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Spiritual Healing Through Yoga

SPIRITUAL-HEALING post

By Laura Samper G.

Have You Ever Tried Spiritual Healing?

Many meditation practitioners and people looking for alternatives to modern medicine are interested in the ancient practice of shamanism.  The term shaman comes from Siberia and means “the one who knows” (from the verb sha, “to know”). Shamanism is found in Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador), among hunter-gatherer societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and in some prehistoric cultures in Europe.

A shaman is someone who sees beyond their limits and does not identify with the personal “I.” They direct their inner worlds and their freedom lies in their detachment from dogma. So, shamans are able to heal themselves and others by knowing their own depth and richness.

Are we capable of performing actual healing on ourselves? Are we healers and shamans without realizing it?

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As Above, So Below. As Within, So Without

Usually, when tensions, worries and stresses become chronic, they manifest as illness in the physical body. We externalize countless emotional tensions, conflicts and mental doubts. So, it is a matter of a mental, not physical attitude.

Psychological pressures and constant worries have unfortunate consequences on our energetic structures. We may suffer from panic attacks, pain, and moments of depression as if we were mentally bungee jumping. Sometimes, these episodes can go on for weeks without us quite noticing.

Sometimes, we just feel tired when we shouldn’t.

We are on autopilot. Our activities, relationships and place in the world start to overwhelm us. So, we withdraw into the desire to get rid of this feeling and we start making the wrong decisions. This is why we get stuck in unhealthy interactions, in toxic routines, and other off behaviors.

I started to practice yoga on a daily basis for this very reason. I wanted to heal and go deeper into myself and discover the unknown abilities hidden beneath rusty beliefs.

The Case of Back Pain

Last March, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention informed doctors that they should stop prescribing opioids for chronic pain and, instead, evaluate other, less invasive alternatives—especially for chronic back pain. Moreover, a recent experiment reported that 43.6% of people who participated in a mindfulness training course that included meditation and yoga practices presented a meaningful reduction in back pain 26 weeks later.

Referring to back pain, author Daniel Cherking, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington said that, “The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it’s not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It’s a bio-physiological problem.”

According to the New York Times, 6.5 million Americans currently suffer from chronic lower back pain. However, most of them don’t have access to alternative treatments such as therapeutic meditation because they are not included in most insurance plans. (Hint: it’s a good option just to try these techniques at home.)

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Depression

We don’t have many options to run away from pharmaceuticals, either. When talking about mental disorders, psychiatric treatments are recommended. But why do we need to take pills? I think this is extreme when we are facing the real issues of being human. But this is just my opinion. I think that the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry works in very few specific cases.

There are many studies about the effects of meditation on the body and the emotions. Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, is one of the more researched meditation techniques. Over 200 published scientific studies show that this technique reduces stress, boosts learning ability and creativity, and improves brain function.

Herbert Benson, M.D. from Harvard Medical School conducted extensive studies on TM and observed that the electroencephalograph (EEG) showed increased alpha wave activity, indicating greater tranquility of mind. His team also observed a decrease in heartbeat and a 20% decrease in oxygen consumption. There was also a marked increase in skin resistance.

Vipassana meditation is a technique that emerged in India 2500 years ago and has been studied at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These studies suggest that meditation can actually alter the structure of our brains (this is an expression in the physical body of what Patanjali called nirodha parinama).

The Tibetan, Buddhist and Zen traditions all teach mindfulness techniques. In a recent study on the benefits of meditation, researchers found meditation to be as effective a treatment for depression, pain and anxiety as medication. This study, in particular, is remarkable because it analyzed data from 18,000 earlier papers on the topic. The most interesting fact revealed by this study was that, in the United States, the average effect of antidepressants is the same as for meditation. Are we onto something here?

Emotional Healing on the Mat

There are many ways to support healing on both the mental and physical levels that don’t involve using pills. I think it’s good to keep unveiling other paths beside those we have been taught by tradition and education.

After most of my hatha yoga practices, I find myself trying to answer this question: How can I heal myself without an outside influence? How can I feel better without depending on others?

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The Alchemy of the Body

In the practice of hatha yoga, ancient wisdom and asanas go hand in hand. Physical movement should be performed with the inner spiritual attitudes recommended in the traditional texts of Tantra and Shaivism such as Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Spanda Karika and Shiva Sutra.

According to these teachings, the practice of yoga is oriented towards gaining intimate inner knowledge of the physical body, of its nature. A single practice may help us create the conditions for relaxation and for opening up to realize the alchemy of the body itself.

During the practice, we should experience happiness rather than effort and strain. Every pose should be an inner massage, a nice place to rest, meditate and observe.

Tip: Yes, when we think we are making a funny face during class, we are. When we laugh at it, our entire face—in fact, our entire body—will just relax.

The point is that we have an awesome, smart and hyper-connected body that can actually be the channel for the most powerful energies of life. We are life itself, but we sometimes forget about our true nature. How can we blame ourselves? There are so many screens to look at!

In my learning process as a beginner in hatha yoga, I feel like I’m a channel through which energy flows. The point is to learn how to dance with this inner fire, which is always latent and silent in our hearts. This is known as sama rasa in the Siddha Yoga tradition, a concept that inspires the practice of Hridaya Yoga and means balancing or “even essence.” This is the condition in which the physical body expresses, at each level, our divine perfection—our true nature.

10 Proven Ways that Yoga is Medicine

How can we actually heal ourselves during our personal yoga practice? Here is a quick guide with 10 tips to try this different type of medicine and incorporate meditation in the asana practice:

  1. Openness is the keyword. To experience a state of the transfiguration of the body, which means transforming the mind (and body) as you become free of your attachments to it, it’s important to let go of the idea of a strictly material, solid, heavy body subject to inertia, and keep it profoundly relaxed. See yourself from above.
  2. Detach from the physical body. You are aware that you are more than this body so you don’t identify yourself with it, it doesn’t represent who you really are.
  3. Breathe deeply as if you were lighting a fire inside your chest. With each inhalation, become aware of the fire and with each exhalation ignite it more and more.
  4. You can begin to practice nirmana kaya (also called the “original body” or “natural body”), which is like the physical body when you wake up and open the eyes with freshness and novelty.
  5. Let your mind come down to the heart, feeling the intimacy of coming back home, the connection to a deeper dimension of your being.
  6. Start each asana with awareness, moving slowly, coming to a comfortable, steady position and finding the balance between effort and relaxation. Remember that there’s nothing to achieve, you are just witnessing.
  7. After gradually coming into the asana, you may start to practice kaya sthairyam, the immobility of the body, remembering that the stillness of the body induces the stillness of the mind.
  8. Acknowledge the universal essence of the energies running through your body. That tingling that starts at the tip of your fingers and toes is pure electricity! It is the dynamism of the life force or samsara.
  9. If the posture causes inherent tension, try to accept that tension with detachment. Relax even in the most challenging moments and become an instrument of all the divine qualities that manifest through you: love, compassion, creativity, courage and joy.
  10. For better results, whenever possible try to perform the asanas with your eyes closed.

Nothing in the practice should be rigidly planned. It is more of a heartfelt, creative act, a joyful endeavor, a true celebration of life. Whenever we feel tension, we can breathe in deeply and direct the oxygen to the specific area of contraction, releasing strain by watching—not imagining—and revealing an ever-deeper state of relaxation.

Asanas reflect our personality. Our transformation begins with the very attitude we have when we start a posture. If we infuse elegance, harmony, surrender and refinement into the practice, yoga becomes a way of generating such qualities in our whole life. This is the alchemy of the body: the more we inhabit it, the more we can allow the current of life to run through us, removing blockages. Gradually, a love affair starts to grow between who we really are (without any masks, traumas or fears) and the world around us. We are no longer in the prison of dogma.
 
Stop Being So Religious
What
Do sad people have in
Common?
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
What is the beginning of
happiness?
It is to stop being
So religious
Like That.

-Hafiz

hridaya-blog-are-you-spiritual

Are You Spiritual or Just Full of Yourself?

By: Giulio Pietro Benati; translated from Italian

We hear it all the time: “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Recent human history has probably seen more conversions to spirituality than any other era. However, what does it mean, “being spiritual”?

I grew up an atheist, with the certainty that religion was the opiate of the masses. The Catholic Church, in particular, looked evil to me: opulent, false, opportunist. It burned witches, molested children, and fought holy wars against imaginary enemies.

However, I felt an inner calling to look for something more than sheer matter. That’s why I started to seek. I found a yoga school in Thailand that taught me several techniques meant for the attainment of the Infinite without the need for any divinity (or, at least, that’s what I thought). At that school, I observed that for many people spirituality means practicing yoga, reading books about self-development, and speaking about being spiritual. Even at that time, I felt that something was wrong with this idea of spirituality (which I considered really shallow) compared to the lives of the saints and mystics who followed many genuine ascetic traditions.

Today, when I take a look around, I can only confirm what I saw seven years ago.

“Being spiritual,” according to the latest New Age trends, often includes everything that I said above, plus some other ingredients like dressing up as a “spiritual person” and sharing a “spiritual look” on Facebook or becoming vegan/vegetarian and pointing the finger at anyone who is not.

Appearance overcomes essence, facade overcomes truth, and falsehood pervades everything.

I don’t want to say that doing yoga is something bad. It is totally appropriate to follow yogic principles if you follow them with honesty and compassion, just as you are perfectly entitled to have faith in Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Muhammad if you live with the open heart that a true seeker should have.

The bad thing is if, on the other hand, you hide behind yoga or religion in order to justify all the shit you spread around. I’m strongly convinced that an aggressive attitude against non-vegan people masks the same tendencies that brought about the Inquisition and the burning of witches in the name of Jesus!

Substituting One Dogma for Another

Many seekers leave their parents’ religions just to substitute one dogma for another. Instead of considering pre-marital sex a sin, they consider eating sugar, not recycling, or using a car instead of a bike sinful. As in the past, the fundamental tenets of a genuine spiritual path (truthfulness, freedom, and love) are lost along the way. In other words, the everlasting happiness independent of the external world is overlooked.

When you finally find something that actually works, that gives you answers, that lets you feel connected to the Absolute, you become vulnerable to “sect mentality” (alas, I’ve been affected by it for quite a while…): you don’t scrutinize your beliefs, you believe in them and that’s it. This leads you to act blindly, without considering if any of these convictions are at odds with your sensibilities and values. Moreover, that spark of the Infinite that you tasted makes you feel special, favored. Suddenly, you are right and the rest of the world is wrong. You are the special child of God, your path is the unique, authentic one and anyone who doesn’t follow it is making a mistake (and, even if they are following it, you are doing it better!).

be spiritual Chanting Sanskrit mantras, not cursing, always being kind (even if it’s a false kindness), having symbolic tattoos, and becoming vegan are not true signs of spirituality. However, this is exactly what the vast majority of “spiritual people” do nowadays, thinking that this is enough to be elevated, special, and dear in God’s eyes. They think these actions make them better than the rest of the world.

Obviously, I don’t think that every single person who walks the spiritual path today is doing it so blindly. There are undoubtedly people who are sincerely seeking the Absolute in their lives. However, from what I have observed in my (short) experience, an overwhelming majority of those who define themselves as spiritual have a very distorted conception of themselves and of the path they are walking.

What Does it Mean to Be Spiritual?

In order to explain my idea of being spiritual, I need to tell you a short story.

I had a small taste of the Infinite that I was looking for thanks to a concentration and meditation technique I learned at the yoga school in Thailand. After that experience, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 800 km road through Spain that starts in the Pyrenees and ends at St. James’s tomb in Santiago de Compostela. I felt really special while I was walking, a step ahead of the motley crowd that was on the path but did not have the mystical knowledge I did. But one day, in a totally unexpected way, I received a lesson that I really needed (a lesson that I guess I’m still learning).

Along the route, pilgrims sleep all together in dormitories. If you wake up early in the morning, it is common custom to keep quiet and not disturb others. One morning, just 100 km away from the final destination, a small group of Spanish guys woke up early and made a racket. I woke up because of them and, in a not very kind way, told them to shut up. One of them came in front of me and, speaking in Spanish, told me that Spain was their country and I did not have the right to say anything. After a few minutes, they were out walking the Camino.

I got up after a while and spent the following two hours speaking badly about them, repeating to myself how far from the goal they were, how they did not know anything about spirituality, and how little they had traveled compared to me. As a matter of fact, all along the way I was repeatedly telling myself how much better I was than them.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when the Spanish boor who had insulted me a few hours before came into the café where I was having breakfast. While approaching my table, he was crying.

“Forgive me, this morning I did things that St. James wouldn’t like me to do, please forgive me!”

Suddenly, I realized that Spanish guy, who didn’t know anything about mysticism and techniques to control the mind, was in that moment much closer to the Absolute than me, notwithstanding all my practice, my mantras, and the meat I didn’t eat!

The Spiritual Path Is the Path of the Common Man

If you are REALLY spiritual, allow yourself to simply be you. This “spiritual you” should be kind, compassionate, and gentle (although it is said that many mystical people have tremendous personalities!). Take care not to fall into the trap of dogma; you don’t have to fight to be like that. You don’t have to force yourself to be spiritual. Even more, you don’t have to strive to appear spiritual. You are already spiritual! These virtues are already in you!

What you have to do is simply decondition yourself and recognize the truth deeply embedded in yourself. This is what the spiritual path should be—simply the search for your true nature. Spirituality simply means to be authentic with yourself and others.

Pay attention, though. It is not easy to be authentic! In my whole life, I have met very few people who are truly authentic. Being authentic means being open, not being afraid of the judgment of others, trusting in the universe. It means to believe.

I am really far away from being perfect and, just like everyone else, I’m very deluded about myself. I still think that I am special (even if, intellectually, I know that I am not, or, better said, I know that we are all special).

In fact, in this article I don’t even speak about what I have realized by myself. I speak about what I have been taught and about what I have observed in others—in my life, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet a few authentic spiritual masters.

One of the things that I have observed in these masters is that they are always open to discussion and dialogue on any topic, rather than imposing a particular belief. Because of this, it has always been my own personal decision to accept or not accept a principle that they were presenting.

But, above all the metaphysical discussions about God and the fundamental principles of the Universe that we may have had, the thing that reverberates most vividly in my heart and is worth one thousand words and thoughts, is their living example.

Their true, authentic, living example—their experience of life that coherently and perseveringly testifies for the Truth.

These are the characteristics that I have observed in the two spiritual masters I have met along my path—true masters are not easy to find, they are a rare and precious gift. I believe these characteristics are common to every genuine seeker: they love unconditionally, they practice without showing off, they do not judge, they are great healers, they are detached from the fruits of their actions (they act without fear about what will happen next), they are consistent with what they say and what they preach.

They seek…they seek always…they seek everywhere.

And everyone knows: seek, and ye shall find.

Giulio is a Hridaya teacher and the founder of Il Giornale dello Yoga, an Italian-language online yoga magazine.