Using the Yogic Paths During Times of Unsettlement:
Rājā mārga is also known as the royal road to uniting of mind-body-spirit (Yoga). It is also often translated as the path of meditative sādhanā (practice). Rāja may encompass any of these techniques – observing thoughts, centering the mind through breath awareness, reflecting on the various levels of the mind, or coming to an understanding of a past impression, saṃskāra.
When one embarks into meditative practices first efforts are likely to encounter impatience, boredom and/or ego-based attachments, often associated with a variety of fears. Meditative practices as svādhyāyā, the discipline of self-effort and study, provide a space for the routine investigation into surrendering our attachments and facing fears. A commitment to regular sādhanā allows for an expansion of consciousness. It illuminates an understanding of self as more than the just a body/flesh suit.
In reflective practices one comes to see how a saṃskāra, also translated as a habitual habit, can prompt a need for sensory fulfillment. Imagine it is the end of a long day of work and you come home what is your habit for unwinding? Do you consciously reflect on this action or is it merely a habit?
When kāma (desire), an associate of habitual habits, creeps into the mind one may become disappointed or express anger if it goes unfulfilled. For example, if you are someone who likes to go out and about each weekend, meeting friends, and embarking on adventures the current situation of being requested to not do these things may fuel your desires even more. The experience may invoke a lack of fulfillment resulting in an unwillingness to consider alternatives. It may even lead to full-on anger at the situation, looking for someone to blame.
Swami Sivananda, world renown Yoga philosopher, notes another mind temptation, the hidden ego. “The hidden ego is ready to fill those corners which are not so enlightened.” He provides this example of ego’s trickiness.
We are practicing a beautiful sādhanā. But we soon become attached to the way we practice our āsanaand how beautiful we feel. Suddenly, the whole world is no longer as pure as we are. Everything is beneath us. ‘Oh Gosh, this person still smokes! It smells!
He continues to point to how arrogance rises up challenging the power of our meditative sādhanā. Best intentions are replaced by māyā, the illusion of life pulling at us. If the whole of our concentration is more on the physical body the ego is quick to identify any potential loss associated with the somatic attachment. Every cough or heightened temperature one becomes afraid. An immediate assumption of disease easily sets in, especially in the current circumstances.
“The negative emotions you feel have an impact on your heart – and your health,” says counseling psychologist M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D. For better health and reduced stress, Dr. Cunningham suggests a practice I often use with my private Integrative Health Coaching clients, the three-part breath.
Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor or sit on the floor in a comfortable seating position.
Place one hand on your chest gently and the other on your belly.
Inhale through your nose and let your lower belly expand,
Notice the length of the breath as it comes in and out, you can count…
1-hippopotamus, 2-hippopotamus, 3- hippopotamus as you fill up
Do the same for the exhale noting its length as well.
Repeat this 3-5 times.
If you have more breath at any point draw it up into the middle of the torso…
and even the lungs if possible, this is the complete three-part breath.
When exhaling with the full the three-part breath empty from the top down – lungs, torso and then belly.
Pause a moment before inhaling again.
Do this full process for up to three minutes.
On the next Inhale when you have filled up allow a space in the action. with the throat soft, before releasing slowly through the mouth.
Adding a gentle contraction to the stomach at the end of the exhale assists in expelling all of the breath.
Repeat for 8- 10 minutes.
Finish this meditative prāṇāyāma sādhanā with 2 minutes of regular breathing.
This practice is especially helpful for surfacing anxiousness. You may wish to notice and track how you feel post-practice compared to when you began the session to see impact of your focus.
When starting a reflective mind practice consider starting with the first piece of saṃ-yama. (the collective term for the meditative path): dhāraṇā (concentration). The three-part breath practice above is a great starting point. Softly focused, concentrative practices begin the process of psychological absorption eventually leading to dhyāna (meditation) and beyond.