One of the great sages of yoga, Patanjali, wrote a treatise on the inner journey, meditation, many years ago. Some think that Patanjali lived about the time of Buddha, whilst others feel that his life and work go back in time much further than this.
In his treatise, Patanjali writes a series of lines, which, when strung together in consecutive order, give a detailed account of the start, journey and destination of yoga. Although Patanjali wrote about Raja Yoga, the science of exploring the inner world and the inner faculties and knowledge from personal experience which manifest from the process, he was also very explicit about what yoga actually is.
In his second line (sutra) Patanjali says: “to block the patterns of consciousness is yoga.”
We may understand this better as “the elimination of mental fluctuations”. For this he gives a description of practices to bring about this process. Briefly they are: social code; personal code; asana (sitting pose); control of prana; sense withdrawal, all of which prepare the body-mind complex for concentration; meditation; and superconsciousness.
The first five are for removing the external distractions, whilst the remaining three remove disturbing thoughts and psychic manifestations of mind. All play their part in blocking patterns of consciousness.
The social and personal codes are for reducing the friction between our inner and outer world, what we think and do, what we feel and experience what life holds in store for us and how we handle it all.
Many yogis feel that the yoga practices themselves lead us to employ these codes naturally, whether we know about them or not. We come to a point of understanding that certain patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are creating disharmony in our life, and that we can, and do, change, or block these patterns so that the mental /emotional system has peace, union, or less inner and outer turmoil.
Furthermore, the practices of yoga tend to alter brain activity to a more positive outlook via posture, pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation and yoga nidra (very deep relaxation), so that we are less inclined to perpetuate the patterns of thinking, feeling and doing which cause turmoil.
This is a culminative process, from a calmer mind which progressively becomes more and harmonious and less and less inclined to perpetuate conflict from patterns of consciousness which have previously caused disharmony, either for oneself or others.
Asanas, or yoga postures, have specific purposes, and whether or not one is inclined to practice them to block patterns of consciousness, they do alter the psycho-physiological framework.
They bring a body to a state of harmony, and affect the mind by correcting physical disturbances. They are important .for they bring us to a point of equilibrium.
Pranayama increases the vital energy and concentrates it, leading to energy-control and one-pointedness. It energizes the brain, stimulating the area there which automatically “prefer” different, more harmonious methods of inner and outer interaction.
If we can understand that energy does concentrate in specific area of the brain, and cause us to have repetitive electrical, or nerve, impulses, we can realise that this concentration can also become more intense, so that the same old thoughts and feelings can go on and on and on, causing destructive feelings and reactions.
What can we do? Sometimes these patterns of consciousness cause us so much turmoil. Quite simply, we can energize the brain by strengthening and balancing both hemispheres, left and right, which in turn also creates concentrations of energy in different areas of the brain with breathing techniques. We can “block” by shifting the energy in the brain.
The next step is sense withdrawal, which can be described as “gathering inwards”, going beyond the temptations of the senses. Generally speaking we are very affected by our five senses, we like this taste, hate that sound, love to touch some things.
Our patterns of consciousness become addicted to our likes and dislikes. Of course this applies to a broad spectrum of life experiences and feelings, and where it is important here is being able to take the mental energy to an inner space which is not reliant on sensory activity, but is comfortably ensconced in a total inner experience.
Here the journey of blocking the patterns of consciousness takes quite a different route. The inner journey at this point starts dealing with the very deep patterns of consciousness.
Another way of looking at this is that the mental fluctuations cease. Many people are unaware that they have mental fluctuations, which of course often accompany emotional disturbances, because so often these two aspects are confused with I-ness, as in I’m happy/unhappy; I think this/or that, rather than these aspects being recognised as fluctuations of mind and identification with these fluctuations. And of course we identify with contents of mind and with the feelings released.
What Patanjali offers is a system which gives detailed instruction as to the causes of the mental patterns, memories and associations, and follows this with instruction on lessening them and in time the “blocking” takes place, bit by bit and instead a new way of Being unfolds for the yoga aspirant.
The electrical activity in the brain changes creating more harmonious brain activity, the pangs and angst of the aspirant are lessened; understanding of oneself and others, unfolds. We feel better, we are becoming more whole.
So far we have looked at five of the eight steps which Patanjali recommends for this process, this journey , of unblocking the patterns of consciousness. This what w have looked at:
These two aspects balance us inwardly and externally. We usually come to bring them into existence spontaneously, but certainly we can always intergrate them into our lives and gradually make them more of a reality .
It’s at this step that the physical aspect of yoga, postures and cleansing techniques come into play. They are very important in balancing the body energy systems, hormones, circulation, muscle tone, and the neural associations between brain and body.
So now we are at the stage of exploring the inner realms: Dharana follows pratyahara. It is one-pointedness or concentration, and it’s definitely not concentration on the internal chitchat nor on the visual manifestations of mind. It’s awareness on one object no matter what the contents of mind are doing.
For the phenomena which unfolds in the inner space when doing yogic techniques, is amazing and compelling, but, they are still patterns of consciousness, and as such, they still need to be “blocked”.
There is an object which is specifically used. It can be a psychic symbol which you concentrate on, often geometric, or like a mandala. Some people use a deity instead, others have a question, but always it’ll be very personal and it never changes. It totally belongs to the aspirant.
When the contents of mind start to reveal themselves in the inner space, the symbol, whatever form it is, becomes the total focus. Another object used is a sound (mantra). Aum (Om) is universal, and along with a couple of sounds can be used by anyone, either forever or until a personal sound is received through someone trained in this area. A personal sound is meaningful to the aspirant and never changes.
In a lifetime the yogi has only one personal mantra, and only one personal symbol. Aside from the few universal mantras, if you use a sound for a period of time it starts to affect the deeper layers of mind. If you decide another sound will be better, and switch, in time this too will have an affect deep in your mind.
It’s been found that doing this ultimately leads to confusion deep within your consciousness. The same applies to symbol. Sometimes the aspirant will do specific practices, under guidance, which use special sounds and symbols, but these are usually for a period of time only, and is different to ongoing daily meditation, which is what Patanjali is covering.
His specific explanation of dharana is: “concentration (dharana) is binding the mind to one place.” With regular and consistent meditation practice, the symbol will start to reveal itself. There will be an instant attraction to it. It’s through this happening that we start to spontaneously flow into the next stage:
Dhyana is the seventh stage. It means “meditation”. Up untill this stage we are practising technique to take us to the experience of meditation. It is a state of being, arising from the dharana state, leading to: “uninterrupted flow of consciousness” ( Swami Satyananda).
Satyananda is definite that dhyana needs to be accompanied by the awareness of dhyana. In others words, the experience is happening; we also know that it is happening. This is a dual state, two-ness. It is a highly energised brain state and is dealing with profound areas of mind.
Through having a body which has reduced physical disturbances we then have reduced mental fluctuations, and by concentration on the five senses – all or some – the mind, being somewhat contradictory, decides that it doesn’t want any physical or sensory involvement, and so it spontaneously internalises.
Of course the more you do any of these stages, the easier they are to do, and the quicker they happen each time. This is not a hard stage to do, and is an important part of the inner journey. It’s a gateway to the internal realms.
All meditation techniques, such as ajapa japa (mantra repetition), antar mouna (inner silence), tratak (gazing at a fixed point, a candle flame being an excellent subject) and others, are also concerned with inducing pratyahara. Usually a combination of physical, sensory and meditation technique are used for the overall effect of gathering the psyche inwards.
And from this comes one-ness, the merging of the experience with the experiencer, a fusion of being which is known as Samadhi. Most of us understand that samadhi is the yogic term for enlightenment. But did you know that samadhi is also a process of varying stages?