Withdrawal of the Senses: Practicing Yoga Blindfolded
In yoga philosophy, Pratyahara – translated as removal of the senses, is designed to take us from the outside to the inside, a journey for the yogi to find the Self. How about removing your ability to see? It is one thing to close your eyes during a practice, yet to actually remove the choice of opening them is a completely different matter.
Practicing yoga with your eyes blindfolded has a huge impact on the rest of your senses. You’ll feel your balance being challenged as you remove visual references and you’ll also feel the rest of your senses become deepened and refined. Another benefit is a renewed sense of gratitude. We often take simple things—like our ability to appreciate beautiful images, light, movement and action through our eyesight—for granted.
Give it a go and see for yourself what benefits arise from the removal of one of your senses. With a scarf or sleep mask, cover your eyes. Take a moment to simply get accustomed to the idea of not having the choice to open your eyes during your practice. Allow for any feelings of anxiety or fear as you adapt to this big change. Calm any sense of panic by drawing your attention to your breath and feeling the solid earth beneath your feet. Feel the difference in the air, the space filling the room. Use the rest of your senses: hearing, taste, touch and smell, and remind yourself that you can always feel for the edges of your mat if you need to regain your bearings.
Practicing blindfolded is a time to take your asana practice a little slower and use a simpler sequence, in order to go deeper within. The present moment will be magnified and you will tune deeper into your breath, feeling and hearing the sensations of your body moving. You will notice that the need for focus and presence is much greater than usual. If your mind shifts or wanders at all from the present, you’ll feel lost. You may also recognize yourself seeking for external approval by checking what others are doing or looking for visual references. Use this as an opportunity to find approval from within yourself. After all, the purpose of the practice of yoga is to connect to your deeper self; to trust yourself and feel a sense of renewed confidence from within; to realize that the answers lie within.
Enjoy the experiment and use this as an exercise to adapt to change, to become more grateful for the smaller or invisible aspects of your life. Notice the qualities and attributes that arise during the practice and what effects you feel at the end. Take this as an opportunity to feel grateful for the simple things in life, the ability you have to see, to appreciate beauty.
Purifying Through Fire: Creating a Fire Ceremony
The ancient Vedic culture, from which yoga is derived, has a long-standing tradition of rituals designed to pay homage to and communicate with the divine. In a Puja ceremony, one makes simple offerings in gratitude for the blessings they have received and to return a piece of these gifts back to spirit. In a Yajna, the ritual is more extensive. Here Brahman or Vedic priests communicate with specific aspects of the divine through the messenger Agni, the fire God. Yajnas, as prescribed in the Vedas, follow a specific template which include intention, offerings, and specific mantras to be recited. The following article describes the basic tenants of Yajna and Puja to provide a template for practitioners to create their own fire ceremony of purification and transformation.
1. Begin in Fullness
A central tenant in yoga is the notion of “purnam” or wholeness. All that exists arises from wholeness and is in itself whole. It is essential in our communion with spirit to understand that we are not separate from and seeking union; instead we are unified and remembering.
Purnam exists throughout the entire life cycle; from the blessing of a newborn baby to the cremation grounds of Varanassi, the wholeness of life is acknowledged through its entirety. As an individual soul, or, we go through a journey of transformation as our life unravels to reveal new layers of understanding. Regardless of one’s disposition, place in life, failures or successes, each individual is of “purnam” and as such, divinely whole. The practice of purification serves to dissolve the illusion of separation and bring the aspirant back into their knowing of wholeness.
As you prepare your body and mind for fire ceremony, do so from the intrinsic understanding that you are whole exactly as you are. Bring your whole self forward. Allow all parts of you, from the beautiful to unseemly, to open to the direction and guidance of spirit.