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Hridaya Yoga TTC

By Ian Marshall

Weeeaaooohhhh… What a ride… The Hridaya Teacher Training Course was more than I ever dreamt. A three-month investigation into the witness consciousness, the question “Who am I?” and an invitation into love, community, introspection and learning.

The day before our graduation we had a sharing circle. Each one of the 30 TTCers brought something to the group as a way of expressing gratitude for the experience and became profoundly moving as each new person offered up a fresh perspective.

It lasted for 9 hours.

From songs and invitations to dance to individual stories of difficult times mixed in with deep stillness and tears, it was the culmination of a journey which we had all been undertaking in our own different ways.

I’ve thought about how to write about an experience which lives with me every day, which I still haven’t really been able to even begin to process and which is the culmination of a journey I’ve been on for a few years and a profound catalyst for change at the same time.

I discovered Agama first, in Thailand, and after studying tantra with them it wasn’t until Rishikesh that I took Level 1 and was introduced to the Hridaya style of meditation. It resonated with me immediately as the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and my time in Tiruvannamalai with Mooji had been an important part of my journey. So I went back to Thailand for my first Hridaya retreat with Sahajananda and was immediately hooked. I would have signed up for the TTC straight away if it had been possible but it was a year later that I finally made it out to Mazunte.

Each day on the TTC was an adventure with new stuff coming up and fresh challenges to be faced. We meditated a lot.

We listened to lectures about yoga philosophy, meditation practices and brain waves.

We learnt about Samadhi, the supreme state in meditation where subject and object merge into one, and how it has many forms. I attained none of them but at least one of our group did, the mystery remains.

We studied the body with a series of multi-media anatomy lectures that engaged and entertained.

We practised nauli kriya daily. For ages.

We suffered the anxiety of the first practicum. We enjoyed the elation of the second practicum. We learnt just to be during the third practicum.

We stared at the sun and allowed the blind spot in our vision to be a focus of meditation. Meditate on light, go into the light, become the light that you are, reflect on the many ways of accessing this, from staring at the horizon to looking from the corner of the eye.

We had a turn with the Brain Machine, a set of goggles and headphones that transmits a series of LED flashes and pulse sounds into your head. I felt like I’d been attacked the first time I tried it.

We practised voluntary hibernation, I liked that one a lot.

We had two ten day silent retreats and one 48 hour stretch in the dark room.

I was among the first in the dark and it came at a good time. I was feeling exhausted from everything but as soon as I turned off the light it felt like being enveloped in a blanket of darkness and I absolutely loved it. It lead me to deep states of meditation, a feeling of disconnection from the body and I emerged completely re-energised. I spent some time lying on my bed in a state of nearly sleeping and nearly waking feeling myself drift in and out of the dream state. When I was dreaming it was vivid and bright and lucid and on awaking the flower of life image lasered its way into the darkness.

The first 10 day retreat couldn’t come too soon. I was overwhelmed with material and looking for some time to cogitate on the content. It turned out frustrating, though, as deep moments for me were rare. There was no lack of drama as massive storms rolled in, tents washed away and the boom of thunder during a dark afternoon meditation coupled with an outburst and screaming as things got too much for one.

Before the second retreat I started the Ohsawa 10 day brown rice diet and up until the first day of silence things were improving. Focus, practice and meditation were all becoming more natural and although whole wheat chapatis meant I wasn’t solely eating rice, it felt like a good discipline.

The first day of retreat saw an attack of diarrhea and I struggled to eat even the small amount of rice I’d served myself. An attitude of disconnecting from food became the opposite as I spent my whole time thinking about how I could dam the flow and gain some strength. After barely eating for three days, and completely fasting for one, as soon as I started eating the “normal” food I got better. The amaranth and papaya breakfast was my favourite thing in the world that morning. The day I fasted was great, I practised asanas during the lecture and went full on into a strong practice but the day after left me even weaker than ever and I had to leave the hatha class to vomit. Powerful purifications there.

While my retreat experience might not have been what I had dreamt, each week we would have kirtan or devotional singing and it was during these beautiful events that I found myself going deeper inside, to a state of profound bliss and connection.

I love being in nature, although I realised I’m not as in touch with my hippie side as I thought after meeting some of the free spirits at the school.

We went to see the turtles hatching one evening and spent a couple of nights camping by some waterfalls in an amazing part of the Mexican countryside. After swimming in the falls, hugging giant trees and having an all night bhajan party a tired but happy group of yogis raided the Oxxo store on the way back into civilisation for ice cream and crisps, a far cry from the yogic diet but food for the soul, I like to think.

It wasn’t all fun and games though and when the serious business of exams came around there was a flurry of activity as people tried to study. Small revision groups in the kitchen definitely did me a world of good, as did some excellent work producing professional notes that some yogis found the time to manifest. At the end of the day, the exams weren’t really what the course was about. There is no marking system involved in attaining connection with the divine self and having a lot of book knowledge does not necessarily produce a teacher who can transmit. Still, I somehow found myself getting 100% in the last exam, which my little ego was kind of happy about!

During the course, as I tried to move away from the personal ego and worldly concerns, I found myself drawn into a confusing triangle of relationships which was distracting but ultimately rewarding. While we follow a path that leads directly inside to the highest truth of our being this is still a tantric school after all, and relationship remains of utmost importance. I’m still learning how best to share my love and knowledge with the world and allowing the stillness to blossom from deep within me but I know that I have all the skills at my disposal now.

Hridaya Yoga TTC

Our graduation was a beautiful and typically drawn out affair. All dressed in white we collected our certificates and received our prasad before it was time for our host to lead us through a group of performances ranging from the truly sublime to the truly ridiculous, touching on comedic genius and virtuoso performance as it progressed. The mystery of the English nanny was revealed, but alas not the mystery of the samadhi. We had powerful belly dancing, peaceful tai chi, fiery flamenco and interesting interpretative dance mixed in with the rapping, comedy skits, singer-songwriters and group performance of Tender. Our hearts were full of rainbows and we were all so busy sharing that things again went on late enough that the DJ went home and the after party ended up with table dancing in the kitchen.

It was blissful exuberance, a pure expression of spanda, released after an intense three months, a far cry from “Maple leaf, falling down, showing front, showing back” but no less centered in the Heart and representative of what this school is trying to achieve.

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New Dimensions of the Practice. Notes and Observations:

  1. Liking the practice:
  • This daily repeated exercise increased my “liking” of the practice to the point that I wish it could last longer.
  • I feel that the number of minutes I reached are not enough for me anymore. I “crave” the practice every morning and I look forward to see the sun rising the next day.

 

  1. Eyes activation in the daily life:
  • My Eyes activation lasts for a long time during the entire day following the practice.
  • Sometimes, during normal daily activities, I feel my eyes just suddenly becoming energised and vibrating, the energy field in the entire area around my eyes becomes expanded and my gaze becomes somehow shifted from the physical world.
  • It becomes temporary difficult to read anything in those moments, and the physical objects look blurred. I have to keep a de-focalised gaze and let my vision field expand.
  • Ajna Chakra is spontaneously activated and vibrating in the same time.

 

  1. Hrid Mudra:
  • I had a spontaneous urge to bring my hands in Hrid Mudra. It felt like inner guidance or some message from the divine consciousness about something I have “next to do”.
  • The practice in this new way felt very good and powerful.
  • The pranic circuit from my hands to the heart area becomes immediately obvious, perceivable and very comforting. I will continue this way for the next weeks.
  • It certainly helps releasing an affective trauma in emotional crisis. Generalised feeling of well-being. Strong activation of Anahata Chakra.
  • The feeling of well-being becomes so strong that it makes me wish to come back to the practice the next day. I long for it during the day.

 

  1. Anjali Mudra:
  • Moving on to Anjali Mudra makes a fine transition from the feeling of well-being and inner emotional comfort to a more meditative state.
  • Keeping centeredness is easy, I completely withdraw from the external world.
  • I find my way “inward” and I continue my gazing practice witnessing the perceptions, both visionary and emotional, from my heart center.
  • I continue the practice alternating Hrid Mudra and Anjali Mudra.

 

  1. Prarthanasana (Prayer Pose):
  • In the last few days of the 3rd month of my Tapas I experiment with the practice standing in Prarthanasana.
  • It is a familiar and confortable pose for me, so I can keep it for a long time while continuing my sun gazing practice with calmness and aspiration, without tension and in complete surrender.
  • I find profound relaxation in that pose, the breath pattern settles in naturally. I try to keep some rhythmic breathing flowing naturally.
  • I keep the awareness of the Heart Center and I continue blowing upon the amber of the heart during the practice.
  • I settle in the Natural State with reverence and devotion.
  • I have the feeling that I am seeking for something precious that is above and beyond ourselves as limited individuals and it will be revealed to me when I am mostly prepared to see.
  • I am certainly seeking for answers and guidance in my path to follow.

I am seeking for directions and a new way in my spiritual quest for bringing the Absolute Truth to the world and liberation to all beings.

  • I am open to welcome anything that may be revealed to me – any inspiration, insights, visions and revelations from the divine consciousness about the physical world and all subtle dimensions.
  • I am maintaining a state of fearlessness to anything I may perceive, non-judgement, non-discrimination, non-prejudice, while gazing and praying in open attention, humbleness and witness attitude.

I find the “gift of grace”.  State of amazing grace in stillness and naturalness.

 

  1. Post-practice:
  • I continue with Phosphene work and inner Trataka, followed by Ajna-focused meditation after the sun gazing practice.

Note: I aim to increase the length of the practice in both the Sun Gazing and Prarthanasana combined in the several months to follow.

 

Patience - Trust

When I was growing up I was always told that “patience is a virtue” and that “good things come to those who wait”. This was a piece of advice from my parents that I found useful and I was able to practice it from an early age. I found waiting for things happily to be a somewhat natural state for me.

It wasn’t always easy though. Living in London for 10 years with the big city pace of life and the pressure of working in industries like finance and TV sometimes took me away from my awareness and centre into the culture of frustration.

One particular example of this I noted was using the London Underground, travelling to work or going home after a busy day. Entering the tube network involves going down escalators, along corridors and eventually arriving at a platform where there is an indicator which tells you when the next train is due to arrive.

Normally this displays 1 minute, 2 minutes or maybe 3 minutes. Sometimes though there can be delays and the sign can show 5 minutes, 7 minutes or even more. In these situations people get extremely upset and it is interesting to note the reaction. I have caught myself doing it as well, the stories that begin to run through our minds – how can this be happening to me, 7 whole minutes just waiting for the train! My day/evening/life is ruined!

Of course, from a distance, from the witness perspective, we can see that this is a nonsensical, psychological suffering that we are imposing on ourselves. It makes no real difference in the big scheme of things if I wait 3 minutes or 7 minutes, so why worry?

Allowing ourselves to react from the heart in times of irritation or distress in daily life mean that we are moving away from the patterns of conditioned response. By taking time and allowing ourselves to view negative emotions from the witness consciousness we can be more in the present moment and respond to life’s challenges with greater compassion and empathy. The first step in mastering patience is in awareness. We have to acknowledge when we are becoming impatient, when we are frustrated and when we begin to get irritated in situations. Then we can begin to act by focusing, breathing and not reacting in our usual way.

 

Patience - Yoga

As we move from a grasping approach towards self­realisation into surrender and trust in the best outcome of the universe we can try our best but without judgement over the results.

If we practice from the heart then transformation will occur; there is no guarantee when it will occur but being relaxed about the outcome both helps our practice and is also  enhanced by our practice.

This is something which is true of all of the Attitudes recommended in Hridaya yoga. By practising we naturally come into resonance with these characteristics but at the same time by observing them in our lives we become mentally purified and our practice is enhanced.

Patience is a theme which is prominent in all major religions. In Christianity it is considered one of the most important virtues.

In Judaism it is taught that we should wait for God and in Proverbs it is written ­ “The patient man shows much good sense, but the quick­tempered man displays folly at its height”

In Islam, sabr or patience with belief in Allah, is considered one of the greatest virtues;

Buddhism contains patience as one of the paramitas or perfections practiced by Bodhisattvas in order to attain enlightenment and in Hinduism patience and forbearance are considered essential attributes. The practitioner should be able to endure unwelcome conditions in a happy frame of mind with the understanding that it is karma playing out in the universal scheme of things.

So take the time to observe your frustration and anxiety and let go of any desire to change it. In daily life, begin to take these moments of impatience and observe them without judgement. Slowly allow yourself the time to observe these things arising and then go beyond the limitation that they are presenting.

New Dimensions of the Practice. Notes and Observations:

 

Note: While progressing with the tapas and deepening its effects, new dimensions for the practice are inspired to me by the practice itself.  I include the new methods along with the inspiration, and the daily exercise becomes richer, more profound, allowing the direct revelation of the deeper effects such complex tapas can bring.    I also become more aware of the inspiration and divine grace that guide my daily life.         

Sun gazing

 

  1. “Absorbing” the Light through the Eyes:
  • While keeping the state of relaxation, I mentalize that I “absorb” the Light through the Eyes —> I guide it downward towards the Heart —> I fill the Heart with the Light of the Sun;
  • I feel the warm sensation in the Heart, sometimes even hot and glowing.
  1. Combining Sun Gazing with Breathing practice:
  • I “Breath-in” the Light with every breath: I start breathing in and out with awareness, feeling how I “inhale” the Light into my Eyes with every breath, and I guide it toward the Heart;
  • I briefly practice the “Blowing Upon the Amber” technique to fully activate my Heart Center;
  • I then combine the 2 exercises, such way that the “Breathing-in of the Light into the Eyes” continues with “Blowing the Light into the Heart”, with every breath;
  • When the practice becomes comfortable, I establish the Rhythmic Breathing. Chosen Pattern:  4,2,4 à 8,4,8  à 8,8,8,2 à 8,8,4
  • I keep the Awareness on the Heart Center, and on “Breathing-in the Light into my Eyes, then flowing it into the Heart”, to fill the Heart;

Note: The Kati Channel becomes better defined, warmer, more perceivable, more and more active and energised. 

  1. Connection with the Inner Ear:
  • I gradually start feeling a connection with the Inner Ear on both sides;
  • My Inner Ears become highly activated;
  • Some energy channels related to the Inner Ears converge with the Eyes Channel in the throat area, and then go into the Heart Center.
  1. Throat area becomes dominant:
  • My entire throat area is now very activated, energised, dilated and vibrating; it becomes the dominant area of the practice-results;
  • It feels like it is a Gateway or a hub for all the energy channels;

 

Note: This strong sensation of energy, vibration and dilation in the throat area may be related to my natural dominant Vishudha Chakra activation, and the fact that my daily morning Yoga practice is highly focused on Vishudha Chakra; or, it may be just the effect of the convergence of the energy channels – simultaneously activated.

 

  1. Back of the head, Cerebellum activation:
  • The feeling of energizing and dilation extends toward the back of the head, bringing a new focus. I clearly feel my Cerebellum activation
  1. Whole head activation, energy field expansion
  1. The entire area of the head, neck, shoulders, chest and upper-back feel ethereal now – expanded, energised, and vibrating.

 

Hridaya Sungazing

Looking forward for whatever comes next !

 

 

 

 

 

Many people begin practicing yoga because they want to improve their physical health or simply because it makes them feel good.

Yoga health benefits are countless.

It revitalizes, stretches and tones the entire body and balances all of its major systems: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, respiratory, reproductive, skeletal and urinary.

There are many yogic hospitals in India with some amazing accounts of healing through yoga practices.

Western medical research has also verified that yoga assists our body in healing itself for a multitude of conditions, without the need for pharmaceutical drugs. The academic research literature contains over 1000 scientific articles covering yoga’s effects on a wide range of health conditions.

Some of these include:

Chronic pain, Asthma, Arthritis, Depression, Anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Premature ejaculation, Prenatal health, Menopause, Cardiovascular diseases, and Diabetes. Scientific studies are also confirming the healing benefits of yoga for many of the common psychological and psychiatric conditions that afflict hundreds of thousands of people every year, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, schizophrenia, and psychotic symptoms.

 

Yoga Health Benefits Beyond the Physical Body

It is not surprising that yoga has strong healing effects on psychological conditions. From a yogic perspective, the physical body is only one of five layers of our being (koshas, which we will discuss more fully in another post). It is the most familiar starting point in yoga for the majority of people, as our physical body is the most tangible and easily perceptible.

However, overall health is also greatly influenced by the subtle layers of the body. Just as yoga helps to purify and reestablish a balance between all parts of the physical body, it also purifies and balances the energetic or pranic body.

Gradually we start to notice changes within our other subtle layers: the emotional, mental and even the spiritual layers of our being.

Some examples of these changes are:

  • Improved mood
  • Stress reduction
  • Self acceptance
  • Self control
  • Positive mental outlook
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved memory
  • Calmness

 

“When we raise ourselves through meditation to what unites us with the spirit, we quicken something within us that is eternal and unlimited by birth and death. Once we have experienced this eternal part in us, we can no longer doubt its existence Meditation is thus the way to knowing and beholding the eternal, indestructible, essential center of our being.” Rudolf Steiner

 

While we want to maintain a committed practice, it is also very important not to lose sight of why we are doing the practice in the first place, what is our intention.

There is an old Zen saying about the “finger that points to the moon.” The practice is just a “finger” and we don’t ever want to mistake it for or lose sight of the moon.

On the one hand, yoga posits that at the core of our being, we are already perfect and whole – we don’t need to do anything except to recognize that and rest in that knowing. And at the absolute level this is very true.

However, at the same time, because of strong subconscious conditioning, most of us find it very difficult to surrender to our Real nature and just be. This is why the practice of hatha yoga and meditation are considered an essential element of the yogic path.

Yoga gives us tools and specific practices that help us to develop greater awareness of our body, breath and the universal energies, while meditation helps us to go further, beyond the mind.

As we purify our being through these practices and develop an ability to dis-identify with old patterns, we gradually begin to remove veils and have a fresh, more intimate sense of ourselves.

 

Seek the Self in the body.

This body is known as the abode of the Self.

Forsaking greed and attachment

will brighten the body.

The body will shine like the sun.

 

Slowly through practicing breath control,

the lamp shone

and I saw my true nature.

The inner light I realized –

caught it in darkness and seized it.

 

Deeds I performed became offerings.

Words I spoke became mantra.

Experiences my body had

were for self-knowledge.

This is the essence of siva’s way.

 

Some renounce their home,

and some their hermitage.

All is futile

if the mind is not under control.

Meditate on your breath

day and night,

and stay wherever you are.

 

-Lalla

Meditation

What is all this love and all this laughter? It’s the joyous sound of a soul waking up.”

~ Hafiz

The Sanskrit root of yoga yuj means to “yoke,” “bind,” or “join together” and also indicates “union” or “oneness.”

At the deepest spiritual level, yoga allows us to reveal the Self, the True Essence of our Being. Ultimately it is the means by which we realize that there is no separation between anyone or anything – everything is One.

Defining yoga in an all-encompassing way can be challenging. There are so many distinct and overlapping aspects, layers, branches, and nuances within the vastness of yoga and a single definition inherently creates limitation.

 

Misconceptions about yoga

For many in the West, yoga is equivalent to asana practice known as Hatha Yoga, the practice of physical postures. The quintessential image of yoga is a beautiful young woman doing some impossible-looking pretzel-like position. While physical postures are indeed a part of yoga and they do improve one’s health, they are only a very small p>what yoga is.

IMG_6056 (800x533)

Yoga has powerful “secondary” benefits that can bring about change in one’s life on a more practical level. These include:

  • Better physical health
  • A calmer mind
  • Increased sensitivity to energy
  • An enhanced ability to embrace and detach from difficult emotions
  • More harmonious relationships
  • More compassion
  • A greater sense of meaning and purpose

Also, pure intention and focused awareness are integral to the practice of asanas and what set yoga apart from other forms of physical exercise. Yoga is an empirical science and a philosophy aimed at understanding life’s most important questions.

And yet the real essence of yoga is about transcending all limitations.

Just as the wave is never separate from the ocean, we are all individual expressions of the Divine. This tenet of yoga is known as advaita or non-dualism and is the core of the Hridaya yoga philosophy.