Sunday, August 26, 2012

Investigation and connection

“The mental prostitute, Mrs. Eddy (for example), having invented the idea which ordinary people call ‘God,’ and christened it ‘Mind,’ and then by affirming a set of propositions about ‘Mind,’ which are only true of ‘God’, set all hysterical, dyspeptic, crazy Amurrka by the ears. Personally, I don’t object to people discussing the properties of four-sided triangles; but I draw the line when they use a well-known word, such as pig, or mental healer, or dung heap to denote their paranoiac fetishism.” ~Aliester Crowley, Liber 777, pg. xi
I began practicing Raja Yoga without a teacher at the age of 12. The way I practice, how I approach practice and even the philosophopsychological ramifications and underpinnings of practice frequently change (almost monthly lately), keeping it interesting. For many it seems easy to reframe and recontextualize the practice when new external information pushes out old and tired views and opinions.

For this reason I have maintained an almost daily practice since 1992. It maintains its status as the cornerstone of my experiments in altering my consciousness, programming and reprogramming my mind and behavior and healing my body. Over the years I have accrued hundreds of practices in my internal library, running, creating, and altering playlists on the fly. It still surprises me that this results in an ordered and constantly changing practice rather than becoming either boring and horrible, or chaotic and practically useless. I’ve only recently begun to record them. Sandra Anderson of the Himalayan Institute once said something to the effect of (or perhaps I misheard her completely): You won’t feel the effects of yoga practice until a full day has passed. Perhaps because I respect her highly as a teacher this entered my noggin and set up shop there with the effect that I never feel the effects of a yoga practice until a full day has passed.

 I care about the practice of yoga, resulting in a certain human vanity that is directly related to my length of practice, the amount of practices I feel proficient in and the number of books I’ve read and digested on the subject.. I don’t consider myself a yogi, or rather it is one of many personalities that exist inside of me, but it does little to explain the whole of my human process. In the past few years ‘the yogi’ has been integrating himself into the ‘tai-chi/qi-gong man’. The more I practice, the more I draw meaningful and relevant connections between disciplines.

From a magickal perspective there are few other things you can do where you can see such immediate result in trying to change reality in conformity with your will, than working with your own body. A pretention I encounter frequently among American yoga practitioners has it that yoga has a specificity, unfamiliar practices are not yoga. Qi-Gong practitioners on the other hand will tell you that anytime you are moving and breathing or even just breathing you are practicing Qi-Gong. This all-inclusive attitude seems more appropriate to me, and I see it extending to all parts of the common practices of both. Boutique beautiful bodied yoga, very challenging physically, versus qi-gong in a retirement community, a room full of those seated or in wheelchairs with all kinds of ailments.

 The Qi-Gong man and the Yogi have recently made room for another emerging figure. I recently completed a degree in exercise science, and my wife is a physical therapist and self-confessed anatomy nerd. The Scientist, Qi-Gong man and Yogi all sit in the same room and share information, each framing the argument of the other with the intention of coming to some kind of understanding or reaching some kind of conclusion, they seldom do, but their talking occasionally results in some very interesting momentary experiences of satori as some puzzle is completed. 

Pawanmuktasana. Pawan=wind, mukta=liberating, asana=posture. Commonly this posture involves laying on the ground with one leg hugged into the chest to eliminate unwanted gas in the intestines. However, in the Bihar school (Swami Satyananda Saraswati) it is series of subtle movements, that don’t necessarily feel like REAL STRETCHING, whose stated goal: to remove wind from the body thus enabling smooth and unimpeded energy flow (it should be noted that most swamis have a personalized version of these very powerful practices, see: Swami Rama’s Joints and Glands). This smooth energy flow allegedly results in healthy joints, glands, etc. Their manual goes so far as to say the practice of these postures, “should never be ignored and treated casually just because the practices are simple, gentle and comfortable” (Saraswati, pg. 21).

 Ayurveda, an ‘ancient’ system of Indian Medicine (read: life extending alchemy), breaks the human constitution down into 3 elemental groupings, then treats malfunction in these groupings. These groupings are Pitta, which corresponds roughly to fire, Kapha, which corresponds to both earth and water, and Vata, which corresponds to both space and wind. Arthritis and nervous disorders (depression, anxiety, even some schizotypal disorders, as well as chronic flatulence) are caused by an imbalance in the Vata structure (or dosha). The wind in pawanmuktasana and the Vata in Ayurveda now seem intrinsically related.

 Traditional Chinese medicine holds “wind” as being one of the pernicious influences and examines its effects in terms of the organs it interacts with, it enters into the back of the neck (where the spinal cord lies), bringing with it all kinds of pathogenic effects as it distributes itself and its contents in various places in the body. Many medical Qi-Gong practices, with their gentle movements involving contracting and expanding, rolling and circling, have their aim in pushing excess wind out of the body. Qi-Gong and Pawanmuktasana have an inextricable link in my brain due to their startling similarities.

 In practice 3 major factors can prevent the deepening of a stretch. The first: bony or structural interference, this can be solved with radical surgery that may lead to a much shorter and more painful life than anticipated. The second: muscle shortness or stiffness, both of these are soothed and balmed over time with patience and practice. The third: the nerves.

 If you have ever tried to stretch forward and your feet have gotten tingly or you felt a strange pulling in the back of your knee then you have experienced this third limitation. Repetitive strain of nerves can cause adhesions, similar to scars, which can lead to further pain and suffering in the form of “twinges” “pinches” and “numbness”.

 A strand of Western Medicine calls the method for releasing these adhesions and lengthening nerves is called Neural Flossing. The exercises look startlingly similar to Pawanmuktasana and certain Qi-Gong movements. With adhesion released, impulses can travel down the length of the nerve more easily and more consistently. More simply: by practicing Pawanmuktasana or Qi-Gong your energy flow will improve.
Here are some sigils I wrote this week:
PAGE 3: which I thought may kill me before its completion, joke's on it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

All symbols empty

We join spokes together in a wheel
But it is the center hole
That makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
But it is the emptiness inside
That holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
But it is the inner space
That makes it livable.

We work with being,
But non-being is what we use.

~Tao Te Ching



With the exception of the Tao-Te-Ching, reaching through the mires of layered symbolism and occult blinds in attempt extract functional techniques for deconditioning and reprogramming requires herculean effort.  There is some good reason for this in older texts, a good example being the use of alchemical symbolism to describe ‘deviant’ sexual practices in the middle ages that would have engendered executions.  Crowley’s blinds when writing about homosexuality and sex magick carried this common thread into the new millennium where the thread will hopefully reach an ignominious end.  Crowley also blinded some techniques with poetry in order to prevent the uninitiated from attempting what he called ‘dangerous practices’, more likely, however, it was to foster an elitism and exclusionism.

Authors like Peter Carroll stripped everything down to bare technique and simple language to describe not only the skeleton of technique (just add your own beliefs!) but also to describe the effects of the technique and their usefulness and practicality.

Once one steps out of the magickal world and into the mystical or (God forbid!) religious world, this cutting away of the fat to get to the meat becomes more and more difficult.  “A Shaivite pilgrim walks around mount Kailash and sees Shiva at the summit, a Buddhist sees Buddha, a Shaktist sees the goddess, a yogi sees all those things and maybe also his or her mother”(1).  Yoga has long borrowed gods from both the vedic religion and Hinduism to describe complicated experiences and techniques for achieving them.  The play of Shiva and Shakti (form/inertia, emptiness/energy) represent the creation/dissolution and the universe itself.  This is remarkably similar to the Yin and Yang of Daoism or Caroll and Spare’s Kia and Chaos.

In the womb, as embryos, the structure that serves a precursor to the spinal cord and brain is called the neural tube.  If you want to think about it as the site where intelligence and sentience first form as well it shores up reasonably well with preconceptions about the CNS.  Our spinal cords form first.  In yoga the chakras although not being part of the body, are lined up with the spine.  These ‘energy centers’ are fundamental symbols involved in most yogic schools and none of them can decide on exactly how many of them we have in our bodies.  There are sounds associated with them, gods, animals, colors, soon it becomes as complicated as the Golden Dawn model for anything in particular.

To cut the fat away: the chakras represent places where, during intensive concentration on either nothing in particular or stillness, awareness accretes naturally and can be moved from one to the other.  Maybe doing this will help heal you or grant you secret powers of love (if enough awareness accretes in the heart) or speech (the throat), but maybe its just a good exercise in controlling your concentration and focusing awareness.  The more you pay attention to something the greater is your capacity to change it.  When seeking these experiences, cancel dogma, find your own way.

Next time you are concentrating and still, try to focus all of your awareness on your right big toe, once you have a breakthrough experience where you feel your awareness accreting there, see how long you can keep it there.

Instead of interpreting the symbols you encounter in an experience, try to think in terms of what the experience symbolizes.  What does your body symbolize?

(1) Rolf Sovik said this during a slideshow of a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash that he and several other chelas undertook.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Habit of Heart and Lungs

That (Asana) Having Been Perfected, Regulation Of The Flow Of Inhalation And Exhalation Is Pranayama (Breath Control) 2.49

That Pranayama Has [1] External Operation (Vahya-Vrtti), [2] Internal Operation (Abhyantara-Vrtti) And [3] Supression (Stambha-Vrtti).  These, Again, When Observed According to Space, Time And Number Become Long And Subtle. 2.50

The Fourth Pranayama Transcends External and Internal Operations. 2.51

By That The Veil over Manifestation Is Thinned. 2.52

The Mind Acquires Fitness For Dharana [Concentration]. 2.53

~Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, Samkhya-yogacharya Swami Hariharananda Aranya


The skillful magician often fits the description: low tension/high energy.  Although most of the rest of us achieve moments of this which contribute to flashes of insight and occasional smooth transitions during life changing situation, the magician cultivates this state so that it may be more permanent, useful and ultimately predictable.  The rest of us tend to move between high tension/low energy and low tension/low energy (archetypes of the hanged man, and the hermit) some are fortunate enough to excel to high energy/high tension (the emperor archetype).

The push and pull of tension can be useful in some practices, specifically those involving ecstatic movement, but the goal of ecstasy is essentially to overwhelm the senses to a degree that tension is completely impossible and these senses then collapse inward on a single point of focus.  However, The outcome of these practices has a tendency toward greater result if the practitioner begins at a low state of tension then consciously or unconsciously directing their flow of tension into ecstasy.  So willful tension seems good in some cases.

Low tension allows for greater powers of fixed concentration.   Fluidity in life requires low tension, otherwise disease (physical or emotional) infiltrates through the holes in the human matrix.  A skillful magician should be able to shift his or her unwavering concentration from one thing to the next without batting an eyelash or crashing the car.

There are many methods by which a practitioner can begin to cultivate this state of low tension/high energy.  As a trained hatha yogi and qi-gong man the ones I will herein describe require no additional esoteric equipment, no knives made of strange metals, no pentagrams etched in wax.  All you need is your hands, your body and your heart beat.

When someone experiences prolonged unhappiness and depression they tend to breathe quickly in and very slowly out.  When angry the breath comes out quick and goes in harsh, but stays shallow.  When surprised or shocked the breath comes in deeply and sharply then comes out quickly.  How someone breathes indicates a lot about their emotional state and therefore their state of tension.  Consequently, how someone breathes also has the tendency to change his or her emotional state. 

Patanjali,  paraphrased heavily here, indicates that the simplest technique towards Samadhi involves watching the breath and keeping it even and smooth.  The more conventional, traditional (?),  modern teaching has it that breathing slowly, deeply, without pauses, smoothly, and softly will get you there. 

The Vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) travels from the brain down most of the trunk of the body.  On the way it innervates  heart and many of the organs, therefore speeding up or slowing down our heart rate dependant on internal and external environmental factors.  Because of this action it serves as the most easily accessible switch between the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system provides us with the fight or flight stress response and the parasympathetic with the rest and digest response.  The diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle, may actually massage and stimulate a sensory portion of the vagus nerve if we are breathing very deeply.  After prolonged, controlled breathing of this nature the parasympathetic nervous system transitions on and the heart rate slows and tension diminishes.

So the first key to the magician’s state of low tension/high energy is this sensory portion of the vagus nerve.  Breathing deeply.  This also has the result of bringing more oxygen into the body and releasing more carbon dioxide resulting in more energy.

LIBER CCC part 1: Deconditio Prefundis
Preliminary practice: (breathe only through the nose)

(A) Establishing a Baseline
       1. Place one hand over the navel
       2. Place the other hand over the heart
       3. Breathe normally and notice which hand moves more

(B) Deepening the Breath
       1. Breathe so that only the hand over the belly button moves, practice until the hand over the heart
           does not move at all for 30 minutes, then continue to step 2
       2. Breathe deeply into the belly then continue to breathe until the ribs expand laterally.  Allow no
           movement in the upper chest,  when you exhale: close the ribs first, then allow the belly to fall
           back towards the spine as you allow the breath to leave. When you can do this for 30 minutes
           move to step 3
       3. Breathe deeply into the belly, then continue to breathe until the ribs expand, and now finally
           continue to breathe so that the chest (energetic heart) expands and lifts towards the sky (ceiling,
           whatever). Lower the chest,  then close the ribs, then allow the abdomen to fall as the breath
           leaves. When you can breathe this way for 30 minutes continue to C.

       Congratulations on breathing deeply!
(C) Softening the breath
       1. Breathe as in (B)
       2. Focus your attention on your nostrils and feel the breath moving in and out here, when you can
           do this for 10 minutes continuously go to 3
       3. Consciously soften your breathing until you can feel a cool touch against your nostrils as you
           breathe in and a warmer touch as you breathe out.
       4. When you can do this for 30 minutes continue to (D)

(D) Evening the breath
       1. Breathe as in (B) and (C)
       2. Count your heartbeat to see how long it takes to breathe all the way in slowly and deeply,
           while still noticing the touch of breath against the nose
       3. Match this number to your exhalation so if you breathe in to 5 you breathe out to 5
       4. Increase the duration of the breath incrementally until you reach 20
       5. When this can be accomplished continuously for 30 minutes move on to (E)

(E) Demiurgic Breathing
      1. Lie on the floor or sit in a steady asana
      2. Work your way into breathing as per the end of D, then discontinue counting
      3. Continuing to breathe deeply and slowly remain as still as possible
      4. Use as little muscle as possible to breathe in and out, keep the breath soft
      5. Try not to think
      6. Practice this for at least 30 minutes daily, record results, visions etc.

        Congratulations!  You have successfully begun the process of self-deconditioning and tension reduction that is essential to success.

        At first the breathing may stop and start and not feel very continuous, or you may have an easy time for the first few breaths then they become labored and uncomfortable with constant stops and starts.  Focus on each breath individually and just try to do your best.  With practice the kinks, as they say, work out.