Showing posts with label Kriya Yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kriya Yoga. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Happiness in the mountains - India part 3

3 hours into the bus ride from pondy, passengers are craning pothole-jolted necks for a glimpse of the holy Arunachala - it is said you can feel this mountain before you see her.

India is a place where towns are famed for, or defined by spiritual leaders; monumental human beings as much as ones made of stone and earth. Thiruvanamali is synonymous with the late Bhagavan Sri ramana mahrishi (1879-1950)see He never aligned to one particular philosophy or label but Advocated a path of jnana and Bhakti (no surya namaskar here); of knowledge and going beyond knowledge, wisdom; the practises of satsanga, meditation and self enquiry.

'Thiru' is also a shiva town. Legend has it that brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was the more superior deity, so shiva turned himself into an endless column of fire and challenged them to reach its source or beginning. Conceding that shiva was in fact the supreme of the supreme trinity, the other gods bowed and shiva turned fire into stone, creating arunachala, an imposing reminder in matter of the underlying divinity of all creation.

Think of something in India and it appears it seems it appears instantly: a Kung fu master/ karma yogi tour guide (I am so sorry not to have his name having lost the card) runs after us in the vast arunachalaswara temple to offer a speed satsanga, shiva he explains is 'CEO of the universe, all others are the executives'.

Here and in the north of India worship of 'shiva' does not only mean the trident toting destroyer (although he, king of yogis and renunciation is obviously the coolest) rather than another god or goddess but the underlying supreme consciousness, or shivam, which can be both in form and formless. All gods are in effect 
representations of whatever you call 'that'. 

The highlight of a stay in Thiru is giripradakshina, the circumambulation of arunachala, 14km on the outer path, mostly main road passing through a few villages and marked by 8 shivalingams, providing a protective, sacred compass. The way is peppered with temples, shrines, trees flapping with wish bags, hundreds of saffron clad sadhus, playful monkeys and friendly stray dogs.

Tradition was set by Bhagavan who walked in the early morning, slowly and bare foot, so I'm following his lead, starting shoe-less before sunrise and finishing before the midday heat kicks in. The walk celebrates the glory of arunachala, symbol of shiva himself and instills in the devotee a deeper connection with the divine within. To walk with reverence by doing japa or devotional singing keeps this as a moving meditation. In case the mind is wandering to the next chai or idly stop, all along the way loudspeakers loop a slow chant of 'aum namah shivaya'. Like a good yoga practise there is a challenge for the ego, for the body and for the mind.

Compared to the hectic tooting and heat of the outer path, the inner path of arunachala is peace and silence itself. Less to see and more to absorb - as you wander up and up guided by om painted rocks and handy arrows, you can visit the various caves where ramana spent most of his years in thiruvanamali, before the building of the current ashram. Racing against sunset to reach the top (in flip flops, no torch) everything else seems a world away.

It is amazing that a man who spent most of his days in silence is so well known, but when words are less used it seems their energy is stronger. The more time I spent in mauna on this trip the more I notice how words are often used to please others, but actually only appease our own ego, uncomfortable in silence; how saying thank you ten times is about our obsession with being seen to be behaving well and that if you actually smile from the heart and bow with reverence all these word are totally unnecessary.

The middle site, virupaksha cave, shaped like an om, was crafted by Ramana himself; he spent 17 years here mainly in Silence while a throng of devotees trecked for satsanga. The cave is alive with the buzz of the pranava and like much of the ashram property there is no need for technique here, just to sit and wait for peace, wisdom and truth to awaken within.

Everywhere at the ashram the spirit of Sri ramana is very much alive, in the atmosphere of the meditation room where he spent his last days, in devotees flocking to circle his samadhi (shrine), in the Seva of feeding 200 sadhus and local homeless every day. In the background peacocks are shrilling while each morning the young Brahmins lead Vedic chanting and puja. Don't miss the singing of arunachala mantras in the evening by ashramites. There are not really words to describe it here, simple and joyful without any drama, I just feel happy. And that is more than enough. 

Ramana never touted for followers or fame, never creating a lineage. Not once are we even asked to honour the donation system to stay in the beautiful guest house facilities, to use the library (which is a treasure chest of ancient and rare books not to be missed by us yoga geeks), or to eat 3 deliciously simple sattvic meals per day, served on hand stitched leaf plates.  It is as if silence is still the more powerful messenger here, trusting that those who can support the continuation of Sriramanas spirit will, and giving all the freedom to feel and taste for ourselves the essence of the teachings.

So that was Thiru - as is my usual trick we arrived at the end of season, just missing maha shivarathri, falling between the celebrations of full moon, when a million devotees take giripradakshina and the new moon shakti puja. Still, if this is arunachala off peak, I'm sold.

As towns are defined by people, so are our travels through them: eshwan owns the travel company who whisked us from Thiru to bangalore tonight. As the bus was running late he called personally to tell us not to leave the ashram just yet, then he met us at the crossroads and welcomed us to wait in his family home at 3am due to another delay. At the start of each trip this kind of kindness always comes as a surprise and by the end I realise, hey this is the way it should be: to treat all as equal is easy when you believe all are one, to trust before doubting. 

Goa and teaching calls - om namah shivaya.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

kriya & gaining fresh perspective

Back to the topic of awareness, I attended an amazing weekend of Babaji's Kriya Yoga. 'Kriya' literally means action - we talk about shat kriyas and kundalini kriyas - but Kriya Yoga is a complete integral system in itself (as famously described in 'Autobiography of a Yogi') where every action of life becomes, progressively, filled with awareness.

Here I was reminded of the difference between meditation and "checking out", which feels nicely fuzzy and warm but doesn't really impact self discovery.
 This doesn't just apply to meditation, but to all aspects of Yoga.  

Babaji's Kriya Yoga focuses on just 18 asanas, those that most impact the physical body (organs etc) and flow of prana. With less choices you'd think practise would get repetitive... but it got me thinking about the learnings in simplicity, how we can benefit from going back to 'basics' - or maybe foundations is a better word - in a Yoga class.

Admittedly my asana practise has sometimes become like riding a bike...bowling along feeling amazing, but focusing on getting somewherenot really noting that I'm balancing or how the breeze feels in my hair . 

If we do something so naturally that we cannot explain how to others, does that mean we are "advanced" or that we've stopped noticing - vagued out? Obviously being a teacher, err, this is quite a crucial thing!

I'm not suggesting we all become robotic about check-points or get distracted during the flow of sun salutation. But there is a difference between being in union and being un-conscious. And the difference is awareness.

No matter how many years we have practised, we can still make it feel fresh... Taking a step back and looking in detail at how an asana or pranayama technique is acting on us - where the mind is, how the body feels. 

There is never a point at which we are done and dusted with an asana or at which a pranayama has become "too easy" - and if we find ourselves thinking this way, we should focus for a moment on why - only a continuum through which more and more subtle layers reveal themselves.  

There are loads of (simple) ways to do bring fresh perspective, like practising with friends (each taking a turn at leading), somewhere new or trying different Yoga classes and styles.  

This is my studio for the week : ) 

by Ali Gunning (Piriamvada) - I teach Classical Kundalini & Akhanda Yoga classes across East London. Me & my narrow boat Gorse live on the river Lee and London's canals - current location Tottenham Marshes

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Subtle & simple - introduction to Mudras

The healing power of the hands is evident everywhere from Acupuncture to Reiki, whether it's our own hands doing the work, or someones elses. 

And every day our hands literally do the talking, whether communicating our feelings consciously or not...animating our words, bringing comfort through simple touch, and often expressing anger or frustration. A slight change in gesture can reveal a completely different intention - pointing to what you want or who you want to blame, peace versus the complete opposite! etc etc

In Yoga the hands are vital for support and balance but also for directing Prana (life force energy): these techniques are called Mudras (often depicted in the iconography of both Hinduism and Buddhism).

Mudras are an aspect of traditional Hatha Yoga, along with Asana, Pranayama and Bandha. Meaning 'gesture' and not only made with the hands but bodily positions; such as Veparita Kirani, Maha Mudra and Kechari. Mudras are often used in combination with each other and the other Yogic elements mentioned above; enriching awareness within a posture or meditation. 

Used widely in Kundalini and Kriya Yoga, Mudras can be healing on physical, emotional and mental levels; due to their ability to balance and direct the flow of subtle energies (the 'Vayus') throughout the body and brain. Each of the fingers corresponds to an element and the chakra system (e.g. ring finger - earth - muladhara/ root chakra) and the Mudras 'seal' these connections.

I've been fascinated since being introduced to simple(ish) three stage breathing, with added chin, chin-maya and adi Mudras, by Saji of Vashsista International, when studying for my 200 hour YTT in Kerala.

Many practitioners find that Mudras come spontaneously to them, such as reverting to resting one hand on top of the other in the lap during meditation; again an intuitive link between the hands and our intentions. 

Fitting that they are sometimes described as 'psychic attitudes' as a tiny adjustment - such as increasing the pressure between the fingers in sync with the breath - can soothe or enliven the mind. 

Adding visualisation or mantra takes it onto a whole new level as described in the excellent book 'Yoga in your hands'. Here Gertrud Hirshi recommends Mudras for those who may be too ill or weak for a 'physical' Yoga practise as well as techniques for every issue ranging from asthma and indigestion to forgetful-ness. Thanks to my mum recovering from an op who has been my guinea pig...

Here are a few of my favourite Mudras, but please please check out Hirshi's book for full descriptions, precautions and a wealth of background and research.

Ksepana Mudra: place the index fingers together in a steeple position, thumbs and remaining fingers interlacing with the palms relaxed...used for letting go of negative feelings with a few deep sighs; it can be practsied laying down or seated with the hands pointing downwards to the toes. I've found it helps me to sleep peacefully in stressful times.

Anjali Mudra: pinkies and thumbs touch with the palms spread, like placing a lotus bloom in the centre of the chest; this Mudra is the symbol of pure and unconditional love, linked to the heart chakra. It makes me feel super-connected and calm and crops up in many of my classes!

Dhyani Mudra: as mentioned above for meditation, the hands are like an open book, left palm on top and with thumbs touching - this symbolises emptiness or pure awareness.

So here is a form of Yoga that is totally accessible for all: Mudras you can do on the bus, at work, in under 15 mins, without any props or fancy outfits and in the teeniest of spaces. As well as being yet another wonderful and deeper layer to unfold.

Ali Gunning (Piriamvada) - I teach Kundalini & Hatha Yoga classes across East London. Me & my narrow boat Gorse live on the river Lee and London's canals - current stop a very autumnal Vici Park...