Awakening to Higher Awareness
by Gyandev McCord
Imagine that you’ve hired Michelangelo. You’ve heard that he’s a good painter, and you want him to repaint your kitchen cabinets. Plain white. No doubt he would do a great job, but might you be missing out on something much better?
It’s the same with Hatha Yoga, the physical branch of the greater science of (Raja) Yoga. If you practice only for its physical and psychological benefits — increased flexibility, strength, and vitality, reduced pain or stress, and so on — you’ll receive some of those benefits, but you’re likely to miss out on something much better! For Hatha Yoga is above all a tool for spiritual growth. Its highest purpose is to help you raise your consciousness and achieve ever-greater happiness.
Can mere bodily positions and breathing exercises do that for you? A little bit, yes, but much more is possible if you know how to amplify the effects of these practices through the hidden powers of your mind and heart. This book shows you how. If you’re new to Hatha Yoga, you’ll find here instructions to begin a safe, enjoyable practice that will raise your consciousness. If you’re experienced, you’ll find many ways to deepen your practice by working more directly with energy and consciousness — and I hope that you’ll be patient with any explanations intended for those who are newer.
Our springboard will be Ananda Yoga, one of the many spiritual expressions of Hatha Yoga. Ananda Yoga comes from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. He was the first great master of Yoga to make his home in the West, where he dedicated his life to sharing India’s ancient spiritual wisdom and techniques. His direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, developed the Ananda Yoga system, based on Yogananda’s approach to spiritual practices (see Appendix A: Origins of Ananda Yoga).
Ananda means “bliss, divine joy.” Union with divine joy is thus both the literal meaning and the highest aim of Ananda Yoga. Although it also brings many physical benefits, our focus here will be on the psychological and, even more, the spiritual benefits.
In Ananda Yoga, you work directly with the body’s prana (energy, life-force) to heighten your awareness as well as to achieve greater relaxation, vitality, and overall wellness. The practice includes three kinds of techniques:
• Asanas (postures/poses)
• Pranayamas (energy-control techniques) — These include breath-control techniques, bandhas and mudras (physical actions that help direct the flow of energy in the body), and Paramhansa Yogananda’s Energization Exercises (see Appendix B: Further Exploration). For clarity in this book, “pranayamas” will refer only to breath-control techniques.
• Techniques of meditation, the central practice of all Yoga
We’ll explore all three areas, as well as ways to blend them together into a revitalizing and uplifting practice.
The Only Source of Knowledge
Spiritual Yoga is a quest to know a greater reality — beyond the senses, intellect, and emotions. Your concept of that reality might be cosmic: Spirit, Higher Power, Truth, God, Divine Mother. Or it might be very personal: soul, Higher Self, your own highest potential. Or it might be something else altogether. Yet for every spiritual seeker, the goal is the same: to experience that greater reality. Belief can’t take us there. Although belief can motivate us and guide our efforts, it is not knowledge — and if we cling dogmatically to belief, it can keep us from knowing. Experience is the only source of knowledge.
Paramhansa Yogananda put it simply: “The yogi must turn his conceptions into perceptions.” Another great yogi, Swami Vivekananda, said, “It is no doubt a blessing to be born into a religion, but it is a misfortune to die in one.” Both were urging people to go beyond belief and religion into direct, personal experience.
In this book I’ll use a variety of names for that greater reality, in hopes that personal beliefs — yours or mine — won’t get in the way of knowing. Whatever names I use, dear friend, please substitute your own preferred name. Let’s move together into ever-deeper personal experience.
The Bigger Picture
Although this book is primarily about techniques, Yoga is much more than that. It’s a complete system of living that can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. Techniques alone cannot bring the highest spiritual attainment: Self-realization, the blissful, enduring experience of your inherent oneness with all that is. They can, however, lift your consciousness and give powerful support to all your spiritual efforts, as you’ll discover through your own practice.
Throughout this book, the first occurrence of each Sanskrit word is italicized, followed by its English meaning. The Sanskrit names of individual asanas, pranayamas, bandhas, and mudras are capitalized; for easier reading, they’re never italicized. For an audio pronunciation guide to the Sanskrit words, visit AnandaYoga.org.
See the glossary in the back of this book for explanations of common Sanskrit words, specialized yogic terminology (e.g., ego, superconsciousness, subtle gravity), and some terms pertaining to physical anatomy and kinesiology.