Introduction to Hridaya Yoga
Hridaya Yoga is a spiritual path whose purpose is the revelation of our True Self, atman, or, as it is known in contemplative traditions, the Spiritual Heart. Developed by Sahajananda, Hridaya is based on traditional spiritual principles and visions from classical yoga based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra Yoga, and Kashmir Shaivism. They are further correlated with teachings from Sufism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism.
The practice of Hridaya Yoga allows us to live in the very “core” of existence, to feel the heartbeat of every moment of life, to know intuitively the eternal dimension of every moment. Students engaged on the path of Hridaya Yoga aspire to live in the Heart, in the Supreme Reality, in God, with God being experienced directly, beyond any conceptual and religious definitions.
Hridaya Yoga’s practices include Hatha Yoga, meditations for the revelation of the Spiritual Heart, and techniques for cultivating awareness in daily life. Participation in a Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat is an excellent way to immerse yourself in these teachings.
The vision of this spiritual path is based on the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which teaches about the essential oneness of all creation. We are starting from the premise that everything that exists in the universe is a manifestation of the Supreme Consciousness, which reveals itself in each and every individual as atman, the Spiritual Heart. The Spiritual Heart represents our real source of freedom, spontaneity and profound bliss.
Hridaya Yoga aims to eliminate the contradictions, tensions, and conflicts caused by the dualistic vision and by its inherently conditioned programming. Hridaya Yoga amplifies the aspiration for the revelation of our ultimate nature, the Spiritual Heart. This brings the direct understanding and experience of Oneness.
In Hridaya Yoga, we endeavor to coherently express the consciousness of Oneness through the use of meditation and hatha yoga. Additionally, Hridaya Yoga uses specific methods to assist students with applying this vision in their everyday routine life. In this manner, the awareness of the Spiritual Heart can be permanently infused in daily life.
The focus on energy centers (chakras) and energetic phenomena during the practice of Hatha Yoga is always associated with the Witness Consciousness—the awareness of our real being. In the incipient stages of the Hatha Yoga practice, the experiences related with energizing the chakras (and also the understanding and transformations which may result thereafter) are important for acquiring an increased awareness of the subtle structures (koshas) of our being. However, gradually, as we gain spiritual maturity, it is the process of transcending our attachment to our physical or energetic structures that becomes the most important aspect in spiritual practice.
Therefore, Hridaya Yoga is a spiritual practice that does not emphasize the domination, control or forcing into submission of our internal or external nature. Instead, Hridaya Yoga recommends the conscious surrender of our individual limits. Here, the surrender to the Spiritual Heart is the superior stage, the crowning of the practice sustained by personal effort. Asanas (yoga poses) are performed with an attitude of profound devotion and inner transfiguration rather than by allowing the ego-based will to attempt control of the body and the mind.
The Hridaya Yoga practice itself represents a profound aspiration to remain permanently aware of the ultimate spiritual Reality.
As part of the Hridaya Yoga practice, Hatha Yoga inspires us to reach the state of harmony with the divine Reality, to let go of the limited corporeal consciousness, to reveal our inherent freedom, exaltation of beauty, and openness towards the Spiritual Heart.
The techniques employed in Hridaya Yoga, including meditation and Hatha Yoga, are not performed in order to “achieve” the Supreme Reality, the Spiritual Heart. In fact, the Supreme Reality is not something to be “achieved” or conquered; this is not even an aim or purpose on the spiritual path. Actually, we are revealing something that already exists within us, which is our very intimate essence. Thus, the purpose is to promote the purity of our “instruments”—the body, the soul and the mind—in order to turn them into adequate instruments for expressing atman, the Supreme Consciousness.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to understand these attitudes, as well as the role played by the body, soul and mind in their relation to the Spiritual Heart.
The Importance of the Principles Governing the Spiritual Practice
“One cannot realize the ultimate reality without relying on conceptual knowledge.” –Nagarjuna
It is important to outline the principles underlying the spiritual practice because they define it and make it coherent and clear.
These metaphysical principles can be found (in different specific terminologies) in many of the great spiritual traditions.
- There is one Supreme Reality, which represents the universal, unique and ultimate substratum of the entire existence.
- The Nature of the Supreme Reality is Consciousness. (The first Mahavakhya, “Great Saying,” of the Upanishads is Prajnanam Brahman, or “Consciousness is Brahman”). Consciousness is understood here not as an expression of the mind activity, but rather as the very “life” of creation. It is not only the source of biological life, but also of any movement or energy. Consciousness is the root of any cognitive or sensorial process; consciousness is the background of “life” in animals, plants; the ultimate source of the movement of atoms. This approach is different from the common religious belief in a God who exists somewhere separate to us, such as Heaven. Thus, the affirmation Brahman is Consciousness makes us understand that Brahman is not to be seen as God, the “Creator of the World” as in the Theistic religions, nor as a Creator who does not intervene in the Universe (as in Deism). Brahman, as Consciousness, is the very light in which we are thinking. Because Brahman, God, is Consciousness, even to doubt or deny Brahman is to affirm His existence, since Brahman is the very source of thinking, and the brain merely an instrument of consciousness.
- This Supreme Reality exists as the ultimate essence of one’s being. It is called atman, the Supreme Self. (We also frequently refer to atman as hridaya—the Spiritual Heart, the synonym used in Hridaya Yoga)
- The practice of yoga techniques, Self-Inquiry and other spiritual practices can generate the necessary conditions for the revelation of our ultimate essence, atman, the Spiritual Heart.
- The revelation of the ultimate essence, of who we are, atman, has caused the great Indian sages to recognize that there is a relationship of identity between Brahman, the Supreme Reality and atman, the Spiritual Heart. (Three out of great four Vedic and Upanishadic statements, Mahavakhyas, refer to this identity of atman with Brahman: Ayamatma Brahma, “The Self, Atman is Brahman”; Tat Tvam Asi, “Thou Art That”; and Aham Brahmasmi, “I am Brahman.”)
- There is a primordial vibration, spanda, which is expressed in our being as the Sacred Tremor of the Heart. The origin of the term spanda (literally “tremor” or “vibration”) is found in the spiritual tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. Spanda is the primordial vibration of the Universe and of our being. If we imagine the Supreme Reality as an absolute immobile ocean, there would be no connection between It and the world. The consequence would be that the world is just an illusion, maya, that there is nothing divine in immanence which should be transcended. This is the conclusion of the ascetic paths. With this comes the denial of the world and of many of the energies of the human being. Kashmir Shaivism recognized the “dynamic” of spanda, a dynamism that is simultaneously inherent to the Supreme Transcendent Reality, and is being expressed in the world as well. Thus, the Spanda creates a bridge between transcendent and immanent, between energy and consciousness. The same notion appears in Ramana Maharshi’s teachings as sphurana. It can serve as a way for an emotional or spiritual experience to transcend the personal individual level and then reveal the freedom of the spirit.The Sacred Tremor of the Heart, spanda, is an infallible inner guide. It always exists, as the fundamental dimension of existence, to guide us from the personal level to the transpersonal and beyond, from temporary existence to eternity.
- In accordance with the traditional Tantric vision and the contemporary holistic vision, the starting point in the Hridaya Yoga philosophy is that everything is interconnected. The Whole in itself is a vibrant living relationship. Life per se is a cosmic game of infinite interactions. The consciousness of the Spiritual Heart causes every moment lived according to this holistic vision to become an opportunity for inspiration, revelation, sacred celebration of interconnectedness between all the separate individual parts, on the one hand, and between each individual part and the Whole, on the other hand.
As we start to develop an intuitive knowledge of the One universal background of existence, the awareness arises that all aspects of our beings are ultimately divine. We also become intuitively aware that our ultimate nature is not limited to the physical body or to the subtle mind, soul or other energy structures. We become aware of the universal background of existence as being the transcendent dimension of our being.
The Purpose of the Practice
As the Supreme Reality, atman, cannot be “achieved,” our methods are not designed for “achieving” or “grasping” something, but for creating the proper conditions for revealing the Spiritual Heart, the essence of our being. Therefore, Hridaya Yoga practices, including meditation and Hatha Yoga, have the purpose of turning the body, the soul and the mind into adequate instruments for revealing the Spiritual Heart.
The aim of the various technical approaches is not to cause a state of mind or an experience, but to develop and refine the structures which adequately support the revelation of our divine nature. We utilize the technical elements to further develop:
- A clear and quiet mind, able to generate the premises for the transcendence of the mind itself.
- The Spiritual Heart—becoming aware of it being an “organ” for direct knowledge. The Spiritual Heart is a subtle “organ” that can simultaneously integrate the Supreme Reality, Atman (the Subject of knowledge), the very nature of spiritual endeavor and aspiration (the means of knowledge), and the object of the spiritual practice (the object of knowledge).
The Awareness of the Spiritual Heart
In the spiritual practice, we shall not make a goal of perfecting the physical postures. The practice of asanas is not a goal per se in Hridaya Yoga. However, the profound transformations taking place during the execution of an asana, make the asana a tool to help us open towards our ultimate nature, towards atman, the Spiritual Heart.
Therefore, the asana is but a modality to express the oneness of our being, a tool used to cause the consciousness to expand, a dance of energies, a dance of Shakti and Shiva, or a dance of Energy with Consciousness.
The awakening of latent energies and getting them balanced and centered in the Spiritual Heart represents a way for us to open towards the infinite and to become cosmic beings.
Instead of “practicing” or “doing” yoga or an asana, our aspiration is of “being” in yoga and of consciously living, in that asana, the miracle of “be-ing.” The asana is used as a tool to help us develop the sharpness of the Witness Consciousness, to immerse ourselves into the Heart’s profound levels, and to reveal who we really are.
Thus we achieve an attitude which is rather meditative and where mental concentration is accompanied by Witness Consciousness and by an Open Attention to energetic phenomena which might appear. The Hatha Yoga session is not an imposed practice, but a creative activity called for by the tendencies and energies associated with the Present Moment. Thus, the practice of Hatha Yoga is more than an ascetic practice or a strictly physical workout. It becomes mainly a practice of awareness and of openness full of joy.
In this manner, we avoid the danger of a rigid and, often, useless practice, based on egoic willpower. Instead, our practice is oriented inwards. It becomes increasingly intimate in its nature, freely expressed, dynamic, continuously refreshed by inner echoes, by feedback responses from the very flow of energies which are used.
In order to harmonize the energies and various aspects of our being such as body, sensations, and mind, we have to go through a process of unification and integration of this “Conscious Totality” which is our very being. While practicing yoga we become yoga; Oneness is reflected in and between the internal and external aspects of the being. By practicing Hridaya Yoga, we celebrate and honor the very power of life.
In this manner, we establish contact with the infinite and eternal potential of our true nature. As a result, we stop being preoccupied with routine problems, dramas and fears and we can freely access the extraordinary treasure which is offered by the Present Moment.
Centering in the Spiritual Heart induces a feeling of a sacred interconnection within the Totality. This is the true Home where we find ourselves together in the same radiation of the Pure Presence, of the Sacred Tremor, spanda.