yoga taught by Gheranda to Chanda Kapali
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of "Gheranda Samhita"
The Chapter 4 of Gheranda Samhita is the shortest chapter in the book, however this is not the sign of its minor meaning, but maybe there’s nothing to say more – just withdraw all 5 senses including the ever-wandering mind back to the source, and practice, practice, practice until one gets mastery over them. What is interesting that all the chapters of Gheranda Samhita are describe the limbs of yoga in a certain enumerated way 1-2-3…, however it’s obvious for me that they all should be practiced simultaneously. And from this perspective Pratyahara is very important technique to be mastered first of all, especially during pranayama and meditation and also and after the practice, as for without Pratyahara mind techniques are not possible to accomplish successfully.
It’s important to note that Patanjali describes Pratyahara after Pranayama, as a part of meditative chain of the consciousness ascendance process: Pratyahara-Dharana-Dhyana-Samadhi.
I think that in Gheranda Samhita it was highlighted that Pratyahara is also important before Pranayama and especially in the process of everyday life on the whole, because there’re no references to exact practices – there’s only description of the technique itself, which can be used at any time possible for the adept.
My understanding of Pratyahara is the following. During my personal practice I often hear the inner voice of the ever chatting mind. My attitude to it is like to background music – I hear it but feel as a clean sky that’s high above the moving clouds.
However the same way as it happens in nature, there’s sunny days, and there’s cloudy days, there’re sunny weeks and shower rain or ever thunder during a week or more. And as more (more often, longer and deeper) I practice, the time lapse of awareness elongate and it seems that it becomes more easy to practice, though there comes another level of intensity that disturbs the state of Pratyahara, and it looks like a layer-cake of consciousness.
1.2. Requirements for living
In Gheranda Samhita it’s highlighted that before Pranayama practice one should move into a specific place, where no extra disturbances will affect an adept. There’s a requirement of a country to live in: ”devout kingdom… which is free from upheaval”. Concerning Russia this is just the opposite – it’s not free from upheaval and it’s not devout. So there’s a big need to move out if one follows Gheranda Samhita word by word. However there’re are also rules of a spiritual seeker (taken from a code of a Samurai – so-called Dokkōdō 独行道 by Miyamoto Musashi 宮本 武蔵 from 1645) and I believe it has great value as much as other ancient scriptures – “Be indifferent to where you live” and “Accept everything just the way it is”. So I wonder if this issue of which country to live should bother an adept or not.
Is there an ideal place to live for a yogi in contemporary world? Do all the time, energy and money given for changing a country of residence worth the effect? How does the environment really effect one’s yoga practice?
I think over these questions from a perspective of Pratyahara. If an adept mastered Pratyahara, nothing surrounding him influences his yoga practice, doesn’t it?
Especially there’s important note that living in a city or around people makes yoga not successful. From my point of view, these requirements are almost impossible for our modern world for a common person, who has to work and get money for living. However, concerning money issue: there’s a requirement about the country which “Alms are easily available”. So who is ready to live such life?
Also the place requirements are rather not really unpretending: an adept should have a one-standing hut with an area around, with a well of clean water – this all should be not in a city, but near it, with a possibility to get all the food necessary, which should be acquired (bought) with alms. Or one should work at a job to provide all the requirements needed, such a job that an adept will be able to own such a place and be supplied with food, water, air, and – what is really important – time. Having such an ideal place in one’s mind there’s no possibility to start yoga until 50 years old(?).
1.3. Samadhi and Bhakti
In Gheranda Samhita we see a short description of the six-fold Raja Yoga with different stages of Samadhi, where final two are highlighted: by means of Shambhavi one attains Dhyana (concentration) and it is called "very precious", because "by means of it, the soul becomes directly perceptible". Then the siddhis are enumerated in context of achievements: Bhramari gives nada (hearing of inner sound), Khechari - ryogasananda (bliss in taste), and Yonimudra - laya siddhi (absorption in bliss of sexual love). Further we’re notified that "The great Yonimudra is to be kept secret." and nothing more is said.
Then Gheranda Samhita states that the 5th Samadhi is not attained by means of but it is received through the compassion and grace of the guru and by devotion to him. This Samadhi is given to those "who every day has conviction in his learning, conviction in his guru, conviction in his self, and awakening of his mind.”
Thus, it is stated that the Highest Samadhi can arise “by means of devotion, and the sixth is trance". In Russian translation of Gheranda Samhita from Sanskrit this struti looks like: “The 5th is attained through Bhakti-yoga and the 6th is Manomurchha”, which is commented as the act of unity of Manas with Atma and by this Union is obtained Raja-Yoga Samadhi.
It is prescribed that one should "Separate the mind from the body and unite it with the supreme soul.” Thus if one’s consciousness is free from its different states that is Samadhi.
"Becoming one with bliss, he attains unity with Brahman. By the realization that he is Brahman, nondual samadhi arises" - Aham Bramhāsmi or SoHam.
It’s important to mention that Gheranda Samhita doesn’t mention that one should "Bring light and intelligence back to earth", but it's repeats several times that one should separate his mind from body and absorb in the Light of the Highest.
I believe that there're no clues to understand what really a person should do after attaining Samadhi, until one really attains it. And it is only one's responsibility and wisdom to follow the call of the soul what to do, as for only the connection with one’s soul will give pure understanding of real actions to perform.
Following the recommendation of bringing "wisdom" to other people for western people may sound as a call to action, which switches on one's ego.
But in the 1st chapter we've been already warned that "there is no fetter like illusion, no force greater than Yoga, no friend greater than knowledge, and no enemy greater than Ego."
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga and meditation
2.1. Samana Nadi Shudha Pranayama
It’s interesting how differently look descriptions of colors in the chakras in the books we read. Most of the sources (pretending to be the most accurate) state that chakras match rainbow colors. However in many other sources we see different colors which correspond to the same chakras. For example, in Kundalini Tantra: there’s red in Mooladhara and Sahasrara, red and blue in Swahistana, and red, grey and blue in Anahata, etc.)
Also in Gheranda Samhita we can see different colors in description of Samana Nadi Shudhi Pranayama presenting 3 stages, where colors corresponds to chakras. For Anahata (the center of Prana Vayu – Wind) the color is smoky grey. Next stage is the navel – the center of Fire (Agni) - Manipoora, the color is associated with Earth element, which is brown, red, orange, yellow.
Gheranda Samhita mentions that one should repeat the seed mantra of the Wind, but there’s no exact word(s) for the mantra in it – only in comments of the publisher (James Mallison) it is said that Wind (Anahata) mantra is ‘Ya’ and no mentioning of mantra for Manipoora at all. However in Russian translation from Sanskrit of Gheranda Samhita the sounds are clearly presented: ‘Yam’ for Anahata (1st stage), and ‘Ram’ for Manipoora.
And the last stage of practice has 3 levels. On exhale it corresponds to Vishuddhi with it’s meditation on orb of the Moon with beeja ‘Tham’ (or it could sound ‘Ham’, I believe), but no obvious color presented.
Next there’re futher descriptions of colors: Kumbaka is about the connection of Bindu (Moon nectar of immortality flooding) to Swadhistana (which has also has the image of the Moon) with its beeja mantra ‘Vam’. On exhale there’s beeja-mantra ‘La’ in English version, which could match with ‘Lam’ of Mooladhara, but in Russian version it is said that mantra is ‘Lakara’ instead of ‘La’, which could correspond to Lalana chakra, which is clearly connected with Bindu and Vishuddhi.
This all looks rather complicated for the first sight, though when practicing it really creates attitude of stability and concentration, thus it prepares one for pranayama practice, as it's recommeded in Gheranda Samhita. Of course the count 16-64-32-0 is rather difficult, but if it’s practiced in the same manner with the basic count (1-4-2-0) it works great.
2.2. Hidden Tantra
Gheranda Samhita describes Vajrolimudra which looks similar to Navasana, which is wide-spread in modern yoga. However it looks more like a simple version of Navasana with the palms of both hands on the ground.
It is important to note that in the preface James Mallison says that “in all other manuals of Hatha Yoga this name is given to a technique in which the yogi and yogini resorbs commingled sexual fluids through the urethra; here [in Gheranda Samhita] it is a simple physical posture…” – so the translator concludes that Gheranda Samhita stands apart from the Tantric influence.
However in the text it is clearly stated “The sages prescribe this Vajrolimudra to awaken Shakti and bring about a long life. The great goddess Kundalini, the Shakti of the self, sleeps at the Muladhara…”Thus, it is obvious that Gheranda describes all the postures (yogasanas) taking into account the awakened Kundalini in the adept, otherwise “…as long as she [Kundalini Shakti] is asleep in the body, the jiva is but a bound animal and gnosis does not arise, even if the yogi practices innumerable Yogas.”
That means that Gheranda Samhita presents yogasanas not just for physical benefits, but to prepare the adept for sitting comfortably, pushing the energy up from Mooldhara and meditate.
What really confuses modern readers is that there’s almost no mentioning of energy effects, benefits and other internal work.
For example, the benefits of Mahamudra are presented in the following way: "It can cure wrinkles and gray hair, old age and death, consumptive cough, constipation, disorders of the spleen, decrepitude, and fever. By mastering Mahamudra, the yogi can get rid of all diseases."So it describes only physical level, but we know that the highest goal of yoga is Samadhi, which is about to forget about all passions and vices, about body, relatives and everything which holds the mind in the great illusion.
But we know that the last 12 years Krishnamacharya practiced only Mahamudra, which is a great sign that Gheranda Samhita looks more like a very shortened text to present only the most important information as a short summary, which can be revealed with a special key(s). And that is why it is countlessly repeated that an adept needs a guru to give necessary keys and energy techniques.
Gheranda Samhita is full of secrets and mystery, as if it was thoroughly edited and much information was cut off.
For example, Gheranda Samhita describes a technique of applying Kakimudra, Mantra and Yonimudra coherently. So that in the beginning an adept should sit in Siddhasana and block ears, eyes, nostrils, and mouth – which looks like Shanmukti mudra, well-known in modern yoga. Then Kakimudra is applied, which works as a Moolabandha: “Having drawn in prana with repeated applications of Kakimudra, he should then join it with apana and meditate on the six chakras in succession.”
I believe this means Mooladhara, Swadhistana, Manipoora, Anahata, Vishiddhi and Ajna. After that a yogi concentrates on Sahasrara (the highest lotus): “Using the mantras hum and hamsa , the wise yogi should bring the sleeping Serpent Goddess to consciousness and raise her, together with the Jiva, to the highest lotus.”
And then Gheranda Samhita describes the final step of yoga and mentions Yonimudra: “As a result of the union of Shiva and Shakti, he should experience the ultimate goal on earth. With blissful mind, he should realize that he is Brahman.The great Yonimudra is to be kept secret. It is hard to obtain even for the gods. As soon as he masters it the yogi is sure to enter Samadhi.”
It is important to mention that Gheranda Samhita states the following: “Without Shaktichalana, Yonimudra does not succeed. First practice Shaktichalana and then practice Yonimudra.”
However Shaktichalana is mentioned only 3 times, the one above and the following: “Wrap the midriff in a cloth, don’t go outside while naked, and stay in a private room to practice Shaktichalana.” And the last one: “I have just taught you Shaktichalyogasana, Chanda the Skullbearer. It should be carefully kept secret and practiced every day.” Thus, Shaktichalyogasana is not revealed and is kept secret.
3. Concepts that changed the way I share yoga
Martial Arts, especially Tai Chi and Chi Qong, use Nabhomudra as a so-called “tongue lock” which presents a bridge to connect Arohan (the frontal energy passage) with Awarohan (the back energy passage), as a switcher in electric circuit - once it is locked - the circuit switches on and the energy begin to flow, so when it's unlocked the energy is not circulating , going other (not conscious) ways- electricity is not passing the main way, and is hard to maintain and control - it's wasted - no flow , no consciousness. Thus, Gheranda Samhita informs people: "Wherever the yogi may be, he should always, in everything he does, be sure to keep the tongue turned upwards and constantly hold the breath. This is Nabhomudra, the destroyer of diseases for yogis."
The same way in martial arts it is said that to be conscious of a lower lock in the lower Dan Tian (lower Grandhi) - one's abdomen should be lightly tight, taken in and plain, especially for men (because for women it doesn’t matter much, as they have natural fat in lower abdomen, which has its special function for pregnancy). These gestures of slight comfortable tension keeps apana go up, not down.
Modern tendency of men to have a slight or big "beer-abdomen" is the way to loose energy.Also it is important to mention that concerning the upper Gradhi (Dan Tian), it is important to hold slight Jalandahara Bandha, which makes Prana go top down, not vice versa, and keeps one's neck healthy.
Because one of the most common malady these days is so-called ‘gadget-neck’ or ‘text neck’ (named by chiropractors). It is when people get neck strain, headaches and pain in the shoulders and even in arms and hands, caused by a shift of neck bones created by the everyday extension of neck forward, as a tendency of lower sight or reading/watching information with little screen resolution. Developing neck strain, headaches and pain in the shoulders and, sometimes, in arms and hands. So it is important to create a habit to perform in everyday life, to stay healthy and aware of one’s body-mind.
3.2. Key Differences with modern yogasanas
It is interesting that in Gheranda Samhita a lot of postures are presented in specific ways, which puzzle contemporary yogis and also this questions the origins of modern yoga, because most of yogasanas in Gheranda Samhita look different and thus work different.
Garudyogasana is a sitting pose, not standing, wrapped and knotted as it is well-known in modern yoga. Thus, it has another meaning and function – it works with joints: ankles and knees. And this yogasana is really helpful for development of plasticity to perform Padmasana and other variants of it.
Matsyasana looks as a lying pose in Padmasana with arms crossed behind the head. However in modern yoga Matsyasana is a bridge with top of the head pushing the floor.
It's interesting to note that in Gheranda Samhita there's two more pose with hands crossed over and above the head – Uttana Mandukasana and Makarasana.
In modern yoga such poses are used rarely. However in freediving sport this gesture (arms folded up) is used in warm ups before training, because tt is very important for back and shoulder muscles release, neck relaxation, lungs expansion and spine extension - creating space (Suhkha) torso (central body).
Viparita Karani looks also different - a yogi doesn't hold his pelvis and his lower body with hands as it is presented in modern yoga. Gheranda's Viparita Karani looks like a preparation for an advanced Viparita with hands up. Shirshasana (Sirsasana) is also presented with hands up.
Padmasana is presented as siting cross legged with hands gripping feet from the back, however most modern yogis present padmasana as a sitting meditative pose.
Yogasana looks like ‘modern Padmasana’ with legs crossed and arms resting on the knees. It’s very simple, but works amazing for relaxation - it works as a devotion pose, full of surrender and letting go.
3.3. Specific feature of yogasanas
When we thoroughly study the yogasanas presented in Gheranda Samhita we will notice that most poses are the techniques for making legs flexible, especially feet – with exterior and anterior rotations of the joints.
For example, Samkatasana works amazing for releasing tension from ankle muscles (gastrocnemius), however it is rarely used in modern yoga. For me personally it was a great discovering, because my legs’ muscles are really in big tension after many years of cycling and also snowboarding and jogging.
Kukkutasana is great too. It works with gastrocnemius and arm muscles (carpi radialis and carpi ulnaris). It is necessary to note that changing legs in Padmasana to prepare yourself for Kukkutasana influences left or right part of the body: the leg that lies on the top (left, for example) becomes more red (filled with blood) and it creates lesser hole for an arm to enter, thus the arm of the same side (left) becomes red, squeezed by the legs.
Also the main function of yogasanas is to push Mooladhara chakra (Bhadrasana, Muktasana, Guptasana, Simhasana, Utkatasana, Samkatana, Vriksasana, Koormasana, Mahamudra and Yonimudra), the same way Kundalini Tantra book recommends Siddhasana as the best sitting pose to activate Mooladhara and push energy upwards to activate Kundalini.
Gheranda Samhita presents Utkatasana as a sitting pose not standing half bend knees as it is known in the modern yoga community. This Utkatasana works with buttocks and anus region, pushing this area with heels and releasing the tension there, which help to perform Paschimotasana and other yogasanas that stretch the posterior muscles and ligaments of the lower part of the body (gluteal and popliteal regions).
Simhasana is presented as an yogasana with legs crossed and heels pushing the scrotum, which is never mentioned in modern yogasana catalogues (at least, which I studied).Also an interesting pose is Koormasana, when feet are rotated exteriorly, but heels are pushing the scrotum. However Uttankoormasana looks totally different from Koormasana but similar to Kukkutasana.
In English version of translation there’s no point why the names are the same but obviously the look different: Koormasana is sitting and pushing the scrotum, and Uttankoormasana is lying and extending the spine. However in Russian version Uttankoormasana is presented sitting in Kukkutasana not lying but upright on coccyx. I think this makes sense.