The Mother Divine
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Prashant S. Iyengar
The human body consists of millions and millions of cells grouped into thousands of tissues which in turn connect to form the organs. The organs which function in close cohesion with each other then form the different physiological systems of our body such as the digestive, cardio-vascular, excretory, respiratory, nervous, endocrine systems. The body is divided into different physiological systems, more so for the sake of convenience and ease of understanding for students of anatomy and physiology. However, these systems, these organs do not function independently of each other. Each of these organs performs actions and functions in addition to those “assigned” to them. For example, if the liver and pancreas are understood to be digestive organs - they play a role even in respiration. In fact, the human body would be a chaotic system if all these organs/ systems were to function independently. A harmony between these systems brings about the smooth functioning of this complex human body.

The arms and legs are considered as organs of action. Their function however is not restricted to action and movement alone but they also affect the organic body. Āsana-s have often been (mis) understood or loosely translated as exercises or bodily movements. This is primarily because āsana-s are performed by different kinds of actions by the body and on the body. For example, if we are doing Bharadvajāsana and grip the left thigh with the right palm, then the right palm is not used “merely” to support the spine when it turns but it can bring about movement/ activity on different parts of the body.

This can be well understood if you were to imagine that the arms were not living; it were just external, wooden objects for support - then there will be no “life” in the āsana. Bharadvajāsana then becomes an exercise but not an āsana. The arm is effectively used to get different movements in the different ‘organs’ of the body such as the lungs, liver, pancreas, intestines. The hand in Bharadvajāsana can be used to access the dorsal spine and effectively act on the lungs; or it can be used to act on the diaphragmatic band and effectively work on the upper abdominal organs - the liver, pancreas and kidneys; or the hand can be used to work on the lower spine and lower abdominal organs. The hand can therefore be effectively used to act on the different body parts. Also, the effect of the arms on the different body parts is affected by the breath. When we ‘twist’ the spine in Bharadvajāsana while exhaling, the effect is felt more on the spine. The spinal rotation is restricted when performed while inhaling. There is a total change in the state of the mind in both these cases.

Every action brings about two kinds of vibrancy (known as spanda in Sanskrit). These are activity vibrancy (kriya spanda) and sensitivity vibrancy (samvit spanda). As a beginner in the practice of āsana-s, all our actions are gross actions which lead to activity vibrancy. Even when we initiate our practice, the body is dull and there is more of activity, there is more of kriya. All our actions are initially dictated by activity vibrancy or kriya spanda and very little of sensitivity or samvit spanda.

Gradually, as we progress in our practices, we should try to bring about less kriya and more samvit in our āsana-s. This change in the orientation of our practice can be brought through by a change in our attention and the movement while performing the āsana.

Taking the example of Bharadvajāsana again, if you do with a sharp exhalation in the pelvic region then there is more kriya in the arms - in fact you feel the movement within the arms from the core to the periphery. When you do the same āsana with a sharper inhalation in the thoracic region then there is more kriya spanda but the location of the kriya spanda in the arms is different - more in the upper arms. However, when you perform the same āsana with an exhalation in the facial region then there is shift from kriya to samvit.

Another way of shifting from kriya to samvit is to observe the breath - either in the nostrils or thoracic region or wherever one gets a clear “feel” of the breath while going into and while in the āsana. As long as one tries to retain the rhythm of the breath, there is more of samvit spanda than kriya spanda. One feels as if the sensation in the arms moves from the periphery to the core- a process of internalization.

But, it is not possible to go on and on enhancing the samvit spanda (sensitivity vibrancy). A collapse is eminent. The samvit phase has to be interspersed with kriya at that point.

To reiterate, each āsana has to be performed by a proper balance of the kriya and samvit spanda. As a beginner, our āsana and practice is more activity oriented. However, as we progress in our practices as well as our practice for the day, our āsana has to be more sensitivity oriented. This can be brought about by the techniques described. But, as and when the sensitivity vibrancy diminishes, one has to recharge with activity vibrancy.

One is totally “internalized” when āsana-s are performed in this manner, the state of the mind is very different - very quiet - a state which to some extent is beyond expression.

Practicing āsana-s as “āsana-s” leads to neutrality in polarity. All can remain calm under controlled conditions. But, to remain calm under extreme and unfavourable condition is what yoga teaches us. The calmness in different situations and scenarios ensues from different processes like a chaotic railway station has one process of quietude in comparison with a serene temple or a shrine. So also different sets of āsana-s aim at bestowing quietude and they have different channels or processes of attaining quietude. For example, quietude of Śirșāsana cycle is one process while quietude from the Sarvāngāsana cycle is another process. So also, quietude from the forward bending, twisting āsana all have different processes. These processes help the practitioner to attain the well cherished quietude in various different scenarios. Thus the student learns to attain quietude on a chaotic railway platform or the chaos of a stock exchange. The student is thus prepared to attain quietude in any condition of disquietude.

An increase in sensitivity leads to an increase in emotionality. And, emotionality is a must for those wishing to get into a meditative state. Meditation is profound engrossment and involvement and without an emotional appeal one can never get engrossed or involved. So emotionality is an important facet in yogic practice and yoga is primarily meditative.