A short introduction to Swara yoga

Ida nadi Pingala nadi
Left nostril (and the whole left side of the body) Right nostril (and the whole right side of the body)
Moon Sun
Feminine Masculine
Yin Yang
Right brain Left brain
Intuitive Logical
Subjective Objective
Colors Words
Parasympathetic nervous system Sympathetic nervous system
Mental energy Physical energy
Attention Intention
Flexibility Strength
Cooperation Competition
Collective Individual
Introvert Extrovert
Samatha Vipasana
Prey Predator
Cold Hot
Negative Positive
Desire Action

 

Nadi Shodana is the practice of choice for balancing the swaras.

Further reading:

  • Breath, Mind and Consciousness by Harish Johari
  • Swara Yoga: The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing
    by Swami Muktibodhananda, Bihar School of Yoga

Tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah
Enthusiasm, inquiry and surrender are necessary to thread the path of yoga (The yoga sutras of Patanjali, II-1)

In this first aphorism of the Saddhana Pada, the second chapter of his classic manual on the practice of Raja yoga, Patanjali lists threes of the Niyamas, Tapah, Svadhyaya and Ishvara-pranidhana, stating that practiced together, they constitute Kriya yoga.

Let’s first look at each of these:

tapah
The Sanskrit root of the word tapah, tap means to cook, to heat or to burn. Early translators of the sutras, who generally were Sanskrit scholars rather than yoga practitioners, have often translated it as austerities, an unfortunate choice because the word has a negative connotation in Western languages, which Tapah certainly doesn’t have in Sanskrit. Alistair Shearers translates it as purification, which is one of its secondary meanings and is undoubtedly a better, if somewhat narrow translation. Matthew Remsky uses endurance, as a way to suggest how Tapah is this quality of determination and discipline needed to deal with the difficulties and set backs which we inevitably meet when we are threading the yoga path. Any translation of Tapah should reflect the fieriness, passion and courage which we need to keep practising, no matter what.
Tapah is akin to viriya (determination), one of the seven factors of awakening in Buddhism.

svadhyaya
The most common translation of the term is (self) study, sometimes even narrowed down to the injunction to study ancient books of wisdom. Alistair Shearers translates it as refinement while Matthew Remsky uses learning. Svadhyaya of course is all of this, as well as this constant, almost childlike curiosity that questions everything. It is akin to dhamma vicaya (investigation of Dhammas), one of the seven factors of awakening in Buddhism. It finds an appropriate expression in the “What is this?” question of Zen Buddhism, or in the “Know thyself” of ancient Greek philosophers. To thread the path of yoga, we need svadhyaya to find our own truth.

ishvara-pranidhana
Because ishvara is usually translated as God (or Supreme Being), the most common translations of ishvara-pranidhana are surrender to God or dedication to God. These translations don’t always resonate with our Western secular culture. Alistair Shearers simply uses surrender, while Godfrey Devereux suggests “absorption in the source” – may be closer to Patanjali’s intended meaning.
Unshakeable faith in the guiding and protecting power of the universe is the essence of ishvara pranidhana. In the Kriya yoga context, the soft, feminine quality of ishvara-pranidhana balances the fiery masculine energy of Tapah. Tapah without svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana just inflates the ego. Ishvara pranidhana helps us recognise that we are not in charge, and from there we can cultivate a more trusting relationship with the universe.

According to Zen, the three essential conditions for successful practice are Great Faith, Great Doubt and Great Determination. This accords with this sutra, for without Doubt, why would we inquire, without Determination, how could we succeed in our practice, and without Faith, how could we ever surrender?

The Kriya yoga of Patanjali should not be confused with the yoga system of Mahavatar Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya, popularised in the West by Paramahansa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi. The Kriya yoga of Patanjali is simply the practice of Tapah, svadhyaya and ishvara-pranidhana. These three preliminary practices aim to neutralise the causes of suffering that are rooted in ignorance and prepare the aspirant for the practice of Aṣṭāṅga (eight limbs) yoga.

Further reading:
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali translated by by Alistair Shearer
Threads of Yoga: A Remix of Patanjali’s Sutra’s by Matthew Remski
Yoga Unveiled by Godfrey Devereux

In yoga, Dana is mentioned as one of the ten niyamas in the Yoga Yajnavalkya (and in subsequent classics, such as the Hatha yoga pradipika, who borrowed from it).

The practice of Dana also has a very important place in the teachings of the Buddha. Along with morality (sila) and meditation practice, Dana is mentioned as one of three ways of gaining merits and in Theravadan Buddhism, it is the first of the ten paramis or perfections (qualities to be cultivated by all practionners).

The Buddha particularly stressed the importance of the attitude with which a gift is given. Dana is giving freely without expecting anything in return. The act of giving is motivated solely by compassion, good will or the desire for someone else’s happiness.
As a practice, Dana helps both the donor and the receiver to overcome greed (one of the three poisons of the mind, alongside hatred and delusion) and to develop wisdom and non-attachment.

In our contemporary world, by turning on its head the capitalist assumption that everything has a price, the practice of Dana is a powerful tool to help build a new economical paradigm in which one takes what they need and gives what they can. Rather than enticing us into provider / consumer relationships, it invites us to explore economic relationships which contribute towards the culture of sharing that we so badly need to overcome the many challenges of the 21st century.

Read more on Dana…
There’s more to giving than you think

In Buddhism, the five hindrances are temporary mental states that impede practice.
They can be regarded as obstacles to mindfulness in daily life as well, clouding our Judgement and hindering our ability to respond appropriately to situations.
They all rooted in aversion, attachment and ignorance.

  1. Attachment / desire for sensual pleasure and more generally the leaning of the mind toward what is pleasurable and its inclination to cling to it is the first hindrance. In meditation practice, it may manifest as an attractive idea,memory or fantasy that distracts us from the practice. To counteract this, we practice guarding the doors of the sense faculties (Pratyahara) and moderation in eating (mitahara, the advice is to stop eating before you are full). We learn to look for happiness inside ourselves, and to be content with what we have (Santosha).
    Experiencing this hindrance is like being in debt as we endlessly have to work to fulfil our desires.
  2. Ill will and hatred (aversion) is the leaning of the mind away from what is perceived as painful, unpleasant or uncomfortable. It may manifest as anger, fear, impatience, etc. To counteract this, we practice Ahimsa, non harming, and develop a friendly attitude (metta, or maitri in Sanskrit) towards all beings. The well known Buddhist practice of metta Bhavana is a powerful antidote to ill will and all aversive states.
    Experiencing this hindrance is like being ill as is prevents us from enjoying life and experiencing joy.
  3. Sloth and torpor may take different forms, such as laziness, procrastination, depression or sleepiness. It is a general lack of energy that prevents us from doing the practice. In the short term, it can be remedied by any method that will raise energy, such as focusing on the inhalation part of the breath, adjusting or changing the posture, etc. In the long term, moderation in eating and spending more time outdoor will help, as will, of course making sure we get enough rest and play. If sloth and torpor is a recurring problem in your practice, try dynamic yoga styles of asana practice and emphasize Samavritti and other energizing pranayama.
    This hindrance is like being in prison because we can’t do anything while we’re experiencing it.
  4. Restlessness and worries is a high energy hindrance which prevents us from practising by constantly pulling our attention away from the practice. Its antidote is sukkha (relaxation, ease). In the short term, using the breath to foster stillness, calm and contentment or adjusting the posture for a more comfortable one will help. In the long term, we may need to make lifestyle adjustments to slow down and foster a more relaxed attitude to life. Self reflection and inquiry (swadyaha) will help. Try yin yoga styles of asana practice and emphasize Visamavritti pranayama.
    Experiencing restlessness is like being a slave (to the constantly changing demands of our restless mind).
  5. Doubt and especially self doubt is closely related to Restlessness and becomes a problem when it prevents us from practising, with questions such as “is this the right practice for me?”, “will I ever get it right?”, etc..
    Study and the advice, encouragement and support of teachers and like minded friends who are travelling in the same direction will greatly help to strengthen the determination necessary to overcome paralysing doubts.
    Experiencing doubt is like travelling through a dangerous place as we are unsure which way to go.

 

The support of a sangha of teachers and like minded friends is possibly the greatest help we can have along the path. It helps us overcome all the hindrances, and as such, should be always be eagerly sough by all practitioners.

 

Undisturbed calmness and clarity is attained by cultivating openness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight in the good and equanimity toward evil.
The yoga sutras of Patanjali, 1-33

Those familiar with Buddhism may have recognised in this sutra the Brahma-viharas, the four quality of the heart (also known as the four sublime abodes or the immeasurables). This is not surprising, since at the time of Patanjali, Buddhism was the main religion in India, and Patajanli would of course have been familiar with Buddhist ideas. Like Master Gautama, he clearly states that these qualities have to be cultivated through practice. The Brahma viharas are relational qualities to be cultivated in all the conditions and events of our lives.

The first attitude to cultivate is an open heart that welcomes all that life brings its way with kindness (Maitri, or Metta in Pali, sometimes translated as friendliness). The cultivation of metta is powerful practice to uproot the deeply embedded psychological and emotional patterns of ill will and aversion. Metta can be cultivated through the well known Buddhist practice of Metta Bhavana.
When an open heart meets difficult, painful experiences (which it inevitably will, that the first of the four noble truth) it does not try to push them way. Rather,recognising that contracting around the pain and reacting with aversion and hatred only creates more suffering, it remains open and hold the pain, whether its own or that of others, with compassion (karuna).
When this open heart meets pleasant experiences, it doesn’t cling to them, Rather, recognising that grasping would only gives rise to greed and attachment, and ultimately to suffering, it meets beauty and pleasure with joy and delight (Mudita).
Ultimately, these qualities come together in the development of a balanced mind that can be touched by the most abject suffering as well as the most sublime joy without being moved by either. This is equanimity (upeksa), which in Buddhism is both the last of the ten paramis (perfections) and the last of the seven factors of awakening.
Those interested in investigating these qualities and their cultivation may find Christina Feldman’s book”Boundless heart” a very worthy read. This small but dense book explore kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity with great clarity and insight, and shows how cultivating them leads to a happier, freer and more fruitful life.