such delusions lead to damaging boom and bust cycles. Reality is not a buffet; we can’t pick and choose what we want to deal with. Reality flows on its own. It is up to us to adapt, adjusting with the changing currents, both within and without. Principles, as found in the Yamas and Niyamas, provide guideposts for this difficult journey. Also keep in mind that enthusiasm can be destructive, too. With enthusiasm, we have often reached an emotional ceiling of what good things are about to happen; when in fact, we have no idea what the future holds.
Moth vs. Firefly
A lit candle, as I have observed in the night jungle, attracts moths. Flocks of moths buzz around, circling the light. Some moths exhaust themselves and fall to the ground, and others burn their wings by getting too close to the flame. Far from the reaches of the candle’s flame, the soft, yellow-green light of the fireflies flickers through the groves of bamboo. Likewise, I encourage practitioners to follow their own light. This inner light is present in all, but it may take great effort for discovery. It is important follow your own light and not be seduced, exhausted, and burned by chasing someone else’s light or that which is artificial.