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Kashmiryoga

The most important representative of the spiritual tradition of Kashmir is Abhinavagupta, author of the comprehensive "Tantraloka", who lived there about a thousand years ago. The most famous text of the Kashmir tradition is the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra, which means "Treatise on recognising Ultimate Reality". The author of this ancient text is unknown. A good alternative translation is "Treatise on Self Realization", for in the Kashmir tradition Ultimate Reality is the same as our own true nature. As Self Realization or - as Buddhists say - Realization of your true Buddha nature, is the end of every authentic yoga, it is best to turn to this old Tantra to discover what is the essence, the basis of Kashmir yoga.

"If someone penetrates his own source of energy and identifies with this, his deified energy assumes the form of Shiva and then that energy is called 'opening' (towards Shiva)." (shloka 20)
"In the same way as the light of a lamp or the rays of the sun enable us to see the world, so the Shakti enables us to know Shiva, Oh dear one." (shloka 21)
"Shiva" is another name for "Bhairava", our true Self. "Shakti" means energy, in this case our own life-energy.

The meaning of the quoted shlokas is that we have to turn to our own life-energy as a means to realize Shiva, our true Self.

In the body our life-energy manifests itself as the so-called energy body. The yogis call this energy body the pranic body. The energy body gives life to the physical body as well as to the astral and the causal body. The astral and the causal body enable us to perform mental activities, to gain insight, to have desires and to experience happiness. To emphasize different aspects of the energy body, my teacher Jean Klein regularly employed alternative names, as vitality body, tactile body, music body.

In the energy body the life-energy (prana) flows through a system of channels (nadis). The three most important channels are called Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Sushumna is the channel through the spine. Ida and Pingala start at the nostrils, meander around Sushumna and end at the coccyx. With "ordinary" people Ida and Pingala are active, while Sushumna is more or less closed. The corresponding state of mind is as fluctuating as the energy currents: oscillation between attraction and repulsion, past and future, optimism and pessimism, pleasure and pain.

Kashmir yoga states that awakening and expanding the energy body will finally bring about the contact with our own energy source. To this end you can practise the classical yoga bodywork (postures, breathing exercises like kapalabhati and bhastrika, pranayama, bandhas, etc.) in such a way, that awakening and expansion of the energy body is emphasized.

In order to awaken and expand the energy body it is recommended to direct attention to the tactile sense, to the body-feeling. This is the most important aspect as far as the yoga-bodywork is concerned.

With respect to this attention it is good to know that the human mind is unable to do two things at the same time. Sometimes it seems that our mind has this capacity, but illusion arises because the mind can alternate one activity with another very swiftly. However this limitation has an advantage.

If, while practising yoga-bodywork, one directs attention to body-feeling, one cannot at the same time think and thereby evoke self images. Because of this, during practice, one experiences oneself no longer as a person, but only as consciousness, coupled with a body. This is why one feels that body and mind become very relaxed and that the capacity for lucid observation improves. This facilitates activation of the energy body.

Concerning the postures (asanas), the lotus posture (padmasana) and the perfect posture (siddhasana) are best suited to activate and purify the energy body. In "Gorakshashatakam" (literally: the 100 verses of Goraksha), an original text about yoga from the times in which also Abhinavagupta lived, only these two postures are mentioned.

In former times, practitioners of yoga were used anyway to sitting on the floor, so that their hip joints were already adapted to these two postures. Nowadays yoga practitioners often need years of training with all kinds of preparatory exercises to reach this ability. In this connection the excellent posture" (bhadrasana) deserves mention. In this sitting posture the spine, neck and head are kept in a straight line, while the soles of the feet are joined, heels near the perineum. Sometimes it is called "the posture of Goraksha". It is very suited to prepare the body for the perfect posture or the lotus posture.

As regards the lotus posture, a warning is due. Even for a trained practitioner of yoga it is tricky. One should always listen to the body to avoid damaging the knee joints, since these are ill suited to this posture.

In the lotus posture either the left or the right leg may be placed on top of the other leg, so one can choose what is most comfortable. If the lotus posture is still too difficult, you may practise the half lotus posture (ardha padmasana). For this, you start in an ordinary cross-legged sitting posture (sukhasana). Then you place one foot on the opposite thigh. The heel of the underlying foot is brought against the perineum. In the perfect posture, the right leg must be placed on top of the left one. Both heels should be in the centre. If your body finds this difficult, bhadrasana (see above) is the ideal posture to overcome this difficulty.

As stated above, the main channels of the life -energy run through and along the spine. There are three points in the spine where the upward flow of energy is often hampered: - the transition between the fourth and the fifth lumbar vertebra, - between the points of the shoulder blades and - at the seventh cervical vertebra. The classic postures (asanas) and some specific exercises improve the flow of energy through and along the spine. The classic postures also reduce resistances elsewhere, thus improving the flow of energy through the whole body.

As soon as a practitioner, through exercise, is able to sit in a relaxed manner cross-legged on the floor - if necessary with a prop - with a straight spine, and as soon as a reasonable body-awareness is obtained, the breathing-exercises kapalabhati and bhastrika are very powerful to further activate the energy body. From my own experience I can say that, if you have mastered the technique of, for instance, kapalabhati well enough, it is possible to awaken the energy body within a few minutes to such a degree, that it is directly experienced. Then the body feels "empty", as if the physical body is dissolved. Also the mind is strongly influenced and often spontaneously goes into meditation. Breathing exercises are preferably done in the (half) lotus posture.
Other breathing exercises, the so-called pranayamas, also play a part in awakening the energy body, but the retention of breath (kumbhaka) is not so strongly emphasized in Kashmir yoga as in some other traditions. The highest pranayama is here simply "witnessing" the movement of breath. This may be considered a form of meditation.

Vijñana Bhairava:

"Let in- and exhalation become spontaneous. Then the coiled up Shakti uncoils and straightens upwards. She is the great Goddess, both immanent and transcendent, the highest sanctuary."(shloka 154)
"He who follows the ascent of this energy while preoccupied with this rite that consists of deep bliss, will, thanks to this Goddess and completely absorbed in her, attain Bhairava." (shloka 155)
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