These verses paint a picture of Yoga sadhana and present us with the kinds of things that happen inside and outside of meditation that prepare the way for the equanimity of union with the Divine.
Yoga – union.
Sadhana – spiritual practices: ‘the means of obtaining proof and mastery; the means of bringing about fulfillment, completion, perfection.’
Physical-material sacrifices, purification, yoga, self-inspection and the study of the scriptures are sacrifices offered by sincere aspirants.
“Sacrifices offered by sincere aspirants” – forms of sadhana performed by determined aspirants.
Physical-material sacrifices. In meditation: spontaneous actions of body, breath and energy. Outside meditation: living simply, selfless service, monetary gifts, food, etc. to the teacher.
Purification. In meditation: spontaneous purification of body, mind and feelings. Outside meditation: attention to diet, the practice of yama and niyama, asana, pranayama.
Any kind of spiritual path taken to the full will involve purification, whether through purification techniques or purification brought on by yoga itself.
Purification is one way to understand the Sanskrit word tapas, the third niyama. Usually translated as ‘austerity’, tapas means ‘to burn, melt down, warm’. This gives us a clue as to the kind of purification that is going to come of yoga itself. Whereas physical purification usually takes place by impurities leaving the body, when purification is achieved through yoga, impurities of all kinds melt away (tapas).
Yoga. In meditation: spontaneous asana, pranayama, pratyahara and union (samyama: concentration, meditation, samadhi). Outside of meditation: asana and pranayama.
Self-inspection and Study. In and out of meditation: contemplation and self-referencing with self-honesty, contemplation on the self and the Self; studying scripture, listening to and reading scriptural teachings, receiving oral teachings, teaching others.
A sincere aspirant will not stop just because he or she is taken out of their comfort zone. To do this is to refuse progress, for progress involves change, and change is rarely comfortable.
Other offerings are apana into prana, and prana into apana. Another offering is both prana and apana, restraining the movement of the life energy.
The offering of “apana into prana and prana into apana” is, on the surface, a reference to breathing out and breathing in, which is how some translations are worded. But it is also a specific pranayama (anulomaviloma) in which the breath is taken in through the left nostril (apana), held for a time, and released through the right nostril (prana), then repeated in reverse beginning with the right nostril. This is a very relaxing and balancing breath that anyone can practice.
The offering of “both prana and apana” results in “restraining the movement of the life energy” as the breath is held. Another, deeper way to understand this though, is that kundalini awakens with the marriage of prana and apana; their mutual ‘restraint’ is then understood as kumbhaka. From this point of view, it is a description of how kundalini is awakened and paves the way to the breathless state and samadhi.
Also, restraining food or livelihood is an offering of prana into prana. These are sacrifices made by sacrifice-knowers whose stains are diminished or destroyed through their sacrifices.
Stains – The Sanskrit for ‘stains’ refers to karma that has an injurious effect on oneself or others, and nullifies ‘good’ karma.
One of the first ways people try to improve their lives is through diet, which is reflected in this last form of sacrifice. The sacrifice of ‘restraining food’ as an offering of prana into prana, indicates that this sacrifice is made by means of intention, or will. However, with the practice of natural yoga, attention to diet comes about naturally.
The Sanskrit word for ‘restraining food’ includes ‘livlihood’ and may be interpreted as living simply, which also comes about naturally for one who takes their sadhana to the full. A yogi has no time or interest in working for a living in the fast lane.
Verses 24-30 tell of different kinds of sacrifices, the various ways people do sadhana to diminish their ‘stains’. This brings more ease into their lives as they enjoy more inspiring meditation experiences, and augment their progress.
Does everyone who takes up the spiritual journey always run into these same things? In one lifetime or another, yes, and in every lifetime to some degree, all of them. To know what they are is to take aim and score!
Namaste (I bow to the Divine One that You really are),
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