Needless to say, I did not disincarnate on May 22, 2022 as I had been led to expect. And so I get a chance to write this. I do more and more believe that being disincarnate does not give beings (most beings?) any particular special knowledge, especially knowledge of the future. Their disincarnate and our incarnate “predictions” seem to be based on the same things…age, general conditions, expectations, etc. However, if I am given another date for my “imminent” physical demise, I will probably again pay attention!
I was a bit disappointed when I did not move on, but in the months before May 22 I did accomplish much in preparation to leave. I got my will updated, wrote notes to be given to many family members and friends after my departure, gave away books and distributed many household items to ease my executor’s responsibilities. And that did make me freer in this continued physical life. Interestingly, that also made me a little “at loose ends”. But I am finding a new grounding within myself separate from outside material things.
One of the things I did in those months prior to May was develop this yoga meditation sadhana. I presented a more concise version of this in the Summary Post Four below. I also taught a “beta version” to a small group at the Dallas Yoga Center. Here, in this blog, I want to give more detailed instructions in hopes to answer questions that may come up for a practitioner. I hope this helps guide some yoga, spiritual, meditation students to the spiritual-physical wholeness levels that I have found through this.
A sadhana is a ritual designed to bring the performer of the ritual closer to divinity. In the case of a yoga sadhana, that divinity is the divinity within us. This is intended to link–yoke together– our entire being from our gross physical bodies all the way to our inner Satchitananda—our ultimate being, consciousness and bliss. This sadhana follows the outline given by the great Patanjali in the second chapter (Sadhana Pada) and the beginning of the third chapter of his Yoga Sutras. It is designed to bring us into balance and harmony— socially, physically, energetically, mentally, and spiritually. It starts with acknowledging our responsibilities and intent in “being” in these incarnations and carries us through the levels (bodies or koshas) of our beings to find our divinity in Samadhi.
There are a couple of basic tenets that I find necessary to understand the level of yoga that this sadhana addresses. Many may consider these beliefs. I consider these facts: We are spiritual beings…bits of God consciousness (Jivatma)…carried in these interactive spiritual complexes we call our souls. These souls-Jivatma are incarnate in our gross physical bodies. These bodies, our material vehicles, are transient. They are part of the physical world. They grow from the seed of our parents, develop to a point, deteriorate, and return to the physical matter from which they were made. At that point, when our physical bodies die, our spiritual bodies, carrying our bits of God, go on disincarnate to either transcend to another level or reincarnate in the future.
In preparation for this sadhana or any meditation practice we should always seek out a quiet, safe space where we will not be disturbed. Sit in a chair or on the floor or a cushion in a comfortable pose that you can hold without strain for about 30 minutes. Generally, eyes are gently closed but may be open. (I find the drying and need to blink distracting). The entire sadhana usually takes me 25 to 40 minutes, but, with practice, it can be modified. Some steps I can get through rather fast if I need. In other steps I sometimes linger…often in bliss!
The eight steps in this sadhana address the different levels of our beings from the grossest to the most subtle. (Steps 1 and 2 are considered together here since there is no significant mental transition between the two.)
Steps 1 and 2: Yamas (self-restraints) and Niyamas (observances). These 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas are often thought as the similar to the Hebrew Ten Commandments, but the TC primarily have to do with a relationship with an omnipotent being. These (Y and N) focus primarily on our individual personal responsibility and intent. I like to think of them as giving myself daily life instructions as I might give instructions to my teenage self about to use the car on a Saturday night.
The five Yamas are Ahimsa (abstinence from violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (abstinence from stealing), Brahmacharya (control of normal bodily urges), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness /non-coveting). Brahmacharya is usually thought of only as prescribing celibacy. I consider it accepting responsibility for controlling physical bodily urges, the most basic of which are eating and sex, the needs to nourish and reproduce.
The five Niyamas are Sauca (purity), Samtosa (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of sacred scriptures) and Isvara-pranidhana (surrender to God). Here, for me, God includes God within us, our Jivatma.
Setting for meditation, with eyes closed, I will literally think to myself “With this body I will do no harm. I will not lie, I will not steal. I will control my body’s urges. I will not covet. I will practice purity. I will practice contentment. I will practice austerity. I will study and consider my relationship the rest of the universe. And I will trust God.” I may rephrase many of these. I may spend extra time considering different ones. I will almost always spend extra time with contentment and purity because just thinking about being contented and pure gives such a wonderful feeling throughout my body. And these are feelings I can remember and return to whenever I need. Similar changes occur with each of the Yamas and Niyamas. When we are open and absorb these ideas into our consciousness, they seem to make subtle adjustments to our being through our energy bodies (addressed below). Out posture changes. The energy throughout our bodies changes. We become as we think!
Step 3: Asana (posture). This is addressing our gross physical bodies—our Annamaya Koshas. Hopefully, we have exercised, stretched, treated our bodies well and are reasonably healthy. In this step of the sadhana we check through our bodies rather like checking out an automobile before driving—kicking the tires, checking oil and fuel level, etc.
For this step I scan back and forth through my body from head to toe as we do in Vipassana Meditation. As a retired physician I can get very detailed, unnecessarily, and spend a long time in this step. Sometimes I have to push myself through. This step is just to make sure the physical part of your being is okay.
Step 4: Pranayama (regulation of breath). This is addressing our energy bodies—our Pranamaya Koshas. This step is fairly easy to get through but the most complicated to understand because it is where the “physical” and “spiritual” connect in a scientific sense. Breathing, “the breath of life”, does more that bring in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. The act of inhalation causes a negative pressure in the thorax, pulling in air form the outside, but also blood and lymphatic fluids from the rest of the body. Exhalation causes a positive chest pressure, expelling air and slowing this flow of body fluids into the thorax and to the heart. (One of the reasons to prolong exhalation in pranayama is to slow flow of fluids to the chest rather than stop the flow as can happen with forced exhalation. Some pranayama practices with drastically altered flow can cause cardiac arrhythmias and can be very dangerous if not worked into slowly. Students should always be supervised when learning them!)
Importantly, ionized particles flowing through any tube or channel—blood vessels, lymphatic channels, even pores in nerves and individual cell— create an energy field, primarily very subtle but in part grossly measurable by EKG, EEG, EMG, etc. This, I believe, contributes to our energy bodies. I cannot say that this energy field “creates” the Pranamaya Kosha because that seems to go on as the energetic body of our souls after disincarnation and the production of this physical energy field has ceased. But it is reasonable to think that this energy field produced by our breathing physical bodies contributes to our Pranamaya Koshas.
Yoga texts will divide pranic energy into 5 “types”: Prana (upward flowing energy), Apana (downward flowing energy), Udana (intaking of energy), Samana (processing energy) and Vyana (distribution of energy).
In this sadhana step I address Udana first. I inhale and visualize intaking energy via air and food. With exhalation I visualize an upward flow of energy. I do this a two or three breathes. Then with a couple of breathes I visualize processing energy (Samana) in my stomach, bowel and liver with downward energy flow on exhalation. With the next few breathes I visualize that energy that I’ve taken in and processed being distributed throughout my body (Vyana). Then I spend several breathes feeling the energy flow up as I inhale, and air and fluids are pulled into my chest (Prana) and then flow down as I exhale (Apana).
At this point in similar sadhanas a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing may be added. However, I found, for me, that that broke the continuity and was more distracting than contributory.
These four steps, Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, and Pranayama constitute “outer yoga”. From here we move inside to the meditative “inner yoga.”
Step 5: Pratyahara (sense withdrawal). This step does not address our definable koshas / bodies, as does Asana and Pranayama or the following steps, but is extremely important. This is the step that moves our focus from the outside physical body (Annamaya Kosha) and energy body (Pranamaya Kosha) to the inner parts of our beings, the Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha, and, ultimately, the Anandamaya Kosha. It is because of this withdrawal from the outside world that it is important to be in a protected safe space with minimal distractions when doing this sadhana or any meditation practice.
Getting through this step initially seems contrived and difficult. But with practice it becomes easier and easier to withdraw from seeing, hearing, smelling or tasting the outside world or even feeling your own body. Of course, all the nerve and sense organ connections are still there, but our attention is taken away from them and directed to our inner selves. This is similar to being very engrossed in a book or some activity to the point of being oblivious to anything else. At the deepest level of Pratyahara it is almost impossible to bring someone out. However, for most of us a distraction such as an unexpected noise will cause us to jump higher than we would have in a normal state because our consciousness was not anticipating and ready for outside stimulation, nor were we drawn in enough to completely block out the noise.
Pratyahara is, like the Pranayama step, a breathing and visualization practice. One at a time I breathe in with focus on one of my five senses and exhale taking the focus of that sense to my “third eye”. This is one of the most important transition points in this entire sadhana. The “third eye”, just above the eyebrows in the center of the forehead, is literally the medial prefrontal cortex area of the brain. With the advent of functional brain imaging in the early 2000″s, we found that this area is activated when we are thinking about ourselves in the present moment—not ourselves in the past or the future. When our consciousnesses are focused on our “third eyes” WE ARE PRESENT IN THE PRESENT MOMENT!
We access this medial prefrontal area best with eyes either gently closed or slightly open, softly raised and feeling slightly crossed, internally gazing at the third eye. At first this may feel unnatural but with practice and relaxation it will become comfortable.
In practice I inhale taking my focus to one or another of my sense organs, and exhale “taking” that sense awareness to my third eye mentally disconnecting it from outside stimulation. I repeat this for each sense one at a time…. tongue for taste, eyes for sight, nose for smell, ears for hearing, and full body for sense of feeling. The senses may be taken in any order, but one by one they are taken to the third eye.
Dealing with full body sense of feeling is probably most difficult. Often, particularly when first practicing, when we get to body feeling, an itch or minor pain or tickle will demand our attention. This can be almost maddening but gives a good opportunity to practice controlling our focus. Ignored, these distractions will resolve themselves while we stay focused on our inner selves in the moment. This can take real will power!
So, completing Pratyahara we are now consciously focused on and in our third eyes and are already in the early stage of the next step, Dharana.
Step 6: Dharana (concentration). This addresses the Manomaya Kosha, the mental body, and is the first real step into meditation. And, with our focus already on our third eyes we are already into it. Holding there, the object of this period of concentration is to maintain focus without extraneous thoughts as long as we want. We have already blocked external input as best we can. From here the major source of any distraction is internal input…thoughts. If there are worries or problems that we are dealing with, this is where they will most demand attention. Occasionally, the intruding thoughts are so demanding that it is best to give up and work through the problem. And, in this setting, good insight and solutions are often forthcoming. Most of the time we can take control back with a short TM type mantra (such as So-Hum) that snaps us back into focus or we may need to repeat Pratyahara and refocus. With practice it gets easier and easier to hold focus. Relaxing and giving up any idea or sense of time is helpful.
A full minute in true Dharana is usually sufficient. At that point, instead of actually “being in” that concentrating Dharana-Manomaya Kosha part of our minds (I experience Dharana in the front of my brain around the area of my third eye) we usually realize that we are also watching this part from a larger global part of our mind. We are both the observed and the observer! That leads to Dhyana…meditation!
There are a couple of absolute rules when following your consciousness through your kosha layers: IF you can observe it, you are not that. IF you can manipulate it, you are not that. You are the observer and the manipulator. And you may repeat being observer and manipulator at different steps until you’re complete.
7. Dhyana (meditation) in the Vijnanamaya Kosha, the intellectual discriminative body. After a few seconds to a few minutes in Dharana (concentration), you become aware that you are observing yourself concentrating. You may watch for a few minutes, but then, being aware of being the observer, make yourself step back, fall back, flip back into consciously BEING the observer. You are already the observer, so this is relatively easy with a bit of practice. Here, a step further in from concentration, you will find yourself in the larger, more expansive “mind” of meditation. Here you may experience a total empty void, but often random thoughts float around with no reason. This is the place to let them go by with little notice. Fighting thoughts here only gives them power. Relax! Hang out here for a while. Enjoy the calm. Get a feel for the size of this area. It’s often much larger than you would expect!
After a few minutes in meditation, we usually become aware again that there is more. We realize that we are observing this part of our beings and that means we are not this. So, we look for a way to move on to the next level, Samadhi!
8. Samadhi (union). This is reaching the Anandamaya Kosha, the bliss body. I understand that if we can stay in true meditation for about 20 minutes, we often naturally go into Samadhi. But, with my touch of ADD, that’s almost impossible. To achieve the same state as holding meditation for 20 minutes, we can consciously slow our brain waves to a Theta level (4-8 Hz) essentially giving our meditating brain Savasana. I consciously “ratchet” my brain activity down until I feel that I am about to dose off. My mind-brain feels almost like a soccer ball going flat! Here the thinking brain of the Vijnanamaya Kosha is not demanding attention. I am not aware of outside stimulation. I am safe and comfortable. Now, just before I dose off, I find I naturally bring my inner gaze back to my third eyes and I immediately awaken to my true self in the bliss my Anandamaya Kosha. There is a sometimes-startling clarity, an alertness, an awakeness! I also always feel a fullness in my mid and lower chest (We are told that our souls reside near our hearts!) that expands to fill my body. I realize that I am NOT in my head.
My mind is still working, observing and processing. And I can look back at my thinking mind. But I am not in the thinking mind. I am in my “heart,” my bliss, my Anandamaya Kosha. (I am sure this is where all meditation techniques seek to take us!) When I “look around” from this place I am also aware that there is nowhere else to go. I cannot observe or manipulate this. I am my complete being! My yoga is complete.
At this point, since I am not looking for another deeper level to explore, I bask in the bliss of Samadhi in the Anandamaya Kosha for a few minutes. Then I may take that bliss back through the rest of my being, my Vijnanamaya Kosha (intellect-discriminative body), my Manomaya Kosha (mental body), my Pranamaya Kosha (energy body), and my Annamaya Kosha (physical body). Or, since this is as close as I can get to God within, I may spend time in worship, trying to connect with universal God, the Paramatman!
Samayama: Getting through the steps of inner yoga takes some practice. Flipping or stepping back from concentration (Dharana) to meditation (Dhyana) and slowing the meditating brain activity to allow us to find ourselves in the bliss of Samadhi in our Anandamaya Kosha bodies takes some practice. But, amazingly quickly, those steps will happen smoothly without effort. Also, with a little more effort, these three parts, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, flow together and almost blend together. This is called Samayama and is the place from which we can explore our full potential.
The powers of samayama supposedly include “extraordinary mental capabilities” and “supernatural powers” and leads to the serenity in Kaivalya (see Padas-chapters III and IV of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). I’ve not experienced supernatural powers, am not seeking them, and have not heard anyone reporting them. But completeness of “being”, balancing the parts of my being, does bring a glimpse of serenity that becomes easier and easier to hold onto. With this I seem to be more in sync and move more smoothly through the world. Life seems to be easier to navigate.
Finding a way from Dhyana to Samadhi, from my Vijnanamaya Kosha to my Anandamaya Kosha, was the most significant step in my yogic journey. I had taken multiple classes in meditation over many years but had always been left trying to force myself into a “deeper” meditation level rather than to a “different” level. I attribute my slow progress my being too “brain-centric”. I had expected Samadhi to be almost a druggy meditation experience. Boy was I wrong!
My meditation experiences included TM which was nice but expensive and usually took me only as far as Dharana (concentration), Blue Mountain, which was good at getting me into Dhyana (meditation), and Vipassana which took much time but was with wonderful people in a conducive environment. I possibly did get to Samadhi occasionally through Vipassana but did not recognize it. I haven’t done the newer courses in mindfulness but in the little I have done in past years I never got out of my thinking mind. I’m sure all of these techniques do not get some practitioners to the goal of samadhi. They did not for me. But, they did lay the groundwork for my further explorations and for that I will always be grateful.
I encourage practitioners and students who are doing well with their meditation practice to continue on your path but to remember the goal of Samadhi. It’s achievable for all. If you choose to try this sadhana and have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Feedback is appreciated.
God’s love and blessings to all, Jai Shankar/Jerry Harrison