Noga Barkai
Vijnana Yoga
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Vijnana Yoga in the words of Orit Sen Gupta

Again and again over the years we have faced the question: "Which type of yoga do you practice?"

Yoga is yoga. And that is why, for many years, we took care not to label our practice with another name. At the same time, the need for a name or title is real. I am a student of Dona Holleman and of Mr. Iyengar. Yet over the years, my students and I have gone through a meaningful process, and our practice has taken a form that is clearly distinctive from that of Iyengar yoga.

There are three core elements that are essential to explaining our practice and our way. The first element is the central place of just sitting in our practice. The emphasis we place on quality of mind in the asana and pranayama practice drives us to sit. Our outlook springs both from the living tradition of yoga that puts forth meditation as the main tool for cultivating the consciousness, as well as from classical texts that consistently describe meditation as a fundamental, unifying element among the diverse streams and schools of yoga.

The second element is the practice that teaches listening to the sensations of the body and moving according to the principles. To begin, we simply stand on the mat concentrating and listening within. Movement begins with the hands shifting from the namaste prayer position to the sides of the body. The consciousness looks for the touch of the feet to the ground and the position of the skeleton above the feet, such that every part of the skeleton is in harmony with the other parts-the entire skeleton organized and upright as one harmonious unit between the earth and sky. As the arms rise up to shoulder height, we allow the muscles to be relaxed and soft but not hanging limply. The consciousness is present and aware of the body and the space around the body, and at the same time quietly focused inwards. The arms continue to rise and fall and we concentrate on subtly calibrating the body and organizing the skeleton such that it will continue to be connected when the range of movement expands. We scan the muscles and direct them to be faithful to the axis of the skeleton; we remind ourselves to be attentive without a forced, sharp alertness.

The movement will continue now for a long time and we seek to move within the principles as one unit, body and mind.

The third element is the emphasis on study. In order to deepen our practice there is a need to study the written tradition, at least in part. That is why when students express a want to deepen their practice, and attend workshops, special trainings, or long lessons, they are exposed slowly and steadily to yogic literature.

These three elements together-just sitting (meditation, the principles, and the study of texts, comprise our way, our practice. Together we sought a name that would express something of this spirit and taste.

VIJNANA?

The Taitreya Upanishad, an ancient work dating 2,700 years ago, teaches that human beings and indeed all existence is made up of five koshas or layers: the physical, energetic, the mental, the vijnana, bliss. The term vijnana captured the imagination of our study group.

What is Vijnana?

Shankara, the father of the Vedanta explains that vijnana is the understanding or wisdom that springs not from external information learned from the words of a teacher or a tradition, but from an internal clarity discovered through personal experience. Ramakrishna expounds upon this interpretation in his saying: "the knowledge and certainty that fire exists in wood is jana (knowledge), but to cook rice on this flame, to eat it, and to be nourished by it is vijnana-to know and to understand from within.

Our guiding principles-relaxation of the body, quieting the mind, concentration through intention, rooting, connecting, expanding, and awareness of breath-all of these allow us pay attention and from within to see, feel, understand, and act skillfully.

Calling our practice Vijnana is merely granting recognition to what has been present always-something pulsing in the heart of our path: to feel, to understand, and to practice from within.


Thank you to all my teachers.

Orit Sen Gupta, June 2006, Jerusalem


Seven Vital Principles

1. Relaxing the Body

2. Quieting the Mind

3. Focusing through Intent

4. Rooting

5. Connecting

6. Awareness of Breath

7. Expanding - Elongating and Widening


1. Relaxing the Body

In the beginning, relax the body. Inhale, and with the exhalation release tension. Inhale, and with the following exhalation scan the body from top to bottom and from the bottom upwards. Wherever there is gripping or tension - relax. The mind is looking at the body with a parental eye. With time one can observe tense areas releasing and embracing space. If areas of weakness are noticed, inhale into them with courage and enliven them with energy. Let excess leave the body; relax. Thus the body becomes stable and quiet.

2. Quieting the Mind

When we position ourselves on the mat we distance ourselves from our responsibility to react to the world. The eyes look inward to catch the inner mood, the state of mind. Whether we are concentrated, dispersed or nervous; happy, sad or angry; whether we are afraid, tired or energetic - the eyes are positioned at the back of the head. We observe ourselves and our practice from an inner silence. With each inhalation the eyes sink deeper into the back of the head. With each exhalation there is an intensification of concentration. Empty Mind intensifies itself in practice.

3. Focusing through Intent

Now the body and mind are at ease and stable, quiet and concentrated. From this place we see our objective Sitting, Pranayama, Asana and direct ourselves towards it. The mind directs itself to the practice; the body awaits the practice; the heart embraces the practice with all its might. With each inhalation there is an intensification of intent, with each exhalation the sharpening of its direction. By visualizing ourselves sitting, breathing, moving, or by imagining another person in that practice we devote ourselves wholly to it. With each breath, with each pose we reaffirm our intent.

4. Rooting

The mind rests at the place where the body touches the earth. Let the weight of the body sink into this place - for example, the feet. Intensify the weight pressing down, as if the foot would like to sink into the earth, and then feel the power of that downward movement flowing through the body. As the roots of a tree deepen and widen into the earth, so the branches above expand into the sky. It is easy to understand the idea behind rooting, yet surprisingly difficult to execute it in every movement and posture. As rooting is mastered, the body becomes light and loose and moves without effort.

5. Connecting

Always be conscious of two opposite directions that are connected to each other. To go up, go down. To go forwards, shift into the back. Wishing for the left side, steady yourself on the right. Wishing to expand, come from the core. The first direction is the arrow, the second direction is the bow; the thread which binds them is Connecting. In each pose the farthest limb from the ground connects to that which is rooting into the ground. Every single body part in between is whole in itself, a distinct, functioning unit. All the parts are balanced and work together in harmony. Like a chain floating in space, the rings that make up the chain never touch each other. The more each part is distinct, the more the connection between them remains steady - the body in any situation moves in oneness.

6. Awareness of Breath

Be aware of inhaling, of exhaling. Inhale - go deep within; exhale - connect to the world. Inhale - accept what is; exhale - give yourself to the earth. Inhale along the body, exhale and root. Inhale and connect the farthest parts, exhale and move into the final pose. While inhaling the body elongates and widens, while exhaling it steadies itself in rooting and connecting. At times the breath is sweet and soft, at times it is deep and long. Sometimes the exhalation lasts longer than the inhalation, sometimes it is short and decisive. At times only in the background, at times the source of action, breath is always present.

7. Expanding - Elongating and Widening

When there is rooting while exhaling, inhaling brings about elongation and widening. Or perhaps the elongating and widening that occur as a result of rooting, allow for inhalation. When elongating and widening occur, not one ring touches another as the chain called body moves in space. Then there is no sagging into the joints, no effort in the muscles. The skeleton shields its coverings; the coverings create space for the skeleton. Thus the body moves about - relaxed and connected - one.

Finally, all the principles coexist and need to be applied at all times, yet it is difficult to oversee their functions simultaneously. In order to deepen our understanding of the principles, we need to choose one that attracts us and work with it constantly until it is mastered. Many times we can work with one or two principles for a few years until these penetrate and become second nature to us. This while remembering that it is only when all the principles coexist simultaneously in practice, that the practice is whole. Therefore when we practice yet feel "stuck" we need to look carefully and find which principle is neglected, and then revive it.

Source: 2003 Vijana Yoga Practice Manual, Orit Sen-Gupta.