Yoga-How the body can heal the mind (online book)

Contents
Foreword
Acknowledgments
The Yoga of Emotional Healing
What is Emotional Yoga?
Leaves Fall . . .

 

Part 1: STRETCHING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Chapter 1: The Healing Power of Emotions
Chapter 2: Yoga as Emotional Therapy
Chapter 3: The Essential Principles and Tools
Part 2: THE EIGHT LIMBS OF EMOTIONAL YOGA
Limb One Allowance
BRINGING INTO AWARENESS
INTELLIGENT BEHAVIORS (YAMA)
PROFOUND ATTUNEMENT
Limb Two Allegiance
JOINING TOGETHER
PERSONAL ATTITUDES (NIYAMA)
CONSCIOUSNESS IN MOTION
Limb Three Will and Power
COOPERATING WITHIN
BODILY EXERCISE (ASANA
SKILL IN ACTION
Limb Four Love
DISCERNING THE DIFFERENCES
CONSCIOUS BREATHING (PRANAYAMA)
BREATHING LESSONS
Limb Five Harmony
BALANCING THE PARTS
DIRECTING THE SENSES (PRATYAHARA)
SENSING THE MUSE
Limb Six Knowledge
REMEMBERING THE PAST
FOCUSING ATTENTION (DHARANA)
SOUNDS OF MUSIC
Limb Seven Wisdom
EXPANDING WHAT’S POSSIBLE
SUSTAINING ATTENTION (DHYANA)
OPENING THE VIEW
Limb Eight Synergy
RETURNING TO WHOLENESS
MAKING LIFE WHOLE (SAMADHI)
CURVING BACK
Part 3: STAYING SUPPLE
Chapter 4: On an Emotional Walkabout
Chapter 5: Growing a Practice
Appendices
PRACTICE AS THERAPY
RESOURCES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Notes
Foreword
THERE EXISTS WITHIN everyone a place of balanced awareness. In this book, Bija
Bennett provides you with the tools to find this place, and create deeper states of
emotional and physical well-being. Emotions are impulses of energy and intelligence. The
ability to access your emotions allows you to tune in to an inner technology that operates
from the most profound level of awareness. This can bring about powerful health changes.
Emotional Yoga goes beyond fitness; it is the yoga of emotional healing and health,
teaching you how to actively “stretch” your emotions and become more emotionally
balanced, flexible, and strong.
I have seen how transformative Bija’s yoga teachings can be. I have watched her work
with individuals in a clinical setting as well as with groups at my workshops around the
country. She has a profound gift for making the spirit of yoga accessible. As she guides you
in the pages of this book, you will learn to restore your body’s own healing ability and
reestablish your essential balance.
— DEEPAK CHOPRA, M.D.,
author, Grow Younger, Live Longer
Acknowledgments
I GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGE and thank the many individuals who helped and
supported me in creating this book:
My precious yoga teachers: T. K. V. Desikachar, Gary and Mirka Kraftsow, Sonia
Nelson, Martin Pierce, Larry Payne, Richard Miller, and A. G. Mohan, for preserving the
integrity of the yoga tradition while making it accessible.
My honored teachers in the fields of spirituality and dance: J. Krishnamurti, Anandamayi
Ma, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Elizabeth Waters, Allegra Fuller Snyder, and Mrinalini
Sarabhai, who ignited within me a passion to link the two.
Caroline Sutton, my editor at Simon & Schuster, for her impeccable clarity, direction,
and skill, and for being instrumental in guiding my progress.
My literary agent and friend Lynn Franklin, whose passionate belief in this project has
inspired me and carried me through.
Leslie Meredith, for her early encouragement to write this book. Rose Brandt, for her
initial editorial input, and for providing me with the courage to begin and continue writing.
Nina Diamond, for her huge contribution as an editor, her loyal friendship, and hilarious
sense of humor. Steve Singular, for his intuitive insight in helping me shape the manuscript.
Jim Kelly, for his invaluable editorial assistance. Joyce Singular and Rebecca, for hours of
revising. Melinda Powelson, for her excellent research. Reid Walker, for his unfailing
technical support.
My mentors and friends: Bob Richards, for sharing his deep inner wisdom and powerful
intelligence. Ken Wilber, for his generous advice and whose Integral vision I truly believe
in. Dr. Candace Pert, for enriching my work with her scientific knowledge.
Dr. Deepak Chopra, for giving me the opportunity to teach beside him at his Journey to
the Boundless and Mind-Body Training Seminars. The many yoga students, patients, and
participants, for their appreciation and feedback.
Chuck and Jeri Little, and The Storyteller, for giving me a most valuable emotional tool,
the Contemplation. Antonio Acuna, Svend Trier, and Chandra Jade Shankar, for their
enormous capacity to inspire.
Tom Terwilliger and Chris Tetro for their outstanding coaching, constant
encouragement, and keeping me in the best shape of my life. Dr. Bradley Boyd, Dr. Robert
Svaboda, and Dr. Thiet Van Nguyen, for their invisible mending.
Lois Greenfield, for turning this book into a work of art. Everyone at the Lois
Greenfield Studio, especially Henry Jesionka, Jack Deaso, Jen Greenwald, and Ellen
Crane. Marsha Pinkstaff, for making it all happen. Jeff Woodruf, for creating the
storyboard. Liam Dunn, for his radiant makeup art. Gordon Boswell, for the perfect hair.
Timothy Rollins and Susan Miick, for their inspired artistic vision. Leslie Kaminoff, for his
remarkable yoga coaching during the photography. Chris Grider, for his exceptional talent
in the arts of yoga and dance.
Nicole Diamond at Simon & Schuster, for her immense support, and Joy O’Meara
Battista, for her true flexibility and talent as a designer.
Debby Addams, for providing me with high-level entertainment, astute comments, and
extraordinary friendship. Robert, Jim, and John Addams, for being more a family than
neighbors. Ann Canas, for her devoted friendship. Seyla Lim, for helping me stay on track.
Bill Chrismer, for telling me to take a good look in the mirror. Bert Parlee, for his
significant and wise counsel. Annie Brown, for her love, guidance, and empowerment.
Holly Huppert, for keeping me buoyant. Jean-Jacques de Mesterton, for his ultrainspiring
messages.
My devoted friends, for their heartfelt gifts of support: Paul Garcia, Holly Ferguson,
Steve Lishansky, Holly Marsland, Michael McDavitt, Heather McDowell, Sachiko de
Mesterton, Rudy Miick, Joseph Rende, Joel Roberts, Sandy Rollins, Tony and Mary Lynn
Scheck, and Dawn Terwilliger.
My oldest and dearest friends, Anne Kalik, Mallika Sarabhai, Starley MacEntire Norton,
Mindy Wagner, and Kaaren Ray, for always being there. My cherished family, including my
stepdaughter Rachel Molasky, my brother-in-law Trauger Groh, my niece and nephew
Nicola and Theodore Groh, and my darling (dog) Lili Marlene.
Brij Tuchi, for his adoration and love.
My mother, Arlene, for being emotionally loving and available and closer than ever
before. My father, Marshall, for giving me his unconditional love and support, and for
being an outstanding yoga model. My sister Alice, for supporting me in all ways,
shepherding my courage, and steering me through to the end.
And finally, to my adored friend Ken Cato, for many years of being my rock, engaging
me with his inherent wit, and soothing my issues of emotion.
THE YOGA OF EMOTIONAL HEALING
This is a book about emotions. It is also a yoga book. But here, yoga is a methodology for
helping you access, transform, and heal your emotions, as well as your body and mind. This
is the “real reason” for doing yoga, invoking the enthusiasm of all your parts, especially your
emotional parts. The practice of Emotional Yoga will allow you to touch your feelings and
the feelings of others. Ultimately, it will help you to heal yourself.
Writing this book has given me the opportunity to feel a wide range of emotions. I’ve
felt lonely, disappointed, isolated, and I’ve dealt with tremendous fear. I’ve also been
elated, inspired, and joyous. Out of this burning emotional intensity has come a faith,
taking me higher, orienting me toward deep transformation and growth. This, I’ve realized,
is what Emotional Yoga is all about.
The term emotion has its Latin origin in emovere, “to move.” Emotion means “energy in
motion,” and emotional energy is creative energy. This includes our desires, intentions, and
attitudes, all of which lead to action. As we move, we feel, and as we feel, we experience
the inner and outer movement of our bodies and minds.
In the ancient yoga texts, emotions are described as waves, vrittis, or fluctuations in our
conscious mind. Any kind of sensory perception—pleasure or pain—can be traced back to
these vacillations in the body-mind. By remaining agitated or in turmoil, our emotions lose
their innate rhythm—we become anxious, disturbed, or depressed. But in dealing with our
emotions and transforming our responses, our emotional waves are calmed. Pursuing our
emotional waves back to their source, our natural state of joy is found.
There is a beautiful word in the Sanskrit language used to describe the goal of emotional
movement. The word is ananda (nanda meaning “joy” or “bliss”). Ananda is a place beyond
all the extremes of emotion. It is perfect peace. When the state of ananda is achieved, all
our emotions are perceived as joy.
Yet ananda is more than the joy itself. It is also our movement toward it, our search for
the endless experience of joy. When we practice yoga, we participate in and experience
this joy. We link with ananda. This makes us feel a sense of stability and balance within
every emotional state. Ananda connects us with the deepest level of who we are. Pleasure
comes and goes, but ananda is never-ending bliss.
Traditionally, yoga is the passing on of a lineage. Yoga teachers teach others what they
know. Most of what I know about yoga came from being in the presence of my teachers,
especially T. K. V. Desikachar. Learning from him has been both an honor and a privilege.
Desikachar is the son of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, considered one of the greatest
yogis of the modern era. Desikachar’s approach is based on his father’s teachings, a method
called Viniyoga—which covers the full spectrum of yoga and adapts to the needs of the
individual. Emotional Yoga has grown out of my own personal needs and the needs of my
students and friends.
Although I had practiced yoga for years, after studying with Desikachar and learning
Viniyoga, everything changed. For the first time, I encountered a yoga that outlined a stepby-
step program for developing a complete practice for healing the entire person. Through
Viniyoga, Desikachar and my teacher Gary Kraftsow made yoga accessible to me. They
taught me how to use yoga in my life and how to make it accessible to others.
After my initial experience with Desikachar, I began teaching yoga at Dr. Deepak
Chopra’s Ayurvedic medical center near Boston. I observed the body in all kinds of
conditions and saw how yoga could be adapted to these conditions. I worked with cancer
patients, children, seniors, people who were physically challenged, celebrities, and athletes.
I also taught my father what I learned from Desikachar, how to carefully stretch his back
with movement and breath. After seeing these exercises, Dad’s neurologist told him it was
the best program for the spine he’d ever seen. Dad’s condition improved. Cancer patients
felt better (some cancers went into remission). One quadriplegic began having feelings in
his body. The children had fun. Some of the celebrities thought yoga was better than
working out. This was the beginning of my true faith in yoga.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL YOGA?
Emotional Yoga is a gathering of Viniyoga, Ayurveda, mind-body medicine, and other
systems of treatment I have experienced. My teachers and mentors in the fields of yoga,
dance, spirituality, and medicine have inspired the fundamental concepts that form the
foundation of this book. Their insights have provided me with an integral vision of life,
working on all levels, including the internal and external in ourselves, in culture, and in
society. The premise of Emotional Yoga is to strive for this level of wholeness.
In Emotional Yoga, engaging the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of you
is essential for creating health. While it’s great to be able to execute a complicated pose,
climb a mountain, or lift heavy weights, if you have an emotional weakness inside, no
matter how strong your muscles are, you remain weak. You find it difficult to function.
You collapse with a small emotional problem. Why does this happen? Perhaps it’s because
the power inside you is so rarely touched.
Yoga is more about inner strength than outer muscles. The whole intention of your yoga
practice is for you to be an integrated human being in all ways, not to gain muscular
prowess, do a lot of postures, or become a gymnast or human pretzel.
What really counts is what’s going on in your life right now. How are you feeling? How
is your sense of well-being? How are your relationships? If you easily become agitated,
something inside is trying to tell you something. If you are emotionally balanced, you
become more tolerant and your immune system is strengthened.
To be a functional member of society and enjoy healthy relationships, you must have a
certain amount of emotional stability. At each level of your life there will be stress—
physical, emotional, financial, romantic. The practice of yoga helps you deal with these
stresses and become a more stable human being. It protects your health, maintains your
emotional balance, and sustains your life.
Here, the practices of yoga aren’t necessarily postures. Nor are they onetime answers to
your problems. They are a lifetime of possibilities for dealing with your personal needs.
They allow you to know yourself, help you to understand your emotions, and urge you to
grow.
The practices of Emotional Yoga come in several forms—emotional inquiries, selfobservations,
physical exercises, breathing techniques, meditations, rituals, and healing
sounds—all considered equal in helping you along your emotional path.
Emotional Yoga offers you an opportunity to:
Take responsibility in shaping who you are and what you feel.
See your emotional experiences as feelings and moods, rather than “how things are.”
Realize that you are not responsible for emotions that arise but that you are
responsible for staying in a mood.
Open yourself to the possibility of healing troubling or challenging emotions.
Change your attitudes and beliefs.
Use your body to help shift your emotional state.
Understand how your emotions can help you to develop character, resoluteness,
sensitivity, and wisdom.
Grow spiritually and attune yourself to the greater world around you.
Emotional Yoga involves your whole life. It is more than just an exercise program. It is a
lifelong healing practice. You will learn how to cultivate your body. But more important,
you will learn how to nurture the life-enhancing energy at the basis of all your actions,
feelings, and thoughts. This will make you a more joyous person in whatever life requires
you to do.
Changing your emotions and moods, generating happiness in others, and making your
life more positive are not mysterious talents. They are learned skills that come when you
realize you can change how you feel, and that there is something you can do about it.
Instead of being swept along by your emotions and moods, you learn to participate in
shaping them. Once you take full responsibility for whatever emotions and moods you
generate, extraordinary consequences will appear. Letting what is inside of you out, you’ll
get a rush of liberation, inspiration, and joy.
Taking the time to feel how you feel helps you to know how to feel. Having the courage
to feel helps you examine your life and see what adjustments you can make to feel better,
happier. This helps you become an active force in designing your health. It opens your
possibilities of how to live and act in the world, and gives you the chance to experience
what really matters—life itself.
LEAVES FALL . . .
One of my favorite books is a simple manual titled “How to Rake Leaves.” Author
Leonard Karen begins his introduction with the phrase, “Leaves fall . . .” then proceeds to
outline the three main sections of the book: “equipment,” “preparation,” and “activity.”
Equipment consists of rakes, containers, and apparel. Preparation includes repose, warm up,
and strategize. Activity involves raking, gathering, mulching, and burning.
This reminds me of yoga. For example, in yoga, all the “equipment” you need is yourself.
You can use a rake if you wish to move some leaves around before you put down your mat,
but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Next is “preparation.” In yoga, you can follow the same steps as in raking leaves: repose,
warm up, and strategize. In repose, you calm and steady your mind so you can look inside
yourself and create new opportunities to see yourself better. In warm up, you begin by
using your awareness, step-by-step, to advance yourself and develop a practice that is in
agreement with who you are. When you strategize, you first observe or examine yourself,
then decide where you want to go and plan how you are going to get there. As you can see,
yoga and raking are much the same.
Finally, in “activity,” you can use your body, mind, and breath to clear the rubbish that
has settled on the landscape of your body-mind. You can use the tools of yoga to help you
clarify the dullness that blocks your view, to release a freshness of energy flowing within
you, or to help you find the attentiveness in action necessary to participate in life. This is
how you rake leaves. And this is how you do yoga.
PART ONE
STRETCHING FROM
THE INSIDE OUT
The point of stretching isn’t to see (or show) how far you can reach,
or even to reach as far as you can, but . . . to pay attention.
—JOHN JEROME
1.
The Healing Power of Emotions
GOOD MEDICINE
Emotions are physical, not psychological. Scientists are beginning to understand this now.
Emotions act as a bridge between our bodies and minds. Each of us is a psychosomatic
network, but this doesn’t mean that whatever we are experiencing in our bodies is not to
be taken seriously—quite the contrary. Psychosomatic means that our bodies, minds, and
emotions are intimately intertwined. As we alter the awareness of our emotions, we
automatically alter our physical state. Managing our emotions is now considered a form of
disease prevention. If we heal our emotions, we heal our bodies. Scientist Candace Pert in
her landmark book, Molecules of Emotion, says, “Mind doesn’t dominate the body, it
becomes the body—body and mind are one.” So, if we suppress our emotions, what
happens then?
Western culture has been built upon the belief that reasoning is far more important than
emotions. For more than 350 years, rational interpretations of behavior have urged us to
believe that the judgments of our minds were the key to our actions. Descartes’ cogito ergo
sum—” I think, therefore I am”—elevated thinking to sovereign status. But on every level,
including neurobiology, thinking can never be divorced from feeling. There is a profound
connection between our emotions and our decisions, between our feelings and our logic,
between our brains and the depth of our experiences.
In the East, too, there is disregard, often contempt, for emotions. Eastern spiritual
traditions favor a contemplative, detached, dispassionate ideal often confused as
enlightenment or nirvana. Great value is placed on the ability to withdraw oneself from all
but minimal involvement with the world. Even the stereotypical view—the serene yogi
sitting in exalted meditation—warns against the distracting power of emotions.
But emotions are not disruptions of an otherwise calm and reasonable experience.
They’re at the very heart of our experience, determining our focus, influencing our
interests, giving meaning to our world. Feelings stir us. They are our inner barometers, our
God-given orientation system. Emotions provide us with our most basic communication
network within, helping us connect the incidents, the relationships, and the experiences
that make up our lives.
Our emotions and our health are intimately connected. Moods and attitudes directly
influence our bodies. Unresolved, distressing emotions that linger are toxic and a risk factor
to health. But when emotions are acknowledged, understood, and expressed, they are as
valuable as any healing intervention available. By getting in touch with our emotions, both
by listening to them and directing them through our body-mind, we gain access to the
healing wisdom that is our natural and biological right. Once we make a conscious decision
to enter our body-mind’s conversation, we can heal what we can feel, and this is good
medicine.
In truth, “real life” occurs only when we feel deeply. It happens when we allow
ourselves the adventure of nurturing our feelings of pain and fear as well as our feelings of
pleasure and joy. As we engage in this play of feelings, we move through a range of
emotional experiences. Our controlling, logical structures fall away, and a wondrous
spontaneity arises from within, bringing real transformation and change. Feeling is an art, a
rare art. But it must be practiced.
2.
Yoga as Emotional Therapy
EMOTIONAL STRETCHING
The basic Western misunderstanding of yoga is that it’s merely separate positions to be
mastered. It is not. Yoga is not just physical training, positions, or movements—it is not
even primarily about exercise. Yoga is an ancient, practical system for accessing, healing,
and integrating the body and mind. Yoga practices involve our feelings, our thoughts, and
our emotional flexibility. In yoga, it doesn’t really matter if your hamstring muscles are
tight. Yoga is much more a state of mind than having to touch your toes.
The principles of yoga teach that all parts of the body and mind are interconnected. If
we influence one part, we influence all others. The ancient yogis developed the art and
science of yoga to affect overall change in the system through the various techniques of
movement, breathing, and meditation. Through these practices, we learn to transform
negative qualities of the mind into higher states of order and clarity, which promote overall
physical and emotional well-being.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means to “join, link, or
connect.” The essence of yoga is yoking or uniting, and to practice yoga is to “join with”—
to reach a new level of integration within yourself. Yoga is the art of linking to all parts of
yourself—your body, your thoughts, your awareness, and your emotions. Each time you
attempt to link with any aspect of yourself or your world, you are doing yoga.
Emotional Yoga is the action of linking your awareness with your emotions. Conscious
awareness is a mystical-sounding term that simply refers to an awareness of everything
about you, including your emotions. Emotional Yoga involves actively participating with
your emotions, and choosing to consciously feel your emotional responses. It provides you
with the “medicine of awareness,” the real medicine your body and mind especially need.
As you connect with your emotions, you begin to accept them for what they are, instead
of resisting them. You begin to explore your perception of reality—the fears and habitual
responses, which you believe to be real. This exploration initiates a shift from a defensive
reaction to more a conscious action. It changes your focus and lifts you out of the realm of
tension. Ultimately, it is a process of emotional refinement, which allows you to maintain
your emotional balance.
In the yoga tradition, balancing emotions is an ancient practice challenging you to
consciously link with your emotions and join yourself to every action. This kind of exercise
allows you to choose how you are going to observe your life, especially how you are going
to observe your emotions.
Take the stretching of a muscle, for example—like the hamstring muscle on the back of
your right leg. Sit down, stretch your right leg out in front of you, and bend the other leg
in toward your body. Breathe and move your body forward until you feel the tightness at
the back of your outstretched leg. At this point, you have a choice. You may allow yourself
to explore your flexibility, stretch that muscle further, and feel how the stretch increases
blood flow and circulation. Or you may decide this stretch is too painful, and get up and do
something else.
This choice brings you to the threshold of your comfort zone, the boundary of your
resistance. Physically, as you stretch and go further, you must choose how you will respond.
At this point you are offered the opportunity to connect with your pleasure or pain, and
move through it. This choice is what allows you to realize its value and shift it to another
level.
The same procedure holds true with emotions. You can acknowledge the discomfort, and
increase its flexibility by acknowledging the boundary of your comfort zone. You move
through your pain by feeling it. You explore the nature of it by recognizing its value,
understanding what you can learn from it, and moving through it. It’s a dynamic process.
You simply choose new ways of dealing with it, rather than try to get rid of it, ignore it, or
exorcise the cause of it. You just start participating with yourself differently. By bringing
your attention to the inner wisdom of your body and mind, you create a remarkable new
perspective of your everyday issues.
As you link your awareness to the movement of your body and mind, your attention is
naturally drawn inward—you start listening and begin to “work out” from within. This feels
entirely different from simply working out your muscles, because you experience the
movement “from the inside out.” You create a natural state of rhythm and grace, an
exquisite sensitivity of awareness. This becomes the real goal of exercise.
The fate of your emotions can only be changed by your awareness. You first begin to
free your emotions when you become willing to see how you have imprisoned them. Your
emotions hold you back only to the degree to which you choose to remain unconscious of
them.
It’s time to wake up—now. It’s time to be zealous with your emotions, to work your
way through each feeling, each moment, each understanding. There are time-tested tools
both ancient and modern to help. In this spirit, we can pioneer a revolution of feeling, a
radical feeling approach to life, and embark on a fascinating quest into a new realm of
extraordinary wholeness.
3.
The Essential Principles and Tools
THE TREE OF YOGA
Within the rich tradition of yoga, the tree is used as an elegant metaphor for achieving
emotional and spiritual wholeness. The roots of the tree of yoga go as far back as the
second-century A.D., with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the source of yoga teaching. This scripture
is a multidimensional guidebook whose many aphorisms teach ways to refine the
intelligence of our bodies and minds. In the Yoga Sutra, the tree is the symbol illuminating
the path.
Traditionally, the tree of yoga is known as ashtanga yoga, literally “the eight limbs of
yoga.” Each limb, or anga, embodies one of the natural qualities of energy and intelligence
all human beings possess. Together, they form an eightfold path of self-transformation.
The teaching of the eight limbs is also known as raja yoga. This is different from hatha
yoga, a method focused primarily on developing the body’s potential. Raja means “royal” or
“king” and represents a system that embraces all aspects of the body-mind, through its
eightfold path. By faithfully practicing the eight limbs of yoga, you become a raja, or king,
as you master the complete path of your awakening.
In Emotional Yoga, I have adapted the Yoga Sutra’s traditional eight limbs to represent
both the qualities of awareness that are potentially present in every emotional experience,
and which we can access, and the teachings and practices for emotional self-healing and
growth. Collectively, these qualities and practices lead us through a natural cycle of selftransformation
through which we can align both the physical and emotional aspects of
ourselves.
The qualities of the eight limbs are:
1. Allowance
2. Allegiance
3. Will and Power
4. Love
5. Harmony
6. Knowledge
7. Wisdom
8. Synergy
These eight qualities are based on ancient insight that there are intelligent, energetic
properties in nature that manifest as physical reality, both within us and without. Like
playing the various tones of a musical scale, when we attune ourselves to a deeper flow of
energy and awareness, we create internal transformation and change that are inherently
harmonious with our true natures.
The teachings and practices of the eight limbs are:
1. Intelligent Behaviors
2. Personal Attitudes
3. Bodily Exercise
4. Conscious Breathing
5. Sensory Awareness
6. Focusing Attention
7. Sustaining Attention
8. Increasing Wholeness
These practices include a repertoire of self-observations, inquiries, body movements,
breathing exercises, five-senses training, rituals, sound practices, and meditations.
Traditionally, the eight limbs illustrate a linear progression from lower (the first limb) to
higher (the eighth limb). But the limbs are really patterns of unfolding. They are integral
and mutually enriching; there is never a true higher or lower. Awakening occurs
simultaneously on all levels of the body and mind. This integral approach is at the heart of
both yoga and Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India and the health and healing aspect of
yoga. The name Ayurveda comes from two words: ayu, which means “life.” and veda,
meaning “knowledge.” Ayurveda is the science or knowledge of life, whose natural healing
methods form a complete system for developing optimal health and higher awareness.
Based on the explorations of the Indian Vedic seers, or rishis, yoga and Ayurveda both
acknowledge a broader view of the human being. Rather than see the body and mind as a
set of biochemical processes, they view it as a collection of layers ranging from material, to
subtle, to causal. Like the petals of a rose, all layers unfold from within one another—from
the outer physical layer (annamaya), to the vital energy layer (pranamaya), to the mental
and emotional layer (manomaya), to the intelligence layer (vijnanamaya), to the deepest
dimension of consciousness (anandamaya).
The classical eight limbs are integrative therapies for self-healing at every level. As
practices, they progress inwardly, and together they restore the structure of our daily living,
improve the quality of our heart, our mind, our memory, our behavior, expand our
relationships, while linking us to something deeper. Through the progression of the eight
limbs, we learn how to realize ourselves more and more, unfold more and more, and
continuously grow and evolve.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF EMOTIONAL YOGA
In Emotional Yoga, I have divided each of the eight limbs into three parts:
1. The first part of each limb introduces one of the eight qualities of emotional
awareness, forming the basis of emotional self-inquiry. Each component has a unique
quality that, when encountered and applied, teaches us to discern our emotional
experiences from every angle. Using the emotional qualities as tools of inquiry, we
see there is more than one way to deal with any emotion or situation. Because we
aren’t as fixed upon one point of view, we begin to see possibilities we could not
even recognize before.
2. The second part introduces the traditional yoga theory of the limb, but in an
emotional context. The presentation of each limb starts with an aphorism or phrase
from the Yoga Sutra, composed in a way to make the teaching practical. These
ancient messages, or sutras, best describe the spirit of each limb. Like the various
gems of a necklace knotted together to make one strand, the words of the sutras are
tied together as one precious saying. The sutras of yoga were originally written by
Patanjali as a means to teach in a most profound way. Although the idea in each sutra
may be simple, resulting insights can open you to a heightened state of emotional
awareness.
If you wish, focus on the meaning of each aphorism. When you read the sutra, let
your mind relax into silence as you open to its ageless wisdom. Reflect on it.
Imagine how each teaching might help you uncover an answer in your life. Let its
meaning develop. As things change in your life, so will your interpretations of the
sutras. In this way, the meaning of each sutra remains fresh.
3. The third part of the limb presents the practical side of the yoga experience. The
healing power of both knowledge and experience is the foundation for deep
emotional healing and growth. When you do these practices, keep a relaxed frame of
mind, and approach them with a light heart and with the intention of having a good
time.
Take the time to observe yourself and notice how you feel when you are
performing the exercises. This is what the original yogis did: They observed all the
time. The same is true of the great saints—they became silent and still and began to
notice what they felt. This is where the “original” yoga came from—the inside.
THE EMOTIONAL WALKABOUT: AN EMOTIONAL SELF-INQUIRY
One of the core practices of Emotional Yoga is an experiential process I’ve named the
Emotional Walkabout, which helps you participate with your emotions and connect them
with their energetic source. Each of the eight emotional qualities builds upon this practice.
(See page 197.)
In the Emotional Walkabout, you will learn to redirect your energy, release your fears,
and get to the truth behind what you feel and why you feel it. It’s a step-by-step process of
self-inquiry that takes you behind the scenes of your own emotions as you discover the
deeper intelligence behind every feeling.
By invoking your emotions and consulting them, you learn how to utilize them in the
most creative and healthful way. The eight emotional attributes, when used as a yoga
practice of self-study, contemplation, and observation, let you interrogate each emotion
from different directions by putting a specific question to the emotional state. As you apply
the eight energies of emotion to any emotional crisis, confusion, or feeling of distress, you
can:
Allow yourself to see the situation—issue, problem, or emotion—with clarity, by
using Allowance (the first limb).
Join yourself with the actions needed to balance, heal, or understand the situation, by
using Allegiance (the second limb).
Gain control in order to cooperate with your actions, by using Will and Power (the
third limb).
Discern the true level of your involvement and establish the appropriate level of your
participation in the situation, by using Love (the fourth limb).
Cultivate balance and perspective about the emotions and issues involved, by using
Harmony (the fifth limb).
See how the situation is related to the past, by using Knowledge (the sixth limb).
Envision new options for the future, by using Wisdom (the seventh limb).
Find the power of your emotional source, and bring insight, meaning, and
understanding to your emotions, by using Synergy (the eighth limb).
In the yoga tradition, self-inquiry can help you find a more balanced emotional path.
Call it introspection; done with order, you emerge expanded. As your perception matures,
you will progressively move from reasoning, to reflective action, to intuitive
understanding.
All of the tools in Emotional Yoga are designed to help you restore your natural balance.
Wholeness or balance is the key to attaining emotional and physical health. According to
the ancient texts, any imbalance or disease can originate in either the body or the mind and
progresses in stages from accumulation, to aggravation, to manifestation. Yoga recognizes
that emotional and physical balance is a function of the body, mind, and spirit’s
intelligence, and occurs through an amazing number of diverse functions that influence
health.
Your diet, exercise, life-style, behavioral patterns, relationships, and environment are all
intimately linked to one another and work together to keep your system healthy and
dynamically balanced. As the balance of these forces changes, your life changes. The
challenge is to influence your system in the direction of change for the better. Although
there are many systems advocating various ways of maintaining and restoring health,
according to yoga theory, the ideal state of emotional and physical health depends on
perfect balance.
Balance (Samana) is achieved through purification and refinement of the innate qualities
of existence that are always present within us: movement or activity (rajas), heaviness or
inertia (tamas), and clarity or equilibrium (sattva). The disposition of each part of our
complex system—the body, mind, and emotions—is determined by the predominant
proportion of these qualities.
A basic theory for achieving balance in Ayurveda and yoga states: Like increases like,
similarity causes increase, and dissimilarity causes decrease. Some simple examples: If you
feel angry and you do something to “make your blood boil,” it’s only going to irritate you
more. If you are depressed or unmotivated and you do something to promote sluggishness
or inertia, you’ll sink even lower. But if you’re angry and you consciously calm yourself by
settling or “cooling” your system, your anger will diminish. And if you’re sad and do an
invigorating exercise program, or read something inspiring, you will increase your energy
and raise your spirits.
The secret of emotional health lies with the practice of these principles. Once you begin
to notice and obey them in your life, you’ll find that your physiology is capable of
achieving balance on its own.
RESTORING BALANCE THROUGH REDUCTION AND TONIFICATION
The yogic system teaches that all our internal processes are related to one another and are
linked to the components found in the external environment as well. These internal
processes and components are organized into two fundamental categories running
throughout the dimensions of yoga and are used as therapy. They are reduction and
tonification.
Reduction (called Langana therapy) is used when some kind of excess in the system must
be reduced. This includes reducing and easing the emotional states of hyperactivity,
irritation, agitation, anxiety, and anger. Emotionally, the reduction principle works toward
decreasing irritation and anger by elimination, while calming and purifying the system.
Tonification (called Brhmana therapy) works to nourish and expand the system. It is
useful for weak conditions, dullness, low energy, lack of confidence, and depression. The
tonification principle works toward building the system up, thereby decreasing depression
and fatigue, while increasing energy, vitality, and courage, instilling more confidence in
participating in life. These therapeutic methods of yoga are based on the principles of
removing the undesirable (viyoga) and linking to the desirable (samyoga).
Emotional Yoga has an overall balancing (Samana) effect, often from combining the
principles of both tonification and reduction. For example, in the same session you can
begin with a tonifying movement practice to strengthen your body, increase your breathing
capacity, and build self-confidence. You can then end with a calming breathing practice or
meditation to help you balance and stabilize your mind. In some cases, calming or cooling
helps nourish the system and builds the energy back up. In application, the approaches
overlap and a variety of methods need to be put together. When intelligently applied with
respect to an individual’s unique needs, all of the tools of yoga can be used as reducing or
tonifying therapies to restore emotional and physical balance.
Although it is ideal to work with a well-trained and experienced teacher, with a wellrounded
strategy, you can learn to shift negative and distressing emotions toward positive
states of relaxation and joy.
HOW TO USE EMOTIONAL YOGA
I recommend two ways to use this book:
1. Start by familiarizing yourself with the eight limbs. As you visit each of the limbs,
you do not need to follow the entire program as it is laid out from limbs one to
eight. You can, instead, go straight to certain chapters or exercises, but remember to
choose an exercise relevant to what you are presently feeling. Also, make sure you
prepare yourself before you jump right in. Move a little before you sit to breathe.
Find a quiet place in order to meditate. There is a great advantage to following a
proper sequence for each practice. (See page 68.)
2. Begin to develop the art of sequencing, using the various practices you’ve learned.
Start with the ones in the first limb, since they train your conscious awareness and
give you the ability to tune in to yourself at any given moment. Ideally, it is best to
do these practices first before you do any movement, breathing, meditation, or
sensory awareness exercise. Start from where you are, because if you know where
you are, you can know where you’re going!
First, get acquainted with your present situation and condition. Ask yourself: What is
going on inside? How am I feeling? The answers will change every time you ask. Use the
information you gain to determine your direction, then design your plan of action. Know
what you are trying to accomplish. Then intelligently choose the exercises to include in
your practice. The classical sequence most used in yoga practice is to do some movements
first, followed by some seated breathing, and to end with meditation or inquiry. Exactly
which of the practices you incorporate in your sequence should always be based on your
individual needs. Later, reflect on and reevaluate your condition.
Progressively build your practice as you work with the exercises for each limb. In
Emotional Yoga, I have used the methodology of Viniyoga as a model for this process.
Traditionally, the word Viniyoga refers to the idea of placing the elements of ritual
together in a meaningful way. Today, the orientation of Viniyoga is to create
multidimensional practices, placing the various tools of yoga practice together in an
appropriate way for a particular purpose, in order to deepen and improve the quality of
your life.
Viniyoga is an extremely sophisticated approach that involves the dynamic interplay of
movements, sounds, gestures, breathing techniques, and meditations sequentially connected
and applied layer by layer. This strategy of progressive layering is an intuitive art and is
developed with practice and time. It’s also a matter of refinement. The more you cultivate
the instrument of your perception, the more you produce meaningful change on deeper
levels of your life. Emotional Yoga is an introduction to this integral vision of yoga
practice. For further information, see Gary Kraftsow’s Yoga for Transformation (Penguin
Putnam, 2002).
Here is an example of layering your yoga practice: Pick a theme of inquiry or generate an
attitude to create a context. Look to your experiences, your thoughts, your relationships, or
read one of the sutras. Decide on where to start and how to prepare yourself. You might
begin with Allowing Feelings, from Limb One, or a body-awareness exercise to help you
identify your emotions. Let’s say you choose Contentment from Limb Two as your desired
theme. Keep this intention lively throughout.
Do one of the asana programs with a seated breathing practice, or vocalize some sounds
to help balance your emotional state. Select only a few elements. Pick the ones you can
relate to and place them together. Then decide on an ending. Make it relevant to your
initial intention or theme—e.g., a prayer of gratitude or a meditation or reflection on an
object that generates contentment. Or simply observe your thoughts in silence.
Progressively use each tool to go deeper within yourself. The more elegant and simple your
practices are, the more empowering they will be.
As you work with the limbs, feel free to begin using the Emotional Walkabout and apply
what you’ve learned. Use it as a meditation or inquiry at the beginning or end of your
session. Keep coming back to it and see how your understanding of yourself is deepening.
Gradually, you’ll develop clearer perception, increase your mental alertness, and find a
greater sense of wellbeing.
Choosing an Appropriate Practice
In order to help you choose what’s appropriate for your emotional and physical needs, I
have arranged the movement, breathing, and sensory-awareness exercises into the two basic
categories for creating balance: (1) Brhmana exercises to expand, tonify, or energize, and
(2) Langana exercises to decrease, reduce, or purify. Please use the menu Practice as
Therapy, in the appendices, as your guide. Also, in many of the exercises, I’ve included
some additional options for layering the elements.
Note: The Emotional Walkabout is an inclusive balancing technique and can be used at
any time, and for any emotional situation.
Time of Practice
People often ask me how long their yoga practice should be. I tell them there is no
prescribed amount of time. It’s whatever you can realistically do. Allow yourself time to
practice, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. It’s better to do a little something every
day than a couple of hours once a week. I’ve found that being regular and practicing in
small doses over a longer period of time creates better results.
Set reasonable goals so that you can see some success and still know you can go further.
Take an exercise and do it for a week. Stay with it, then go on to something else. It isn’t
necessary to climb the entire tree all at one time or even to touch every branch. Just touch
the ones you find exciting, then continue to climb.
Over the next few days, begin to experiment with your feelings. As emotions arise,
allow yourself to remain with them. See where they take you—notice as they shift into
other emotions, as they form thoughts, pose questions, and provide answers. Take it all very
slowly. Continue to move forward, but relax. Accept yourself and your feelings, even if
you feel disturbed, uneasy, or confused.
As you work with the practices and stay with your feelings, notice if you are beginning
to sense a broader understanding of your daily challenges. Don’t push yourself. Don’t try to
grasp it all at once. Emotional Yoga isn’t about rational thought, nor does it require you to
curb difficult emotions. If you give your feelings a few minutes of attention each day, an
exquisite sensitivity of awareness will soon appear. Your innate wisdom will begin to
emerge effortlessly. You’ll develop emotional autonomy—and become your own personal
therapist or guru.
Finding Your Emotional Guru
A guru is a wise one, a pundit, a master. A guru is one who dispels the darkness by bringing
in the light. Gurus come from all cultures and from every religion. They are poets, saints,
painters, dancers, businessmen and -women, homemakers, and sometimes children. Gurus
don’t need to wear saffron robes. Sometimes they’re hard to spot. Gurus have authority and
divine knowledge. They stimulate, clarify, and explain. They teach, reveal, and illumine.
Sit down, be silent, and invite your feelings in. Know that the teacher is always inside
you. By accepting your inner knowing, you will change. Slow down, go into it, and be in
your heart, not in your mind. Your heart is your strength. It is the guru’s heart. If you dare
to stay in the chaos of your feelings, thoughts, or pain, a deep feeling of peace will emerge.
Peace comes from accepting yourself—and this is also power. It is wisdom and selfknowledge.
Dive deep inside your self and you will come out renewed.
PART TWO
THE EIGHT LIMBS
OF EMOTIONAL YOGA
Every forest branch moves differently
in the breeze, but as they sway
they connect at the roots.
—RUM!
Limb One
ALLOWANCE
BRINGING INTO AWARENESS
Allowance is bringing your emotional experience into conscious awareness. Limb One of
Emotional Yoga is called allowance because it is the process of allowing yourself to be
aware of your feelings. This is the starting point, where you begin to examine yourself.
The words allow and mind have similar meanings. When you mind something, you pay
attention to it, and you can choose to pay attention to anything. The process of allowance
gets you in touch with a mood or emotion so that you can recognize it, name it, and then
clarify it. Emotional awareness is a pivotal skill, because only when you know what you
feel can you heal what you feel.
Allowance is the deliberate action of reaching out with your attention and bringing into
focus an unclear feeling. This is the initial energy of thrusting your attention toward feeling
and meaning. When you allow yourself to feel, you let the part of you that desires reach
out and make contact with yourself. Yoga teaches you how to do this through a step-bystep
process of observation. First, you learn how to be aware of the “felt sense” of your
body. Then you learn how to recognize and balance what you feel.
When you allow yourself to feel your emotions with deliberate attention, you plant
yourself in a positive way and become some body. You identify yourself with your bodily
awareness. You define yourself as something separate from others, and create your
individual boundary formation. This is how you initiate your emotional embodiment. The
more you make yourself presently aware in your body, the more shape you have, and the
more emotional energy you can express.
In yoga, the experience of realizing your awareness is called “witnessing.” It happens
when you are aware of the one who feels. When you allow yourself to feel your emotional
body, you can easily be aware of the one who is doing the feeling. This means you are
identifying with your inner, feeling self. Clarity of awareness brings you emotional
autonomy, stability, and power. It gives you your emotional roots. Only when you feel
your roots can you begin to feel your growing.
The Fear of Painful Emotions
Why are we afraid to feel? Emotional energy is powerful, and dealing with it can be scary.
In fact, sometimes it’s so scary that we completely shut down the flow of our emotions and
justify it with a myriad of reasons. We tell ourselves we’re too busy to deal with them.
They’re interfering with our work right now. Unpleasant emotions are a waste of time.
They’re embarrassing. They make us look weak. So, rather than choose to feel them for
long, we decide that it’s safer to hold them in, block them out, or push them away.
There is a lot of energy around painful emotions. It can make you feel as if you are
losing control. But shutting down your emotions will, in reality, only slow down your
growth.
In the long run, a truly productive life requires you to receive the vital emotional energy
that comes when you realize and then manage what you feel. Inquiring into your emotions
tells you what you are feeling, how strongly, and why. This has dramatic energy-enhancing
effects. When you resist your emotions in any way, you resist what your energy might show
you. In other words, you miss out on valuable information.
Deliberately feeling your emotions is an act of faith. It takes grace and courage to deal
with them. Sure, it’s a risk to feel them. They’re unfamiliar. But the point is, if you really
want to heal, you have to use your feelings as fuel and stop wasting valuable energy
controlling, suppressing, or blocking them out.
By moving through your fear of feeling, you allow yourself to feel all the ways you can
feel, and live all the ways you can live. By learning to feel, you become wiser, not just
about your own feelings but about the feelings of others.
Feeling Your Body
This is a simple process allowing you to stay grounded in your body as you work through
your emotional fears. Feeling Your Body is an essential exercise. Come back to it often. It
is not complex. The more you practice it, the simpler it gets, and the deeper it goes.
Find a quiet place to sit down. You may keep your eyes open or closed. Become
aware of your natural breathing.
Observe any sensations you are feeling. Try not to lose yourself to your thinking mind
or to outside distractions. Be fully present in your body and direct your attention to
it as much as possible.
Now notice where you have your attention at this moment. Surely, you are reading
these words and you are also aware of your surroundings. See if you can be aware of
your inner body at the same time. Keep your attention within. Pull it into focus.
Stay aware of yourself in your body. Let yourself become aware of your breathing for
a moment and notice any feelings of discomfort in your body. At the same time,
notice that the sun is shining, the dog is barking, and the people in the next room are
talking. Keep breathing and notice that all this is happening in a remarkable
interrelationship between you, your breathing, and all you are observing. This
effortless maneuver is both spontaneous and extraordinary. In this state, there is total
acceptance. You are simply observing what is already occurring in your natural
ordinary awareness.
This experience doesn’t need to take long. But spending a few minutes in contact with
yourself is one of the most important tools of self-inquiry, leading to emotional balance
and self-understanding. Inevitably, it will become a cornerstone in your Emotional Yoga
practice.
Allowing Yourself to Feel
The next step is to feel your emotions. As you bring your emotions to the light of
consciousness, you become aware that they are interpretations of bodily sensations and you
are the interpreter who chooses their meaning. This function of interpretation is what gives
you choice, and choice gives you mastery over your life. When you don’t have a choice,
you feel like a victim to circumstance. Healing your emotions requires making active and
conscious choices.
Feeling your emotions does not mean losing yourself to the running commentaries of
your thinking mind. Nor does it mean that you can fake what you feel in order to cope.
This only multiplies the strain on your system.
To repeat: Painful feelings are not dangerous. Burying them can be. Understanding your
emotions by feeling and identifying them lets you recover your emotional autonomy and
strength. Anything in the dark always seems dangerous at first. But once you get into your
body, and out of your mind’s distractions, the darkness will come into the light. You can
spend years justifying your feelings or ignoring them, but until you choose to feel them,
you will be sitting in the dark.
ALLOWING FEELINGS
Try the following emotional inquiry. I first learned this practice from my friend and mystic
Robert O. Williams. The premise of this exercise is simple: If you are sad, mad,
uncomfortable, or in pain, allow yourself to feel it.
Begin by giving yourself your full attention. Giving yourself your attention is the
basis of healing, and healing something inside yourself is the real purpose of
Emotional Yoga.
STEP 1 As you give yourself your full attention, become aware of what you feel, as
though you are shining a light on yourself. Continue by asking yourself this:
—What am I feeling? or, What am I thinking? or, What did I just do?
STEP 2 Use your awareness to identify what you feel. Tell yourself this:
—I am happy because . . . I am uncomfortable because . . . I feel some sadness because .
. .
STEP 3 Identify what you are experiencing in the present moment. This time, make
no references to the reasons for your feelings. Let go of the “why.” Simply say to
yourself:
—I feel pain; or, I feel anxious; or, I feel frustrated; or, I feel pleasure.
STEP 4 Now, allow it. Accept what you are feeling as you experience it right now. Do
not resist it. Allow it to continue as long as it needs to. If your feelings begin to
change, let them change.
STEP 5 Breathe with it. Consciously begin to breathe, and at the same time keep
feeling what you are feeling. Gently deepen your breath for a minute or so. Just stay
with your breath.
STEP 6 After a while, feel the emotion come to a place of balance on its own. What
you feel now may be slightly different from when you started. Perhaps you feel a
little peace, some contentment, or connection with yourself. Continue to stay with
what you are feeling now.
STEP 7 Settle it. Simply place your attention on your heart and feel this moment as it
is. It’s something that you know, like coming back home. Have a feeling awareness
within your entire body. Just effortlessly keep your attention in your body.
That’s it. You can do this process anywhere, anytime, and it takes only a few minutes.
Spend as much time on it as you wish, depending on the circumstances and how deep you
want to go. Feel it, and you will feel released. What you are feeling isn’t what’s making
you suffer; it’s what you are not feeling.
In every moment you have the time to feel, in every feeling you have the chance to
heal, and in every person there is the power to feel it.
Allowance opens
your awareness to
the intelligence of
your emotions, while
guiding the nature
of your behaviors.
INTELLIGENT BEHAVIORS (YAMA)
Traditionally, the first limb of yoga consists of five ethical behaviors or “great vows of
living”—nonviolence; truthfulness; not coveting; harmonizing your desires; nonattachment.
These behaviors are not merely codes of conduct for relating to people or things; they are
useful and creative practices for transforming challenging emotions.
In Emotional Yoga, the ability to deal with your emotional issues is based entirely on
your awareness of them. In yoga, awareness always comes first. Once you are able to
witness your attitudes and emotions, you can choose to participate with them. You can shift
your reactive tendencies into more responsive and appropriate behaviors, creating healthier
interactions with others. Knowing what you feel—letting yourself feel your emotions fully
—is the first step in allowing yourself to deal with your emotional experiences and is at the
basis of all your ethical behaviors.
The first limb teaches you how to use your emotional awareness in greater depth. Read
about this limb and start using these practices immediately. They are fundamental tools for
shaping a healthy emotional self.
1. Nonviolence (Ahimsa)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 35:
When one perseveres in non-violence, hostility vanishes in their presence.
Nonviolence, as an emotional practice, involves your ability to deal with the feelings of
anger and its various subtleties. Anger is an emotion that demands change. When it’s left to
simmer, it can lead to all kinds of resentment, sulking, tantrums, and irrational fears.
Internalized negativity is the enemy within. No matter what degree of negativity or
resistance you have, it is toxic. Chronic irritability or anger that stays in the physiology
sends stress hormones throughout the body. Over time it can do a lot of damage. Anger is
the emotion that underlies any level of hostility, outrage, or violent behavior, so it must be
dealt with immediately and not be denied or ignored.
The good news is that anger itself can give you the feedback necessary to turn it around.
If you can recognize and experience your anger simply as a kind of energy, you’ll be able to
see and then choose another way of feeling and behaving. The key is to come face to face
with your intentions of violence, hatred, or fear, and accept them. Be conscious of them.
Then you can deal with them. You can neutralize the hostility within you and your
environment, break through your anger, and move on. Feeling fully what you feel lets you
transform what you feel. When you are transformed, your whole world is transformed.
Use the following self-inquiry for transforming any negative or aggressive behavior.
CHOOSING NONVIOLENCE
The first step is the most important one. Have the intention of noticing yourself in an
agitated state (caused by feelings of anger, jealousy, envy, the need to control,
anxiety, etc.). Then, as soon as the feelings of tension come up, try not to judge
yourself. Simply observe and notice what you feel. This may be hard to do. But if
you can, the moment you begin to notice a strong negative thought or feeling, pause
for a conscious moment. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Then find a quiet place. Sit
down and respectfully become aware of yourself and what you’re feeling. Include all
sensations or negative thoughts, and ask yourself the following questions:
What do I think that I don’t like thinking? or, What do I feel that I don’t like
feeling?
Identify the feeling or thought by asking yourself again: What am I unhappy about?
or, What am I angry about? or, What am I uncomfortable about?
Once you identify your feelings, clarify them even more: Why am I angry, or
uncomfortable, or unhappy about that? Is there a better way I can think or feel?
Sustain your questions and continue to see if there is another way to think or feel. If
there is a better way, ask yourself: Is it all right if I am not angry, or irritated, or
upset, or mad? What would happen then?
There is a skill to recognizing emotional choices. While it’s true that one feeling is no
less valid than another feeling, the best choices come when you face up to what needs your
attention now. If anger is there, discover the how, why, what, when, and where of it.
Pretty soon, if you keep on looking and asking yourself why this anger, fear, or sadness is
the best way for you to feel, you may see it is the result of what you believe you should
feel. If you look, you will see the options. Then you can embrace what feels most
inherently right.
In the end, reducing the qualities of violence within you will result in your ability to
diminish the hostility around you and to find inner quiet and peaceful action in the most
challenging moments. This will open the door to your heart. It will even repair your heart,
because the reward for transforming your disturbance is always healing.
At some point, it will become clear that the tensions you feel inside yourself are there
ultimately to generate expansion—and love. Properly channeled, they will become the
power behind your emotional growth.
2. Truthfulness (Satya)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 36:
When truth is established, all acts will achieve their desired results.
For some people, it’s a struggle to tell the truth. Finding it hard to tell your emotional
truth doesn’t mean you will not be able to do it. It might mean just that the truth is too
scary, or you don’t know how to recognize it, or you have forgotten what the truth really
is.
Part of the problem is that there are so many versions of the truth, it gets confusing. Is
the truth something you have to reveal? Is it a matter of clearing up past lies? Is it about
admitting how you feel the moment you feel it? What is the truth?
In yoga, truthfulness is a practice of observation, then verification. First, you have to
notice the truth. It requires your constant attention. As you become increasingly aware of
your emotions, they begin to show you what is true. As long as you stay connected to your
emotional truth, and then verify it through your experience, you will find that your life
becomes more about doing and saying what you deeply know is true. This kind of authentic
truth-telling is like medicine. It becomes an act of healing, an antidote to fear, hurt, anger,
and confusion.
Here is a practice for telling your emotional truth. Use it if you’re having a hard time
revealing the truth about anything. Remember: All honest emotions are positive.
TELLING YOUR EMOTIONAL TRUTH
First, sit someplace comfortable. Tune in to your body, focus your attention on your
breath, and listen to its flowing rhythm. Put your attention on your heart and ask
yourself the following questions. After each one, close your eyes, take a moment,
and feel the answer.
What feeling am I allowing right now?
What am I not allowing myself to feel?
Right now, what I am scared to say or feel is . . .
What I really want to say or feel is . . .
In this situation the real truth is . . .
Once you are able to verify the truth, you can reflect on how to communicate it. The
teachings of yoga say, tell the truth that is pleasant; tell the truth that is unpleasant, but
make it as pleasant as possible—and find the right moment.
How will you know the truth? You will know if you let yourself know. The answer lies
in what you feel. The essential truth is always there within you.
3. Noncoveting (Asteya)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 37:
When one does not covet, one attains prosperity.
Coveting is a normal human emotion. However, when it leads to the emotions of greed,
envy, jealousy, mistrust, and, more acutely, the abuse of control and power, it’s one of the
greatest weaknesses.
To covet means to be attached to a particular outcome. Look into your feelings and you
may be surprised to find that you want to control future events or win the approval of
others. In other words, covetous feelings reach far beyond the desire for material objects.
For example, if you approach a relationship as a way to get something from someone,
you become a prisoner of your own covetousness. But once you are willing to recognize
that you have these desires and bring some awareness to them, you become free of them.
From the yoga perspective, emotions like envy, jealousy, and greed actually indicate a
“lacking feeling,” as if something is missing inside, so you look for something on the outside
to fill that need. It could be that these emotions are simply a mask for fear.
Keep in mind that wanting or desiring is not a bad thing. Desire is natural. There is no
progress in life without desire. Yoga philosophy teaches that coveting or desiring becomes
harmful only when it takes you over. And if you can be free of the binding influence of
your desire—in other words, if you can connect to yourself instead of to your desire—you
can be free of its binding influence. This is the beginning of prosperity.
How does this work? First, you have to realize that you don’t need to be victimized by
your inner turmoil. Accept your feelings, don’t deny them. Then, take a look at them.
Pursue some valid information.
EXPLORING YOUR COVETING
Ask yourself:
What is causing this sense of jealousy?
Is there a deeper fear behind this feeling?
What about this situation makes me feel so envious, or jealous?
What am I attached to?
What am I trying to control?
Once you start exploring your coveting, things will begin shifting. By understanding and
opening yourself to your deeper fears, you will gain a quality of expansion, a broader
perspective of your beliefs, attachments, and desires. Then you can make new choices—and
choice holds the key to your freedom.
4. Harmonizing Your Desires (Brahmacharya)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 38:
With the highest desires, one obtains vital energy.
In Sanskrit, the word brahmacharya comes from the root brih, which means “to grow” or
“to expand.” Brahmacharya is the growth or expansion of the self, and when you cultivate
yourself in all ways, it causes everything else to grow.
In some commentaries, brahmacharya has also been interpreted as conducting a life of
chastity, and in many conventional yoga texts it is regarded as the renunciation of sexual
activity and desire. But on the path toward transformation, developing and refining every
level of your life, including sexuality, is essential. Sexuality is profoundly emotional—and
spiritual. If you repress, abuse, or avoid the complexities and the implications of your
sexuality, you may find yourself unfulfilled, troubled, in pain, and, according to author
Thomas Moore, in the biggest emotional mess of your life.
Sexuality can take you into a world of higher passion, refined touch, and subtle emotion.
It can light up your imagination, even bring immune strength. This is a world where you
can emotionally and energetically thrive. While it does not mean that you should indulge
excessively and therefore weaken your vital energy, to deny this flow of energy is to deny
the emotional expression of who you are.
The real meaning of brahmacharya is “harmonizing your life with the whole.” This
includes the courage to make your life fiercely emotional. Keep in mind that over any
extended period of time spent dealing with your emotions and desires, you require more
enthusiasm than discipline. Enthusiasm is an emotional commitment, a loving surrender to
your emotional process, and a loving recognition of the joy and vital energy your emotional
life will bring.
HARMONIZING YOUR DESIRES
Challenge yourself:
Dare to live in a state of excitement and vitality. Loosen up your thinking and let
your rationality become less rigid and tense. Appreciate, respect, and protect the
magnificence of your vital and sexual energy.
Affirm pleasure in your life. Celebrate the sensuous.
Be affectionate toward your friends, neighbors, and lovers. Nurture your affection for
animals, things, and places. Let yourself give affection to others and accept it from
them.
Discover the power and pleasure of your deepest desires.
Enter more energetically into your senses and be sensually creative and free.
Find ways to have deep pleasure even in the presence of pain.
Seek to find emotionally satisfying relationships. Intend to speak openly about what
you sense and feel.
Connect more with others. Touch, hug, caress, hold hands, kiss and express your
affection. Allow yourself to be touched, hugged, caressed, held, and kissed.
Pay attention to the presence of any invitation to move deeper into your emotional
self. Trust in the depth of your feelings.
Harmonize your life with the whole. There is a real connection between the joy of
your emotional expression and the joy of life itself.
On the deepest level, life is sensuous, and this makes you whole. Marvel in your
wholeness by discovering yourself at every level. Create passionate experiences, enhance
your senses, add even more sensations to your saturated world. Seek to live a deeply
fulfilling and, if you dare, an emotionally and erotically sensuous and spiritual life.
5. Nonattachment (Aparigraha)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 39:
One who is not attached or possessive is secure.
Nonattachment does not mean that you can’t be emotional. I like to think of
nonattachment as not holding on. Anytime you clutch something, you are overwhelmed by
the fear of losing it. “It’s mine,” you say. “I can’t do without this person or thing.” You
identify with it. But what if you could find a joyful place inside yourself where you are not
possessive or afraid of loss?
NOT HOLDING ON
Try this for a moment:
Close your eyes and take a mental inventory. What are you attached to? What do you
have judgments about? Take one of the things you are holding on to and feel exactly
what this holding on feels like in your body. Feel the breath surrounding the tension
of your grasp. Tune in to the network of your tightness. Take a deep breath and
allow yourself to release this feeling of holding on. Keep watching your breath.
Notice how tense your body feels when you try to hold on, and what it feels like
when you let it go.
Accept your holding on. Get in there with it. But don’t lose track of your breathing
or the feelings in your body. Watch the parts of your body that feel irritated,
frustrated, tight, or hurt. Remain with your breath.
It’s true that letting go of something is frightening. But so what? Trust yourself. Break
the boundaries of your emotional holding and dive into absolute uncertainty. Dispel it all
into the air with your breath. Whatever you really need will come back to you, and
whatever you don’t need will just drift away.
PROFOUND ATTUNEMENT
There is no such thing as a casual use of your awareness. Every day, every moment, how
you invest your awareness determines who you are.
Awareness is the most intimate experience you have and the most powerful tool of yoga.
In yoga, you always begin with awareness. It can stimulate you to move into action. You
notice you are aware, and so you breathe. You sense you are hungry, and so you eat. You
see a possibility, and so you fly to the moon!
The field of your awareness is full of unlimited information, energy, and intelligence.
Every one of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be found within it. The question is:
How can you contact this field? How can you familiarize yourself with its energy and
intelligence? All you need to do is to observe. It’s that simple. Develop the ability to guide
your attention. As you pay attention to your feelings, to your body, and to your breath,
something inside begins to tell you what you need.
You are usually aware of your emotions, feelings, and thoughts to some degree. But you
can go further By using your awareness, you can sense the flow of energy in your body and
mind. You can dissolve fear, settle the turbulence of your mind, let go of pain, and change
the way you feel. When you master the art of awareness, you can do almost anything.
The truth is, you already are aware. Try something for a moment. Stop and listen. Do
you hear the birds? Do you see the sun? Do you remember your dreams? Then you are
aware. According to yoga, there is only awareness. Whatever you put your awareness on
creates your framework.
There is a real relationship between the quality of your attention and your capacity to
heal yourself. When you have an alert appreciation of what is going on inside you, the
opportunities for change on the outside increase enormously. When you listen to yourself
and your environment, you start waking up to new thoughts, sensations, and feelings. I call
this awakening profound attunement.
TUNING IN
Take a moment to notice where you are right now. Notice what is happening around
you. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin, the clothes touching your body.
Can you hear any sounds in the next room? Notice where you are reading this book.
Perhaps you are sitting in a chair. Observe yourself reading. Then turn your attention
to the one who is reading, the one who is sitting in the chair. Can you sense a
presence there? This presence is behind everything. It is the one who is being aware.
Close your eyes for a moment. Tune in and allow your awareness to flow through
your entire body. Put the book down for a while, then read a few lines and pause
again. Every time you do this, your experience will be different.
Give yourself your full attention. It’s like using a video camera: First, you focus on
whatever has your attention, noticing the details. Then you zoom in on what
compels you, and you stay on that thing long enough for it to reveal what it’s about.
Paying attention like this is the simplest and purest act of self-love—it is healing. The
greatness, the joy, the rapture, and the beauty you can experience in life all depend
on giving and receiving your own attention.
Open your awareness to the space inside your body. Awaken to the sensations within
your body. Listen to yourself with keen attention. Gently, easily, become aware at
every moment of this motion of searching, Keep moving your awareness, and touch
the outermost corners inside your body.
Receive your body as it is, and feel your body breathing on its own. Then bring your
attention to the sensations generated by your breath. Capture the images, the
feelings, as if you were focusing in a little closer. Feel the sensations in your throat.
Is it tight, restricted? Sense the movement in your chest and your belly. Become
aware of the coolness in your nostrils. Notice the location of the sensation that
accompanies each breath. Do you feel it at your upper lip? Inside the rims of your
nostrils? At the tip of your nose? Simply focusing your awareness in your body and
on your breathing is a process of healing.
Listen to your feelings, your body, and your breath. Listen to the turmoil, the worry,
or the pain. Remain present with yourself and notice that you are reaching a deeper
level of understanding. Go slowly. Know that you are there for yourself. Trust in
yourself and the power of your attention. Acknowledge your aliveness now.
Feel any tension or fear in your body. Do you sense it in your chest, your belly, your
heart? Be with it for a moment, and allow yourself to go there and feel afraid. To
feel it is to heal it. Don’t abandon it. Be faithful. When you refuse to look inside, you
betray both yourself and your emotions.
Close your eyes again and feel the energy inside you moving like an ocean wave
beginning to swell. Allow it to grow. Feel it inside and let that vibration, that
feeling be. Be truthful to what you feel. It may be painful, but stay with it. Don’t
fight it. Just be aware of it. By going inside and letting yourself feel frightened for a
while—and breathing and moving until you feel assured by the rhythms of life—you
allow the discomfort to break. Then, you can settle right down, like a child who is
falling asleep.
Dive deep inside yourself and discover what is real. Whatever happens, it happens to
you. Whatever you do, the doer is you. You are the one who is experiencing all this.
You are the one who is breathing. And you are the one who is there inside.
Allow yourself this moment of inner attention. Trust yourself and your ability to listen.
If you are willing to tune in, you’ll find that the energy of your attention will change you
deeply. It will bring the wisdom of each moment to every aspect of your life. Paying
attention means having a listening mind. It leads to the experience of freedom.
Limb Two
ALLEGIANCE
JOINING TOGETHER
Allegiance is the act of joining together with something. Limb Two of Emotional Yoga
involves joining yourself with an emotional experience. This is the process of getting in
touch with an emotion or perception in order to examine it. It moves you from a neutral
position to an active plan in which you participate. Once you decide to give an emotion
your focus, you create a dialogue with it. You inquire into it, asking for the steps you need
to take to move forward—toward happiness, comfort, understanding, and love. Allegiance
gets you directly involved with your emotional self.
As a child in school, you pledge allegiance to the flag. In the second limb of Emotional
Yoga, you pledge allegiance to yourself-and this includes allegiance to your emotions.
Imagine you are doing some yoga postures and you decide to focus on lengthening your
breath. You give your allegiance to your breathing. Let’s say that in the middle of your
practice, the phone rings and you decide to get up and answer it. Then you return, only to
get up again and turn down the radio or pay the bills. By giving your allegiance to your
distractions rather than to your breath, you lose your sense of purpose.
Allegiance means that you get involved and stay involved in a process of selfobservation.
Once you give your allegiance to something, you commit to it. You work
together, you might say “in concert,” to create momentum. Allegiance joins you to your
purpose.
The Yoga of Relationships
The ancients understood yoga by way of relationships. In yoga, relationships are developed,
and through relationships yoga is mastered. Yoga is not a solitary endeavor. You can
practice it alone, but its purpose is to connect you to something—to your body, your
breathing, your emotions, or the things you are doing in your life, such as your work, your
hobbies, your friendships, and so on.
You are a relationship. You are a composite and interaction of all the various parts of
yourself. When you are doing yoga, you are serving the relationship of your body, your
mind, and your emotions, all at the same time. In relating to your emotions, you first have
to give them your attention. Then you move closer to them by participating or interacting
with them. You get a dialogue going. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in an intimate
relationship with them.
An Interesting Conversation
Your emotions are a communications center. They keep you awake and aware. Hello? Are
you there? Have a conversation with yourself right now. Ask yourself: What am I feeling in
my body? Is it okay to be feeling the way I do?
Then, take responsibility for what you feel. If you are feeling glad or sad or disappointed
or mad, don’t look for someone else to blame. Blaming is simply an attempt to make
someone else at fault so that you don’t have to feel the way you do. Inquire, don’t analyze.
Ask yourself questions. Stimulating questions inspire the innate wisdom of your body and
mind. Your emotions don’t necessarily lead to greater wisdom, but the process of opening
to them does.
Begin by asking yourself general questions like, How do I feel about my emotions?
How do I feel about asking my emotions questions? Can I talk to my emotions?
Then, begin to have an internal dialogue with yourself. Frame your questions in your
own way, or in a way that’s relevant to your situation. Don’t answer with your
logical mind. Recognize the innate truth of whatever rises first in your mind.
Ask yourself: How do I feel? What is creating this feeling (fear, or unhappiness, or
discomfort)? What is the truth of this feeling? What am I unhappy about? What is it
that I don’t like to feel?
Next, ask: Why am I unhappy (or sad, or angry) about that? If I am to have allegiance
to my happiness, what steps might I take? What steps can I take to participate with
this feeling of. . . (or this issue, or this situation)? How can I connect myself to . . .
(being happy, or fulfilling my desire)? What are the steps I can take to achieve my
purpose or intention?
Allegiance gives you
the commitment
to internally
transform your
personal attitudes.
Let your answers take you where you need to go. Be easy, and give yourself time and
permission to feel comfortable with this process. The more you practice conversing with
yourself, the easier it gets. Learn to release built-up emotions rather than let them foster
behaviors you’ll regret. Learn to nurture yourself rather than shut down. Make truth
between you and your emotions your most important bond. Eventually, you’ll be able to
speak to yourself from your heart.
PERSONAL ATTITUDES (NIYAMA)
The second limb of yoga consists of five internal observances or attitudes—purity;
contentment; purification; self-study; communion with a higher power. These five internal
observances are necessary for creating a healthy life-style. They involve the level of your
personal care, the environment you live in, the foods you eat, the company you keep, and
the faith you have. Transforming your attitudes has a deeply restorative effect on your
emotions.
In Emotional Yoga, the relationship you have with yourself is your most important and
intimate relationship. What sustains your relationship depends on the level of allegiance,
care, and commitment you give. One of the ways you can take care of your emotional
health is to practice methods of self-care.
The second limb teaches you how to use your personal attitudes as practices for
emotional self-healing. Use them for making immediate and practical changes in your life.
They are positive affirmations for creating a healthy relationship with your emotional self.
1. Cleanliness or Purity (Sauca)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 40:
Cleanliness or purity reveals what needs to be maintained and protected; what decays is external, what does not, is deep
within.
When I think of purity I think of pure, crystal-clear water, or pure, clean mountain air. But
what does practicing purity look like? Purity as an emotional practice is the act of clarifying
your emotional perceptions and projections and eliminating ambiguity. Emotional clarity
and purity are very much the same.
Clarifying your emotions and reviewing your daily habits on a regular basis brings purity.
Purity is the act of being honest and kind to yourself every single day. When you start with
one activity and shape it into a habit, it’s the beginning of your Emotional Yoga practice.
Practice maintains purity, realigns your values, points out the need for adjustments, and
refreshes your emotional reservoir.
For example, take a look at the personal habits you are currently choosing. Each one
directly influences the state of your emotions on a daily basis. Find out if any of them is a
choice that no longer nurtures or serves you well.
Make a self-inquiry. Does your body feel strong and healthy? Are you getting enough
rest? Are you overeating, or drinking or smoking too much? Do you have a habit of hanging
out in front of the TV and watching what you don’t like? What do you take in through
your senses? How do the things you watch, listen to, smell, taste, and touch affect your
feelings and thoughts? How do you react to these things? Is it an enjoyable reaction?
Who are your friends? Are they pleasant and supportive, or are they negative and
critical?
To develop emotional purity, acquire the habit of checking in with yourself several times
a day to see what you like and what feels good. Ask yourself: “What am I feeling about
this?” and listen to your response. Try experimenting with yourself in the following ways.
CULTIVATING PURITY
When you are hungry, ask your body first what it would like to eat, and then eat the
foods that not only taste good but feel good in your body.
Satisfy yourself, and treat your senses to the highest quality of influences and images.
Ask yourself what you most like to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
Observe yourself around violent images and agitating sounds. Ask yourself what these
images and sounds feel like in your body. Get out into natural environments and
notice how you feel in contrast.
Look at your surroundings. Are they orderly, beautiful? How do they make you feel?
Make them visually stimulating, refreshing, and clean. Is there something you can
add to make you happy?
Take a few minutes each day to consciously observe yourself and how you feel, in
silence.
Keep filtering out the external noise and listen to your inner self.
Eliminate an excessive habit, such as gossiping, from your life.
Break a habit. Try something new that frees you and makes you excited, energized,
and joyous.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you know about purity or how well you can
explain it to others. It’s not even important whether you have reached a “state of purity.”
What is important is how well you integrate the habits of purity, and how much purity you
manifest in your life moment by moment. Purity is silent. It is cultivated. It comes from
your heart.
2. Contentment (Santosa)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 42:
Contentment results in total happiness.
Contentment is our natural state of emotional balance. It is the very purpose of our lives,
and the purpose of yoga too, to seek or link with this balance. Contentment is a choice you
can make. If you give yourself permission to be content, you are well on your way.
Use your emotional antenna to sense what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable,
happy or unhappy. At any time of the day, ask yourself some simple questions: Am I feeling
comfortable or uncomfortable? Am I feeling happy or unhappy? What is making me feel
unhappy? How am I allowing myself to feel unhappy? What am I allowing that isn’t
making me feel happy? Then, ask yourself, What steps can I take?
You don’t have to stay unhappy or miserable, ever. Move toward your own state of
contentment. Don’t wait for someone to give happiness to you. As a friend of mine once
said, “Only you can bring happiness to yourself. Everyone else is probably busy anyway.”
Since the secret of contentment lies within you, you can always find a way to liberate it.
Contentment doesn’t come from the immediate satisfaction of a specific desire, but arises
instead when you are not anxious about the present, when you do not feel pangs about the
past, and when you have no worries about the future. Once you develop a strong enough
sense of contentment, the external circumstances of your life do not matter. You are still
content from within yourself.
Trying to be happy all the time is not the answer. You can’t be emotionally perfect.
There is no such thing. Emotional perfectionism is the biggest obstacle between you and
your ability to stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Worrying about being perfect only makes you emotionally limited. It doesn’t make you
happy. It’s okay to get messy. You get messy when you deal with your emotions, anyway.
So, why not learn to play in the mess?
You need to be emotionally messy—confused, distracted, anxious, depressed,
melancholy, sad—in order to find out who you are, why you are here, and what you’re
supposed to do. If you accept your untidy, imperfect emotions, you’ll find they have
tremendous value.
DEEPENING CONTENTMENT
Here is a yogic technique for increasing and developing positive emotional states—
friendliness, compassion, happiness, steadiness, and strength. Attitudes like these are
curative. What makes them powerful is using them creatively. In this exercise, you learn to
consciously intend to create more positive attitudes, desires, and expansive states by aiming
your consciousness toward a certain goal.
First, decide on a specific attitude you wish to cultivate. Let’s say the attitude is
happiness.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Settle your mind by directing your attention
within. Simply lengthen the flow of your breath for a few minutes. Then, sit quietly
with your eyes closed and feel the silence.
As you do so, bring your attention to your heart; at the same time, put your
awareness on to the attitude and give it the whole of your attention. Say the word or
intention inside yourself, mentally (e.g., happiness), and release your intention into
the field of your consciousness. It’s like blowing the seeds off a dandelion—you say
the intention inside, then let it go. Next, bring your awareness back to your self.
Stay there in silence for a few moments.
Release your intention again from your heart, and bring your awareness back to your
self. Be there silently. (This almost happens simultaneously.)
Repeat this procedure with one intention at least two to four times, always coming
back to your self. Then, try it with another intention or word (e.g., friendliness or
compassion).
If you notice any attachment to the outcome of your intention, don’t hold on, let it
go.
Do this exercise anytime, anywhere, even for a few seconds. Practice it regularly, taking
one thought or idea at a time, and automatically your awareness will shift. You’ll feel
lighter, happier.
3. Purification (Tapas)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 43:
Removing impunties allows the body and mind to function more efficiently.
Good health depends on your ability to fully metabolize the nutritional, emotional, and
sensory information you ingest. When your “digestive” energy is robust, your immune
system is strong, and you have clarity of perception, physical strength, and emotional
balance. When your food, thoughts, attitudes, or emotions are not metabolized properly,
you accumulate toxic residue.
In Ayurvedic medicine, anything in the system not digested or metabolized is called
ama, which means “raw, uncooked, or unripened.” Emotions that are repressed, denied,
unresolved—undigested—have a similarly toxic effect. Your emotional pathways get
blocked, and the vital feel-good chemicals in your body stop flowing. You experience
mood disorders. Emotional ama begins to accumulate in your system, and you find that
your energies are severely weakened. You feel dull, weak, distressed, depressed, or
fatigued. Eventually, you get sick.
Toxic accumulation can be caused by a variety of situations: lingering anger or fear;
psychological stress; unhappy work situations; loss of employment; divorce or death;
exposure to violent, crude, or shocking experiences; contact with other people’s negativity;
unhealthy surroundings. Fortunately, in Ayurveda there is a natural approach to eliminating
both physical and emotional ama from the system. It comes by way of a three-step process
of purification, rejuvenation, and prevention:
1. Purification is a part of our body’s natural state, because our body is routinely in a
state of renewal. Our cells are constantly regenerating themselves. We are always in
a process of transformation. Since our emotions occur everywhere throughout our
body, they too are always in a process of transformation. Purification helps our
system re-create its emotional balance.
In Ayurveda, purification involves a radical regimen of pure foods, silence,
purgatives, herbs, and oil massage treatments administered under the supervision of a
doctor. Removing toxicity from your food, water, air, relationships, and emotions is
regularly recommended, along with a seasonal detoxification program—to minimize
the accumulation of toxic experiences and maximize the positive ones.
Sattva, or “purity,” is a word used to describe the healthy experiences that lead to
emotional health—right food, right environment, appropriate choices, and emotions
that are metabolized and expressed. Periodically reviewing your daily habits and
adjusting your diet, exercise, and life-style according to the season and to your body
type helps maintain your health and prevents toxins from accumulating.
2. Rejuvenation is used along with purification to tonify, nourish, and replenish the
energy of the body-mind and bring it back into balance. In Ayurvedic medicine, the
term is Rasayana, which comes from the root rasa, “juice or essence,” and ayana,
“that which enters.” Rasayana regenerates your natural rhythms by introducing
healthful substances into your daily life. Herbs, oil massage, aromas, colors, and
sounds promote circulation, stimulate energy, and are catalysts for keeping you
healthy, strong, and aware.
3. Prevention is a matter of routine. The human body loves routine and thrives when it
is fed, exercised, and rested regularly. Daily routines have a major influence on your
emotions. Proper exercise, regulated breathing, self-study, and nourishing foods are
basic constituents for emotional and physical health. Simple daily and seasonal
routines bring a sense of lightness to the body, increased energy, natural enthusiasm,
and emotional resilience.
It’s surprising how simple routines can act to stimulate the vitality of your entire
organism. Changing your life-style can make a big difference in helping you lead a happier
and healthier life. In the long run, the choices you make regarding how you live are as
valuable as any intervention available.
Following are some routines, practical suggestions, and gems of advice prescribed
thousands of years ago, which are still useful today for maximizing purity, balancing the
emotions, and enhancing the quality of your life.
RASAYANAS, ROUTINES, AND RHYTHMS
Rasayanas for nourishment:
1. Eat light, freshly cooked natural foods.
2. Eat only when you are hungry.
3. Always sit down to eat, and eat in a settled atmosphere.
4. Never eat when you are upset.
5. Experience all six tastes at every meal (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent,
astringent).
6. Sit quietly for a few minutes after you finish eating.
7. Walk at least one hundred steps after your meal to stimulate digestion.
8. Drink plenty of pure water.
9. Exercise regularly and moderately.
10. Go to sleep or rest when you are tired. Don’t stay up too late.
Rasayanas for emotional sativa, or purity:
1. Wake up with the sun and watch the sunset in the evening. Occasionally stroll in the
moonlight.
2. Take time every day for play, humor, relaxation, and good company.
3. Spend time outside in nature.
4. Refrain from negativity, bitterness, anger, and criticism.
5. Be generous with others as well as pleasant and tolerant.
6. Be satisfied and happy and cultivate relationships with those who are satisfied and
happy.
7. Know that you have the power to change how you feel.
8. Always learn from your failures.
9. Don’t ask for things to be better, make yourself better.
10. Remember that when you are grateful, you are rich.
There is something about the rhythm of a daily routine. There is a musicality in motion
that spills into your life. If you lead a chaotic life, it is difficult to feel steady and smooth.
If, on the other hand, you lead a life that is too regular or sterile, you lose something
creative. Find a place somewhere in between. Be like a jet pilot realigning his plane when
it goes off course. Keep realigning yourself if you get off course.
With a few devoted endeavors on your part, you can pledge yourself to your emotional
and physical well-being. This is of the utmost importance, because the pursuit of your life
implies the pursuit of your health, and without your health, you cannot enjoy your life.
4. Self-study (Svadyaya)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 44;
Self-study leads to awareness, communication, and union with spint.
These days, self-exploration typically is done in little, fragmented ways. For your body, you
work out at the gym. For your mind, you take a class, or you read a good book. For your
personal development, you join a therapy group or see a counselor. You keep checking out
all the different options, reading self-help books on relationships, or trying to accumulate a
variety of techniques to help you learn about the different parts of who you are. But none
of these alone seems to help you as much as you think it does. That’s because the study of
the self needs an integral approach and doesn’t come from simply reading a book, listening
to a lecture, or taking a kick-boxing class.
Self-study comes from personal experience—knowing what your mind is doing, feeling
what your body is feeling—every single day. Self-study is when you examine what is inside
you. It’s when you return to yourself, and reveal yourself to yourself. In yoga, there are at
least four developmental stages to this process. Following is a framework for studying
yourself and for carrying you through the day.
A FRAMEWORK FOR SELF-STUDY
1. The first step involves recognition, attention, and knowledge. Accurately assess your
present situation and condition. Know where you are so that you can know where
you are going. Before you begin any exercise, always take a few minutes to
recognize the place from which you start. You can also do this in the morning before
you start your day. Each day will be entirely different, because you will be different.
2. The second step involves regulation, willingness, and practice. Determine your
direction and clarify what steps you need to take in order to get where you are
going. This observation process becomes the platform for the path you are willing to
take. Practice is a plan of action.
3. The third step involves reflection, discovery, and insight. Reflect and meditate on the
effects of your experience. Discover and identify new things. Notice if you feel
different—stronger, happier, or more stable—and adjust your actions accordingly.
4. The fourth step involves experience, integration, and inspiration. Begin to integrate
these experiences into the whole of your life. Work with yourself again. Inquire,
test, study, and rediscover. This will make any practice you do more meaningful,
deeper, and inspiring. Let it lead you on a lifelong path of self-discovery and
wisdom.
Self-study is like exercising. It isn’t a momentary excitement and it doesn’t come with
only one session. It has to be sustained. But the longer you do it and the deeper you go,
the closer to yourself you get.
5. Communion with a Higher Power (Isvara-pranidhana)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 45:
Perfection and liberation come from aligning one’s self with the highest intelligence. The powers of contemplation are
attained through one’s relationship and devotion to God.
When you have an emotional crisis, it’s natural to want to call out to someone for help.
Thoughts and prayers flow automatically. In any difficult time, there is a longing to find
comfort and to search for a higher reason or power. You look to God, the Divine, the
Creator for guidance. You go inside yourself to find silence.
Silence is easy for thirty seconds. Try it for one minute, or half an hour. As you practice
it, over time, silence becomes one of the easiest ways to connect to something higher.
Healing begins in silence. It brings you face-to-face with yourself and awakens you to the
“oneself” that is in intimate dialogue with God. When you look deeply within and have
trust in the highest, the “within” becomes the “beyond.”
In yoga, this notion of a higher intelligence or power is known as Isvara— the ultimate
wisdom, the source of all knowledge and guidance. Isvara clears up all obstacles, pain, and
doubt. Yet, Isvara is not an object that exists outside of you. It is something that dwells
within you. In order to find it, tremendous faith is required.
Faith is an important element in yoga, yet it’s not the same as religious faith. In yoga,
faith comes directly from the trust you have in your own highest self. If you don’t have
faith in yourself, there’s not much for you to gain, even if you believe in God. Faith in God
is there only to strengthen your faith in you. You need to have faith to become who you
are.
The point of having faith is to bring meaning to your life over time, to connect you to
what is emotionally deep inside. Having faith, you learn to have faith—in God, in yourself,
in life. Faith is a relationship that touches the heart.
HAVING A DIALOGUE WITH SELF, GOD, OR A HIGHER POWER
Try having a conversation with your higher self or God. Make a date with yourself. Let it
be something you want to do if it feels right. Conversations evolve gradually. They grow
and blossom over time. When you begin, you may find yourself asking, “But how do I
speak to God? What is there to discuss? Where do I start and what do I say?”
I like what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says in his book Jewish Meditation:1 “Tell God I just
read this book about having a conversation with God. I felt it was time I did it.” Then all
you need to do is to keep talking. Say to yourself, “For the next few minutes, I will be
alone with God.” Aware of His or Her presence, you’ll eventually find something to say.
Once the conversation begins, it’s easy to continue. Trust yourself. You’ll know what to
say. The effects you get will be linked to your focus.
Call out to God in the most basic way to establish communication. Tell God you
would like to talk with Him (or Her). Tell Him that you need Him at this time in
your life, and explain that it’s sometimes hard for you to speak. Talk as if you’re
talking to a close friend and it’ll become easier.
Ask God to help you be closer to Him. And tell Him how much closer you’d like to
be. Tell Him how you feel. You can’t bore God, so have the same conversation
again and again if you wish. You can’t offend God either, so rant and rave. Cry. Sob.
Tell God how you feel. The more relaxed and honest your conversation, the easier it
gets and the deeper your experience becomes. Do your best, and then surrender.
Leave the rest to God.
If this process seems difficult, remind yourself that with God there is no such thing as
failure. The only failure here is when you abandon the effort. Then, you only fail yourself
by affirming your obstacles. Don’t stop. Even if the outside world is screaming at you.
Create an inner world of determination and faith.
CONSCIOUSNESS IN MOTION
Yoga is the art of bringing your consciousness into motion. In the practice of yoga, you
learn to consciously link your awareness to the rhythms of life. When you join with them
by feeling rather than thinking, you discover within yourself the creative force of energy,
the source of all life. Cultivating your feeling awareness is the first step in realizing this
force. With skill, you can direct, guide, and circulate it within the whole of your body and
throughout the environment as well.
You can have a feeling awareness at a molecular level—sensing your organs, fluids, pulse,
and the flow of your blood, right down to the cells. You can focus your feeling awareness
as far out as you can imagine—to the planets, the stars, other galaxies. As you move to
deeper and deeper levels of feeling, you will discover the extraordinary power of your
emotional source. Anything can happen when you put your consciousness into motion.
Consciousness in Motion is an exercise whose characteristic feature is the systematic
rotation of consciousness in your body. Practice it by visually placing your attention on
different parts of your body and deliberately feeling your body’s intelligence. Keep your
mind moving from point to point and be aware of every experience. As you do this,
accumulated emotional and physical tensions will be released.
Practice this exercise with your eyes closed. Do it lying down or seated in a comfortable
chair. Read, close your eyes, feel your body, and then open your eyes and read further. Or,
ask someone to read it to you. Remember to proceed slowly.
Close your eyes and, for a moment, imagine the millions of cells that make up your
body. With a feeling awareness, sense their aliveness—feel them moving, vibrating.
Tune in on a sensory level and feel what is going on inside your body right now.
Remember, thinking about something is not the same as feeling it. Allow your
attention to remain fluid and effortless.
Allow your feeling awareness to meander through your entire system, like flowing
water. Feel the pulsing beat of your heart, and allow that pulse to stream beyond the
edges of your body.
Notice the space your body is occupying. Let your feeling awareness wander around
your environment. Vividly feel your surroundings. Notice that you don’t have to
“look” to see.
Listen to the sounds of your environment. Don’t think about them, just become
aware of them. Let your attention wander from sound to sound, lingering fully on
one sound, then moving on to the next. Give yourself plenty of time to experience.
When you are ready to move on, feel the sensation of your body resting in the chair
(or lying down). Feel the weight of your body and become aware of all the meeting
points between your body and the chair. Notice how your body is connected to the
chair. Go slowly as you move your attention and become aware of every point of
contact. Allow your attention to linger briefly on each contact point.
Move your feeling awareness throughout your body. Sense your body’s emotional
aliveness. Then, start at your feet and notice your toes. Feel your toes and the spaces
between them. Notice how your feet are resting on the floor. Gradually move your
attention to your arches, to the tops of your feet, to your heels.
Let your feeling awareness meander up through your ankles, calves, and shins. Keep
feeling it. Move your attention up to your knees. Move it through the center of your
legs and up your thighs to your hips. Feel the weight of your pelvis resting on the
chair.
Notice how your spine is attached to your pelvis and how it rises out from the base.
Explore your spine; follow its curve into your lower back. Notice how your rib cage
is connected to your spine and how it wraps around the front of your body. Move
your attention to the middle of your back and up to your shoulder girdle. Follow
your spine to where your neck and shoulders meet. Keep going all the way up to
your topmost vertebra, deep in the center of your head. Feel the entire length of
your spine as you easily free your neck, allowing your spine to lengthen and your
back to widen.
Become aware of your right shoulder blade, then your left shoulder blade. Let your
awareness move from point to point in this way, on both sides of your body. Feel
your upper arms, armpits, elbows, lower arms. The palms and backs of your hands,
wrists, fingers, and thumbs. Have a feeling awareness of your chest, your navel, your
abdomen.
Move your feeling awareness up through your collarbone to your throat. Up to your
chin, your jaw, your mouth, your eyes. Your eye-brows, the space between your
eyebrows, your ears, your nostrils,
your nose, your forehead. Have a feeling awareness of the top of your head, then of
your entire head.
Become aware now of your whole body, every part, all at the same time. Keep your
eyes closed and be silent for a moment. Have a feeling awareness in every cell of
your body. The whole body together, sitting on the chair in the room. Perfectly still.
Take your time—and in stillness, observe the flow of consciousness throughout.
Stay in that silence and notice how you feel. Do you feel different from when you
began this exercise? Do you feel any warmth or lightness in your body? Do you
notice a feeling of release, a shift of energy?
Feel the healing source of vital energy within you. Pause and savor the moment, and
know that everything you are looking for is right here, right now. It doesn’t take much
effort, and there is no absolute method—only attention, observation, and feeling.
Limb Three
WILL AND POWER
COOPERATING WITHIN
The combination of will and power is the act of cooperation. Limb Three of Emotional
Yoga involves choosing to cooperate with an emotional experience through deliberate
intention. Instead of worrying about a situation or suffering because of it, you learn to
focus on it, join with it, and then cooperate with it. You exercise your will by intending to
move toward it.
Nothing about the way you think, feel, or will is arbitrary. Every conscious idea or
feeling is connected to a particular act of will. For example, when you enter a stuffy room,
you open a window; when you hear your name being called out, you answer. The
foundation of your life is built on this simple connection between your thinking, feeling,
and willing.
When you choose to cooperate with something it’s because you intend to do so. Your
life is your choice. If you have lost the feeling that you have freedom of choice, you need
to strengthen your will and power. You need to take responsibility and commit to what you
choose.
The energy of willful cooperation is a fully conscious one. When you cooperate with
yourself you give yourself the ability to be who you are. You consciously take the actions
that influence your life. You take responsibility for yourself. In the yoga of will and power,
your physical body senses your passion and acts. Willful cooperation is what gives you the
freedom to change.
In Emotional Yoga, will and power also incorporates your desire to seek and metabolize
uncomfortable emotions and to digest and move them through. This action is both
emotional and physical. When you enter your body to move your emotions through, you
create an energy exchange between your physicality and your emotionality. You allow for
the healing process to occur. A profound chemical transformation takes place within you,
dissolving tensions and grounding you in the here and now.
An Exercise in Cooperation
Whenever you exercise your body and mind, do it to expand yourself rather than to fix
something. Nothing about you is faulty. Don’t make these exercises a punishment. Have a
goal and a vision. Tell yourself that you want to be in the best possible emotional and
physical shape right now. Then discover and envision what that shape is. Let your
emotional experiences become a vehicle for discovery. Let them motivate you, help you to
set goals and take risks.
Motive and emotion have the same root in the Latin word motere, which, as I mentioned
earlier, means “to move.” Emotions move you to pursue your goals. They are powerful
motivators, internally shaping how you act. The links between your feelings and what you
think, say, and do are real and sustaining. Feelings affect your achievements. Those internal
meters and subtle signals telling you what you are feeling are ongoing guides to let you
know how you are doing.
Use this exercise to let your emotions guide what you want, value, and wish to
accomplish. Which would you most like to do, create, or achieve? Do your actions match
your desires? Your achievements are your desires in action. Be clear about what you desire,
then choose your steps with the intention of realizing those desires.
Take time to align yourself each day to what you value most. You may sit for a moment
in the morning at home, at your desk before work, or in the evening prior to bed. Write
down your answers and reflect on them. Honor yourself. Be honest and spontaneous as you
complete the following phrases:
What I want is . . .
What I want and I am allowing is . . .
What I want and I am not allowing is . . .
What I do not want is . . .
What I do not want, and I am allowing is . . .
What I do not want, and I am not allowing is . . .
The use of true will and power gives you the intention and energy to act on what you
want. It develops character, integrity, and the ability to be true to your conscience, rather
than follow the impulses of others or be dominated by external conditions. Will and power
requires focus of attention, which is a form of physical and emotional self-discipline.
When your mind is aligned and cooperating with your deeper intelligence and purpose,
you are practicing will and power. You are flexing your emotional muscles.
Will and power
develops self
cooperation and
motivation, linking
what is inside you
to the outside
physical world.
BODILY EXERCISE (ASANA)
The third limb of yoga is asana, or bodily exercise. Asanas are usually thought of as the
exercises that make up the practice of yoga. The term asana means “posture” or “pose,” but
the Sanskrit word asana comes from the root as, which means “to sit.” Being seated is “the
act of being steady” both emotionally and physically. When your body is alive and your
breathing is free, your biological energy is flowing. You become awake and aware of your
moods and emotions. You connect your body with your emotional self. You build a
physical platform for responding to your emotional needs.
As you practice the asanas, you become aware that your emotions are inside your body,
where even deeper messages and memories are stored. It is here, in your somatic
experience, that your emotions are found and healed.
The postures of yoga can be used as therapy to strengthen your ability to cope with
emotional and physical stress and influence a range of complex bodily changes: increased
alertness and muscle tone, improved heart rate, stabilized blood pressure, deeper
respiration, and increased circulation to the muscles. These transform the way you use your
body in daily life. The result is overall immune strengthening, increased ability to transform
negative qualities of the mind, and conditioning of the entire system.
As you perform the asanas, you cooperate with your body and mind to look inside
yourself moment by moment. You bring attention to what you feel, and you clarify your
emotions. The more focused, specific, and personal your asanas are, the more emotionally
transformative they become.
The third limb of yoga teaches you how to use your body as a vehicle for emotional selfhealing
and balance. As you move within the postures, you learn either to expand your
energy and tonify your system or to settle and reduce the agitations of your body and mind.
Asanas become more than just bodily postures. They become emotional tools for deep
transformation and change.
Posture or Bodily Exercise (Asana)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 46:
Asana or posture is that which is stable and comfortable. When properly practiced, one is both alert and relaxed
You are always in a physical posture. You can’t avoid it. You are also always in an
emotional posture. Your body is not emotionally innocent. It is directly related to the
emotional state you find yourself in. This connection between the body and the emotions
is so strong, you can almost observe people’s moods by watching them walk across the
room. You can tell if they’re excited, disappointed, or mad, simply by seeing them move.
The reverse can also hold true. Notice that when you change your walk from a
downhearted trudge to an excited clip, your mood shifts as well. When you stand tall and
straight, you feel better. When you enter your body, you enter your emotions.
WHAT MOVES YOU?
A few years ago I heard a fascinating remark: “There is no such thing as a completely sick
person, or a completely healthy person. There are only those who move more and those
who move less.” If movement means life, lack of movement means lack of life.
Realistically, if you put yourself in a chair for eight hours curled over a keyboard or
calculator, and you do this day after day, your body will probably have the makings of a
structural disaster. If you don’t move it, you’ll lose it. This goes for your emotions as well.
Staying emotionally wound up makes for its own kind of disaster.
You need to move. You are a body in motion—dynamic—not static like a piece of
sculpture. Your body has a living pulse inside, a fluid flow of energy and intelligence. The
more you move, the more intelligence you feel. The more intelligence you feel, the more
emotionally alive you are.
Yoga is movement. In yoga, there is a big difference between movement and exercise.
Movement in your body is a neuromuscular event as well as an emotional one, resulting
from the integrated activity of your entire nervous system. Your nervous system initiates,
controls, and monitors all movement within your body and mind, and connects all the parts
with its intelligence. If you move your body, you move your emotions. Moving your
emotions will similarly affect your body. Whenever you move, you transform things.
So, when you move, what moves you? Is it your emotions, your intelligence, or your
muscles? Did you ever think of muscles as being intelligent? As a matter of fact, the
intelligence of muscles is extraordinary. Muscles have been given a bad rap. They are
thought of in terms of brute force—something to pump up. But muscles are not the
opposite of brains; muscles are not dumb. They have a remarkable intelligence-gathering
capacity. Once you learn how to apply this intelligence to your emotions, you will gain
both sensitivity and power. This you can learn through the movements of yoga.
What about moving your emotions? Have you ever watched a film of a tiger chasing a
gazelle? As you observe the predator chasing his prey, the fear in your body begins
building. Your stomach tightens, your heart beats faster, your breath gets shorter. Just
watching an animal being chased triggers the fight-or-flight response of your sympathetic
nervous system. Once the film is over, you notice almost immediately that your feelings
begin to dissipate. As time passes, the sensations of fear cease to exit. Your emotions have
moved—from calm to anxious, to fearful, and back to calm again. Emotions such as fear,
anxiety, apprehension, and fright always take a cycle. They build to a climax, slow down,
and eventually disappear. This cycle happens all the time in response to some threat,
physical or emotional.
Emotional crisis or trauma takes you back to your animal ancestry and to your human
origins as well. It shows you your system is utterly resilient, because you can change your
emotional state, from being stuck—even as a result of a traumatic event—to a healthy
emotional flow. The more you’re conscious of how your emotional current moves through
you, the more emotionally resilient you’ll be.
Part of the ability to move your emotions has to do with specifically moving your body.
Your body plays a primary role in your emotional moves. Through the asanas of yoga, you
can design whole new sequences of emotional intervention. The capacity for shaping your
emotional state reaches its heights through the practice of asana.
Let’s look at the fundamental tools of asana from the perspective of Viniyoga. Viniyoga
has to do with the application of the tools of yoga, rather than a particular yoga style. It is a
methodology for understanding and utilizing ancient principles, making them relevant to
your personal needs. Through Viniyoga, you learn how to link the various practices of yoga
to your daily life.
The following principles of asana will prepare you to move deeply and effectively in the
postures described later.
A HEALTHY SPINE
The spine is the pathway of the emotions. Every sensation you have passes through your
spinal cord. The spine is also the structural core and the foundation of every movement you
make. True strength means maintaining a balanced relationship between all parts of your
spine—your head, neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, and pelvis. A healthy, balanced,
erect spine is possible when all the parts relate to the whole. The health of your spine is
linked to the health of your whole body. In fact, having a youthful, flexible spine means
having a youthful, flexible body.
Any movement you make can be observed from the perspective of your spine. Reaching
for a can of soup on the top shelf extends the muscles of your spine. Bending to tie your
shoes stretches your lower back. The only difference between this and doing the asanas is
that with the asanas, you consciously intend to move. You explore the natural functioning
of your body and at the same time you apply some intelligence to it. Moving your spine
with intelligence and intention balances the energy in your spine and aligns your emotional
body. This is the goal of the asanas—to bring life to your spine and freedom to your
motion.
There are many different ways the spine can move. In the practice of asana, all the
classical postures are categorized and designed according to the five movements of the
spine:
1. Forward bend
2. Backward bend
3. Lateral bend
4. Twist
5. Extension
These five movements can be done in any of the following six positions or directions:
1. Sitting
2. Kneeling
3. Standing
4. Prone (lying on your stomach)
5. Supine (lying on your back)
6. Inverted
By combining the different spinal motions and positions, you create a full range of
movement possibilities for your body.
The asanas change the chemistry of your muscle tissue by expanding and contracting your
muscles as you move. This creates balanced strength as well as flexibility. When you apply
both muscular contraction and muscular relaxation (the shortening and the lengthening of
your muscles) as you execute a pose, you feel a different sense of the posture. This
“swinging effect” of moving back and forth, or flexing and extending the antagonistic
muscle groups in sequence, brings considerable circulation and suppleness to the muscle
tissue. Moving pumps your energy and blood flow and has a powerful effect on your
emotional energy. By shifting your emphasis from staying in the pose to moving in the
pose, you allow your body to find its own natural balance. This dynamic approach is the
opposite of forcing balance through the effort of holding still.
When you put together conscious attention, deep breathing, and stretching your muscles,
you massage, stretch, and tone your spine and deeply affect your internal fluids, organs, and
glands. You gain not only physical strength but immune strength, stamina, and flexibility in
a way that no other exercise can bring.
To get the most from these bodily exercises of yoga, it is better not to practice them
randomly. Take the exercises one step at a time, make them appropriate for you, and
eventually you will arrive at a place you have not been to before.
Physically, arriving somewhere new can look like this: “Today, I sit on the floor and can
barely stretch my legs. After several weeks of practice, I can not only sit erect, but I can
stretch and bend forward easily.” Emotionally, it can look like this: “Today, I feel sluggish
and slightly depressed. After my practice, I feel happier, balanced, and more invigorated.
Now I feel like going out, or working on my project, or playing with the kids.” Spiritually,
it may look like this: “I feel I have grown and moved to deeper level.” When you use the
tools of yoga sequentially, over time, and integrate them together, the impossible becomes
possible.
PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES
Once you learn the strategy behind what you are doing, you’ll feel a lot more confident as
you perform the postures. Learn the principles of asana before you begin your practice.
For a more complete and detailed understanding of how to apply yoga to individual
needs, I recommend Gary Kraftsow’s book, Yoga for Wellness (Penguin Putnam, 1999).
The practices for the following limbs include the elements of these principles:
1. Breathing and Movement
As you move, you’ll place emphasis on your breathing and how it affects your spine.
2. Repetition
You’ll move into and out of a pose many times and then combine movement with
staying in a pose.
3. Sequencing
You’ll include an intelligent order to your practice.
4. Adaptation
You’ll adapt the form of the asana to meet your individual needs.
1. Breathing and Movement
Breathing is one of the most important principles of asana. Therefore, throughout your
practice, all movement should be a natural extension of your breath. The action of
breathing is what links your attention to the movement of your spine. In this way, your
breathing guides the movement from the inside. It is the medium through which the
movement happens. The postures actually emerge from your breath.
Here are some guidelines for coordinating your movement with your breath:
With any movement you do away from the center of your body, and as you extend
your spine, you inhale. This includes the actions of axial extension and arching your
upper back, as in a back bend. When you inhale, you encourage expansion of the
upper chest and the vertical lengthening of your spine. Emotionally, inhalation is
associated with increased energy, strength, nourishment, and cultivating positive
feelings.
With any movement you do toward or into the center of your body, and as you
compress your abdomen, you exhale. This includes the actions of forward bending,
twisting, and lateral bending. When you exhale, you encourage abdominal
contraction and the bending or flexion of your spine. Emotionally, exhalation is
associated with stabilization, relaxation, purification, and the shedding of negative
feelings.
This natural relationship between movement and breath occurs in all poses, from the
simplest to the most complex. Every movement is done through a full, conscious breath.
Breathing is the best part of the game. So, try to stay deeply aware of your breathing.
In yoga, your breathing should never be arbitrary. Always apply it consciously, right from
the start. Don’t just slap the breath on top of the movement like a piece of cheese on a
sandwich. Breathe first, then move. Your movement develops out of your experience of the
flow of your breath. If you keep your attention on your breathing the whole time, you will
experience miraculous effects.
2. Repetition
Repetition is a powerful tool for changing your emotional energy. As Duke Ellington once
said, “To swing is to be at one with the universe.” Swinging is such a great image. It takes
the idea of a static pose and shoots loads of life into it. Although you don’t actually swing
back and forth as you move, having the image of swinging helps you think of letting go, as
if you were dancing the pose. It moves your energy and changes how you feel.
When you perform the asanas, you will link your awareness to your movement and to
the controlled flow of your breath. Your awareness moves as you breathe, and your
breathing swings as you move. In this way, you become one with the pose.
There are three distinct ways in which you will perform movement in the asanas:
DYNAMICALLY: When you move dynamically in a posture, you will repeat the
movement several times by starting in a position, moving toward another position,
and then moving back to the starting position again.
STATICALLY: To stay means that you remain in the posture and hold it for one or two
breaths. Staying usually comes after you move into and out of the pose a number of
times. Staying allows you to explore the posture and go deeper. This brings
emotional stability and strength. As you stay in a pose, you will continue to breathe
deeply and link the awareness of your breathing to the movement of your spine.
Being static does not mean you are being rigid. It means that you are
comfortable, and you can be in the pose without effort. You must feel the pose,
not just hang out in it.
COMBINING DYNAMIC AND STATIC: The effects of the posture will change when you
combine the practices of repeating the movement and staying in the pose. For
example, you may repeat a pose by moving in and out of it a few times to warm up
your body and prepare yourself to stay. Then you can hold the pose for a few breaths
and repeat the cycle.
In the asana practices that follow, you will never actually “arrive” at a pose. On a deeper
level, there is no such thing as a pose at all. The asanas are only moments flowing through
you.
3. Sequencing
Sequencing means arranging the different parts of a practice so they fit together in an
intelligent way. The word vinyasa literally means “arranging” or “placing” the body, mind,
or breath in a certain direction that leads to a I particular goal. A vinyasa or sequence refers
to the steps required to achieve that goal.
Sequences should always be practical and appropriate for the moment. For example, in
the morning, staring at a candle or sitting in a lotus position for two hours may not be ideal.
If you are depressed, simply meditating may not help. You might need to build your energy
or stimulate your body and mind, in which case you would choose something to help you
wake up, stimulate and invigorate you, loosen your stiff body, or prepare you for your
morning activity or work.
A different sequence works when you are agitated. You may want to relax and settle
your energy, not agitate yourself more. But in order to settle down, you may need to begin
with invigorating movements, gradually calm your energy, and end with relaxation. Your
evening practice should also support your needs—warming up before jogging, relaxing your
body after a grueling day of work, or getting ready for a night out dancing. Learning to
weave your practices into the nuances of your life is an art. However short or long, the
sequences you choose should always be appropriate for your emotional state, and never
arbitrary.
COUNTER POSES; In all asana sequences, you will use counter poses to take your body in
the opposite direction from the previous pose or series of poses. Counter poses help
balance your body and eliminate any resistance or strain that may have accumulated
in your practice.
REST: To complete your sequence, it is best to use rest By resting, you give your body
time to absorb the experience of your practice as you bring your attention back to
yourself Resting comfortably relaxes your entire system. If you need to, you can also
rest between the movements or at any time during your program.
LENGTH: A sequence can be long or short and can include any number of elements
within its framework. If you listen to your body as you go, and take it one step at a
time, you will never feel any disturbance or strain.
4. Adaptation
Adapting means tailoring the asanas to meet your specific conditions. However you adapt
the poses, respect who you are, not who you think you should be. Go at your own pace.
Stick to using a few sequences over a period of time to meet the physical needs of your
body or help you with your emotional condition. Just remember to keep adjusting your
sequences to your needs. Continue to monitor how you feel.
At any time during your practice, if it doesn’t feel good, adjust the form of your pose.
Change the base by widening or narrowing your stance, or by adjusting the moving part by
bending your knees, your elbows, or moving one arm at a time. The posture becomes
increasingly effective and fulfills its function when it makes you more conscious of your
body. This brings you deeper.
SKILL IN ACTION
Life is movement. You can’t stay in one place and continue the journey. So keep moving,
but do it in style.
Choose a comfortable, warm place to practice, away from distractions. Bathe or take a
shower first to wake up or to let go of the day’s activities. Prepare to turn your attention to
yourself. Wear loose, clean clothing, and have a mat, blanket, or towel on hand to define
your yoga space. It’s better not to eat right before you practice, so wait for a couple of
hours after your last meal.
Do your postures on the floor, a mat, or even a firm bed. Have a chair nearby to sit on
between poses, during your breathing practice, or for use in adapting the postures. The only
other equipment you’ll need is an open, relaxed, at-ease frame of mind. (If you don’t have
this when you start your practice, you will by the time you’re finished!)
Linking Awareness, Movement, and Breath
In the exercises, keep your breathing simple, and you will find that your breath comes
naturally as you move. Your breathing should initiate the movement. Place your conscious
awareness at the “origin of movement” by being very present in your mind as you begin to
breathe. Your mind goes to your breath and the movement follows. The expansion and
contraction of your muscles occurs via the movement of your breath. When your breath
ends, your movement will stop naturally.
As you continue breathing and moving, notice how the relationship builds between the
two. It’s a kind of meditation, where your movement follows the continued flow of your
breath. Keep your breathing soft, uniform, and reasonably long, and become aware of the
stillness at your center, as everything merges into one.
This is “skill in action”—a fusion of rhythm, deep connection, and endless delight. It’s
like making a dance. As choreographer Twyla Tharp said, “Put yourself in motion.”
Step 1. Self-referral Awareness
Start by sitting down on the floor or the chair, and be with yourself for a moment.
Find yourself and your awareness—the awareness that is always available to you.
Begin all your practices from this quiet place inside yourself, and you will establish a
foundation for going even deeper. This state is not an altered state of consciousness.
Rather, it is already occurring in your natural state of awareness. As you are sitting,
observe whatever bodily feelings are present. Notice that this takes no effort at all. It
is comfortable and easy. It is effortless awareness.
Step 2. Breathing Awareness
When you feel ready, deepen your breathing and continue to breathe easily through
your nose. Notice that as your attention shifts to your breath, your posture naturally
begins to change. Your posture and your breathing are intimately connected. Feel
this natural relationship between your movement and breath for a minute or two.
As you continue breathing, notice that there is an effortless pause between each of
your breaths. Every time your breathing turns the corner there is a moment or pause
preceding the beginning of the next breath. Each breath seems to arise out of this
pause between your inhalation and exhalation. Stay alert to this pause as you
continue to breathe consciously.
THE WHISPERING BREATH
If you are not already breathing with a soft airy sound, try something for a moment.
Whisper the word Ha. And listen to where this breath originates in your throat.
Now close your mouth, breathe through your nose, and create this same soft
whispering sound occurring when you breathe from the back of your throat (without
vocalizing). It sounds smooth and light, a rushing sound, like the wind through the
trees. Keep this air sound going softly, both on your inhalation and exhalation.
You are consciously controlling the flow of your breath by creating a valve as you
slightly contract the glottis muscle at the back of your throat. Feel the sensation of
the breath in your throat rather than in your nose. Breathe slowly and deeply, and
listen to the sound of your breath. Let the air do it for you. There is no need to force
it in or out. Just keep your breathing very smooth. And feel the sensation. I call this
the Whispering Breath.
This breathing technique is known as Ujjayi Pranayama. It helps you to stay focused
and attentive, invigorates as well as calms your body, and allows you to extend,
lengthen, and deepen your breathing during the practice of asana. The more strongly
you do it, the more heating effect it has. The slower and softer you do it, the more
cooling effect. Now, as you perform the movements of asana, continue using this
smooth, even, whispering sound of your breath.
THE WAVE
On your next inhalation, begin to emphasize the action in your upper chest first,
allowing your breath to move down toward your navel. Inhalation from your chest—
rather than your belly—encourages the expansion of your rib cage, the lengthening
and extension of your spine, and the stretching of the front of your body.
When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts downward, allowing the air to be drawn
into the lungs. Inhaling from your chest rather than from your belly facilitates the
extension of your spine, the elevation of your rib cage, and the expansion of your
chest.
As you exhale, progressively tighten your abdominal muscles from the pubic bone to
your belly, and from your belly to the solar plexus. You will feel a slight gathering
motion back into the center of your belly as your lower back rounds. Exhalation
encourages the contraction of your abdomen and the stretching or flexion of your
lower spine.
When you exhale, your diaphragm moves upward, pushing the air up and out. As you
consciously contract your belly on exhale, you stabilize the connection between your
pelvis and your lower back.
Inhalation is a wave from the top down, and exhalation is a wave from the bottom
up. The inhale moves in and down. The exhale moves up and out. As your
diaphragm moves, your breath moves, and as your breath moves, your spine moves.
Continue breathing in this wavelike motion, and keep your attention on the natural
rhythmic flow of your breath. Through this smooth, gradual, even flow, your body is
released back into its natural motion. I call this the Wave—it’s a magnificent motion
of your breath.
Step 3. Movement:Three-in-one Resonance
Now put your consciousness, movement, and breathing together into one fluid
process. As you move in the asanas, let each posture draw your attention inward and
evoke the healing response. These postures are merely vehicles to help you heal. Try
not to think of them as icons or positions you need to worship or master. Instead,
think of them as tools of awareness that will bring you greater health. The asanas
have no value in and of themselves except in how they serve your life, in how they
heal you emotionally.
Oddly enough, it’s what happens after your asana practice that counts: how you make
the experience resonate in your life and in your work, day after day. This is the intention
behind every practice. Asanas are there to improve the feelings within your body, and
when you feel your body and mind from within, you experience them not as separate parts
but as one integrated whole. So let the poetry run through you when you move. When you
practice the asanas, let them be uniquely yours. Then they’ll give your whole life punch.
Following are three asana practices:
1. The first practice is designed to illustrate a Langana (reduction) approach.
2. The second practice is designed to illustrate a Brhmana (tonification) approach.
3. The third practice is designed to illustrate a Samana (balancing) approach with
support.
Remember to breathe fully and deeply in every posture. This helps you to keep your
attention inward and supports a meditative state. It also engages your muscles, and
sends tone, energy, and awareness throughout your body.
You may keep your eyes closed in some of the postures but not in the standing ones.
Or you may lower your gaze.
Keep your attention following the flow of your breath. The awareness of your breath
is what’s most important, so please notice the breathing variations.
Langana (reduction) Practice
Intention: to deepen stability and relaxation, to increase circulation and purification,
to emphasize exhalation and hold after exhalation, forward bends and twists.
1.
Apanasana, Downward-Moving Vital Energy Posture
START lying on your back, knees bent, feet off the floor, placing your hands on or
behind your knees.
EXHALE gently, bring your knees and thighs toward your chest.
INHALE move your knees away from your chest, straightening your arms.
KEEP your hands on your knees, arms and shoulders relaxed. On exhalation, gradually
tighten your belly, dropping your chin slightly as you pull your knees in.
REPEAT 8 times, progressively lengthening the exhalation with each repetition.
INHALE
EXHALE
2
Cakravakasana, Goose Posture
START on your hands and knees, hips aligned over your knees, and hands and wrists
under and in alignment with your shoulders.
INHALE lift your chest forward and up.
EXHALE gently contract your belly round your lower back, and bring your chest
toward your thighs.
KEEP your chin slightly down as you come up, leading with your chest. On exhale,
drop your chin and try to bring your chest toward your thighs before sitting on your
heels. Avoid dropping your lower back or excessively rounding your upper back.
REPEAT 4 times, lengthening the exhalation with each repetition. Then exhale halfway
down and pause—holding 2 seconds after exhale—then exhale all the way down,
and hold 2 seconds after exhale. Inhale as you come up. Repeat 4 times.
INHALE
EXHALE
3.
Uttanasana, Upright Stretch Posture
START standing, arms at your sides, feet hip distance apart. (not shown)
INHALE raise your arms overhead from the front.
EXHALE bend forward, knees slightly bent, bringing your belly and chest toward your
thighs, hands next to your feet.
INHALE lift your chest and arms forward and up, flattening your upper back as you
come up.
BEND your knees and elbows slightly. Do not lift your spine with your head and neck.
REPEAT 4 times, progressively lengthening the exhalation with each repetition. Then
stay in the forward bend for 4 breaths: 2 times hold for 2 seconds after the
exhalation, and the last 2 times hold for 4 seconds after the exhalation.
INHALE
EXHALE
4.
Parivrtti Thkonasana, Twisting Triangle Posture
START standing with your feet parallel, slightly wider than your shoulders, and your
arms out to your sides at shoulder level.
EXHALE bend forward and twist. Bring your left hand to the floor, twisting your
shoulders to the right, right arm up, head turning up toward your hand.
INHALE lift your chest, bringing your arms back out to your sides, as you come up to
standing. Repeat on the other side with your right arm down, left arm up.
BEND (as necessary) the knee toward which you are twisting. On exhale, tighten your
belly and bend forward first, then twist.
REPEAT 4 times, alternating sides, then stay in the twist position 4 breaths on each
side: 2 breaths hold for 2 seconds after the exhalation, and the last 2 breaths hold for
4 seconds after the exhalation.
INHALE
EXHALE
5.
Vajrasana, Kneeling Posture
START standing on your knees, legs slightly apart, arms at your side. (not shown)
INHALE raise your arms from the front overhead.
EXHALE bend forward as you sweep your arms behind your back onto your sacrum,
and bring your chest to your thighs, head down. To gently stretch your neck, you may
also turn your head to one side on exhalation, resting on your cheek. (variation not
shown)
INHALE lift your chest forward and up, expanding your chest as you sweep your arms
wide out to the sides, and up overhead. Bring your head to center as you come up.
TIGHTEN your belly on exhale, and try to bring your chest to your thighs before sitting
on your heels. Avoid lifting your spine with your head and neck.
REPEAT 8 times. If turning your head, alternate sides with each repetition.
INHALE
EXHALE
6.
Bhujangasana, (adaptation) Cobra Posture
START lying on your belly, palms on the floor next to your shoulders, head turned to
one side.
INHALE lift your chest, bending one knee, and turn your head to the center.
EXHALE lower your chest to the floor; bringing your leg down, and turning your head
to the opposite side.
LET the head follow the spine as you lift your chest, without collapsing your neck
backward. On inhalation, pull back with your hands as you push your chest forward.
Lift your chest with your back rather than push up with your hands.
REPEAT 4 times, alternating each leg and turning head away from active leg. Repeat 4
times, bending both knees on inhalation as you lift your chest. Then stay up in the
backbend position with both knees bent for 4 more breaths.
EXHALE
INHALE
INHALE
7.
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana, Upward Spread Posture
START lying on your back, knees bent, arms at your sides. (not shown)
INHALE raise your arms overhead to the floor behind you, flattening your spine and
stretching your legs upward.
EXHALE bring your thighs toward your belly, hands on your knees, widening your
knees slightly apart.
BEND your elbows and knees slightly as you extend them. On inhalation, keep your
chin down slightly, and keep your buttocks on the floor.
REPEAT 6 times, lengthening the exhalation, and holding 2 seconds after each
exhalation.
INHALE
EXHALE
8.
Jathara Parivrtti, Abdominal Twist
START lying on your back with your arms out to your sides. Extend your left leg to a
ninety-degree angle.
EXHALE and twist, bringing your left leg toward your right hand, and turning your
head to the opposite side.
INHALE lift your leg back up to a ninety-degree angle.
STABILIZE your shoulders as much as possible on the floor; your knees can bend.
REPEAT 4 times on one side. Then stay in the twist for 4 breaths. Repeat on the other
side. When staying in the twist, inhale and slightly extend your spine, exhale and
tighten your belly, deepening the twist.
INHALE
EXHALE
9.
Janu Sirsasana, Head to Knee Posture
START with one leg extended forward, the other leg bent with your heel to the
opposite inner thigh, arms overhead.
EXHALE tighten your belly and bend forward, bringing your chest toward your thigh,
hands to your foot.
INHALE lift your chest and arms forward and up, flattening your upper back, arms
overhead.
BEND your extended knee slightly to stretch your low back.
REPEAT 4 times lengthening the exhalation with each repetition. Then stay down 4
breaths, holding 2 seconds after the exhalation (2 times) and then 4 seconds after the
exhalation (2 times). Repeat on the other side. As you stay in the posture, extend
your spine on inhalation, lifting your chest slightly. On exhalation, tighten your belly,
deepening the forward bend.
INHALE
EXHALE
10.
Dvipodo Pitham, Two-Footed Posture
START lying on your back, arms to the sides, knees bent, feet on the floor, parallel and
slightly apart.
INHALE lift your pelvis, and bring your arms overhead to the floor behind you,
keeping your chin down and your neck lengthened.
EXHALE tighten your belly, and bring your arms and your spine down, unwinding the
spine from the top down, one vertebra at a time.
PRESS down on both feet as you come up, keeping your neck and chin relaxed.
REPEAT 4 times, lengthening the exhalation with each repetition. Then stay up for 4
breaths, holding 2 seconds after each exhalation (2 times), then holding 4 seconds
after each exhalation (2 times).
INHALE
EXHALE
11.
Savasana, Corpse Posture
START lying on your back, arms to your sides, palms up.
CLOSE your eyes.
KEEP your body and mind completely relaxed, having an alert feeling awareness.
STAY for at least 3 to 5 minutes or longer.
Brhmana (tonification) Practice
Intention: to gradually build and increase energy, then return to relaxation, to
emphasize inhalation and hold after inhalation, nourishment, continuous strong
movements, and backward bends.
I.
Vajrasana and Cakravakasana Vinyasa,
Kneeling and Goose Posture
START standing on your knees, arms overhead.
EXHALE bend forward, bringing your arms to the floor in front of you.
INHALE lift your chest and come forward and up onto all fours.
EXHALE gently contract your belly, round your low back, and bring your chest toward
your thighs.
INHALE lift your chest and bring your arms forward and up, flattening your upper back,
and return to standing on your knees, arms overhead. Note: perform these postures
as one continuous movement sequence.
KEEP your chin slightly down when coming up on all fours, as you lead with your
chest. On exhale, drop your chin and try bringing your chest toward your thighs
before sitting on your heels. Avoid dropping your lower back or excessively rounding
your upper back.
REPEAT 8 times, progressively lengthening the inhalation with each repetition, and
holding 2 seconds after each inhalation.
INHALE
EXHALE
INHALE
2.
Samasthiti and Todasana, Equal Stability and Straight Tree Posture
START standing, arms at your sides, lengthening your head and neck and widening
your back.
INHALE rise onto your toes, bringing both arms overhead.
EXHALE lower your arms as you come back to standing.
EXTEND spine and lift your head slightly on inhalation as you lift your arms. Bring your
chin slightly down on exhalation as your arms come down.
REPEAT 8 times, progressively lengthening the inhalation and the hold after inhalation
—holding 0, 2, 4, then 6 seconds—repeating each (2 times).
EXHALE
INHALE
3.
Ardha Uttanasana, Half Upright Stretch Posture
START standing with your arms overhead, feet slightly apart and parallel.
EXHALE bend forward, bending your knees slightly, and bringing your belly and chest
toward your thighs, hands next to your feet.
INHALE lift your arms and chest forward and up, coming up halfway.
EXHALE tighten your belly as you bend forward, bringing your chest toward your
thighs, hands next to your feet.
INHALE come all the way up to standing, extending your chest and arms forward and
up, arms overhead.
Note: perform these postures as one continuous movement sequence.
KEEP your hands in alignment with your spine as you flatten your upper back. On
exhalation, bend your knees to help stretch your lower back. On inhaling up halfway,
avoid excessive arching of your lower back.
REPEAT sequence 6 times, holding 2 to 4 seconds after each inhalation.
INHALE
EXHALE
INHALE
4.
Parsvottanasana and Virabhadrasana Sequence, Side Stretch and Warrior Postures
START by stepping forward with one foot, your back foot turned slightly out, and your
arms overhead.
EXHALE bend forward over your front knee, bending your front knee, bringing your
chest to your thigh, and your hands next to your feet.
INHALE lift your torso and bring your arms up, keeping your front knee bent, open
your chest and arch your upper back while moving your chest slightly forward, elbows
slightly bent, shoulders back
INHALE
EXHALE bend forward over your front knee, bending your front knee, bringing your
chest to your thigh, and your hands next to your feet.
INHALE come up to starting position, legs straight, and arms overhead.
Note: perform these postures as one continuous movement sequence.
FEEL the opening of your chest without excessively arching your lower back Keep
your back heel down.
REPEAT 4 times on each side, holding 4 seconds after the inhalation.
EXHALE
INHALE
5.
Uttanasana and Ardha Utkatasana Sequence, Upright Stretch and Half-Squat Postures
START standing with your feet slightly apart, arms overhead.
EXHALE bend forward with your knees slightly bent, bringing your belly and chest
toward your thighs, hands next to your feet.
INHALE lift your chest and arms forward and up, flattening your upper back as you
come up to standing.
INHALE
EXHALE
EXHALE bend forward into a squat, bringing your chest to your thighs, knees and hips
parallel to the floor, hands next to your feet.
INHALE lift your chest, moving your arms forward and up, flattening your upper back
as you come back up to standing.
Note: perform these postures as one continuous movement sequence.
TIGHTEN your belly on exhalation. Flatten your upper back on inhalation and avoid
excessive arch in your lower back Knees are bent until standing.
REPEAT the entire sequence 6 times.
INHALE
EXHALE
6.
Ekapada Ustrasana, One-Footed Camel Posture
START standing on one knee in a lunge position, your front knee at a ninetydegree
angle to the floor; both hands on your knee.
INHALE lunge forward and lift your chest as you bring one arm up (opposite your
front leg), as you stretch your abdomen, thigh, and chest.
EXHALE lower your arm as you move back to starting, both hands on your knees.
REPEAT 4 times. Then for the next 4 repetitions, stay with your arm up—first for I
breath, then 2, then 3, then 4 breaths. Repeat the entire sequence on the other side.
While staying in the position, keep pushing your chest slightly forward, lifting your arm
while stretching the front of your body.
EXHALE
INHALE
7.
Salabhasana, Locust Posture
START lying on your stomach, legs together, your head turned to one side, hands
behind your back, resting on your sacrum.
INHALE lift your chest, sweeping both arms up overhead and lifting both legs, bringing
your head to the center. Lift chest slightly before your legs.
EXHALE lower your chest, sweeping your arms behind your back, lowering both legs,
and turning your head to the opposite side.
REPEAT 6 times, and then stay up for 2 breaths, and repeat (2 times). When staying
on inhale, lift your chest slightly higher.
EXHALE
INHALE
8.
Dhanurasana, Bow Posture
START lying on your stomach, hands holding on to your ankles, forehead resting on
the floor.
INHALE lift your chest up and bring your shoulders back, while pulling back on your
legs, and lift your knees off the floor.
EXHALE bring your chest and knees down, resting on your forehead.
REPEAT 4 times. Then stay up for 4 breaths, lifting your chest slightly higher with each
inhalation.
EXHALE
INHALE
9.
Vajrasana, Kneeling Posture
START standing up on your knees, legs slightly apart, arms at your sides.
INHALE raise your arms from the front overhead.
EXHALE bend forward as you sweep your arms behind your back and onto your
sacrum, and bring your chest to your thighs, head down. To gently stretch your neck
You may turn your head to one side on exhalation, resting on your cheek. (variation
not shown)
INHALE lift your chest forward and up, expanding your chest as you sweep your arms
wide out to the sides, and up overhead.
BRING your chest to your thighs before sitting on your heels. Avoid lifting your spine
with your head and neck.
REPEAT 6 times. If turning head, alternate sides with each repetition.
INHALE
EXHALE
10.
Pascimatanasana, Stretch to the West Posture
START sitting with both legs straight out in front of you, your spine lengthened, arms
overhead.
EXHALE bend forward, slightly bending your knees, bring your chest toward your
thighs, hands holding your feet.
INHALE lift your arms and chest forward and up, flattening your upper back as you
come up, arms overhead.
REPEAT 4 times, then stay in the forward bend for 4 breaths. While staying in the
posture, extend your spine on inhalation, lifting your chest slightly. On exhalation,
tighten your belly, deepening the forward bend.
INHALE
EXHALE
11.
Dvipada Pithom, Two-Footed Posture
START lying on your back, arms to your sides, knees bent, feet on the floor parallel
and slightly apart.
INHALE lift your pelvis, and bring your arms overhead to the floor behind you,
keeping your chin down and your neck lengthened.
EXHALE tighten your belly and bring your spine down, unwinding it from the top
down, one vertebra at a time.
PRESS down on your feet as you come up, keeping your neck and chin relaxed.
REPEAT 6 times.
EXHALE
INHALE
12.
Savasana, Corpse Posture
START lying on your back, arms to your sides, palms up.
CLOSE your eyes.
KEEP your body and mind completely relaxed, having an alert feeling awareness.
STAY for at least 3 to 5 minutes or longer
Samana (balancing) Practice with Support
Intention: to deepen stability and relaxation, to build confidence and endurance, to
create strength and flexibility, to emphasize lengthening both the inhalation and
exhalation and hold after inhale and exhale, calming sounds, and simple movements
and breathing seated in a chair with support.
1.
Seated Movement and Breathing with Sound
START sitting in a chair, feet parallel, head slightly bowed, and hands over your heart.
INHALE raise your arms wide out to the sides, opening your chest, and lifting your
head and arching your back slightly. Pause for a moment.
EXHALE tighten your belly, bringing both hands to your heart, and then pause.
REPEAT 4 times, and then repeat 4 more times, opening your mouth and sounding the
word Ahhhh or Ma as you exhale, slowly placing both hands over your heart. Pause
there with your head slightly bowed after each repetition.
EXHALE
INHALE
2.
Uttanasana, Upright Stretch in a Chair
START sitting in a chair, hands on your knees. Lengthen your spine and neck, and
widen your back. (see photo p. 104)
INHALE lift your arms wide out to the sides.
EXHALE bend forward, bringing your belly and chest toward your thighs, hands next to
your feet.
INHALE lift your chest, flattening your upper back as you come up, arms up and wide
out to the sides.
BRING your hands to shoulder level on inhale, with elbows slightly bent, lifting your
chest. On exhalation, you can also slide your hands down your legs to your feet.
REPEAT 8 times. Gently deepen both the inhalation and exhalation with each
repetition.
INHALE
EXHALE
3.
Parsvottanasana, Side Stretch with Support
START by stepping forward with one foot, your back foot turned slightly out, hips
facing forward, arms overhead.
EXHALE bend forward over your front knee, bending your front knee, and bringing
your chest toward your thigh, hands resting on the chair.
INHALE lift your chest forward and up, keeping your hands resting on the chair, arch
your upper back, with elbows slightly bent, shoulders back
EXHALE tighten your belly and bend forward over the front knee, keeping your knee
bent, and bring your chest toward your thigh, hands still resting on the chair
INHALE lift your chest forward and up, and bring your arms up overhead, straightening
the front knee.
Note: perform these postures as one continuous movement sequence.
KEEP your breathing slow, steady, and smooth.
REPEAT 4 times on each side.
INHALE
EXHALE
INHALE
4.
Seated Rest with Breathing
START sitting upright in a chair, your spine and neck lengthened, your back widened,
and hands on your thighs. Close your eyes.
INHALE slowly and deeply from your upper chest first.
EXHALE gently and slowly, gradually tightening your belly from the bottom up.
REPEAT for 10 breaths. Gently deepen both your inhalation and exhalation, keeping
the exhalation slightly longer than the inhalation, and pause slightly after each breath.
5.
Cakravakasana, Goose Posture
START on your hands and knees, hips aligned over your knees, and hands and wrists
under and in alignment with your shoulders.
INHALE lift your chest forward and up.
EXHALE gently contract your belly, round your lower back, and bring your chest
toward your thighs.
KEEP your chin slightly down as you come up, leading with your chest. On exhale,
drop your chin and try to bring your chest toward your thighs before sitting on your
heels. Avoid dropping your lower back or excessively rounding your upper back
REPEAT 8 times.
INHALE
EXHALE
6.
Bhujangasana, Cobra Posture
START lying on your belly, palms on the floor next to your shoulders, head turned to
one side.
INHALE lift your chest and turn your head to the center
EXHALE lower your chest to the floor, turning your head to the opposite side.
LET your head follow the spine as you lift your chest, without collapsing your neck
backward. On inhalation, pull back with your hands as you push your chest forward.
Lift your chest with your back rather than push up with your hands. Keep shoulders
down.
REPEAT 8 times. With each repetition, gently lengthen the inhalation and pause.
EXHALE
INHALE
7.
Ekapada Apanasana, One-Footed Downward-Moving Vital Energy Posture
START lying on your back with one knee bent and foot on the floor, and one knee
bent and foot off the floor placing your hands on or behind your knee.
EXHALE gently bring your knee and thigh toward your chest.
INHALE move your knee away from your chest, straightening your arms.
KEEP your hands on your knees, with arms and shoulders relaxed. On exhalation,
gradually tighten your belly, dropping your chin slightly as you pull your knee in.
REPEAT 8 times on one side, then repeat on the other side, progressively lengthening
the exhalation and pause with each repetition.
INHALE
EXHALE
8.
Savasana, Corpse Posture with Support
START lying on your back, arms to your sides, palms up, with a comfortable support
under your head and your knees.
CLOSE your eyes.
KEEP your body and mind completely relaxed, having an alert feeling awareness.
STAY for at least 3 to 5 minutes or longer
Limb Four
LOVE
DISCERNING THE DIFFERENCES
Love is the glue that holds things together as well as the boundary that defines and
separates them. This discernment quality sees the difference between two things and holds
them separate so that they may know each other. One end of love is absolute separation.
The other end is absolute union. In our relationships, we discern our differences so that we
may know both ourselves and one another.
To discern means to see, recognize, discriminate, or distinguish. When you discern
something, you recognize that it’s different from something else. You specifically recognize
that it is different from you. As Limb Four of Emotional Yoga, Love is the ability to
perceive yourself as the one who is discerning your emotions. When you connect yourself
with an emotion, you hold it apart from you in order to perceive it as separate. In an
emotional self-inquiry, you discern the difference between yourself, what you feel, and the
discernment process itself. You exist on the cusp between yourself and the emotional
experience. Within this state of clarity you discover the meaning of the emotional grip.
Then you can decide how much—if at all—you wish to link yourself to it.
This concept of love is obviously different from any idea of romantic love. But in order
to have romantic or even spiritual love, you have to have discernment. You can’t just merge
with someone or something. No matter how close you are to someone, there is always
something separating you. And no matter how distant you are from someone, there is
always a connection between you. Love is a discernment quality, a recognition of the one
and the other. It is the nexus between two dissimilar things, and this connection breeds
hope, faith, and the possibility of a future. Although love acts as a unifying force between
things, the strength of love lies in the differences.
DISCERNING THE SELF
When you discern your emotions, you become more aware of who you are. And it’s important to
be curious and playful about asking yourself who you are. So, who are you? Do you define yourself
by your past, present, or future accomplishments; by your profession or your income; by your
spiritual beliefs or your physical attributes? Or do you define yourself by something transcending all
these things? If there was nothing you needed to do, create, add to, or separate yourself from who
you are right now, who would you be?
Love says: You don’t need to find yourself, you need to discover or perhaps uncover
yourself This is the real practice of discernment. When you discern your emotions, you can
easily be aware of the one who is doing the feeling.
The truth is, you are not your emotions—or your thoughts or your fears. Having an
emotion is simply having a powerful energy moving through you. Once you consciously
discern the difference between you and the emotions you are having, your emotions will
just keep on moving through. Feeling your body, feeling your emotions, and noticing the
one who feels are all yoga techniques to help you recognize that there is a big difference
between what you feel and who you are.
In the spiritual tradition of yoga, even the most elementary procedures are practices of
discernment, helping us realize the degree to which we lose ourselves to the objects of our
perception. When we actually experience this realizing awareness, we are experiencing
what yoga calls the “yoga state”—the state of pure discernment.
In the following inquiry, you are not processing information or analyzing something.
You are standing back and viewing the whole, discerning what matters and what does not,
feeling the depth, the meaning of things.
Try pushing back into the source of your awareness and ask yourself:
Am I the objects outside of me? Am I my feelings? Am I my thoughts? Or am I
effortlessly aware of all these things?
Say to yourself and feel:
I am more than just my body. I am more than my mind. I am more than the emotions I
see and feel. I am the one who sees, perceives, and feels. I am the one who observes.
Dive deep inside yourself and discover what is real. Whatever happens, it happens to
you. Whatever you do, the doer is in you. You are the one experiencing all of this.
You are the one who is here right now. Feel the difference between the words you
are reading, the experience of reading, and the one who is actually doing the
reading.
You are the observing self, the discerning self. But how deep, how high do you go?
Go deeper, higher, wider. Push back into the very heart of your self. Become aware
of your own field of attention. Realize it in yourself, in nature, in everyone, and
engage it gracefully in everything you do.
IT TAKES HEART TO FEEL
It takes commitment to live from your heart. It takes patience to come back to yourself, to believe
in yourself, and to discern who you are. Awareness of yourself opens your feelings. Awareness of
your feelings opens your heart.
Your emotions are a tremendous source of energy and strength. Even the minor pains
and anxieties flowing through you are opportunities to sense, touch, and be touched by
your own heart when it is heavy with disappointment, loneliness, or fear. It takes heart to
go into your own pain. But as you meet each emotion, you will know that what it offers is
the real chance to move closer to love.
There is an emotion deeply connected to the heart of love. That emotion is courage.
When you feel insecure, uncertain, or stuck in aversion or fear, you can learn to investigate
the emotion by sinking into the very moment of it. Remaining in your uncertainty or fear—
not knowing what is going to happen—builds a reservoir of courage. The thing with fear is
that you must do what you need to do even if it’s there. The courage comes when you are
honest with your fear, when you allow yourself to notice it and keenly observe whatever’s
there. This sense of truthfulness, perseverance, and inquiry into your emotional reality is
courage. When courage comes, everything else follows.
Choosing to go headlong into the unknown comes with its own dose of fear. But fear is
natural. It’s human. Resisting your fear, however, creates even more fear. On one hand,
trying to control the next moment negates the possibility for growth, because growth
cannot be pushed or restrained. It needs the freedom to happen naturally. On the other
hand, allowing total openness and freedom without boundaries can create an atmosphere of
uncertainty, which is often frightening. But this is what keeps you alert to yourself and your
emotions. It may take some time, maybe hours, even days to build emotional courage. Your
heart might start beating faster, but this means you are alive. Every fiber is alive. And if you
keep on moving through your fears by following them to their roots, you may feel more
boundless. Then, no matter how new or strange your fears might be, they will gradually
subside. Eventually, there will be no fear at all.
Love helps you
discern your
emotional Self,
enhancing the
energy and vitality
of your body
and mind.
CONSCIOUS BREATHING (PRANAYAMA)
The fourth limb of yoga is conscious breathing, or pranayama. The Sanskrit word
pranayama comes from the root prana, meaning “life,” and ayama, meaning “to extend.”
Pranayama is the art of extending your vital energy or life force by regulating the natural
flow of your breath.
According to the science of pranayama, prana has many levels of meaning, spanning the
physical breath all the way to the energy of life itself. The prefix pra means “forward,” and
na means “to go” or “to travel.” Therefore, prana is the basic life force or biological energy
traveling throughout the entire nervous system, reaching every part, and is responsible for
all physiological functions and their emotional effects. By deliberately changing the pattern
of your breathing, you can affect change on all levels—physical, mental, emotional, and
spiritual. Simply put, pranayama is the conscious mastery of the various energies that give
you life.
Limb Four of yoga teaches you to use your breathing as a vehicle for emotional healing
and balance. Considered the primary tool for self-development in yoga, pranayama helps
you to contact deeper and subtler emotional states by making conscious what is ordinarily
an unconscious pattern of breathing. Creating a state of restful alertness, it promotes
lucidity and mental clarity. It also calms agitated states such as anger and anxiety and
improves the vitality of your body and mind. Directing your attention into the process of
breathing becomes a powerful emotional tool to optimize health, increase longevity,
dissolve fear, open your heart, and develop higher states of consciousness.
Conscious Breathing (Pranayama)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 49;
Conscious breathing is the awareness, regulation, and modification of the various components of breathing.
Your life is lived one breath at a time. Each breath is a point of consciousness, and each
breath is a way of moving consciousness. When you breathe and listen, you can change how
you think, feel, and express yourself.
Breathing calms your body. It also quiets your mind. It points out your agitated states
and smoothes them out. It gathers your mind’s distracting chatter and teaches you how to
focus in more deeply. Breathing feels good. It is emotional sanity.
Scientific research into the respiratory process confirms that the quality of your breathing
has dramatic physical effects as well as psychological ones. Through slow, rhythmic
respiration using the movement of your diaphragm, you can increase your relaxation
response; decrease your metabolic rate and blood-sugar levels; lower your heart rate; reduce
muscle tension, fatigue, and pain; and increase strength, mental and physical alertness,
confidence, and emotional stability.
The ancient yoga masters developed the practice of conscious breathing to balance the
emotions, clarify the mental processes, and integrate them into one functioning whole.
While it is well known that breathing has a significant impact on the brain, through the
yogic techniques of pranayama you can learn how to regulate your physical and emotional
states.
According to yogic texts, breathing is the vehicle carrying the life force, or prana,
throughout your body. But prana is more than breathing. Prana is life. It is vibratory power.
Prana connects your body to your mind and to your consciousness and spirit. Through prana,
you not only feel alive, but you are able to extend your life force to others, and guide your
energy, thoughts, and desires.
As you regulate the flow of prana in your body, you affect the quality of your mind.
When breathing slows down, the thinking process slows, and you attain steadiness. When
the mind becomes still, breathing is calm. When breathing almost stops, your mind comes
to a standstill and you enter a state of “restful alertness.” This is the beginning of
meditation.
Some people like to think they can get high from breathing in strange and unusual ways.
What actually happens is even better, a deep revitalization on many levels—physical,
emotional, and mental. Conscious breathing is considered the most powerful tool for
emotional healing. It gets the molecules of emotion diffusing rapidly throughout your
body’s systems.
Breathing balances the mind and brings concentration, mental vitality, and the ability to
discern more clearly how your emotions often distort your perception. Breathing thus
reveals the essence of an emotion.
Breathing is also a mirror of the body and mind’s reactions. It acts as a kind of safety
valve: If you are overstressed, your breathing is irregular and short; if you are happy, your
breathing is steady and long. Therefore, by observing your breathing, you can be alert to
what is happening within your body and mind. Once you learn about the infinite variations
and modulations of your breath and how they affect you, you can balance how you feel at
any time and in any situation.
A BRIEF NOTE ON CRYING (AND LAUGHING)
Crying—like laughing—is the most powerful and genuine emotional breathing release in your
system. It frees and cleanses you.
Remember how babies cry? They take a big deep breath and let out a huge wail. They
don’t hold back. They just let go and sound out their breath: Their long, long exhale cries
are followed by short, fast, inhale sobs as they begin to quiet down. Both laughing and
crying clean out your emotions. They clean out your thoughts, and they clean out your
body. Ever notice how you feel after you really laugh or cry? It’s like a river has run
through you.
Appreciate your breath the next time you laugh or cry. Allow it to support you and keep
you present with your feelings. Give yourself permission to cry, like a child. It’s okay. It’s
natural to cry. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are strong enough to take the
risk of letting go. And when you open yourself up, your breath flows more easily through
your system, flushing and rearranging your whole emotional structure.
THE BASIC COMPONENTS OF BREATHING
The simplest definition of pranayama is “to be with the breath.” What makes the practices of
pranayama unique is that your attention is fundamentally on the breath rather than on the body.
This happens when you deliberately control your breathing cycle by regulating one or more of your
breath’s four parts:
1. Exhalation
2. Hold or retention with empty lungs
3. Inhalation
4. Hold or retention with full lungs
The pause, marking the point at which the collapse of the breath occurs, is called
Kumbhaka (“pot”) in Sanskrit. This pause naturally comes after each incoming and each
outgoing breath. All yogic breathing exercises are created from the modifications of one or
more of these four phases of breath and combining them in relation to one another. It’s
that simple. (Yet not always so easy.) The point is to learn how to use your breath
intelligently and be conscious of how and why you breathe.
USING THE MOVEMENT OF YOUR DIAPHRAGM
The yogic exercises of pranayama cultivate and train the movement of the diaphragm to participate
with the abdomen, the intercostal muscles of the rib cage, and the upper chest. This happens with
the basic breathing pattern that I call the Wave. (See page 72.)
The general instruction according to the Viniyoga approach is:
Inhalation begins with the expansion of the upper chest and progresses downward toward
the navel as the diaphragm moves down.
Exhalation begins as a conscious contraction from the bottom upward, as the diaphragm
moves up and the air moves out.
Your attention should follow the natural flow of the breath—downward with the breath
on inhale, and upward with the breath on exhale. Please note: This is not “belly breathing,”
which starts by filling the belly first on inhale and progressively filling the lungs from the
bottom up.
In asana practice, the main focus is on the movement of your spine through the conscious
control of your breath. In pranayama, bringing your awareness to the movement of your
diaphragm activates, deepens, and extends the effects of your breathing.
GUIDELINES FOR BREATHING
Here are a few important guidelines to conscious breathing:
1. When you begin the practice of breathing, you must follow a certain order. (See
Warm-up Ritual, page 119.)
2. Begin the practice of breathing according to your ability, concentrating on exhalation,
inhalation, and retention, in that order. You can then work toward lengthening each phase.
Never hold your breath on inhale or exhale with force. Be especially careful when
holding your breath after inhalation, since pressure may build up in the muscles.
Increase the length of your breathing gradually.
If you feel any strain in your eyes, head, mouth, neck, shoulders, or spine, ease off and
rest. Keep your hands relaxed and your mouth soft. Start with shorter breathing cycles and
gradually work toward lengthening them. It’s simple—advance slowly.
3. Practice breathing while sitting straight, in a comfortable position, with eyes closed.
Many breathing exercises can be practiced seated or lying down. Choosing one or the
other changes the way you experience the exercise. Sitting supports more alertness. Lying
down tends to relax or even put you to sleep. Find the best posture by asking your body
what it wants to do. There is no one correct position for breathing, except when practicing
alternate nostril breathing, in which case you must be seated. The longer period of time
you practice, the easier the position you’ll need.
It’s important to cultivate good posture for breathing. Try lying down on a mat or
blanket, or lying on the floor with pillows under your knees and head. Try a supported
seated position on a couch or chair, or sitting on the floor with or without a blanket or
pillow for support. Try them all. Be flexible. Sustain a good seated position for some time
and stay comfortable, and you will unite your body and mind and start floating in the
present moment.
4. Keeping your mouth closed, breathe with a smooth and subtle sound passing from
your throat through your nostrils.
Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. Deliberately begin the Whispering
Breath from the back of your throat. (See pages 71, 123.) If some phlegm develops in your
throat as you breathe, it’s normal. Simply take a little bit of warm water and gargle first to
help clear your throat for breathing. You can also use the Whispering Breath when you
work out.
5. Breathing must be practiced on an empty stomach or at least two hours after a meal
6. Only when your breath is smooth and long should you progress to altering the various
components of the breath.
It takes a little practice to make the breath long and smooth. It’s worth taking the time,
though. If you don’t, you will miss something valuable. Slow down and notice what you
didn’t notice. Then you can begin to monitor the other components of your breath:
Time and ratio is the length or duration of the inhalation, exhalation, and retention,
which creates an equal or unequal ratio of breathing.
Number of breaths is how many times you repeat a certain ratio or component of the
breath. For example, inhaling for six counts, exhaling for six, then repeating this cycle four
times.
Building a ratio or breathing threshold is a strategy that takes you step by step,
progressively preparing your breath for the main goal, and then gradually bringing you out
of it.
The focus of your attention often follows the flow of your breath. On inhalation your
attention follows your breath as it comes into the chest area. On exhalation your attention
is naturally drawn to your belly.
The quality of your breath should be long, slow, and refined, not too loud, and never
rough. Use the sound of your breath to monitor any difficulty with your practice.
Pay attention, and ask yourself: What is the sound of my breath? Is it steady and smooth?
Loud or quiet? What is the duration? Is it short or long? Am I aware of the pauses between
my breaths? What is going on in my mind as I breathe? Is my posture comfortable? Do I
feel hot or cold? Notice the way your body responds during and after your practice.
Resting: If you have time, lie down and rest at the end of your breathing practice. Stay a
little while without getting up, and make a gradual transition into your next activity. Do
this, and you’ll feel better. If you feel any tension building in your neck and shoulders, in
your upper back, between your shoulder blades, in your jaw, or around your eyes—or if you
feel more irritated than when you began—you are probably going beyond what is
comfortable for you. Stop, lie down, and feel where the tension is. Then go back and find
the natural ease with which your breath moves. If this tension happens with regularity,
check with a qualified teacher.
Breathing is one of the greatest secrets of yoga—if you practice it with sincerity, you will
obtain emotional healing powers beyond your imagination. Yet, breathing itself is not a
secret. It’s right there. If you train yourself in one area only, be awake to your breath. It’s
that basic. You can build your whole life around it.
BREATHING LESSONS
When choosing a breathing practice, do it with the intention to regulate certain states of
emotional and physical arousal or nonarousal. The simple introductory practices to follow
include inhalation (tonifying) and exhalation (reducing) exercises, alternate-nostril
techniques, and a combination of different inhale/exhale ratios.
Carefully choose from the practices and modify them to your needs. Do them alone or
after asana practice. Pranayama is a detailed and profound science, and in the beginning it’s
always best to find a qualified teacher. Taking good care of yourself is essential for proper
breathing. As the Zen master Katagiri Roshi once said, “When you take care of something,
it lives a long time.”
Step 1. Warm-up Ritual
Before you sit to breathe, always begin by moving a little, observing your breathing for
some time, and then exploring the variations of your breath. If you have already practiced a
program of asanas, proceed to step 2.
Start your warm-up by lying on your back so your body doesn’t have to fight gravity.
As you lie down, get comfortable and close your eyes. Tune in silently to what is
happening in your body right now. When you are ready, gently place one hand on
your lower abdomen and one hand on your chest. Start to breathe through your nose
and pay attention to the flow of your breath. Gradually allow your breathing to
deepen.
As you begin to inhale, feel one hand move up with the expansion of your upper
chest, observing how your breath moves in and down toward your navel. As you
begin to exhale, feel your other hand move down toward the floor with the
contraction of your belly, observing how your breath moves up and out. Stay with
the flow of your breath.
PREPARING WITH MOVEMENT AND BREATH
(Illustration not shown)
1.
Tadakamudra, Tank Posture
START lying on your back, legs straight out or knees bent, with both hands at your
sides.
INHALE slowly raise both arms over your head to the floor behind you.
EXHALE tighten your belly and slowly bring both arms back down to your sides.
COORDINATE your movement with your breath, and keep your attention on your
breathing the whole time. Allow the movement to actually emerge from your breath.
REPEAT 8 times, lengthening the inhalation and exhalation with each repetition, and
holding for 2 seconds after both the inhalation and the exhalation.
(See page 85)
2.
Dvipada Pitham, Two-Footed Posture
START lying on your back with your arms at your sides, both knees bent, feet on the
floor, parallel and slightly apart.
INHALE lift your pelvis, bringing both arms up overhead to the floor behind you,
keeping your chin down and your neck lengthened.
EXHALE tighten your belly, and bring your arms and your spine down, unwinding the
spine from the top down, one vertebra at a time.
PRESS down on both feet as you come up, keeping your neck and chin relaxed.
REPEAT 8 times, lengthening the inhalation and exhalation with each repetition.
(See page 75)
3.
Apanasana, Downward-Moving Vital Energy Posture
START lying on your back, knees bent, feet off the floor, with your hands on or behind
your knees.
EXHALE gently, bringing your knees and thighs toward your chest.
INHALE move your knees away from your chest, straightening your arms.
KEEP your hands on your knees and your arms and shoulders relaxed. On exhalation,
gradually tighten your belly, dropping your chin slightly as you pull your knees in.
REPEAT 8 times, progressively lengthening the exhalation with each repetition.
(See pages 104 and 174)
4.
Sukhasana, Easy Seated Posture
ROLL over and come up to a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair.
Close your eyes and wait for a moment, preparing the ground for breathing. As you
settle in, feel your entire body—your limbs, your bones, your muscles, your
ligaments. Sense your organs, your glands, your nerves, your fluids. Feel the whole,
the relationship of the tissues and limbs.
Grounding: Feel the full weight of your body. Feel your “sit” bones making contact
with the chair or floor. Dive deeper into yourself. Fill your body with your
awareness, and sink your attention down to the ground. Meet with the earth.
Ascending: Sense the top of your head and your shoulders. Feel the length of your
spine, vertebra by vertebra. Feel the flow of your attention projecting up through the
ceiling toward the sky. Touch the sky and project yourself even higher. At the same
time as you are rising, feel the ground below. You are sitting, and breathing, that’s
all. Total receptivity. Let go of what was, and open yourself to what is.
Step 2. Breathing Awareness
Effects: Settling and soothing agitated states such as anger, anxiety, or fear.
Shift your attention to the flow of your breath and observe how it comes and goes.
Ride your breath like a wave. Inhale and pause.
Then exhale and pause. Inhale all the way to the end of your breath, and feel the
completion of the breath, waiting for the next breath to begin. Exhale all the way to
the end, and feel the completion of the breath, waiting for the next breath to begin.
Lengthen your breath naturally, following it with awareness.
Notice that as the physical breath ends, a part of it continues on an energetic level.
Feel it come to its completion in silence. Wait in that silence. With every new
breath, allow your attention to rest more deeply into the pause. Feel how the breath
begins as an energetic pulse, then moves into the physical body and takes you with it
into the next inhaling breath.
The breath comes in, and stops. The breath goes out, and stops. It is effortless. You
are pouring the inward into the outward breath, and the outward into the inward
breath. Then the breath ceases flowing in the silent space between each breath.
Listen to the silence. Surrender to it, and breathe again. Be in that silence. Feel
yourself turning back upon yourself as you breathe.
Step 3. The Whispering Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
Effects: Helps control and deepen the flow of breath; focuses awareness; slightly heating.
Practice the Whispering Breath (see page 71) in all exercises including throat
breathing. You will not need to use it when you are breathing through alternate
nostrils or through your mouth. Use it both when you are seated and when you are
lying down. As you breathe, let your awareness follow the rhythmic motion of your
diaphragm, and gradually lengthen each part of your breath until you reach your
maximum length. Then progressively reduce the length of your inhalation and
exhalation until you come back to easy breathing. Repeat for 12 to 24 breaths.
Keep the flow of your breathing continuous as you proceed.
Choose from the following lessons and use them as introductory guides.
NOTE: When it comes to practicing any breathing ratio, you can first begin without a plan
to see what your body wants to do and where it wants to go. Then you can follow a
particular ratio. All breathing ratios are a template for practice and experimentation.
Lesson I. (Sama Vritti) When the Components of the Breath Are Equal
Effects: (Brhmana, Samana) Balancing, slightly tonifying, stimulating. Good for low
energy, depression, lethargy.
Sama means “equal” or “same,” and vritti means “wave” or “movement.” Sama Vritti
means that the length or movement of your inhalation and exhalation are equal. Normally,
the length of your inhale is shorter than your exhale. But if you consciously make the
inhalation and exhalation the same length, you increase the effects of the inhalation as
well. Lengthen both parts of the breath simultaneously. Observe how you feel practicing
this ratio. The important thing here is smoothness of breath. Do this breathing ratio or a
variation of it to energize, stimulate, and create more focus.
Lesson 2. (Visama Vritti) When the Components of the Breath Are Not Equal
In this exercise, the length of your inhalation and exhalation are unequal and can be used
to create different effects—either tonifying or reducing your energy.
Classically, Brhmana (tonifying) and Samana (balancing) are used in the morning or
afternoon, and Langana (reducing) is used in the evening—building in the A.M. and reducing
in the P.M. However, let the pranayama support what’s happening in your system now.
PROGRESSIVELY LENGTHEN THE EXHALATION AND HOLD
Effects: (Langana) Calming, reducing of agitation, anger, fear, anxiety.
Prepare your body by practicing several asanas, placing an emphasis on the exhalation. As
you lengthen the exhalation, you will create a reducing and relaxing effect to your body
and mind. Longer holds may bring up strong emotions. And lengthening the exhalation and
holding after exhale can be very challenging. After you exhale, you are empty. There is
nothing there, only yourself. Observe how you feel practicing this ratio, and use it as a
guide. Modify it in any way you need to.
PROGRESSIVELY LENGTHEN THE EXHALATION AND HOLD
Effects: (Brhmana) Tonifying, energizing. Builds energy and focus.
Prepare your body by practicing several asanas, placing an emphasis on the inhalation.
Lengthen the inhalation and produce a nourishing and stimulating effect on your body and
mind. Be aware that you may have a tendency to go beyond what is comfortable for you.
Be cautious. Never push your breath.
Observe how you feel after following this ratio. Afterward, allow your head and neck to
move with your breath to relieve any accumulated tension.
You can also progressively lengthen the hold or retention of the breath on both
inhalation and exhalation. Depending on which part of the retention or hold you
emphasize (after exhalation or after inhalation) you will extend the effects of either the
inhalation (tonifying) or exhalation (reducing).
Options:
1. Use both the breathing ratios in lessons 1 and 2 as a seated breathing practice, or
along with various asanas, lengthening the inhalation or exhalation as you move in
the postures.
2. Create a practice using a combination of lessons 1 and 2 in a sequence. (This practice
gradually builds and increases energy, then returns to calming, relaxing, and cooling.)
A. Begin by lengthening your inhalation until you reach your comfortable maximum.
Your exhalation remains free. Finish and then rest for a few breaths.
B. For the next 10 breaths, sustain the maximum inhalation and allow your
exhalation to be equal in duration to your inhalation. Finish and then rest for a
few breaths.
C. Now lengthen your exhalation until you reach your comfortable maximum. Your
inhalation remains free. Finish and then allow your breathing to come back to
normal.
Lesson 3. (Krarnas) Breathing in Stages
Breathing can also be done in stages or steps. I like to think of going up or down in an
elevator and stopping at every floor. For example: Exhale, pause. Exhale, pause. Exhale,
pause. Or, inhale, pause. Inhale, pause. Inhale, pause. Move with your breath to the
bottom floor, or all the way to the top. These have the same effects as lengthening each
part of the breath, as in the preceding exercises.
INHALATION IN STEPS
Effects: (Brhmana) Tonifying, energizing, nourishing.
As you take a breath in, inhale one-half of your breath comfortably, then pause. Inhale
the other half of your breath, then pause. Exhale completely and fully. Repeat this for 4
breaths. This breathing exercise is called Viloma Krama. Repeat this again in three stages:
inhale onethird, pause, inhale one-third, pause, inhale one-third, and pause. Exhale
completely. You can continue this pattern four more times or stay with one variation for a
total of 8 to 12 breaths.
Follow the inhalation with your awareness, as you emphasize the expansion of the upper
chest first, then expand the middle and the lower rib cage. Progressively expand the
inhalation from the top down.
EXHALATION IN STEPS
Effects: (Langana) Reduces agitation; purifying, calming.
Exhale one-half of your breath slowly, pause, then exhale the remaining half of your
breath, and pause. Inhale fully. Repeat 4 times. This breathing exercise is known as
Anuloma Krama. Repeat this again in three states: exhale one-third, pause, exhale onethird,
pause, exhale one-third, and pause. Inhale fully. Repeat 4 more times, continuing this
pattern or staying with one variation for a total of 8 to 12 breaths.
Follow the exhalation with your awareness, contracting the abdominal muscles
progressively from the pubic bone to your navel and from your navel to the solar plexus.
Options: You may breathe in stages as a seated breathing practice or along with various
asanas—moving, then pausing, moving, then pausing, either on inhale or exhale.
Lesson 4. (Sitali/Sitkari) The Sipping Breath
Effects: (Langana, Samana) Cooling, soothing, balancing.
There are two variations of this exercise. It’s all up to your genes. If you can curl your
tongue, you can practice Sitali. If you cannot, you can practice Sitkari. I call this pranayama
the Sipping Breath. I love this exercise, because it reduces tension, cools and soothes the
body and mind, and opens the throat and jaw. I find it is also good for anxiety. As you
breathe, the mild movement of your head and neck creates a fluid, wavelike motion
reminiscent of a waterfall.
For Sitali, curl and extend your tongue, creating a hollow tube shape, and inhale
through your curled tongue. After inhalation, the tongue folds back on itself as you
close your mouth and exhale. The tongue stays where it is until the next inhalation.
For Sitkari, your tongue is flat up against the palate and your front teeth. Breathe
between your tongue and palate.
As you inhale (using Sitali or Sitkari), slowly raise your chin and head. After
inhalation, close your mouth, bring your head down, dropping your chin (without
collapsing your chest), and exhale using the Whispering Breath, breathing through
the back of your throat. Repeat, beginning with the Sipping Breath. Your head and
chin move up during inhalation and down before exhalation. Repeat for 12 to 18
breaths.
Lesson 5. (Brahmari) The Humming Breath
Effects: (Samana, Langana) Balancing, calming, soothing.
Like a hummingbird or a queen bee, in this exercise as you breathe, you create a soft
humming sound with your mouth closed. Inhale using the Whispering Breath, then as you
exhale, produce a humming sound as you let the air out, mouth closed. Notice when you
hum, it resonates in your head, chest, and throat. Keep humming one tone until you
complete your exhalation. Inhale using throat breathing, then hum again on exhale. The
Humming Breath creates a calming and soothing effect on your body and mind. Repeat for
12 to 18 breaths.
Options: You may use the Humming Breath as a seated breathing practice or along with
various asanas, making a humming sound as you move on exhale.
Lesson 6. (Nadi Shodhana) Balancing with the Sun and Moon
Effects: There are three practices—one for cooling, one for heating, and one for balancing.
For centuries, yogis have observed that throughout the day, regular changes occur in
airflow dominance between the right and left nostrils, dramatically affecting how we think
and feel. Every few hours, we breathe predominately through one nostril more than the
other, and, as the airflow oscillates, it creates rhythmic changes throughout the body-mind.
Recent scientific studies show that cardiovascular activity, cognition, the autonomic
nervous system, concentrations of pituitary hormones, and even insulin levels are affected
by nostril dominance. All of this happens naturally. When you consciously alter nostril
dominance—deliberately change the flow of air through the nostrils—you change the
coherence of brain waves between the hemispheres of your brain, and either energize or
relax your nervous system.
According to ancient scriptures, the left nostril conducts cooling energy to the bodymind,
stimulating the right hemisphere of the brain, activating emotional and spatial
performance. It is considered feminine and is associated with chandra, or the moon. The
right nostril conducts heating or warming energy to the body-mind, stimulating the left
hemisphere of the brain, activating rational and verbal performance. It is considered
masculine and is associated with surya, or the sun.
Nadi Shodhana, an exquisite technique for emotional balancing developed by the
masters of yoga, alters the dominant nostril in various rhythmic patterns.
Shodhana means “cleansing” and nadi means “stream, canal, or tube.” In yoga anatomy,
the nadis are subtle channels for the circulation of vital energies or prana. In the Gehanda
Samhita, a seventeenth-century yoga manual, the nadis are perceived as a network that
conducts the invigorating energy of oxygen to places where it is used in vital processes.
Biological energy enters the body and is distributed through the passages of the nadis,
which are like the fibers of the lotus that fertilize the whole plant.
Ayurveda recognizes seventy-two thousand nadis, or channel systems, and specifies three
important ones—the main one corresponding to the central spinal canal (Shushumna) and
two others that spiral upward around the spine. Ida runs on the left and terminates on the
right, and Píngala runs on the right and terminates on the left.
Nadi Shodhana is a sophisticated breathing exercise for cleansing the nadis. It extends
the vital air of prana, moving inward, and apana, moving outward, and renews the
biological energy and activity that keep us alive. According to yoga, Nadi Shodana is the
crème de la crème of all the breathing exercises.
In this exercise, control of the nostrils comes from using a hand position known as mrgi
mudra, or the deer mudra. Create this by bending your index finger and third finger to
touch your palm. It does look like a deer. (See photo below.) Use your thumb and ring
finger to control the flow of air through your nostrils. Regulate your breathing by gentle
pressure, placing your thumb and ring finger on the narrowest part of the nasal passage,
right where the cartilage begins. Use the pad of the thumb and the pad of the ring finger to
seal or valve the nostrils. During the technique, one nostril is sealed down at the flap of the
nostril, and the other is valved lightly at the upper part of the cartilage. When the seal is
down, the valve is up, always creating some light pressure on both nostrils. Never force
your breath if your nasal passages are blocked or obstructed in any way. If your breath is not
flowing freely, practice throat breathing instead. Nostril breathing allows the breath to be
longer, the sound to be subtle, and gives you better overall control. Practice the following
exercises in a seated position.
1. FOR COOLING WITH THE MOON (CHANDRA BHEDANA)
Close your right nostril with your right thumb, using the deer mudra. Inhale through your
left nostril, slowly, deeply, and fully. Close your left nostril with the ring and little fingers,
and exhale through your right nostril.
Repeat for a few minutes or for 12 to 18 breaths. Inhale left. Exhale right. Feel the
cooling effect throughout your entire system. Continue to breathe smoothly and easily.
Left, Moon, Cooling.
Helps to calm your mind; regulates anger; eases insomnia; cools an overheated body;
reduces restlessness, anxiety, and stress.
2. FOR WARMING WITH THE SUN (SURYA BHEDANA)
Close your left nostril with the ring and little fingers of your right hand. Inhale through
your right nostril, slowly, deeply, and fully. Close your right nostril with your right thumb,
and exhale through your left nostril.
Repeat for a few minutes or for 12 to 18 breaths. Inhale right. Exhale left. Feel the
warming effect throughout your system. Continue to breathe smoothly and easily.
Right, Sun, Heating.
Promotes digestion, good before eating; increases energy; enhances mental focus and
concentration; enlivens the body for physical activity.
3. FOR BALANCING WITH THE SUN AND THE MOON (NADI SHODHANA)
Close your right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left nostril. Then inhale
through your left nostril. Close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Then
inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril again, and repeat the cycle.
Exhale left, and inhale left. Then close. Exhale right, and inhale right. Then close. Every
time you complete exhaling and inhaling on both sides, you have completed one cycle of
the practice.
Repeat for 8 to 12 cycles.
Left, Moon, Cooling, and Right, Sun, Heating.
Balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain; equalizes the pranic current
flowing throughout the body; brings balance to all systems; refines, stabilizes, and
cleanses the entire body-mind.
Depending on the breathing ratios you choose to practice, you can also create either a
Langana (reducing) or Brhmana (tonifying) effect.
After you have finished this breathing exercise, you may stay seated for a moment or lie
down and rest with your eyes closed, having a relaxed, alert awareness.
Limb Five
HARMONY
BALANCING THE PARTS
Harmony is the action of bringing things into balance and putting a problem into
perspective. As Limb Five of Emotional Yoga, it means stepping back and revealing a
broader view. But harmony isn’t about seeing the larger external landscape; it’s about
seeing the larger internal landscape. You have to draw your attention to the inner realm in
order to find it.
If there is a painful emotion indicating that something is out of harmony, it becomes like
a lump in the back of your throat. Once you feel it, it’s up to you to find out what’s causing
it, and it doesn’t take a sophisticated attunement to do this. You need only to withdraw
within and explore, even for a moment.
Nature has already endowed your body with the proper instincts for creating emotional
harmony and balance. You know when you are uncomfortable or out of sorts. You simply
need to focus in and learn how to listen to what you need. Like the jet pilot navigating the
skies, continuously guiding and steering his plane up, down, and in various directions, you
can navigate your emotional balance.
Every day the influences of your life change. Your food, exercise, sleep, and emotional
states continuously move you into and out of balance. Everything you feel, smell, hear, see,
or taste has an effect. Once you recognize you are out of balance and can identify how, you
can do something about it.
If you wake up in the morning and still feel hurt from a disagreement you had the night
before, the quality of harmony within you recognizes it. Harmony tells you whether you
are too hot or too cold, if you need more or less of something, if you feel joy or sadness.
Harmony keeps you in tune. It’s like a scale that gives you a sense of your balance or
imbalance. But you are the one who needs to check and doublecheck, to find out what
feels amiss and where. Then you can ask yourself: What do I need to get back into harmony
again?
You can’t stay in a state of perfect harmony all the time. You must expect cycles of
confusion and clarity and realize that obstacles will appear. Very often, without knowing it,
you will slip out of sync again. At times like this, stop for a moment to notice and reflect
on the imbalance: How have I been affected? How does it feel? This strategy of making the
unconscious conscious reduces the impact of imbalance and prevents it from throwing you
off. With harmony, you can always settle within and find out what you need to feel more
comfortable and whole.
HARMONIC REVIEW
Set aside a few minutes before bed. Casting back over your day, review the forms, the shapes, of
your experiences. Do this exercise with the intention of discovering any unresolved issues or
nagging feelings.
This is a free-form exercise. You cannot do it wrong. Made conscious, the obstacles for
harmony can be actively faced down:
Let everything about your day cross your mind. Except, do it backward. Walk back
through the instances of your day from now until the moment you woke up this
morning. Observe and recall. Don’t judge. Feel the flow of your thoughts and
emotions running through you. It’s like a good rain clearing the air.
Go back and review your day to see if anything is out of balance or impacting you
emotionally. Is there anything you have overlooked, or blocked, or not dealt with?
Are you ill at ease about something? Feel your way clear of anger, frustration, and
emotional negativity. Take time to contemplate.
You may find moments of excitement and thrill, or find what is shimmering on the
horizon. What things have occurred to make your life better?
If you find something that’s troubling, ask yourself:
What am I feeling? Allow me to know.
What steps can I take to resolve this issue?
How can I cooperate with myself to deal with this?
How do I discern the situation? Do I need to join with it?
What are the key issues I need to focus on for a balanced perspective?
If you are too tired, resolve to deal with it tomorrow. Ask for guidance while you
sleep. Invite the answers in. Intend to discover what you need to know. You can still
bring harmony to yourself even if some issues are unresolved. Make a plan for
resolution and clarity.
Harmony develops
emotional balance,
directing your
attention toward
deeper levels
of awareness.
DIRECTING THE SENSES (PRATYAHARA)
THE FIFTH LIMB OF YOGA is pratyahara, the “withdrawal of the senses.” Pratyahara
occurs as a result of turning the mind inward; it doesn’t happen by itself. You have to do
things beyond the practices to achieve a meditative state. Pratyahara is a process by which
your senses progressively withdraw from external stimuli, settle in their source, and come
alive in the inner environment of your mind. Yogic texts compare this process to a tortoise
drawing its limbs into its shell.
In Emotional Yoga, the senses are important tools for emotional selfhealing. But it’s a
mistake to think that withdrawing them means controlling or deadening them in any way.
Directing the senses is a process of intentionally focusing them toward what you want to
do, or feel. For example, if you look at a beautiful piece of sculpture, like a Rodin, and you
want to use it as an object for uplifting your emotional state, you would intentionally direct
your feeling awareness to its color, size, texture, and form. In this case, your senses act as
your mind’s focusing tool, keeping your mind free from outside distraction.
The fifth limb of yoga teaches you how to direct your senses within to stay vividly
aware. This technique of gazing within helps you refine your senses, shift your emotional
energy—by either calming or stimulating it—and make choices from the finest level of
feeling.
Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 54:
When the senses disregard everything but the nature of the mind, one has complete control over sensory awareness.
The fifth limb of yoga is the bridge from the “outer limbs” to the “inner limbs.” Its practices
train your mind to move inward and prepare you for deeper emotional inquiries. When you
use your senses as preparation for meditation, they reduce the distractions within your body
and mind. Distractions such as worries, thoughts, and emotional memories produce
restrictive feelings. Preparation changes your physical, mental, and emotional energy so you
can move from the external to the internal. This movement is what makes meditation
possible.
In yoga, the metaphor of a cup is frequently used. It is said if you want to fill a cup with
something, it first has to be empty. If your mind is full, there is no room for anything more.
This is why you prepare before you meditate. You create a space so something new can
come in. Sometimes you have to clean the vessel before filling it. You prepare for all types
of personal meditation in the same way. Eliminate and purify first, then fill yourself with
something good. You can even keep the cup empty if you like. As Mother Teresa said, “Let
us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”
The truth is that once you empty the cup, if you don’t consciously refill it, the cup will
probably fill by itself—with distracting thoughts, old habits, and archives of emotional
memories. So, in preparation, you take charge of both emptying and filling the cup. Of
course, in order to do this, you must be there. This idea provides the foundation for all
meditation practices.
T. K. V. Desikachar uses a metaphor that his father, T. Krishnamacharya, often used: In
order to cook rice, you first have to find the pot and examine it to see if it’s clean. If it’s
not, you have to clean it. All these steps are significant. And they are the same steps for
meditation. You prepare the mind by deciding on a time, going to a quiet place, and
directing the mind to something positive. You make the mind ready and fit. You cleanse,
refine, or sharpen it like a knife. This refinement process is looked at in three ways: as an
active practice, as an inquiry, and as an attitude.
Practice: Practicing refinement means that you perform actions to change the condition
of your body, your mind, and your sensory perceptions. You can focus, inquire, breathe,
perform postures—anything that will settle you emotionally.
Inquiry: Classically, pranayama, or conscious breathing, precedes meditation because it
refreshes your mind and makes your system fit for inquiry. By observing your breath, you
can know your state of mind. Observation becomes a way to inquire and find out where
you are emotionally, and this brings you deeper. All the steps of withdrawing your senses
inward are important in managing and healing your emotions.
Attitude: You must be conscious of something if it is to exist for you. Therefore, in
preparing to meditate, you must also have a bhavana, or attitude, in order to fix your
attention. Anytime you intend to look at something, you can do it in a number of ways:
with a sense of humor, gratitude, or sacrifice, or perhaps with an awareness of a higher
source. These are emotional attitudes that intentionally draw you inward.
Put simply, meditation depends on the internal state of the meditator. If you set up the
initial condition first, you create a momentum, and the state of meditation takes over and
happens by itself.
RHYTHMS OF REST
We live in an age of terrifying speed and haste, working fast, commuting fast, gobbling our food
down fast. Even the fast-time cycle of Silicon Valley systematically shortens our every step from
product to delivery. Computer programs have a “streamlined interface.” Clothes are called
“rushwear.” We’ve become a quick-reflexed, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding species. We’ve
discovered all sorts of quick devices. And when we use them, another fraction of a second is saved.
But does making things go faster really add meaning to our lives? It seems that the more we fill our
lives with time-saving devices, the more we rush, and the more anxious, tense, and emotionally
stressed we feel. Why? Because our attention is still on time.
We must slow down and take time to savor this life. We can go fast sometimes, as long
as we take the time regularly to . . . pause. The truth is, our work is never completely done.
If we stopped only when we were finished, we would never stop. Taking a moment, an
hour, or a day to rest liberates us from the compulsion to finish, and gives us a moment to
reflect, to really think about a problem or emotional issue, and re-energize.
Without some form of rest, without slowing down, we go into survival mode, where
everything we meet assumes prominence. When we move faster and faster, every detail
inflates in its importance. Everything seems more urgent than it really is. Often we react in
a sloppy way, sometimes with desperation, which leads to anger, anxiety, or depression.
There is deep emotional wisdom in the traditional Jewish Sabbath, which begins exactly
at sundown every Friday night. “Sabbath is not dependent upon our readiness to stop,” says
author Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest2 “We do
not stop when we are finished. We do not stop when we complete our phone calls, finish
our project, get through this stack of messages, or get out this report tomorrow. We stop
because it is time to stop.” Sabbath says: Stop now.
If you stop and rest, you give yourself the opportunity to check in with yourself and your
emotions. Stopping may be your emotional meditation for the day. Notice the difference
between stopping and letting yourself continue to be busy. If you keep jumping around, it’s
hard to find any kind of emotional harmony within.
Surrender to rest. Turn your mind gently inward and allow the tensions to leave. Then
you can hear what is most deeply true. This is pratyahara, choosing freely to accept or leave
the external situation and direct your attention inside. It is as the psalm says, “Be still, and
know.”
Take an evening, light a candle, sit quietly in your living room, and appreciate the
beauty around you. Reflect on your day, your week. Remind yourself that your presence
has really mattered and you have touched people. Listen to the silence and enter into what
feels like a subtler dimension, where you feel connected and blessed. The time of rest has
come. Let your mind rest gently in your heart.
SENSING THE MUSE
Controlling your senses cannot be a strict discipline. Control is not suppression but rather
proper coordination and motivation. It is better to restore dignity and enthusiasm to your
senses than to restrain them. If you see, hear, or feel the impulse to connect with one
sense, then stay in that sense. It will more naturally help you to balance your emotional
state. The senses have deep emotional qualities. They know what they’re doing. Trust
them. They are faithful and will serve you well.
Use the following five sensory practices as emotional tools for directing your attention
away from distractions. If you appreciate the sensual life around you and let your senses be
your muse, they will inspire and heal you. Make controlling your senses a refreshing form
of emotional play.
EMOTIONAL MEDITATIONS FOR THE FIVE SENSES
The following meditations can be emotionally tonifying or reducing, depending on the quality of the
sensory experience. For example, high-pitched sounds are more energizing and expanding, while
low-pitched sounds are more calming. Bright colors are expanding, and muted colors are settling.
Deep, vigorous touch is energizing, while light, continuous touch is soothing. Spicy, warm smells and
tastes are stimulating, and bland, sweet, or cool smells and tastes tend to be comforting. You can
perform these exercises alone or use them as themes or intentions, fitting them into your overall
practice.
I. I Am ALL Ears (Sound)
Our eyes see only what is on the surface, but to hear is to be. Hearing is the purest of the
senses. It has the most direct contact with our emotional being. When we learn to use our
sense of hearing fully, we can reach a deeper consciousness. According to Joachim-Ernst
Berendt in his book The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma,3 the “ear person” has a better
chance of penetrating the depth of his experience than does the “eye person.” The new man
or woman, he says, will be a “listening” man or woman. Besides, you can’t close your ears,
so you might as well listen. Ask yourself now: How is my hearing sensitivity?
Musician and composer John Cage said, “There is no such thing as silence. Something is
always happening that makes a sound.” You hear mostly noise. When you ignore it, it will
disturb you, but when you listen to it, you’ll find it fascinating and emotionally stimulating.
Lesson I. Listen (No, listen carefully.)
Listen to the sounds of a truck cruising at fifty miles per hour, a mason cutting bricks,
the static between radio stations, the rain. Capture and control these sounds and use
them, not as sound effects, but as instruments to make you feel deeper. Listen to the
wind, your heartbeat, a car motor, a wave lapping on the shore. Discern the
difference between stimulating and relaxing sounds, between sounds made by living
beings and those made by nonliving things.
There is always something to hear. Call it a musical meditation, if you will.
Lesson 2. Experimental Music
Effects: Relaxing; soothing; settling.
The following is an example of a sound meditation. Use it as a guide. Adapt it, and
experiment.
Sit in a comfortable position and breathe 12 times, gradually increasing the length of
the exhalations. Then sit quietly for a moment.
Repeat the two-syllable sound Ah – Ha mentally, not verbally.
Increase the length of the sound in your mind, using the following lines below as a
reference. Increase the length of the sound progressively until you get to the longest
length of the sound, and then progressively decrease it back to the shortest length.
Take your time.
It’s okay if you find yourself breathing as you mentally repeat the sound. You can
make this a longer meditation by increasing the number of repetitions.
Use any number of sounds. For example, use the Hebrew word for love, Ah-Ha – Va.
Or try, Ra – Ma, or Na – Ma, or Ah – Men.
LENGTH OF REPETITION _______ SHORTEST
__________
_____________
________________ LONGEST
_____________
__________
_______ END
2. Show Me (Sight)
Absolute color occurs only in the mind, not in the outside world. The red of an apple
remains in our minds, but think of how different it looks in the moonlight, or on the
branch of a shady tree, or under a fluorescent light. When the light hits a gorgeous red rose,
only the red rays are reflected into our eyes. What happens when we close our eyes? What
do we see?
Have you ever tried to see without looking? Close your eyes and stay awhile behind
your closed eyelids. Let a smile be born behind your lids. Detach your attention from the
outside world. Arrive in inner space behind your eyes, and lose your sight. In inner space,
you don’t see things in the way you are accustomed to seeing them on the outside. Give all
your attention to this feeling of seeing.
A COLOR MEDITATION
Effects: Soothing and settling, as well as inspiring and enlivening.
The first meditation book I used was Colour Meditations, by S. G. J. Ousley,4 and it was
filled with exquisitely described visualizations. I dedicate the following meditation to the
author of that wonderful book.
Sit quietly and read the following description. Then close your eyes and allow the colors
and images to come into your conscious mind.
Picture the freshness of a meadow of young grass after a rain shower. The grass
gleams like a carpet of emerald velvet: bright, tender, and soft. The turquoise-blue
morning sky is flushed with white and rosy-gold billowing clouds. Nearby, two tall
white birds, pale and slim, walk gracefully in the clear morning light. The fresh air is
delicious and full of life.
Feel the images and colors. Feel yourself surrounded by light and life. Let the images
lead you to other feelings, sensations, thoughts. As your vision begins to fade, sit
quietly and rest with your eyes closed. Feel the colors embodying you completely.
3. Touché (Touch)
In fencing, the word touché means that we’ve been touched by our opponent’s foil. We
also say touché when someone has delivered a point well made, or touched the core of
someone’s being. Touch affects everything we do. Life itself could never have evolved
without touch. The chemicals that make up our world touch one another and form liaisons.
Without touch, there would be no species, parenthood, or survival. Touch is not only basic
to our species, it is the key to it.
Mothers and their babies do an enormous amount of touching, and this first emotional
comfort remains with us all our lives. Oddly enough, touch doesn’t have to be given by
another person or even by something living: Premature babies placed in a lamb’s-wool
blanket for a day will gain weight.
Skin is the key organ of our sense of touch, and since skin stretches over our entire body,
touching affects our whole organism. Touching increases tactile stimulation and decreases
stress. It makes you feel more alive. So, don’t lose touch. Make touch a daily emotionalbalancing
discipline.
AN EMOTIONAL HEALING MASSAGE
This Ayurvedic self-massage technique will prepare you for the coming day. Do it before you bathe
in the morning, and prior to practicing asanas, pranayama, and meditation. Abhyanga is part of the
Ayurvedic daily routine, preventing the accumulation of toxins in the body as it lubricates the
muscles, tissues, and joints. In Ayurveda, skin breathing is as necessary as breathing with our lungs.
According to the classical Ayurvedic texts, a daily sesame-oil massage rejuvenates the skin, lets it
breathe, and promotes youthful luster. This practice is both emotionally energizing and settling.
Use cured sesame, olive, or coconut oil. To cure oil, heat it to about 100 degrees. Do
not allow it to come to a boil. To test the temperature, put in a drop of water; when it
pops and crackles, the oil is ready. Never, ever leave oil unattended while heating. Let it
cool down and keep it stored at room temperature. You may rewarm your oil by putting
the bottle under hot running water.
Sit in a comfortable position, and use a towel to cover the floor, carpet, or chair. Then,
begin your massage.
Head: Apply only a little oil to your head and massage vigorously with both hands.
Make sure that your scalp is well lubricated. Use the flats of your fingers and your
palms to massage your head with circular motions. You may skip the head massage if
you don’t want to wash your hair afterward.
Face: Apply a little oil to your face, neck, and ears. With both hands, massage your
face using gentle pressure, making a circular motion over your entire face. Massage
the folds of your outer ears but not inside your ears.
Neck: With both hands, massage both the front and back of your neck, up and down
in long strokes. You may use more vigorous pressure on your shoulders and the upper
part of your spine.
Apply oil to the rest of your body: arms, back, chest, abdomen, legs, hips, and feet,
so that your entire skin surface is covered with oil.
Arms: Using the flat of one hand, make circular strokes at your shoulder joints,
repeating the circle anywhere from 2 to 20 times. Then make straight strokes down
over the long bones of your arms, back and forth. Do this on the outsides of your
arms first, followed by the insides of your arms, beginning with your left arm, then
your right. Create a rhythm of circular strokes and then long back-andforth strokes.
Finish by massaging the small bones in your hands and fingers.
Chest and abdomen: With both hands, make a very gentle circular motion over your
chest and over each pectoral area; straight up and down over your heart and breast
bone. In the same way, make a gentle circular motion over your abdomen, following
the colon from the right lower part of your abdomen, moving clockwise toward the
left lower part.
Back and spine: With both hands, massage your upper and then lower back muscles
gently, then go deeper. Massage the sides of your torso.
Hips and legs: With both hands, massage your hips using a circular motion, then
straight strokes down and up your thighs. Massage your knees, calves, lower legs, and
ankles with a circular motion around your joints. Spend more time massaging your
feet, ending the massage with a vigorous motion back and forth on your soles.
This oil massage can take anywhere from a few minutes to twenty minutes. When
you’re finished, simply take a shower and wash off the oil. Do this every morning as part of
your daily routine, and it won’t be long before you decide to continue it permanently.
4. Eau d’Ambiance (Smell)
Smells are immediate. They have a mysterious power to them, triggering emotions and
images: childhood memories of summer family dinners of barbecued chicken and succulent
corn, the first day of school, riding horses with your dad on Saturdays. In one moment,
unexpected emotional memories explode: the scent of past lovers, houses we used to live
in, a church we used to attend. But how do we describe the features of a scent? There are
floral, fruity, musky, and acrid smells. There are sour, salty, burnt, putrid, and pungent
smells. Odors are hard to describe, but we can detect more than ten thousand different
ones.
If you go to the country, you can learn the inner nature of things through smell. You
can have a sense for something sprouting, growing, and coming into being, or
something fading and dying away. Smells can cultivate satisfying emotional
experiences.
If there isn’t a farm nearby, go to a botanical garden, park, or an orchard and sniff the
ripening peaches on the tree. Get drenched with the perfume of luscious wet
flowers. Experience the fruity smell of tart green apples. Go to a farmer’s market
and pick up a spicy tomato oozing with deep, succulent, dream-inducing scents. If
you can find it, fresh-cut hay smells wonderfully sweet and earthy. Combine the
damp and musky odor of a barn, the fresh warm milk from the cow, the sweet rich
manure, and the pungent root vegetables. Call it Rural No. 5. Pure smell and pure
pleasure!
Try out your olfactory skills in various places: go to a farm, a zoo, the mountains, the
forest, the sea. Smell an approaching rainstorm. Sit in a rose garden, a coffeehouse, a
pizza parlor, a chocolate store. Go to a perfume shop, a delicatessen, a bar. Sit down
wherever you are and close your eyes. Smell the melange of sensory delights. Allow
the various scents to flood and bathe you. Notice how different smells make you feel
and how they affect your emotional state.
5. Slow Food (Taste)
Effects: Calming; settling; balancing.
Allowing yourself to be slow means that you govern the rhythms of your life. Today,
you might want to go fast. Tomorrow you might want to go slow. You decide. This makes
the difference. We all crave a sense of slowness. Ease up on your speed and consciously
create islands of slowness. Ultimately, slow means to take the time to reflect, to think, or
simply to be. Emotional Yoga is about learning how to give time to each and every part of
yourself. This is impossible with speed. With calm, you arrive everywhere.
Try practicing slow food. Take the time to taste. Eat more slowly. Instead of frozen
vegetables, instant coffee, microwave pizza, or Chinese takeout, make the time to
prepare your food in the kitchen. As you cook, taste the food. Drink a cool glass of
water with lemon. Chill out. Relax. Enjoy the simple things, like cooking, and
eating, and tasting.
Try eating in silence. Don’t watch television. Don’t read. Chew for a change. How
about practicing slow food for just one meal a day? Make it a celebration for your
senses and your soul. Slow down. Sip slowly. Taste deliberately. Pay special
attention to the smallest details, and experience the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty,
pungent, bitter, astringent—and their myriad combinations. Is the food spicy and
hot? How does that make you feel? Is it dry or cool? What does the food feel like in
your mouth? What is its texture? Is it light, oily, viscous, heavy?
What kind of taste impressions do you take in every day? Every taste has an effect.
You might try fasting for a day. Then, when you take your first sip or bite, let the
taste linger in your mouth. Experiment with different flavors. Have some lavender
or lemon-grass tea, a double cappuccino. And in the middle of your meal, stop. Put
down your knife and fork, and breathe. Let some moments pass in silence. Then pick
up your fork again, slowly. . ..
6. Have You Heard? (Withdrawing the Senses)
Effects: Reducing; calming; settling.
Have you heard the songs and silences inside your body? Sit down and get ready for a
musical performance. (Read this first, then follow the instructions.) Practice this exercise
sitting comfortably in a chair or seated on the floor.
Shut both eyes carefully with your index and middle fingers, using both hands, one
for each eye. Close your mouth, cover your lips with your little fingers, and close
both ears with your thumbs. (If you can’t see or hear, that’s the idea.) Don’t close
your nostrils completely, since you have to breathe] Allow your attention and energy
to move within. When the outer senses are quiet, you can hear the sounds and
silences of your inner life.
So, what do you hear? Listen to the inner noises your body makes: the flow of your
blood, the whoosh of your breath. Notice the melodies flowing inside your body.
You are the maestro. You are guiding your awareness inside. This is not an attempt
to understand anything, just a quiet attention to your self.
This practice, known as Sanmukhi Mudra, is one of the most important classical
pratyahara techniques for withdrawing the senses. Do this for short periods of time, after
pranayama or before you meditate, or when you wish to free yourself from the normal
sensory bombardments, or for calming emotional and mental agitations and distractions.
Limb Six
KNOWLEDGE
REMEMBERING THE PAST
Knowledge is the storehouse of all things past. As Limb Six of Emotional Yoga,
Knowledge exists only in the context of memory. Many of our interpretations of present
experiences are viewed through the mental filter of past impressions, which in turn are
based on core beliefs. Knowledge lets us see the influence of our emotional memories and
helps us release ourselves from their binding influence.
Knowledge is the ability to get free of limiting beliefs and misapprehensions, and to
strengthen and purify our memory. In Emotional Yoga, this occurs through a process of
observation and self-study. We look at our emotional facts. We study the painful, gathered
memories. We notice the beliefs we hold and see how they have attracted the experiences
we have had. We pause, take stock. We look at what we have been building our lives upon.
Are our beliefs constructed as a result of our experiences, or are our experiences
constructed as a result of our beliefs? We decide, we discover. Is what we believe serving
us now? We look for other options. We go forward, in manageable steps. And we walk into
change with knowledge.
The fundamental question of knowledge is: Do we have to react as we did in the past?
What is the difference between what we experienced in the past and what we’re
experiencing now? By recognizing the differences between the present and the past, we
can actively choose to respond deliberately, rather than to react automatically. We can
create new beliefs and new possibilities, ones that support our lives. These new beliefs
form the basis of a healthier and happier future.
Because our emotions are often associated with specific memories, we experience
situations not as they really are, but in reference to something we experienced in the past.
Through this filter we see our reality. When emotional pain comes up, it is often based
entirely on memory. But the past is past. We cannot change it, but we can change our
interpretation of it.
Knowledge tells us to observe things more carefully. Stop reacting and start observing:
How does this conflict resemble what is in my past? Show me all the times I have felt this
way. The past will be re-created again and again until we observe it carefully. The more we
understand the past, the more we can focus our attention on what is happening now.
Emotionally, this opens a door.
Have you ever suddenly felt rage, or anger, and not been able to understand where it
came from? You have an emotion that seems completely out of proportion. Are you hurt
because there is pain now? Is it possible your emotion could be based on an underlying
story from the past? Is it perhaps obstructing your view of how you see things now?
One way to clarify difficult feelings from the past is to declare your past complete. Go
back through your mental archives and forgive what has happened. Forgiveness doesn’t
mean you need to commit to forget—it means that you commit yourself to putting closure
to your story. At the same time, the memory of your past experiences is useful precisely
because it enables you to understand new ones.
Deal with the past experiences now. Move beyond your resignation, expand your
horizons, and take a step toward joy. Declare the whole domain of the past unchangeable,
and the past will stop being an obstacle to your progress.
Knowledge is the step of realizing that whatever emotional situation you are
experiencing now, it is not the same as what happened before. It is not the saber-toothed
tiger you once had to flee from. It is an entirely different situation. Once you see this
clearly, you can neutralize oppressive feelings.
If the past is an idea you’ve created to explain the way you feel about something now, it
will not help you with the upset you have about your spouse, your job, or your friend. Ask
yourself: What belief would I need to have, to create this experience I am having now?
Once you see that your feelings depend not on the other person or situation but on
yourself, you can begin to change. You can find a better way to feel.
Your particular reality is a reflection of what you believe is real. Discover the beliefs that
underlie your reality, and you can re-create your emotional landscape.
EMPTYING THE ARCHIVES
Here is an exercise to help you release negative beliefs arising from the past, uncover hidden
emotions and fears, and become more fully involved in the present. You will learn how the present
is different from the past, and know that you can participate consciously in creating your future.
In this three-step process, awareness probes the difference between the present and the
past, action explores your desires and goals, and vision helps you see and create your future.
Use the following emotional-awareness questions to empty the archives of your past. Ask
yourself these questions and write down anything they might trigger for you:
1. Awareness
What event or story from my past still hurts?
Why does it still hurt me?
What would I have to believe about this event in order for me to feel this way?
Is this a past belief or judgment? Is it a fact? And is it still true?
What is the real truth now?
2. Action
What do I desire for the future, based on this experience from the past?
What are the steps I need to take to accomplish this?
How can I encourage myself to do this?
How can I love or join with these actions?
How can I bring balance and closure to this situation?
3. Vision
What are the possibilities for the future if I follow these actions or steps?
What other fears, hurts, or beliefs should I free myself of?
Who will I be when I am free of the past?
Knowledge brings
readiness, focus,
and intention
to the act of
observation.
FOCUSING ATTENTION (DHARANA)
Traditionally, Limb Six of yoga is Dharana, “the focusing of attention.” The word
Dharana comes from the root Dhr, which means “to support.” Dharana is when something
supports your attention. It is the action of holding your mind and focusing it in one
direction. Purely, it is strict contemplation of a desirable object by binding your attention
to a single point. The more you encourage your mind to go toward one object only and
place your attention there, the stronger that connection becomes, as all other objects or
distractions fall away.
The one-pointed focus of your attention can be placed on anything: the tip of your nose,
your navel, your heart, your breath, a sound, an object, or an idea. Practices such as rituals,
sounds, and gestures are used to anchor your intentions and give outward expression of an
inward focus.
In Emotional Yoga, you can use various focusing techniques to bind your mind to an
object that is attractive, positive, and meaningful. Focusing as a practice encourages you to
pay attention to what you are doing. It develops clarity of intention, which in turn
encourages self-direction and the ability to see clearly amid chaotic or stressful events.
The sixth limb of yoga teaches you how to link your mind with something and maintain
that connection. When you focus on an emotion, intention, feeling, or object for some
time, you can uncover its meaning. This process deepens your understanding and trains your
mind so you are fully alive to your present experience.
The Focusing of Attention (Dharana)
Yoga Sutra, ch.3, v. I:
Focused attention directs one to a specific area.
Focusing attention as a discipline keeps us on track. We can become so absorbed in a
situation, emotion, or experience that we lose ourselves. We become disembodied, our
perceptions get distorted, our energy is drained, and our ability to work is paralyzed. The
yogic practice of focusing gives us perspective. It redirects our choices toward objects,
answers, insights, stratagems, and inspirations that empower us.
Focusing brings us closer to who we are and what we feel. Through focusing, something
is revealed. Focusing acts as a mirror to help us understand ourselves right now, so the
context in which this process takes place is important.
Ritual, as part of yoga practice, takes the abstract idea of focusing and brings it into your
muscles, your emotions, and the way you live. Through the simplest acts of ritual, you can
do many things. You can help yourself deal with pain, purify and atone for your mistakes,
and reflect on your choices. A ritual can be something as simple as sitting quietly and
repeating an intention or a word, lighting a candle, planting something, offering a flower,
or walking a hundred steps after you eat (an old Indian ritual). In taking a small step toward
ritual, you make an outward sign of your inward focus, indicating that your commitment
and intention are real.
Many of us have lost the heritage of our rituals. We have lost our sense of obligation to
our religion, to our culture, and even to the commitments of marriage. For this reason,
therapists are now prescribing rituals. Rituals can heal the rifts between families and shape a
healthy identity. Rituals elevate us to what is higher—to our potential, our life’s goals—and
remind us that our highest values should direct our lives.
Rituals give form to our lives, not just on the surface, but emotionally. We need rituals
to connect deeply with ourselves. Even the simplest rituals can give emotional security,
contentment, and a deep sense of comfort. Making a ritual genuine, personal, and deeply
felt is part of yoga practice. In Emotional Yoga, a personal ritual is important because of its
enormous power to comfort and heal.
Creating an Emotional Healing Ritual
In every ritual, from the simplest to the most elaborate, from the spiritual to the mundane,
the steps involved are very much the same: geometry, structure, rhythm, and intent. Use
these steps as ideas or suggestions for creating your own emotional healing ritual. Then,
whatever you choose to do, do it simply. It doesn’t have to be fancy or take very long. It
need only be regular and full of intention and meaning.
1. Geometry
Set the symbolic elements before you, such as a candle, a picture, incense, a religious icon, a vase
of flowers, an altar, and situate yourself in a certain relationship to these things. Define your sacred
space, the physical space where you begin your ritual. You may choose to add quiet, soothing music
or turn down the lights. Create your own special environment where you can share your deepest
intentions.
Many people create altars or small shrines for their meditations or prayers. Make one in
your office, at home, in your car, or in a small section of your yard. Having an altar is a way
to pack emotional faith into your everyday life. Personal altars tell a story, from the gifts to
the photos to the beads. Yet, it’s not the objects that are important, but the faith in these
objects that make them emotionally sacred.
2. Structure
Give your ritual a beginning and an ending. Carefully arrange these steps to create the body of
your ritual.
A simple ritual you might do before you begin work each day is to sit at your desk, close
your eyes, and lengthen your breath. Do this for 10 or 12 breaths, increasing the length of
your breath as you go along. Pause at the end, come back to easy breathing, and stay in that
silence. Then repeat a silent intention for clarity and purpose, wait for a moment, and open
your eyes. By the time you’ve finished, you will be calm, clear, and focused.
3. Rhythm
The progressive sequence of events, actions, thoughts, or prayers leads you into the ritual itself. It
also takes you back out of it, letting you resume your normal life. Some rituals start with a silent
prayer or a simple motion. Some include offerings, such as flowers or food. In India, preparing for a
ritual is as important as the ritual itself. You bathe first, and are freshly dressed. Entering the shrine
room, you bow or kneel, and face the objects of meditation, then you perform the ceremony.
Chants are sung, a bell is rung. You meditate to internalize the effects. These are the rhythms of
ritual.
4. Intent
The purpose behind your ritual directs your ritual to fulfillment. What emotional quality do you
want to focus on right now? The possibilities are numerous: opening your heart, grounding,
connecting to someone or something, completion, healing, asking for help, gratitude, praise, a
blessing, purification, self-reflection, linking with a higher power. Ritual isn’t mindless movement. It’s
a focusing technique to systematically give you an anchor point within.
Ritual creates emotional flow. It moves, stops, repeats itself, keeps you engaged in your
work, and cultivates enjoyment. Play with the idea of ritual, and continue to find new ways
to replenish your energy, renew your sensitivity, and reattune your emotions.
PILGRIMAGE AS RITUAL
While there are many forms of travel—sightseeing, education, pleasure, entertainment—the one
that responds to a genuine longing for the sacred is the spirit-renewing ritual of a pilgrimage. In The
Art of Pilgrimage,5 author Phil Cousineau describes pilgrimage as “a transformative journey to a
sacred center,” one that calls for travel to “a holy site associated with gods, saints, or heroes, or to
a natural setting imbued with spiritual power.” Simply put, pilgrimage is any journey we take with
the purpose of finding something that deeply matters.
Used as personal ritual, pilgrimage is a way to prove your faith, to find the answers to
your deepest questions, or to provide the healing power of hope. It forces you to ask
yourself what you believe in strongly and lends direction to your life.
Here are some steps to consider for a pilgrimage:
Prepare: deliberately set your direction—a place, an intention, a process. Have
interest, desire, passion, and commitment to your process.
Give attention to yourself and to your path. Take your time, seriously, elegantly. Be
open to the details, the nuances of your surroundings. If you start to look around,
you will start to see everything as an outward, visible sign of an inward grace.
Find some exclusive time to be alone during your pilgrimage.
Direct your mind toward an intention, and hold that intention throughout your
journey.
Have faith and move forward to where you want to go. Respect your destination.
Reflect: connect to a specific sense of how you are feeling, your emotional response
about the place, the process, the quality of your journey. After your pilgrimage, find
a sense of continuity carrying over into your everyday life. Recall your story. Write it
down. Chronicle your experience.
“True pilgrimage changes lives,” says author Martin Palmer,6 “whether we go halfway
around the world or out to our own backyards.” Listen to and watch intensely everything
around you on your journey and you’ll reconnect with something deep inside. Whether it’s
setting off on an arduous trip to a sacred site of worship, returning to the place of your
birth, or taking the first step in a grand, creative project, your pilgrimage will change you
deeply.
GESTURES FOR EMOTIONAL HEALING
Taking the hand of someone you love, saluting to an official, making the sign of the cross, using sign
language, waving goodbye, opening your arms in welcome—these are some of the daily ritual acts
of gesture. In Sanskrit, the word for gesture is mudra, meaning “sign,” “seal,” “symbol,” or “pact.”
Mudra is a precise way of holding your hands, eyes, fingers, or body for a specific act of offering, or
depicting certain states or processes of conscious intention. Mudras or gestures support prayer, aid
healing, and focus your attention on particular areas in precise ways. They are used as energetic
pointers to link you with your intentions and alter your emotional state.
Many of the ancient healing traditions, including Ayurveda and Chinese medicine,
recognize a direct correlation between the nerve paths in our hands and the cerebral
activity of our brain. Meridians, or energetic pathways, located in our hands run through
our bodies and control various functions. When used consciously, hand gestures stimulate
the organs, heart, and glands. Treat your hands and fingers with due respect, because
touching, especially with the fingertips, has an active effect.
Using hand mudras as a technique means respectfully placing your hands and your fingers
in a particular position. Use hand gestures in asana practice, conscious breathing,
meditation, or ritual. Practice them in a seated position as well as lying down, standing, or
walking. Although mudras are traditionally received from a teacher, you can learn them on
your own. While there are numerous complex versions, even the simplest ones, when
applied carefully, can deepen your awareness and alter how you feel.
Practice the following mudras anywhere and anytime you wish to withdraw within
yourself. Select one or two, and allow yourself time to experience their effects. Do them
routinely, like meditation, and practice them for 3 to 5 minutes. As with any position in
yoga, be comfortable and steady. Relax into each mudra and observe its impact, noticing
how it affects how you feel. Never force the position. As you do them, keep your breathing
smooth, long, and refined.
For a more detailed look at mudras and their effects, I recommend Dr. Richard Miller’s
essay, Mudra: Gateways to Self-Understanding7 and the lovely book by Gertrud Hirschi
entitled Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands.8
Anjali Mudra (Gesture of Prayer)
Place both palms together—hands and fingers touching—in front of your heart.
Extend your fingers, and leave a little space between them. This gesture is like an
unguent that anoints and purifies, and expresses reverence and gratitude. Use it to
open your heart and to support relaxation, meditation, and serenity. In India, this
gesture is also used as a greeting, for thanks, or for showing respect.
You can use this gesture as a position for balancing and settling the mind, for making
a conscious intention, or as a movement practiced while sitting on the floor or in a
chair.
GESTURE WITH MOVEMENT AND BREATH:
START with your hands in the prayer position, thumbs touching your heart.
INHALE open your hands and arms, lifting your chest slightly as you breathe fully.
EXHALE bring your hands back to the prayer position, and pause, in silence.
REPEAT 6 to 8 times.
Jnana Mudra (Gesture of Wisdom)
On both hands, lightly touch together the tips of your thumb and index fingers,
extending your other fingers out straight. Easily rest your hands on your thighs with
your palms turned up. You may close your eyes and bring your attention to your
heart as you meditate or consciously breathe. Use this gesture to release mental and
emotional tension, ease respiration, improve concentration, and strengthen your
nervous system. This is a familiar gesture for meditation, symbolizing the connection
of the universal Self with the individual self.
Dhyana Mudra (Gesture of Meditation)
Place both hands flat in your lap, palms up, one on top of the other, with one hand
lying in the other and your thumbs touching each other. Your two thumbs form an
unbroken circle, representing, says Richard Miller, “perfection of spiritual
understanding.” This is a classical meditation pose symbolizing your emptiness and
your openness to receive. Use it during meditation or conscious breathing. It brings
prana into your whole body, opens your awareness, and calms your respiration.
SOUNDS OF MUSIC
Chanting is prayer. It reaches places in the heart that the mind cannot. It takes the
emotions in another direction, without struggle or challenge. In ancient times, chant was
the closest thing to dialogue with spirit. It accompanied the earliest rituals and orchestrated
worship. For thousands of years, this vocal kind of worship occurred everywhere on earth.
Every religious practice, tribe, and tradition has used some form of chanting. Chanting
crosses all cultures. It is relevant for all human beings and remains an important and
dramatic tool for emotional healing. How and why does it work?
1. Sounds have association and meaning. Hear a song and you remember the
circumstances, people, and times. Hearing melodies and sounds from the past makes
connections in your brain and causes a flood of memories. Sounds trigger emotions. This
brings with it the tremendous potential for healing.
2. Sounds in chanting are sounds we attune to. In the traditional culture of India,
chanting is the “art of listening.” When you learn to chant, you first hear the sound of the
chant from your teacher. Then you recite it in exactly the same way. Listening links you
with the meaning of the text or liturgy. Through repetition, the ancient texts are mastered.
3. Sounds have breath. As you chant, you breathe, altering the length and quality of your
breath. This makes chanting emotional therapy. As you extend your breathing, it becomes
deeper, energizing and circulating throughout your body.
4. Sounds have vibration. Your body is a resonating instrument. When you chant, the
vibrations in your body generate changes in your chemistry. Some sounds are heating. Some
sounds are cooling. When your pitch, speed, and volume change, so do you. A lower pitch,
slowly repeated over and over, calms your energy. A higher pitch, repeated fast with a lot of
force, brings up your energy.
5. Sounds also have intent. Intention is what energizes chanting. You can bring intention
into chanting, and chanting itself brings in intention. It deepens your focus and moves your
emotions in a particular direction.
MAKING SOUNDS SING
Think of a chant you know, such as the Lord’s Prayer. Say it or sing it softly. What makes these
words feel different? In a chant, we use words, but not in the ways we usually use them. We chant
to link the words to an intention inside ourselves as we exercise our voices.
Chanting is also about loving the sounds for themselves. Ooooooh Aaaaaaay. Eeeeeeee.
Iiiiiye. Uuuuuuu. Say the vowels out loud. Go through the vowels and feel the sounds. Let
the power of the sounds penetrate your body.
You don’t have to use Sanskrit words when you chant. Use any words you’d like. It’s
good to use prayers from your own language and cultural association. This gives the words
more meaning. Take a piece of poetry or liturgy. Be creative. Choose something familiar to
you. Any song will do. Keep it simple. Focus more on the essence of the chant.
In the ancient Sanskrit chants, each word has great importance. Many words have a
meaning enshrined within them, and their sound is an expression of a larger, universal
force. Once these sounds are expressed through the spoken word, their essence can be
reached as we both chant and listen.
Traditional Vedic chanting often has only three notes, so it’s accessible to most of us.
Basically, the three tones are the upper, the lower, and the middle. A basic chant uses
middle C or any other note as the starting point. The B-flat below it is the lower tone. The
D above it is the upper tone. Transpose your chant into any key. The following chants
incorporate the traditional notations: The lower tone is indicated with a line under the
vowel, and the upper tone by an acute accent.
Emotional Sounds
Use the following practices in chanting to either calm or energize you emotionally. You
may practice these sound lessons sitting in a chair or on the floor. Also try chanting these
sounds as you move in your asanas, sounding them as you exhale. If you are interested in
making chanting a part of your personal practice, find a good teacher. One of the best and
most creative chanting teachers I know is Sonia Nelson, a Viniyoga teacher who lives in
Santa Fe, New Mexico. In her yoga teaching, she incorporates traditional chants and adapts
chanting in different languages for the practice of yoga.
I also recommend two chanting CDs by T. K. V. Desikachar, Pilgrim of Sound and
Union, and the CD Patanjali’s Yogasutra.
CHANTING AS A SIMPLE RITUAL
Try a simple ceremony such as lighting a candle in front of you and then chanting some simple
sounds. Some of these sounds are soothing. Some are awakening. Explore and notice how their
vibrations make you feel. After you light the candle, sit quietly. Inhale. And as you exhale, chant
these words, repeating the chant in one breath:
Ma
Ma is the root word of “to measure,” or “mother,” or “meter.” Mother is the source, and
meter is sensing the pulse or source. Many cultures have some form of the word Ma in
their language. Try some other variations. Repeat each phrase 2 to 4 times, taking a full
breath between repetitions.
Ma-ha
Ma, ah – ham, ah – ham, áh – ham
Aham means “that which is always there” or “that which cannot be destroyed.”
There are hundreds of sound variations. Here are a few more to choose from. Close your
eyes or lower your gaze, and repeat the chant several times. First inhale, and then chant on
exhale:
Soma, Soma, So
Soma is the spirit of love, the nectar of immortality.
Ha-Vu, Ha-Vu, Ha-Vú
This means, “Oh, full of wonder, wonderful!”
Ma-Bhuh, Ma-Bhuh, Ma-Má
These sounds refer to the source of spiritual light.
You can also use an English word like serenity. Repeat it as a chant:
Ser – ren – i – ty.
Let the sounds continue to resound inside you. When you are done chanting, sit quietly
and feel the energy, the vibration, the silence.
CHANTING SEATED WITH MOVEMENT AND BREATH
Remember that sounds are calming if chanted slowly or softly with a lower pitch, and energizing if
repeated fast or loud with a higher pitch.
In a seated position, start with both hands resting on your heart. Inhale and raise your
arms and hands over your head, looking up slightly. (See photo p. 101.) As you exhale,
close your eyes and bring your hands back to your heart, while you chant:
Ah
Let the sound continue with your breath until you’ve completely exhaled and finished
the length of the movement. Inhale, open your arms while looking up, and then chant “Ah”
again as you exhale. Repeat 4 to 6 times.
Ah means “that which protects.”
Also try the sound:
Ah-Ha
Ha means “space.” Ah – ha means “that which protects the space.”
CHANTING IN ASANA
Sounds chanted during asana help create focus. The effects can be calming, settling, and cooling, or
energizing, heating, and enlivening, depending on the quality and pitch of your sounds.
A. Start with just one pose, for example, Cakravakasana, or Goose Posture (See photo
p. 76.)
Inhale, and lead with your chest as you move forward and up. As you exhale and
round your lower back, bringing your chest toward your thighs, sound out or
slowly and continuously chant, “Ma, ma, ma, ma . . .” Bring your belly in as you
exhale, and keep the sounds even until you run out of breath. Inhale and move
forward and up.
Repeat the sound as you move and exhale, 6 to 8 times.
B. Perform the posture again without chanting, and feel the movements in silence.
Notice how you feel.
C. Use a different chant in another posture, such as Uttanasana, or Upright Stretch
Posture. (See photo p. 77)
Inhale raising your arms overhead from the front.
As you exhale and bend forward and down, chant, “Na má ha,” in one complete
breath. It means, “I place my life at the feet of the highest.”
Inhale and come back up to the starting position.
Repeat 6 to 8 times.
When you are done chanting, sit with your eyes closed and rest for a while. Catch your
breath. How do you feel? Reflect on it. Digest the sounds that have penetrated your
system. Lie down and rest for five minutes, and feel a relaxed awareness.
Limb Seven
WISDOM
EXPANDING WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Wisdom is what shows you a piece of the future. It allows you to see new possibilities,
and encourages you to bring up any deeper fears or problems lying beneath the more
apparent ones. Wisdom inspires your interest in new things. It involves asking to see all the
prospects a situation or emotion might bring. This lets you imagine previously undreamedof
realities, and expands your flow of creativity, imagination, and joy. Wisdom keeps you
trusting and accepting, rather than controlling or avoiding. It suspends your disbelief in
yourself.
As Limb Seven of Emotional Yoga, Wisdom expands from the point of knowledge to
the point of hope, connecting you with new dimensions and plans. And hope builds upon
your ability to see and wonder about your future possibilities. When you bring about new
attitudes, ideas, and emotions, you begin to see the potential for change. This is wisdom.
The movement of wisdom is continuous. It’s a never-ending process. Every time you clearly
perceive your emotional experiences, you nourish the seedling of a different future, one
that allows you to blossom and grow.
Wisdom pursues a larger vision. It’s like getting a fortune cookie, but this time you write
the fortune. If you want a better future to evolve, you need to take the right steps. One of
the most important steps is to accept what is happening now. Acceptance is not avoidance.
Nor does it mean that you just sit there and do nothing. Acceptance is a dynamic
exploration that lays the foundation for a new creation.
Your hopes for the future often depend on your ability to accept the people, things, and
circumstances that are presently occurring in your life. Sometimes what at first appears to
be a loss, or a painful episode, contributes to making you the person you are now and leads
you to a happier outcome. By remaining open to what you do not know, you take away the
obstacles and remove your self-defense. You allow your creative energies to flow, and
rework your emotional experiences into wisdom.
Wisdom tells us that nothing in the future can be controlled or pushed, anyway. You
can’t force what’s next. In fact, the harder you try to make something happen exactly the
way you want it to, the more you actually keep yourself from allowing it to occur. At its
base, acceptance is an act of love. And when you do it consciously, you reach a deeper
level. You experience a larger dimension of you and claim new possibilities as your own.
Wisdom is also the discretionary use of knowledge. In Emotional Yoga, once you acquire
self-knowledge, you are ready to apply what you’ve learned. As your life unfolds, it is
wisdom that shows you how to apply the knowledge you have gained.
If you can distinguish and master the feeling of wisdom inside yourself, you will always
know how to live a life of balance. When you participate every day, you involve yourself in
the immediacy of living. This immediacy is joy. Even when the feeling of sadness comes, if
you have a felt presence in your sadness, there is a rush of energy in what you feel. By
letting yourself connect to the highest wisdom within you and bringing it forth, your
emotional blocks will take care of themselves.
STANDING IN THE FLOW
Accept the circumstances and events happening around you, but continue to move ahead.
Be the master of your own movement. Listen to your own beat, stand in the stream, and
you’ll know that it’s moving. You are never in the perfect flow. You are in your flow. Let
life rush ahead and it will energize you.
Try this:
Take three things each day and accept them.
Don’t fight against them or see them as faulty.
Embrace them as if they are “supposed to be.”
Ask: Why is it good?
Now, stir your hopes for the future:
What is the most exciting possibility for me, right now?
Is there any new fear or belief holding me back?
How is my future different from my past? What can it look like?
What if. . . (any possibility at all)?
Allow me to rest in the mysterious present, and let my future unfold.
A PROLOGUE TO WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Here is a simple way to reveal the unexpected magnitudes of your possibilities. It’s a fun
but challenging ritual that changes all the time:
Don’t go to sleep at night until you know you have done something that’s new. It
can be the creation of a new idea or thought, a different way of doing things,
anything you haven’t experienced, noticed, or observed before. Just be certain that
every day has at least one new thing in it.
MAKING WISDOM
As you grow in wisdom, you will grow in your ability to make appropriate choices. If you
engage with as much clarity and presence as possible, you will intuitively know what to
pull out of your bank of knowledge when you’re in a panic state, or are sick, or someone
needs your help. What techniques do you use in these various situations? Trust in your
wisdom, and you’ll know.
1. You’re upset with someone for not calling you back. Maybe you see him or her in
public. What are your choices? Do you yell, forgive, ignore, tease, make jealous? You have
the wisdom to ask yourself what to do.
2. You have a headache, your neck hurts, you are exhausted from sitting at your desk all
day. You feel anxious, lethargic, or depressed, and your sex drive is down. Wisdom tells
you to move your energy. Get down on the mat. Do some postures and breathe.
3. You’re too hot, or too cold. You are anxious or depressed. You need to give a speech
and you’re nervous, you have to lift a heavy object, or walk into a courtroom and testify.
You can let yourself breathe. Take a moment, close your eyes, and deepen the flow of your
breath. Bring consciousness into your breathing and change how you feel.
4. You’re tired, stressed, overworked, or the children are running around and you need
to create a more settled environment. Get away for a while, even for a few minutes.
Indulge your five senses. Take a warm bath, a cool shower. Eat something pleasing. You
can’t make your distractions go away. You need only to deal with them better. Get a
massage, buy some magnificentsmelling flowers. Turn off the television. Take away the
sensory distractions. Wisdom says to withdraw for a time.
5. You need to prepare for the unknown, create a positive intention, or give yourself a
focal point before all the distractions in life start popping up again. Do a ritual. Light a
candle, do twenty push-ups, go for a walk. Read a poem. Sing a song. Call your mother.
Arrange flowers. Draw on your wisdom to see that ritual gives you an anchor point. It
settles the chaos for a time. It justifies what you are doing.
6. When you need to reflect on a relationship, think about a career choice, or make an
important decision, then write about it or verbalize. Start from the point of knowledge—
your past—and then expand your hopes for the future. Let yourself imagine, wonder,
desire. Share your feelings with someone who can be on your side. Write it down in your
journal and be honest about how you feel.
7. Before you make an important phone call, to calm your state of mind, or to stimulate
an idea—meditate. Wisdom tells you to settle your mind. Ride an idea into a new
dimension. Reflect on a visual image or symbol to focus your mind.
You have the tools, now use them. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Make
the practices of yoga personal. Let them be a reference point, where you can go to find
faith and hope.
SUSTAINING ATTENTION (DHYANA)
Limb Seven of Emotional Yoga is Dhyana, or “meditation.” Meditation is the process of
intentionally directing your mind in a certain way for a period of time. You establish
contact with an idea, emotion, or object, and prolong that contact. Whatever happens
between you and the object is the beginning of meditation.
Meditation is like a stream of flowing water. When the flow is continuous, it appears as
an idea in the mind moving in a desired direction—from meditator to the object of
meditation. It is as though you are having a conversation. This is not a logical process, but
rather the creative continuation of deepening your emotional focus.
The seventh limb of yoga teaches you how to enter emotional flow. This is meditation at
its best. Emotional flow is the balance between heart and mind. It is the practice of
directing your mind away from what you feel is undesirable and linking it to what is
desirable. It’s the ability to think from your heart. Once you sustain your inquiry, you can
reveal something new, something you did not know before. By developing the mind’s
power of attention and the heart’s deepest feelings—at the same time—you develop the
invaluable qualities from which wisdom, inspiration, and love truly arise.
Wisdom trains you
to communicate
and interact with
an internal flow
of energy and
intelligence.
Continuing the State of Attention (Dhyana)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 3, v. 2:
Continuing the state of attention causes an uninterrupted creative flow in relation to the idea or object.
I remember the first time I began to meditate. It was the summer of 1957, outside my
house in Highland Park, Illinois. I was six years old, and I could smell the cut grass as I lay
on my back, gazing into the majestic branches of an enormous oak tree. The limbs spread
out over the entire sky. Only patches of blue sky showed through. It was a grand old tree
and I felt protected by its arms. Its roots protruded up into the lawn. I liked to scratch my
back on the dark brown bark. I stayed under the tree for hours—silent, happy, and free—
just being there, at peace with myself. I didn’t know it, but I was meditating.
Twenty years later, I “officially” learned to meditate. I was initiated and given a mantra.
I trained myself to sit upright and still for exactly twenty minutes—twice a day. Then it
turned into two hours—twice a day. I would say, “It’s time to meditate,” whether I wanted
to or not. I would never miss. “Do it, and you’ll be enlightened,” they said.
Twenty years later, I am back to the tree.
The question of meditation is an everyday inquiry. “Meditation is always new,” says
Krishnamurti. “The meditation of today is a new awakening, a new flowering of the beauty
of goodness.” Meditation is not a strict discipline of the mind, nor is it done in the same
way every day. It can be a walk in the woods, a mindful sense of your emotions, a ritual, a
sacred time, or simply a process of observation.
People often say to me, “I can’t sit and meditate, I don’t know what to do.” I say, “Why
do you make meditation more difficult than it really is? Why not just experiment with
yourself? What would happen if you simply began to direct your attention in one direction,
and held that direction? Making a small shift can yield an astonishing result.”
Sit, sometime, on the bank of a river and look into the water. Look at the movement of
the water. Feel the light, the silence all around you, in you, in the river, and in the trees
that are utterly still. Stay with that feeling. This is not a memory, an imagining, or an
escape. It’s where you are. It’s how you feel inside yourself.
Meditation does not mean isolating yourself, although some periods of solitude may be
necessary. I like what the Zen Master Ha Kuin Kakuhe says: “Only fools think that dead
sitting and silent illumination suffice, and that meditation consists only in the source of the
mind’s being in tranquility.”9 For me, meditation is high-level entertainment. It’s a
combination of emotional play, enthusiasm, and saturation in the moment. In meditation
you learn to keep yourself company.
You are the goal of meditation. If you celebrate that, then you don’t have to pigeonhole
the experience by saying, “I am sitting to meditate,” or, “I found it hard to meditate today.”
If you simply turn your attention to what is really there and sustain it, even for a few
minutes, you will find that same presence in whatever you do, all day long, in or out of
meditation. This makes meditation a valuable tool for creating emotional balance.
Meditation—on an emotion, an idea, or an object—goes something like this: First you
take your distracted mind and move it in a desired direction. You put your mind in one
place, or on one object. You stay in that direction long enough to have a discourse with the
object. The object simply becomes a support for your attention. When you sustain your
attention, something flows—and you are meditating.
There are many types of meditation. Keeping your mind on your breath is one.
Reflecting on an idea or form, or quietly observing an emotion, is another. In meditation,
you can have various starting points, distinct levels on the springboard from which you can
dive.
I believe meditating is like opening up the view, on the inside. Opening up the view
means finding a different way of seeing the “hows” and the “whats” of your life. Once you
are open, you simply take a look and appreciate the view.
As the Rinpoche Dilgo Khyentse says: “Once you have the View . . . you will be like the
sky; when a rainbow appears in front of it, it’s not particularly flattered, and when the
clouds appear, it’s not particularly disappointed either. There is a deep sense of
contentment. You chuckle from inside.”10
OPENING THE VIEW
If you ask me for a cup of coffee or tea, I can prepare it for you, but you must add the
milk, honey, or sugar to attain your own level of taste. In the same way, you must adjust
your meditations and make them right for you. Don’t rely blindly on techniques as an
absolute. Be observant and continually question. Use these meditations as guides. Ask, feel,
and listen—and you’ll know what to do.
The following models include various objects of meditation: (1) an inquiry; (2) an idea;
(3) a visual design; (4) a sound; (5) an open-eyed meditation. It is always best to prepare
your body and mind to meditate by moving and breathing first.
Meditation I: Preparation for Meditation with Inquiry
Here is an example of a short movement practice, ending with a simple inquiry to help you
initiate a direction for meditation. There are three steps to this process. Do these steps
sequentially, as together they form Meditation 1. If you prefer, you may choose another
movement practice before you begin your inquiry.
EXHALE
I dedicate this practice to the memory of Martin G. Pierce, a gifted teacher of yoga, who
deeply changed my meditation experience.
STEP 1
START sitting in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair.
INHALE sweep the left arm up from the side and lightly touch your forehead, slightly
lifting your head as your spine and neck lengthen.
EXHALE tighten your belly, and bring your arm down, slightly lowering your head and
chin.
REPEAT 4 times, alternating arms, gradually lengthening both the inhalation and
exhalation with each repetition. Then for 4 more repetitions: inhale and bring both
arms up from the sides and touch your forehead. Exhale and bring both arms down,
lowering your head and chin, gradually lengthening both the inhalation and exhalation
with each repetition.
INHALE
INHALE
STEP 2
When you’re finished, sit quietly with your eyes closed for a minute or two. Then
begin with a simple inquiry. Carefully observe whatever way your heart draws you:
What spiritual or emotional quality do I need right now?
What would happen if I allowed that quality to grow?
Reflect on the answers within you for a few minutes.
STEP 3
Allow an object of meditation to come—any idea, image, phrase, or symbol that
appears. Let something bubble up. Even if whatever comes seems totally illogical, it
may be exactly what you need. Then ask yourself:
What does this object mean in my life?
How does this help me to understand myself right now?
As you inquire, keep your eyes closed, and create a dialogue between you and the
object of your meditation. Internalize the object. Absorb it into you. Continue this
for a few minutes longer. End by sitting or lying down quietly for a minute or two.
Meditation 2: An Idea
Here is an example of using an idea as an object of meditation. I find that this particular
practice brings a feeling of deep inner peace and emotional strength.
Sit comfortably in a quiet place conducive to meditation. Then bring your attention
to the following ideas. Spend at least one minute having a feeling awareness of each
one, and then go on to the next idea or image. Keep your attention there, and feel it
with your awareness. Do this meditation with your eyes closed. You may glance at
the list as a guide, but then bring your attention back to the inside.
Progressively bring your feeling awareness to the following:
1. Your city or location: Wherever you are in your city or town, you are some “place.” As
you sit in this place, feel the presence of where you are. I am in Denver, so I feel that I
am sitting in my home in Denver. I have the idea of being in Denver. Stay with this for
a minute.
2. The area of the city (your neighborhood): Once you have a feeling awareness of the
place where you are, move your attention to the area or section of the city you are in.
Have a feeling awareness of this section of town.
3. Your home: Move your awareness a little closer in to feel the house, building, or
apartment you are in.
4. Your immediate surroundings (people, pets, etc.): Feel the living things that are within
close proximity to you.
5. Your body: With a feeling awareness move in closer still, and feel the edges of your
own body. You may move a little to sense your body.
6. Your breath: Go in a little deeper and simply be aware of your breath. Notice how it
moves in your body. How it comes and goes.
7. Your thoughts: Go more deeply inward and become aware of your thoughts. Notice
how they arise and fade.
8. Your feelings: Come into a deeper awareness of the feelings, sentiments, and sensations
you experience. If you wish, take both hands and bring them to your heart. Allow your
hands to rest on your chest and feel your emotions. Notice their quality.
9. Your awareness: Dissolve your feeling quality into the center of yourself. Rest within
for a moment or two. Dissolve your feeling awareness into stillness, and be in this
stillness. Be at the center of the seed, the wheel, the still point of the turning world. Go
deeply into the presence of being alive.
10. Repeat this process backward: Take your awareness back to the quality of your feelings,
thoughts, breath, body, immediate surroundings, home, neighborhood. Go all the way
back to your awareness of the city or town you are in. End by sitting or lying down
quietly for a minute or two.
Meditation 3: Visual Design
Focusing on a yantra, a Sanskrit word meaning “visual design,” can have a powerful
emotional effect. In this form of meditation, you can use virtually any symbol or design
with personal meaning. Anytime you link with an object or symbol, you not only see what
is there, but you add to it the way you see it. Therefore, the actual form of an object can
be, and often is, perceived in different ways by different people.
Focusing on a design triggers something unique for every person. When looking at the
same object, we all see different things. We describe feelings and thoughts and memories
that come into our minds. A Hindu will look at a symbol in a way a Jew or a Muslim may
not. The story is different for each of us. But whatever we see tells us more about ourselves
than the image. This is the goal of meditation.
As you focus, you will recognize the symbol in front of you and become aware that your
thoughts come from within yourself. As you reflect on your thoughts, the symbol is the
vehicle for discovering something beyond its form.
Here are the steps:
1. Choose the object. You may use an abstract or a realistic symbol, a pictogram, a
photograph, or an illustration. Anything goes, but the symbol must be pleasing and
interesting to you.
2. Wait for the right moment. Begin by sitting comfortably in front of the symbol,
picture, or image. One way to prepare your mind is to do some simple movement
and breathing exercises for five or ten minutes. Or you may simply close your eyes,
observe your breath, and wait for a moment. When you feel ready, open your eyes
and focus on the image.
3. Record the experience and keep it in your memory. With your eyes open or closed,
reflect on the following questions:
When I look at this picture, what do I see?
What does this illustrate or depict for me? What does it trigger?
What is behind this image?
What is my relationship with this image?
What do I feel? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
What is the impression this object sends back?
If you have a problem in pursuing any of these questions, either the question is not the
right one or you need to spend some time preparing yourself to ask.
When you are ready, open yourself to the message, feeling, or picture that comes to you.
Your inquiry will help you discover the wisdom hidden in the mystery of the symbol. End
by sitting or lying down quietly for a minute or two.
Meditation 4: A Mantra or Sound
For centuries, the great wisdom traditions of the world have taught that primordial sound is
one of the most powerful and creative forces of the universe, and a mantra is the means for
harnessing this power. Mantra is a Sanskrit word with many meanings: that which saves, an
instrument of the mind, a divine sound or word, a sensory tool for healing, packages of
energy and intelligence. Mantras are powerful sounds whose potency is released when they
are memorized and held deep inside or repeated. Meditating with a mantra can promote
emotional healing, cleansing, energy, insight, and growth.
In India, mantras were initially introduced by the ancient Vedic rishis, or seers, who, for
hundreds of years, developed a detailed study of vibration and sound and their effects on
the body and mind. These mantras were transmitted from teacher to student for
generations. This is what increased their intensity and power.
Ideally, a mantra should be given to you from a trained teacher or master. Its intention
then becomes sacred, because there is a deep emotional connection. This kind of formal
meditation requires commitment from teacher to student and student to teacher. But no
matter how you receive a mantra, what counts is your sincerity, intention, and persistence
in using it.
Seed, or bija, mantras are one-syllable sounds with no clear or apparent translation. Bija
mantras are not symbols, nor do they represent objects or feelings. They are simply “sound
experiences.” Easily repeated, bija mantras have been used to help clear subtle impurities,
aid in mental focus, inspire creativity, and support emotional healing. As germinating seeds
that sprout wholeness, mantras are a means to establish a link.
Traditionally, mantras are repeated aloud or mentally, while sitting comfortably. You can
also use them along with prayer beads or malas, which are similar to a rosary and consist of
108 beads.
I encourage you to explore the use of mantras as tools for emotional and psychological
healing. For more information on mantras and seed sounds, I recommend Dr. David
Frawley’s book Ayurveda and the Mind,11 and Healing Mantras,12 by Thomas Ashley-
Farrand.
The following are examples of traditional seed sounds and some generally recognized
qualities. It’s important to note, however, that just as written music cannot convey the
emotional impact of live music, so the sound of a mantra and its intellectual interpretation
cannot convey the experience or profound effects it can create with prolonged practice.
When choosing a sound, first reflect on what emotion, feeling, or energetic effect you
wish to create. Then listen to how the mantra influences your vibrations—your intelligence,
thinking, and feeling.
Som (home): for rejuvenation, increased energy, vitality, joy, delight.
Ram (rahm): brings a feeling of protection and peace, is warming, calming, and strengthening.
Hum: for repelling negativity; awakens the digestive fire, perception; good for cleansing.
Gum: for removing obstacles; aids in mental stability, patience, endurance, wisdom, and luck.
Haum (howm): gives transcendental consciousness, power, wisdom, and transformation.
Aim (ayeem): for awakening intelligence; aids in concentration and controlling the senses.
Klim (kleem): for attracting an object of desire; aids in strength, vitality, and abundance.
Shrim (shreem): gives spiritual abundance, health, beauty, and inner peace.
Hum (hreem): for cleansing, purification, inspiration, and seeing through illusions.
Sham (shum with a short u): helps create contentment, calmness, and peace.
Shum (shum with a long u): for creating energy, vitality, and vigor.
Namaha: is a gesture with many meanings: reverence; the feet of God; I bow down; I place my life at the feet
of the highest; I return to myself. Many mantras start and end with namaha.
Om: is considered the divine sound that reverberates throughout the universe. It contains the principle of
unity and cosmic intelligence and, according to Ayurveda, increases space in the mind.
You can combine sounds such as Rama hum, Soma som, Om gum namaha, etc. You
may also wish to use a mantra that is more familiar to you, such as: Thy Will Be Done.
Here is a step-by-step instruction for a mantra meditation:
1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Wait quietly for a moment.
2. Begin to repeat the sound mentally, without moving your tongue or lips. Start
thinking the mantra effortlessly. Mental repetition is not a clear pronunciation. It’s a
faint idea. And if at any time you seem to be forgetting the mantra, don’t try to hold
on, let it go. If a thought comes, easily come back to the mantra.
3. If at any moment you feel that you are forgetting the mantra, you should not try to
persist in repeating it or try to keep on remembering it. You should start very easily,
and take it as it comes, and do not hold the mantra if it tends to slip away. If a
thought comes, the mind is completely absorbed in the thought. Then, when you
become aware that you are not thinking the mantra, you quietly come back to it, you
innocently favor the mantra. It’s a very simple natural process.
4. You don’t need to concentrate. You don’t need to control your mind. Just think the
mantra easily, effortlessly. If sleep comes, let it come. Lie down. Doze off. When
you wake up, easily continue to meditate.
5. Meditate for five to twenty minutes, and take it as it comes. When you’re done, rest
either seated or lying down, or reflect with your eyes closed for at least two minutes.
Make a gradual transition before you resume your activity. If you feel some
sensations, take more time to come out. Open your eyes slightly, close them again,
and come out slowly. Carry this restful alertness into action.
Meditation 5: An Open-eyed Meditation
During the years I lived in Aspen, Colorado, I would often go down to the Roaring Fork
River to a point where two tributaries converged. Sitting on a large rock, I softly gazed out
and opened my view. I wasn’t really looking at anything in particular, but I could feel my
vision expand out to all sides like a wide-angle lens. At that moment, I could feel my eyes
in every cell of my body, as I opened and broadened my vision to include everything
around me.
This is an open-eyed meditation I learned from my friend Dr. Jacob Liberman, a
visionary healer and author of Light Medicine of the Future.13 It dissolves the normal
distinction between what you think you are looking for, and what you think you aren’t
looking for. It’s called Open Focus. You may practice it seated or when taking a hike or
walk. Try it now, wherever you are.
Simply look up for a moment and focus very strongly on an object in front of you.
Look at it with a sharp focus. Then relax your gaze and soften your focus. Feel any
pressure in your eyes release. Look at the object softly and with less intensity.
Follow the flow of your breath and soften your focus even more, expanding your
peripheral vision to include everything around you. Open your awareness and feel
the entire scope of life surrounding you without focusing sharply on anything. Keep
your eyes soft, and feel as if you are looking from your heart.
In Open Focus, you don’t need to focus on one thing, as this will limit your view.
Don’t look for anything. Just see. Sometimes by looking at nothing, you can see
everything.
There is no such thing as failure in meditation. Think of meditation as a journey. You set
out from your home, and keep right on going, and eventually you’ll come back to your own
front door.
Limb Eight
SYNERGY
RETURNING TO WHOLENESS
All of the emotional qualities and energies exist within the wholeness of Synergy, which is
Limb Eight of Emotional Yoga. Synergy is the togetherness of all elements and contains a
piece of each of the parts, because it is both a part and a whole. Synergy is the place of
simultaneous order and chaos—the one and the many. It is the state of consciousness where
all impulses reside. All options and all choices come out of synergy. It is the point of
wholeness where we can reach into the infinite possibilities of all that exists.
Synergy opens you to new information, a new creation, a new way of feeling and
thinking. From synergy, you begin to see the situation from a new place. It’s like climbing
up a mountain. At one point, the air changes. Suddenly you feel a breeze as you look over
the edge of the hill to the other side. Ultimately, synergy is your capacity to engage in the
total relationship with existence that grows with your capacity for amazement and love. In
Emotional Yoga, you could call synergy a form of meditation, but it’s more a way of living
your life with a fresh, new, unbounded energy. Once you learn this kind of living in the
present moment, you can take it with you everywhere.
Within synergy, we as human beings are simultaneously a part and a whole. Everything
in the universe, no matter how large or small, is basically made up of parts, and at the same
time these parts are fragments of a greater whole. We are whole within ourselves and we
are also part of a greater whole—our society, our nation, our world, our universe. From the
largest particles in the universe to the most infinitesimal ones, there are only whole/parts.
When synergy happens, fear vanishes and you feel a relationship with the larger whole.
Ken Wilber14 uses the word holon to describe and define this concept of a coexisting
whole and part. A holon is not a whole or a part but both a whole and a part. “A whole
atom is part of a whole molecule, and the whole molecule is part of a whole cell, and the
whole cell is part of a whole organism, and so on,” says Wilber. In addition to maintaining
its independence and sovereignty as a whole, it also must fit in as a part of something else.
This is synergy.
As both whole and part, we can expand to greater and greater levels of inner wholeness,
but only if we’re able to move beyond our outer selves. We have an amazing capacity to
transcend—to incorporate what went before with fresh components to create something
new.
Therefore, we have two needs: maintaining our whole, and maintaining our part. As we
grow, we become more whole. We also become part of another whole. All growth occurs
in this way—wholes that become parts of new wholes. Thus, a natural hierarchy, or
holarchy, occurs, and we become conscious of higher or deeper dimensions of wholeness.
This is what spiritual and emotional awakening really is.
Synergy says, Be a part and a whole—and a part of the very next moment’s whole—and
every expanding whole, indefinitely. If you return to yourself and recognize this wholeness,
you will create a bridge to consciousness and increasingly awaken consciousness. This is
synergy’s goal: to be conscious of the intrinsic oneness of spirit that we and all other living
beings are. Oneness will bring you everything you have ever really wanted. It will bring
you home.
YOU MUST HAVE EMOTIONAL CHAOS
Order is something we all desire, but chaos is everybody’s business. From what we’ve
learned about chaos, we’re usually intrigued, but never comforted. Chaos seems ominous
because we’re all taught to avoid it. Nevertheless, when it happens, it serves a valuable
purpose.
In everyone and everything lurks the potential for chaos. Amid change, all life is in chaos
—the turbulent sea, the fluctuations of wildlife, the oscillations of our hearts and brains.
Life is most exciting when it’s in chaos. During periods of emotional chaos, you always
seem to grow the most. Disturbances create disequilibrium, but disequilibrium leads to
growth. Chaos is a great motivator, prodding you, pushing you to keep going, to renew
your beliefs and question your behaviors.
Chaos is just the motion of your system organizing itself into a new focus. When
disturbances come, know you are being asked to change and move forward. Sure, it initially
disturbs you because it throws you off balance. You can’t seem to focus. Nothing appears to
be accomplished. But emotional chaos is nothing other than order without predictability.
To trust in chaos is a learned behavior. Deep inside your system’s chaos lies an
extraordinary kind of order. The truth is, chaos and order are barely one step away from
each other. Unsettling as it may seem, your emotional confusion, disturbance, or doubt is
simply the journey of your system moving into and out of chaos—or into and out of order.
It goes something like this: First, you experience a feeling of turbulence or emotional
disturbance. You move into a period of oscillation, swinging back and forth between what
you feel and what you think. As your chaos goes full out, it feels like you’re in limbo. This
is a place of total unpredictability. But as you open yourself and allow it in, what happens is
astonishing. In the realm of chaos, when everything seems to fall apart, this strange kind of
force comes into play. It’s as though a magnet pulls everything into form. Where there was
once chaos, there is now an inherent order: your relationship falls into place, the decision
you need becomes clear, the business plan you are working on starts to gel. Appreciate the
necessity for chaos, and you will understand it as the source of your creative energy and
power.
Moving through chaos is a process with many steps:
1. Trust in yourself.
2. Have faith in a higher order.
3. Know that sanity lies in the meaning of it all.
4. Be gentle with whatever you are going through.
5. Look in the direction in which you want to go.
6. Allow yourself to grow, but be willing to be disturbed.
7. Keep moving.
When you’re in chaos, trust in yourself, believe in your guiding values, and have faith in
a higher order. Whatever happens, the structure of your entire being will maintain its
shape. It won’t dissolve. Focus will emerge. There will be differentiation, that’s all, not
dissociation from who you are.
Know that sanity lies in the meaning of it all. Your main concern is not to gain pleasure
or to avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in life. Meaning is the attractor; it pulls your
cohesive self through.
Be gentle with whatever you are going through. But extend yourself beyond the ordinary.
Pulling back does not take you through. The aim of yoga is to deal with the pandemonium
of the world, not to avoid it. Simply discover through introspective practice the state of
calm. Let your internal refuge guide you through.
Look in the direction in which you want to go. You may feel like a ship at sea being
tossed around. But keep pointing the ship in the right direction, toward the shore or toward
the light from the Coast Guard station. Keep steering the boat. Know you’re going to get
through it all. In the end, there will be a wide calm and a deep delight.
Allow yourself to grow, but be willing to be disturbed. This is the challenge.
Synergy sustains
your link with the
highest eternal
presence, the
source of emotional
healing and joy.
Once you go into your chaos and emerge without too many bruises, you’ll know you can
throw yourself into the meanderings of chaos anytime, and you’ll still be all right.
So the next time you find yourself in chaos, keep moving, and remember what Nietzsche
said: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
MAKING LIFE WHOLE (SAMADHI)
Limb Eight of Emotional Yoga is Samadhi, which is derived from the Sanskrit root
sama, meaning “sameness,” and adhi, “to place or put.” Samadhi is the action of
“placing or putting together into oneness” with something. As you meditate, your
mind becomes absorbed in the object (image, emotion, thought) and you become
completely integrated or placed together with that object.
Here, you become one with the glorious white bird, the tree with all its limbs, the
universe in its immensity and power. Whatever the object of your contemplation, the
object alone shines forth. Here, the depth of your mind gets rearranged. This is the
experience of knowing, itself, without any reference to anything else. What you do know is
the Self within yourself. In this exalted state, free from distortions or distractions, you are
completely open and simply transparent.
In Emotional Yoga, samadhi is the placing or putting together of the various parts of
yourself in order to make you whole. This makes it the process as well as the goal. True
samadhi is the flowering of all meditative practices. It brings the light of enlightenment,
the “highest” state of yoga. Acclaimed as an ecstatic and rarefied condition, it is an actual
experience from which your spiritual life develops.
In the eighth limb of yoga, you learn to let your feelings teach you about life and to let
life teach you about your feelings. You become completely absorbed. You experience the
emotion, the day, the sun. You attune yourself to what is happening, to what you feel. This
is the discipline, but it’s actually freedom.
Absorption (Samadhi)
Yoga Sutra, ch. 3, v. 4:
As one continues the state of attention and becomes deeply involved, the object of meditation stands by itself and
nothing but comprehension of the object is known.
Yoga helps you to slow down—to be present. It also helps the person inside of you, who
needs a lot of time to digest, contemplate, and integrate it all. As you go deep, time slows
down.
Deep attention is a criterion for yoga. It demands that you feel the presence of your life
at all times. Granted, all the times of your life are moments and mysteries to be cherished.
But the moments when you are acutely aware are truly the most pure. The moments that
lead you to a meditative state while you still embody the world lead you to a higher state
of living. A few summers ago at a yoga retreat in Tacoma, Washington, T. K. V. Desikachar
was asked if he was in samadhi. He said: “If I am here with you, I am really here with you.
This is already the state of samadhi.”
Samadhi is not about getting lost or going away and meditating all day long. Samadhi is
simple integration—to be here and integrated with whatever is there in front of you—now.
When you’re in Italy, you get the teal-blue sea. When you’re in Colorado, you get the
freshly fallen snow. When you’re in Argentina, you get the sultry struts of tango. In
samadhi, you’re in a place where your mind is clear, and that allows you to understand the
object as it is.
Living in the present means that you turn to face the world and merge with whatever is
there. This is how the moments of your life get experienced. You get to experience them,
which is a privilege. When you are one with whatever you see, you will see things in a way
you weren’t able to before. For in this very moment, there is no resistance to what is there,
and there is nothing more to know.
Integrating with whatever is in front of you is a practice. You come back to it again and
again. Renewing your commitment every day and in every situation, you perfect yourself
on a regular basis. You never think, I’ve got it, I’m enlightened. Further transformations
continue to occur at every moment in your life. The flow of your existence is constant.
Keep opening yourself to your own unfolding, and in the extraordinary and often ordinary
moments of your attentiveness, a state of oneness will arise.
COMMUNING WITH NATURE
Nature is the closest phenomenon that links us to what is sacred, higher, and emotionally
whole. Nature is filled with feelings of the whole. The church of the earth is the greatest
church of all, the temple of the forest is the greatest temple there is or ever could be, and
the altar of the mountain is the most natural altar. The practice of going out into nature
and bonding deeply with the healing power of the wild is the most ancient, primordial
path of emotional and spiritual cultivation we know.
Go out with the spirit of communing and you’ll find yourself in a love affair with the
earth, the trees, the plants, the birds, and the streams. Relax and open yourself to the
naturalness of what is in front of you. Stay quiet, walk, listen, and let go of the
agitations of your body and mind. Smell the air, and feel the spaciousness of the sky.
Notice the continuum of life happening all around you. Relax, pay attention, and get
out of your own way.
Let go of your expectations. Allow yourself to notice what you see, feel, hear, and
touch. Lie down on the ground or lean against a tree trunk and notice your body’s
sensations. Let yourself melt into the tree or the ground. Does the rhythm of your
breathing change? Is your heart still as heavy as it was? Are you gathering more
energy once again?
Take advantage of surprises: the closeness of a deer, a bird, or a squirrel, a downpour,
a cloud formation, or anything else. Often, these moments open you to tremendous
expansion and clarity. Go out into parks, forests, or mountains. Find a secluded
beach or canyon. In the beginning, you might feel a little bit unsure or even scared.
But as you become familiar with the process, you’ll be amazed at the profound
depths to which you can go.
Communing with nature is not a very complicated practice. You have only to go
outdoors, attune yourself, and commune with the abundant life already there waiting for
you. Notice, explore, and go deep into “great nature’s” extraordinary beauty and vitality,
and its energy will start to manifest inside you. It will bring you tremendous emotional
fulfillment and restore you as a total, integrated human being.
CURVING BACK
As you bring your yoga practice to a close, do it in a way that returns you to the next
phase of your daily life. Make a smooth transition and you will sustain the physical and
emotional qualities you have cultivated. Keep a deep, open attitude of joy throughout your
day by choosing a way to rest, curve back upon yourself, and witness your emotional
landscape.
1. Rest
One of yoga’s most elegant poses is Savasana, the Corpse Pose (see page 100). During
Savasana, your body and mind are completely relaxed and your awareness is acute. This
helps you drop your thinking mind and move into the realm of pure feeling, pure
awareness. Although Savasana is a deceptively simple relaxation posture, practicing it is an
art.
Lie on your back in a comfortable position. You may want to support your head or
knees with a pillow. Place your legs slightly apart and your hands by your sides,
about six inches away from your body, with your palms turned up. Allow your chest
to open so that your breath can flow smoothly. Make sure your spine is slightly
extended and your neck is lengthened. Breathe freely and begin progressively to
release the tension in your body. You may start with your head, mouth, hands, or
feet, and move your awareness from one part of your body to the next.
Keep remembering to sense and feel each body part and at the same time feel the
space within and around your body. Exchange thinking for feeling, as your awareness
becomes less focused in a particular direction.
Stay in Savasana from 3 to 5 minutes. Rest, and open yourself to the effortless flow
of your awareness.
2. The Bliss Technique
After yoga practice, I often use this technique I learned from Dr. Deepak Chopra. The
Bliss Technique lets you absorb the experience of meditation, asana, breathing, or inquiry,
and brings your awareness back to the Self:
Sit or remain lying down and let your breathing be free. Rest your attention deep
within the heart.
Now feel the silence. Keeping your eyes closed, be aware of the silence—and stay in
the silence.
Keep your eyes closed, and have awareness in your whole body at the level of Being.
This means awareness in every cell of your body. Feel your whole body. Your body
is a living, dynamic field of consciousness, awareness—bliss.
Just have a faint idea, an intention of bliss. Feel the bliss everywhere in your body.
The Self is lively, everywhere in your body. Perfect balance, perfect integration,
perfect order, pure consciousness, pure knowledge. Effortlessly keep your attention
in your body, until it bubbles with energy and bliss.
Bring your awareness back, and begin gradually to awaken your hands, fingers, toes,
and then your whole body. Let your body breathe without hurry. Yawn, stretch, as
you open your eyes slowly.
3. Reflection, Chanting, Prayer
After Savasana and/or the Bliss Technique, you may choose a simple reflection, chant, or
prayer that completes your practice. Either remain lying down or come to a comfortable
seated position.
Reflection: Have a positive intention, say a devotional thought, or ask yourself: What
does this experience mean to me? Then pause and reflect.
Chanting: Repeat a simple chant as an end to your meditation.
A prayer of thanks: Thankfulness is one of the most powerful statements of emotional
healing. Gratitude means having an appreciation for what you have and for what you
experience. Thanking is a declaration of faith. To the degree that it is held as truth is the
degree to which it will manifest in your experience. Acknowledge something you are
thankful for: your health, family, friends, work, etc.
Say a short prayer of gratitude and aliveness as a closing ritual. Repeat the words of your
prayer quietly, either in a soft voice or a whisper. Direct your voice inward. The pace you
choose can have the effect of quieting your mind most profoundly. You may draw out each
word as long as possible, pausing briefly to let the meaning sink in. Allow the words to
penetrate you deeply. Easily feel the meaning of each word:
I am healing now. I am grateful for . . .
I rest in my experience.
I feel thy grace, thy divine presence all around me.
I am alive. I am aware. I am fully myself in the present moment.
God is with me.
Amen.
Shanti. . . Shanti. . . Shanti. . .
Peace . . . peace . . . peace . . .
You may also use your breath as prayer: On inhale, have the intention to receive God.
On hold after inhale, say a simple prayer. Exhale make a bowing gesture. On hold after
exhale, release all your impurities. Then, with true willingness and a glad heart, move into
your day.
THE TREE INSIDE ME GROWS
Oh, I that want to grow, the tree I look outside at grows in me!
—RAINER MARIA RILKE
As you work with the limbs, play with the idea of a tree. If you’ve ever planted a tree,
you know: Water the root and the tree inside you grows. Give it time and sustained
practice, renew yourself again and again, and you’ll increase your wholeness. Following the
eight-limbed path: right behavior opens you to right living (Allowance), refining your
personal attitudes brings integrity and joy (Allegiance), conscious movement makes you
stable and strong (Will and Power), breathing opens your heart (Love), silence directs you
within (Harmony), intention focuses your mind (Knowledge), meditation sustains your
attention (Wisdom), and merging with what is real opens you to the highest in all things
(Synergy).
If you’ve never grown a tree, then it’s trickier. How do you grow on a multitude of
levels? It happens by itself. Practice, live, then repeat your practice some more. Untie the
knots and remove the obstacles preventing you from growing. It takes patience to become
good at it, but when you practice it, yoga is enduring. When you live it, it is miraculous.
Yoga goes deep. It is not just on the surface. Yoga is the surface, and yoga is the water,
the depth, and the bottom, all at the same time. Yoga is the entire thing, the whole
enchilada. If you want a contemporary venue for putting together an ongoing emotional
practice for life—yoga is it. Yoga is an ancient, insightful, and thought-provoking art, and
an offering and a gift the moment you take it to heart.
PART THREE
STAYING SUPPLE
Spiritual work is erratic until we decide to keep doing it no matter what, to make the disciplines
of attention an ordinary part of life.
—JOHN TARRANT
1.
On an Emotional Walkabout
“I think I’ll go on a walkabout, to find out what it’s all about,” sing the Red Hot Chili
Peppers. Ever take a walk and just think about things? You simply start to walk while
you’re thinking. You keep on walking and addressing the issues. They might be concerns,
feelings of stress, or conflicts of intimacy or power. Since you’re wandering, it doesn’t
matter where you go. You become preoccupied, entranced, on cloud nine. Perhaps your
journey has no other function than to form a question or deepen your inquiry. It’s like
going on a walkabout.
To the Aboriginal Australians, a walkabout was a search, an exploration, a vision quest—
a time for questioning life’s purpose and one’s place in the world. Entire families would
leave their tribes and wander off. It was a time for introspection, vision, and revelation. It
gave them the opportunity to ask questions about themselves and discover answers along
the way.
The ancient Aborigines didn’t worry about survival. They ate roots, plants, and insects.
They dug holes in the ground to stay warm. In our world, however, this kind of walkabout
is rare—except in the movies. Forrest Gump did it. He just started walking (or running),
and continued day after day until he stopped.
For us, a walkabout can be defined in other ways. It can be an adventure bringing us to
the edge of a new creation. It can be a moment where we stop and inspect who and what
we are, and reaffirm the reason why we exist. It can be a time to observe our creations and
remind ourselves that they are made by our own hands.
Usually what prompts a walkabout is internal questioning—the need for emotional
uplift, focus, or clarity. It might be that you feel discouraged about something, or realize
that whatever you’re doing isn’t working. You may think you are somehow at fault, or you
aren’t feeling much joy. At these times, you start to wonder: Is this all there is? What am I
doing? Am I really happy? Your wondering begins a deep questioning of life. This initiates
a walkabout.
An Emotional Walkabout is what happens when you follow your feelings and let them
lead you along the way. Whatever you come across, you don’t turn back. You meet it and
go on. In an Emotional Walkabout, you notice, you pay attention, and this makes you get
involved with what is happening in your life right now—the phone conversation you just
had, the job you don’t like, the feeling of uncertainty you woke up with this morning.
Dealing with simple events such as these is the basis of your emotional health, and the
purpose of a walkabout.
The true goal of an Emotional Walkabout is freedom, because every time you do it, you
free yourself. You free yourself not to know the answers but to explore them. You free
yourself to trust in your instincts. You free yourself to discover and allow yourself to
change. When you give yourself a choice, you aren’t locked into an absolute. You have an
alternative, and this is freedom. The truth is, you can always choose new ways of doing
things.
It takes courage to listen to yourself and see what emerges. So much can come tumbling
out—your vulnerability, sadness, or pain. Still, an Emotional Walkabout is your training for
emotional survival. It helps you to balance your emotions and embrace your deepest fears.
The problem is, you can’t walk through your fears or get rid of them. But you can
discern and clarify them by walking with them. In the Emotional Walkabout, you walk
with your fears long enough that you find another way of giving them up—or they give you
up. Not only do you see your fears and investigate them, you embrace them as allies. You
discover their benefits. When you embrace your fear as an ally and consciously link with it,
it starts to serve you.
Imagine the possibilities, the might-be’s. If you enter into another realm, you can
glimpse a new way of seeing the events in your life. What matters most is believing in your
self-worth. Feeling the passion in your search, you’ll know it to be yours.
How to Get About
There are eight steps or inquiries in the Emotional Walkabout, corresponding to the eight
qualities of emotional awareness. When you use them as steps in your process, you will
learn to access your emotions from all eight perspectives.
The Emotional Walkabout is practiced through a step-by-step process of discernment. At
each step, you will form a question and listen to the reply. The answer you receive will be
an answer from you, to you. The answer may come to you in a feeling, a thought, or a
sensory response. Anything that comes to your mind is a legitimate answer, and moves you
forward to the next question.
Whatever answer flashes across your conscious mind is the answer. If you analyze or
debate it, you will negate the purpose of the Walkabout. Simply let it flow. Proceed
spontaneously and you will uncover parts and pieces of yourself. This can be both
mysterious and confusing. But as you begin to practice, trust your instincts and go with the
questions and answers that immediately flow into your mind. Simply speak to yourself, step
by step, and allow your inner process to unfold.
The questions used in the Walkabout are best followed in sequential order. You can
repeat the process many times until you feel comfortable with your answers. As you go
along, you can also write down your answers so you can review them later on. But
whenever possible, try to go through at least one entire eight-step process in each session.
Start with one question from Limb One, Allowance. The answer you get will provide
you with a direction for the next question, from Allegiance, and so on.
Every time you do the Walkabout it will become a new experience, with new answers
that are more appropriate to the present moment. It doesn’t always mean you have the
right answer. What it means is that you receive the most appropriate answer for that
moment, and this leads you to something new.
Each of the steps provides you with part of the answer. Each can also give you an insight
or an “ah ha!” experience. Don’t dismiss any of your answers. Listen to them even when
they don’t seem quite right. Whatever you hear is you, being truthful with you. So listen,
and hear the answers arise from the depths of your being. Honor these answers, even if you
don’t understand them.
Sometimes it may feel as if you aren’t getting any answers at all—you don’t have any
clues, and you feel that nothing is happening. Or you may not like the answers you are
getting. But somehow, when you are finished inquiring, you find that something has
changed. Another time, you may get a brilliant understanding or an idea that gives you a
whole new perspective. On one day, you may feel a small whimper inside yourself when
things become clear—your answers are new, and they don’t feel comfortable. And yet, the
next day, when you awaken, you find that you have placed everything in order. You aren’t
reacting the same way as you did the day before. You feel a greater sense of freedom and
emotional confidence.
Self-transformation begins anytime you pay attention, especially when you pay attention
to yourself. By confronting your issues internally, you will strengthen your sense of
involvement with life, and the rewards of your involvement will be profound. Keep
repeating this practice and it will become easier, more natural, and increasingly powerful.
All you have to do is begin from wherever you are and the rest will take care of itself. It is
simply your internal process of revelation.
Once you follow your inner pathway—and not someone else’s—you’ll create passion and
independence. You’ll become dependent on your self, and this is freedom.
THE EMOTIONAL WALKABOUT: AN EMOTIONAL SELF-INQUIRY
Before you start, you may wish to set aside a notebook to record your answers, use a tape
recorder, or even ask another person to take you through the questions. You may also do it
alone, with your eyes closed, as a meditation.
As you look over the suggested questions, use them as ideas. Adapt them to your
particular emotion or situation. You don’t have to stay with the exact wording each time. If
the form of the question doesn’t work for you, use a form that does. Allow your questions
to evolve over time. There is no perfect question to ask. There is only the discovery to
make.
Although there are no specific rules for doing the Walkabout, to receive the full benefit
of the process, go through all eight steps at one sitting—or in one Walkabout. The eight
steps make up one complete cycle of the Emotional Walkabout, from Limb One,
Allowance, to Limb Eight, Synergy.
Begin by sitting comfortably or lying down with your neck supported. Establish a settled
state of awareness and become aware of your breathing. To start the Walkabout, first ask
yourself a question: What do I want this process to be about? Listen for an answer, then
begin your Walkabout.
Step One: Allowance
Key phrases: bringing into focus, initiating the truth.
Using Allowance, ask to know or see the truth of this particular situation. Allowance
reveals the parts of a problem or situation. These initial questions help you understand why
you feel or behave the way you do.
Choose only one phrase or question that seems most relevant to you. When you get an
answer, move on to the next step:
Allow me to see what is creating this situation, emotion, or feeling.
Allow me to know the meaning or the purpose of my belief, fear, desire, or feeling.
Concerning this situation, what am I allowing? Or, what do I want to allow into my
life right now?
Step Two: Allegiance
Key phrases: taking the steps, mapping the path.
Using Allegiance, ask for the steps you need to take right now. Allegiance clarifies the
steps necessary to achieve what you desire. Choose one phrase or question:
If I am to have allegiance to this emotion, situation, etc., what steps would I take?
Show me the steps I can take to balance, expand, change, and/or manifest this key
issue.
How do I take the steps I need to deal with this feeling, person, situation, etc.?
Step Three: Will and Power
Key phrases: cooperating with, just doing it.
Using Will and Power, ask for the will or cooperation to take the steps. Will and Power
shows you how to proceed with a specific action or intention.
Choose one phrase or question:
How do I cooperate with myself to do these things?
If I exercise my will and power in order to take these steps, what would they be, or
what might they look like?
What do I need to do to enable or direct myself to take these steps?
Step Four: Love
Key phrases: discerning the differences, connecting to.
Using Love, ask to see how to discern the level of your involvement. Love clarifies how
you can join with something or release yourself from something you feel is restricting your
growth.
Choose one phrase or question:
How do I connect with this feeling, person, situation?
How do I join with and love this process, or not join with it?
How do I discern the differences between these feelings, ideas, etc., so that I can
have a proper joining with them, or an appropriate separation for balance?
Step Five: Harmony
Key phrases: seeing the bigger truth, balancing the parts.
Using Harmony, ask to see a bigger picture—to reveal more of the truth—of a situation,
person, feeling, etc. Harmony brings balance and allows you to put a problem or
circumstance into perspective.
Choose one phrase or question:
How does this situation guide me toward balance?
What are the key things I need to focus on if I want a proper perspective?
What do I need in order for these steps to be more harmonious to me?
Step Six: Knowledge
Key phrases: knowing the past, remembering those moments.
Using Knowledge, ask to see the times in your life when you have felt or seen the same
things. Knowledge lets you see the present situation more clearly by relating it to past
events.
Choose one phrase or question:
Let me remember when in the past I have or haven’t taken these kinds of steps.
How many times in the past have I experienced these same relationships, feelings,
issues?
What is the difference between what I did in the past, and now?
Step Seven: Wisdom
Key phrases: fortune-telling, a vision of possibilities.
Using Wisdom, ask to see all the possibilities for your life. Wisdom lets you see the
future and encourages you to bring up any new fears or problems lying beneath the more
apparent ones.
Here, you can either go all the way back to Allowance and go through the Walkabout
again, or you can conclude the process with the eighth step, Synergy. The first set of
questions below takes you back to Allowance, and the second set takes you to Synergy.
To Allowance:
What is the smaller fear about this?
Is there another fear that may be behind this fear?
If I take the most exciting possibility and bring my awareness back to Allowance,
allow me to experience this one possibility as real.
To Synergy:
What are all the possibilities or what-might-be’s that may result in my life from doing
these things?
What will the difference be between the past and the future?
Step Eight: Synergy
Key phrases: integrating the answers, returning home, chaos—a new creation.
Synergy brings you to a peace about the situation, emotion, etc. It is the space from
where you can re-create again.
Using Synergy—and always at the end of your Emotional Walkabout—you may do the
following:
Close your eyes and feel the synergy of your answers. Allow the answers to merge
into your awareness.
Acknowledge your life right now, allowing your total participation to be present and
in the moment.
Have awareness in your whole body. Feel the silence, and be in that silence.
By practicing the Emotional Walkabout, you create an internal ritual for yourself that
will help you participate with the events and people in your life. If you use the Walkabout
on a regular basis, the conscious and unconscious parts of your mind will begin to
cooperate with each other, bringing you to deeper levels of emotional self-awareness.
2.
Growing a Practice
Planting a tree is an act of optimism. You do it with a sense of trust in the future. You
nurture the seed with hope, faith, and care, and protect it against the elements. Then you
let it grow. Growth happens naturally. You never push something to grow. The proper way
to grow is by releasing growth.
Plant your tree when you begin your practice. Do it again and again, in manageable
ways, and observe the details of your life. In time, a new green shoot will come up—you
will have an insight, calm your anxious mind, or feel at peace with a challenging decision.
Before long, a delicate new flower or fruit will appear. Just start enjoying the glorious fruit,
or smelling the wondrous flower, and go on with the rest of your life. Have faith
throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring, and allow your seeds to germinate and
grow.
The message of yoga is simple: You have it in you. Everything you need is right there.
All you need to do is to find out what it is by recognizing the possibility that there is
something there inside, and then make a serious attempt to find it. But you have to change
your direction from searching outside, and go within.
The most important understanding is to know that the temple of yoga is inside you.
When you go to a temple or church, often it can be just one more “out there” experience,
when in fact what you really need is a deeper “inside” experience. What is on the inside is
much more trustworthy than anything outside. True strength is in knowing who you are.
Maintain the wholeness of yourself within, and let the seeds of your life grow
everywhere. Slowly, as your inner forces gather, a tree will form that will radiate outward
and pervade the air. This is the tree that is your life. It is a beautiful achievement, a
metamorphosis. And as you continue to unfold, and become conscious of greater
dimensions of wholeness, you will realize that this great infinite reservoir inside you has
been there the whole time.
As Black Elk, the holy man of the Oglala Sioux, recounts: “It may be that some little
root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with
singing birds.”
Integral Practice
My brother-in-law tells an old joke about a young man with a violin case in his hand,
walking down the streets of New York City. Somewhat lost, the young man stops an older,
bearded gentleman to ask him for directions.
“Excuse me, sir,”, he says, “how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
Carefully scrutinizing the young man, the older gentleman says, “Practice, my son,
practice.”
Well, obviously, you do have to practice to get to Carnegie Hall. And this is one of the
ways to use the word practice—as a verb. Most people think of practice as something you
do. You practice the violin; you practice dancing the tango; you practice hitting golf balls.
But the word practice is also a noun. In this kind of practice, it isn’t something you do, it is
something you have—like a doctor’s or a lawyer’s practice. A practice is anything you keep
on learning or doing on a regular basis that becomes an integral part of your life.
Practice is something that’s always there. It’s like a thread that joins every act, every
thought, and every endeavor you do. When you continually throw yourself back upon
yourself, and inquire, test, and discover, you’ve created a personal practice. A personal
practice is intended to give you a positive feeling and help you relate to the world in a
confident way. It is what moves you beyond your self-limitations and engages you in the
world directly. Otherwise, practicing has no meaning. Practice is your path of mastery that
exists in the present—you have to regularly see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, and smell it.
Ultimately, your practice is your path, when you and your path are one. Yet, in order to
have a practice, you have to practice. Your practice exists only so far as it is thoroughly
realized and vigorously experienced.
An ideal practice is an integral one—it embraces all levels, all dimensions, and doesn’t
exclude anything, emotional, spiritual, or material. The words integral, integrate, and
integrity all come from the same root, integer, meaning “complete” or “whole.” Integral is
that which pertains to, belongs to, or constitutes a whole. It’s when your inner world and
outer world mesh.
How does yoga fit into all this? Yoga is inherently integral. It’s a threading together of
processes, practices, and concrete experiences, along with the understanding of how our
behaviors, our bodies, our emotions, our intellectual capacities, our morals, our
relationships, our politics, and our world can work together in harmony for the highest
good.
Yoga is not just an internal endeavor, nor is it just an external one. It has to do with
everything we, as human beings, are involved in. The outer, the inner, the emotional, the
rational, the social, the cultural aspects are all interwoven and equally important for
growing and becoming a better person. This is the whole point of “stretching yourself.”
Stretching means becoming more aware, on all levels. It involves looking at yourself and
your world from a different perspective, maybe from many different perspectives, ones you
didn’t even think were relevant to you. Once you expand your view, you can see a much
greater landscape within and around you. When you stretch yourself further—and make
your emotional life stretch into your spiritual life—your unfolding will expand to levels
that are both deeper and higher. This kind of growth and development is the one on which
an enduring spiritual life depends.
The problem in our world comes from our tendency to fragment our lives by divorcing
reason from emotion, intellect from spirit, the interior from the exterior. We cannot long
survive the destructive force of this split. Integral actions flow from our sense of emotional
connection—caring and trust, empathy and love, responsibility and participation. By living
passionately in our bodies and minds, and being grounded and balanced in our emotions,
we can find an integral path through which we can achieve both personal change and
societal healing.
I believe all comprehensive and integrated paths, including yoga, are a source of hope
and promise for us, especially now. While we’ve never before had access to so many
technologies of transformation, or to so much knowledge about the spectrum of human
possibility, never before have these technologies been so desperately needed. We’ve got to
bring renewed effort and attention to ourselves and embrace as many holistic priorities as
we can.
In truth, there is no amount of proclaiming or advice from television or the Internet
that’s going to get us to experience our lives at a deeper level. As my friend Ken Wilber
says, You can’t download human consciousness onto your computer! You have to grow in
wisdom. And if we continue to focus solely on the exterior technological wonders on our
screen, then clearly our interior development is going to have some catching up to do.
The momentum of our lives isn’t getting any slower. It’s going remarkably fast, by leaps
and bounds. So, before it’s all over, try keeping up by learning all you can about the vast
emotional energy, potential, and ability that is hidden within you.
Work and persist in your practice. Move forward, and take the entire world with you.
The more you hold on to what you think you are, the more you limit yourself and the
world. Drop your limitations and grow, and you’ll be the best person you can possibly be.
Work deeply within yourself to understand the source and power of your own life. This is
what spirituality is all about. Pursue yourself to the core, and don’t spend time with
anything less than that.
Spirituality is not narcissism or self-involvement. It doesn’t just begin and end with
ourselves. It is, rather, the act of paying attention to the world and at the same time
looking at our own lives more deeply. Still, at the heart of every spiritual quest is an
emotional quest—spirituality first must be felt in order to be lived. Then, as we transform
our lives from the inside, we can, at the same time, engage in transforming the world. It’s a
reciprocal event. What is outside of us comes in, and what is inside of us comes out. As Dr.
Richard Moss declares, “This is radical aliveness in which we live spirituality with our
whole being. At the heart of such a life is our capacity to allow feeling.”15
Best Friends
The theme song from the film Best Friends asks, “How do you keep the music playing?”
And how can you make it last? So, how do you make it last? It takes deep faith to remain
with a long-term project, to create a meaningful relationship, or to sustain the challenges of
an emotional inquiry. You’ve got to have dedication to commit to the dynamics of a
romance, or sustain a meditation, or evoke the feelings of forgiveness. Even more, it takes a
combination of maturity, brutal honesty, and the internal skills to confront the place inside
you that doesn’t always practice, or procrastinates, or wants to leave it all and disappear.
But if you keep meeting yourself without hesitation, strengthening your sense of
involvement, and creating opportunities for change, then you have the makings of devotion.
Devotion matures out of experience. You can’t grab it right away. My yoga teacher once
gave me a simple lesson about devotion. He said that there are those people who get
excited about things and there are those people who go deeply into things. Those who just
get excited and are not sincere don’t last very long with anything. They begin a new
relationship, a new exercise program, and then a few weeks later it’s all over. They lose
patience, get discouraged, or lose interest. They interfere with their own unfolding. They
pull up their roots even before their roots have had a chance to live life intensely. Theirs is
a momentary excitement—it doesn’t last over time. In order to go deeply into something,
excitement has to be sustained.
Simply to like what is in front of you is not enough—this gives you no sustenance or
sense of permanence. For a friendship, a marriage, an affiliation, or a practice to last, you
must feel and believe that pursuing this direction is deeply nourishing—not just that you
like or love it. Sometimes the quest to be a good writer, meditator, musician, or lover is a
painful process. You want it right away. You want your efforts to be honored. But things
take time, persistence, and repetition to grow—just like the relationship between best
friends.
In Emotional Yoga, if you structure your practice and stick with it, your relationships
will mature, your body will develop skill, and your heart will expand. But if you keep
things shallow, you will leave feeling discouraged. With diligence and staying power, the
rewards are enormous. If you let go of who you used to be and have faith in your capacity
to change, you will always grow. But growth is true only if it continues each and every day.
In a way, this often feels like you’re starting over.
“Over and over, we have to go back to the beginning”, says author Natalie Goldberg.16
“We should not be ashamed of this. It is good, it’s like drinking water; we don’t drink a
glass once and never have to drink one again. . . . Over and over, we begin. This is good.
This is kindness. We don’t forget our roots.” This is the greatest gift you can give yourself,
permission to grow and stay with it—to get better and better.
So stay best friends with whatever you’re doing, under all circumstances, and it will
make you stable. If you find a way to build rather than tear down, cooperate rather than
criticize, and remain within the heart of intimacy, you can learn to trust yourself and grow
comfortable with your commitments, your loved ones, your postures, and your direction
before you veer off into something new. Give yourself some time to grow.
In the words of Swami Chetanananda, “Growing is the most important and essential
endeavor that a human being can undertake.” It’s the one thing that nobody can ever take
away from you. The growth that comes from your search for self-knowledge makes you a
deeper person in all ways and in all your endeavors. It’s the very foundation that sustains
you through all kinds of difficulties.
Desire to grow, and your growing will continue by itself. Grow and attune yourself to
the greater world of which you are a part. Grow and find a life that is continuously
unbroken and flowing with aliveness. Resolve yourself toward your deepest transformation
—and grow wild.
Appendices
PRACTICE AS THERAPY
It’s time to put together all you have learned about new ways of healing-stretching your
emotions through self-inquiry, exercising healthfully, breathing consciously, using natural
sounds, enjoying the senses, directing your focus, and simply appreciating yourself more.
Emotional Yoga is about coming up with new ways of healing that your body, your
emotions, and your life-style can cope with.
It means finding your own style of practice that makes you happy.
We all have the chance to learn from ourselves, from our past, to participate with our
future health, and to adjust our lives so we feel better every day. It starts at home, with
ourselves, as everything does. That’s why many of the practices in this book are short and
simple to do. Some practices are brief, and some can be longer if you have more time, or
even a weekend stretching out ahead of you when you can layer your practices together.
Do your yoga with an understanding of practice as therapy.
This book shows that you can heal yourself without pretension or difficulty. So, choose
something and be creative. Experiment, improvise. Do it where you are sitting, right now.
And don’t feel scared again, or worried, or intimidated by your emotions. Yoga is really
only about you. Just enjoy yourself.
The following is a menu of Emotional Yoga practices to help you renegotiate your
emotional balance:
For emotional self-awareness, tuning in to your body, or self-inquiry:
Feeling Your Body (p. 25)
Allowing Feelings (p. 26)
Profound Attunement (p. 36)
An Interesting Conversation (p. 41)
Consciousness in Motion (p. 54)
Self-referral Awareness (p. 70)
Breathing Awareness (pp. 71, 122)
The Wave (p. 72)
Discerning the Self (p. 110)
Warm-up Ritual (p. 119)
Rhythms of Rest (p. 139)
Emotional Meditations for the Five Senses: Have You Heard? Withdrawing the Senses
—Sanmukhi Mudra (p. 148)
Meditation 1: Preparation for Meditation with Inquiry (p. 174)
Rest: Savasana (p. 191)
The Emotional Walkabout (p. 201)
For discovering the truth about an emotion, to help you move on, or to let go:
Choosing Nonviolence (p. 29)
Telling Your Emotional Truth (p. 31)
Exploring Your Coveting (p. 33)
Not Holding On (p. 35)
Harmonic Review (p. 135)
Emptying the Archives (p. 152)
Standing in the Flow (p. 168)
For building inner strength, intention, and courage:
Cultivating Purity (p. 44)
An Exercise in Cooperation (p. 58)
It Takes Heart to Feel (p. Ill)
Creating an Emotional Healing Ritual (p. 155)
Emotional Sounds: Chanting as a Simple Ritual, Seated with Movement and Breath,
and In Asana (p. 163)
You Must Have Emotional Chaos (p. 186)
To find sensory pleasure or create positive emotional states:
Harmonizing Your Desires (p. 34)
Deepening Contentment (p. 46)
Emotional Meditations for the Five Senses: Listen Carefully, Experimental Music, Show
Me, A Color Meditation, An Emotional Healing Massage, Eau d’Ambiance, Slow Food
(p. 140)
The Bliss Technique (p. 192)
For study, self-development, and deepening the spirit: Rasayanas, Routines, and
Rhythms (p. 49)
A Framework for Self-study (p. 51)
Having a Dialogue with Self, God, or a Higher Power (p. 53)
Pilgrimage as Ritual (p. 157)
Gestures for Emotional Healing: Anjali Mudra, Jnana Mudra, Dhyana Mudra (p. 158)
A Prologue to What’s Possible (p. 169)
Making Wisdom (p. 169)
Opening the View: Meditation as Inquiry, Idea, Visual Design, Mantra or Sound, An
Open-eyed Meditation (p. 174)
Communing with Nature (p. 190)
Curving Back: Reflection, Chanting, Prayer (p. 193)
For reducing, cooling, stabilizing, balancing, and calming:
Langana (reducing) Asana Practice (p. 75)
Samana (balancing)
Asana Practice with Support (p. 101)
Breathing Lessons: Ujjayi Pranayama—The Whispering Breath (pp. 71, 123), Visama
Vritti—lengthening the exhale (p. 125), Kramas—on exhalation (p. 127), Sitali/Sitkari
—Sipping Breath (p. 128), Brahmari—Humming Breath (p. 129), Chandra Bhedana—
Moon (p. 132), Nadi Sodhana—Balancing with the Sun and Moon (p. 132)
Tools for Reducing:
Increase exhalation, hold after exhalation, left-nostril dominance
Forward bends, twists, lying-down postures
Lower-pitched sounds
Darker, cool colors
Bland, nonspicy foods
Napping, fasting, meditation, rest, relaxation
For tonifying, heating, expanding, building up, and energizing:
Brhmana (tonifying) Asana Practice (p. 86)
Breathing Lessons: Ujjayi Pranayama—The Whispering Breath (pp. 71, 123), Sama
Vrtti—inhale/exhale the same (p. 123), Visama Vrtti—lengthening the inhalation (p.
125), Kramas—on inhalation (p. 127), Surya Bhedana—Sun (p. 132)
Tools for Tonifying:
Increase inhalation, hold after inhalation, right-nostril dominance
Backbends, standing postures
Higher-pitched sounds
Bright, warm colors
Hot, spicy foods
Energetic exercise, strong continuous movement, excitement, activity
RESOURCES
For more information on Emotional Yoga and Bija Bennett’s lectures, workshops, and
related products, please contact her web site at: www.emotionalyoga.com or e-mail her at:
Bija@emotionalyoga.com
Recommended Viniyoga resources:
Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram
31 Fourth Cross Street
R K Nagar, Chennai 600 028, India
00-91-44-4933092/4937998/
4620202
web site: www.kym.org
Gary Kraftsow
Founder/Director, American
Viniyoga Institute
P. O. Box 88
Makawao, Hawaii 96768
808-572-1414
web site: www.viniyoga.com
Sonia Nelson
Director, Vedic Chant Center
PMB 131, 1704 Llano, Ste. B
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505
Fax: 505-992-0950
web site: www.vedicchantcenter.org
Pierce Yoga Program
1164 N. Highland Avenue, N.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30306
404-875-7110
web site: www.pierceyoga.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
BIJA BENNETT
BIJA BENNETT is an internationally renowned yoga teacher with extensive training in yoga therapy,
meditation, fitness, and dance. For more than ten years she has co-led seminars with Deepak
Chopra, M.D., and treated thousands of patients at his Ayurvedic medical center. Bija is a long-time
student and teacher of Viniyoga and continues her studies with T. K. V. Desikachar and Gary
Kraftsow. She holds an M.A. in Dance from UCLA, has accreditation as a personal trainer and
fitness counselor, and is a teacher of meditation. The author of Breathing into Life, she lives in
Denver, Colorado. Bija can be found on the web at: www.emotionalyoga.com
LOIS GREENFIELD
Lois has been an editorial and commercial photographer for more than twentyfive years. She has
created signature images for most of the major contemporary dance companies, and her
photographs appear in museums, magazines, and advertising campaigns throughout the world.
Collections of her work appear in Breaking Bounds (Chronicle Books, 1992) and Airborne
(Chronicle Books, 1998). Lois can be found on the web at www.loisgreenfield.com
CHRIS GRIDER
Chris was born in Katmandu, Nepal, and is a professional dancer with the Toronto Dance Theatre.
He practices Viniyoga to complement his art.
MARSHALL BENNETT
Marshall is Bija’s dad. He is an industrial real-estate developer based in Chicago and has been
practicing yoga and exercising regularly for many years. Marshall celebrated his eightieth birthday in
2001.
Notes
1. Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation (New York: Schocken Books, 1985).
2. Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (New York: Bantam,
1999).
3. Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma (Destiny Books [a
division of Inner Traditions International; English translation, 1991], 1983).
4. S. J. G. Ousely, Colour Meditations (L. N. Fowler, 1969). (first edition 1949).
5. Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred
(Conari Press, 1998).
6. Ibid., p. 88.
7. Richard Miller, Mudra: Gateways to Self-Understanding (Anahata Press, n.d.).
8. Gertrud Hirschi: Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands (Samuel Weiser, 2000).
9. From an article in Emotions in Asian Thought (State University of New York Press,
1995).
10. Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (San Francisco: Harper-
SanFrancisco, 1992).
11. David Frawley, Ayurveda and the Mind (Lotus Press, 1997).
12. Thomas Ashley-Farrand, Healing Mantras (New York: Ballantine Wellspring, 1999).
13. Jacob Liberman, Light Medicine of the Future (Bear & Company, 1991).
14. Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (Shambala, 1996).
15. Richard Moss, M.D., The Second Miracle (Celestial Arts Publishing, 1995).
16. Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (New York: Bantam, 1990).
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