Sunday, 21 September 2014

The 8 limbs - part III

Now the things are getting serious!

We've dealt with the bahiranga sadhana, the external practice... we learnt how to withdraw our senses inside ourselves, now you're facing the antaranga sadhana, the internal practice... here you'll deeply work with/on your mind, here the results won't be just better posture or more energy but real calmness in every condition, full concentration, clarity of mind and stuff like that...

Dharana is the sixth step of patanjali's ashtanga system. Dharana means concentration, concentration is the ability to focus your mind on something.

In general terms do you consider the ability to focus important in your daily life? Do you think that the improvement of your concentration will give you more chances to complete your tasks (or maybe to start them!!)?

The mind can focus only on a single object, you can't have your mind simultaneously on 2 objects, the mind is meant to be single focused... of course when you're cooking and something is boiling, something frying, something steaming, something in the oven, you're cutting this and washing that... you're alternatively rotating your focus between different objects to complete your bigger task of cooking for 25 people at your dinner with friends tonight so that all the sub-tasks get the deserved attention and the pie won't burn in the oven, the pasta won't become sticky (remember... i am italian, i'll check your pasta!!!) and so on...

The computer world came out with dual and quad core processors... and that is their way to achieve a real multi-tasking with 2 or more instructions processed at the same time by different cores... we still have a single brain so we need to optimize our attention, focus and concentration to achieve good results.

Imagine a big source of power, light and energy as the sun... it's projecting myriads of sun rays on our planet and you know exactly the difference between staying in the shadow or under the sun... that's a feeling of its power.
What happens if you use a magnifying lens? It will concentrate the sun's power on a single point and the result will be... fire!

The same principle applies to your mind, it's a source of power and energy but its force is usually scattered between distractions and thoughts and so on... thoughts are a form of energy, in a chattering mind the total amount of energy is leaking because of the inability to hold it together or to focus it...
...and this is exactly what yoga will give you, the ability to focus your attention on something, the quality of concentration, dharana!

When you can concentrate on something... the natural following step will be to hold the concentration on that something! The act of holding your concentration on something is called dhyana meaning... guess what?... meditation!

!?!? Are you serious!?? That meditation thing that i've read in magazines and books and seen on tv is just a concentration holding thing?!?!? WTF!?? What does it mean??!!??

It means exactly that...   technically meditation is "just" an uninterrupted flow of concentration on something... we've said that the mind is created to be single pointed but usually we scatter it in many tasks (let's use tasks instead of thoughts!)... we have the illusion to have a multitasking mind because we're thinking and organizing many things at the same time... but our cpu (computer style -> central processing unit... the brain!) isn't physically multitasking so it will execute only one instruction (thought) per time alternatively rotating between all the thoughts appearing in the cpu.
99% of the time the "instructions" appearing in our mind are just useless... for example you're doing your thing (working/studying/driving/washing the dishes) and thoughts about what you'll eat for dinner suddenly appear... or maybe about what you've eaten for breakfast... this is the thing: you can be in the present moment really doing what you're doing... or you can physically be in your room but with your mind engaged in the anticipation of future events or reliving past events.
Through the practice of meditation you will develop the ability to be fully centred in what you're doing instead of the classic situation of being somewhere with your body but with your head somewhere else, what do you prefer??!

There will be a following article going deeper on meditation, for the moment i give you one  example to understand the meaning of uninterrupted flow of concentration...
You are doing a classic seated meditation as you've read on the magazine, sit tall, hands on knees, spine straight, close your eyes, empty your mind... SO WHAT!@:!@!@!@@!@????!?! Nothing happens, i'm just going crazy!!?>!?
What you should be actively doing during your seated meditation is to hold the focus of your mind... for example you choose your breath as a focus... so you will concentrate on -let's choose- the air passing through your nostrils when you inhale&exhale and keep your mind on that... try now... you will feel how different is your mind state when is focused on something... and at the same time you'll realize how hard is to hold that concentration, maybe you'll hold the focus only for the first inhale and then you lose it... no worries, that's pretty normal... just come back to your focal point and start again... this is how the taming of the mind happens, did i say it will be easy!?!?!??

In the old sanskrit text Ishvara gita it is said that 12 uninterrupted focused seconds make 1 dharana (concentration) and 12 dharanas (12x12=144 uninterrupted seconds) make 1 dhyana -> now you're in a state of meditation!

A lot more to say but... got the concept?!?!? If not... ask!!!

And now, last but not least, technically after 12 dhyanas (12x12x12=1728 seconds of UNINTERRUPTED flow of concentration) you will get to the final destination of the yogic path, the state of Samadhi!

For the moment i'll not say too much on this, it's something that must be experienced more than read on a blog (even a super blog like this!)... just imagine samadhi as the stilling of your mind, a moment of pure calmness where everything is just pulsating and resonating with its natural rhythm, no right no wrong no this no that, just an unshakeable moment of bliss in an ocean of bliss surrounding and supporting you, a moment that maybe you have already experienced during that hug with that person or losing yourself in a sunrise watched from a mountain or looking in the eyes your just born new child or while peaking an orgasm or eating that awesome soufflé filled with hot chocolate or in that very deep state of meditation... anytime that your ego and your mind dissolve, there you are, that's called samadhi!

Just a couple of considerations...
First: dharana means focusing your concentration on something, dhyana (meditation) refers to an uninterrupted flow of concentration on something, samadhi could be described as the fusion with the object of concentration, no more boundaries between you and that, just one!
Second: there are different levels of samadhi... surprise!!! You thought of it as the final stage and now you realize there are more stages in the final stage eheheh!!! Well, that's normal... in any martial art once you get to the black belt... a new path begins to get to more advanced levels of your black belt!!!

Well, this was a way to describe the meaning of ashtanga, the eightfolded path of yoga, hope you enjoyed... more considerations will come!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The 8 limbs - part II

The 8 limbs - part I

Until pratyahara we are in what is called the bahiranga sadhana... gross definition of sadhana is the practice that we are doing, bahiranga means external... all the steps we took until this point are related to the external reality, yamas and niyamas are about we interact with the world at a behavioural level, asanas and pranayama are affecting our movements and breathing and will modify the physical interaction with the world.

All together the first 4 limbs will improve many aspects of our life at a physically external level... and this improvement will definitely start reflecting on our mind, it will start relaxing and coming a little more under our conscious control... or, at least, it will show us that it can be tamed!!!

Pratyahara is the crucial passageway, from the external work you'll move to working inside yourself, the step here is about withdrawing your senses inside!

What does this mean?

Imagine to be willing to sleep in a room with a big analogic clock loudly ticking, imagine that you can't sleep because of the sound of the clock really banging in your mind every second!

So there is you, there is an external distraction (the ticking sound), there is your will (to sleep), there is a sensory organ (the ear that is acquiring the external sound), there is a sense (the hear), there is your mind (that doesn't agree with your will to sleep and keeps listening to the clock), there is your reaction (it's 3 in the night, 6.30 wake up for some important job reason, you still couldn't sleep one single second but keep hearing every single second... any feelings???)
Imagine another situation, more entertaining... you are at an electronic music festival, the camping area is not far from the dancefloor, it's big and silent at the end near the entrance of the festival but your tent it's at the extreme side of it, right behind the speakers!!! So you partied all night and now you want to rest a bit, maybe before the sun comes seriously up and your tent will become a 55 degrees oven! The music is still banging and you can't relax, moreover you start thinking to the job interview you had last week where you arrived without sleeping because of your new noisy ticking alarm clock... of course it's the same clock of the previous example and of course it's a gift from boyfriend/girlfriend/parent/anything that didn't permit you to simply move it away or take out the batteries and of course now you can't go to the dj and kindly ask him to switch off or at least lower the volume...

Ok, now imagine to be studying or working or anything else that requires your concentration.. and many distractions keep coming, from tv or radio or phone calls or people around...

Reading a book at the beach and relax??? Good luck my friend!!!

A samurai trying to meditate?

Got the concept??! I don't want to make this post become only about distractions... i'd just like to point that outside your body there are myriads of possible distractions ready to stick to your senses and travel straight to your mind...

As we said pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from the outside world, this is the process of stopping external distractions to indiscriminately go straight to your mind without any control!
Pratyahara is a fundamental step in the yogic ladder because the next part of the work will be in and with your mind... here you really don't need to have any more obstacles coming from outside.

As you can imagine pratyahara is a fundamental skill to have in your daily life as well, the ability not to be distracted by the first passing bird will make you more efficient, more productive, more happy in whatever you're doing simply because you're doing it instead of doing for 3 seconds then scatter your mind 3 minute, then back for 3 seconds more and scatter again and so on...

Anyway to be more precise pratyahara isn't the ability not to be distracted but, again, it's the skill of bringing your attention from the outside to the inside... and this of course will let fall the outside stimuli and will favour your concentration... guess what??! Concentration is what the next yogic step is about!!

One very famous exercise that will train your pratyahara is trataka, i will give a very basic description, just to start!
Take a white sheet, draw a dot in the middle, stick it to the wall, eye level while sitting at (around) one arm distance... and now just look at the dot, gaze at the dot, stare at the dot... overtime you'll achieve the ability to fix your eyes on the dot without being so concentrated that you don't breath anymore, your mind fixed on something but at the same time relaxed, aware, ready! Of course you'll want to explore moments of deep concentration, a kind of going inside the dot... but the main focus -at this stage- should be in developing an "organic" ability to stick your mind where you want without flying around without control at the first bird passing ahah i like this example!
You can substitute the dot on sheet with the flame of a candle or any uplifting image!
Your eyes should be open and fixed and not blinking... for as long as you comfortably can... at a point some tears will be produced and that's good, you can relax your eyes now!
If you notice that the image you're looking at remains when you close your eyes... don't worry, you're progressing, there are more stages of this exercise even if for now i'm giving only a basic description!

So to conclude... pratyahara is the ability to switch your attention from the outside to the inside world, ready for the next step!

Friday, 10 January 2014

The 8 limbs - part I

We have seen that yamas and niyamas are the foundation of the yogic 8 limbed ladder to perfection.

Yes, you've read it right... perfection, this is the final destination of your yoga practice... maybe it's a very very far point from where you are now and where i am now... but that is where we'll both arrive, everybody and everything is meant to get to that point, sooner or later... yoga is a series of techniques that will help you to reach the "last stop" in a shorter time... i'm not intending 1 month or 1 year or 1 decade... i mean -if you are really lucky (or should i say if you practice with a 24/7 attitude?)- you can get to that point in this actual life... otherwise the next... or after 10 more or 100 or so... but strongly keep this in mind: You Are Bound To Succeed!

Let's put aside the concept of perfection, useless to ponder now on the meaning of that word... back to pragmaticality, let's enjoy the improvements on our body and mind that yoga will gift us, all the rest will come at the right time!

The next step of the ladder is represented by the asanas... they're the physical postures, it's the physical exercise you're giving to your body to get strength, flexibility, resistance, health, youth, longevity, balance and efficiency of all your internal systems, all the good stuff you usually get from a physical training... with the adjunct that through yoga asanas you can get one of the best physical trainings possible ever (i hope you're not thinking that yoga is just gentle exercise for elders, it can be that as well!!!)
-Remember, this is a "modern" interpretation of asanas... being Raja Yoga (the system of Patanjali on which the 8 limbed explanation of yoga is based) focused on mental control through meditation... asanas are originally intended to give you the necessary physical strength and flexibility to sit in a sitting posture for hours without the minimum physical discomfort, the game is enough hard to be played only in the mind!-

Ultimately asanas are intertwined with breathing, asanas will teach you how to breath, learning how to breath will give you deeper asanas... this is leading to the next step... pranayama!
Briefly... prana is the vital force - ayama means extension -> pranayama is something related to the extension/expansion of your vital force... sounds good isn't it?!?
Somebody will translate it into control of the vital force, maybe using prana+yama as etymology... in my view there is nothing to discuss here... the goal of pranayama is the expansion of your vital force through the control of breathing.
Very basic exercise with very basic instructions: check now how you're feeling in your mind and energy in your body, if you're mind is sluggish or attentive and so on... now have a series of long and deep inhalations followed by complete exhalations, regular breathing, same length of in-breath and out-breath, for 3/4 minutes... now check again your mind and energy levels... do you notice any change? Do you want another one? Check your pulse rate... than go for a couple of minutes of breathing with the out-breath much longer than the in-breath and check again the pulse... probably a big slowing down of your hearth rate happened? Yes, definitely breathing has a big influence on our body/mind!

Have you ever noticed that if you're angry you have a typical breathing pattern, if you're anxious another typical breathing pattern, if you're depressed another typical breathing pattern, if you're agitated another typical breathing pattern, should i go on? Obviously if you're happy you have another typical breathing pattern, if you're running you have another typical breathing pattern, if you're concentrated you have another typical breathing pattern... the most important of all: did you notice that when you have a smooth and regular and deep and relaxed breathing you are in a steady and relaxed state of mind, whatever you're doing, if the breathing is regular and relaxed you are doing it in a steady and relaxed state of mind...
You can verily say that your mood/mind influences your breathing... and you can verily say that your breathing influences your mood/mind, it's a mathematical equation... so if you exercise yourself to be able to sustain a smooth and deep breathing undepending by any external circumstance (this happens constantly in your yoga asana practice... are you upside down? is your head in between your shin bones? are your feet touching your head in an extreme backbend? are you completely twisted so that you face right but see left? in any possible extreme or less extreme pose there's the same link... regular and constant and smooth breathing indicating the same qualities in your mind!) you are fulfilling one of the aspects of the pranayama practice and moving straight to the next step... pratyahara!