YOGA & AYURVEDA
by David Frawley
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of "Yoga & Ayurveda" by David Frawley
1.1. “Is the soul ready?”
I like the seriousness of the author of “Yoga & Ayurveda”, when he’s highlighting the subject of starting the yoga path. It’s stated that “Yoga as spiritual practice is not possible for the un-awakened or immature ego, which will use it for purposes of self-aggrandizement or personal enjoyment.” So that’s why even before all yamas and niyamas a yoga practitioner should ask himself “Is the soul awake within me and ready to return to divinity?”
That is a scary question, as if we ask ourselves “Am I going to die right now”, because this “return to divinity” is something unknown, something that is beyond our abilities to cognize in the same way as the phenomenon of death. But for real as I understand this “return”, it must be quite the opposite to death, which is vanishing, while Divinity implies vitality, blossoming and something superb, which has never been know before.
However a yogi has to sacrifice his ego, and use it as fuel for the sacred fire of spirit, while ego will try to do anything possible to prove that it is he who is the master of life and it’s impossible to give it up for the unknown. This process is very difficult for most of us, who got used to think that ego (Ahamkara) represents real us.
It’s necessary to understand that Ahamkara means literally the "I-fabrication" which means that the ego is a process, not an intrinsic reality. “It is a series of divisive thoughts but not a real entity in itself. It is a necessary power of division inherent in nature, a stage in evolution, but does not represent the underlying truth or nature of creatures. It allows the soul to identify with different bodies, but does not reveal our true Self, which is awareness beyond all embodiment.”
That is why the question to oneself could also sound like “Are you ready to accept that ego is a process and all around is not stable?” and thus “Are you ready to surrender to the process and progress to know the True Self?”. To answer these questions positively implies real readiness of one to surrender to the Unknown.
Lots of people who are fond of Ayurveda state that “we are what we eat”. After my vegetarian experiments during a year when I was too fanatic about food and most of time I was thinking about food : when to eat , what to eat, how to eat, how to cook, etc.
Then I came back to real world and my fanatism about food vanished day by day. Of course my food habits changed, as I became more conscious about food, but at the same time I stopped to spend so much time to thinking about food.
After reading about food consciousness in "Yoga and Ayurveda", I've analyzed the contents of food that I eat and realized that it's full of not account white sugar and conservatives, dry milk powder and egg powder, and also in all bakery and all food that is bought in cafes and restaurants - it became a big shock for me.
Now I understand how difficult to eat in terms of Ayurveda taking into account high tempo of the contemporary world. To eat well one should spend a lot of time at the market to select and buy good food and spend time in the kitchen cooking and preparing this food correctly.
From my experience I know people who are not conscious about what they eat - they don't care about food at all, they eat everything what others eat (even junk food) but there're full of energy and love, some of them are businessmen with good life and relations, they help a lot of people - they are good people, whose life is full of love.
And in contrary to this I know a lot of people who pretend to be spiritual and conscious, but for real they are very egoistic, they spend much time taking care of themselves and of food they prepare and eat, but they're not lovely, not friendly - they don't have an inch of love that other people share with others.
I think one should be very-very careful with decisions they take about changing habits as for one rule doesn’t suit all.
Though I agree with the author that “a true yogi should be among those in the forefront working for protection of animals and protection of the Earth” and “we must learn to grow our own food, to support local and organic gardeners, and to become politically active on environmental matters”, because the coming century stands to inherit not only bad food, but bad water and bad air as well. So we can at least get good bottled water, but the air and food are more precarious.
1.3. Dharma, Karma, Ahimsa
As it is stated in the book “Yoga and Ayurveda” - Dharma is a Sanskrit word that refers to the laws of truth that govern the universe. Dharma is a fundamental principle which keep all things in harmony and sustain their higher growth and development. And one of the most important Dharmic law is the law of Karma: “as we act, so must we experience the fruit of our actions, not only in this life but in future lives as well.”
It works as absolute justice in the universe, “but this occurs through many incarnations and cannot be seen by a momentary look at human affairs.”
From my point of view this is very important to mention that it is “not a justice of outer rewards and punishments but one of the development of consciousness”.
Also it’s necessary to mention that “Dharmic action provides inner peace and happiness and allows us to pursue spiritual practice. While Adharmic action constricts our consciousness and consigns us to darkness and turbulence of mind, though it may give us transient external gains.”
As for modern culture creates a tendency to believe that spiritual development leads to prosperity and overall well-being – as if a person becomes wealthy and successful as a Hollywood actor or a businessman. But from my experience the more spiritual a person becomes, the more suffering he sees, and also the more influences and connections become obvious.
The most important ethical (supreme) dharma, is Ahimsa, "non-harming," having an attitude of mind that does not wish injury to any creature in action, speech and thought.
And the next question “How can we sincerely engage in spiritual practices if we are engaged in actions that are violent, destructive, deceptive or manipulative?” – created a big shake (as an earthquake) of my values and pushed me to review my understanding of life, my attitude and my profession as a web-designer, market analyst and project manager, where manipulation is basis of business.
As it is stated - we cannot triumph in life or wisdom at the expense of the world in which we live ”…our occupation or vocation in life should also follow an energy of love and not be harmful to other creatures…”.
Thus, I was in a real stuck in my work and I left it. Of course a lot of different circumstances influenced this decision, and also destructive politics in the country, but the inner attitude was a primary reason. For now I still don’t know how to manage this non-working state, but I really feel inner peace and allows me to pursue spiritual path, as if I made a Dharmic action.
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga and meditation
In the book it’s stated that “Meat increases the animal fire in the body, bringing the samskaras or tendencies of carnivorous animals to function within us. This promotes anger, lust and fear and other negative emotions. The flame created by a meat diet is impure and projects an emotional smoke that distorts the mind and the nervous system. Meat diet communicates the energy of destruction to the cells, which in turn promotes processes of disease and decay within them. It brings in a subtle energy of death into the auric field, reducing the flow of higher pranas into the body.”
More over if we dig further, we understand that many creatures die even in the process of Bread production. Also milk and cheese production - almost the only source of proteins for vegetarians, also cause suffering and death of creatures.
However it becomes easier to live after reading Mahaparinirvana Sutra (by Buddha), where it’s said that meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has been purposely slaughtered for the eater). Anyway it is stated that eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.
My experience of being a vegetarian for a year (8 years ago) made me very very thin as a stick, but after 7 years of yoga practice my diet changed drastically and for now I really don’t want to eat meat. Though still there’s a question about the environment. In Russia it’s rather cold all the time and there’re no lots of sources of good food.
A Buddist Rinpoche once said that in Tibet there’s only meat and tsampa [roasted barley flour] — there is no other staple food, not many fruits and vegetables. Tibet is at a high altitude and the climate is tundra-like. But after coming to South Asia, one really doesn’t have to follow the Tibetan custom of meat and tsampa. There are many types of fruits and vegetables, nutritional supplements — all kinds of good foods. Everything is available. So “there is really no need to talk about the customs of Tibet as an excuse for eating meat”. Thus the environment influences a human-being a lot, and this is a big question whether one should change the place where he/she lives.
Also I’d like to mention that in Tantra it’s stated that “Rules are for those who can't control themselves”. Thus the adepts of Tantra should break the rules and limitations which often have a sacred meaning. They have knowledge of energy control so that they are not dependent on surrounding circumstances. But this doesn't mean to do anything without awareness - this losing of control is no more Tantra. In Tantra it is said: "nothing should be avoided - everything can be transformed" and “Tantra does not deny anything but transforms everything.”
Also the Hevajra tantra states "Those who eat meat have compassion, those who drink wine have vows." Which is the reference to the tantric culture of Gamacakra (or Ganapuja – “gathering circle”) - tantric assemblies or feasts, as part of a sādhanā (spiritual practice), in which practitioners meet to chant mantra, enact mudra, make votive offerings and practice various tantric rituals, which considered a taboo, including sacramental meal and festivities such as dancing.
So I tried to do Ganapuja with eating meat as a spiritual practice of compassion towards the animal. In result, after a week I got ill with a flu. I tested it twice during 6 months – the result was the same. I tried to investigate what is wrong and recently I found an interesting interview with a Buddist Rinpoche who said that only with supernatural powers gained through certain meditation practices, it is true that there are some realized beings who can revive animals from the dead and help them reach a higher rebirth or enlightenment by consuming small amounts of their flesh. He states that this is not done for sustenance, only for the purpose of helping that animal. So eating meat in one’s diet is much different than eating flesh to liberate a being through supernatural powers. That's why he doesn’t pretend as if he has special powers to eat meat, he just avoids it altogether. And so do I for now.
It's amazing that when I've analyzed my experience with music I've realized that the first feeling of energy in my body happened through music: the feeling of goose-bumps running through my body when I've heard solo electric guitar by Metallica, which filled me with life , made me feel strong and happy, however I didn't understand the complicated lyrics they sang. These energy feelings were always an indicator of good music that matches my soul.
My music tastes changed during my life as I changed personally, and since I started yoga practice, mantras became the major music-style that fulfilled my heart with light and energy.
After listening a lot of different singers one can feel the difference with mantras that are profound - they are full of ancient knowledge and can transmit energy of light to people, however those that are shallow and considered pop music which aim is entertainment are not for Yoga or Ayurveda practice.
Moreover there are several historic facts that confirm the change of the standard for music from ancient pitch A432 to pitch A440 Hz, and it is said by Kapellmeister Reissiger in 1859 "...elevation of the diapason destroys and effaces the effect and character of ancient music, of the masterpieces of Mozart, Gluck and Beethoven".
It's important to mention that Mozart, Gluck and Beethoven are considered as healing music by contemporary science. So this fact tells us about the good influence of ancient music (including mantras) and the bad influence of modern music that is not only tuned in a wrong way, but creating big emotional response, which disturbs mind and fills it with aggregated impressions.
These facts drove me to listen to more mantras and to study Sanskrit language to understand the genuine meaning of mantras.
I didn't know before that mantras are used in Ayurveda, as I always thought that Ayurveda is more about herbs, so this made me to dig further into connection between them. Also understanding the importance of mantras for the mind in the way as asanas are important for the body, empowered my urge to know mantras well and practice mantras daily, especially “Gayatri Mantra” that was suggested to me as a personal practice by Courney.
2.3. Yoga practice
For me as a Vata-type practitioner it’s important to take into account the advice from “Yoga & Ayurveda”, which states that for Vata standing stable poses and sitting poses are necessary to calm down. Twists , forward-folds and backbends need to be done slowly, smoothly and they are needed to move the spine in all directions. So for Vata yoga practice should consist of more sitting postures with pranayama and meditation. As it’s mentioned “Asana practice for Vata types should emphasize the pelvic region and colon, the main sites of Vata. They should aim at releasing tension from the hips, lumbar spine and sacroiliac joints. In general their asanas should restrict movement in order to counter Vata's tendency to excess activity.”
All these descriptions of Yoga was proved by my own practice and it really resulted in “feeling stable, warmed and calm in the body, with tension released from the lower abdomen, and mind feeling peaceful, emotionally steady and grounded”. I’m grateful to Teacher’s Yoga seminar where I understood that all these practices and the resulting state of mind should prepare a person for pranayama and meditation, as the most important part of reaching the state of Yoga.
The book “Yoga & Ayurveda” is devoted to Doshas, different energetic conditions and circumstances which influence practitioners’ states of mind, it’s interesting that it’s casually mentioned that in the “Particularities of an individual's body structure and organic condition are more important than the doshic type in asana practice”. However all the recommendations work for me in a positive way.
Concerning meditation there’s rather contradictory information, where it’s stated that “Vatas should first learn the art of concentration so that their minds do not wander. It is better for them to do mantra or visualization rather than try to empty their minds.”
However “Vata types should not try to stop or suppress their natural mental activity either. They should let their minds move freely and naturally while seeking the deeper truth of life. They must learn to harness their abundant mental energy for meditation, which for them should be like the flight of an eagle. They must let their mind soar without losing its focus.”
So for me it’s still a challenge to understand how to let the mind wander and still keep concentration on mantra or yantra, because if one is concentrated his mind should be filled up with this object (mantra/yantra), while wandering of the mind implies freedom from limits, taking into account the one-pointed topic of thinking. Thus that means that thinking on mantra or yantra is not concentration on it.
3. Concepts that changed the way I teach yoga
Understanding the importance of mantras in Yoga and Ayurveda, I see a big challenge in using them at yoga classes. My previous yoga teaching practice shows that mantras are really hard to spread among the yoga students.
Firstly because people are usually really conservative, even if they look deviant or alternative to the common society. From my point of view association with a church creates a lot of superstitions concerning God, prayer and other spiritual topics of existence. Singing mantras (say: prayers) touch upon many religious issues and creates many questions of validity of the worldview that most people are not ready to discuss and even think about.It was very smart of Everett to use a method of overcoming this issue saying that it doesn't matter what mantras mean and what culture or religion they belong to - they just work, and it is proved by personal experience.
I think this trick is a good one because it cuts off all the questions that may create controversial disputes and doubts. But those who are really interested in the essence of mantras and religions of India and Tibet , they can ask questions individually. Though I think that after this statement that mantras background is of no importance can make students think that they are really not important, and no further questions will arise. I believe it’s important in terms of consciousness elevation and awareness of practices students do and what for. I still haven't managed to solve this dilemma. I want to learn to talk with students in different levels of understanding and I hope this will come with teaching practice.
Secondly, for some people who are ready to practice yoga just for physical benefits, yoga is fitness (which is good in terms of wide spread of yoga around the world, but not really good in terms of losing the essence of ancient meaning of yoga). For me as a yoga teacher it's very important to stick to the ancient knowledge so that students would be more conscious and responsible about their yoga practice and everyday life, and of course imposing thoughts and theories can't be a method as for yoga is about ahimsa - non-violence in thought, speech and action.It’s also important that mantras (the prayers) are spoken in the ancient language that nobody knows. So to introduce mantras a teacher should speak about the power of Sanskrit language.
From the viewpoint of Sanskrit scholars - Sanskrit alphabet is constructed on the basis of knowledge of energy so that all letters and right combinations of them create sacred vibrations that elevate energy of humans and all creatures around. It is connected with sacred instruments abilities, like Tibetan singing bowls which (as believed) cleanse the space around for 3000 meters radius.Also some experiments by Masaru Emoto with music, words, prayers (and their meanings) influencing water crystals are connected with this topic. However the experiments are considered non-scientific, but it’s a very visual example which demonstrate profound essence behind the vibrations of sound waves.
Thus a yoga teacher should be well-founded in interpretation of the meaning of mantras especially in telling such proofs as “Sanskrit language ability to emanate or generate positive waves, as if the sound can influence matter“. Supporting it by that fact that in Quantum Physics everything consists of quarks which are particles and waves at the same time and everything in our world could be perceived as different scales of energy waves, so that may prove the real effect of positive waves of Sanskrit language on so-called "material" world. This is considered to be non-scientific, but personally I feel that it’s true.
Mainstream western world perceives Yoga as a practice that leads to physical perfection and that influences students strive for doing asanas as they’re shown in yoga journals and photos. They try to overcome physical limits through physical force to suit the ideal forms of asanas, which may harm body-mind structure. Moreover, this is not the goal of yoga practice. And this, from my point of view, is a challenge in teaching yoga, because a teacher should change the popular stereotypes, promoted by mainstream, and inspire the newbies to practice yoga with patience and tolerance (Ahimsa) towards their bodies.
At the same time a teacher should be able not to insult the abilities of very flexible students, who also expect great flexibility from a yoga teacher. So how a yoga teacher could become an authority for students if he can’t do flexible asanas. It’s obvious that one should “Never judge a book by its cover”, though the Russian analogue of this proverb sounds like “One is greeted by clothes, and followed by mind”.
It’s amazing that in “Yoga & Ayurveda” it is mentioned that most of great yogis were not great in asanas: “Swami Vivekananda, for example, who first brought yoga to the West around the turn of the last century, was poor at asanas except for a few sitting postures. Similarly, many people who are good at asana may not be adept at deeper yogic meditational practices.”
This is inspiring for me, because I can’t do a lot of postures that in modern world a teacher is supposed to do. And it’s not easy to explain for the students, because contemporary people have a tendency to compare, students notice that someone is more limber than the other, and that comparison creates dissatisfaction and judgments of a teacher and between students in the class.
So it’s important to explain to the students what Yoga is about and also create the atmosphere of trust and non-judgment in the yoga class.
Also it is a challenge for me to understand how should a newbie-yoga-teacher behave in this massive market of entertainment of yoga teachers and yoga schools: to follow the mainstream and post yoga asanas with popular quotes, or create another way of communication, which promotes deep values of Yoga.
As in “Yoga & Ayurveda” it’s highlighted that Prayahara is one of the most important limb in Yoga Sandaha, which is probably the least known among yoga practitioners. It’s stated that “unless we understand Pratyahara, we are missing an integral aspect of Yoga without which the system cannot work”. Pratyahara means “gaining mastery over external influences” and “unruly senses”, which is not control, but proper coordination and motivation. And this is the major part in teaching yoga in the class, as our modern world made everybody get used to externalization and showing off, it’s essential to let people understand the process of switching from outer into inner world.
This of course isn’t simple to explain, and I’m sure a good yoga teacher should be a lively example of what pratyahara means, which is the key between the outer and inner aspects of yoga, showing how to move from one to the other. So a teacher should master it in his own practice first, as all other practices which he teaches his students. In the book it’s said Pratyahara is twofold: “…involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions, and right associations.”
In my own yoga practice, pratyaha techniques emerged spontaneously, I just liked to practice them, and so I’m grateful to the book to reveal the importance of them in teaching yoga. Thus I think the most powerful pratyahara techniques to teach are Yoni Mudra, when an adept use his fingers to block the seven sensory openings in the head (eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth), allowing the attention and energy move within.
Another one is Shambavi Mudra that can be used during asana practice in stable postures, so that students also will learn Sthira principle of Yoga. Also in meditation it’s important to use Laya Yoga techniques, when disciples concentrate on the inner sound and light current, thus focusing on their subtle senses and withdrawing attention from gross senses.
It’s very important in teaching yoga to let students understand that yoga practices is about “to act, but not to seek a reward for what they do”, which is called karma-patyahara. Also teaching pranayama makes students learn how to connect breath with prana and prana with mind, so that if the mind is controlled, the senses are automatically in control and withdrawn, which opens up the mind to the inner being and prepares students for meditation.