HEALTH FOR HUMANITYTALK BY RAVI LOGAN | JUNE 2019
About a thousand years ago, a new approach to yoga was developed. This person, a yogi, whose name is mostly associated with it is Matsyendra. This name may be familiar to some of you because his name was used for naming a very famous yoga posture, matsyendrasana, a spinal twist. He was apparently the inventor of it.
Matsyendra was a part of a group of people whose roots were in the Shaiva Tantra tradition. In Tantra, there is a lot of working with the subtle energies of the body, such as the chakras, the nadis, and so forth. [This group] developed a heightened awareness of the subtle body and developed the philosophy that a spiritual state could be obtained through the application of physical force upon the mind. The classical definition of yoga is the cessation of the expression of the vrttis, the propensities of mind. As per Patanjali’s definition of yoga “yoga is when there is a cessation of mental activity”, a sort of vacuity of mind.
[In] this new school, the hatha yogas, they used different physical practices to bring about the cessation of mind. Their emphasis was on different practices through which a subtle physical force could be applied to still the mind. In a way, it was to suppress the mind.
By the way, the physical energies within sanskrit are represented by the acoustic root “ha,” which is also the acoustic root of the sun, which emanates energy and the acoustic root of the vishuddha chakra. And “tha,” (pronounced dhtah) was the acoustic root of the moon. The moon has an association with psychic energies, and it also was the acoustic root of the agna chakra. By putting the syllable “ha” for energy, for the sun, for the ida nadi at the beginning of “tha,” of the psychic energies, this signifies how the physical energies of the subtle body were used to suppress or still the mind.
Over time, a range of techniques were developed by this field of yoga, [where] the biggest emphasis was on the asanas. [This group] developed many yoga postures [and also] did rigorous pranayamas, sometimes hours a day. There were also bandhas (locks), the mudras [hand and body postures], and the kriyas. Kriya means “action,” but in this context, it means “cleansing action.” They did very rigorous cleansing actions. For example, a long strip of soft cotton cloth, maybe thirty feet long, would be swallowed down into the stomach and pulled back up [to] wipe-clean the esophagus and the throat. All the toxins would be removed. [Another] one of the six classical kriyas is a bit popular in the south Willamette valley, the neti pot, which is involved in nasopana. They poured water through the nostril to go through the sinuses and clear out [impurities].
Most of these [hatha yoga] practices were quite rigorous. There is also the practice of swallowing hot salty water until it completely evacuates your bowels, [until the water itself came out of the bowels]. Not all [of these] practices that are accessible to us, but they do give importance to keeping the body pure and clean. Perhaps these practices are going to extremes that are not suitable to the current time or place we live in. However, the principle is there, and has been carried forward in many schools of yoga.
There are some practices that are accessible to us, such as eating sattvic foods and keeping a sentient diet. There is also the ability to do periodic fasts, the akadashi practice, along with ways of bathing with cool water. There are practices of cleansing the anus, of ensuring the urinary duct is completely emptied, which prevents urinary tract infections. The breathing exercises help to keep the lungs healthy and maintain their capacity. Those who make efforts to integrate these practices into their lives can live in ways that are full of vitality and health. The trick is to integrate these practices into our daily lives.
Within the culture that we live in, there are many opportunities to keep the body healthy, in balance, and vital. Adopting these practices can be a struggle, but to the extent that we are successful in adopting these practices with perseverance, they can increase our vitality and resistance to physical disease and create physical balance. There is much need for a healthy body during this time because there is so much corruption in the environment that our bodies exist in, such as the corruption of our food, the water we drink, and the air we breath, or even the electromagnetic energies that impact us.
There is also the question of why we choose to maintain the vitality of our bodies, and what motivates us to be healthy. Surely, to be vital and dynamic is good motivation, but these reasons are not sufficient.
One hatha yoga practice, kayakalpa, is very advanced. If you do this practice, it can rejuvenate you and extend your longevity. There are stories of yogis going into the Himalayan mountains whose bodies were 80 years old, and 5-10 years later, after completing these exercises, would come out of the mountains with the body of a 30-year-old. Perhaps the great Maha Yogi, Mahavatara Yogiji, was a master of this practice. It was said that Totapuri, when he had an encounter with Shrii Shrii Anandamurti around 1960, was about 260 years old. This practice took a huge amount of effort for the yogis who were adept at this practice. It consists of a few years to rejuvenate the body in this way, and perhaps remain in deep suspension in powerful herb baths for periods of time, with the mind managing this.
“To what end, though? You can spend your years of your life.. rejuvenating the body, or you can spend years of your life helping others to advance in their journey and help make society a better place for every living being on a collective level.”
To what end, though? You can spend your years of your life in this suspension, rejuvenating the body, or you can spend years of your life helping others to advance in their journey and help make society a better place for every living being on a collective level.
This is what is needed now. We need to be vital human beings. As we are subjected to a lot on physical and emotional levels, these have an impact on our vitality and on our health. We need to manage a lot to stay vital. But it is like being on a treadmill, if one is only completing these health practices for themselves. If individuals are being vital and healthy for their own sake, and not taking care of what is de-vitalizing us in the collective, it can be indulgent.
For the people who are interested in these vitalizing practices, there are many classes and workshops, online resources you can go to and find out this wellness related information. And it is all valuable. And for those who are truly sincere about spiritual life, it is time to balance our own needs for vitality, dynamism and for health with the need and motivation to express that dynamism and vitality to benefit the life around us.
Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute, and the Director of Transformation Education, the training and education department of Ananda Seva. He is the principal author of PROUT: A New Paradigm of Development. His new books are A New Interpretation of Revolution and Transition to a New Era. He is also the co-founder and program director of Dharmalaya, which has as its mission, “to promote dharma holistically in personal, social and ecological spheres of life.”
Ravi has dedicated his life for the past 50 years to the project of the liberation of human beings and society. Ravi has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1972, and brought yoga to Jamaica in 1974. In 1996 Ravi became a family acharya in Ananda Seva and has been involved with the organization since its inception, volunteering as publications secretary, retreat organizer, and developing training manuals for the mediation teacher training. His latest publication in that capacity is the Ananda Sutram Primer, an accessible format for understanding the philosophy of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.
This article was transcribed from a talk by Ravi Logan given in June 2019. Transcription by Rene Tricou, editing by Michele Renee.
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