Yoga in the last 100 years has become extremely popular worldwide but especially in the western world, young and old have been inspired by the yoga philosophy of stretching the body and expanding the mind through meditation. Many people may be influenced by their peers and their close relationships to practice yoga, some on their travels especially to India, SE Asia and there is plenty of Yoga in Chiang Mai Thailand, which has plenty of opportunities where people can experience and develop their understanding of yoga, some people may even join a gym in their place of residence and discover yoga there. Yoga today is so popular, that all can have access to yoga teachers and yoga classes wherever they live.
Modern day yoga teachers
There have been some interesting developments in the yoga world that many people who learn get inspired to teach yoga, which is not a bad thing as it has allowed yoga to flourish even further, creating an open door in yoga, especially in the last 30 years or so. The dilemma we face today is a modern yoga teacher on one hand can give you the tools for physical body work and possibly body purification, but they may not be able to help you further develop your internal yoga practices, as found in the meditational side of the practice, this is where the yoga teacher or practitioner gets loss in just spending most time doing yoga postures (asana), which continues the yoga aspirant to maintain the attachment to the physical body as their main priority, this limits the potential to discover the real aspects of yoga, which is really working and developing the mind and expanding into layers of our deeper consciousness.
Modern day limitations
Can we experience the goal of yoga as it is practiced today? The dilemma to this question is that, yoga today somehow is missing the mark; it has become a show of bodily manipulation and flexibility allowing the ego to predominate. So many people are practicing yoga, though they are not experiencing the higher conscious states that yoga is suppose to provide to the aspirant after a long duration of practice, the negative feelings and emotions are still anchored internally and even though one may become more flexible, their minds have not been able to expand into higher states of consciousness. There definitely needs a preparation period to work with oneself physically such as in yoga asana, this helps prepare the body and its physiology aspects, it also facilitates clearing of the energy lines allowing increased energy flow in to the body and especially to the brain, when combined with specific yoga breathing techniques (pranayama), this can take several years of development. The mind needs consistent work to integrate the yoga practitioner to their next level, we need constant practice in sitting Yoga Meditation to help us, if one can practice meditation and continue to practice the physical concepts of yoga (asana) then surely progression in the practice will gradually manifest and is assured.
The development of Yoga
• Preparing the physical, the body purification via asana.
• The ego known as Ahamkara must be naturalized.
• Prana the vital force must be regulated and empowered via pranayama
• The mind known as Manas and the senses must be regulated and internalized via concentration.
• Chitta the consciousness needs to integrate calmness and find stillness via meditation.
• Bhuddhi the intelligence must be re-established and developed
Yoga the path to Enlightenment
Now if we look at what constitutes a yoga teacher; one that can lead the aspirant to emancipation of physical body and life, freedom from bondage of the samsakras (karma), one that helps the student to unify and integrate to their very essence, most yoga masters or gurus prior to the 1970’s were spiritual aspirants that had reach a high level in their yoga practice (sadana) and had truly attained deeper states of conscious awareness, they experienced freedom from earthly and physical bondage, they had the experience and the map for reaching the mastery of life, they travelled the path so they could lead and show their aspirants to reach deeper levels of understanding, about who they really are and how to free themselves from the desires of life. From the 1970’s onwards, most of the real yoga masters from India had already been and gone, the changes towards the real aspects of yoga could only be grasped by a limited few, as the physical aspects were the main priority for most that practice yoga. As we moved more to this present day, the element of action or fire (rajas) has become more predominant in our daily lives, yoga has became more of a workout and a kind of an illusionary game, rather than a spiritual discipline for reaching enlightenment. So let’s put it this way, so many people practicing yoga but not so many practitioners finding emancipation physically, mentally and emotionally in their yoga practice, if this was the case we have to ask; where are all the enlighten Yogis?
The birth of modern day Yoga… Hatha Yoga
Originally it is believed that a form of Hatha Yoga was a preparatory practice in the Buddhist tradition and the Tantric sects that were around during their height of expression, aspirants would spend many years for purification of the body and it was part of a profound spiritual discipline and evolutionary process leading to deeper levels of spiritual consciousness through meditation, though nowadays this tradition of higher consciousness (Raja Yoga) is rarely being practice in a general yoga class.
There are references to Hatha yoga preceding the Buddhist period in the Upanishans around the 6th century BC and it possible that the system of Hatha Yoga was known well before this time. With the decline of Buddhism in the beginning of the millennium at the time of Christ, the physical aspects of the Yoga practices started to lose their appeal and it was not until about the 4th, 5th and 6th century AD the foundations of Hatha Yoga slowly started reemerging and developing again in India.
Great Yogi’s of Hatha Yoga
A great Yogi known as Matsyendranath and possibly the father of establishing Hatha Yoga in India, founded the Nath cult in the 10th century which incorporated special elements mainly from the Tantra tradition, though the Tantric rituals were not incorporated and left out all together. Prior to this period the Yoga purification practices were not being applied fully as they were originally, they were reintroduced back in to the Yoga system, so at this point the necessity was for the aspirant to purify their bodies (elements of Hatha Yoga) before proceeding to the meditational practices, started to reemerge.
The great book of Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
Swatmarama a great yogic sage of 15th and 16th century in India compiled a famous Yoga book, even used today by some Yoga practitioners, known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (self illuminating) or Light of Hatha Yoga, it included Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Kriyas (Shatkriyas) for cleansing and purifying the body, an earlier book had been written by one of his disciple Gorakhnath, though Yogi Swatmarama complied his great knowledge in Sanskrit, which gave his writings a very profound ingredient. Elements of the moral codes of Yoga, (Yamas and Niyamas) which were originally a prerequisite to spiritual practice, from the Buddhist, Jain and Patajali Raga Yoga systems were removed, the concept was that these elements can create problems and hinder the aspirants Yoga path, as they tried to grasp the understanding of the meaning of life, the removing of the moral codes Yama and Niyama of Yoga, was to help the natural development of the Yoga aspirants as they progressed on their path, removing the pressure of working physically, mentally and emotionally with oneself.
Swatmarama states that one must first work to purify the body; the Hatha Yoga Pradipika incorporates the use of 6 Yoga cleansing and purifying techniques known as Shatkarma;
They are: Neti, dhauti, nauali, basti, trataka and kapalbhati.
• Neti = Nasal cleansing.
• Dhauti = Cleansing of ears (Karna Dhauti), eyes (Chakshu Dhauti), sinuses (Kapalrandhra Dhauti), tongue (Jihva Dhauti), forehead (Kapalbhati), oesophagus, stomach (Vastra & Vatsara Dhauti), rectum, and anus (Moola Shodhana).
• Nauali = A form of abdominal massage, which isolates and contracts the muscles vertically of the abdomen and rectus.
• Basti = Yoga enema, cleaning the colon the large intestine.
• Trataka = A focusing technique (gazing at a flame of a candle), to strengthen the mind.
• Kapalbhati = (Brain purification) Body cleansing; also known as skull shining in English.
At this point the concept of trying to control the mind was put aside; instead the first point of focus was to clean and purify the body with shatkarma explained above and to discipline the body through Hatha Yoga. The purifying of the body allows for the flow of energy through the energy channel located internally to increase and function at its optimal potential and this helps to balance the physical body, mind and energy, (this concept is also known in the arts of Qigong, Tai Chi and Reiki) this also stimulates the potential of the Yoga aspirant, as their increase energy flow, stimulates opens and harmonizes 2 energy channels known as ida and pingala which travel either side of the spine and the centre energy channel known as sushumna nadi leading to the brain, which helps with the spiritual awakening of the Hatha Yoga practitioner..
This system known as Hatha Yoga, the term Hatha is broken down in 2 parts Ha represents prana (vital force) and tha represents the mind (mental energy), Hatha Yoga helps to unify these 2 elements which is the starting process of developing and awakening of the higher mind and consciousness, in Yoga they are known as Prakriti and Purusha, in Tantra these elements are known as Shiva and Shakti, in Qigong and Tai Chi they are called Yin and Yang. The imbalances that are within us create our suffering, diseases, emotional and mental affliction, the idea is to balance both energies so they harmonize with one another, so body mind and spirit integrate as a whole, they should be considered as one unit. The Hatha Yoga cleansing techniques explained above (Shatkarmas), where an important part of that development which also help to cleanse and purify the internal energy lines known as the Nadis and called the meridians in Chinese, the focus was not only the external (body discipline) but the internal cleansing of the human body and energy system, this was so that the Yoga practitioner can proceed into their meditation and progress in their evolution.
Reiki Chiang Mai, journey to Mount Kurama Kyoto, Japan on a pilgrimage to Mikao Usui the founder of modern day Reiki Healing, known to the west.
Sensei Usui was a spiritual seeker and spiritual teacher in the early part of the 20th century, during his deeper spiritual development and journey he had discovered that he had gained the power, to use healing energy, known now as Reiki in the west. In this day and age his spiritual teachings are obscure and not clearly known, though his Reiki healing practices still lives on and this is the focus on those that connect with this compassionate man’s teachings. His journey was not an easy one, though he had developed a power of compassion, which led him to his development of the Reiki healing phenomena and the birth place of modern day Reiki, which has spread throughout the whole world.
Reiki trip to Kyoto
I somehow had the desire to fulfill a journey some time back and that journey was to lead me and my family to visit Japan in April 2017, it was like I was summoned or invited to come by a strange calling, I had this same experience some years ago in my journey travelling in India, for a pilgrimage to the Yoga masters I had studied or influenced by. Teaching Reiki for many years in Chiang Mai, has finally allowed me to connect to the founder Usui Sensei of Reiki, place of awakening and I have a deep sense of gratitude for this auspicious blessing.
We arrived in Osaka from Thailand and internally I had a good sense of gratitude to finally arrive in Japan for the first time in my life, we stayed 2 nights in Osaka before heading to the beautiful city of Kyoto, we were blessed. Originally we were going to travel around to see as many places as possible, though somehow deep inside I knew that was not necessary, we decide to spent most of our time in Kyoto and it was a delight to embrace the deep spiritual tradition and culture of this wonderful city.
Reiki birth place Mt Kurama
Trip to Mt Kurama the birth place, of Usui Sensei Reiki awakening. The birth of Usui Sensei’s Reiki happened in this very scenic area north of Kyoto, we took the Eizan country train to Kurama and we were excited to arrive at the Kurama train station, the base of the Reiki nature trail in Mount Kurama. We proceeded to the stairs leading to the main entrance leading to the trail, at the entrance there is a vegetarian restaurant to the left, as it was time for lunch we decided to eat before ascending into the mountain.
After lunch we started onward on our pilgrimage on the Reiki nature trail, we started to climb the steps and the area is special and has a great feeling about it and we all enjoyed the specialness of being here. There are various shrines and temples along the way, I would suppose that Usui Sensei would have spent some time at most of these places, practicing his meditations, the walk is relaxing and we truly admired all the things that the trail had to offer along the way, we reached the major temple on the trail named Kumara dera a Tendai Buddhist temple, Usui himself was a Tendai Buddhist according the inscription on his grave stone, here at this temple you have a view over the tops of the Kurama mountain area, located here is a major power point shaped in triangle tiles at the forecourt of the temple, there are various power points along the trail and we all took the opportunity to stand at this center, maybe we were lucky and we received some blessings just for trying, I returned again to its center for another opportunity to stand on the power spot, before we started moving along the trail.
Going along the trial we saw the roots of the cedar trees coming out of the earth and this leads to a isolated shrine known as Osugi Gongen, we nearly miss this one as the path split into two, though luckily we took the right path leading to Osugi Gongen, this is where some say that Usui had his Reiki meditation experience, his awakening to the Reiki healing power which so many practice today, the next shrine a little further down the trail known as Okunoin Mao-den is also known by some where Usui received the power of Reiki healing, this shrine was more busier then Osugi Gongen and was taken care of a lot more, maybe due to the donations left by those that came before, we paid our respect at both and I spent a few moments in meditation inside both of these shrines, though not long enough to experience anything too mystical this time, when we got home we took a look at the photos taken and we noticed some strange bright lights even side of me, at first I thought I was blessed but maybe a trick of light or something like that. It was a blessing that we finally managed to be in such a lovely place in northern Kyoto we did the final decent to the other side to a little town known as kilbune, a very pretty area and another 20 minutes walk to get to the train station heading back to the city of Kyoto, I know one I will return to savior just one more time, this very scared place..
Hatha Yoga Chiang Mai; Yoga asana (yoga postures) help to balance and harmonize the body, mind and emotions, yoga improves circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the whole body, removing knots and blocks psychically and energetically, Yoga helps to activate more energy flow throughout the whole system benefiting the vital organs the endocrine system, the nervous system the skeletal and muscular structure.
Yoga helps to improve the body’s flexibility and is a tonic for the mind as it improves focus and concentration. Yoga asana also helps inspire spiritual development if practice correctly. Hatha Yoga can also improve our sense of wellbeing and feeling grounded, allowing us to experience our earthly connection in a natural and more beneficial way, bear in mind that we have the gravitation pull of this planet, which has a big influence on how we live and without this force we would not be able to practice the physical aspects of Yoga.
Yoga can help to eliminate our vices that hold us back in our evolutionary development, bringing us to higher levels of states of well being and correct living, therefore Yoga works and develops our physical, mental, emotional, vitality, psychic and spiritual potential.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word yuj meaning to join to unify, this is more relative to the spiritual practices of Yoga allowing individual consciousness to merge with universal or cosmic consciousness and on a practical level Yoga signifies balance of body, mind and emotions, which leads to improvement in our health and how we interact with those around us. Primaraly Hatha Yoga works on the outer aspects, such as the physical body and how we reflect our personality to the outer world, gradual progression will improve our physical conditions, our health and we start to experience an improvement in our personality, the practice has to be approached with the right mind and intention for the benefits to take its lasting effects.
Yoga helps to calm the mind and relax the body to prepare us for higher yoga practices; it helps focus the mind for improvement of consciousness, leading to meditation and higher states of consciousness.
We offer Hatha Yoga classes in Chiang Mai to those with experience and we also offer down to earth Yoga beginner’s courses, for those that wish to start their journey, in this profound spiritual science.
Some questions answered about Chi kung (Qigong) for a future Burmese magazine article...
Q; How and why did you get into Qigong.
A; I originally started to practice Yoga meditation 5 years prior to starting Qigong and somehow that led me to the alternative side of other practices, my interest really came about due to the fact that I starting to learn Tai Chi my primary interest at the time and this included Qigong as part of the practice.
Q; What is your favorite part about doing Qigong?
A; My favorite part these days is teaching Qigong to others and the positive feedback that people give about the Qigong practice, their improvement to their health, energy and life style, this inspires me to become a better teacher also.
Q; What is the one move you would recommend for someone starting out in Qigong? Is there a name (especially for those who can't attend a class)?
A; One of the roots of Qigong (Chi Kung) is the breath, so I would always recommend students in our classes to develop their breathing potential, this allows for more beneficial aspects of the practice to manifest. In our classes we teach students to go to the root of the breathing and suggest students to develop this kind of breathing as part of their lives. We call this kind of breathing abdominal, Tai Chi, Qigong or baby breathing, just like a younger child would breathe, naturally. One method we teach in our classes is to position both hands one on top the other at the navel, close the eyes and breathe so when you inhale the abdomen expands and when you exhale it contracts. This teaches us to breathe correctly and helps to eliminate build up of tension in the mind and body. This can be practice outside of the class room environment and a highly suggested practice one can utalize in their daily lives.
Q; How is Qigong different from other types of breathing exercises or breathing techniques?
A; Generally most holistic healing systems overlap and there could be elements that are similar though the approach may be slightly different, but the goal is in harmony with one and other. One of the differences that exists, lies in the approach on how we work with the body, this is the physical bodily exercises in the Qigong practice, the exercises are simple and repetitive, though affective in opening the potential of our breath and energy system, this allows for correct utilization of the breathing mechanism and gives more control over our body and mind, in the foundations of physical Yoga (asana) for example we are working with the breath under more demanding bodily posturing, lifting the breath from the solar plexus and diaphragm, this could be more challenging for a beginner of Yoga, in Qigong we are connecting the breath just below the navel area and it is more softer and more subtle, so easier to master even for those with limited experience.
Q; What are some of the health benefits that you experienced?
A; Mainly the benefits for me have been an improved connection with my breathing (abdominal) which has become part of my natural breathing process in my life, helping me to manage stress and anxiety; also Chi Kung has given me a more conscious awareness of my body and the subtle signals that it sends, strengthening of my immune system and ovarall improvement physically, mentally and emotionally, allowing me to become a good friend to my own body and have respect for myself and my life.
Q; Do Qigong and meditation go hand-in-hand? How is it similar or different?
A; Definitely, in ancient times in China people practice Qigong to harmonize themselves with themselves, their surroundings, nature and the cosmos, a major concept of Qigong is to be able to meditate consciously, meaning to always be in a state of meditational contemplation, hence Qigong is a active way to meditate, they realized that to make the breath calm the body and mind also responds and manifest stillness, which becomes a conscious awareness of who we really are, meditation is the core of Qigong it can be known as a moving Meditation similar to Tai Chi Chuan. As Qigong developed the practices became more physical which has led to modern day Qigong, in the beginning the practice was focused on the meditation as the foundation of the practice and not too involved with the physical aspects of how Qigong has become.
Q; What do you do to achieve your optimal health (besides Chi Kung. etc. tai chi, yoga and meditation, etc)
A; I try and keep a healthy diet, try and respect my energy by not over working myself, use exercise, meditation on a daily basis and retire to bed and get up early whenever possible.
Q; Mindfulness is a very popular concept now. Does Chi Kung help you become more mindful? How?
A; Yes Qigong helps one to introspect and become more mindful, the exercises are of a simple nature, so there is no compromise of one's ego, the movements in Qigong help to increase the flow of energy within, so that we experience that power, connecting to the breath helps to regulate our autonomic nervous system removing stress and inducing a more calm and relaxed state of body and mind, Qigong incorporates meditation in some of its standing poses which increases our potential to become more mindful, we connect with the vital organs and become aware of the energy lines within the body helping to connect with our physical state and our physical condition so we respect ourselves more in a more conscious way. Being mindful helps the Qigong practitioner connect with the power within and gives the potential to use that power to improve their health and their energy overall. The key is to keep things simple and exercise regularly.
Q; How can one use Chi Kung to overcome emotions like anger, jealousy, anxiety, depression, etc?
A; Qigong masters over a thousand years ago, discovered that our deep rooted negative emotions were the root causes of our imbalances and sicknesses, they also realized that these negative emotions store in our vital organs and eventually accumulate into sickness. In our Qigong classes we work directly with these ancient practices which involve using simple movements with our body to improve the circulation of energy in the body, plus we work with colour and sound to increase the potential of this circulation, this is an important element of Qigong practice. As we learn to harmonize ourselves by doing Qigong practice on a regular basis, we learn and help to balance and heal or transform our negative emotions and feelings, giving as more access to power of energy for a more fulfilling life.
Q; What do you think the purpose of life is?
To let go… of our pre conceived ideas and our conditioning. To discover peace and to experience, heaven on earth (peace of mind).
Q; What is your favorite life motto? quote?
A; Health is wealth!! Sometimes I suggest to my students: Always believe in yourself and in your life, learn to trust yourself so you learn to trust in your journey and in your evolutionary process, in that trust it leads you to, who you really are.
Qigong can benefit people young and old, it helps to improve your health, it strengthens the mind and body, it slows down the aging process and helps us to live longer, it can also lead to a higher understanding of yourself and your surroundings, for those that are in Chiang Mai Thailand, we welcome you to come and enroll in our simple Qigong course, so you get a flavor of what Qigong is about.