The following series of articles, an in-depth look at Yoga has been compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com. In the previous post we examined the Exercise and Breathing aspects of Yoga.
1.4 The Five points of Yoga contd.
Yogic practice can be broadly classified into five important aspects wehave examined the first 2 points in the previous post, now we will examine the next 3 points in todays article.
1. Proper Exercise
2. Proper Breathing
3. Proper Relaxation
4. Proper Diet
5. Positive Thinking & Meditation
2. Proper Breathing
3. Proper Relaxation
Long before the invention of cars, planes, telephones, computers, freeways and other modern triggers of stress, the Rishis and Yogis devised very powerful techniques of deep relaxation. As a matter of fact, many modern stress-management and relaxation methods borrow heavily from this tradition. By relaxing deeply all the muscles the Yogi can thoroughly rejuvenate his nervous system and attain a deep sense of inner peace.
When the body and the mind are constantly overworked, their natural efficiency to perform work diminishes. Modern social life, food, work and even so-called entertainment, such as watching television, make it difficult for modern people to relax as they engage rather than relax the mind. Many have even forgotten that rest and relaxation are nature’s way of recharging. Even while trying to rest, the average person expends a lot of physical and mental energy through tension.
Much of the body’s energy is wasted uselessly. More of our energy is spent in keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work than in the actual useful work done. In order to regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, it is best to learn to economize the energy produced by our body. This may be done by learning to relax. In the course of one day, our body usually produces all the substances and energy necessary for the next day.
But it often happens that all these substances and energies may be consumed within a few minutes by bad moods, anger, injury or intense irritation. The process of eruption and repression of violent emotions often grows into a regular habit. The result is disastrous – not only for the body, but also for the mind.
During complete relaxation, there is practically no energy or “Prana” being consumed, although a little is keeping the body in normal condition while the remaining portion is being stored and conserved. In order to achieve perfect relaxation, three methods are used by yogis: “Physical”, “Mental”, and “Spiritual” relaxation. Relaxation is not complete until the person reaches the stage of spiritual relaxation.
We know that every action is the result of thought. Thoughts take form in action, the body reacting to the thought. Just as the mind may send a message to the muscles ordering them to contract, we can actually use our mind to send another message to bring relaxation to the tired muscles. Lay down on your back and begin ‘ordering’ your toes and feet to relax. Move slowly upward until you have reached the eyes and ears at the top. The auto-suggestion passes through the muscles and then slowly sent messages to the kidneys, liver and the other internal organs. This relaxation exercise is called Yoga Nidra.
When experiencing mental tension, it is advisable to breathe slowly and rhythmically for a few minutes. Soon the mind will become calm. You may experience a kind of floating sensation.
However one may try to relax the mind, all tensions and worries cannot be completely removed until one reaches spiritual relaxation. As long as a person identifies with the body and the mind, there will be worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear and anger. These emotions, in turn bring tension. Yogis know that unless a person can withdraw from the body/mind idea and separate himself from the ego-consciousness, there is no way of obtaining complete relaxation. The yogi identifies himself with the all pervading, all-powerful, all-peaceful and joyful self, or pure consciousness within. He knows that the source of all power, knowledge, peace and strength is in the self, not in the body. We tune to this by asserting the real nature that is “I am that pure consciousness or self”. This identification with the self completes the process of relaxation. You can practice spiritual relaxation by meditating, which comes down to observing all the thoughts, emotions and other mental images that the Self is identifying with. Just sit and observe and don’t react. You might experience a sense of stillness and relaxation coming over you.
4. Proper Diet
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, yoga advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the yogic lifestyle. The yogic diet is a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods that are easily digested and promote health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. One should have a certain knowledge of dietetics in order to balance the diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. Processing, refining and over-cooking destroy much food value.
There is a cycle in nature known as the “food cycle” or “food chain”. The sun is the source of energy for all life on our planet; it nourishes the plants (the top of the food chain) which are then eaten by animals (vegetarian), which are then eaten by other animals (carnivores). The food at the top of the food chain, being directly nourished by the sun, has the greatest life promoting properties. The food value of animal flesh is termed as “second-hand” source of nutrition, and is inferior in nature.
All natural foods (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains) have, in varying quantities, different proportions of these essential nutrients. As source of protein they are easily assimilated by the body. However, second-hand sources are often more difficult to digest and are of less value to the body’s metabolism. Many people worry about whether they are getting enough protein, but neglect other factors. The quality of the protein is more important than the quantity alone.
Dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds provide the vegetarian with an adequate supply of protein. The high protein requirement still being used by many Health Departments is based on antiquated data and has been scientifically disproved many times in the laboratory. A healthy motto is: “Eat to live, not live to eat”. It is best if we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with the life force, or Prana, the vital life energy. So the greatest nutritional plan for the yoga student is a simple diet of natural fresh foods.
However, the true yogic diet is actually even more selective than this. The yogi is concerned with the subtle effect that food has on his mind and astral body. He therefore avoids foods that are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp. One who seriously takes to the path of yoga would avoid ingesting meats, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, tea (except herbal), alcohol and drugs.
Any change in diet should be made gradually. Start by substituting larger portions of vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts until finally all flesh products have been completely eliminated from the diet. The yogic diet will help you attain a high standard of health, keen intellect and serenity of mind. To really understand the yogic approach to diet, one has to get familiar with the concept of the three Gunas or qualities of nature.
5. Positive Thinking & Meditation
The most important point of all is that we become what we think. Thus, we should exert to entertain positive and creative thoughts, as these will contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta. The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation. When the surface of a lake is still, one can see to the bottom very clearly. This is impossible when the surface is agitated by waves. In the same way, when the mind is still, with no thoughts or desires, you can see the “Self”. This is called yoga.
We can control mental agitation by two means: by concentrating the mind either externally or internally. Internally, we focus on the “Self” or the consciousness of “I am”. Externally, we focus on anything other than the “Self” or “I am”. When we take up some recreation like golf, other thoughts are slowed down or stilled. We feel we have played a good game when we have achieved perfect concentration. The happiness we experience comes not because the ball was put in the hole eighteen times, but because we have achieved perfect concentration eighteen times. During those times, all the worries and problems of the world disappeared. The mental ability to concentrate is inherent to all; it is not extraordinary or mysterious.
Meditation is not something that a yogi has to teach you; you already have the ability to shut out thoughts. The only difference between this and meditation (the positive way), is that generally we have learned to focus the mind externally on objects. When the mind is fully concentrated, time passes unnoticed, as if it did not exist. When the mind is focused, there is no time to worry. Time is nothing but a modification of the mind. Time, space, and causation and all external experiences are mental creation. All happiness achieved through the mind is temporary and fleeting; it is limited by nature.
To achieve that state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, we must first know how to calm the mind, to concentrate and go beyond the mind. By turning the mind’s concentration inward, upon the self, we can deepen that experience of perfect concentration. This is the state of meditation.