Yoga Practice with ALEXEY BAYKOV, Yoga Class, Asana, Pranayama, Meditation, Yoga Nidra
by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of the book
1.1. The Imperishable Tree
I was amazed that one of the main ideas of Yoga is expressed in Bahagavat Gita by the metaphor of “The Imperishable Tree”, which also was known as “The Tree of Life” in Kabbalah and “Tree of Knowledge” in the Bible. And the author states that from the inner vision of ordinary people it cannot be understood intellectually, because it is paradoxical, irrational and goes against common logic. So it can be cognized only through spiritual awakening from within. The image of the Imperishable Tree tells us that all what a human reaps in his life – which come from our actions, thoughts, emotions, etc. – are only the consequences (or leaves), which grow from the seeds in one’s mind and more over the roots go beyond one’s mind. So that one should redirect his mind, all his senses towards the higher, energetic, spiritual source of Truth to find the seed. Thus climbing up means going to the roots.
This metaphor resonates in me, and being a visual-minded person it’s important to have an image of one’s thought, so it can be an inspiring bridge between different phenomena, including energetic structure and Kundalini. Be it a flow of “pranic energy” without anatomical counterpart, or “messages along the nerve fibers” which relate to networks of atomic plexuses, or “rotation of nerve impulses around the cortex of the brain”, etc. – it’s the way to climb the Imperishable Tree to the source of existence.
It’s interesting how the author of “Kundalini Tantra” states that chitta (consciousness) “being constantly supplied by the indriyas” is always under control and stays in the dormant state without ability to evolve within a human. So when chitta is isolated, which is the goal of yoga techniques, from the senses (eyes, nose, ears, skin, tongue), it experiences independence. Thus, by means of yoga, an aspirant tries to bring his six energy centers into operation so that “the higher knowledge will be gradually revealed”, which means that the Higher Knowledge can’t be under control and it comes to a yogi as a blessing from above – from the seed of the Imperishable Tree.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati writes about food and eating rather contradictory from my point of view. He tells the readers that yoga and diet are independent sciences, though speaking on different types of yoga he admits that each yoga, be it - karma, bhakta, raja, kriya or hatha influences the person – some, who do cleansing techniques can’t eat spicy food, some can eat meat, others can drink coffee, or even champagne because of the hard physical work and fast metabolism in karma yoga, though in raja yoga, while Kundalini is awakened metabolism slows down and one should be very careful with diet.
However, at the same time the author states that whatever yoga is practiced, even whether Kundalini is awakened or not – an adept should follow the path of karma yoga, otherwise his “evolution will definitely be retarded at some point”. Thus a disciple should be socialized, train his abilities in ordinary life – be influenced in the whole spectrum of life challenges, so it turns out all other paths of yoga are not effective from this point of view. But for me it’s not clear how a person can eat self-cooked rice (or wheat with dal, vegetables and condiments) in quiet place with concentration on food for taking sattwa out of meals with heightened thoughts at rush-hour in the middle of a big city, and then coming back home after a hard day and practice yoga.
Frankly speaking, I tried that for 3 years and I can say: it is impossible, unless a disciple is already a Seer with awakened Kundalini. And from my experience the most effective periods of life that really made changes in my yoga practice and transformed my inner world – were non-working periods. Even remote work with 3-4 hours a day was not a salvation, because the mind works hard at sleep, before and after the working hours, so it can’t give an adept the opportunity to go deep into yoga. Yoga practices take minimum a whole day during months to understand them more or less – the mind should be clear and heart should be light.
Also Swami Satyananda Saraswati states that the history tells us that a lot of people who awakened their Kundalini had different diets and different styles of life, and we even can’t say about dietary of Christ, Mohammed, Moses or Buddha. Anyway the author states that from scientific observations, people going through the awakening of Kundalini sometimes couldn’t even take water, others couldn’t digest raw foods, etc. Thus, everything was we read is based on one’s own personal observation and experience, so there’s no right or wrong – there’s no panacea. I believe an adept of yoga should vary his diet and life-style taking into account own feelings and all these recommendations are very questionable and need real personal experience.
Though I agree with the author that “who is serious about yoga practices and spiritual aspirations in life… diet is important as yoga”.
1.3. Why Kundalini?
It’s interesting that Swami Satyananda Saraswati gives examples of reasonable questions which disciples may ask about why one should awaken Kundalini at all, and more over “Why Shiva and Shakti descend to the gross plane after having attained the highest union?” , as if to build a house knowing that one will burn it down once it’s ready. “What is the point?”
Seems that these are the questions that are beyond human understanding. Though I think it’s necessary to mention Buddha’s teachings here because many answers could be found from the perspective of the human life value and it’s importance.
In the Madhyamagama Sutra, the Buddha used the parable of a man wounded by an arrow to explain why questions can’t help. In the story, a man was pierced by an arrow, and a doctor was immediately summoned to have the arrow pulled and the wound treated. However, the wounded man insisted to find out who shot the arrow before he would let the doctor treat him. Was it a man or a woman? Was the attacker young or old? Which direction did it come from? What was the arrowhead made of? How big was the bow that shot the arrow? What kind of feathers was used? The wounded man would definitely die of poisoning before his desire for knowing all the information was satisfied. Thus the Buddha tells that our minds are so seriously wounded that we are in need of immediate treatment.
Also Swami Styananda Saraswati reminds the readers about the risks which are possible on the way of awakening Kundalini, and he mentions that modern people don’t take into account every day risks they take crossing the street in the city, travelling by car or plane, etc.
In the Darukkhandha Sutra, there’s a story when the Buddha once scooped up some soil with his fingernail to ask his disciples which was greater, the soil on his fingernail or that on the whole earth, showing that in the same sense only a few beings were able to secure human form whereas far too many beings retrogress into the hells, hungry ghosts and animals.
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha used the metaphor of a blind turtle in a vast ocean which swims from bottom to the top to let its head go through the hole in the piece of wood that was accidentally thrown - to explain how difficult it is to be reborn as a human being and at the same time to have the chance of hearing the Dharma.
So it’s obvious that further delay to practice yoga, is running a risk of losing forever the chance of realizing the True Self as for it’s just impossible to find out whether one will be reborn as a human-being again. Life is short, life is precious so there’re no more questions left, but inspiration to practice with devotion.
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga and meditation
2.1. Kalpa Vriksha
Kundalini Tantra states that “it is only when you reach anahata chakra that you become a yogi”, because then one is “completely established in yogic consciousness”, depending on the power of own internal consciousness, instead of external events or fate (Pararabdha Karma). So one is free to avoid his fate by determining one’s own destiny, as for a wish-fulfilling tree (Kalpa Vriksha) is activated making all thoughts and wishes come into reality.
There comes a strong question to my mind: who is that who wishes? Why he wishes? And what for? Obviously, it is the Ego. Even if a wish is “Om Shanti” (Peace for all) – it is for the benefit of one’s Ego, isn’t it? So wishes activate good or bad karma anyway, but don’t make a yogi liberated. Until a yogi is liberated he/she has an Ego, which uses any tools to satisfy itself.
The author of “Kundalini Tantra” states that in Anahata one’s consciousness accelerates to “the speed of free will in order to transcend the pull of latent samskaras”. I wonder is there any option not to wish, or should a yogi wish anyway, to overcome Prarabdha Karma.
Moreover it is said that with Anahata chakra awakened a yogi reaches the state of non-attachment to worldly things and pleasures of dualistic life, which create relaxed, free and peaceful mind.
Swami Styananda Saraswati and Swami Muktibodhananda (in Hatha Yoga Pradipika) remind of the same parable, when a traveler comes to a wish-fulfilling tree and he satisfies all his basic needs of drink, food and sleep, however his fear of a tiger killing him at night also comes true. Thus, Swami Styananda Saraswati says it is essential for a yogi to have good Sangha (associations), having unshakable faith in one’s own will-power, which is deep knowledge of the Good. So a yogi not should, but must become “extremely optimistic and positive, always full of hope”, no matter what happens around or with him – poverty, suffering, disease, divorce, depression, etc. – because they are “all part of good, therefore you accept it”.
2.2. Maha & Maha Bheda Mudras
All kriyas of Kundalini Yoga are given in a very profound manner and the only thing for an adept left is to practice, practice, practice. At first glance techniques don’t look very complicated because of very detailed description, however when practicing maha-mudra in Siddhasana or Utthanpadasana it turned out that I couldn’t take enough air to exhale and finish the process, going through the spinal passage, as if the air is absorbed inside, as for it was no matter if the kumbhaka was made for 3 cycles of ‘shambavi-khechari-mool’. But Maha Bheda Mudra was more easy to do with its 3 cycles of ‘nasikagra-uddiyana-mool’, however for me usually retention after inhale (Abhyantara Kumbhaka) have always been more easy for me to do than retention after exhale (Bahya Kumbhaka).
In the beginning of Maha & Maha Bheda Mudras practice it was very difficult to hold the attention, and I had to train my mind with repeating chakra names through Arohan and Awarohan passages, otherwise attention slipped away, and I had to find it and bring it back again and again. After several months of practice I got the strong capability to hold the attention on the path, and then Unmani mudra arises on its own. It’s necessary to notice that Swami Styananda Saraswati tells about Unmani Mudra in these kriyas, and describes it as specific mudra that is not done physically, but it’s important to feel the process mentally. The main idea of performing unmani-mudra is that in the state of unmani the mind functions but without the hindrance of conflicting thoughts and analysis. One is conscious and the mind functions, but it seems to be nowhere, the eyes perceive, but one does not see. One may even be acting in the world but there is a state of thoughtlessness – which is unmani-avastha.
What is amazing about kriya yoga practice is that from the common point of view I do nothing – just sit in one pose almost unmoved, but for real it takes so much inner strength, attention and will-power, that after several cycles, I feel hungry and tired a bit as if after hard physical work. Also it’s not easy to incorporate kriya yoga practice into ordinary life with job, family, etc. – techniques take a lot of time and energy, there’s a need in sleep and food, there’s need in silence, and time again to realize what happens.
At 200 hours Teacher Training I had a spontaneous experience of something which I’ve never heard or read about: taking a sit in Swastikasana in a moment from the bottom of my heart I felt gratitude to the God for my whole life guiding me to this course, I felt how sparkles-needles come from above through my body, then a strong electric wind began to blow through my spine from bottom to top, after that my body became stiff as a mountain, and then the surface of my body started expanding, and in spite of stiffness inside and outside I felt very light.
Unexpectedly, all this was sucked inward so fast and so strong that I felt intense vacuum inside and even laid ears, as if I was free-diving into deep waters. Then a tiny light appeared in the center of me and started to glow piercing and filling up the vacuum of “me” (body), everything inside was full of golden light and I was full of gratitude and love, my eyes were filled up with tears, my lips expanded with a wide smile, and my body fell in prostration. After that a desire to share the experience with others and understanding that it’s impossible on the other hand raised up – the dualistic babbling mind began its regular monotonous work, messing up the post-experience silence.
Kundalini Tantra book impresses with the detailed description of this experience divided into several progressive stages: Prana Ahuti – infusing the divine prana from the top to the bottom, Utthan – raising the kundalini from the bottom to top, Swaroopa Darshan – the vision of your Self with stiffed body, Linga Sanchalana – astral conduction with feeling of expansion and then feeling of vacuum, and Dhyana – meditation on the single point of light and which grows into a golden egg with its filling up the body from within.
For now I’m practicing trying to keep total awareness and explore all the details of the experience. During my conscious practice of these techniques I haven’t been able to repeat the whole experience, but I’m learning to merge ability of the heart to surrender with the conscious mind, so that they can move together in total awareness.
Also it’s interesting to notice that I can do kriyas but can’t do simple practices on mooladhara and swadhistana chakras. Integrated chakra awareness practices are also hard to perform. Thus, I began practicing from the beginning to follow the methods described by Swami Styananda Saraswati to master them as they should be mastered.
3. Concepts that changed the way I teach yoga
3.1. Moola Bandha
It’s necessary for a teacher to be able to describe specific physical points, especially with techniques that deal with intimate parts of the body, so that students can understand that the practice is important and there’s a hidden deep meaning behind the details of the practice. Lots of students naturally could make fun, because of childhood complexes and social taboo, but description in medical terms and their understanding of the fact that they can’t mentally and physically distinguish between the muscles of sex organs (which is sahajoli/vajroli mudra) and anus (ashwini mudra) to find the point which is really needed for Moola Bandha, makes them question themselves. Fun and joy transformed into seriousness and technicality create real challenge for a will-power of students – they become really interested in the deep significance of techniques given and they feel that yoga is not just fitness, but a real science with multi-layered wisdom.
It is amazing how even the 1st practice of sitting and breathing let practitioners feel a psychophysical place, which seemed just a fiction or a simple image from a book about chakras. Students really find it and it makes them become more interested in yoga granting respect to the teacher.
Really the most challenging aspect of Moola Bandha practice is that a teacher is never sure about the real ability of students to perform it correctly. Because I’m sure that mostly students pretend to do instead of real doing. I tell from my own experience. Before the Yoga Training I was sure that I can do Moola Bandha, moreover I was sure that I’m a rather conscious person. However, frankly speaking, during the course I pretended to do Moola Bandha, but was not aware about that. I realized this fact only on coming back home and really trying to practice it on my own. Only after several months of practice I could feel slight ability to isolate the point of Moola Bandha and I’m still on the way to practice Stage 2 with rhythmical heart-beat contraction, Stage 3 is far away yet.
Thus, I try to point out this phenomenon for yoga students so that they won’t cheat themselves occasionally.
What is important in Kundalini Tantra is that the exact points in the physical body are described and this is really changing the perception of energy system of chakras by new adepts. When I really felt the chakras on the spine and their kshetras in the front body it was like a miracle, and all practices became real, not just philosophy or imagination. The same effect I found in students. When they really can feel the exact points of charkas they can’t believe themselves at first time, and it’s like being a Columbus, opening something new on your own, almost doing nothing, just following the map.
I was also amazed by the yogasanas which are enlisted as preparatory practices for chakras – they really work very well for activating the chakra regions physically and energetically. After a sequence of yogasanas one can feel a spot of a chakra and a kshetram more intense, and these feelings create trust of practitioners towards yoga practice. Students understand that it really works for them, and strong impressions of discovering new borders of themselves create devotion to yoga practice, which is very important in our age of hypocrisy.
As for I’ve already met few students who already tried several yoga-styles and it seemed like they were disappointed in yoga on the whole, so they searched for new understanding, for new inspiration, for new information, which they couldn’t find in books or other sources. And that is really important to understand for modern yoga teachers – each teacher is like a bridge to the Truth or to the Ignorance. Thus it is really a great responsibility on yoga teachers, because people come to them with hope they really know something beyond.
So if a teacher just pretends sooner or later it creates a wound in a practitioners’ hearts maybe for the whole life, but if a teacher really knows it would be a gift - a blessing for a student (maybe for the whole life).
3.3. Mantras in Kriyas
I believe sound is one of the strongest forces that influences the human mind, also from the Hinduism worldview we live in the age of decadence (Kali Yuga), so the Vedas state that the most helpful method of raising spirit of anyone is sound of mantras. Thus, it’s important to hear and pronounce appropriate sounds which strengthen the spirit and will-power.
For me it is a challenge to teach mantras at a yoga class, as for many people are rather skeptical and conservative because of strong orthodox concepts. So there’s no need in recruiting practitioners in the new form of philosophy. As yoga is about practice and not philosophizing – Kundalini Tantra techniques are good to adopt one’s mind to yoga practice.
Swami Styananda Saraswati presents amazing techniques of purifying the charkas which include sounds of mantras. As the beginning there’s Ajapa-Japa Mediation that gives practitioners understanding of the natural sound that breathing creates: ‘So’ on the inhale and ‘Ham’ on the exhale. This practice is good for yoga classes because relaxation is needed – exactly what practitioners want after good Tapas-friction exercises and Shawasana (Savasana). Students enjoy natural breath and learn how to stay alert in relaxed state of body and mind.
Advanced students who have already mastered this easy-looking technique, and also after thoroughly studying first kriyas to feel comfortable with chakra positions and energetic front/back passages, can practice chanting of ‘Om’ in Nada Sanchalana and ‘So-Ham’ in Shabda Sanchalana.
These techniques teach practitioners to remember the names of chakras, learn about arohan (front) and awarohan (back) passages: inhale is done through arohan and exhale through awarohan. They also let practitioners to feel the free flow of breath and at the same time stay concentrated on the inner state of body-mind. Also puraka (inhalation) and rechaka (exhalation) with ujjayi help intensify awareness of breathing and the process of practice on the whole.