The Shavasana Retreat

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

The Art of Shavasana: Subtleties of Deep Relaxation and Meditation Retreat was held at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama from March 20th –25th 2017. Guided shavasana practices, from the rudimentary to the advanced were thoughtfully sequenced so as to maximize benefits to participants. Early segments provided a foundation and preparation for the later advanced practices which culminated in Om Kriya with Swami Radha and a long Yoga Nidra session with Stoma.

Swami Radha, Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma) and Randall Krause (Mokshadeva) each guided specific practices for the entire group. Subsequently, each particular practice was given again in small groups in the session that followed. This reinforced the learning and provided participants the opportunity to ask questions and clarify each practice before moving on to the next practice. In addition, everyone received a printout of every practice and was invited to practice them on their own later.

Swami Ma Radha Bharati, Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma), and Randall Krause (Mokshadeva) were the lead faculty in guided practices.

Swami Ma Radha Bharati

Swami Radha guided us in tension and relaxation, 61 points, Om Kriya and a very helpful lecture on the practice of silence before our day of silence during the retreat. Before leading us through Om Kriya, Swami Radha explained that Om Kriya is a different kind of practice from all the others as it is a space of consciousness (chit-akasha) practice leading one into cosmic consciousness. The same practices that are preparatory for Yoga Nidra are preparatory for Om Kriya.

Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma)

As part of the workshop on relaxation and subtle body practices, Stoma gave two sessions to review various aspects of relaxation from the point of view of yoga theory and also neuroscience. He began by observing that relaxation practices, taken as a whole, are how we make a transition from the outer limbs of yoga to the inner limbs. It is a means of gradually learning to let go of our mental conditioning and go beyond our ways of thinking of ourselves as our bodies. He reviewed the five-fold kosha system of Vedanta alongside the yoga notion of three bodies (shariras): gross, subtle and causal. Entry into a state of pure awareness in yoga nidra means being able to relax all of these layers of embodiment.

He then went on to discuss the importance of awareness as the central skill of yoga and its role in the process of emotional purification (chitta-prasadana), making the mind field clear and pleasant and stable. He reviewed several aspects of how this is done via various applications of mindful awareness and especially the mindful awareness of breath. He recommended advancing in yoga by becoming an advanced beginner, constantly pursuing the ultimate refinement of breath awareness.

In his second installment, Stoma reviewed the neurophysiology of relaxation. He gave an overview of the gross anatomy of the brain and central nervous system and then compared the functioning of the stress system, which is older in evolutionary terms and functions much more automatically, and the relaxation system which evolved later and requires the conscious intentionality of buddhi to engage. He discussed the role of both these systems in the origin and maintenance of chronic illnesses and their role in healing. He then went on to discuss the functioning of mirror neurons and their role, along with the role of the hormone oxytocin in the evolution of families and other social systems in humans. In part this was to emphasize that yoga is really very much about relationships even when we speak of relaxation.

Then on Thursday, Stoma gave a lecture on pranayama and pratyahara. He stressed the role of refining the awareness of breath so that, in the words of Patanjali, it becomes long and subtle to the point where the senses suddenly disengage from their objects and dissolve in the mind field so that the process of concentration, meditation and samadhi (samyama) can flow automatically.

Stoma has written a book with over 100 pages of exercises on subtle body practices, internal dialogue, journaling and mapping your social life. The title is Clearing the Path, the Yoga Way to a Clear and Pleasant Mind: Patanjali, Neuroscience and Emotion. The book has been printed and its release date could be any time soon.

Randall Krause (Mokshadeva)

Randall led the following practices: movement and stillness, systematic relaxation, sweeping breath, pratyahara relaxation, and Shitali Karana. Randall said “We guided relaxations, starting from the gross level, where people actually tensed and relaxed muscles, for example, to the most subtle where the relaxation happened without any movement--- completely by prana and mind."

Later in the retreat Randall guided two quite subtle relaxation practices, the sweeping breath and Shitali Karana, in which participants were guided to breathe as if they were breathing into and out of certain points in their bodies.

Randall said that what struck him most was how these practices truly got people in touch with themselves in ways they had not previously experienced. Two or three people had experiences of light and movement in their body, experiences of prana moving. But the important thing for those people was to realize that they were being shown that there is an inner dimension that they had not previously been aware of and that now, to experience more, they had to do the practices regularly. Randall said that he very much enjoyed the opportunity to be with the participants and talk with them after the sessions.

Dr. Prabhu and Support Staff

Dr. Prabhu gave a very interesting talk on brain waves and the experiments he had conducted in our on site neurosciences lab correlating brain waves with specific practices and states.

Teaching support staff and small group leaders included Geeta Bhoi, Swami Ramcharit, Ramprakash, Rahul, John Sellinger and Joanne Sullivan. Jay Prakash Bahuguna once again provided excellent technical support for audio and video.

Significant contributions to this article were made by Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma), Swami Ma Radha Bharati and Randall Krause (Mokshadeva).

Photos by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.



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