I’ve done it!
Yes, on Saturday, 94 days after I made a commitment to complete a forty day sadhana, I did my forty days in a row.
After a couple of false starts, I was back into it and truly committed. I’d failed once, and knew this time what it took to complete the sadhana. Every day when I woke up, one of my first thoughts was, “When am I going to do my sadhana?”
It became the one concrete action in my day that everything else had to bow down to – and this was good.
I looked forward to those eleven minutes (so achievable, barely the length of two add breaks or two songs.) I never knew what I would experience went I sat down to do Sodarshan Chakra Kriya, which consists of silently chanting a mantra – Mahay Guru – 16 times with the breath held in, and pumping the stomach three times to each chant. Not forgetting, of course, the 90% closed eyes focusing on the tip of the nose…
Sounds complex, but once you get the rhythm, it flows, allowing you to sink beneath the surface of the usual ego and mind concerns and start to observe the flow of prana within the body as it goes about its awakening process.
And that’s an incredible thing.
I first observed prana flowing in my body in late 2000 but had no idea what it was. At the time, I was beginning to spend more time meditating, as well as practicing yoga sporadically. I’d been to see a healer in Maui in mid-2000 and had my first heart opening experience, which is when I suspect my prana was awakened within.
As Yogi Desai of Kripalu says:
When prana awakens, it has an intelligence all its own and will make your mind and body so some pretty strange things. In yogic terms, this process of awakening prana is called purification.
Awakened prana has the effect of a detergent on your whole being and will leave you balanced, if you let it do its thing. If you try to stop it, you will be left with your fears and blocks as before.
If you surrender to the flow of energy as you experience it naturally, it will always bring you into a harmonious relationship between body and mind.
Of course, back in 2000, I had no idea about any of this. No yoga teacher I was practicing with ever mentioned prana, and when I cautiously asked a few delicate questions about some of the things I was experiencing, they didn’t ever suggest that this energy I was feeling in my spine was prana. But it was exactly as Yogi Desai says.
I would lie in the bath, warm and relaxed, and feel this sensation rise up to my spine until it hit a “block”, it would then begin to move slowly around my body in different directions as if searching for something. If I surrendered to it, letting it move my body as it willed, it would seek, and seek, and seek until… CRACK. Something would pop and open and release.
And then it would begin all over again from the base of my spine, next time reaching a millimetre or two higher before it hit the next block.
Back then, it was rising only into my lumbar spine, barely getting out of my sacrum. The movements of the body were small, and I don’t recall making any connection to the thought processes of my mind. Perhaps there was something going on, but I wasn’t adept enough to witness it. Later, the physical releases would be accompanied by profound insights into my psyche, healing moments of the mind as an old idea was revealed as being untrue.
Over the last eight years, Prana has lead me on a fascinating journey. I wasn’t something I ever discussed with anybody, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. Instead, I observed, paid close attention, and trusted that whatever it was that was spontaneously moving and jerking my body was a good thing. Always knowing, that somehow, this was a part of Yoga.
And these spontaneous movements from within are a part of Yoga.
The yoga that most people practice is usually externally imposed. That is, they see a posture and attempt to move their body into that posture based on what they see, or the instructions they hear. This is where yoga begins for most people.
But it is not where yoga ends. The purpose of this style of practicing is to awaken Prana so it can then take over the practice and lead the yogi through whatever asana is necessary to provide that yogi with balance in his or her mind and body. When you surrender to Prana, it can take you into a timeless state of consciousness. Yogi Desai founded Kripalu Ashram in Pennsylvania for the sole purpose of teaching about the awakening of prana as the basis for yoga practice (although, for various reasons, he later changed the way yoga was taught at Kripalu.)
This is where I now feel confident about taking my students too. When I practice at home, it does not look like any class you are likely to have attended. Sometimes the movements are excruciatingly slow as prana goes about its dance within, seeking out blocks, doing what it needs to do. Sometimes the movements are jerky and rapid. Always, always, always, I am connected to my breath and witnessing the process.
Now, when prana moves about my body, it’s working primarily on the upper thoracic spine and my hips. These two areas of the body are intimately connected. It’s also started moving through my jaw which is a fascinating process to watch. At certain times, I find my tongue curling right up into the roof of my mouth as if I am stretching its underside. What on earth would one call a tongue asana? But there it is, curling of its own volition, and feeling ‘right’.
The awakening of Prana within hasn’t just been about the physical body. There has also been a psychological process, which has at times been harrowing. There has been a stripping away of the defences of the ego, the illusions of the mind. It wasn’t until I read Stephan Cope’s book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, that I found an explanation for what I was experiencing. It was a great relief. Finally! Someone else – a psychologist no less – had experienced this process and was able to articulate it.
Since then I have also found Self-Awakening Yoga, The Expansion of Consciousness through the Body’s Own Wisdom – written by another of Kripalu’s senior teachers, Don Stapleton. He also articulates the process whereby the innate intelligence of the body becomes one’s own personal yoga teacher, this time coming from the perspective of creativity (he was an art teacher with a PhD in the process of creativity).
This understanding of what was happening within my yoga practice led to my decision on January 1st of this year to commit to a sadhana. I was finding the psychological aspect of the process difficult, and once I’d read more about it, realised it was time not only to surrender to it but to support it.
It was time to do what I needed to do in order to purify and strengthen the process.
Sodarshan Chakra Kriya is extraordinarily powerful – of that, I have no doubt because I have personally experienced its effects. I have watched the change in my ability to witness my thoughts and emotions, and thereby choose my responses to situations. It has not been an easy journey in any way, shape, or form. I have had to learn to accept myself as a whole person – I have had to understand the nature of duality.
And I do.
I get it.
Except in the moments when I forget, and get sucked into the drama of life, and forget. In those moments, I don’t get it at all.
But because I am practicing this sadhana every single day, the length of time that I drop down in the drama and get swept away by my emotions and thought patterns have become shorter and shorter. I am almost able to observe the descent, and just that observation gives me the nano-second I need to shift away from reacting back into observing, and I am able to begin the ascent back into clarity. Practising this sadhana helps me climb out of the duality of good and bad, and into the space of creation where instead of reacting to life, I can create life.
It is an extraordinary process. It has given me a completely different perspective on the nature of life, and on the nature of reality. It is a perspective that I am still integrating. I notice a new inclination towards strength and power that has a tendency towards arrogance. Or perhaps that arrogance was always within, but previously I wasn’t noticing nor identifying it.
For example, teaching a class the other day of mainly beginning students, I was observing their complete non-presence within their experience. Eyes darting all over the room, hands arched and fingers glued together in downward dog. Feet on odd angles. It seemed that no matter how many times I reminded the students to engage hasta bandha – that is, to keep the fingers spread and the palms flat to the mat… they would forget ten seconds later. I watched myself as I got angry.
God damnit! Pay attention! Do it!
This was a moment of internal dialogue as I taught the class. It was fascinating to watch this reaction within myself. I’d never felt myself get angry at students before. But I did. For a moment. And then it was gone. All the while, I’m calmly talking them through the class as I usually do.
My observation of this anger is the yogic process at work. We are aware of ourselves in all of our duality. Nothing is repressed or blocked, yet it is not necessarily expressed or played out. I did not think badly of myself for my internal reaction. I did not think badly of my students for having weak, inactive hands. On the contrary, their hands triggered a reaction in me that showed me something about myself. So it is that the world works.
Today is the first day I don’t have to do my sadhana. Instead, I am going to take a long block of time on my mat to see where Prana takes me. I am open to beginning another forty sadhana, and will when it comes to me. Having observed myself over the last week or so, I suspect that a balancing sadhana will have something to do with compassion, kindness, heart, joy, beauty and lightness. Maybe creativity and delight 🙂
It is an extraordinary world that we inhabit, and I feel blessed to have been given the tools and the tests necessary to deepened my understand and experience of it.
And of course, it always gives me great pleasure to be able to share my observations of my experience with the world via this website.
What a wonderful thing that is!
Read the first posts in this series here:
- Committing to a Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya
- Day 1 to 7: Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya
- Day 8 to 14: Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya
- Day 14 to 21: Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya
- Day 22 to 31: Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya
- Day 32 to 35: Forty Day Sadhana of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya