Purifying One’s Emotion with Yoga Asana

With extensive training in asana, pranayama and relaxation techniques from different schools within Rishikesh, India, Ashutosh Sharma is an expert hatha yoga instructor, who can teach both beginners and advanced students. In 1992, he met Swami Rama, who sent him to Swami Veda Bharati to learn meditation and intensify his asana practices according to the Himalayan tradition. Since 1996, he has been travelling to Europe, Southeast Asia and North America at Swami Veda’s request to teach hatha yoga.”

This is a transcript of a class given by Ashutosh Sharma during the February retreat “Feel the Love and Wisdom of the Himalayan Masters” in Thailand and has kindly been provided by AHYMSIN Thailand. The transcript is preceded by an introduction provided by the Thailand sangha. The Thai centre is an AHYMSIN affiliate.

Ashutosh SharmaIntroduction

Hatha yoga or Asana is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga). In ancient times, the yogis used Hatha Yoga as one of the tools to support their meditation practices (also one of the eight limbs), with the goal of controlling the modifications of the mind, gaining wisdom and eventually reaching enlightenment. There is a subtle interconnection between mind and body. Therefore, a healthy body is very useful for most people to undertake the job requiring a high level of mental discipline such as meditation.

In the modern world, most people think of the word “yoga” only as hatha yoga or asana, whose original value has been overshadowed by the motivation to seek one of the forms of material gains (i.e. beauty and money).  Several people started doing yoga with these alloyed motives.  For some strange reasons, however, these people have come to realize the real and pure purpose of the practice, which has finally led them to tread the spiritual path more seriously although in varying degrees. Thus, it seems irrelevant how and where people start.  Many yoga teachers now teach hatha yoga as spiritual practice to some of their students who yearn to make progress on their spiritual journeys or to find happiness from within.

One of Swami Veda Bharati’s inspirations in his life-long mission as a pure service to the Himalayan Yoga  Meditation tradition is to preserve and restore (where there is need as such) the purity of yoga teachings handed down to him in the long line of Guru-Disciple lineage. These include the teaching of hatha yoga as a way to help people attain happiness in daily life, and eventually, enlightenment. He is a strong magnet that has attracted many disciples who, over the years of learning, experiencing and absorbing his teachings (formal or informal) in their daily lives, have devoted themselves as instruments, spreading the pure teachings of Himalayan Masters.  Ashutosh Sharma is one of those beautiful souls. In the following paragraphs, he has shared his understanding of hatha yoga with many Thais during his visit in February 2012.

In the following paragraphs, Ashutosh Sharma has shared his understanding of hatha yoga

Hatha yoga can free people from their conditioned minds.

People’s minds are conditioned and confined in a narrow space since the day they were born, leading to firm adherence to right and wrong views which bring unnecessary suffering in their relationships.

For me, yoga is the dropping of all those conditions, making the mind free. When all those are dropped, we can accept other people as they are. This is so important for people in any relationship (like husband and wife) because each person has a different biography and impression, depending upon cultural/family background and upbringing which drew different personal experiences to each individual. Even for a husband and wife, the same color means different things to them.  With fixed conditions in our minds, we have a tendency to want to change other people’s way of thinking, most of the time out of good intention to help. However, it is common to note that the result from our efforts to change others is ongoing struggle that seems to never end, leaving us wondering why people whom we love do not understand us.  This leads to pain and disappointment and sometimes even the breakup of the relationship.

The key is to understand this issue and to get out of conflict is to develop peace within oneself.  When we are at peace with ourselves, we are automatically at peace with people around us. We then live with other people in great harmony.   Nonetheless, such a state of mind does not happen without some efforts.  We need to work on ourselves (our mental and emotional make up) constantly.  When our understanding and personality expand, there is no more right and wrong view.  My master, Swami Veda Bharati, often said there was nothing that could be pigeonholed into right or wrong, up or down, better or worse.   He always sees people as being equal. Swamiji’s only advice to us on any problem or question my friends and I brought to him, whether it was mental or physical, was always “work on your own emotions”.  We once were very tired of this answer which he repeated over and over again when we told him of our own problems or the problems of our students.  We were young boys at the time and did not have enough life experiences.

As I grew older and have accumulated more experiences, however, I realized that his teaching was true. My understanding about yoga has grown; the process of yoga is to drop all the mental and emotional conditionings that make us small and keep us from expanding. When a certain degree of mastery over our own emotions is achieved, we noticed that all the problems have resolved themselves naturally, without the need to seek external advice. We gradually learn to stand on our own two feet.

We will miss many benefits if we take our asana as only physical exercises.  If you raise your awareness to a certain level, you would experience for yourself that hatha yoga practice allows you to come in contact with your own inner feelings.  When we are moving with mindfulness of the body and the breath, we occasionally face different emotions that we unconsciously stored in different parts of our bodies.  Our whole body is like a sponge; every cell has a memory of its own.  All the experiences since the day we were born until now have been saved in the hard disks of our body cells.  Whatever I am now is the combination of all this information.  It is interesting to note for some people that many kinds of intense feelings emerge during the process of doing asana.  And it seems that those feelings have no relation to what happened today, yesterday or even years before. We have long forgotten about these memories and suddenly they came up and made us feel angry or depressed or left us in emotional pain.  Unconsciously, these memories have created so many blockages and knots in our bodies and energy channels, which manifested in physical or mental pains or some of our unpleasant personalities. Hatha yoga provides an excellent opportunity to learn about ourselves from the gross to the more subtle levels.

Importance of breath awareness during asana practice

However, we would not be able to know ourselves at such a deep level unless we allow our breath to flow freely throughout our practice session.  The breath is a carrier; it carries our consciousnesses and energy to the unconscious part of our minds so we see clearly what are inside. Then, it carries this data that we find no longer useful for our inner happiness and character development out of our systems. The flow of energy carried by smooth flow of breath will resolve those knots one by one through our exhalation.  By maintaining the free flow of the breath, we are in the position to just observe the painful feelings as they come up without getting emotionally involved or attempting to run away from them (this would just create another unwanted knot).  Try it for yourself and experience how you can let loose of whatever negative emotions and feelings you have been holding onto so tightly in spite of so much pain. In that way, our practices become a deep emotional purification. It could be quite uncomfortable in the beginning but in the end we would be free from our bondages.

Sometimes, I had some physical pain, which restricted my movements.  Still, I never forgot to let my breath flow freely and deeply in any position I was in.  It is possible that the pains we are feeling at the physical level could be psychosomatic symptoms due to traumatic events. Allowing the breath to flow without interruption is thus important as it works effectively in curing the real cause of our physical pains. If you feel uncomfortable with any positions, do not force yourself into maintaining it.  Just lie down or sit or stand still or be in whatever position that makes you comfortable.  Remain relaxed and observe the free flow of your breath. One very important thing to note is that the observation of the breath is not at nostril area but in

  1. stomach around your navel center,
  2. both side of your stomach and
  3.  lower back area.

Whatever your movements are, the observation remains constantly in these areas.  This is your working station and from here you observe everything else.

Being conscious of your breath flow brings substantial benefits.  When we sleep, our body automatically lets the breath flow but we are unconscious of it.  But if we are able to maintain awareness of our breath flow during the sleep (as in the practice of Yoga Nidra), our mental power becomes much more intensified, enabling us to improve our life significantly through the creative use of our minds.  So, please remember “to always let the breath flow free and deep by being conscious of the process”. You should understand that doing asana is not about intensity of the physical posture, it is about intensity of the concentration in the mind helped by constant awareness of the breath flow. Please learn how to make every step of your asana, no matter how small they are, a conscious process.

Yoga is not a competition; it is a process of letting go

The next important thing is the state of your mind. You are neither fighting nor struggling nor trying to achieve anything with your asana. It is simply the process of letting go.   You already have plenty of (more than enough) opportunities to do all those things in your daily lives.  Gradually train yourself to switch your mind completely when coming to asana classes.  When we do not have to finish anything, we can remain neutral and joyfully allow ourselves to just observe the present moment of time and what is happening in our breath, bodies and minds.  We are not even trying to come to the end of each process. Please do not try to force yourself into doing anything; just let it happen naturally.  Let your mind be in a calm, clear (awake) and joyful state. Maintain that awareness throughout the session.  This is the foundation of Hatha yoga.

Recommended book: Philosophy of Hatha Yoga by Swami Veda Bharati

“Without teaching Hatha Yoga, Swami Veda Bharati is my best Hatha Yoga teacher.  This book has formed the basis of my own learning and teaching” - Ashutosh Sharma

Randall

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