The Essence of Yoga Is Consciousness

The Essence of Yoga Is Consciousness

My yoga practice began in 1975 when I received shaktipat, the awakening of spiritual (kundalini) energy.

It is often referred to as Guru’s grace and is a transmission from Guru to seeker. Since then I have practiced yoga in order to nurture and sustain that energy.

After shaktipat I learned yoga asanas, pranayama and mudras from my mentor at the time, the late Swami Girijananda. She had studied with the great siddha (a perfect yogi), Baba Muktananda, and the Hatha yogi, Hari Dass Baba. Yoga cannot be understood fully without the awakening from a siddha. I have been fortunate to spend my life with two great beings, Baba Muktananda and Swami Shankarananda.

According to some scholars the original schools of Yoga were formed by siddhas, mostly belonging to the nath tradition. Myth says that the postures were revealed to these siddhas after receiving shaktipat, and then revealed as a means of awakening the kundalini energy. Their schools were defined by the teachings of kundalini yoga and the practices have been handed down from teacher to student for eons.

The earliest texts on yoga say that its true goal is to awaken the kundalini energy that lays dormant within every person.

Kundalini is the sleeping giant of cosmic awareness. Shaktipat leads to deep meditation and knowledge of the inner Self. The student then mediates under the Guru’s instruction. This eventually leads to moksha, liberation from suffering.

Even though asanas, bandhas, physical purification and other yogic methods may be taught, realization, an unbreakable connection with the Self takes precedence over mastering them.

Now there are many schools of yoga each with different emphasis.

  • Some schools teach that yoga to stay fit and healthy.
  • Some say that it is to attain psychic or magical powers.
  • Some say it is to purify the body.
  • Some say it is to learn to renounce the world.
  • Some say it is to gain mastery over the senses.
  • Some say it is to purify the mind.
  • Some say is to gain control over the breath.

These are all worthy endeavors and can perhaps lead a seeker from the physical to the subtle, from the mundane to the sublime.

However, yoga’s original intent has been overshadowed by the fitness craze and many yoga teachers are not familiar with its true purpose.

Practitioners used to study with adepts of yoga in order to achieve inner and outer peace and become the master of themselves. I believe that more yoga teachers need to reclaim its original purpose. Even though most yoga students want to stay healthy and fit, it is the meditation and relaxation at the end of a class when they experience the joy.

I was fortunate to discover Siddha Yoga in 1974, and this is the yoga I still practice. Shaktipat taught me how to live comfortably with myself, to discipline my mind, my emotions, my thoughts and my feelings, my fears and desires.

With many years of practice, I have learned to use the simple natural powers that we all share yet overlook—thinking, feeling and doing.

It is the areas of life associated with them that we need to work on—health and well-being, relationship—professional and personal, career and money, and spirituality. Our thinking, feeling and doing affects every aspect of living and it is crucial we come to understand their true purpose, to conduct the experience of the Self.

Once the inner energy is awakened it points the practitioner toward practices that provide support for the goal of yoga—to know the Self and become free.

The practices listed below, as well as asanas, support our spiritual well-being and our life:

Without knowing that shaktipat was the greatest blessing I could be given, I found myself on the path of Consciousness and I became a disciple.

Becoming a disciple meant that I committed myself to the teachings of my lineage, meditated regularly, did asanas, and served the larger community. But most importantly, I put aside my thoughts and feelings that were full of self-concern, so I could learn what the Self wanted from me.

I could do this because I had found a path that explained the mystery of the world in a way that made sense to me. It addressed the physical world, the individual soul and the Divine. It also brought to light the unbreakable connection between my inner world and the outer world. I learned to understand the relationship between them. I began to see that I was the source of everything that arose in my mind, in my awareness. It catalysed the incredible play of my own Consciousness, the dynamic energy that is within me.

Our Consciousness is the most malleable thing in the universe.

It changes and adapts to every situation, every event, every relationship and every moment. It is inspirational, imaginative, and productive. It creates and destroys, uplifts and contracts, expands and shrinks, according to how we react to inner and outer stimulus.

Consciousness absorbs everything into itself. It merges with the world, digests what it sees and experiences, assimilates it, transforms it or regurgitates it. It is constantly observing, watching, weighing, analyzing, feeling, sensing, intuiting, experiencing, rejecting and accepting, digesting and vomiting.

Some impressions are easily digested and some not so easily. Some flow away by instant recognition but others are glued into memory. Some stay hidden for years but are triggered by painful moments. Some float on the edges of Consciousness as a knowing but disperse without effort. Unprocessed impressions create negative emotion and we become victims of our own inner world.

Swami Shankarananda has developed a meditative technique that he calls the Shiva Process Self-inquiry, that unites the inner world with the outer when the feeling of separation arises. It teaches us how not to be victimised by our own thought and feeling. We learn to use our our natural powers by thoroughly exploring and investigating the inner discomfort. We learn to ask appropriate questions and listen carefully to the answers that arise within.

Swamiji writes:

Through the process of inquiry, we recognise the dynamism running through us. We become liberated from doubt and concern when we no longer try to hold the universe at bay, but surrender to it, and welcome it. Our actions become effective and powerful, because they are aligned with this great impersonal process. And we have the delightful experience of playing our part in a larger drama.

Swami Shankarananda

He often talks about the Gurdjieffian concept of three forces: first force–creating or wanting something; second force–the obstacles to achieving what we want; and third force–the means of dissolving the obstacles. When these three forces unite to create a positive flow of energy then we succeed in accomplishing our spiritual and life goals.

Self-inquiry seeks to unblock all areas of life: health, career, relationship and spirituality.

Swamiji has developed 3 steps that begin this inquiry.

1stStep is Investigation—What is going on here?

We become acutely conscious of stress and tension. Most of the time we move away from it. We avoid it. We drown it out. How do we not drown in it? We turn toward it with the aim to recognise and disarm blocks.

We notice inner tension. We learn to ask the right questions. Inquiry—is asking empowered questions not question that lead to more confusion and self-doubt.

  • Some disempowering questions are questions like:
  • Why do bad things always happen to me?
  • Does this mean I am a loser?
  • Why am I always forgotten?
  • Some good questions are:
  • What am I feeling?
  • Am I mad, sad, glad or scared?
  • When did this feeling happen?
  • How can I change this feeling from contraction to expansion?

2ndStep is Recognition—What is this feeling?

We work with what he calls an A-Statement, an accurate statement of present feeling. We experiment with language and ask the inner world good questions. A true A-Statement creates an upward shift of energy that releases the block.

  • Could this tension hold frustration, disappointment, or anxiety
  • We make an A-Statement—I feel or I am–disappointed, frustrated, or anxious.
  • Could I be holding anger within?
  • Could I be holding fear within?
  • Could I be holding sadness?

For yogis we could say: desire is arising within me, or fear is arising, or sadness is arising. Without recognition of feeling reactions, responses and impressions remain undigested.

  • We remain ignorant of my feeling state.
  • We stay angry, afraid or depressed.
  • We become separate and cannot relate properly to others.
  • Our meditation is disturbed.
  • Our energy is blocked.

3rdStep is Upliftment

Once we understand the feeling we are carrying then we can uplift. We then make B-Statements—personally uplifting statements like:

  • I accept myself.
  • Love is within me.
  • Everything will be okay.
  • I am loveable.
  • I am worthy.

Then we can contemplate what Swamiji calls G-Statements or  God Statements. These are statements the great yogic scriptures and texts tell us like:

  • I am the Self;
  • I am Consciousness;
  • All this is me;
  • I am Shiva;
  • I am Shakti;
  • Thou art That

Self-inquiry unblocks creativity, illumines our next step and brings illumination and insight.

How To Be a Good Yoga Teacher

To be a yoga teacher is to intensify your spiritual growth, your emotional growth, your intellectual growth and your capacity to act. Even though you will teach others, the real process that is happening, is that teaching intensifies your spiritual life, your practice, and your growth. It deepens your understanding and it naturally provides challenging opportunities.

I wanted to share a particular idea in Kashmir Shaivism which is crucial to becoming a good teacher.

Shaivism talks about spanda, the vibration of inner energy. Swami Muktananda says:

“A person cannot do work merely because he or she wants to do it. To do work in the way we want, we need the help of the senses. But, there is another force which motivates the senses and gives them the power to work. This conscious force in its introverted aspect is called the spanda principle.”

He defines spanda as “the inspiration coming from contact with the strength of the Self. Spanda enables the senses to carry out their work.”

This ‘work’ in the highest sense, is to assist the mind in telling the difference between right and wrong; whether to say yes or no; what is true and what is false; what is good for us and what is not; what is the right decision and what is not. What takes us toward the Self and what takes us away from it.

Spanda is a current of energy that pulsates within us.

It is a potential that springs into manifestation the minute we have a desire or fear, the second we want to act, speak or do.

Spanda is our deepest potential. It is our creative impulse. It appears in the space between the in-breath and out-breath; it is the space between two thoughts as one arises and another subsides, and the space between one feeling or thought and another.

We can recognize and enhance the principle of creativity and inspiration by being aware that it is a real and powerful force that is present within us all of the time. It shows up as an experience of the Self when we are at peace, but is hidden from us when we are in a state of separation or contraction. It presents itself as an upward shift of positive energy, or a downward shift of contraction.

  • It shows up as a yes or no current.
  • It can be creativity and inspiration, or it can be obstruction and block.
  • It vibrates likes and dislikes.
  • It manifests as both fear and desire.

To know when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is crucial to becoming a good teacher.

The ability to know the difference moves us toward the feeling of aliveness and connection. Or, when we deny contraction or lack of Spanda, we find ourselves in uncertainty and fear.

This inner divine spark is in constant readiness to ignite and connect us to our being. It points the way to strength and wisdom both in our inner life and our outer life.

We can understand it two ways, either by experiencing it, or by recognizing it.

  • It exists in both thought and feeling.
  • Actions or decisions based on ignorance lead to suffering. They do not bear the fruit we wish.
  • When we contemplate the inner vibration, then the world of duality causes us no trouble or pain.

So, do not look at others, or compare yourself to others, or find fault with others. Always focus on your own Self. When something contaminates your sense of Self, then you cannot function properly: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or creatively. When that happens take some time to yourself, or seek counsel.

Apply the awareness of spanda when teaching yoga. Brilliant teachers know:

  • Not to attempt postures or poses that you are not certain you understand and know well.
  • That teaching yoga can help students grow spiritually.
  • To be a teacher is to be of service.
  • To approach teaching with humility.
  • How to be generous and willing to share what they know.
  • To acknowledge where they learned yoga what they truly know.
  • To respect their fellow teachers.
  • That to serve is to stay connected to the lineage of teachers.
  • How to transmit the actual experience and essence of yoga.
  • Not to be too ambitious.
  • To allow organic growth that comes naturally.

Teaching yoga is much more about serving people, uplifting people and facilitating transformation, rather than giving useful information, or helping people stay fit and healthy, or becoming flexible.

Yoga shows people how to relax and move towards calm states of mind. It provides techniques they can use to stay centered. It can be the first step to learning how to turn their attention inward and meditate. They can create an environment in which students can contact the Self. They can provide a refuge from stress.

Some tips on how to be a good teacher: 

  • Get centred before you begin. Then help your students get centred.
  • Have your class structure and asanas you want to do ready.
  • Do not do asanas you don’t like; go with your strength.
  • Teach from your comfort zone until you feel confident to push the envelope.
  • Being scared is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes.
  • When you don’t know the answer to a question, then say so and tell them you will answer next time.
  • If someone is giving you trouble, ask to speak to them after class.
  • Do not get into arguments in front of your students.
  • Try not to speak to quickly.
  • Remember to breathe.

When we become a yoga teacher, we enter a lineage of yogis that is centuries old. We join the family of yogis. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of that tradition. By teaching with humility, we do the great beings of yoga justice.