Translation of an article of Yoohei Iio,
MAHAYOGI YOGA MISISON, KYOTO.
It was in 2011 when I took the asana and meditation class at Nagaokakyo. During the asana (practice), a senior disciple, Haridas, gave advice by saying, “Yoohei, Punch in the breath.”
When I heard this, I understood his words to mean that I just needed to heighten my concentration. However, while it may have been only a glimpse, in these series of the program titled “Acquiring the Secret of Yoga Asana” taught by senior disciples, I learned and now understand the strong spirit behind his words.
The purpose of “Acquiring the Secret of Yoga Asana”, was returning to the original teaching of Shri Mahayogi in asana practice and ensuring that his teachings would be passed on purely. Having received the training directly from Shri Mahayogi, Shantimayi, Sananda and Haridas, their explanations, talks based on their personal experience, and the prana or ki flowing from them were stimulating and full of inspiration. Every program was a continual new discovery for me. Not only that, but what I learned was not merely confined to the program and I continue to experience new discoveries and realizations even to this day.
In this essay, I would like to focus on sessions #1, 2 and 11 of the program, the phrase “Punch in the breath,” which I felt was a big eye opener for me, my progress after the program, and my present way of thinking (November 2011) toward Yoga.
In the first session, I was a bit tense. However, because of my seniors’ intense passion for Yoga, my anxiety was quickly dispelled. Haridas said that when he first saw Shri Mahayogi’s asana with his own eyes, he was overwhelmed by its beauty and explosiveness. Haridas also mentioned that he was disciplining himself in the practice of asana with strong motivation: “I will become a Yogi!” When I heard his talk, I strongly felt his deep respect and his admiration for Shri Mahayogi. There was also a topic about the importance of “going beyond one’s limit” in asana practice. Shantimayi said that, “By going beyond one’s limit, the capacity of one’s mind will expand.”
In the second session, I felt tapas (heat) most. We practiced back-bending poses—bhujanga asana, dhanura asana and chakra asana, which are especially hard poses in which to practice breathing while holding the pose. The duration each pose was held was much longer than the time we hold them in regular class, and with the early summer conditions and condensed energy from everyone added to it, I struggled very much. We practiced chakra asana as the last pose, but I could not hold the pose until the end [until we were asked to release.] I had the keen realization that that my vitality and determination to go beyond my limit were not sufficient, and I truly felt ashamed. That day, the heat in my body did not calm down even after I returned home, and it continued till the next day.
In the 11th session, I knew that I would not be able to attend the final 12th session because of my job, so this was my last session. The focus was nauli. I performed the way I usually did, but Haridas pointed out that my form was fine but the exhalation seemed insufficient because the amount of inhalation after releasing the abdominal muscle seemed to be less than what it could be. It made me gasp. I suddenly realized my self-conceit: I had felt that I could perform nauli because the form has shaped up better and the practice of nauli has become comfortable. But this sense of “I can”, this self-conceit and pride, appeared because I overlooked the details—my exhalation was not sufficient. I have neglected the attitude of continuously striving to go beyond the limit. Then Haridas said the following:
“If the breathing in asana is lukewarm or half-hearted, your pranayama (control of prana) is also lukewarm or half-hearted. Your practice of discrimination [between Truth and non-truth] is lukewarm or half-hearted. Everything becomes lukewarm or half-hearted. Unless you bring your breath forcibly into submission, controlling the mind is impossible.”
A week after the program ended I attended the asana and meditation class at Nagaokakyo, and it was the first one after receiving Haridas’s advice on the breath in the class. I had heard that Haridas now practices asana with the others, [instead of leading the class with Sananda,] so I decided to practice next to him, and pay attention to his breathing. I felt it! I felt the “punch in his breath.” His every breath was full of power and I felt his whole spirit in it. I attempted to breathe together with him. His non-breathing state after complete exhalation was quite long, and his breathing rhythm was consistent. I suddenly realized how shallow was my understanding about the breathing, and in the same moment I felt what the intensity of the breathing to mean in my own bones.
From the next day, I applied what I learned about breathing in asana. I exhaled vigorously and completely, and I consciously extended the length of the non-breathing state after each exhalation. Then I experienced a different sense of concentration from my regular practice. So, I sensed that I received the results. But, a few days later, in the asana meditation class at Yoga Vihara, Yogadanda, who is another senior disciple, pointed out the irregularity of my breathing, and suggested that I ask Shri Mahayogi in order to understand the state of non-breathing in asana correctly.
At Satsangha a week later, I asked Shri Mahayogi about it. Shri Mahayogi responded that, “Stopping of the breath in asana should not be executed consciously, it occurs as a natural result [of practice]. What is important is to exhale completely till your limit. Only through training of exhaling thoroughly until your limit will intensity manifest as the result.” Shri Mahayogi’s words struck me profoundly. I realized that I was only focusing on the result, the non-breathing state, and ignored the process of exhaling completely till the limit. This caused the irregularity and disturbance in my breathing. Wanting to see only the result is caused by mental weakness. I figured that it does not only relate to breathing but also includes all other actions.
In retrospect, when I took the asana and meditation classes with Shri Mahayogi a year ago in New York, Shri Mahayogi advised me “Your breathing has not yet developed at all. What I mean is not how long you can hold it. What is important is the intensity, the depth of your breathing.” But, I did not consider the implications deeply enough, therefore I did not have concrete questions about it.
Shri Mahayogi is always open. He does not hide or keep the teachings secret. So it was I who was not open completely or able to receive. It indicates that I was not facing myself seriously. Only a year after receiving that particular guidance from Shri Mahayogi, and because I learned from the opportunity of this program, I finally arrived at the place where I am able to ask Shri Mahayogi a question that relates to breathing. This made me think of the phrase from Bhagavad Gita,
“Learn to know true wisdom
By obeisance to the wise,
By questioning them, by serving them;
They will teach thee the wisdom,
The wise who see the Truth.”
Through the experience of taking this program, I determined to discipline myself to practice asana daily as hard as possible, to keep bringing my awareness to completely exhalation until the limit. I was shown that asana is not everything in Yoga but it can become the foundation of all Yoga practices.
Going back to the first session of this program, Shantimayi said, “The breathing during asana transforms the breathing in daily life.”
As she said, from now on, I strive to live this life, putting value and care into each single breath, each single day, and moment to moment with a strong passion and determination. I believe that this is the way that definitely leads to the One.
Finally, I would like to say that the opportunity to learn the real yoga asana, which has been continuously passed on only through yogis from ancient time in India, through Shri Mahayogi, who has mastered it through direct experience not in its traditional country India but in present-day Japan, is truly an immeasurable blessing. I do not know how to put my gratitude into words.
Shri Mahayogi, please let me offer my feelings, which could never be fully expressed in words.