When we are struck by a personal tragedy we try to understand the cause of our misfortune and ask the question “Why me?” We see others going about their apparently normal lives and we feel bewildered, isolated and alone in the midst of our confusion and pain. We ask ourselves “Is there a reason for this or I am the victim of cruel bad luck?” According to yoga there is no such thing as blind chance or accident and if our finite mind is not able to find the cause of an event, it does not mean that it is accidental.
Swami Vishnudevananda says: “The word ‘karma’, from the Sanskrit root ‘kri’, signifies action or deed, whether physical or mental. Karma is the sum total of our acts, both in the present life and preceding ones. Karma means not only action, but also the result of the action… Wherever there is a cause, an effect must be produced. A seed is a cause for the tree, which is the effect. The tree produces seeds, and becomes the cause of the seeds. The cause is found in the effect and the effect is found in the cause. This is the universal chain of cause and effect which has no end. Everything in nature obeys this law of cause and effect. The laws of gravitation, cohesion, attraction and repulsion, the law of like and dislike… From the vibration of an electron to the revolution of a planet, from a mango falling to the ground to the powerful willing of a yogi… all these are the effects of invisible forces that work in concord with the law of cause and effect. No event can occur without having a cause. The breakout of a war, the rise of a comet, earthquakes, floods, diseases of the body, fortune, misfortune, all have a definite cause behind them.”
From this perspective nature or God neither punishes or rewards. No one is to be blamed. It is just the unceasing precision and scientific accuracy of this law at work. However, if we take an individual life as an isolated event that begins with the birth of the physical body and terminates with its death, we cannot find any correct explanation or solution to the affairs of life. Swami Vishnu again reminds us that our present life is momentary, a mere fragment, when compared with our whole soul-life. Life does not end with the disintegration of the physical body. There is reincarnation. There have been countless previous lives whose imprints (DNA?), if we could decode and understand them, would give us a perfect, satisfactory answer and solution to all the intricate and complicated affairs of life; then there would be no room for grumbling or lamenting.
There is nothing chaotic or capricious in this world. Things do not happen by accident or chance in a disorderly manner. They happen in regular succession. There is a certain definite connection between what is being done, thought and said by us now and what will happen in the future. This knowledge gives us a strong sense of responsibility and makes us creators of our destiny: “You sow an action and reap a habit. You sow a habit and reap a character. You sow a character and reap a destiny.”
But are we to suffer passively the results of karma? Just as rainfall is not under the farmer’s control, yet he continues ploughing the field under unfavourable weather conditions exercising self-effort. Similarly, yoga practice is self-effort to neutralise negative karma which concerns the past but also allows us to shape the future with our own hands. “You are the masters of your destiny!” Swami Sivananda exhorts us to arm ourselves with discrimination, discernment, cheerfulness and undaunted spirit. “Do not give up hope and do not say ‘my karma has brought me to this’, do not become a fatalist, do not yield to inertia, you can change the unfavourable circumstances into the best possible ones.”
The suffering we are experiencing now can become the prod to go deeper within, to get to know ourselves better and awaken our potential of wisdom, love and compassion. There is nothing like suffering to empathize with others and open our heart. The Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross wrote his most beautiful enlightened poetry after undergoing his own “dark night of the soul”. May his words be a soothing balm that give you strength and inspiration:
… Oh, night that guided me/ Oh, night more lovely than the dawn/Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover/Lover transformed in the Beloved…
I remained lost in oblivion/My face I reclined on the Beloved/All ceased and I abandoned myself/Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
On August 9-10 join me for a workshop on “Healing the Emotional Body” at the Sivananda Yoga Camp, Val Morin, Quebec (www.sivananda.org/camp). Here is a post I published last September that will give you an idea of some of the contents of the workshop. (Simultaneous translator – English to French – available)
Originally posted on suryasanmiguel:
You may have asked yourselves, as I have, where the emotions come from. When I feel the heat of anger or the heaviness of sadness the energy of these emotions can be so overwhelming that they seem to have a power of their own. According to Yoga, just as we have a physical body, we have an astral body (Pranamaya kosha) and within this energetic body made of prana there is a mental/emotional sheath that experiences thinking, anger, exhilaration, depression, doubts and delusions. But the emotions or the thinking do not limit themselves to this sheath, instead their energy affects the physical body as well. When these mental and emotional patterns are very deep and have been with us since birth they are called ‘samskaras’, deep ingrained patterns that we have brought with us into this incarnation.
Emotions have often had a bad ‘rap’. For example, women even today are…
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As I finished writing my previous post on Agelessness and the words of Master Sivananda still resounded in my mind reminding me that I am the immortal Self and that in the ultimate sense there is no death, I came across the story of Jayne Smith, told in Patricia Pearson’s book Opening Heaven’s Door. Jayne, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania, had a NDE (near death experience) in 1952. For 25 years she kept it to herself to avoid being told she had had an hallucination. In any event, the NDE took place during the birth of her second child after an overdose of anesthetic which provoked a cardiac arrest. Even 50 years later, when Pearson met her, Jayne’s voice took on a musical sense of wonder as she recalled the moment:
“I felt myself rising up out of my body. I thought, this is not right, I should be unconscious but I am still awake. I know what it is, I’ve died. And I was overcome with joy because I had not been annihilated. I thought, I am still here, and I felt so grateful.”
What is striking about NDEs is that there is coherence and consciousness in what ought to be a blackout. According to Pearson, about 2% of patients hallucinate briefly before surfacing from general anesthetic, but the content of their hallucinations is disjointed and random. Unconsciousness during anesthesia, as measured by EEG, is associated with an immense quieting of brain activity.
Far from feeling disconnected, Jayne’s response was a rapturous experience of love, so intense that she worried she would shatter. An intense light displayed colours she had never seen before and on what appeared like a ridge in a luminous landscape she saw some figures that wordlessly communicated. “There was a block of knowledge”, she continued, touching again on an element that seems to feature in deeper NDEs, “or what I later suspected was a field of some kind, and I suddenly knew that I was eternal, that I was indestructible, that I always existed and I always would exist. There was no end. There was no end.“
Jayne recovered and delivered her baby and today she participates in conferences as a NDE “experiencer” or perhaps we should call her an accidental mystic. She is not alone and since there are more and more survivors of cardiac arrest due to advanced techniques of ressucitation, doctors and nurses are the first ones to hear more often such stories from their patients. Some doctors report them and most don’t as this is a nebulous area where not many scientifically educated people want to go into.
This is why reports of NDEs experienced by doctors themselves are very interesting. Of course, we have Carl Yung’s own account and many others reported in Pearson’s book but more recently, last Winter in fact, at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, I had the opportunity to introduce a series of talks by Eben Alexander, a very busy neurosurgeon in Virginia who, in 2008, came down with a rare bacterial meningitis so extreme that he went into a seven-day coma. He had a 3% chance of surviving, much less emerging without brain damage. But he did survive completely intact, not before being thunderstruck by a spiritual experience. His number one bestseller Proof of Heaven tells his story in detail. His message is again one of immortality and love. In his case this knowledge came from a young feminine figure that stayed with him. He had never seen that being before but some time after he recovered he happened to locate a member of his biological family as Alexander had been adopted as a baby and had been looking for his family for many years. That’s when he was shown pictures of a biological sister who had died as a teenager and that Alexander recognized as his guiding angel.
In all cases of NDE, integration into everyday life is not easy. “In the four years since my DNE”, said Alexander, “I have been trying to come up with a world view that makes sense. We need to take down the artificial boundaries between religions, and between religion and science”. He also adds, “No one will ever have scientific proof of that realm, so the title of my book is misleading. That realm is beyond our understanding. God is a tiny little human word. There’s no way that a creation can ever fully understand the creator.”
For more information on dying and the knowledge we can draw from DNEs I highly recommend Pearson’s book. Her exhaustive scientific research is not only informative but the numerous recent accounts of NDEs she has collected are extremely comforting.
Have you ever thought about the relevance of your age while in a deep state of relaxation? When you are enjoying the calmness and well-being of a good relaxation it does not matter whether you are in your twenties or your eighties. In both cases you feel just as peaceful and content. Yet, as soon as you return to your habitual mental state you become trapped in time, the past and future dominate your attention and you accumulate time in your psyche and the cells of your body.
The aim of yoga is to live in a state of relaxed awareness; relaxed because through relaxation we can get in touch with our sense of being, beyond time and space, and aware because through awareness we become conscious of being. So the yogi at all times keeps a state of presence by being (1) relaxed and (2) mindful of all movements, internal and external. This is how he or she is able to conserve, store or direct energy resulting in a slowing down of the aging process. And even when her physical body grows old her awareness of her timeless being can shine through her outer form.
The benefit of this practice affects the physical body by strengthening, among others, our immune system. Most illnesses appear when our energy body is discordant whether through blockages or imbalances of energy/prana in thousands of psychic channels. In Yoga we know that wherever we put our attention there the energy flows. So when we are present and focused on whatever we are doing, thinking or saying we are able to utilize vast amounts of energy with a maximum of efficiency. At the same time our mental and emotional health is also strengthened as awareness is the first step towards healing from lower frequency states such as fear, anxiety or depression.
But beyond our concern with the physical or emotional body a constant practice of relaxed awareness is what puts us in contact with our inner being, changeless through time. This is the timeless realm where God dwells. And when we forget to access that inner Guru or we need to boost our moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness take a few minutes and do the following exercise:
Close your eyes, lie down on your back if you can. Ground yourself by focusing on the different parts of your body starting with the feet, the legs, the abdomen, the chest, the head and so on. Stay 10 sec. in each part feeling the energy inside those parts. Be intensely present. Don’t be concerned with thoughts and return your attention to the body. If you find it hard to be in touch with the inner energy, focus on your breath. Conscious breathing will gradually put you in touch with a sensation of expansion and luminosity.
Thus become identified with your ageless inner being, the immortal Self that Swami Sivananda exhorts us to discover:
“You are not the body! You are not the mind! You are Satchitananda, (existence, knowledge and bliss absolute) and immortality is your birthright!”
Here are some beautiful sounds to help relaxation from some Tibetan chanting in a Leh monastery, Ladak.
With gratitude, Master Sivananda.
(For the English version go to the bottom of the French text)
En 1900 l’espérance de vie en Amérique du Nord était de 47 ans pour les hommes et 50 pour les femmes. En 2012 elle est de 80 pour les hommes et 84 pour les femmes. Bonne nouvelle! Nous avons une treintaine d’années de vie de plus. C’est merveilleux ce que les avances en médecine et un style de vie sain peuvent faire; malheureusement nos horloges biologiques ne semblent pas être au courant de ces derniers développements. Prenons, par exemple, notre horloge hormonale et réproductrice. Aujourd’hui les femmes continuent à avoir la ménopause entre 45 et 55 ans, l’âge de la fin de la réproduction. Si nous tenons compte que la fin de la vie avait lieu à cet âge-là tous les problèmes reliés à la post-ménopause n’existaient pas!
C’est la première fois dans l’histoire connue que vous voyons un changement aussi rapide dans l’espérance de vie et c’est les “baby boomers” qui sommes les protagonistes de cette belle expérience. Cette génération a la réputation de briser les limites connues tout en s’amusant. Je ne sais si cela est exact mais en tout cas nous vivons une expérience nouvelle avec beaucoup de plaisir. Nous sommes restés positifs et un peu insouciants. Nous pratiquons l’attitude positive envers nos enfants et maintenant nos petits-enfants. Nous nous efforçons d’avoir des pensées positives même si cela ne fonctionne pas toujours et nous sommes positifs face à l’avenir. C’est très bien d’être positifs mais soyons réalistes en même temps. Reconnaisons que Kronos est un dieu implacable! Et cela ne veut pas dire que les chirurgiens esthétiques ne continueront à faire de bonnes affaires et des miracles incroyables.
Ayant établi que les dégâts du temps sont irrémédiables essayons de retarder un peu la “dégringolade”. Bien avant la ménopause ou l’andropause, à partir de la vingtaine, la DHEA, “la mère de toutes les hormones”, celle qui équilibre les autres hormones réproductives, commence à décliner. À la ménopause l’estrogène et la progestérone arrêtent complètement et la testostérone décline 50%. Quand l’espérance de vie était de 40 ou 50 ans ce mécanisme biologique avait tout son sens. Aujour’hui avec l’augmentation des années de vie on réalise que ce mécanisme ne s’est pas ajusté à notre désir de vivre plus longtemps. Alors comment vivre ces années extra avec un déficit hormonal qui cause une perte de masse osseuse et musculaire, un gain de poids, une perte d’énergie, de libido, de flexibilité, d’optimisme, de mémoire, de sommeil, la fatigue, l’anxiété, la dépression, etc… Mais restons toujours positifs! Remarquons aussi que ces problèmes n’affectent pas seulement les personnes âgées mais aussi des personnes de plus en plus jeunes. Nous savons que nous produisons aussi d’autres hormones comme le cortisol et l’adrenaline, qui en sur-production, causent des dégâts énormes et dérangent le bon fonctionnement de la DHEA qui, à son tour, entraîne des dérèglements d’estrogène, de progestérone et de testostérone.
Nous savons que le stress chronique n’affecte pas seulement le sytème hormonal mais également les systèmes cardio-vasculaire, nerveux et cellulaire et qu’il est à la base de nombreuses maladies et un vieillissement prématuré. La médecine a pourtant la solution: apprenez à gérer votre stress en adoptant un style de vie sain basé principalement sur l’exercice et une alimentation équilibrée.
Le Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), inspiré par les 5 points du yoga, a développé une méthode basée sur un style de vie sain pour la récupération de patients ayant souffert une crise cardiaque ou un cancer. En octobre 2013, dans la revue médicale The Lancet, une collègue du Dr. Ornish, Elizabeth Blackburn, prix Nobel 2009, a publié les résultats d’une étude de 5 ans sur les effets du style vie sur le vieillissement. Ils ont trouvé que non seulement le processus de vieillissement peut être ralenti mais que les cellules peuvent rajeunir! Ils ont constaté une augmentation du 10% de la longueur des télomeres des chromosomes due à une activité accrue de l’enzyme télomérase. C’est la première fois qu’on a une preuve scientifique que le style de vie peut nous rendre plus jeunes!
Alors quel est ce style de vie? Depuis longtemps les yogis nous parlent de ce style de vie que Swami Vishnudevananda a résumé en 5 points:
1. Une alimentation appropriée
2. De l’exercice approprié (plus ce n’est pas mieux!)
3. Relaxation (ralentissez!)
4. Méditation ou prière
5. Support de groupe, socialisation et restez positifs!
Le tout accompagné d’humour et de rire. Rien de compliqué ou de nouveau.
Quelqu’un a dit qu’il n’y ne reste rien à inventer, qu’il s’agit plutôt d’un recyclage d’idées dans de nouvelles enveloppes. De nos jours la science, la nouvelle enveloppe, donne du poids aux pratiques des anciens yogis. Il ne s’agit plus de croire ou ne pas croire à leur sagesse mais plutôt de s’informer et d’agir tout de suite en adoptant un style de vie qui tienne à l’écart les effets pernicieux du stress chronique. Evidemment lorsqu’il s’agit de pratique cela veut dire qu’il faut faire un effort. Les chirurgies esthétiques ne suffisent pas. Mais la pratique se transforme rapidement en notre guide dans le sens que nous recevons un “feed back” automatique. Par exemple, après une relaxation profonde, qui ne se sent pas plus jeune et oublie même son âge?
Mais la sagesse du yoga ne parle pas seulement de la santé physique ou mentale. Elle nous rappelle constamment de pratiquer le laisser aller et de méditer sur l’impermanence. Voici le côté réaliste. C’est merveilleux d’avoir un prolongement de la vie mais ne nous offusquons pas et devenons amis le plus tôt possible avec l’inévitable. Ceci est partie intégrante de la recette pour bien vieillir.
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“The secret of longevity: eat half, walk double and laugh triple”
In 1900 the life expectancy in North America was 47 years old for men and 50 for women. In 2012 it is 80 for men and 84 for women. Good news! We have about 30 more years to live. It’s a wonder what the medical advances and a healthy lifestyle can achieve; unfortunately, our biological clocks do not seem to be aware of these developments. For example, women today still have their menopause between 45 and 55, the end of the reproductive life and, in the old days, the end of life.
It is the first time in recorded history that we see such a rapid change in life expectancy and the baby boomers are the lucky mortals that are the recipients of this boon. This generation has the reputation to break limits and having fun while doing it. I don’t know if this is true but we are certainly living a new experience with great pleasure and a positive attitude. It is wonderful to be positive but let us not forget to remain realistic at the same time and accept that Kronos is an unforgiving god! This does not mean that plastic surgeons will not continue doing good business and performing amazing miracles!
Having accepted that the effects of time are unavoidable, let’s try, nevertheless, to slow down this process. Well before menopause or andropause, in our 20’s, the “mother of all hormones”, DHEA which controls and balances the other growth and reproductive hormones, starts declining. At menopause, estrogen and progesterone stop completely and testosterone decreases 50%. When life expectancy was 40 or 50 this biological mechanism made sense. Today we see that our reproductive clock has not adapted yet to our desire to live longer, so our dilemma is how to live a long life with a hormonal deficiency which causes a loss of bone and muscle mass, a decline in libido, flexibility, memory, sleep, optimism and an increase in weight, anxiety, depression, etc… But let’s remain positive! We notice that these problems do not only affect the seniors but also younger people. So there must be other causes for premature aging. We know that we also produce other hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that when triggered in excess can affect the proper functioning of the DHEA which, in turn, affects the balance of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Chronic stress does not only impact our hormones but also our cardio-vascular, nervous and cellular systems and is at the root of many illnesses and premature aging. Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), inspired by the 5 points of yoga, has developped a method based on a healthy lifestyle for the recovery of cancer and heart-attack patients. In October 2013, in the medical journal The Lancet, a colleague of Dr. Ornish, Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel prize, published the results of the first scientific study linking lifestyle to aging. They found that not only the aging process slowed down but that the deterioration of the cells was reversed. They observed a 10% increase in the length of the telomeres of the chromosomes due to the activation of the telomerase enzyme.
What is this lifestyle that can make us younger? For a very long time yogis have been talking about it and Swami Vishnudevananda synthesized it in 5 points:
1. Proper diet
2. Proper exercise (strenuous exercise is not better)
3. Proper relaxation (slow down!)
4. Meditation or prayer
5. Group support, socialisation and remaining positive.
Everything accompanied by good humour and laugh. Nothing complicated or new.
Somebody said that there’s nothing new under the Sun, that it is more a recycling of old ideas presented in new envelopes. Science today, our new envelope, gives weight to ancient practices. It is not any more a matter of believing or not believing in old teachings but rather of informing ourselves scientifically about the pernicious effects of chronic stress and of acting quickly by adopting an appropriate lifestyle. Of course, this means making an effort, replacing old habits by new ones. But the positive side of practice is that we get a direct, personal feed-back right away. Who has not, after a good relaxation, felt younger to the point of forgetting our age?
But the wisdom of yoga does not only address our physical well-being. It also reminds us to develop constantly a “letting go” state of mind and to reflect on the impermanence of all forms of life. This is the realistic side. It’s wonderful to remain healthy even at an advanced age but let’s not forget to make friends with the unavoidable. This is an integral part of a recipe for aging well.