Austin Richman returns to the Yoga Living project to further the discussion of Shakti, this week exploring the relationship of energy and the mind. This week’s segment concludes with an at-home practice to help you soften into the landscape of the mind that is not to be missed. Email
A Pathway To Personal Power Pt. 3
The Search For Shakti With Hatha Yoga
Prana, as mentioned in A Pathway to Personal Power Pt. 1, is the type of shakti that represents lifeforce; it separates the dead from the living. The more vibrantly alive someone or something is, the more prana shakti they have- but quantity is not the only important metric. Cultivating a specific quality of prana is the keystone to a serious hatha yoga practice, and parenting our personal energy is the purpose behind kriya and pranayama. These practices, though less popular than the asanas most modern yogis are familiar with in the West, hold every bit of importance as asana if not more as they are meant to lead to steadiness and lightness (as read in the Gheranda Samhita). If one practices only asana then they will never be taking advantage of the full potential yoga has to offer.
The practices of kriya, in terms of Hatha yoga, cleanse and purify the body preparing it to conduct energy of mind unobstructed. The myriad versions of pranayama (8 listed alone in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) teaches and prepares one how to cultivate, conserve and direct energy. This may seem like small potatoes compared to the six pack abs that may or may not be a side effect of asana but all the ways in which we don’t have full faculty over the attention and awareness of our own minds is quite astounding when we get right down to it.
“Steady breathing, steady mind, steady yogi.” -Swatmarama
There is an intrinsic and inextricable link between consciousness (specifically “chit” for my fellow yoga nerds) and energy (prana). “Where the mind goes, energy flows” as Ernest Holmes once said, but the inverse is true as well, as the yogis knew so well, that where energy flows the mind also goes. The father of Classical Yoga, Patanjali, emphasized practices that use the mind as a way to control one’s energy. The yoga forefathers could never have predicted the infinite number of distractions that the modern age would consume our attention with, so it is a huge boon that several centuries later the teachers of hatha yoga gave yogis alternate practices to tame the mind. The alternative practices are cleansing techniques known as shatkarma kriyas and advanced breathwork known as pranayama used to bring about steadiness and inner illumination. It is recommended that both techniques are to be taught by an experienced teacher because if performed incorrectly it can result in either having no effect, or making matters worse by causing other problems.
Thoughts and Emotions
Long before the phenomenon known as spiritual bypass had a name, my sister used to call it “yoga-ing around your feelings”. This term was used in spotting a specific trend in yoga where practitioners (ourselves included) used asana practice as a way to sidestep or subdue certain unpleasant feelings. Yoga as a tool for sedation or sensationalism is a good way to lose the plot of your own life, to forget who and what you are doing this practice for. Mastering your personal power is all about taking control of your dharma and not being controlled by your karma. Dharma is your life’s purpose and karma, in this context, has to do with the ways in which life happens to you. If you engage in relationships in a way that you are expecting something, not only have you subtly begun to objectify the person or experience, but you have also set yourself up for disappointment.
Renounce the Fruit of the Action
The ancient teachings in the Bhagavad Gita tell us how to act so as not to accrue more karma: to avoid creating more karma we must serve without attachment to the result. This is a huge shift in perspective to engage in a way of “how can I help?” rather than “what can I get out of this?”. This approach to relationship dismantles the hierarchical priority of worshiping our personal comfort for the belief that we are only but a part of something much greater. This is only the first step of unravelling what can oftentimes be a contentious relationship within our emotions and thoughts.
“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein.
If you asked most people to sit still with eyes closed for more than a few minutes this could feel like torture. In many cases, people are not equipped with the training to receive the benefits of what would be considered a mindful meditation practice, where the purpose of it is to bring presence and serenity, and instead it can cause some people anxiety and grief. I have noticed in my own practice that the closer I draw my intention toward what feels like my dharma, the more I am able to overcome the obstacles in the practices of yoga that are not immediately gratifying and require more work. it has taken me years of practice to get to the point where I can sit in the special kind of discomfort caused by stilling the modifications of my mind.
"Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." -Henry Ford
Not all people suffer the inner environment of their own mind but those who do can greatly benefit from focusing on their sankalpa. Sankalpa means “creative resolve” and is a way to connect our thoughts and emotions to our dharma. Sankalpa is different from mantra in it is usually an affirmation in one’s native tongue and generally holds true to a few tenets: the sankalpa is a positive statement, in the first-person and spoken in the present tense. So an example of a sankalpa that ticks all of these boxes might be, “I am love”, another could be, “I am guided by the grace of God”, another, “I am abundant in wealth and health.” The important thing about resounding the sankalpa in the inner reaches of the psyche is that as you recite it silently, it evokes feeling. So there's an art in choosing an effective sankalpa; if an affirmation is chosen that is not readily believable, it will not produce the desired response of connecting thoughts and emotions. (to read more about sankalpa check out Amber Richman’s vlog on Sankalpa and Vikalpa)
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." -Mark Twain
Prana shakti has everything to do with creating a convivial relationship with the mind. Whereas, you may recall from A Pathway to Personal Power Pt. 2, maya shakti is all about creating an abode of balance and health within the body. Prana is an energy that is constantly in motion so certain types of meditation ask the student to arrest it leaves little wonder why so many struggle with traditional meditation. Using sankalpa as a way to connect one to their dharma gives this energy an outlet and ways to a means of fulfillment and purpose. Simply reciting your sankalpa 3 times first thing in the morning and last thing right before you go to bed, especially with an emphasis on cultivating the congruent emotions with it, can be a powerful way to reestablish intention and focus (at very fertile times in the day) for the brain to receive impact from prana shakti. It can also be useful to revisit the journal entries from Pt. 1 and evaluate the ways in which your energy is cultivated, conserved or depleted. Then take the time to consolidate that list into categories of body and mind. This will aid in making it apparent before your very eyes just how the things you consent to in your life are or are not serving your own sankalpa, and thus, dharma.
At Home Practice
Trataka Shatkarma Kriya
“Stare at a small object without blinking until tears start to fall. The wise call this trataka.” -Gheranda Samhita
Trataka means to gaze steadily and though there are a multitude of ways to practice it I will offer up the most common and beginner friendly version with the use of a candle. Trataka is used as a way to clear the mind’s eye which can be particularly useful for those types of people who struggle with releasing visions of terror and disturbance. It has been said to bring relief to the optic nerve and eyes, and creates a single pointed frame of mind known as ekagra chitta (more on this in the blog 4 Phases of Yoga History). Trataka also aids in focus of concentration and is the gateway practice for meditation as perpetually glaring at a fixed object can induce alpha brain waves. The practice is said to unlock dormant areas of the mind that can lead to increased memory and willpower. Of course, Swatmarama alludes to other, more esoteric, benefits such as clairvoyance, telepathy, telekinesis, and psychic healing but as always please see for yourself.
- Sitting comfortably and upright, place a candle a few feet away from you at eye level. Be sure the flame is steady and not flickering.
- Begin to stare at the middle of the flame just above the wick and do not avert the eyes as you also try to resist blinking. It is common that the eyes will tear.
- After a set interval of time, close the eyes and keep them focused internally on the impression left in the space behind the eyelids (chidakasha).
- In the beginning, stare and then close the eyes for 30 seconds to 1 minute each, this constitutes 1 round. Slowly work up to 3 minute intervals over days or weeks depending on your comfort and adeptness for the practice. 3 full rounds complete the practice.
- For people with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or diabetes, do not use a candle and instead gaze at a black dot on paper.
Still have questions about prana shakti? Please don’t hesitate to