Sankhya, Ayurveda and Yoga are all related. Sankhya, one of six Indian philosophies, is about understanding the whole Universe through comprehending its ingredients. The sages found out, that not only everything in the Universe is in a continuous state of movement, but it is also an interaction of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. They also realised, that since we are the microcosm of the Universe our bodies are vibrating with the same life-force. There are devised ways of recognizing the evolution of energy within us in order to be able to see the pure Self. When you become in touch with your energies you can access extrasensory powers, when wisdom comes all energies are freed, one can see into the past as well as into the future.
Life operates by two energies, activity and passivity, plus and minus, wave going up and wave going down. On the physical level, life is a movement and its energy manifests itself in waves. Ha is a positive force and sun power, Tha is a negative force and moon power, everything functions within these two polarities. Hatha Yoga is about the exploration of the energy of oneself.
Light is a pure form of energy. It requires two poles to be in the right balance, as the energy moves in waves from positive to negative, then the light shines. This is the energy that we can see, e.g. in a light bulb when the switch is on and it is lit, then we see there is an electricity. The yogis realized that within our bodies we also have switches, wires and bulbs, as they saw that different kinds of light was shining from within the bodies. These are our chakras, the energy centres located where many nerve endings come out of the spine, each chakra in the body is like a different light. When they are cleansed and purified, there is a direct access to the energy and it shines within us like a light that dispels darkness. Yoga postures allow to cleanse these channels like a pipe.
Our spine has every energy that exists in the Universe, the gross energy is becoming subtler and subtler as it moves up the spine. These energies are related to elements that exist (earth, water, fire, air and space) and have their own physical, psychological and metaphysical qualities. The science of Hatha Yoga was built on the foundation that matter is a group of particles in space. Also Ayurveda is based on the same principle, as it clarifies how the five elements work on matter, while Hatha Yoga devotes all explanations to energy.
Each of the five elements of the Universe contain certain state of consciousness and has different qualities:
- Earth: stability, gravity, heaviness, solidity, being grounded, mass, foundations, downward movement. Shape is the square and colour is black or brown.
- Water: liquid, cooling, fluid, takes shape of everything that it is in, moves downwards and sideways. Shape is a circle and colour is blue.
- Fire: hot, light, moves sideways, down and upwards. Shape is a triangle and colour is red. Fire needs oxygen.
- Air: pervasive, cooling, drying, weightless, it moves in any direction. Shape is a crescent and colour is purple.
- Space: all pervading, infinite, limitless, weightless, colourless, container for all the elements. Shape is a small circle and colour is gold.
Everything is interrelated, by understanding this one can understand Yoga and Ayurveda, then one needs to learn how to use them. There are five qualities which human beings can have. The first one is the sexual energy, all creatures have the basic urge to reproduce, as everything has a beginning and an end. The second primal purpose is a survival, staying alive. These are the two qualities that every living being has. The third quality is feeling, the fourth is thinking and rationality and the fifth is intuition, which also includes higher states of consciousness. All these qualities have different energy, e.g. thinking is the quality of air, and intuition is beyond quality of thought and mind. When one can explore them with totality, then comes an understanding of the whole Universe.
In the body there are two main channels: ida (left) and pingala (right). In order to clean them, the movement of the body must be in absolute harmony, left side and right side equal and balanced. Yoga postures should create such harmony in each part of the body. Very dynamic postures are not Yoga, as they don’t give enough time for the nervous system to assimilate the poses. Dynamic postures generate male qualities, whereas holding positions longer generates female energy.
The chakras are not only certain points on the spine, they also represent specific states of consciousness. One can access them by working on different chakras, as in Yoga every pose brings about distinctive effects, thus there is a sequence in the asanas, i.e.: standing poses work on earth, twists work on water, forward bends work on fire, back bends work on air, and inverted poses give space to the body.
In the standing poses the power of the energy is in the perineum and it brings about the earth qualities.
As forward bends work on fire, generating heat in the body, therefore they stimulate gastric fire, digestion and assimilation of nutrients. This also refers to digestion of ideas, basically any material has to go through the work of fire in order to be transformed from a raw to a useful state. Forward bends are excellent for managing stress. Stress is caused by the outward forces, not the inside ones, so when one closes oneself, the mind is quietening. It is important to bring about this quietness also for people who suffer from heart diseases. In the forward bends the frontal organs contract while the back organs expand and they involve some pain in the back of the legs due to stretching. In order to rest the head in a forward bend it is possible to use stool or bricks. Stool brings peacefulness, however one must know how to do a correct movement before using it. It is essential to learn how to elongate the front side of the trunk from below the pubic bone and not only the back, otherwise such forward bend will be upsetting for the spine, frontal organs and causing more tensions or even depression. Some people may feel frustration when moving forward and closing themselves. In general it is not recommended for introverts to do a lot of forward bends.
Back bends are the opposite of forward bends, they are connected with extroversion and expansion. In the back bends the frontal organs expand while the back organs squeeze in, but they shouldn’t contract. One must learn how to work in the back to create some elongation there as well and not only the front. People who suffer from depression need back bends, because they bring expansion of the chest and increased movement of the head, neck and shoulders, as a result creating space for the thoughts and for the head to move around. In terms of psychological benefits back bends enhance communication and tackle the greatest impediment of Yoga, fear. They help to get rid of our fears by bringing them up from deep within to the surface, so one may become very emotional while and after such practice and it is very important how a person deals with these emotions. You should observe it, but don’t react on it, and ultimately you can change how you feel about it, loosen the bonds and let go.
Sitting postures are meditative postures. One performs them in order to be still, stable and quiet, because stability is the first quality of any meditative pose.
Inverted postures are the cream of Yoga and among inversions the Head Stand (Hanging) is a king and the Shoulder Stand is a queen. Two systems control the whole body, these are nervous system and endocrine system. Endocrine system is controlled by the hypothalamus and thalamus, part of the lower brain, and pineal gland controls the nervous system. The lower brain is responsible for all involuntary functions, while the upper brain for all voluntary functions and choices. Head Stand (Hanging) feeds the brain, which rules the body and keeps track of the entire being. When brain receives messages, it assesses the situation and then sends an appropriate response. A good functioning brain is capable of accessing all the information and making the right decisions, so the whole kingdom works well. Head stand enhances the abilities of the brain through nervous system, sensory and motor nerves. When the brain works at optimum level, all organs in the body are told to function accordingly, so the person remains in a good health. Scientist say that we are using very small percentage of the total capacity of brain, approximately 2-3%. The brain not only has a capacity for thinking, but also for extrasensory powers. Shoulder Stand on the other hand works on the endocrine system. The rate of chemical exchange in the body is influenced by the hormonal system, if one gland stops functioning, there is an imbalance, chaos. In Shoulder Stand the thalamus and hypothalamus are positioned in a way to be the lowest part of the body. The thalamus is like a laboratory, as all hormonal secretions pass through it (the amount of secretions depends on the moon cycle) thalamus decodes what is going through and passes the information to the hypothalamus which tells the different glands what to secrete and how much. It is important to learn how to do Shoulder Stand for a longer time and in a very relaxed, meditative way – so that the right energy is being generated. If one does an intensive practice of corrective postures, one should never ignore the inverted poses, otherwise there will be an imbalance and one can gradually get mentally disturbed.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2003