SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE OF YOGA POSES (ÂSANAS)
Mind and body of human beings usually during life become increasingly conditioned. As for the mind, it means that we increasingly react to events in a programmed manner. As for the body, it means that it is hindered increasingly in its freedom of movement, because of conditioned tensions (that means: tensions which are programmed in the cortex of the brain). Owing to this, suppleness gradually diminishes. As a result of conditioned tensions, even bones sometimes may get a disturbed position. The energy body/pranic sheath (prânâmâyakosha), which among other things is responsible for the communication between the mind and the physical body, suffers as well from physical conditionings. Usually, as a result of these physical conditionings, for most people during their life the energy body grows weaker, so to say atrophies. Owing to this, body consciousness decreases, just as sensitivity and vitality.
Jean Klein taught us that it is possible to reverse this negative process. Besides, such a reversal would increase the possibilities of our spiritual development during this lifetime. The essence of the approach he recommends can be characterized —–just as the title of his last book in English —– by the word “listening”.
As for the mind it means that you observe your own functioning as clearly as possible, as a witness, without judging or wanting to improve yourself. You notice from which motives you are acting and also how you react mentally and corporally to people and events.
As far as the body is concerned, we can revert to the text of my article “Principles of Kashmiryoga”. This text recommends to practice yoga with an open, accepting, observing mind, directing one’s attention to the tactile sense. So you listen to your body by the tactile sense.
The first function of yoga poses results from this “listening attention” during our practice of yoga:
Becoming aware of the resistances and rigidities which our body incurred.
Although an unnatural lifestyle (f.i. wrong nutrition) may aggravate rigidity, the most important cause is conditioned muscular tensions. Conditioned muscular tensions are caused by stressing, striving and reacting of our mind, which is accompanied with the tightening of muscles.
In illustration of this first function of yoga poses an example:
I remember that, during one of the first yoga lessons of Jean Klein I attended, at a certain moment we sat on the ground with stretched legs. While passing along, he said to me (in French):
“Your right leg has a tendency to be too short”
I dealt with this problem during my daily yoga practice in the early morning before breakfast. I started with stimulating the energy body by performing kapâlabhâti and prânâyâma. Next I performed bhadrâsana and gave all my attention to the tactile sense, to body awareness. To be able to prevent forcing the body, I put my hands on the ground in front of me and then started to bend forward from the hips very slowly and carefully. At the same time I listened to the body, because it is essential to deal with the body in a friendly way. It is not permitted that such practice becomes really painful. It is also important to take your time over it. I often stayed in the pose for 5 to 10 minutes, at the same time stimulating the energy body by slowing down the exhalation by the technique of ujjâyi. Also evoking the tactile sensation that, during the inhalation the front side of the body became more spacious, contributed to the liberation of the right hip area, because it made the trunk slowly sink down further. After practicing a number of weeks in this way, at a certain moment, during the practice, suddenly, with some noise, the right knee sank down and at the same time I experienced the release of tensions in muscles near the right hip. Although during this session the problem was redressed, to be on the safe side, I continued this practice for a couple of weeks. The result: performing badrâsana, both knees almost touched the floor, so the resistance in the right hip had gone. Also “the tendency of my right leg to be too short” had gone. Besides, I realized that this problem of my right hip and my right leg illustrated the phenomenon that conditioned muscular tensions may even cause a disturbance of the position of bones. When the problem was solved, a fat bonus followed: The ability of my body to practice padmâsana and siddhâsana was much better than before. It appeared that it now was possible to stay comfortable for a long time in these âsanas. Sitting in these âsanas, I realized that they now met the requirements as formulated by Patañjali: “sthira” (stable) and “sukha” (comfortable, relaxed).
Now you may think: “That was successful, the muscles around your right hip are now deconditioned, liberated.” This, however, appeared to be only partially true. When a couple of years later, during a session of yoga, I stayed longer than usually in a sitting torsion (matsyendrâsana), my body begun to react in a way that was new for me. At a certain moment, my body suddenly begun to stiffen and subsequently to tremble while breaking into perspiration. Thereupon in the region around the right hip, for the second time an enormous tension was released. Next my whole body completely relaxed in the pose. After this session, I realized that I received an experimental proof of the following two enunciations of Jean Klein:
“Conditionings are programmed in the brain in layers (like the tunics of an onion)”
“I can see that those of my students which are in the habit of holding the âsanas for a longer time benefit more than the others”
Only because I held matsyendrâsana this time longer than I used to do, the asana triggered the release of tensions.
A clue to become aware of conditioned muscular tensions: Investigate which poses or exercises you dislike. Often you dislike a certain pose, because it reveals bodily problems.
This problem is dealt with as follows:
In the initial posture I directed my attention to the tactile sense, to the sensation of the body. If you realize that the human mind can address to only one sense at the same time, it will be clear that closing the eyes makes it easier. I placed the palms of my hands on the floor in front of me. Then, for 10 to 20 seconds, I gave my attention to the contacts between my body and the floor. Next I gave attention to the global body feeling, by which I felt my body continuously in its totality. I kept my legs somewhat bend. I regulated breathing by smoothing every exhalation by the technique of ujjâyi. Thereupon I glided slowly with my hands forward to the point where the stretches were on the verge of becoming painful. At this point I stopped the forward bending. I continued regulating breathing and worked as follows with the tactile sense: During inhalation I evoked the sensation that the front side of the body and also the groins became more expanded. Besides I evoked the sensation that the soles of my feet pushed imaginary objects to the left and to the right. During the exhalation, which was restrained by ujjâyi, I attuned to the space in front of the body. I continued the practice for about one minute. Then I slowly went upwards with the trunk and observed the changing body sensations, until all reactions dissolved in the global body feeling. I started to practice this exercise daily and just as I did while dealing with the first problem that I described, I stimulated each morning before breakfast the energy body with kapâlabhâti and prânâyâma. After a few weeks there still was much resistance in the muscles of the thighs, but I noticed that the resistance was already less. Another few weeks later, the situation of the muscles clearly improved and the exercise itself became less unpleasant and at a certain moment even very pleasant. Then, one day, I felt during the exercise the sudden release of an immense tension in the pelvic area and at the same time, to my surprise, it became possible to “embrace” with both arms the floor in front of me and to lay the trunk and the chin on the floor. I realized that during this experience important conditionings were dissolved.
The second function of the yoga poses arises from the first function. Jean Klein described this second function as follows:
“The intention is to work regularly with the âsanas until all the resistances and tensions which show up are dissolved, just as a pianist plays many times a concert, to master playing effortless all the passages which in the beginning are problematic”
This links up with your own desires, because as soon as you become conscious of important resistances and tensions in your body, a natural desire arises to free the body from these problems. Besides working with âsanas, awakening the energy body, as indicated in “Principles of Kashmiryoga” and elaborated in my book “Yoga volgens de Kashmirmethode”/”Le yoga tantrique”, appears to be the key to success. Once the energy body is activated well, it will function as a catalyst in the process of deconditioning the physical body.
After the first yoga lessons of Jean Klein in the Netherlands (1975, 1976), I was so touched by his approach that I started attending his seminars in several European countries. Under his guidance the energy body soon was activated to such a degree, that it was directly perceived and that the physical body begun to liberate itself from resistances and rigidities. I remember that in these days Jean Klein put us through many series kapâlabhâti and prânâyâma (without retention). He explained this to us as being very essential to open the energy channels (nâdis) and reinforce the energy circulation. The prânâyâma exercises of Jean Klein were characterized by:
1. Emphasizing the correct sitting posture
2. Smoothing the in- and exhalation by reducing the nostril or nostrils through which the breath was going (Jean Klein called it in French “filtrer”)
3. Constant practice of uddiyâna bandha
He emphasized the necessity of a full mastery of the abdominal muscles to be able to practice kapâlabhâti and prânâyâma in the right way. This mastery gradually improves by exercising retracting the abdominal wall, while all other muscles (facial muscles, tongue, throat area, and shoulders) remain completely relaxed.
Inspired and energetically awakened by these seminars, which mostly lasted a week, I started at home to work selective on the problematic parts of my body until all the rigidities and resistances I was aware of were dissolved.
Becoming aware of rigidities and resistances and subsequently the elimination of these can be considered as “preparatory work”. Only when this preparatory work is completed life energy can circulate optimum and then the third and most important function of the âsanas can appear to full advantage. About this, Jean Klein said that the ultimate goal of the yoga he instructed was transformation of the “real body”. He also said: “Âsanas have a psychological and spiritual effect”. The real body consists of the deeper sheaths (koshas) which determine our psychological and spiritual constitution. What we call “the human mind” is in fact the functioning of these koshas. Dependent on our spiritual level, different paths/means (upâyas) exist for further progress. During the past decades excellent books on the spiritual tradition of Kashmir were published in French, German and English language. A selection is given in the reading list.
As mentioned in “Principles of Kashmiryoga”, padmâsana and siddhâsana are the most important âsanas. According to Jean Klein, among the âsanas, siddhâsana is the strongest transformer. He also called siddhâsana the most purifying âsana (in French: “la position la plus purifiante”). This links up with the Hatha Yoga Pradîpikâ:
“Just as right nutrition (mitâhâra) is for the siddhas the most important of the yamas and giving up violence (ahimsâ) the most important of the niyamas, the siddhas consider siddhâsana the most important asana.” (Chapter 1, vers 38)
“Of the 84 âsanas, siddhâsana should always be practiced, because he purifies all the 72.000 nâdis.” Chapter 1, verse 39)
As I described before, activating the energy body is of vital importance in the process of eliminating resistances and rigidities, through which the body becomes able to perform the important âsanas better and more relaxed. The transforming effect of an âsana is transmitted by the energy body to the deeper sheaths (koshas). This means that, if the energy body becomes more powerful, then the transforming effect, the spiritualizing effect of the âsanas increases. Raising our spiritual level can be considered as “spiritual capital”. This spiritual capital will automatically accompany you into your next incarnation.
The book of Listening, Jean Klein, Non-Duality Press, Salisbury 2008
Kashmir Saivism, The Central Philosophy of Tantrism, Kamalakar Mishra, Rudra Press, Portland 1993
Le Vijñâna Bhairava, Lilian Silburn, Édition-Diffusion de Boccard, Paris 1961 (plusieurs réimpressions)
Le Paramârthasâra, Lilian Silburn, Édition-Diffusion de Boccard, Paris 1957 (plusieurs réimpressions),
Abhinavagupta, Wege ins Licht, Bettina Bäumer, Benziger Verlag, Zurich 1992
Trika: Grundthemen des Kashmirischen Sivaismus, Bettina Bäumer, Salzburger Theologische Studien 21, Tyrolia Verlag, Innsbruck-Wien 2003
Koos Zondervan 2014