Energy and Enlightenment

When I first began yoga, it was part of my weekly work-out routine at the gym, which also included spinning, pilates, running and weight lifting.  I gravitated towards the teachers who pushed me to my physical limit and had clear, concrete steps for getting into each asana.  Once in a while I came across a teacher who spoke about energy, chakra activation, and the ayurvedic medical benefits of the different asanas.  Since I had no idea what they were talking about, I simply set these comments aside in a mental parking lot, and carried on.  I would not have guessed that years later, after I began practicing meditation, that I would specifically look to gain this type of knowledge, to better understand and experience how energy moves in the body.   People familiar with energy healing, such as Reiki and Pranic Healing, have a great interest in the chakras, because they understand how the condition of the chakra(s) affects a person physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. When a chakra is healed, a person can experience a dramatic change in energy, mood, and even personality.  People often experience an emotional catharsis when a chakra is healed.  That is the reason why sometimes people can cry after doing certain asanas.

In its essence, Ashtanga Yoga is a method of inner healing and transformation that is based on the management of energy in the body.  The classical view on the chakras, which states there are 7 chakras, is taught in Ashtanga Yoga. Theoretically, the asana sequence of the Ashtanga Primary Series are designed to activate and cleanse the 7 chakras from bottom up, starting from the Muladhara (Base) chakra working up to the Sahasrara (Crown) Chakra.  That is why the sequence after the Sun Salutations for warming up, starts with forward bends, then twists, then back bends, and ends with inversions. When the sequence of asanas is mastered and done properly, it promotes the healing, cleansing, and strengthening of the major chakras, many more minor chakras, and the energy meridians or nadis.  By integrating pranayama into one’s daily routine, a person can dramatically expand the prana in and surrounding the body, increasing his or her level of energy and vitality. Chakras that are healthy, balanced, and aligned keep this expanded prana flowing vibrantly throughout the body, which nourishes and regenerates the cells, thereby slowing down the aging process.  There are many examples of Ashtanga Yogis who maintain and radiate strong health and flexibility into old age.

Taken as a package, the 8 limbs represent a powerful “proven” system handed down over millennia for purifying, mastering and directing energy in the body to attain Samadhi, or the super-conscious state. The Yamas and Niyamas initiate the cleansing and purification of energy in a person’s 3 bodies: physical, astral, and causal.  The Yamas instruct how we should interact with others and the Niyamas instruct how we should treat ourselves to refine and purify the gross energies and subtle energies of our 3 bodies. Asanas further activate, cleanse, and strengthen the 3 bodies, placing a particular emphasis on the chakras and nadis (energy meridians).  When the chakras and nadis are cleansed, balanced, aligned and developed, Pranayama further cleanses and strengthens the bodies and expands the overall energy in the person. Pratyhara, or sensory withdrawal, is a natural type of renunciation which inevitably takes place when one becomes aware of the richness of the inner world. When one starts to experience increased awareness and especially after one is gifted with a glimpse or a fleeting experience of Samadhi, one loses interest in the pleasures of sense objects in the external world because there is no comparison with the bliss of being our “True Self”. In parallel with the Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, and Pratyahara, practicing Dharana (concentration, a type of meditation emphasizing single-pointed concentration) and Dhyana (absorptive meditation) further purify and refine a person’s energy through mastering the mind and the mental process, achieving a state of total awareness. In that state of awareness, one uses Dharana and Dhyana as tools to assert full control of the energy that one generates with one’s mind through thoughts. When a certain stage of purification and mastery is achieved, one can then apply Dharana and Dhyana to focus and direct one’s expanded prana to safely awaken and raise Kundalini energy from the base of the spine to the crown chakra.  When the Kundalini reaches the crown chakra, the person attains Samadhi—Divine Union.

All the above on the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is theoretical until one directly experiences it.  Without direct experience, one can only believe based on assumptions that Patanjali composed the Yoga Sutras after attaining a state of Samadhi.   As both he and the Buddha taught, only direct experience can be trusted as truth.  Only the wisdom that comes from within is wise.