From my talks with learned Indian Yogis I had heard that after many years the practice becomes an expression of what the Yogi intuites is necessary at the time. Sukhashanti is the child of my experience having to care for my body and finding the safest and easiest ways to explore the depths and then sharing these methods with others.
Sukhashanti style is an approach that allows for a smooth and even flow of the body and mind.
The evolution of this approach began over a decade ago when I asked myself the question "how would my practice be if I had no methods and teachers?". I imagined a musician who having learned to play many tunes one day begins to compose his own works, then as an accomplished artist is able to improvise music to suit a situation.
Sukhashanti is the term I use to describe my approach to Hatha Yoga. In Sanskrit sukha means comfortable, easy and happy and shanti means peace. I chose this combination to emphasise that peacefulness is a natural and comfortable state which may be cultivated by the practice of the yoga.
Anyone who has practised yoga knows that often the positions can be challenging and intense, but the after effect is a release of tension from the body which allows a feeling of ease. This describes the essential process of yoga, creating tension in order to release it.
The word Hatha is widely translated as meaning sun-moon describing a unity of opposites, sun representing the active energy and moon as receptive form. Hatha Yoga is a process of cultivating a special state of being by unlocking the mind-body puzzle.
Most of my injuries resolved and I indulged in a deep sense of wellbeing and security. Then I began to teach, never for money and always in the environment of ashrams or spiritul centres. I nurtured my teaching experience and found that In the responsibility that comes with authority I could care for others in a very intimate way.
Rather than expecting people to conform to the practice I love to make modifications to focus on the yoga rather than the technique.
Patanjali composed the Yoga Sutra over 2000 years ago, he gives Asana as one of eight branches of Yoga let us consider his definition and description first:
Patanjali says, Asana should be steady and easy. In Sutra 47 and 48 he says to master asana restlessness should be reduced and one should feel timelessness while maintaining the pose. Then the mind becomes free from the dualities of the body.
If one has ever tried to sit still for a long time then you know that after a while pain creeps into the body. Thinking that a little movement will alleviate the pain we begin to fidget. Soon the discomfort of the body has disturbed the mind and the mind reacts by moving the body around. Asana and concentration have been lost. The perfect Asana requires presence of mind, one is aware of the sensations in the body without automatically reacting by moving.
The magic of asana is that with practice the body will become transformed by conditioning the mind. Asana shows us the tensions held in the body. The experience is a mental one and the holding pattern of muscle tension is revealed as an action of the mind. This tension held in the body has its root in the mind. If we remain still while maintaining a pose we are releasing tension from both body and mind. The unconscious program in the mind which organises the posture of the body is altered if we can find a new comfortable balance. Over time the body finds a more appropriate symmetry. Over time left and right, upper and lower, inner and outer become balanced.
In sutra 49 patanjali says that once asana is firm and steady then it is appropriate to begin the practice of pranayama. Patanjali is the classical authority on yoga, it is interesting to note that these four sutra contain the whole of his teaching yet he mentions not one individual posture. Patanjali speaks of the essence of asana and gives the reason for its practice. Within Indian yoga traditions it is said that the mastery of asana is to be able to sit still comfortably for four hours.
The other ancient authority we look to is Swatmarama who composed the Hatha Yoga Pradipika over 1000 years ago. This classical text describes Asana in detail and gives instruction on some 15 different poses. The Pradipika gives a graphic explanation of the relationship between mind and body and the interplay of subtle energy known as prana. In the Pradipika Asana is used to purify the Nadis, meaning the network of channels for Prana. This is an important preparation for harnessing the dormant potential or Kundalini which comes with other practices of pranayama and dhyana (meditation).
Everyone can relate to the idea of nervous energy, imagine a fidgety child who cannot sit still, or an adult who has taken too much coffee. Hatha Yoga is a process which allows for an efficient use of energy in the body. Asana is a system of physical exercises that has at its heart the integration of mind and body. The nervous system which coordinates the use of the bodies muscles is being conditioned to function effectively. Exercise physiologists now know that the peripheral nervous system can be conditioned to supply better electrical impulses to muscles through exercise. If you are interested in these health aspects of practice I suggest reading the page on Yoga Therapy.
In modern times the practice of Asana has blossomed into a rich and diverse culture with many different styles and methods and thousands of different postures from basic to advanced. As in most fields of endeavour a teacher is required to explain the safe and effective way to practice. More important is to understand the essence of the practice. Having proper instruction is vital and then of course the individual has to work to make the experience real.
The interesting and unique thing about breathing is that it is possible to consciously breath, yet breathing is normally an unconscious act. By controlling the flow of air and focussing awareness on the action of breathing it is possible to access altered states of consciousness.
Imagine: Sit yourself down in a quiet place free from outer distractions, place the body carefully to avoid discomfort. Begin to breath in a rythmic and controlled way focussing awareness on the quality of the breath allow your breath to become smooth and effortless. Gradually lengthening the breath and retaining the inhalation as you hold the awareness fixed and contracted in the core of the somatic field. As the breath moves through the right or left nostril feel the change of density in this somatic field as the breath changes. The hands positioned in mudra take on a special kind of stillness, the legs crossed in any of the seated asana totally relax, the face with eyes closed and no outward expression the senses turn inwards in pratyahara. See how the two halves of the body are passified on inhalation and exhalation until only the diaphragm is moving in a smooth rythmic flow up and down. With retention the awareness moves in the symmetrical midline of sushumna nadi, the pelvic floor gently contracted, the throat seals the dome of the chest with the glottis.
Gradually the mind becomes absorbed in the dance and discursive thinking becomes like a vague echo of the outer world. In a state of total immersion the inner sound emerges in the inner space, inner light appears in the centre of the field of vision, the awareness of the physical form gradually becomes light and dissolves into space.
These three faculties begin to co-mingle in state of synesthesia as the source of consciousess of the self is revealed.The less you try the more you let go the clearer becomes the sense of inner reality. Beyond this it is difficult to explain in words.
Pranyama requires subtlety in the midst of a dynamic stress. To practice poorly is in fact dangerous and can damage mental and physiological health. For this reason it is advisable to have an experienced teacher in the initial stages until the practitioner is firmly established in correct practice. Although it is simple to say do not be in a hurry and and dont have any expectations Im sure most people admit that our approach to many things in life is impatient bordering even on violent. Pranayama not only produces a deep abiding calmness but requires it. Like many other aspects of yoga the way is the goal as the goal is the way.
The sanskrit term pranayama refers to the control (ayama) of the life force (prana) and the method for achieving this feat is by controlling the breath. Generally we think of pranayama as a set of breathing exercises but the aim of these exercise is to enter into an experience of the subtle energy that makes up the very core of our being. So we see that pranayama begins with asana but leads to a special state of mind known as dhyana. In fact it is rumoured that Ramana Maharsi practised only a simple Pranayama technique that brought about his profound samadhi.
In the Sadhana Pada (Chapter 2) of Patanjalis' Yoga Sutra he gives the prerequisite in sutra: 49.
The mastery of Asana is said to be firmness in a seated posture for 4 hours yet just 30 minutes is required for initiating pranayama.
In sutra: 52 he describes the signifyer.
And in Sutra: 53 the result.
The healing capacity of pranayama is perhaps one of the most effective and simplest of the various practices of Hatha Yoga. It is easy to reduce the breath and heart rate and also the speed of the oscillations of the brain with just 10 minutes of practice daily for a few months. By reducing these factors regularly in ones life pranayama can be an aid in healing all those various modern stress related conditions which result in hyperactivity of both nervous and endocrine systems. Pranayama is said to produce a tranquil effect on the mind which lasts ten times longer than from asana alone.
The breathing exercises which prepare the practitioner for the formal practice of pranayama are accessible to all levels. However those more profound practices involving breath retention have a specific prerequisite that one should be able to hold the spine gently erect while sitting unsupported for 30 minutes. The fundamentals tone the muscles of respiration and balance the patterns of breathing. When one has the ability to perform these basic prerequisites formal pranayama using breath retention begins.