Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Pratyahara is about slowly regressing to a point of basic existence. Obviously, this means that yama, niyama, asana and pranayama should be continuously performed while winding down.
As expertise in yama and niYama increases, our need for proving ourselves to society decreases, personal ambitions abate; consequences become irrelevant, so anxiety and fear reduce in incidence and intensity. Practice of asana and pranayama bring increased fitness and a consciousness of the body and it’s functioning. Slowly the senses change focus from outside the body to inside the body. This is pratyahara.
Finally, the negation of personal body and its functioning leads to that which drives existence, the concept of existence and the meaning of “Self”. This results in the negation of form or roopa and this is dhyana, dharana and samadhi.
Pratyahara is the point where yama, niYama, asana and pranayama converge and become svadharma or conditioning; that is changed conditioning of the identity, making it ready for samadhi or liberation. In that sense, deep practice of pratyahara will result in dhyana, dharana and Samadhi.
Some of the conditioning (svadharma) changes and their consequent behavioural (svabhaava) changes would be;
Conditioning (svadharma)
Behaviour (svabhaava)
Reduced dependence on others.
Neither seeking nor rejecting

Deep need for introspection
Preferring own company

Unafraid of rejection
Reduced need for praise. Ability to handle praise with grace.

Knowledge from introspection
Disinterest in external stimulus
Hunger control
Not disturbed by hunger
Calm in all situations
Deep equanimity
Capability of deep muscular relaxation
Ability to reach deep homeostasis
The breath goes past the septum. Behind the septum is the nasal cavity. The septum acts like a venturi, so when the air goes past it, it expands suddenly and gets a swirl when it hits the roof of the nasal cavity, resulting in the following;
Ø  There is a rushing sound generated by the swirling of air in the nasal cavity.
Ø  The increased energy downstream of the flow of air results in an increased temperature of air when it enters the nasal cavity.
Ø  The entrance to the auditory tube is also in this cavity, so any change in pressure here will affect the pressure in the Eustachian tube – hearing and balance.
Ø  Finally all the senses of taste and food temperature are centered round the face.  
Why is this important? The experience of breathing comes from the sound and sensation of breath going past the septum and the olfactory receptors which also transmit the sensation of smell. Similarly, all other senses are directly or indirectly associated with the breath and the quality of breathing. Therefore, control of breathing is essential for control of the senses.
When the suction pressure is equalised with the septum-nasal cavity pressure, then there is no sensation of breathing. This should be achieved and retained, even during activity.
What needs to be achieved is the experience of “null” or shunya or emptiness. Sit in any convenient asana (padmasana preferred). Focus on the bahira kumbaka (emptiness after exhalation). Try to get into jaladhara bandha and moola bandha. Hold for as long as possible. Increase duration.
Ø  Sit in a secluded place. The place should be one where one can go to regularly and should have a pleasant atmosphere.
Ø  Sit on a chair or on the floor. Floor postures hold the body more firmly; this is preferred.
Ø  Sit in a comfortable pose. Padmasana, sukhasana or vajrasana are preferred, but it is possible that there is discomfort initially. In such a situation, start with one of the above asanas and re-seat to a comfortable posture for the remainder of the meditation period. Over time, one pose will become the preferred pose and the body will fall naturally into it. The important point to remember is that the back must be erect from the coccyx upwards. The perineum, which is the seat of the mooladhara chakra must touch the ground.
Ø  Relax the body using auto-suggestion (suggestive commands given the person to one self). Start from the top of the head and slowly relax each part. Try to break the command into specific locations. For example; instead of saying “relax the brain”, say “relax the front of the brain, relax the left side, relax the right side, relax the back… etc…” This will lead to quicker and more effective relaxation. Relax completely. Remember that relaxation becomes deeper with practice.
Ø  When the body has relaxed completely, it will be noticed that breathing becomes shallow and even. Observe the breathing. Observe the interval between puraka and rechaka and vice-versa. There is a miniscule period of silence and the breath crosses over from intake to exhale and vice-versa. Focus on this silence. Try to extend the silences even when breathing restarts. Try to keep the breathing even and without ripples or agitation.
Ø  Stay in this position for around 10-20 minutes. This may be performed once or twice a day. It is not recommended to do this for longer periods unless one is interested in deeper spiritual investigation.
Distraction: The sense of identity generally keeps seeking assurance of existence, so keeps pinging to the environment for assurance of existence. It latches on to any form for this assurance. This is distraction. Distraction is any activity that should be avoided if one wishes to eliminate the images that arise when meditating. Some are straightforward, such as watching too much TV, but there are others that are subtle and not easy to define or discriminate. This takes time and often a lot of effort. While the grosser elements may be easy to manage, the subtler elements take enormous effort. But, as a result of this effort, awareness increases.
Ø  External distraction: This comes primarily in the form of noise and is hard to ignore. To avoid this, one could practice in the early morning hours and in a secluded part of the home. If this is not possible, then one should seek a location where this is possible. As one practices this, it becomes easier to control the mind from being hijacked!
Ø  Internal distraction: This is harder to control. As one meditates, the mind will jump off into a thought. This thought moves to different subjects and before one knows it, one has shot off into a tangent. The harder one tries to control the mind, the more it foils attempts at control.
To control this, one must view the thought as an action that is independent of control. Allow the mind to drift but gently draw it back like a grandparent pulling back a child from danger. It is hard, but with practice, one will be able to achieve ananchor in silence and experience clarity and high level of internal awareness.
Hijack: This term has been used to describe what happens if the person does not step back from the associations that the mind continuously makes. The associations lead to emotion and passions, both positive and negative. This leads to anger, lust, greed, jealousy and other emotions that overwhelm one during meditation and completely disrupt the practice. One will actually experience body responses to passions associated and this can be avoided by continuous practice of yama and niyama. Step back!
Exercise: Sit in silence. When the mind goes astray firmly bring it back to the silence within. Start with 5 minutes and try to increase to 20 minutes. Perform twice a day. This is sufficient as a daily requirement.
Measure of success:
Ø  During practice of pratyahara, duality slowly gets eliminated. Darkness and light merge, silence is the preferred mode of communication and there is stillness in the self.
Ø  There is no judgement, no fear of rejection or expectation of victory. An indifference to success, ambition, consequences, opinion, sex creeps in.
Ø  There is no seeking, no reaching out for solution- but if a problem needs resolution, it is done with no expectation of any credit, material or otherwise.

PostscriptI am a novice in pratyahara, my experiences are very elementary. Hence, this post will keep getting updated as my maturity grows.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

IntroductionAll identity depends on the stimulus-response cycle to reinforce existence. When the identity is isolated, the person will experience extreme fear and anxiety at the loss of confirmation of identity. Hence, complete and sudden isolation of the identity is neither advisable or possible without severe psychological damage. Hence, practice of pratyahara will need to be in stages.
A comparison: We can liken ourselves to a computer.
Ø  We are born with a certain configuration – we can be a 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 or 256 bit machine, with varying RAM or hard disk capacity. This is our DNA.
Ø  When we are started, our start up software only knows how to cry – when we are hungry or uncomfortable.
Ø  Our operating system (OS) is loaded by our parents from age 0 to 4. This is dharma or conditioning.
Ø  On this OS is loaded various software’s which we will primarily use to interact with the world. This is loaded primarily at school, by friends and family between the ages of 4 and 19.
Ø  We begin interaction with other machines and evolve as we load and learn to use our software programmes. This is svabhaava or behaviour.
Ø  Once we are capable, we are attached to a server and begin to first act as a slave and then progress to being a server ourselves, depending on our capability and awareness.
Ø  By now, we have changed, added and used a lot of programmes and applications, our contact list is huge, and we are networked to a wide web called society, following strict protocols of operation.
Ø  However, over time, we begin slowing down because, though we may have a very good configuration, we have loaded ourselves with a lot of outdated software and do not have the capability of processing the new information. There is a drop in performance and though we try, we are often discarded for newer machines or relegated to less significant roles. At this stage, many of us are also dissatisfied with the way the whole network is operating and are seeking new solution.
Pratyahara and system maintenance;
Yama – We regulate our interaction with the network;
\ We stop trying to respond to all data coming in. If it’s on cc, it’s for information, not for action!
\ We are choosy of the battles we fight, we learn to say NO!
\ If possible, we disconnect from as many servers as possible and stay connected only with the important ones.
\ We update critical software regularly.
\ We don’t spread malware!
NiYama – Here we speed up our system capabilities;
\ We remove programmes, files and folders not in use, or have no value. We free up RAM and disk space. Initially, we may keep it on an external disc but ultimately, we get rid of it.
\ We load new programmes, more relevant to our current status.
\ We curb you ambition to more sustainable levels.
\ We get out of smaller and non value adding networks. Stop watching TV.
\ We learn key skills regularly,
Asana – system fitness;
\ Perform defragmentation regularly.
\ Ensure segments are aligned and dead segments isolated for optimum performance.
\ Ensure system temperature is managed well.
Pranayama – Keeping the system in a flow.
\ Clean virus regularly,
Summary: We build capability on the configuration that we inherit. Over time, we layer these capabilities with applications, programmes and upgrades, finally reaching a stage where our processing capability slows down, sometimes to a point where we become ineffective. Sometimes we rediscover ourselves by adding capability, but often we find the need to transform ourselves. Pratyahara is an exercise of eliminating these layers and learning to operate from first principles – our operating system.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The classical definition of pratyahara (retreat in Sanskrit) is withdrawal of the senses.
Why is this stage important? Raja Yoga consist of 2 major stages – kriya yoga where the actions of an individual are tempered to a spiritual goal and samyama yoga where the individuals internal processes evolve to reach the spiritual goal of samadhi. Hence, prayahara can be called the bridge between the activity based yoga or bahiranga (outside arm) and reflection/ meditation based yoga or antaranga (internal arm). It can therefore be construed that serious practice of pratyahara will make the practitioner withdraw from society and work at a deeper understanding of the self.
Revisiting the concept;
\ Everything we do is for our sense of identity.
\ Our sense of Identity exists because someone acknowledges our existence.
\ Hence, with these entities that acknowledge us, we build an existential bond to ensure that we get continuous confirmation of our existence.
\ From the beginning of our existence, we build multiple bonds and these bonds condition us and ultimately define our identity. This is called dharma or conditioning.
\ Within our bonds, we either find congruence or dissonance of dharma or conditioning in the bond and this causes and movement towards or away from the other entity. This is karma or action.
More on dharma or conditioning;
Dharma or conditioning covers more than just human conditioning. It covers all existence. Dharma is the “rule of existence “which defines the existence and role of each entity in the universe.
Let us start by looking at the dharma of a few entities.
1-   A waveform – a wave is an oscillation, vibration or disturbance pattern, each wave having a different connotation. Waves can be mechanical, electromagnetic or gravitational but each is different and can be termed as a unique manifestation of an identity by way of different amplitude, frequency, wavelength and speed.
2-   Elements – all matter comprise of elements, each having a unique identity. For example – Hydrogen’s identity is known by its atomic number 1 and atomic weight of 1.007. It behaves in a manner particular to an element having the above atomic weight and number. Should the atomic number become 2, the element will become Helium, having completely different behaviour.
3-   Combination – when elements combine, they form molecules. Water, the most abundant of resources, is a combination of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms. The resulting water molecule is nothing like its constituent elements, but water has a unique identity and its behaviour is unique. This is its conditioning or dharma.
4-   The body – within the body, the heart is built in a particular manner and performs a function which cannot be replicated by another organ, such as the kidney, stomach or liver. The heart functions in the same manner, whether in a pig, goat, frog or shark. This tells us that the heart has a dharma, as has each organ in the body.
5-   The organs of the body cannot function outside the body, the body cannot function outside the earth, and the earth cannot function outside the solar system because it is held in place by the relative position of the Sun and other planets. Each of these entities, no matter how big or small have an identity and a function which is inviolate. The lion will always be a predator, a deer always a prey. The roles can never be reversed, this conditioning of each entity is dharma and because of the universality of the concept, it is called Sanatana Dharma (Universal conditioning).
Raja Yoga is an exercise in regression where we move from current existence to the root of our identity by slowly isolating elements of our identity. The process is in 2 phases – Kriya Yoga, where we neutralise our external bonds and conditioning, so that we do not experience fear of loss of relationships through yama and niyama; align the bonds within the body through use of asana and pranayama and finally isolate our existence through pratyahara. The second phase, Samyama Yoga consists of merger of the identity with the source, in this case known as the Brahman.
The key experience which we will need to tackle is fear and its opposite emotion, exultation. The journey begins with kriya yoga which has the following components;
Yama – control of one’s interaction with the environment. Here we mould our behaviour to follow specific rules when dealing with our environment. This is conditioning or dharma.
Since, this conditioning is a voluntary transformation and need not necessarily conform to societal norms, it is called svadharma (sva= self). Also, since this conditioning causes change, they induce an experience of fear, anxiety, conformance, binding and other emotions which will need managing.
When following yama we respond to stimulus through regulation of behaviour. This results in a heightening of awareness during the transaction, but often we have to force ourselves to conform to the rules of yama, and this induces stress in us. Simultaneously, the increased need for awareness forces us to reduce the number of transactions to ensure better compliance to yama because others may not conform to our standards forcing us into situations where we feel we are breaking rules. This can result in temporary feeling of insecurity as we cope with the altered awareness demands of yama.
NiYama – yama results in altered consciousness and stress owing to forced changes in behaviour which need to be supported by corresponding changes to our conditioning (svadharma). In yama, strict rules of behaviour is maintained but this causes the following outcomes; it causes anxiety of both decision making and outcomes, fear of non-conformance, exaltation at receiving praise or success and finally, baggage or residue of the experience, all need to be calibrated to ensure that we are close to homeostasis in any situation. This is not easy but over time conforming to yama rules, yet staying in homeostasis becomes easier. As this change occurs, increased requirement of conformance to niYama rules kick in requiring a person to focus more on various aspects of his or her own conditioning (svadharma) and identity (siva).
Asana – Behaviour without a healthy body is like a car with a good engine but a rusted body. It will fall apart when subjected to the stress of changes induced by yama and niYama. Asana aligns the various elements of the body to keep the body in a condition of homeostasis. This element removes illness and makes the body fit to take on the stress of everyday living.
PranaYama – Breathing is critical to regaining balance in any stimulus-response. In any stress situation, breathing is hampered. Breath control maximises oxygen absorption, ensuring tissue regeneration, healthy oxygen balance in the blood and better left-right brain activity. Hence, this is a critical aspect of one’s development.
So, it is obvious that pratyahara is the crossover point from material existence to spiritual consciousness. It is an exercise in the negation of existence and experience of the residue of that which remains after the negation.

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