Essence of Yoga

by Thaniya Kevalee

Essence of Yoga – The vast science of self mastery

In the company of Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati, Stoma Parker and John Sellinger in Thailand (November-December 2017)

“Yoga and Religions” with Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati

The mission of Himalayan Yoga Masters is to spread the science of yoga for the benefits of many (who are ready to hear what they have to say). Yoga is a vast science as well as art for a happy living. Spirituality is thus the core of yoga and in this respect it is generally taken to be one of the religions. “Yoga and Religions” has therefore been among topics that the teachers from Himalayan Yoga Meditation Tradition talk about most often.

In November 2017, Swami Nityamuktanada Saraswati returned to Thailand for the fourth time. And of course, she was so enthusiastic to share her knowledge and perspective on yoga and religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, in the Seminar titled “Yoga and Religions”. As one of the most talented scholars in many areas, Swamiji was capable of clarifying several terms people often use without truly understanding what they mean. Religion, philosophy and spirituality were the main focus in this seminar.

In her view, religion and philosophy are institutions comprising of people who follow the same system of belief or the Prophet (i.e. Jesus, Buddha, etc). When the belief system is institutionalized, it naturally becomes structuralized and sooner or later such structure becomes calcified, eventually leading to formation of dogma. Dogma can then be used to control people and more often than not for political reasons. Spirituality on the other hand is just a way of practicing turning within one’s own self in order to realize the truth (which is one without the second) and the divinity which are inherent nature of all human beings, using the mind as a tool. Thus, yoga is a pure spirituality.

Swamiji emphasized the need for us to wake up to the “reality within”, going beyond blind faith in religious dogmas and back to the spirituality part within each religion by treading the path of turning within (if one follows this path, then there is no difference between yoga and religion as well as no difference between this or that religion). One of Swamiji’s unique and interesting ways of giving us this message (need to awake to the “reality within”) was to take us back to the history of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. With various segments woven into a single stream of story, we all learn that the essence of yoga and religions are the same and everything is based upon the principle of “Love”.

Both Buddha and Jesus taught the message of love and their ways of attaining the highest (and only one) Truth are not different from yoga; Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree until he reached the “Enlightenment” and Jesus meditated in the desert until he realized the “Kingdom of Heaven within or Christ consciousness”. In that state, one realizes he/she is not separated from anything else but connected to the entire universe and beyond and as a result of that realization great compassion and love arise within his/her heart. This is a common characteristic of all the great and wise men: Buddha, Jesus, Swami Rama and all the authentic Yoga Masters. Swamiji concluded that at the core level, there was no difference at all between Yoga, Buddhism and Christianity. Hinduism on the other hand is not really a religion but a culture that combines all belief systems (outside main religions such as Buddhism, Muslim and Christianity) followed by indigenous groups in India.

As usual, Swamiji led the audience through Makkaho exercise she learned from her Zen Master. Makkaho prepares the body and mind for the practice of meditation, by stimulating smooth flow of prana and harmonizing the five energy fields (earth, water, wind, fire and space) in the body and mind.

“Emotional Purification” with Stoma Parker and John Sellinger

Two weeks later, Stoma Parker and John Sellinger (together with his wife, Lea) arrived and added special blessings for Thai people. The four-day seminar/retreat focused on “emotional purification” as an important step to remove the blocks and obstacles on the path of meditation. It was based upon the book written by Stoma Clearing the Path which harmoniously combines the knowledge drawn from Patanjali Yoga Sutras and Neuroscience.

Emotional purification is acentral theme of teachings by Himalayan Yoga Masters, without which meditation practice would not make any progress. Breath awareness is one of the most profound tools one can use to handle his/her negative emotion. Maintaining awareness on the flow of the breath will help nervous system to shut down the part that lead to agitated mind and at the same time stimulate the part that promote mental relaxation, leading to secretion of growth hormones that are essential for the health of body and mind. This practice also aids the development of prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that sets human beings apart from animals. With enough activation of prefrontal cortex, one can feel great inner joy and become less dependent upon external factors to make him/her happy. Over time, emotions and minds of the people who regularly practice breath awareness become purified and the path of meditation has been cleared of obstacle. They can move more easily towards the goal of yoga, which is enlightenment.

Stomaji also discussed a lot about Brahma-viharas (the four immeasurables). When the negative emotions are cleared of and meditation practice go deeper, the four qualities; Benevolence (Maitri), Compassion (Karuna), Emphatic Joy (Mudita) and Equanimity (Upeksa) naturally rise and become habit of the mind. However, one should also make some efforts to develop these qualities consciously in his/her daily life, as it takes time before meditation practice can go deep enough to bring out these qualities naturally. When the foundation is well established, the next step is to develop healthy relationship with Guru. The path to enlightenment is full of temptations and one can easily get loss because of them. To have a spiritual guide is therefore very necessary for most people. In the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Tradition, mantra initiation is the tool by which Guru and disciple (or teacher and student) are connected. The duty of a disciple and student is to practice and make his/her human efforts. The duty of the Guru and teacher is to guide and protect the disciple and student, and when the disciples are ready bestow the grace upon them to pull them up to higher state of consciousness. At the end of the retreat, eight people decided to receive mantra initiations.

John used his great skills in explaining the importance of how to sit and breathe properly for meditation. The basic requirement for sitting posture is to sit with head, neck and trunk in natural alignment, with the body fully relaxed. Another foundation of meditation practice is diaphragmatic breathing, which is the most natural way of breathing. Unfortunately, most people have forgotten how to breathe in this way because the damaging effects (on breathing) produced by several unpleasant and painful experiences accumulated throughout life. Mastering these basics and going very deep into these practices cannot be emphasized enough but the reward will be worth all the efforts.

John also led us through wonderful hatha yoga, relaxation, prayanama and meditation practices as taught within Himalayan Yoga Meditation tradition. Hatha yoga, relaxation and prayanama have the same objective that is to prepare the body and mind for the meditation practice. Again, the key for doing all these practices is “awareness”.

We are so lucky and blessed to have the teachers from Himalayan Yoga Meditation Tradition coming again to remind us of the purpose of our existence and the final destination of human life and to inspire us to start making our own journeys towards the goal.  And not only focusing on achieving the goal, but also to enjoy the journey and cultivating divine qualities in us at every moment.  In this way, our lives can be nourished in a proper way, leading to happier and more fulfilling livings and at the same time moving towards where we need to be at the final point.



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