Swami Paramananda Saraswati
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Once the body is protected from the elements by sound design and sustained by wholesome food, intensive practice of yoga may begin. Literally, yoga means union, the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Being, and may refer to most any practice leading towards this end. The Bhagavad Gita uses 'yoga' in this broad sense. In time, 'yoga' acquired a variety of technical meanings, often detachment from the physical world rather than union with anything higher. Nevertheless, when yoga is used without qualification, it usually refers to the specific practices systemized in the Yogasutra of Patanjali. Although the Yogasutra was probably completed during the Buddhist era in India, reference to the practices it describes are found in the most ancient of Sanskrit texts.
The Yogasutra contains not only a system of practices but also a philosophy to justify them. As such, it's one of the six classical Hindu philosophical systems. However, its philosophy is dualistic and is at variance with the overwhelmingly non-dualistic philosophy of the Upanisads, generally known as Vedanta. The Yogasutra treats the separation of the individual soul and the Supreme Being as if it were real, but Vedanta holds that this separation is only apparent. My line of teachers accepts and practices the methodology of the Yogasutra, but differs with its philosophy, and follows instead the philosophy of Vedanta.
The Yogasutra begins by declaring yoga to be "cittavrttinirodhah", (citta = mind; vrtti = transformations; nirodhah = cessation) "the cessation of the transformations of the mind". The mind continually imposes its concepts upon its experiences and molds them into its preconceived categories. This perpetual activity of the mind masks the underlying reality; the Beyond only dawns after the mind is brought under control. The thought process cannot be terminated merely by will, for willing not to think is itself a thought. Hence, the Yogasutra presents an indirect strategy for curtailing the vagaries of the mind.
The method of the Yogasutra is often called astanga yoga, literally "eight-limbed yoga", but more idiomatically "the yoga of eight parts, or eight steps". These eight are yama, (external) control, niyama, (internal) regulation, asana, posture, pranayama, control of the breath and the vital energies, pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation, and samadhi, the transcendental state. The exposition of the Yogasutra is terse. Literally sutra means "thread"; hence Yogasutra means "threads of yoga". The synopsis of yoga given in the Yogasutra must be adapted to the situation at hand. Commentators who wish to dictate rigid rules for the practice of Patanjali's yoga miss the spirit of his work. The conditions up here necessitate their own special adaptation. My practice here is not necessarily applicable to practice in other circumstances, but the flexibility with which this practice is molded to the situation may be emulated anywhere.
The first two steps, yama and niyama, govern a yogi's conduct, but they're intended to produce a tranquil inner state as well. Each of the two consists of adherence to five principles. The principles of yama are ahimsa, non-violence, satya, truthfulness, asteya, non-stealing, brahmacarya, sexual control, and aparigraha, non-accumulation. Each of these five has a triple application, to thought, to word and to deed.
Lexicographically, "ahimsa" is the Sanskrit negative prefix "a" attached to "himsa", harm or injury. Isolation simplifies its practice but thoughts of violence do persist even when other beings whom you may harm are few. Injurious thoughts lead to injurious words and injurious acts. Society fosters violent behavior. It rewards playing football in its schools. It forces men into war through its draft. It covertly encourages violence against dissenters.
Death permeates every corner of the universe. Each mortal body lives at the expense of others. With every breath, myriads of airborne microorganisms meet their doom. Rare is the bacterium that can thrive in the lungs and multiply to infect the body. No matter how carefully monks of certain orders sweep the ground before them, creatures too small to see remain to be crushed by every step. In its absolute sense, ahimsa cannot be achieved by any embodied being. Nevertheless, you may strive to eliminate violence from the conscious part of your behavior, and to expand your awareness as possible. Mice stranded here cannot survive. Thus, I must do my best to send them to lower environs and accept that as a consequence, some may die in my hands.
Your own body most immediately faces the consequences of your actions; ahimsa includes non-injury to yourself. Here, erroneous actions lead swiftly to self-injury. Mittens at times must be removed, but they mustn't be left off for too long, and above all, they mustn't be dropped. The body must be cleaned and must be exposed for this purpose, but it mustn't be allowed to get chilled. Climbing the high snow fields is beneficial exercise, but the self-arrest must be executed with precision after the inevitable slips.
Ahimsa may be cultivated through detachment from the world. By viewing the world as an dispassionate witness, the emotional reactions of hatred and anger which lead to violent thoughts and actions, wear themselves out and fall under control. A harmony with the world ensues in which neither do you intentionally do harm nor are you often harmed, and the residual violence, which is an unavoidable facet of existence, does not disturb you.
Satya, truthfulness, is a prerequisite for controlling the mind. The truth is one but lies are innumerable. A single lie generates a whole fabric of lies to support it and ensnares the mind in its web. Isolation aids satya, both because no one else is around to lie to, and because it protects you from entanglement in the lies of others. However, satya is a matter of thought, word and deed; it's still a trick to be truthful in thought and honest with yourself. At the beginning of my practice in India, a senior monk suggested that I keep a diary of my yoga practice. I started to do so and, although I had no intention of showing it to anyone else, I found myself writing lie after lie. I often sit back and watch the untruths mount in this book. Untruth enters the manuscript even in the selection of what to include. Simplification induces falsehoods; the brief statement I gave of the philosophy of the Yogasutra and its difference with Vedanta is just not true. At times, the truth can only be indicated through a series of falsehoods.
The photographs I take of myself, in which I attempt to pose relaxedly, as if I hadn't just completed a mad dash from my camera in order to beat the ten-second deadline of its self-timer, are fabrications, yet they're the only way that I can illustrate my life. Furthermore, most of my photographs are taken on the rare warm sunny days. Cameras which automatically record the time, date, aperture and exposure of a photograph are now on the market but so far, no camera has appeared which records the temperature when a photo is taken. Hence I take most of my photos when it's mild enough to handle the camera with ease; after setting the camera, I slip on my mittens and zip up my parka for effect. On the few occasions that I've tried shooting in colder weather, the results have been foggy photos caused by frosted lenses. The fabricated photos made on warmer days depict life in the cold better than the fuzzy ones of frigid times. Even the atmosphere of a storm is better captured either before or after, when it's relatively calm but clouds are hanging about the peaks, than while it's raging.
In fact, untruth is inherent in language. Language, by forcing raw experience into categories for which it has words, inevitably distorts experience. Even without language, the mind is perpetually transforming sense data into its own concepts, and thus coloring them. In the universe there's no absolute truth. The only absolute truth lies beyond the universe, is inexpressible in language, and dawns with the silencing of the mind.
Like absolute non-violence, absolute truthfulness cannot be maintained while acting within the world. It's best cultivated through detachment from the world, and by keeping fixed on the absolute truth beyond this world. As long as you identify with the absolute truth, the little lies which are inevitable to living in the body don't expand to disturb the inner tranquility. Society encourages its members to lie and governments require it. For a vagrant like myself, the lies begin on any government form when I'm required to give a permanent address.
Asteya, non-stealing, is likewise not fully realizable in a world where everything has been stolen many times over. Still, it remains a principle to live by. In ancient India, its application was easier. The yogis formed a body of mendicants who lived on alms, and alms were provided by the rest of the population. Of course, the yogis didn't always receive as much as they might have liked; the injunction against stealing both kept them from getting into trouble with their society and helped dispel covetous thoughts from their minds. More generally, asteya enjoins not only the stealing of material things, but all stealthful behavior. It allows the yogi to live openly and forthrightly, without fear of repercussion if his acts are discovered. Again, in ancient India, except for land under cultivation, all land was open for common use. The yogi could freely and openly live in the mountains, the jungles, the open land beside the rivers, or even in any vacant spot within the cities that he might happen to find.
On the contrary, in America, the yogi by his very nature is an outlaw. He can rarely even lay his body down to rest without trespassing, violating some local ordinance or confronting some Forest Service regulation. The whole land has recently been stolen from the Indians; whether he obeys or violates the law, he's involved in stealth. Yet, he may attempt to limit his involvement; this can best be accomplished by remaining far from society, within which taking the little he needs to thrive can have adverse consequences for him.
Brahmacarya, sexual control, has been interpreted in various ways, ranging from leading a restrained and regulated marital life, to total sexual abstinence. The sexual urge is one of the most pervasive of human drives; if it's not brought under control then meditation reduces to "Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by". Isolation from the opposite sex helps, but sexual thoughts, especially in the dream state, linger long after entering seclusion.
India has two traditions of renunciation. In one, renunciation is postponed until late in life, after a family has been reared and the children are grown. In the other, renunciation can take place at any time, and the sooner, the better. It's debatable whether the sexual impulse can best be curbed through its fulfillment or its immediate negation. From my observation, it seems that sexual thoughts are less likely to become bothersome in someone who has never had sexual experience, but that once these thoughts do become engrossing, someone with experience has an easier time of controlling them. Sex is the most overrated of human pleasures, especially in America, where anyone seeking to refrain from it becomes an outcast. Brahmacarya is best cultivated by staying a long distance from society. In India, the social norms make it difficult for a monk to violate his celibacy, but I've seen all too many Indian yogis fall soon after setting foot in America.
Although control of the thoughts is its key, brahmacarya also has its physical side, namely containment of sexual emissions. To some extent, these can be controlled by physiological means, through a carefully controlled diet with a minimal intake of salt, through regular patterns of sleep and through the practice of certain yoga postures, especially those that invert the body. Although physical mastery of the body aids in the mastery of the mind, the heart of brahmacarya remains detachment. Once sex is understood to be a bodily function and viewed with indifference, the sexual impulses that do arise no longer provoke the mind and disturb its tranquility.
Aparigraha, non-accumulation, like the other principles of yama, cannot be achieved in its absolute sense by an embodied being. Even monks who go naked and carry nothing with them, possess their food from the time it's placed in their hands to the time they put it in their mouths. The body itself is a possession and furthermore is a storehouse which saves its nutrients from one day to the next. Indeed, monks who go naked seem to have a more complex relationship with the world than monks who keep a few basic implements for simplifying their worldly life.
Aparigraha should be viewed as an injunction against needless accumulation, accumulation for its own sake, and not against mere possession of things. A balance must be achieved that's appropriate to the yogi's situation. Certainly, he'll need less in a tropical climate than in a frigid one, and less where food comes to him daily than where he's isolated and must keep enough to last a time. I've wandered through India with a blanket over my shoulder and everything else in a little bag. At times, especially after that winter in the Adirondacks when all my equipment seemed to fail at once, I've wondered if the mountain yoga I practice is too complex. But the equipage I bring has worked itself out. Even though I look aghast at the mound of stores in the cave in September, most of it is eaten by April, and the equipment that remains is nothing compared to the possessions of the people in the world below.
Again, aparigraha is best cultivated through detachment. Although you may require certain things for living in a given situation, you mustn't be attached to living in that situation. Then if some implement is lost or damaged, you either make do without, or else move on.
Thus, the five principles of yama, while never absolute, guide the yogi to a simple and harmonious relationship with his environment and free his mind from intrusive thoughts. Their cultivation leads him to keep his distance from society. Although this distance needn't be physical, physical distance certainly helps.
The five principles of niyama are sauca, cleanliness, santosa, contentedness, tapa, austerity, svadhyaya, study, and isvara pranidhana, living by God. While the principles of niyama are similar in spirit to the principles of yama, they're directed more towards regulating the yogi's personal conduct than his social conduct.
Sauca, cleanliness, has two aspects, external and internal. Externally it refers to bathing. India is a land of mighty rivers; at times ritual Hinduism seems to be a matter of travelling about, taking this bath here and that bath there. River confluences are especially auspicious bathing spots. Indeed, the greatest festival in India, the largest human gathering in the world, takes place by the Ganges at the river confluence near Allahabad, once every twelve years, at a time when a drop of the nectar of immortality is said to fall into the confluence. Known as the Kumbha Mela, it features ten million people trying to bathe at the same spot all at once. Lesser festivals, at which only few million come to bathe, are more frequent. In addition to making pilgrimages to join these mass baths, Hindus maintain a routine of bathing once or more per day. The traditions vary. Some won't eat until they've bathed that day. Some must bathe immediately after every defecation. For some, a bath isn't a bath unless they put on a complete set of fresh clothes.
Here, in the summer, I bathe on most days. I keep a few plastic containers of water out in the open in the hope that some sun will shine to warm them. If it does, I pour the warmed water over my body at a leisurely rate and clean myself thoroughly. Even if there's no sun, the water in the jugs warms a few degrees above the icy temperatures of the springs, and I can usually manage a quick bath in the shelter of a boulder that breaks the wind. Only on days when it's raining, hailing or snowing enough so I cannot dry myself properly, do I skip my bath.
In the winter, baths are few and far between. If the Board in India ever found out how infrequently I bathe, my yogi's license would surely be revoked. During October, when I still have sources of water, I manage to bathe five or six times. Afterwards, only on a rare sunny day, do I get a chance to clean myself a little by rubbing myself with snow. I often find myself fouler than I would like to be, but given the conditions, I think that the days I do manage to take a bath more than make up for the days I don't. However, the Board in India is dominated by the ritualists who wouldn't see things this way. Therefore, on days when it's sunny and calm enough not only to bathe but also to set up my camera and madly dash back and forth to it, I take plenty of pictures of myself, with snowy peaks in the background, standing on the snow and dumping water over myself, all in the hope that these will prevent the Board from realizing my usual condition.
Washing clothes is no problem either in the summer or in October while my water supply lasts, but afterwards, when water must be obtained by melting snow, I rarely do my laundry. In mid-winter, even when I do wash, it often takes a week or two for things like socks to dry. Thus, I find myself accumulating more and more clothes, letting a bigger and bigger bundle of clothes remain dirty at the end of the winter and washing them when I return during the summer. The fuel I must consume to wash a set of clothes, amounts to a substantial fraction of their weight.
Internal sauca refers to cleanliness of the body passages, particularly the digestive track. Indeed, "saucalaya", literally "place of sauca", has become the euphemism for toilet at railway stations and other public places in India. Unlike their American, counterparts, Indian railway stations also offer bathing facilities, but these are labelled "snan ghar", (snan = bath; ghar = house). Regular evacuation is considered the foundation of good health. Although the definitions of regularity vary, for some, once daily is sufficient but for others, twice daily is a necessity, each Hindu scrupulously maintains his routine.
Two precepts seem to be held by all; go early and go a distance before going. In rural India, this entails an early morning walk to some secluded place. Urban slum dwellers resent the lack of a suitable place; the unsanitary mess about the cities indicates the social breakdown of urban living rather than a lack of individual care. Even the wealthy in India, who have flush toilets and can design their houses as they wish, shun the notion of a toilet attached to their bedrooms and place their toilets away from their quarters, so outside air passes between them and it.
Here, going early and going a distance conflict in the winter. I do go outside whenever the weather permits, but that isn't very often. I go when I have to, and construct a toilet alcove away from my tent situated so the prevailing draft through the cave carries the odor away. In spite of the example of Mahatma Gandhi cleaning latrines with his own hands, carrying a bucket of shit would still be anathema to most Hindus. Since I have no lower caste servant about to do my dirty work for me, I cart my own bucket. During the early snows, one slope between the cave and the dumping place becomes quite steep; after a period of sun and wind, it may even be icy. One day in 1984, I slipped on this slope and went sliding down twenty feet on my butt, holding the bucket upright beside me, not spilling a thing. Again, in 1985 I slipped there and tried to repeat the stunt, but the slope was slicker. I lost control halfway down and shit went flying. I felt lucky that I hadn't gotten any on myself and went to work picking up the frozen brown lumps. Subsequently, in icy conditions, I've circled this spot. Fortunately, as the snow accumulates, the gradient there diminishes.
Defecation isn't considered complete without a thorough cleaning of the rectum with water. I accomplish this while my water supply lasts, but then must make do with lumps of snow, which with a little practice, do an adequate job. Americans have the same revulsion for rectal cleansing as Indians have for toting the bucket, but I've overcome the revulsions of both cultures, in these matters and others. Enemas, and the other cleansing practices that require large amounts of water, have a side effect of cooling the body and are inappropriate for conditions here.
Santosa, contentedness, means not letting yourself get irritated in unfavorable situations. In India, even if a yogi has been offered nothing but flat bread with salt or hot peppers for days, he must maintain his composure and keep up his practice. Here, no matter how desperate the situation may seem, whether I'm tenting outside the cave, buried under snow, with the poles bowing and with no idea how much more is yet to come, or whether I'm confined by the wind to the cave for a week, with the shit bucket full to the brim so I must carefully position my excrement to balance on top of the mound, I must maintain my equanimity and continue my meditation. Things do pass. If the situation is bad and something can be done, then by all means do it, but becoming irritated will never improve the situation.
By now it should be clear how inadequate one-word translations are for the principles of yama and niyama. Tapa, austerity, is the least translatable of all. Even in the Sanskrit, this word has a wide range of usage. Its scope includes extreme and painful practices such as lying on a bed of nails, but both the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita caution against these practices. True tapa is practice designed to prevent indulgence and the consequent straying of the mind from the goal of yoga, not the infliction of pain or injury upon the body, for reasons of penance or otherwise.
The Bhagavad Gita lists a number of practices as proper tapa; among these is silence. When in the company of others, a vow of silence keeps you from wasting much of the day in idle conversation. It also curbs emotional reactions like anger by preventing their verbal expression. In India, many monks maintain this vow. Some continue to write and carry pen and paper with them; others shun even this and rely solely upon gestures for their needs. Silence is also a hindrance to practice since it does make fulfilling your needs more complex. In India, if a yogi makes the simple gesture of moving his hand toward his mouth, people will understand the need and supply him with the proper kinds of food. There silence isn't much of a drawback, but in societies where the dietary and other requirements of a yogi aren't understood and the same gesture is more likely to elicit a plate of bacon and eggs than a bowl of fruit and yogurt, silence could be a real impediment. Ultimately, to speak when necessary and to remain silent when not, is a sounder practice than absolute silence. But for a beginner with a habit of gab, this may be too difficult to maintain and a vow of silence may be in order. People understand absolute strictures better than qualified ones and are more likely to respect an absolute vow of silence than a simple refusal to engage in frivolous chatter. The tapa that's appropriate depends upon the person and the moment, and will change in time. Nevertheless, masters often continue with a vow long after they need it for themselves just to set an example for their disciples.
For me, perhaps just living up here is tapa enough. Isolation from society limits the opportunities for indulgences and diversions. Some see my living here as tapa in the sense of subjecting myself to physical adversity, but this is contrary to fact. I live a simple, healthful, pleasant existence, removed, if anything, from the turmoil, pain and suffering of the world below. The physical stress to which I do subject myself, comes at the time of Breaking Away when I must carry heavy loads and then fight storms until I'm secure in my cave.
Svadhyaya, study, includes two sorts of practice, study of the scriptures and repetition of a mantra, this is, a sacred syllable, word, phrase or verse. Svadhyaya directs the intellect toward contemplation of the divine and keeps the mind from wandering to and fro. Here, except when heavy storms prevent sufficient light from entering my cave, I spend some time every day reading from the Upanisads or the Bhagavad Gita. In any circumstances, I spend the time that my food is cooking in chanting and recitation.
The final principle, isvara pranidhana, living by God, refer not to specific practices but to an outlook on life. God is the ruler of the universe. Although he has allowed man options this doesn't lessen His ultimate control; you must seek your peace in the universe that He has provided.
Yama and niyama form the foundation upon which the subsequent steps of yoga must build. Although their principles govern outer behavior, their effect is creation of inner calmness without which meditation is not possible. Their cultivation requires detachment and draws the yogi away from the company of others. Hence they attract but few; commercial yoga lessons usually ignore them and begin with postures, or even with an attempt at meditation.
* * *
In the Yogasutra, the discussion of asanas, the postures of yoga, consists of only three terse statements. Enumerations of specific postures aren't found until later works such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Of the three, the key statement is "Sthirasuhkamasanam", a compound of sthira, that is, firm or steady, sukha, pleasant or comfortable, and asana, proper posture. Thus, the reason to assume the contorted looking postures of yoga is not physical prowess or exhibition of the feat, but to achieve positions that can be easily and comfortably maintained for a length of time.
Asanas are practiced both for general health and well-being, and as postures for meditation. A different set of asanas is used for each purpose. The descriptions of the asanas in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is verbal rather than pictorial and furthermore is brief. Hence there's often disagreement as to precisely what position a Sanskrit word refers. Since Sanskrit words usually admit several English translations, the English nomenclature for the asanas is chaotic. Thus, it seems better to employ the Sanskrit terms, coupled as necessary with a descriptive word or phrase, than to attempt to translate the Sanskrit terms.
For meditation, the padmasana, the lotus position, sitting with legs crossed and both feet resting above the thighs, and siddhasana, sitting with both heels jammed into the crotch, are the preferred positions. Once mastered, they're the postures most easily maintained for hours on end. However, the sukhasana, the normal cross-legged sitting position with the feet under the thighs, and several others will also do. I choose my pose according to the circumstance. The padmasana is a compact position and thus conserves heat. In it, the broad surface of the thighs rests against the ground which makes it relatively easy find a to comfortable spot on an uneven surface. In the siddhasana, the thighs project out to the sides. This makes the body less compact so the body radiates more heat. The siddhasana requires a broader level surface for sitting. Both postures offer several choices of accompanying hand positions, with hands either resting on the knees, or folded together on the lap. Again, keeping the hands together on the lap brings the arms in close to the body and conserves heat.
While in India, I leaned towards using the siddhasana but here, especially in the winter, I rely mostly upon the padmasana. I sit with my legs crossed inside my sleeping bag, and with my arms close to my body. In exceptional cold, I draw my arms inside my parka. Unfortunately, I began my yoga practice after thirty, when my body had already stiffened. Although it's preferable to meditate using a single asana only, I'm unable to do so with comfort and occasionally switch positions.
"Asana" refers not only to the posture of the body, but to the place where the body sits. This too should be firm and comfortable. If possible, the same spot should always be used, as well as the same posture. In my summer cave, I have my spot at its front and sit there, except when ricocheting hail stones force me to sit in a cramped location further inside. In the winter, when the snow floor is forever changing its contour, I must shift along with it. Indeed, during the first day after I pack a new tent floor, if I sit for two or three hours in one place, I find myself sitting in a hole and must move to resume comfort. After the first day, the sinking is slower, but it still forces me to choose a new spot for each sitting. The siddhasana drills more rapidly into the floor than the padmasana; this is another reason why I use it sparingly in the winter. An occasional shift in posture or position is no serious interruption to meditation for the shift can be accomplished without leaving the meditative state.
The asanas for health and well-being are more numerous. On sunny summer days, I go to a level spot on the meadow, strip to my loin cloth and practice a long leisurely sequence of them. Even in the summer, warm sunny days are a minority; my practice is usually abbreviated. In particular, I've learned to rely heavily on the standing asanas. They can be performed on wet or irregular ground; I can do them in the breaks in the storms among the rocks in front of my summer cave. Enough stretching can be done using the standing asanas to maintain the limberness needed for fuller practice on sunny days. Inside the summer cave I can assume a few lying postures, but its low ceiling prevents any extensive practice. On the rare calm sunny days of winter, I take out a pad and practice on the snow in the open, but usually I must practice in the tent. The tent has a higher roof than the summer cave, but practice in it is still restricted.
The variety of asanas is astonishing, yet a few generalities pertain to their practice. The body should lock into each asana. Before an asana is mastered, you'll naturally be stretching to reach it and then stretching to maintain it, but that locking into a position of rest is the sign of mastery. Even during the learning period, the stretching should be gentle, unaccompanied by strain. Breathing should be slow, regular, and through both nostrils, which should be cleared as necessary before beginning practice. Even the tongue should be held in a fixed position, usually curled up against the roof of the mouth. The eyes should be open and the gaze fixed at one point. This point may either be external, a rock on a distant snow field or a speck of dirt on a wall, or part of the body, the navel, the tip of the nose or the point between the eyebrows. The mind should also be held fast and not allowed to wander. This is most easily accomplished through the mental repetition of a mantra coordinated, perhaps, with the breath.
A balance must be maintained in the asanas performed. A forward bend must be matched by a backward bend, a twist to the left by a twist to the right, a stand on one foot, by a stand on the other, and so on. How this balance is kept is a matter of taste. Some immediately follow a bend in one direction by a bend in the other, while others do all the bends in one direction at once and then follow with a series of bends in the opposite direction. Here, outdoor practice is always in danger of being curtailed by a sudden wind or a storm. Hence, I tend to alternate the bends, so an interruption won't leave me too far out of balance. Still, I make no strict rules and occasionally do two or three bends in one direction before reversing to the other. Between opposing bends, assume a neutral position for at least a moment; if necessary, stretch out flat on the back and rest. The overall pace at which asanas are performed ranges from slow motion with each asana held for a length of time to a quick, calisthenic-like rhythm. The pace I choose depends upon the weather. On a sunny day I take my time but with a storm moving in my pace becomes brisk. Yet, even when doing asanas rapidly, each asana must be held long enough to achieve its equilibrium.
The routine should include some time in an inverted posture. When the weather permits, I practice both the head stand and the shoulder stand. To hold the head stand safely for an extended time requires daily practice and a gradual buildup. Thus, even in the summer, I restrict my practice of it to a few minutes. In winter on snow, its practice is self-limiting because the head and elbows sink into the snow at uneven rates and the balance is soon destroyed. Anyhow, I can only attempt the head stand on the few days that I practice outside. Inside the tent I do the shoulder stand with my legs crossed in padmasana.
In winter, cold itself forces my practice to be brief. If possible, I first do some standing exercises outside of the tent. Then I enter my tent, sit with one leg extended and bend forward until my head touches it. I repeat with the other leg extended then with both legs extended, the pascimottanasana. Next I lie on my belly, curl upward into the bhujangasana, the snake pose, and then grab my feet and bend into the dhanurasana, the bow. I lie on my back and roll my legs over my head to form the halasana, and then arch my back into the cakrasana. I assume the sarvangasana with feet in padmasana, the shoulder stand with feet in lotus position. After this, I roll down without uncrossing my legs, arch my back and grab my toes for the matsyasana, the fish. This completes the fundamental practice, and I follow it with a number of sitting asanas. Heavy clothing is an obstacle to practice. When stripped, I can readily do the bandhapadmasana, the lotus with both hands reaching behind the back and holding the opposite toes, but I cannot do this in winter dress. I sometimes attempt the mayurasana, the peacock pose, but any posture which rests weight on the hands is tricky on snow. Dharmanath isn't the place to acquire virtuosity at asanas. In a climate like this, you must be content with a short routine that maintains general health and physical suppleness.
There are many variations on the asanas. Since the descriptions of them in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are brief, many arguments arise over which variant is correct. When I first stayed with my Guru in India, I was put in charge of a building dedicated to yoga instruction a block away from his ashram. I was to open the exercise hall at 6 A.M., close it at 8 A.M., and see that any newcomer received instruction. Instruction didn't consist of one person in front telling everybody else what to do, but was informal. Everyone would proceed with his own routine of practice, and the more experienced would spontaneously give the less experienced hints and pointers.
One morning, as I was doing my practice, a rubber-jointed yoga jock came by. He watched for a moment, and then came over to practice beside me. Every time I did an asana, he maintained it was wrong, and showed a different variant. Then he started doing some extreme asanas which were totally beyond me, and insisting that I try them. He never stopped gabbing and was a general nuisance. Later, when I went over to my Guru's ashram, my Guru asked me what I had learned from him. I recounted what had happened and said that I doubted that I had learned anything at all. My Guru laughed and said that whenever I meet anyone who insists on a single way of doing the asanas, I shouldn't argue but should try practicing his way. If I do so, I might learn something from him; because of his rigidity, he couldn't learn anything from me.
Another time, when I was travelling, I stayed with a Sanskrit scholar who was a practicing yogi and who spoke English fluently as well. He had much to offer. When we discussed the head stand, he talked of the points of the skull where the weight may rest. He stated that only one way of resting the head was proper and gave some cogent reasons to support himself. I had been resting my weight on a different spot, though I had never thought anything of it. I hadn't even noticed where my Guru places his weight when he practices, so I decided to ask him about this when I returned to his ashram. However, before I had finished stating the argument to my Guru, who by then had been doing the head stand daily for over fifty years, he interrupted and said that the head stand should be done in whatever position is most comfortable for the individual. He had heard the argument before and I've heard it since.
Here the cold forces variations in practice. In positions where I might otherwise hook a finger about my big toe, with stockinged feet I hold my foot with my hand. Whenever possible, I substitute a cross-legged for a straight-legged variation. At Dharmanath, if I'm to get any practice done at all, I must remain open and flexible about it.
Another practice I do at the same time as asanas is nauli krya, a churning of the abdominal muscles. Technically it's not an asana but one of the satkarmas, the six purification practices given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as preliminary to pranayama, the breathing exercises. However, it does loosen the abdomen and hence is beneficial if done immediately before commencing with asanas. It must be done with an empty stomach and small intestine, which means in effect, it must be done before eating any food that day. For this reason, it's rarely taught in American yoga classes, although it's perhaps the most beneficial to general health of all yoga practices. Asanas themselves are best done on an empty stomach, the emptier the better. Ideally they're done before eating anything that day but they may also be done a sufficient interval after eating. No rigid rule governs the number of hours to wait, for this depends upon what and how much was eaten, the specific asanas to be done, and the individual and his state of health on the given day. Here in the summer, if I'm stormed away from practice during the day, but a sudden clearing comes at dusk, I may try to limber up a bit.
Although conditions at Dharmanath are inimical to the asanas, they're conducive to the practice of pranayama, the yoga breathing exercises. Control of prana, the vital energy, is the object of pranayama and control of the breath is its method. Although many varieties of pranayama are described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and elsewhere, when pranayama is spoken of without further qualification, it refers to kumbhaka pranayama, a slow deep breathing with alternation of nostrils and retention of breath. Its general pattern is breath out through one nostril, in through that same nostril and hold; change nostrils; breath out, in and hold; change nostrils and continue with cycle after cycle in this manner.
The breathing is slow and deep. The thrust of each breath is down. The chest is expanded, but not thrown out. Instead, the diaphragm is pressed downward. The abdomen then expands but is not pushed out. The thrust travels further down toward the rectum. To keep the gut from being blown out the backside, this downward thrust must be met by an upward one. Known as the mulabandha, it's a tightening and drawing upward of the rectum. The two forces meet and create tremendous pressure at the base of the spine. While this is being done, an awareness should be maintained of what's happening in terms of the vital energies. The downward and the upward thrusts are physical manifestations of two of the five traditional divisions of prana. As they meet at the base of the spine, they stimulate an upward flow of energy along the spinal column.
Pranayama is dangerous if practiced improperly. At the outset, when you're merely enjoying the flow of breath through the body, any danger seems remote, but once you build enough pressure to unleash the first jolt of rising energy, the dangers become immanent. On the physical level, you may burst a lung or rupture your gut, or even cease to breathe altogether and expire. You may also release bursts of energy which if not properly channeled can burn the nerves and leave you in a catatonic state from which recovery may be difficult.
In pranayama the breathing must be smooth and the retention of breath, comfortable. Needless to say, the nostrils must be clear before commencing. Ordinarily, they're cleaned with water. If necessary, a cord may be passed through the nostrils to open them. Since here in winter, cleaning with water isn't feasible, I must rely upon running air through them. The inhalation should be complete, but not forced. At the outset, the temptation is to try to suck in every last molecule of air in order to be able to hold the breath as long as possible. However, it turns out that longer retentions are possible if you don't force in that last little gasp of air. Retention of the breath shouldn't be forced. Instead, the breath should be locked in using the jaladharabandha, a contraction of the throat, and held without effort. Exhalation should be slow, smooth and complete. If it isn't slow and smooth, then perhaps the breath is being held for too long. At the end of exhalation, the lungs should be collapsed, the diaphragm pulled up and the abdomen drawn in. The extra utility that yogis get from the air they breathe comes not so much from the additional volume they inhale, as from the thoroughness with which they exhale.
The durations of inhalation, retention and exhalation are ideally in a ratio of 1:4:2. For example, if about 4 seconds are spent on inhalation, then the breath should be held for about 16 seconds and exhalation should take about 8 seconds. However, too much has been made about maintaining precision in these ratios. At the outset, it helps to count while doing pranayama, at least until the rhythm is established. Thereafter, counting tends to keep the attention on the physical side of pranayama, which may be practiced without counting, just as long as the ratios are approximately correct. It may be helpful to keep count during the first few breaths, and then to continue without counting. Counting may be done to the tick of a clock or some other external measure, or it may be done internally. However, the mind is a great deceiver and, while counting in your head, your mind may begin to race uncontrollably. Thus, it may help to listen to some internal rhythm, such as the beating of the heart, which is considerably more regular than the mind's own pace.
Concentration should be directed while practicing pranayama. An excellent point for concentration is the collision point of the vital energies, the base of the spine. When currents of energy start moving up the spine, the point of concentration may either be kept fixed, or else be allowed to rise along with them. Alternatively, you may fix your concentration high along the nervous channel, even at the outset, and wait until the rising current of energy passes this point. Visualizations and conceptualizations may also be used during pranayama. If your inclination is cosmic, during inhalation, think of yourself as Brahma, the Creator, and visualize the creation of the universe; during retention, think of yourself as Visnu, the Protector, and visualize the eternal play of the universe; during exhalation, think of yourself as Siva, the Destroyer, and visualize the dissolution of the universe. If you wish to dwell on the nature of your own existence, then you may try a conceptualization propounded by Sri Ramana Maharshi: during inhalation, fix upon the mantra "koham", a compound of ka, who, and aham, I, "Who am I"; during retention, fix upon the mantra "soham", a compound of sa, He, and aham, I, "I am He", I and the Supreme Being are one and the same; during exhalation, fix upon the mantra "naham", a compound of na, not, and aham, I, "I am not", I am not this perishable body with its limiting adjuncts. [Footnote 1] Such visualizations and conceptualizations counter obsession with the mere physical aspects of pranayama, and may be used as needed.
At Dharmanath, roughly a third of the atmosphere lies below. [Footnote 2] This means that the duration of each cycle of breathing must necessarily be shorter than what's possible at sea level. As you climb from a lower elevation to a higher, you should reduce the duration of each breath, and increase it gradually from there. Under any circumstances, increases in pranayama, both of the duration of each cycle and of the number of cycles performed per day must be gradual, and kept within the bounds of smoothness and comfort. Decreases in pranayama should also be gradual. A sudden interruption of pranayama can produce withdrawal symptoms from tremors to worse. I find that if some unexpected circumstance forces me to skip a single day of pranayama, I can resume practice the next day as if nothing has happened. However, if I'm to travel to a city, or if I foresee some other reason why pranayama will have to be suspended or sharply curtailed, I gradually reduce pranayama over a period of about a week to half of what I had been accustomed. Then I'm able to cease practice without ill effect.
Needless to say, pranayama should only be practiced in a pure atmosphere. Pranayama is a purification process that opens the body's channels but at the same time, it leaves it susceptible to pollutants and infections. Here at Dharmanath, I must extinguish my candle before commencing with pranayama. I burn the candle in cold weather to unfrost the tent; although I can meditate with it burning, its paraffin fumes interfere with pranayama. I cannot ever see practicing in an urban environment. In a city, you may take a few deep breaths to maintain the elasticity of the lungs, but you shouldn't do pranayama with any intensity. Pranayama should also be suspended or curtailed while engaging in long strenuous activity. An afternoon climb to the rim of the cirque doesn't interfere with pranayama, but while I'm packing heavy loads, I restrict my practice of pranayama.
Extreme cold mandates caution in pranayama. Inside my cave at Dharmanath, the temperature never drops below zero, but while tenting in the Adirondacks, I've practiced in sub-zero conditions. The cold air would numb my nostrils but I found that if I pulled my wool hat down to cover my eyes and my nose down to the nostrils, the loss of heat through the outside surface of my nose was sufficiently reduced so inhalation of the frigid air wouldn't numb it. There must be some temperature below which pranayama is better not attempted, but I haven't yet experienced this point. Pranayama may also be dangerous in extreme heat. During my summers in India, I found that the only time I could attempt pranayama was just prior to dawn, a time I normally meditate. In the winter, I practice pranayama in mid-morning, towards the end of my routine. At either extreme of temperature, pranayama should be practiced with caution, and the practice reduced, if necessary.
Pranayama should only be commenced once the body is calm. A period of meditation beforehand will accomplish this. Here, I begin my practice with a few minutes of rapid breathing through alternate nostrils. This oxygenates the blood and ensures that the respiratory passages are clear. Gradually I slow the pace of breathing until I can insert the retention in a relaxed manner. I then practice kumbhaka pranayama for whatever length of time. I conclude my practice with a "reverse" pranayama, in which the breath is held out instead of held in. This practice aids the return to normal breathing. Six to twelve cycles of this suffices. The breath can only be held out with comfort for about half the time it can be held in. After pranayama is completed I meditate for some time.
While practicing pranayama in the Adirondacks, at times I would experience great bursts of heat. I would have to open my parka, discard my hat and shove aside my sleeping bag. However, these bursts of heat were often followed by intense chills while I would attempt to meditate after completing pranayama. I would have to bundle up in my sleeping bag and even then, it would be a while before my body would return to normal. The cause of my difficulty was that from reading, I had acquired the notion that production of heat was a sign of accomplishment in pranayama. Thus, at its first occurrences, I was attached to my generation of heat and inwardly was cultivating it. Eventually it reached the point where it could do me harm. The next reaction was fear at the first sign of heat, but this didn't help the situation. I cut my practice of pranayama in half and left the Adirondacks before the problem was resolved. The following two winters were spent in India. Then, during my first winter in Colorado, my desire to witness the effects of pranayama had waned. I treated any heat produced with indifference; soon my body began to regulate its heat on its own. The sweats and chills were over. The side effects of pranayama are numerous, but whenever side effects do occur, whether heat, or light or sound or jolts, they should be met with indifference. Pranayama is the great purifier. It opens up the internal channels and fortifies the body for the greater shocks that occur in the later stages of meditation.
* * *
The practice of the first four parts of astanga yoga is heavily conditioned by the environment. This is less so of the remaining four parts. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from their stimuli. As the practice of the first four parts advances, it occurs naturally, without any further effort. It may also be induced through certain visualizations, such as visualizing everything in the universe as receding away from you or visualizing yourself as being enclosed in an impermeable shell. Pratyahara induced in such ways has the disadvantage that it may block out stimuli which demand response. While I'm still in my tent pitched outside the cave, I may have to react to a sudden change in weather. With the naturally occurring pratyahara this is little problem. You may select in advance the stimuli that you'll answer. For example, a mother trying to sneak in a moment of meditation while her baby is napping may respond to a cry from the baby but ignore the ring of the telephone. This ignoring must be complete. If the phone does ring, the ear will still receive the sound and transform it into an impulse received by the brain, but there the chain must end. It must produce no secondary thoughts such as "I wonder who's calling ... I hope they've sense enough to call again later". There simply must be no response, internal or external. As long as you conceive of anything as other than yourself, pratyahara must be practiced; in the end, when through yoga practice you've realized that you are All, there'll be no other to respond to. Of course, living where there are few external stimuli to impinge upon the senses is an aid to pratyahara.
Dharana, concentration, is the focusing of the entire consciousness on a single, elemental pattern of thought, which may be an image, a sound, an image with a related sound, or an abstract idea. This doesn't exhaust the possibilities; you could also concentrate upon a scent. Since sight and sound are the keenest senses in man, the thought pattern chosen usually involves them. The image or sound should be fixed at one point, either external or internal to the body. Examples of related images and sounds that together may constitute a single elemental thought might be an image of a Deity together with Its name, or a point of light together with the sound "aum". Even a mantra can be employed for dharana in many different ways. For example, with the famed mantra "soham", "I am He", you may concentrate on the sound of the mantra without its concept, or you may concentrate on the concept without listening to its sound, or you may concentrate on both the sound and the concept simultaneously. It doesn't matter much on what you concentrate, just so long as whatever you concentrate upon is agreeable to you. It's important that you stick to concentration on the same thought and don't aimlessly change from one thought to another. Dharana is practiced both to control the mind while doing asanas and pranayama, and as a preliminary to meditation.
Dhyana, meditation, is the unbroken flow of a single thought. In English, the word "meditation" has a wide range of meaning. Most often, it refers to either a systematic logical sequence of thought upon a topic or a connected flow of ideas that happen to enter the mind. When I describe dhyana as the thinking of a single thought, people often say its the opposite of what they mean by meditation. Nevertheless, the Sanskrit word "dhyana" is highly specific. Many of the practices taught in the West by yogis as meditation aren't dhyana in Patanjali's sense, although they may be beneficial in their own right.
Dhyana may be thought of as an extended period of dharana, but there's an essential difference between the two. In both dharana and dhyana, intruding thoughts interrupt the concentration. While you're still at the stage of dharana, you may have to check the intruding thought and consciously refocus your attention. Once you've achieved the state of dhyana, the return is automatic. If an intruding thought occurs, the mind springs back by itself, without any refocusing effort on your part. With most standing dolls, if they happen to be knocked down, you must go over to them to erect them again. However, some dolls, with weights hidden in their bases, when knocked over, stand up by themselves. Such is the difference between dharana and dhyana. Except for some extraordinary individuals, dhyana is only attained after considerable practice of dharana.
Dhyana is a single thought state of the mind. Ordinarily, when the mind falls away from dhyana, it reverts to a state of many thoughts. However, after intense practice of dhyana, the mind may happen to fall from it into a state without thought but in which consciousness is preserved. Such a state, a transcendental state, is known as samadhi. The Yogasutra distinguishes many levels of samadhi, ones in which consciousness of a distinction between self and other still remains, and the one in which this distinction too dissolves.
Attachment to dhyana and its side effects is an obstacle to reaching samadhi. Some of the side effects of dhyana are the bodily jolts and jerks which may even occur during dharana, before the attainment of dhyana. If these are taken as a sign of achievement and are cultivated, they'll obstruct further progress. In group practice, such physical manifestations are contagious, especially as competition develops in their display. On the other hand, attachment to quietude itself is an obstacle which may lead to a senseless state, jada samadhi, literally "dead samadhi" in which all consciousness ceases and which isn't really samadhi at all. In jada samadhi you may remain motionless for long periods of time. Most public exhibitions of samadhi are, in fact, only jada samadhi.
The internal world is as tantalizing and deceptive as the external world. During dhyana, a plethora of sounds and lights and feelings of bliss arise. Attachment to any of these will impede further progress. The state of dhyana is itself very satisfying and may be misconceived as the ultimate state. However, as long as anything still is being conceptualized, that is, as long as the lights, the sounds and other internal phenomena are being categorized as such by the mind, the Beyond has not been reached. The practice of yoga may also lead to occult powers. These are enumerated at length in the Yogasutra, but with the warning that their utilization is an obstacle to further progress. In the blaze of yoga experience, it's all to easy to forget the object of yoga, cittavrttinirodhah. The exotic phenomena of yoga are mere impositions of the mind. If ignored, they run their course. Then dawns the Beyond, devoid of sensation, devoid of experience. Not all recognize the annihilation of experience as the goal of yoga. The practice of yoga for its psychic kick is certainly more popular in the West.
Of the many translations of the Yogasutra, my favorite remains Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda. [Footnote 3] Although it's not the most erudite, it truly captures the spirit of the work. I recommend reading Hatha Yoga by Theos Bernard, [Footnote 4] rather than a translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika itself. In its footnotes, this book contains translations of much of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and related works; its text contains invaluable information about the practice in particularly lucid form.
* * *
At Dharmanath, the dead of winter is the time for yoga. The days are short. For two months, even at midday, my cave is in the shadow of the cirque. At times I've been stormed in for days on end. There are days when I go to the end of the entrance tunnel, poke a hole through the snow blocking it to investigate what's happening outside, and see the snow start coming in so furiously, that I quickly plug the hole. If I would try to force my way out on a day when conditions are too bad for me to be able to clear the snow from the entrance, the next time I tried to go out, I would be faced with snow packed during my futile attempt instead of loose snow. On some days, all I can do is get out, clear the snow from the entrance, get back inside the tunnel, and wall off the end of the tunnel with blocks of snow to keep fresh snow from drifting in. On other days, the best I can do is to make a circuit around the boulders which form the cave. When the wind is strong, it finds its way through the little gaps between the snow and the rock. Gradually it erodes and widens these channels until it carries a dust of fine powdered snow into the cave. If I can make it around to the back of the cave, I do my best to plug any channels I find. A strong wind can undo my plugging within half a day, but at least I earn a little time when I can move around inside the cave without getting coated.
Even on days when I cannot maintain myself outside, I still find tasks to do inside like enlarging my tunnels or removing drifted snow but these don't fill the day. If I must wall off the end of the tunnel to keep out drifting snow, it becomes too dark inside the cave to read or write. Asanas take up little time. Even in the summer, I rarely spend an hour at them. When I practice in the tent, I spend between ten and thirty minutes. This time depends upon the temperature; the number of minutes that I practice approximates the temperature inside the cave in degrees fahrenheit. The toes limit the practice; much as I specialize in postures which shield the toes, sooner or later I must put them inside the sleeping bag. At times I've built up to doing several hours of pranayama, but I've found for myself that practicing it for more than an hour doesn't give me any additional benefits and merely cuts into the time I have for dhyana. Thus pranayama rarely takes more than an hour. Dhyana is the heart of practice here; it consumes both day and night.
In winter at Dharmanath, the opportunities for indulgence are few, yet the mind grasps desperately at the ones there are. I believe that the possible indulgences are eight in number, namely, eating too much, sleeping too much, pouring too much fuel on the stove to ignite it, endlessly fiddling with the candle, compulsively cleaning the glasses, sliding too fast down the snow fields, shouting at the rodents and thinking.
I reckon that I can reduce my food consumption by 10%, if I would simply eliminate the obvious episodes of overeating. For example, there are days when a climb to the rim of the cirque is harder and takes longer than anticipated. Then I do need two or three handfuls of nuts when I return in the evening, but sometimes the consumption reaches eight or ten handfuls before I stop. If I were to measure every morsel of food I eat, I might be able to reduce my intake by as much as 20% without losing weight, but this would require constant attention and planning which would be a distraction. The 10% reduction would require only a bit more discipline at the moments in question. The thought of the effort required to carry food up keeps the overeating from getting too far out of hand.
Sleeping too much is the complement of eating too much. However, overeating takes place in the state of awakeness with awareness of what's happening, while awareness of oversleeping dawns only after the fact. An alarm clock would help control oversleeping but would be an additional gadget requiring perpetual attention. Oversleeping is usually the consequence of some other laxity, such as overeating, neglecting to re-level the tent floor or failure to get sufficient physical exercise. If everything else is within bounds, sleep usually regulates itself. Lethargy and difficulty gaining concentration follow oversleeping; the unappealing nature of these consequences keeps sleep within bounds.
To ignite my stove, I pour some fuel on it and strike a match. The resultant blaze is often my first warmth of the day. If I neglect to pour on enough fuel, the stove either fails to ignite, or else burns for a long time with a very low flame while it builds pressure. If I give it a slight excess of fuel, the stove starts with a roaring flame and the heat dries the frost off my tent. The burning gas does produce fumes, but they come a moment after the burst of warmth that hits as I touch a match to the fuel-covered stove. The indulgence comes when I pour on more than just a little extra fuel. Then flames leap high from the stove, and a healthy hit of heat sends waves of pleasure through the body. Finally there have been times when I've spilled on more fuel than is necessary for this pleasure. I haven't yet succeeded in burning down the tent, although I've made some commendable attempts to do so. When I ignite my stove, I do have a pot full of snow waiting to be melted; I've had occasion to dump it over the stove to extinguish the flames. This makes a mess of water and slush that must be sponged up. The thought of these messes, plus the thought of the real mess that I would be in if the tent, and probably the sleeping bag along with it, ever did catch on fire, keeps me from pouring on more fuel than necessary, most of the time. While the stove is burning, it does warm the tent, but the burning stove fails to match its ignition's first flare of radiant heat.
The candles I use are the fat stubby ones, sold either as food-warming candles or as votive candles. Either type is stable and burns for a long time. However, they're designed to be used at temperatures well above freezing. At freezing they still burn well, but as the temperature descends into the twenties, instead of burning all their wax, they burn only a cylinder of wax around their wicks. As the temperature drops further, this cylinder becomes narrower. Thus, I occasionally push the unmelted wax in towards the wick. Furthermore, these candles seem intended to be lit once and then burned to the end. I frequently light and extinguish my candles. Each time I do this, a piece of wick burns off. If I do so too often, then the wick begins to drown itself a few minutes after I light the candle. Then I must pour off some wax to get it burning. The candles never seem to be able to burn up all their wax so I save the residual wax to melt into the next candle I light.
The attraction of pouring excess fuel to ignite the stove is the burst of heat; the attraction of fiddling with the candle is man's inherent fascination with fire. Man's instinct is to nurture flame; I find myself pushing in wax or making other adjustments even when unnecessary. When I get carried away with my fiddling, sooner or later I do something to the candle which puts it out. This returns me to my senses and curbs the indulgence.
Most of the time that I'm in the tent, my glasses are off and are kept in a corner of the tent. There they become cold and often frosted, so they must be cleaned before putting them on. If I put them on cold, without warming them, my breath condenses on them. Therefore, before donning my glasses, I take them into my sleeping bag and rub them with my waist cloth, both to remove dirt and frost and to warm them. A thorough rubbing is necessary, but then how easy it is to get carried away with that warm, soft, gentle rubbing motion. Furthermore, cleaning my glasses gives me a few extra moments within the warm confines of my sleeping bag, before I must head out into the cold external world. But, the days are short and sooner or later I realize that if I don't stop massaging my lenses, it soon will be too dark to see in any case. So, I boldly slip on my spectacles and the indulgence is ended, but not always. Indeed, I've fallen asleep while ostensibly cleaning my glasses, rolled over on them and broken an ear piece. Furthermore, after I catch myself giving my spectacles an extraordinary rub, I sometimes get lost in thinking of a suitable name for this disorder, more poignant than "opticomania".
Humans by nature are motion freaks; they're enthralled by motion without exertion. Babies wish to be rocked in the cradle or carried about in the arms. Children love swings and slides, and as they grow older, seek the greater swoops of carnival rides. Adults get their hits of motion so frequently in automobiles and other conveyances that they lose awareness of its kick. Part of the fascination of cinema and television is their simulation of motion.
To realize what motion does to your head, you need to go cold turkey on motion. I inadvertently did so when I was in Nepal and happened to pass eleven months without seeing a road. During this time I did take two extended treks to the Himalayas, but that was motion with effort. All the rivers that I encountered on these treks were bridged. Towards the end of these eleven months, I went to visit the next district to the east and had to take a ferry across a river that wasn't bridged. In Nepal, the rivers are swift. A ferry, crossing a river a few hundred feet wide, is often carried a quarter-mile downstream, and must be towed up along the shore for its next crossing. This ferry was my first effortless motion in months and boy did I notice its high. At the end of these eleven months, when I finally went down to the plains and boarded a bus, the effect was overwhelming. I can only imagine what the Nepalis, whose first trip to the plains may come as adolescents or adults, must feel on their first ride.
At Dharmanath I go for months without seeing a road, but I do have the snowfields and gullies down which to slide. There are straight runs of up to a thousand feet; I can zoom from the rim of the cirque back to the cave in a very few minutes. The tops of these runs are steep and force me to break strenuously with the spike of my ice axe. This is motion with exertion and fails to give the kick. However, as I get lower, the incline lessens and I start letting myself go. It's easy to be carried away by this effortless motion, especially since the weather keeps me from experiencing it too often. But, still lower, I usually encounter a stretch of slick windswept snow. If I hit this at too fast a clip, I'm jarred back to my senses and must quickly roll into a self-arrest. If I ever were to fail at this maneuver, the consequences could be fatal; this thought keeps me from sliding out of control too often.
The first six indulgences are excesses of some necessary activity. I must eat, sleep, ignite the stove, adjust the candle, clean my glasses and, when I'm up on the rim and see a storm blowing in, slide down into the cirque at the fastest safe speed. The final two indulgences are not of this sort. I've tried shouting at the rodents to scare them away. However, they return in a few minutes, so I cannot justify my verbalizing to them. Man is a gab addict and my communication with the rodents is nothing but a manifestation of this addiction. The factor limiting my talk to the rodents is my insane notion that I must address them in German. The last time that I was in Germany was in 1977, and that was only for a few days. Needless to say, my German is weak. The eradication of this indulgence comes with the deportation of rodents themselves.
Undirected thinking is the most pernicious of all indulgences. No matter how tightly the body is confined, in an instant the mind can circle the universe and travel to the furthest reaches of time. Furthermore, if this universe doesn't satisfy it, it creates others and others in its interminable quest. The only remedy for this indulgence, and ultimately, for indulgence itself, is the knowledge that its consequence is death upon death.
1. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanasramam, 1984. [Return]
Altitude Atmospheric Boiling Point
From Sea Level Pressure of Water
m. ft. mm. of % of øC. øF.
mercury Sea Level
0 0 760 100 100 212
500 1640. 716.0 94.2 98.3 208.9
1000 3281. 674.1 88.7 96.7 206.1
1500 4921. 634.2 83.4 95.0 203.0
2000 6562. 596.3 78.5 93.4 200.1
2500 8202. 560.2 73.7 91.7 197.1
3000 9843. 526.0 69.2 90.0 194.0
3500 11483. 493.4 64.9 88.3 190.9
4000 13123. 462.5 60.9 86.7 188.1
4500 14764. 433.1 57.0 85.0 185.0
5000 16404. 405.4 53.3 83.3 181.9
5500 18045. 379.1 49.9 81.7 179.1
6000 19685. 354.1 46.6 79.9 175.8
6500 21326. 330.6 43.5 78.2 172.8
7000 22966. 308.3 40.6 76.6 169.9
7500 24606. 287.3 37.8 74.8 166.6
8000 26247. 267.4 35.2 73.2 163.8
The decrease in atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes dictates a decrease in the duration of pranayama. Although there's no strict formula for its reduction, at first reduce the retention of breath in rough proportion to the decrease in pressure; then let comfort be the guide.
3. Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, [Return]
4. Theos Bernard, Hatha Yoga. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944. [Return]
Continue to Chapter 6.
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