Without self-knowledge, we cannot go beyond the mind.
The proliferation of yoga classes and yoga centers throughout the Western world is a tribute to yoga's indisputable power to enliven physical well-being. In cities across North America, Europe, and Australia, yoga studios offer students a vast range of styles and techniques designed to enhance fitness. Yoga postures can increase your flexibility, strengthen your muscles, improve your posture, and enhance your circulation. Athletic programs from gymnastics to football now incorporate yoga for its systematic approach to stretching muscles, tendons, and joints. Fitness enthusiasts are often pleasantly surprised by how quickly the addition of yoga postures to a workout routine can improve tone and posture.
If the practice of yoga provided only these physical benefits, it would fully justify its place in our lives. However, at its core, yoga is much more than a system of physical fitness. It is a science of balanced living, a path for realizing full human potential. In these tumultuous times, yoga provides an anchor to a quieter domain of life, enabling people living in a modern technological world to stay connected to their natural humanity. Yoga offers the promise of remaining centered in the midst of turbulence.
The essential purpose of yoga is the integration of all the layers of life—environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means "to unite." It is related to the English word yoke. A farmer yoking two oxen to pull his plow is performing an action that hints at the essence of a spiritual experience. At its core, yoga means union, the union of body, mind, and soul; the union of the ego and the spirit; the union of the mundane and the divine.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program will raise your level of physical vitality, clear emotional blockages from your heart, and awaken your joyfulness and enthusiasm for life. Since its release in 1994, Deepak's book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success has improved the lives of millions of readers around the world. Through seven easily understood principles, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success pro claims that harmony, happiness, and abundance are available to anyone willing to embrace a consciousness-based approach to life. Our yoga program brings the seven laws into action through the principles and techniques of a consciousness-based practice.
We celebrate the rising popularity of yoga in the Western world. Even if your primary motivation for taking a yoga class is to lose weight or to develop a more muscular body, you cannot escape the subtler benefits of enhanced vitality and a noticeable reduction in your stress level. Yoga is a practical system to awaken human potential. It does not require you to believe in a set of principles in order to reap its benefits. On the contrary, the regular practice of yoga naturally generates a healthy belief system based upon your direct experience of the world through a more flexible nervous system. Perform yoga poses on a regular basis and your mind and emotions will change.
Yoga is a central component of the comprehensive system of Indian philosophy known as Vedic science. With roots in the Indus Valley civilization going back over five thousand years, the Vedas represent the poetic cognitions of enlightened sages on the origins of the universe and the evolution of life. The English word wisdom traces its origins to the primitive Germanic word wid, meaning "to know." Wid, in turn, is derived from the Sanskrit word Veda, meaning "external knowledge." The Vedas are the expression of perennial wisdom, and yoga is the practical aspect of Vedic science. Yoga is a system through which human beings can directly access the wisdom of life. Practitioners of yoga—yogis—are dynamic and creative forces for positive change. A yogi knows that his mind and body are in the ever-changing world, but his essence—his soul—resides in a dimension that is beyond change.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program is designed for those who wish to take their yoga practice to a deeper level, using their bodies to access more expanded levels of their minds. This is the time-honored value of yoga—to cultivate an inner state of centered awareness that cannot be disturbed by the inevitable turmoil of life.
People are complex and multifaceted beings with many rich layers, although the Western scientific model of a person tends to reflect the Newtonian mechanistic view of life that sees people as primarily physical entities—biological machines that have learned to think. Despite the fact that almost a century ago the discoveries of quantum physics revealed that the material model of life is incomplete, modern medicine and physiology continue to view people as primarily composed of molecules.
According to this predominantly physical perspective, if you are feeling depressed, it is not because you are harboring anger and resentment over the affair your spouse had with your best friend; rather, it is the result of inadequate levels of serotonin in your brain. If you simply enhance the level of this neurotransmitter molecule through the appropriate selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, your depression will vanish. If your blood pressure is elevated, it is not the consequence of constant strain with your demanding boss; rather, it is the result of excessive levels of the chemical angiotensin. Take an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor and your blood pressure will normalize. If you have trouble sleeping at night, your excessive credit card debt is not to blame; your brain is simply not producing sufficient concentrations of gamma-aminobutyric acid. Any of a number of medications will correct this deficiency and you will sleep as soundly as a baby.
This material approach can be remarkably effective in the short-term relief of symptoms. Unfortunately, it rarely promotes a deeper understanding of life, it rarely leads to healing and transformation, and the side effects of medications are often limiting.
Expanding the vision of life beyond a purely biochemical perspective, yoga reminds us that we live life simultaneously on many levels. The essence of yoga is to find the unity in the diversity of our multidimensionality. Throughout the centuries, great yoga teachers have awakened their contemporaries to the fascinating paradox that although to the mind and senses the world is an ever-changing experience, from the perspective of spirit, the infinite diversity of forms and phenomena is simply the disguise of an underlying nonchanging reality.
Adi Shankara, the Sage of Sages
One of the most influential teachers of the philosophy of yoga and Veda was the ninth-century sage Adi Shankara. Known as the greatest revivalist of Vedic science, he elegantly elaborated the layers of life that mask the essential spiritual self. Born in a.d. 805, Shankara is said to have been fluent in Sanskrit by the age of one and to have mastered all sacred literature by age eight. He began writing his own commentaries on the Vedas by age fifteen and was recognized as the leading authority on yoga by the time he turned twenty. He established seats of learning throughout India with one goal in mind—to help human beings overcome their suffering through the wisdom of life. His approach to truth was called Advaita, meaning "nondual-ism." The essence of Shankara's teaching is that one underlying field of intelligence manifests as the multiplicity of forms and phenomena that we call the physical universe.
It is helpful to recognize the disguises consciousness dons so you can see through to the underlying reality.
This is the great game of hide-and-seek that spirit plays with us. The nonlocal field of awareness gives rise to the sensory world that overshadows our experience of the underlying unity. At some point we recognize that the world of sensations alone cannot bring us genuine peace or happiness, so we begin our journey of uncovering the layers that mask our essential unbounded nature. Shankara called these various layers koshas, meaning "coverings," and he categorized them into three primary divisions—a physical body, a subtle body, and a causal body. We can also say body, mind, and soul. Let's explore each of these primary divisions and their three secondary layers.
The Physical Body— The Field of Molecules
Within your physical domain, you have an extended body, a personal body, and an energetic body. Your extended body is the environment, containing the never-
The Layers of Life
ending supply of energy and information that is available to you. Every sound, sensation, sight, flavor, and aroma you ingest from the environment influences your body and mind. Although your senses may tell you otherwise, there is no distinct boundary between your personal and extended bodies, which are in constant and dynamic exchange. Each breath that you inhale and exhale is a reminder of the continuous conversation taking place between your physical body and your environment.
This recognition requires you to take responsibility for what is happening in your environment. As a yogi, you are an environmentalist because you recognize that the rivers flowing through the valleys and those flowing through your veins are intimately related. The breath of an old-growth forest and your most recent breath are inextricably intertwined. The quality of the soil in which your food is raised is directly connected to the health of your tissues and organs. Your environment is your extended body. You are inseparably interwoven with your ecosystem.
Of course, you do have a personal body that consists of the molecules that temporarily comprise your cells, tissues, and organs. We say temporarily because although it appears that your body is solid and constant, it actually is continuously transforming. Scientific studies using radioisotope tracings convincingly show that 98 percent of the ten trillion quadrillion (1028) atoms in your body are replaced annually. Your stomach lining re-creates itself about every five days, your skin is made anew every month, and your liver cells turn over every six weeks. Although your body appears to be fixed and stable, it is continually metamorphosing.
The vast majority of the cells in your body are derived from the food you eat. Recognizing this, Shankara named the physical body annamaya kosha, meaning "the covering made of food." To create and maintain a healthy body, yogis pay attention to the food they consume, minimizing the toxicity they ingest while maximizing the nourishment they receive. Certain foods are said to be particularly conducive to a yogic lifestyle. These foods are known as sattvic, which means they contribute to the purity of the body. The four most sattvic foods revered by yogis are almonds, honey, milk, and ghee (clarified butter). Getting a daily dose of these foods benefits the body, mind, and soul of a person dedicated to creating greater mind-body integration. When acknowledging the relationship between your personal and extended bodies be certain to consume only organic dairy products.
Shankara called the third layer of the physical body pranamaya kosha, meaning "the sheath made of vital energy." There is a difference between the cells of a corpse and the cells of a vibrant living being. This organizing principle that breathes life into biochemicals is called prana. There are five seats of prana in the body, localized in the head, throat, heart, stomach, and pelvis. These centers of movement govern the flow of life force throughout the body. When prana is moving freely throughout the cells and tissues, vitality and creativity are abundant. Yogic breathing exercises, known as pranayama techniques, are designed to awaken and purify the vital energy layer of the body. We'll be exploring these powerful approaches in chapter 4.
The Subtle Body—The Mind Field
Most people identify themselves with their mind, intellect, and ego, which are the components of the subtle body. The seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes is famous for his statement, "Cogito, ergo sum," meaning "I think, therefore I am." People continue to believe that they are their minds, but Shankara encourages us to recognize that the components of our subtle body are simply coverings of the soul.
According to this framework, the mind is the repository of sensory impressions. When you hear a sound, feel a sensation, see a sight, taste a flavor, or smell a fragrance, the sensory experience registers in your consciousness at a level of your being called manomaya kosha. The mind cycles through different states of consciousness, and your sensory experiences change with these changing states. The impressions that enter your awareness during a waking state are different from those generated during dreaming. Yoga reminds us that reality is different in different states of consciousness—different filters of the mind layer.
The second layer of the subtle body is the intellect, known as buddhimaya kosha. This is the aspect of mind that discriminates. Whether you are trying to decide what kind of toothpaste to purchase, which partner to choose, or what house to buy, your intellect is at work, attempting to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of every choice you make. This layer integrates information based upon your beliefs and feelings to come to a decision. According to yoga, the ultimate purpose of this intellectual layer is to distinguish the real from the unreal. The real is that which cannot be lost whereas the unreal is anything that has a beginning and end to it. Knowing the difference is the essence of yoga.
The third layer of the subtle body is the ego. The ego is known in yoga as ahankara, which means the "I-former." According to Shankara, the ego is that aspect of your being that identifies with the positions and possessions of your life. It is ultimately your self-image—the way you want to project who you are to yourself and to the world.
The ego is the boundary maker that attempts to assert ownership through the concepts of "I," "me," "my," and "mine." The ego seeks security through control and often has a deep-seated need for approval. Most emotional pain is the result of your ego being offended because something that it believed it had control over was actually outside your jurisdiction.
It is easy to become lost in the subtle body, with its attachments to roles, relationships, and objects, but Shankara encourages us to go deeper. Letting go of the body and letting go of the mind open the possibility of experiencing an aspect of your being that is beyond your usual limitations. This is the realm of spirit, which Shankara called the causal body.
The Causal Body—The Field of Pure Potentiality
According to yoga, underlying the field of molecules we call the physical body and the field of thoughts called the subtle body is a realm of life known as the causal body or the domain of spirit. Although we cannot perceive or measure this sphere of life, it gives rise to our thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires, and memories, as well as to the molecules that make up our bodies and the material world. Like the physical body and the subtle body, the causal body has three layers.
The personal domain of spirit is the layer where the seeds of memories and desires are sown. According to Shankara, each person arrives on this planet with a specific purpose and a unique set of talents. Given the right environment, the seeds sprout, and you become capable of expressing your gifts in the world. Although the modern material model of life suggests that their genes determine people's talents, we only have to look at identical twins to realize that the same molecular structure does not determine an individual's nature. Pregnant mothers report that even in the womb, different babies express different tendencies.
According to Shankara, every individual has a personal soul with its unique memories and desires. These memories and desires guide the course of your life. When you nurture the seeds of your innate gifts with your attention and intention, they sprout, and your personal soul finds fulfillment.
The second sheath of the causal body is the collective domain. This realm impels you to live a life of mythic proportions. The gods and goddesses that reside in the collective domain within your soul have one desire—to express their creative power through you. Each of us is on a heroic journey in search of the Holy Grail. Along the way, obstacles and challenges arise, forcing us to reach deeper into our being.
These collective aspirations are translated into the archetypal stories that people have been telling one another for millennia. For example, we learn the risks associated with the arrogance of power through the tragic story of Icarus. Ignoring the advice of his father, he flew too close to the sun, melted his waxen wings, and crashed into the ocean. If Bill Clinton or Martha Stewart had heeded the wisdom resonating in their collective domain, they might have avoided their foretold painful outcomes.
A woman who closes down when a relationship becomes too intimate is living the myth of Daphne who, overwhelmed by the pursuit of Apollo, is transformed into a laurel tree. A young man seeking to reestablish a formerly successful family business is reenacting the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The stories unfolding in our lives and those around us are perennial stories.
The mythic gods and goddesses are alive and well within our collective domain. We can see the expression of Queen Juno in the powerful women of our era—Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Hillary Clinton. The goddess of nature, Diana, shows her modern face through Jane Goodall and Julia "Butterfly" Hill. Venus made her most direct appearance via Marilyn Monroe, while Dionysus, the god of intoxication and excess, has a tendency to show up in the stream of people who require stays at the Betty Ford Clinic.
You are a living story. Become aware of the stories you tell about yourself and your world. Participate consciously in the writing of the next chapter of your life. Yoga encourages you to expand your sense of self to embrace the collective domain of your soul. This is where the deepest aspirations of humanity find fulfillment through the perennial stories we tell ourselves and our children.
According to Shankara, the deepest aspect of your being is beyond time, space, and causality, yet gives rise to the manifest universe. This is the universal domain of spirit in which all distinctions merge in unity. Having no qualities of its own, this field of pure potentiality manifests as the infinitely diverse world of forms and phenomena. The unbounded ocean of being disguises itself in the sheaths of the causal, subtle, and physical realms.
This nonlocal, unbounded realm is the source and goal of life. Yoga encourages us to bring our attention to this universal domain so that we become imbued with the deep stillness and creativity it represents. Then, even as we are engaged in dynamic activity, we retain the silence and centered awareness of universal spirit.
The vision of life as elaborated by Shankara is as useful today as it was centuries ago. For seekers of greater well-being, vitality, and wisdom, Shankara offers a map that ultimately leads to the soul.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program provides the technology to support this journey. Whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing for some time, we intend for this program to shift your awareness. Marcel Proust wrote, "The real journey of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes." It is our intention that the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program will enable you to see your environment, body, mind, and emotions from a new perspective.
This subtle shift in consciousness can be a powerful catalytic force for healing and transformation in your life. Try this program for a month, and you will see changes, not only in your practice of poses but also in your life as a whole.
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