YOGA: FROM HIPPIES TO HIP

By Marcia Montenegro (page 2 of 3)

Written February, 2004

Prana, Chakras, and Death

The YogaFit teacher training has four levels ( http://www.yogafit.com/teacher-trainings.html ). The second level teaches "advanced breathing exercises" and "discussion of the seven major energy centers in the body." The breathing exercises are probably pranayama, and the seven energy centers are the chakras. Why not just say pranayama and chakras? What is pranayama and what are the chakras anyway?

Prana means "breath," but it is more than the physical breath. The breathing techniques are not primarily for physical purposes. As yoga scholar George Feuerstein puts it, "prana is like a knife which he [the student of yoga] carefully employs to operate on his own mind, to cut out the malicious thoughts and feelings in order to pierce through to higher levels of consciousness," (George Feuerstein and Jeanine Miller, The Essence of Yoga, [Rochester, VT: First Inner Traditions, 1998], 111). Prana is "the cosmic breath" and "man has moved away from this original rhythm of the universe," but pranayama "endeavors to restore the primal rhythm and cosmic harmony as manifested in man, the microcosm," (Feuerstein, 26).

Iyengar advises that "if you can control the breath, you can control the mind," but he also cautions that pranayama must be practiced cautiously because "it can make you or mar you. If your heartbeat is uneven, fear sets in and death may be near at hand," (Iyengar, 128). Inhalation allows contact with the "cosmic breath" while exhalation expels toxins and is "the expulsion of ego," the goal being to "reach a single mind" so that you are ready for meditation (Iyengar, 130).

The following is a description of chakras from CANA's Occult Terms:

The chakras are invisible, and are believed to start at the base of the spine and end in the middle of the forehead. The top of the head is the culmination point for an energy called kundalini, which rises through the chakras to the crown of the head through certain meditation and tantric practices. A different color is often associated with each chakra, usually red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo/purple, and white (sometimes purple) for the crown. The kundalini is believed to be a form of divine energy, coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent which can rise through a channel, called the Sushumna, up the chakras, thus bringing a spiritual awakening. It is taught that arousing the kundalini up through the chakras can be dangerous and should be done under the supervision of a teacher or guru. It is also taught that awakening the kundalini may uncover certain psychic powers called Siddhis.

Another description of chakras from a yoga site states: "For thousands of years, the yogis have identified through their exceptional spiritual practice seven complex, fundamental systems of emission-reception, which connect our microcosm with the outer macrocosm's seven fundamental levels of vibration. These centers of force are usually known as chakras," ( http://sivasakti.com/articles/the-seven-chakras-muladhara.html ).

Substituting English words for Hindu terms does not alter the beliefs from which they spring.

Spirituality Sneaks In the Gym Door

The third level for teacher training includes "the health benefits of meditation" and learning "the benefits of journaling and mindful living" among other things. "Mindful" is a commonly used word for spiritual attitudes and techniques associated mostly with Buddhism and New Age practices. Many yoga teachers and practitioners incorporate Buddhist teachings in their practice. After all, Buddhism came from Hinduism.

The fourth level of YogaFit training for teachers is more blatantly Eastern. Training is offered on "Sound Therapy/Chanting" and "Basic Yogic Philosophy and History." "Required" reading includes The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita: A Commentary for Modern Readers and Integral Yoga: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is blatant spiritual training, yet YogaFit throughout emphasizes the fitness aspect of yoga. Of course, in Eastern and New Age views, health and spirituality are linked, so practices that affect health can lead to improved spirituality. Also, hatha yoga teaches that disciplining the body prepares one for the rigors of the mental and spiritual disciplines ahead.

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