I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky… But what happens when we try and touch the sky without worrying about the landing?
It reminds me of the myth of Icarus. Caught in the wonderful sensations induced by his first flight, he forgot his father’s warning. He flew too close to the sun. The wings burned and he fell into the sea and drowned.
The story of Icarus has been repeated in human history over and over again. It is also one of the dangers that lies in the path of Yoga.
Understanding what’s happening
Have you ever come out of your Yoga class with a nice buzz in your head, and feeling as if you were on the seventh heaven?
This is the direct effect of endorphins. The word Endorphin comes from Endogenous (within) and morphine. These are opiates produced by our own brain. Now this might seem like a good thing. I mean, it is coming from inside us – we do not need any external drugs! But a drug is a drug, whether it comes from our own brain… or from an opium den!
Yogis seek to avoid such drugs (though some, realizing that “drugs sell” have begun peddling them too…). To understand why, let us look at what is happening in our brain, body, and mind from the standpoint of subtle energies.
The Prana Vata (the principal of energy responsible for thoughts, moving the food to the digestive tube) has become aggravated. This can happen either due to excessive exercise (especially when you are out of breath), rapid movements and/or rapid breaths. Similarly, a stressful day and heightened emotional state too leads to the vitiation of Prana Vata.
The slow, regenerative breath (notably in case of thoracic breathing) increases Kapha Dosha (the regenerative energy) to combat this stress and help the body recover. Along with Kapha comes Tamas guna (linked to addictions, ignorance, obscurity) so that the mind can shut down and the body can concentrate upon recuperation.
Now, this is a good thing. It is the natural process of the body to allow it to recover. Indeed, this is what is supposed to happen during deep sleep.
So why do Yogis avoid it? And why should you?
The impact of Tamas
This regenerative process also increases Tamas guna in our mind.
The easiest way of understanding Tamas guna is to think of it as a closed, dark room. It is filled with a lot of objects, but you can barely see those objects. You have no idea what’s happening outside this room. Prana Vata is essentially wind. Whenever Prana is excited, the wind blows inside the room, throwing the objects hither and thither. The shuttered windows let a bit of light seep in, and it seems as if the sun is shining! But then the wind dies, and the room is dark again…
A bit of Tamas guna (what comes naturally during a good night’s sleep) is a good thing. It is what helps our body and mind grow. But doing it repeatedly, throughout the day…
The result is increased ego, increased suffering, increased anxiety (the moment we are without our favourite drug!), and increased ignorance. Even as we practice Yoga, we move further and further away from the path of Yoga.
The solution = Grounding
Yoga is not a set of physical exercises. Please repeat this phrase over and over again. Because as long as we keep thinking of Yoga as physical exercise with deep breathing and a few breathing exercises, quite frankly this entire article, and the whole path of Yoga will remain meaningless.
Yoga is first and foremost a philosophy and a way of life. Indeed, it is that philosophy, that way of life that keeps a yogi grounded.
When a yogi is grounded, he is in harmony with how much wind is blowing inside his dark room. He uses the power of the wind to open the windows… and then jump out of them! And he repeats this process until he has become one with his true nature and Tamas no longer has any power over him.
So, let us look at how to stay grounded in our practice of Yoga.
How to stay grounded
- Develop awareness. Until we are aware of what’s happening inside us, until we are aware of our breath and the subtle mechanisms of the body and mind, it becomes extremely difficult to gauge what’s right and what’s wrong. A simple exercise for awareness includes just sitting and observing thoughts and observing the breath.
- Take time out to contemplate. There can be no Yoga without its philosophy. Take time to read, question and contemplate the tenets of Yoga philosophy. Excellent starting points for this philosophy are the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
- Develop clarity of thought. This requires meditation but it also requires introspection and asking ourselves the difficult questions, starting with “Who am I?”
- Use traditional meditation techniques. The first thing that is taught in most traditions is to how to sit still and practice Kaya Sthairyam – the immobility of the body, without which no other meditation practice can be taught. Similarly, meditation upon the Muladhara chakra are an essential foundation of yogic practice.
- Link breath to movement, and keep the physical practice grounded. It is important to take your time during transitions. It is important to feel the earth beneath your feet. You should never be out of breath during the practice. Always finish the practice of asana and pranayama with a seated meditation of at least 5 minutes.
- Don’t follow. Learn. Whether it is pranayama, asana or philosophy, Yoga needs to be learned. Question what you are doing. Understanding the practice is as important as practicing! Don’t just blindly follow what someone else is doing, or saying!
- Take it off the mat. Yoga isn’t about one- or two-hours sessions at a yoga studio. It is about integrating its philosophy into our daily life. Use what you learn and put it into practice in the day-to-day life, including at office and in your personal life.
- The power of Faith. Perhaps nothing keeps us more grounded than faith. But this faith needs to be in something that’s unchanging, stable and just.