NEWSLETTER       Issue 03.  July 04.

In this issue:

News and Events


Upcoming workshops and courses:

Sachananda Yoga Shala presents the YogAyurVedanta Forum™. This is the first Yoga Forum of its kind with a practicum module on Yoga and study of Ayurveda and Vedanta. A four-hour Yoga session integrating practice and philosophy. Come and experience the deeper aspects of Yoga poses, learn the basics of Ayurveda and explore Yoga Philosophy. Date: Sun, August 22, 2004. For more information and to register, please visit the news & events page at

Lectures on “The Bhagavad Gita” by Brahmacharini Nishita Chaitanya. Nishitaji is a teacher of Vedanta and is the current head of the Chinmaya Mission HK, a tax exempt charitable ashram in HK. We are pleased to have Nishitaji conduct a series of lectures on the Bhagavad Gita at the shala through the month of September 2004.  The talks are in English. Voluntary donations are welcome and will be offered to charity. For program details, please go to the news and events page at

Tai Qi Lessons by Les McLure  Dip. Shiatsu. UK.  Dip. Acupuncture, HKU at Sachananda Yoga Shala.

We are delighted to introduce Les, an experienced Tai Qi teacher who will be teaching Tai Qi and related oriental healing arts. Les has studied Zen Shiatsu with the Bristol School of Shiatsu and the Healing Shiatsu Education Centre. He was trained in Qi Gong and Makko Ho by his principal Shiatsu teacher and has studied the three Yang Tai Qi forms with teachers in the UK and China. 

The gently flowing circular movements of Tai Qi have been used for centuries to enhance and maintain wellbeing. It is a practical tool for healing, self defense and meditation. Movement and breath are harmonized and each movement exercises specific energy channels (meridians) promoting the free flow of qi through the meridian system to nourishing the body, mind and spirit. Attention is focused on the chakras – known as dian tian’s and the meridians - and the breath circulated through them. The Yang 24 form takes six minutes to complete and when incorporated into a daily wellness program will make a significant contribution to your wellbeing.

Makko Ho: Originating from Japan the Makko Ho exercises show excess and deficiency of qi in the meridian/organ network and rebalances these two extremes. There are six diagnostic exercises and six corrective exercises. The diagnostic exercises reveal the extremes – most difficult and most easy indicating where there the qi is restricted. The corrective exercises for these two adjust and balance the qi. The Makko Ho exercises take twenty minutes to complete and are a profound self healing tool when practices regularly. 


Shiatsu: A Japanese healing system based on the principles and theories of acupuncture. However no needles are used instead pressure is applied to the meridians and tsubos – acupuncture points using the fingers, hands elbows, knees and feet. Shiatsu addresses the underlying cause of dis-ease as well as addressing its symptoms. A traditional five element diagnosis is made during the first consultation to determine where the imbalances are the meridians that need supporting.

Relaxsu: A deeply relaxing massage using shiatsu techniques to stretch the limbs and rotate the joints and apply pressure along the four meridians concerned with circulation, integration, nutrition and defense. Pressure is applied on the out breath which deepens as the Relaxsu progresses. The out breath is the part of breathing involved in ‘letting go’. When we stop holding on and let go the Qi is able to circulate freely. Like Shiatsu Relaxsu is given wearing loose comfortable clothing.

Qi Gong: In traditional Chinese medicine Qi refers to our vital energy. Qi gong is a series of breathing exercises to stimulate this vital energy to strengthen immunity to disease, adapt to the external environment and repair internal damage. Attention is paid to correct posture and breathing and developing tranquility of the mind. The particular Qi Gong exercises are specific to the individual health needs.

An updated schedule with courses in these oriental arts will be posted on shortly. Interested students can email for enquiries.

Keertan at Life Cafe.

Life cafe is holding a Keertan evening on Guru Purnima which falls on 2 July 2004. Interested students may call Yoganidhi at 2982 0270 for further information.


Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Hong Kong comes into existence on Buddha’s Birthday. Hong Kong saw its first Ramakrishna Vedanta Society formed on the auspicious occasion of Buddha Jayanti (birthday) under the auspices of the visiting Reverend Swami Damodaranandaji of Ramakrishna Belur Math, India. Many activities are being planned to disseminate knowledge and educate people on the Vedanta teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Parmahamsa, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.  For more information, please call Chandra Navani at  25499300.

Celebrations. The month of May saw the birth anniversary and birthday celebrations of two masters, Swami Chinmayananda, founder of the Chinmaya International Foundation on 8th May and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living on 13th May.  Hundreds attended and participated in celebrations at both centres.

B. K. S. Iyengar named as one of 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine and  “Iyengar” included in Oxford dictionary as a form of Hatha yoga. We are delighted to see our dear Guruji,  Yogacharya B.K.S.Iyengar named as one of 100 most influential people in the world in the May issue of  TIME magazine. Here is the piece by Michael Richards:

Bringing the East to the West. Our Bodies Are Great.  They carry our brains around wherever we want to go, sit us down with a friend for a good meal or make us feel invigorated after a run or a swim.  Yoga may have origins outside Western culture, but its benefits are now felt within it.  The beauty of Iyengar yoga in particular is the revelation that there is a living architecture hidden in all of us that only needs unveiling.  Like any architecture, it demands diamond-like precision.  In fact B.K.S. Iyengar teaches that the body should flow into a yoga posture the way light fills a well-cut diamond.

Iyengar is 85 now, and he still teaches at the institute in Pune, India, that he founded in 1973.  He taught his first class in 1936, but it wasn’t until he struck up a lifelong friendship with violinist Yehudi Menuhin that Iyengar brought his teachings to the West.  His 1966 book Light on Yoga – with 300 pages of instruction and photographs of postures, or asanas-introudced yoga to people around the globe.  Aficionados founded Iyengar groups in the U.S. as early as 1974 and slowly fed what has become mainstream Western acceptance of a 3,000-year-old Indian tradition.

Iyengar teaches practitioners to lavish attention on the body.  The goal is to tie the mind to the breath and the body, not to an idea.  His philosophy is Eastern, but his vision is universalist. Westerners can incorporate Iyengar into their lives and yoga practice-but ultimately they’re Westerners, on Western soil.

In my acting, as in my yoga, every nuance, every detail and gesture is the subject of my focus.  I’m always paying careful attention, like a pianist, and translate that attention into my performance.  Iyengar knows what the body needs, and he’s introduced to the West the Easterner’s best path to health and well-being. 

Iyengar in Oxford Dictionary

 Iyengar ► noun [mass noun] a type of hatha yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, and other objects as aids to achieving the correct postures. ORIGIN: named after B.K.S Iyengar (born 1918), the Indian yoga teacher who devised this method. 


Articles & Features  

The Myth of the Beginning of Time

The cover story of the May 2004 issue of Scientific American discusses the possibility that the Big Bang may not be the origin of the universe.  String theory suggests that the Big Bang was not the origin of the universe but simply the outcome of a pre-existing state.

Vidya-Vaani finds it interesting to note that Vedanta (ancient Hindu philosophy) defines the universe as Brahmanda (infinitesimal expanding egg) and that Brahman or the Universal Consciousness is the efficient cause for the creation of the Universe, Time and Space. This theory now being explored by modern science has been known to the ancient sages and seers from time immemorial.  Below is an excerpt of the article:

Was the big bang really the beginning of time? By Gabriele Veneziano

Or did the universe exist before then?  Such a question seemed almost blasphemous only a decade ago.  Most cosmologists insisted that it simply made no sense – that to contemplate a time before the big bang was like asking for directions to a place north of the North Pole.  But developments in theoretical physics, especially the rise of string theory, have changed their perspective.  The pre-bang universe has become the latest frontier of cosmology.

The new willingness to consider what might have happened before the bang is the latest swing of an intellectual pendulum that has rocked back and forth for millennia.  In one form or another, the issue of the ultimate beginning has engaged philosophers and theologians in nearly every culture.  It is entwined with a grand set of concerns, one famously encapsulated in an 1897 painting by Paul Gauguin: D’ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous? “Where do we come from? What are we?  Where are we going?”  The piece depicts the cycle of birth, life and death-origin, identity and destiny for each individual-and these personal concerns connect directly to cosmic ones.  We can trace our lineage back through the generations, back through our animal ancestors, to forms of life and protolife, to the elements synthesized in the primordial universe, to the amorphous energy deposited in space before that.  Does our family tree extend forever backward?  Or do its roots terminate?  Is the cosmos as impermanent as we are?

The ancient Greeks debated the origin of time fiercely.  Aristotle, taking the no-beginning side, invoked the principle that out of nothing, nothing comes.  If the universe could never have gone from nothingness to somethingness, it must always have existed.  For this and other reasons, time must stretch eternally into the past and future.  Christian theologians tended to take the opposite point of view.  Augustine contended that God exists outside of space and time, able to bring these constructs into existence as surely as he could forge other aspects of our world.  When asked, “What was God doing before he created the world?” Augustine answered, “Time itself being part of God’s creation, there was simply no before!”

Einstein’s general theory of relativity led modern cosmologists to much the same conclusion. The theory holds that space and time are soft, malleable enti­ties. On the largest scales, space is natu­rally dynamic, expanding or contracting over time, carrying matter like driftwood on the tide. Astronomers confirmed in the 1920s that our universe is currently expanding: distant galaxies move apart from one another. One consequence, as physicists proved in the 1960s, is that time cannot extend back indefinitely. As you play cosmic history backward in time, the galaxies all come together to a single infinitesimal point—almost as if they were descending into a black hole.  Quantities such as density, temperature and space-time curvature become infinite. 

Consider what has happened over the 13.7 billion years since release of the cosmic microwave background radiation. The distance between galaxies has grown by a factor of about 1,000 (because of the expansion), while the radius of the observable universe has grown by the much larger factor of about 100,000 (because light outpaces the expansion). We see parts of the universe today that we could not have seen 13.7 billion years ago. Indeed, this is the first time in cosmic history that light from the most distant galaxies has reached the Milky Way.

Nevertheless, the properties of the Milky Way are basically the same as those of distant galaxies. It is as though you showed up at a party only to find you were wearing exactly the same clothes as a dozen of your closest friends. If just two of you were dressed the same, it might be explained away as coincidence, but a dozen suggests that the partygoers had coordinated their attire in advance. In cosmology, the number is not a dozen but tens of thousands—the number of independent yet statistically identical patches of sky in the microwave background.

One possibility is that all those regions of space were endowed at birth with identical properties—in other words, that the homogeneity is mere coincidence. Physicists, however, have thought about two more natural ways out of the impasse: the early universe was much smaller or much older than in standard cosmology. Either (or both, acting together) would have made intercommunication possible. One theory postulates that the universe went through a period of accelerating expansion, known as inflation, early in its history.  Before this phase, galaxies or their precursors were so closely packed that they could easily co-ordinate their properties. During inflation, they fell out of contact because light was unable to keep pace with the frenetic expansion. After inflation ended, the expansion began to decelerate, so galaxies gradually came back into one another’s view. In short, the big bang may not have been the origin of the universe but simply a violent transition from acceleration to deceleration.

Inside a black hole, space and time swap roles.  The center of the black hole is not a point in space but an instant in time.  As the in-falling matter approached the center, it reached higher and higher densities.  But when the density, temperature and curvature reached the maximum values allowed by string theory, these quantities bounced and started decreasing.  The moment of that reversal is what we call a big bang.  The interior of one of those black holes became our universe.

So, when did time begin? Science does not have a conclusive answer yet, but at least two potentially testable theories plausibly hold that the universe-and therefore time- existed well before the big bang.  

Overview/String Cosmology

Philosophers, theologians and scientists have long debated whether time is eternal or finite – that is, whether the universe has always existed or whether it had a definite genesis.  Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies finiteness.  An expanding universe must have begun at the big bang.

Yet general relativity ceases to be valid in the vicinity of the bang because quantum mechanics comes into play.  Today’s leading candidate for a full quantum theory of gravity – string theory – introduces a minimal quantum of length as a new fundamental constant of nature, making the very concept of a bangian genesis untenable.

The bang still took place, but it did not involve a moment of infinite density, and the universe may have predated it.  The symmetries of string theory suggest that time did not have a beginning and will not have an end.  The universe could have begun almost empty and built up to the bang, or it might even have gone through a cycle of death and rebirth.  In either case, the pre-bang epoch would have shaped the present-day cosmos.

More to Explore: The Elegant Universe.  Brian Greene. W.W. Norton, 1999.

My Yoga Experiences in Hong Kong - By Marieke Kisteman

When my boyfriend Huub was given the opportunity to do a project for a Dutch garment company in Hong Kong, we did not have any doubt. We had both just graduated from university and we were in for something new and challenging, so we grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The idea of going to Hong Kong sounded very exciting, although we had no idea what to expect from the city, the people, the culture and the mix between east and west. I was also unsure if I would be able to find a job in Hong Kong. However, convinced that it would not be easy, but not impossible either, we arrived on the 14th of February in Hong Kong. Our first impression was, as I think it is for most people, that the city was quite overwhelming with its immensely high buildings, busy streets, hordes of people and flickering neon lights. We felt really excited and already the first evening we were taken into the nightlife of Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai. We soon met a many other Dutch people and we enjoyed (and still enjoy) the many restaurants with all the different types of food. 

In the following weeks, however, it turned out that finding a job without a work permit and besides only for a relatively short period was not easy at all. It was a bit frustrating, but on the other hand it also gave me time to read books and the opportunity to think about (my) life and do more yoga. I had been practicing yoga in Amsterdam for more than two years, among others with (Iyengar) teachers Teresa Caldas and Clé Souren and one of the first things I did when I arrived in Hong Kong was to look for a good yoga school and teacher. I searched on the internet and I found there were many yoga schools in Hong Kong. I decided to visit some of them, pick up a brochure and, if I liked it, do a trial class. Yoga seemed to be very popular in Hong Kong, as I saw advertisements and promotions everywhere. Apparently, many people are searching for ways to de-stress and unwind themselves in this busy and hardworking city, and of course yoga is a perfect way for this. In my opinion, it is a good thing that many people are discovering the benefits of yoga in their lives. However, to me it also seems that in Hong Kong yoga has become too commercialized in a way that almost every fitness school is offering yoga classes and yoga seems to be just another body workout, just as aerobics or body pump. I think this is a pity as yoga has much more to offer than just a body workout. For me this was surely not the type of yoga I was looking for. 

I found Sachananda Yoga Shala on the internet and liked the information about it.  When I entered the yoga school on the 16th floor of the Lan Kwai Fong building I immediately had a good feeling. The shala itself was closed, but even then, there was a good atmosphere and energy with the pure smell of incense and a community notice board with so much information on yoga. I took a brochure and decided to take a trial class. It was my first yoga class in Hong Kong, and even though I did do another trial class at another studio I was immediately convinced that Sachananda Yoga Shala was where I wanted to learn and practice yoga. 

Kavita’s classes are different from the classes I was used to in Amsterdam, for example the chanting part was new to me and the way of explaining the postures is slightly different, but I liked it especially the way Kavita explains the background of yoga. I also liked the fact that she could tell me more about Ayurveda, the ancient healing system from India, something I am very much interested in. Kavita asked me if I also wanted to join the Vedanta Yoga philosophy classes on the Monday lunchtimes, which I did. To me the classes are very interesting and inspiring. We are studying a text that is a preparation on Vedanta, which is the ancient Indian philosophy of Self Knowledge and which states that there is only One Truth and that man’s essential nature is that One Truth. Yoga is a means of realizing that. As the classes had already started I fell in the middle of the text, but I am trying to catch up. Even though I must admit that often the questions we are talking about give rise to many more questions, the classes are really worthwhile. A few weeks ago I joined Kavita when she invited an old (86 years!) and wise Indian monk to give talks on Yoga. The talks were nice and very informative and as he spoke in English he was very understandable. He also gave some interesting lectures at Sachananda Yoga Shala on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. From then on I went with her to various other talks, which I really enjoyed.

So, even though I have not found a job, I have learned and still learn a lot more about yoga and yoga philosophy, and also about myself in this period, which to me is definitely of invaluable importance!


Vata: A force conceptually made up of elements ether and air and one of three bodily humors. Vata means "wind, to move, flow, direct the processes of, or command." The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The amount of ether (space) affects the ability of the air to gain momentum. If unrestricted, as in the ocean, air can gain momentum and become forceful such as a hurricane.

Vata enables the other two doshas or humors - Pitta and Kapha, to be expressive. The actions of Vata are drying, rough, cooling, light, agitating, and moving. The primary seat or location of Vata in the body is the colon. Vata governs breathing, blinking of the eyelids, movements in the muscles and tissues, pulsations in the heart, all expansion and contraction, the movements of cytoplasm and the cell membranes, and the movement of the single impulses in nerve cells. Vata also governs such feelings and emotions as freshness, nervousness, fear, anxiety, pain, tremors, and spasms. It also resides in the hips, thighs, ears, bones, joints, large intestine, pelvic cavity, and skin. It is related to the touch sensation. If the body develops an excess of Vata, it will accumulate in these areas.


Trikonasana- Tri (tri, three), kona (angle), asana (pose).  Triangle Pose.

Stand tall, feet together, hands at your waist. Step or jump your feet 4 feet apart.  Inner feet parallel to each other. Bend the left knee slightly and without disturbing the rest of the body, turn your left foot out by 90 degrees and your right foot in by 60 degrees.  Keep both legs stiff and suck up the knee caps, opening the back of the legs well by pressing the feet evenly on the floor.  Keep the left knee cap directly facing the five toes of your left foot. Bring the right hand to the waist and raise your left hand up to lengthen the left side of your torso.

Extend and bend your torso to the left directly over the plane of the left leg, lengthening from the hip joint.  Stretch the webbing between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and grip your left shin or ankle with it, or for a greater challenge, place the left palm flat on the ground, moving the right shoulder and right hip back to keep the torso and legs in one plane.  Stretch your right arm toward the ceiling.  Turn your chin to the right, in line with the right shoulder. Keep the right palm facing forward and eyes gazing softly at the right thumb.  Breathe evenly into both lungs.  Repeat with legs reversed on opposite side. Hold each side for 20-30 seconds.

Contraindications: Diarrhea, headache, low blood pressure (when looking down), heart condition, high blood pressure (when looking up), neck problems. Benefits: Tones the organic body, alleviates lower backaches, stiff or frozen shoulders, smoothes love handles, makes the spine supple.

Mantra & Meditation  

An excerpt from a compilation of a Q&A session entitled Nan Yar or “Who Am I?”, a session held in 1912  by Mr Pillai with the 19th century sage Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi:

Q:What is the nature of the mind? What is called the 'mind' is a wondrous power residing in the Self. It causes all thoughts to arise. Apart from thoughts, there is no such thing as the mind. Therefore, thought is the nature of the mind. Apart from thoughts, there is no independent entity called the world. In deep sleep there are no thoughts, and there is no world. In the states of waking and dream, there are thoughts, and there is a world also. Just as the spider emits the thread (of the web) out of itself and again withdraws it into itself, likewise the mind projects the world out of itself and again resolves it into itself. When the mind comes out of the Self, the world appears. Therefore, when the world appears (to be real), the Self does not appear; and when the Self appears (shines) the world does not appear. When one persistently inquires into the nature of the mind, the mind will end leaving the Self (as the residue). What is referred to as the Self is the Atman. The mind always exists only in dependence on something gross; it cannot stay alone. It is the mind that is called the subtle body or the soul (jiva). 

Q. What is the path of inquiry for understanding the nature of the mind? That which rises as 'I' in this body is the mind. If one inquires as to where in the body the thought 'I' rises first, one would discover that it rises in the heart. That is the place of the mind's origin. Even if one thinks constantly 'I' 'I'; one will be led to that place. Of all the thoughts that arise in the mind, the 'I' thought is the first. It is only after the rise of this that the other thoughts arise. It is after the appearance of the first personal pronoun that the second and third personal pronouns appear; without the first personal pronoun there will not be the second and third.

Q.How will the mind become quiescent? By the inquiry 'Who am I?' The thought 'who am I?' will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.

Q. What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought 'Who am I?' When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: 'To whom do they arise?' It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, "To whom has this thought arisen?" The answer that would emerge would be "To me". Thereupon if one inquires "Who am I?"the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source. When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called "inwardness" (antar-mukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as "externalisation" (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the 'I' which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine. Whatever one does, one should do without the egoity "I". If one acts in that way, all will appear as of the nature of Siva (The Auspicious One).

Q.  Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent? Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. If through other means it is sought to control the mind, the mind will appear to be controlled, but will again go forth. Through the control of breath also, the mind will become quiescent; but it will be quiescent only so long as the breath remains controlled, and when the breath resumes the mind also will again start moving and will wander as impelled by residual impressions. The source is the same for both mind and breath. Thought, indeed, is the nature of the mind. The thought "I" is the first thought of the mind; and that is egoity. It is from that whence egoity originates that breath also originates. Therefore, when the mind becomes quiescent, the breath is controlled, and when the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiescent. But in deep sleep, although the mind becomes quiescent, the breath does not stop. This is because of the will of God, so that the body may be preserved and other people may not be under the impression that it is dead. In the state of waking and in samadhi, when the mind becomes quiescent the breath is controlled. Breath is the gross form of mind. Till the time of death, the mind keeps breath in the body; and when the body dies the mind takes the breath along with it. Therefore, the exercise of breath-control is only an aid for rendering the mind quiescent (manonigraha); it will not destroy the mind (manonasa).

Like the practice of breath-control. meditation on the forms of God, repetition of mantras, restriction on food, etc., are but aids for rendering the mind quiescent. 

Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed. The mind will always be wandering. Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone. When the mind expands in the form of countless thoughts, each thought becomes weak; but as thoughts get resolved the mind becomes one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy. Of all the restrictive rules, that relating to the taking of sattvic (pure) food in moderate quantities is the best; by observing this rule, the sattvic quality of mind will increase, and that will be helpful to Self-inquiry. 



The ancient seers and sages wrote many treatises which analyse and explain the nature of man, the microcosm and nature, the macrocosm. This article sheds light on yogic physiology and its co-relation with the practice of yoga asanas. Certain fundamental concepts of yogic physiology are explained and similarities and differences between yogic and modern physiology are highlighted.

A Journey into Yogic Physiology. - by Kavita Khosa

This article is an introduction to yogic physiology and examines the intimate connection between man, nature, the elements and Divinity, which is the underlying substratum of it all.

Yogic physiology considers anatomy and physiology as integrated and inseparable components of the human being.  Yogic physiology comprises of not one but three bodies: 

-the gross body made up of skin, muscles and bones - sthula sharir

-the subtle body comprising the mind- intelligence unit - sukshma sharir; and 

-the causal body which is a repository of our subliminal latent tendencies to like or dislike -  karana sharir.  It is the very cause of the existence of the gross and subtle bodies. 

We use our gross body to perform yogasanas and the subtle body to do pranayama and understand the yogasanas. Both can be instrumental in reaching the causal body. 

The Panchamahabhutas (or Panchatattvas) - The Five Great Elements.

Yogic physiology believes in the intimate connection between the body and the Panchamahabhutas or the five elements of nature: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each has its own chakra - energy centre and location in the body. The body is likened to an empty clay pot (gross body) which is made up of the five elements and in which reside the elements. Any leakage, shrinkage, sullying or damage to the pot results in the elements dissipating and the onset of disease. The body is comprised of some three trillion cells - each cell embodying the Panchamahabhuta. The nucleus of a cell contains the memory-intelligence unit and hence, the ether element in it.  The nucleus determines and commands how each cell will multiply and go on to become the heart, liver, lungs etc. The five elements are explained in more detail:

 -Akaash Tattva: The ether or space element. It is located throughout the body and accommodates the other four elements within the body. Its field of cognition is Sound.

 -Vayu Tattva: The air element.  It is located in the brain and the central nervous system which is the courier and messenger service of nature. Its field of cognition is Touch.

-Tej tattva: The fire element. Its location is the intestines, liver and the digestive system.  It is essential to help convert food into blood, bile etc. Its field of cognition is Sight or Form.

-Apa Tattva: The water element.  It is found in the respiratory system and circulatory system of the body.  Its field of cognition is Taste.

-Prithvi Tattva: The earth element.  It comprises the skin, muscles and bones of the human body.  The field of cognition is Smell.

A fundamental principle of yogic physiology is that whatever exists in the microcosm, exists in the macrocosm as well. Each of the elements can be found in man - the microcosm, as well as the macrocosm - the entire creation. We know that man cannot directly control the involuntary muscles of the body such as the heart, liver, kidneys and so on.  A yogi can greatly influence the involuntary muscles and improve their function by exercising control over the voluntary muscles of the body. Though we are not aware of it, we are at all times influenced by and use all the elements and we communicate with the elements without even being aware of them. The Creator or Ishvara governs creation through these five elements as his aides and therefore, these are accorded a great amount of importance in yogic physiology. 

Asana practice makes you conscious of the elements and helps you to consciously connect with them. A sadhaka or yoga practitioner must make a conscious effort to interact with these elements. As prescribed in Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, before starting asana practice, a yogi must practice yama (self-discipline) and niyama (self-restraint) to purify the mind and body.  This leads the yogi to attain Chitta Vritti Nirodha or control of all mental thought waves and modifications (Chitta – consciousness, Vritti – modification, Nirodha – restrain). An invocation to Sage Patanjali before starting asana practice is a means of inculcating Chitta Vritti Nirodha.

Whatever the asana, the purpose is to connect with the spirit. The importance of the space element, the subtlest of all, cannot be undermined. Any disease is a result of the inability of the space element to move along open spaces in the body. Each organ, bone and muscle right down to a cell, comprises of space within itself and well as around it. Most diseases such as arthritis, lung disease, heart disease, kidney problems are caused due to a narrowing of space.  Atherosclerosis is not caused by a thickening of blood vessels; rather, it is caused by a narrowing of the lumen, causing diminished blood supply to the arteries. It can be noted that most diseases are caused due to a narrowing, obliteration or compression of space. Narrowing of space also causes problems in digestion and absorption of nutrients, passing of wastes and movement of prana energy.

Let us examine how asana practice helps in opening of spaces in body. In the asana Bharadvajasana, the spinal rotation after the spine is lifted up opens up the vertebral space. It is important for both the sadhaka and the guru to know what spaces are to be opened up in various asanas. If we examine muscle action, we see that by using the outer body skeletal muscles, we try to reach the inner body. This is the principle used in therapeutic yoga; using the outer body to reach the internal organic body, such as the liver, spleen and so on.

The Difference between Cosmic Energy and Prana Energy.

Cosmic energy pervades the entire universe. Prana energy is that part of cosmic energy which is taken up by each being via oxygen entering its body. Besides prana energy is also found in the Water element. Prana energy enters the body through the breath to reach every cell; nourishing the entire body by moving through the lymph, blood etc. The other four elements cannot act unless they interact with the prana energy. Prana energy is therefore also called Aparupa, another form of the Water element. Prana or the vital life force must be accepted as a living entity and forms the basis of yogic physiology. Prana vayu (oxygen) is but a vehicle for prana to enter the body. Yogic physiology believes that everything in nature evolves from, revolves around and dissolves into prana energy.  The concept of prana energy is absent in modern physiology. 

  Five Types of Pranas or Energy Forces:

-Prana: This is manifested in the Air element and is the most important of all energies. It is also the function of in-breath.

-Apana: This is manifested in the Earth element. Its function in the body is the force or movement connected with rejection or throwing out.

-Udana: This is a function of the Air element. It provides alertness in practice of asanas.

-Samana: This is a function of the Fire element and connected to digestion and metabolism.

-Vyana: It is manifested in the Space element. It pervades the entire body and allows for joy of movement and freedom in asanas.

Chakras and the Autonomic Nervous System.

Each energy/force has a specific location in the body, known as a Chakra - energy wheel or center. The location of chakras described by the Rishis thousands of years ago corresponds exactly with the autonomic nervous system of modern physiology, at the junctures along the spine where the nerves meet. There are a striking number of similarities between the chakras and nadis (energy channels coursing all over the body) and the autonomic nervous system discovered not so long ago by modern medicine. Some similarities and differences are examined below:

There are seven chakras situated in front of the spinal column where all nerves (plexus meet):

-Mooladhara chakra: Its element is the Earth tattva. It is located in the pelvis on the coccyx bone, behind the anal opening. It corresponds with the Coccyx Plexus of modern medicine

-Svadhishthana chakra: Its element is Water. Its location is in the pelvis, in front of the anal opening. Corresponds with the Pelvic Plexus.

-Manipura chakra: Its element is Fire. It is located below the navel in front of the first lumbar and corresponds with the Solar Plexus. 

-Anahata chakra: Its element is Air. It is located in the anatomical region known as the heart and corresponds with the Cardiac Plexus.

-Vishuddhi chakra: Its element is Space. It is located at the throat juncture and corresponds with the Carotid Plexus.

There are two more chakras which are absent in modern physiology:

-Ajna chakra: Its element is the Mahatattva - the Supreme Element in which all other elements area present in their unmanifested, rarified pure essence (tanmatra). It is located in the middle of the brow and represents buddhi, the seat of intelligence; and lastly

-Sahasrara chakra: This is Tattvatita - beyond the elements and also called the Shunya (empty,void) chakra. It is located at the crown of the cranium and is the abode of the Paramatma – Pure Consciousness or Pure Awareness.

Hatha yoga practice is incomplete without an understanding of chakras, nadis and prana energy. A yogi should acquire knowledge of the prana energies, their functions and association with the chakras and internal organs. This knowledge becomes an immensely useful tool in yoga practice. Knowing which asana can stimulate which chakra and nadi can assist in stimulate the internal organs, thereby optimizing health in body and mind. This concept is absent in modern medicine.  

Ida, Pingala and Sushumna Nadis and the Central Nervous System

Modern physiology describes two main components of the central nervous system – the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves which run along either side of the spine.  It is interesting to note that these correspond with the Ida and Pingala nadis respectively, in yogic physiology.

 According to an ancient treatise, the Shiva Svarodaya, there are 72,000 nadis or channels, of which Sushumna, Ida, and Pingala are considered the most important. Ida nadi is the left channel, the carrier of lunar currents and functions through the left nostril. It is called the knowledge nadi, bringing in information to the brain. Pingala nadi works through the right nostril and is the carrier of solar currents.  It is known as the action nadi.  Any action to be executed pursuant to information or knowledge received by the brain is a function of Pingala nadi. Yogic physiology describes the nadis as intertwining at each chakra, drawing energy from the chakras and distributing them to the elements.  Modern physiology is yet to accept this concept.  

In Yogic physiology, when the Ajna and Sahasrara chakras are in perfect balance, a third nadi is activated – the Sushumna nadi, which originates in the Mooladhara chakra and courses along the front of the spine up to the Sahasrara chakra – the seat of Pure Awareness. Both physiology schools accept that the nervous system must be in perfect balance for the individual to be healthy. This is where yoga practice, especially asanas and pranayama, come into play. The control of the mind-body-intellect system through pranayama and yogasana can affect the nadis and lead a yogi to open the manifold lotus petals of the Sahasrara chakra. Yoga teachers are well aware that certain conditions of the body such as blood pressure can be controlled through pranayama and can influence the nadis. This fact has only recently gained acceptance in modern medicine.  

Yogic physiology is a vast and complex subject, the study of which is a useful tool and serves the yoga student or spiritual seeker well in his journey from “the skin to the soul”, as Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar so eloquently put it.

The Bhagavad Gita  
  Each issue of our newsletter will feature a selection from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient epic work of literature written by Sage Veda Vyasa; embodying the spiritual philosophy of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). 

The Blessed Lord said:

“Dehinosminyatha Dehe Kaumaram Yauvanam Jara Tatha Dehantarapraptir Dhirastatra Na  Muhyati.” II.13



We have a memory of our childhood and youth even when we are in our old age.  For this to happen, the memory and the memorizer must both be the same entity, only then can the faculty of memory function.  In the process of life, childhood dies away and youth appears, and youth must die before old age can manifest itself.  An old man no longer resembles himself as an infant and his youth is lost yet he can recall his early days.It is apparent that something is constant in all the different stages of our growth and so the same person can remember the experiences of the past.

Applying this line of thought, youth may be considered as a birth when the childhood has met with its death.  So too, old age is born only when the youth is dead.  And yet, we do not grieve these changes and in fact, enjoy the experience of growth and change as the body moves from innocent childhood to adulthood and maturity in old age. Krishna declares in the Gita that the embodied Spirit comes to identify Itself with various forms, which temporarily gain a limited but determined set of experiences.  It is only clear philosophical thinking which can guide our intellect to an understanding of the continuity from the beginningless past-through the present-to the endless future.  The Spirit remaining the same, it gets seemingly conditioned by the embodied ego and experiences through the ego the self-ordained environments.

Krishna explains to Arjuna that wise men do not worry when they leave one body for the purpose of taking another one. We do not lament the death of our childhood as we blossom into youth, assured in the knowledge that though our childhood has ended, there is a continuity of existence of the same one and only, and that the child has become a youth.  So too, at the moment of death, it is merely the embodied ego of the dead body leaving its previous garb (body), and depending on the vasanas (mental impressions and conditionings) it has accumulated during its embodiment, it seeks identification with another garb in which it can express itself and seek its perfect fulfillment. 


Sanskrit Glossary

Antahkarana: Internal Instrument. Antah means internal and karana means cause or instrumentality.  Antahkarana comprises four aspects or ‘organs’ of the human personality:

Manas – The thinking mind and seat of feelings and emotions

Buddhi – Intellect or the faculty of discrimination, logic and rationalisation

Ahamkara – Ego or a sense of identity, the “I”.  A sense of separateness from others, and 

Chitta – Consciousness, which includes the memory and subliminal tendencies to like or dislike.

When any new sensation is transmitted to the mind through the sense organs, three operations occur:

-         The memory is searched to locate a previous experience with like attribute for comparison.

-         The new experience is compared with previous ones and a conclusion is drawn regarding a like or dislike (raagdwesha) of that experience.

-         The mind decides either to seek out the experience and repeat it because it is pleasurable or attempt to avoid it because it is unpleasant.

The Antahkarana together with the five sense organs (gyanindriyas) constitutes the subtle body (sukshma sharir)of a human being.  Each aspect or organ of the Antahkarana or internal instrument has its own function to perform.  The Manas thinks or imagines, the Buddhi discriminates and decides between right and wrong, the Ahamkar mistaking itself to be the Supreme Self, enjoys the experiences and the Chitta recollects past experiences.  The Antahkarana can lead an individual to salvation or destruction, depending on how the four aspects are integrated in that individual. 
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