Yoga: a Royal Path to Your Higher Self
"Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46, verse 10
Yoga is a multi faceted spiritual discipline involving practices to transcend the ordinary consciousness of identifying solely with our ego-personality. Yoga practices aim at expanding our consciousness so that we can recognize (or remember) our divine nature or true self.
The Royal Path of Yoga (also known as Raja Yoga) gives us a practical map to guide us on our personal journey from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. Its eight limbs (ashtanga), as describes by Patanjali in his classical Yoga sutras, consist of: principles for ethical living (yamas); observances for purity of body and mind (niyamas); posture (asana); expansive breathing (pranayama); connection to our inner centre (pratyahara) leading to single pointedness of purpose (dharana), meditative awareness (dhyana) and realization of our radiant self (samadhi).This path is not exclusive of other paths and it is open to people from all walks of life.
The yamas encourage us to be harmless (ahimsa), truthful (satya), self-reliant (asteya), free from binding desires (brahmacharya) and generous, sharing our gifts with others (aparigraha). The niyamas point towards cleanliness of body and mind (saucha), cultivation of contentment (santosha), burning determination (persistent effort) to know God (tapas), self-knowledge (svadhyaya) and dedication of our actions and lives to God (ishvara pranidana).
Asana makes the body resilient; pranayama removes the veil of ignorance that covers the inner light. The mind then becomes fit for concentration.
If we compare the royal path of Yoga to a garden, we can say that the first four limbs prepare and cultivate the soil for a beautiful seed to grow. It is the seed of awareness of God's presence in our heart. Pratyahara, usually translated as sense withdrawal, is the moment when that seed sprouts and begins to grow. In dharana (concentration) the awareness of God's presence becomes the focus of our life. In dhyana (meditation) we become absorbed in divine awareness. The seed is now a tree firmly established on the path. In samadhi (complete union) the tree blooms in its full splendour. The yogi is yoked, one with the divine.
Meditation is an integral part of the path of Yoga. It is not separate. In the 6th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna to practice meditation in order to develop equanimity. He tells Arjuna that: "the wise are equally friendly towards friends, companions, enemies, people who are indifferent or hateful, saints and sinners alike. You will know when the mind becomes peaceful and harmonized because you will see the Self in everyone and everyone in the Self."
We can use meditation to become friends with our own shadow and to grow into the light. Patanjali teaches us that there is freedom in our choice of techniques: we may concentrate on the breath, subtle sense perceptions, the supreme light within, on a great soul's mind, a dream or anything one chooses which is elevating (Book 1, sutras 34-39).
Meditation techniques are many and varied. Techniques from any traditions can be used. The state of meditation is the open space one experiences from practicing the techniques. In that space we can see clearly out divine nature. When the body is relaxed in a steady posture, the breath is calm and the mind is alert, the state of meditation can be experienced more easily.
My first experiences with meditation were quite a struggle. During retreats in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, meditation practice was at 5:00am and the only instruction was to sit in silence with a straight back for one hour. I would inevitably end up lying on my back, half asleep or sound asleep. In my early twenties, I was lucky to take a week long course entitled The Experience of the State of Meditation with Gerard Blitz, a Buddhist monk and Yoga disciple of TKV Desikachar.
Overlooking the mountains of Zinal, Switzerland, each morning (at 6:00am!) Gerard explored in a practical way the link and flow between asana, pranayama and meditation. I was delighted to experience how that flow opened the gate to meditative awareness quite effortlessly. I felt very present and absorbed in the practices, sitting without struggle and experiencing feelings of bliss. The meditation techniques that appeal to me most are the ones involving sound (chanting of mantras) and light. I started practicing meditation regularly with the intention of strengthening my own centre of light. Over the years I have developed my own prayers, affirmations and meditations on light. "Building a temple of light" is one of my favourites. For me, to meditate is to sit in my own temple of light, spending quality time with God - bathing in radiance, becoming one with the light.
Building a Temple of Light
1. Sit in a comfortable and steady posture.
2. Light a candle. The flame is a symbol of the light of Spirit that shines even in the darkest nights. I usually hold my candle and draw some circles in the air with it, as an offering to my guides, to all the masters and to the One who is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.
3. Establish the foundations of your temple of light: From your first two chakras (muladhara and svadhisthana) imagine a cord running down to the core of the earth. This is a grounding cord. I put a plug at the end of it. Plug into the heart of Mother Earth. Draw energy from the earth and let it rise like a spiral along your chakras. When you reach the crown centre (Sahashara), let the cord extend upwards towards the Source of Light above. This is what I call an ascending cord. I put a plug at the end of it. When plugging into the Source, I usually feel a click that gives me a physical sensation of deep stillness. At this moment I've used the affirmations: "I AM being charged by Divine Love; I AM being charged by Divine Light."
4. Building the walls of your temple of light: When you feel the foundations are well established, inhale deeply from the heart of the earth; let the breath rise along your chakras and reach the Source above; pause for a moment; as you exhale slowly, imagine lines of light descending from the Source equally to your right and left sides, all the way down to the floor. Breathing in this way again, let lines of light descend equally from the Source to the front and back of your body. You can also have diagonal lines running from you left knee to your right hip and from your right knee to your left hip. You can build these walls as wide as you would like. They are made of light; they are not separating you from life. To strengthen the feeling of these walls of light, you can put the palms of your hands above the flame and then let them face the back, the front and the sides of your body. Affirmations I've used: "I illuminate my past (back walls); I move on with faith (front walls); I spread light all around me" (side walls).
5. Opening the doors of your temple of light: Open the doors of your temple and invite light energies to come in. You can invoke the power of your Higher Self, the blessing of a living master or divine incarnation. I usually call the ascended master Jesus Christ and ask him to hold hands with me. Then invite your sorrows and your pain into your temple of light; invite a friend or someone you are having difficulties with; invite an aspect of yourself or any particular situation you would like to heal. Invite your joy, your bliss, and your potential for full enlightenment. Bring it ALL, with your breath, into the spaciousness of your heart. Sit with whatever is happening in your life at the moment. Listen for guidance and inspiration. Connect with light. Pray, chant, create your own affirmations. Affirmations are very powerful when they come from within, born in the depth of your own heart. The affirmations I'm giving you here a just an example. Use them only if they feel right for you.
6. I usually close this mediation drawing some more circles of light in the air with my candle, as a gesture of gratitude. Namaste. I bow to my Higher Self. We are one in the Light.
Published in Yoga Outreach Magazine, Issue 8.