The Seal Of Happiness

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Most of the traditional hatha yoga books from the 14th to 19th centuries mention this kind of "bifocal" practice, which is commonly known as Shambhavi Mudra— the seal (mudra) that produces happiness (shambhavi). Shambhu (from which the word shambhavi is derived), or Shiva, then refers to the Self-realized state, which produces happiness. A mudra is thought to be like a sealing device with a raised surface, like a signet ring. In the same way the ring stamps an impression on a soft waxlike surface, so Shambhavi Mudra stamps, or seals, its divine imprint on the receptive consciousness of the meditator, who is transformed into an image of the Divine. Through some type of physical or mental technique, a mudra also seals, or closes off, a normally open energy channel, thereby sealing in and recirculating the body's energy to intensify the meditative effort.

You might be familiar with hand seals (the hasta or kara mudras), which are simple configurations of the hands and fingers that are typically performed during pranayama or meditation. But there are two other categories of mudras: consciousness seals (citta mudras) and body seals (kaya mudras). Consciousness seals are detailed visualizations said to seal consciousness in certain areas of the body. Body seals are exercises that involve shaping or joining different body parts or organs, such as the lips, tongue, or belly; for example, the Crow Seal (Kaki Mudra) involves pursing the lips like a crow's beak and sipping in air. It's claimed that mudras can ward off disease, extend one's life span, and if performed properly, lead to Self-realization. About two dozen mudras (including their close relatives, the bandhas, or locks) play a central role in traditional hatha yoga, though today the body and consciousness seals are mostly neglected or forgotten in the Western asana-centric practice.

practicing the seal Begin by imagining your body's subtle energy channels, or nadis, which traditionally number in the tens or hundreds of thousands. They're often compared to nerves or veins, but I think a more apt analogy is to think of them as ocean currents, flowing from a spot behind the bridge of the nose. This spot has enormous significance in yoga, and is known variously as the Wisdom Eye (jnana chaksus), the Command Wheel (ajna chakra), or as we'll call it, Shiva's Station (Shiva sthana).

For the first stage of the meditation, close your eyes, "go inside," and for a few minutes slowly circulate your consciousness like a subtle fluid through these imaginary channels, until you sense it percolating in every cell of your body. Then, just as slowly, imagine drawing this fluid out of the channels and gathering it to a point in Shiva's Station. Imagine that no fluid consciousness can leak out of this point.

The old texts don't describe any preliminaries to stage 2, but I think it's best to take a few baby steps before attempting full Shambhavi Mudra. Begin in a darkened room facing a blank wall. With your awareness fixed firmly in Shiva's Station, the source of your fluid consciousness, open your eyes about halfway, steady them, try not to blink (half-closed eyes will help to still your blink reflex), and, to paraphrase the traditional instruction, "Look outside, but don't see." Of course, in a dark room staring at a blank wall, there's not much to see anyway. What you're doing here is twofold: You're getting accustomed to meditating with open eyes, and you're providing a situation in which your attention won't be tempted to rush out into the world.

Once you're comfortable with this practice, illuminate the room and continue to stare at the blank wall. Next, turn away from the wall and focus on a familiar but relatively featureless object, like a yoga block, positioned on the floor in front of you. Finally, as you become more comfortable with the practice, look "out" into your practice space.

What happens next, to paraphrase Patanjali, is that the physical and psychological grip of your limited individual body-mind relaxes. Your consciousness expands beyond its normally perceived boundaries to encounter what Patanjali calls the "endless," the consciousness that pervades all space. At this stage of the meditation, I often experience a feeling of great openness and peace, as if "I" am still there, but there's more to that "I" than I am usually aware of.

Shambhavi Mudra, then, is an open-eyed meditation designed to integrate (or perhaps reintegrate) our inner and outer worlds. In the historic texts, the instructions for practicing Shiva's Seal don't extend beyond practicing the seal in meditation (see instructions, above). But if you truly want to embrace the outer world through meditation, it seems appropriate to bring the practice of Shiva's Seal out into the world.

You might first try applying Shamb-havi Mudra during your asana practice, equating whatever asana you're working on with the outside world. Attempt to identify with that world in such a way that you no longer do but instead become that pose. Then you might be ready to bring shambhavi awareness into your daily life, cautiously at first, maybe while walking down a quiet street or sitting in the park, gradually expanding the reach of your embrace. Eventually through Shambhavi Mudra, as Hindu scholar Mark Dycz-kowski writes in his book The Doctrine of Vibration, the power of awareness "manifests itself on two levels simultaneously," that is, individually and cosmically, so that these "two aspects are experienced together in the blissful realization that results from the union of the inner and outer states of absorption." It is in this way that we are sealed and stamped with Shiva consciousness. ■

Contributing editor Richard Rosen is the director of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California.

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basics utthita trikonasana by Marla Apt

Stretch the arms away from each other

Straighten both legs and keep quadriceps firm

\ Turn the front thigh and knee out

Straighten both legs and keep quadriceps firm

\ Turn the front thigh and knee out

The Right Angle

Learn proper alignment in this pose and lay a powerful foundation for your whole practice.

UTTHITA TRIKONASANA (Extended Triangle Pose) looks like its name. You can see several triangles in the pose:Your hands and back foot are the points of one; your two feet are points of another; and your torso, arm, and front leg form the sides of yet another. And Triangle is one of the first poses yoga students learn. Ideally you feel firmness in your legs, a lengthening of your spine, fullness in your chest, and freedom in your neck and shoulders. Trikonasana also increases the flexibility and strength ofyour legs and lower joints (ankles, knees, and hips). If you have tight hamstrings, forward bends might aggravate lower-back pain, but Trikonasana provides a safe way to stretch the legs while extending the back sideways. It also teaches movements that will prepare you to practice inversions, twists, and backbends.

When I first attempted Triangle, I thought that if I could reach my hand to the floor, voila! I was done. I was not yet aware that in reaching to the floor, I had sacrificed the alignment of other body parts. My knees drooped, my hips flew backward, and my shoulder slumped forward. I had yet to learn to use my muscles to support me so that I had a strong foundation from which to extend.

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