Last Tuesday i virtually collapsed in front of the whole class because i have really bad hypoglycemia. A few days before that i had a dream that i wasnt absorbing the protein i was eating in the morning and i ignored it, but the dream was warning me about nutritional malabsorption going on in my system. Hypoglycemia is when you have debilitating spikes, highs and lows, of the release of blood sugar in the system. This made me think about the concept of absorption and assimilation and how important that is to what we hope to accomplish when we do yoga. Hatha yoga is a means to assist us in assimilating the highest spiritual teachings.
This highest teaching is expressed succinctly in one of the “mahavakyas,” the great sayings, of the Upanishads: Tat Tvam Asi: “Thou Art That”; Meaning you are the deathless, ageless Witness – Consciousness of the Universe, called the Atman, or the Supreme Self.
So these teachings have to do with our identity, that we are at the core all pervasive, deathless and eternal. Of course i hear this repeatedly but i dont believe it at all – it takes years to absorb this understanding of your ultimate identity, but as you make the effort, you feel increasing ease and freedom in your life, and you begin to agree with the oracle at Delphi that maybe the answer to our dilemmas truly is, to “Know Thyself.” This knowledge puts us in touch with the supremely calming apprehension of our eternity and our unity.
This knowledge in Sanskrit is known as “Jnana,” the knowledge of the Truth. And there is a saying in the Shiva Sutras : “Jnanam annam” Which means, ‘Knowledge [of our oneness] is food’. So when we do hatha yoga we are feeding our body the food of the knowledge of Unity.
There is a whole school of yoga dedicated to the idea of gradual and gentle absorption of this knowledge, called Laya Yoga. Laya Yoga is the yoga of gradual assimilation. And what are we assimilating? It is the ego that clings to the identification with differentiation and with the temporary. We are gradually dissolving the small-self identity, the ego, into the universal identity.
When we practice yogic poses, we are assuming postures that reflect this awareness “Ayam atma Brahman”: the Self is Brahman (another mahavakya, great saying, this one from the Mandukya Upanishad) We do hatha yoga to embed this enlightened point of view into our actions.
In the Bhagavad Gita, (II.54) the hero Arjuna says to Krishna : “What does a person of Self Knowledge look like? How does he sit? How does he stand? How does he move?”
What a good question, coming from the decidedly human, embodied and physical hero, Arjuna. It is the question of an athlete: Dont talk about it, Show me! How does a Self- realized person move in the world? What kind of body language? And maybe i can reverse engineer an experience of the enlightened mind by adopting the body language of that mind.
So we assume postures suggestive of expansiveness, of stability and flexibility, of confidence and of the deep relaxation born of the fearless knowledge of our Self, that we may assimilate these states of consciousness. That is the point of putting ourselves into all these shapes.
When I can’t wrap my head around “I am That”, which is most of the time, I concentrate on Love, because Love is the way, the means and the goal of this state of consciousness. By loving the breath, the prana, we are pouring both oxygen and the neurochemistry of love into the system, and absorbing that chemistry into the cells. Love is the food of Self -Realization.
The postures of yoga are meant to assist in the incorporation of this truth: My self is the eternal Self of the Universe. So when we lie face down in the crocodile pose for example, one palm over the other and the forehead resting on our hands, gravity facilitates the absorption of this oxygen rich blood into the frontal lobes of our brain, along with the chemistry of Love which is the stuff of Self Knowledge. We concentrate with love on the breath and send that chemistry around the body to be assimilated.
Every yogic posture is a statement in the language of the body, a statement that helps us integrate the Truth of our transcendent identity. We are Free. Breathing with these postures, accompanying the breath with mantra awareness, helps the truth to penetrate the physical realm of our being.
Proper assimilation can start with the Ujayyi breath.
Ujayyi pranayama introduces the oxygen into the system in a slow, consistent and even stream, (just as a low glycemic diet is meant to manage the introduction of sugars into the system, so you have a steady flow of fuel rather than spikes.)
So breathe through your nose while gently closing the glottis, the aperture in your throat. (This is what is contracted when you whisper.) You will hear and feel the breath so it will be easier to focus on it. The breath comes in slowly and consistently, assimilating into the system equably. At the end of a few of these breaths, poise your attention at the still depths below the fluctuating mind
Relax, let yourself ease into the expansion. Thou art That.