Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi


by Sonia Van Nispen

Wow, what a wonderful retreat [see Breath Practicum and Silence Retreat]. Not only had I never before done such intensive practice of kapalabhati, bhastrika and bhramari – and I felt the effects at different levels, including a major deepening of my meditation practice – but also a message about the yoga sutras finally hit home. I knew, of course, that the yoga sutras are often interpreted to refer to breath retention, and that in the oral tradition it is explained that the correct interpretation of those passages is in fact mastering the pause. Or something like that.

Somehow I always understood that the sutras appear to say one thing, but those in the know understand that the meaning is not what it seems to be at first sight, but something different, deeper, hidden, not so obvious. So it was mind-blowing to now understand that in fact, the interpretation of the oral tradition is so evident that you cannot believe so many commentators have missed it. It feels like something I can easily explain to my students. With a big thank you to Stoma Ji and Chandramani Ji. And, of course, to Swami Veda and Swami Rama, to the grandmaster, the great-grandmaster, etc. and all the way back to Hiranyagarbha.  I bow to you all.

Like Patañjali, I will start with chapter 1, Samadhi pada, the chapter for those that are ready to go straight into Samadhi at a slight impetus in the right direction. One of the ways to get there, according to the text, is our good old 1.01: smooth breath without a pause. As Stoma said, “To some people, the stuff that we are doing here may seem boringly simple. Something to get out of the way in the first yoga class. But there is a secret about this we will see. Secrets are not about hidden information, but about things that cannot be understood until you have a certain experience.”

So the big secret hidden in plain sight: prachchardana-vidharanabyham va pranasya (YS 1.34):
“Or by the exhalation and restraint of breath and prana (the mind’s stability is established).” This could seem to be, at first sight, about exhaling and holding the breath. It has been interpreted by many, including most of the major commentators, as referring to breath retention. Which is odd, if you consider how extremely dense in meaning these philosophical texts are. You cannot find one superfluous syllable. How come then that the same subject matter is treated twice, once in chapter one and then again in chapter two?

The way to be sure it is NOT the same subject matter is that the words used here are different: prachchardana and vidharana. If the words used are different, you can bet on it: they have a different meaning. Elsewhere in the YS, the words svasa and prasvasa are used. They refer to your average person’s inhalation and exhalation. These are generally done unconsciously, without mindfulness. They are certainly not what Patañjali is talking about here as a fast entry point into Samadhi. In fact, he refers to svasa and prasvasa in YS 1.31 in the same category as (mental) illness, sloth and the likes. Then we have puraka and rechaka. They refer to exhalation and inhalation in the kind of mindful pranayama practices that are the subject of YS II.49-53.

As he has used different terminology, Patañjali must be expressing something different here. Vyasa’s commentary says that prachchardana is “a careful expulsion of the visceral air through the nostrils”, and vidharana is “the expansion of breath and prana”. Let that sink in: “a careful expansion of the visceral air through the nostrils”. Visceral air, that means we are talking about our deep diaphragmatic breathing. Careful expulsion: slow, smooth, no jerks, no breaks…. And as for vidharana: “expansion of breath and prana” sounds like something fundamentally different from just breath retention.

You are not ‘holding’ anything. Having made your mind a pleasant place, you do our good old 1.01: sit with your head neck and trunk straight, relax the body, relax the mind, allow the breath to flow smoothly, without a jerk. And then I imagine as the breath gets subtler and subtler, you reach a point where your identification shifts from the physical process of breathing into the level of the prana flows, where you can experience the expansion of prana as it sustains your body without any breathing needing to be done. And this, our 1.01 - sit straight, relax the body, and let the breath flow smoothly without a jerk, without a pause - is in the Yoga Sutras as the most advanced method! It is the fastest path! And it is so clearly in the text, out there for everyone to read! My deeply grateful mind still boggles.

Editor’s Note:

The Breath Practicum and Silence Retreat was held 23rd March – 6th April at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) in Rishikesh, India; please see http://www.ahymsin.org/docs2/News/1404Apr/07.html  

2nd - 8th November 2014 there will be a Breath & Prana Intensive Seminar at SRSG. For more information: http://ahymsin.org/main/ahymsin-office.html

22nd March - 5th April 2015 there will be a “Silence, Shavasana Practice, and Yoga Nidra Retreat” at SRSG.  For more information: http://ahymsin.org/main/ahymsin-office.html

Sonia worked for over twenty years for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. While living in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, she started yoga. Ouedraogo Idriss, founder of the center in Burkina Faso, acted as an inspiring teacher and told her: "The tradition has given you something of value, and you are able to pass it. Then you have to do that.” From then on Sonia increased her study, including studying in India and the United States of America, and in 1998 started teaching. When she was transferred to Benin, she set up a center there and was center leader 2001 to 2007. Sonia has served as General Secretary of AHYMSIN and was a member of the Executive Committee from 2007 until the 2013 elections. Since 2008 she has taught in India in teacher training retreats of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition – Teacher Training Program (HYT-TTP)  . Since 2012 Sonia regularly teaches in Zwolle, Netherlands. We invite you to visit her websites: http://www.himalayayogameditatiezwolle.nl/home and http://www.namah.nl/



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