The essence of Yoga was revealed in the world’s oldest spiritual scriptures, the Vedas. The Vedas contain Hymns, Prayers and Mantras as well as instructions for the performance of sacred ceremonies. The Vedas also contain profound philosophical and spiritual discourses on life and death, the material and the spiritual, the genesis of the Universe, the soul and God – without the restriction of a particular concept of God, or divinity.
Yogis and spiritual Masters wrote explanations and commentaries on the Vedas. The most important are the Upanishads, which are a record of the philosophical discourses exchanged between Masters and their Disciples. These deal with the spiritual essence of the Vedas.
In due time, six philosophical schools of thought (Shastras) arose from the Vedas and the Upanishads. Of these, three have a direct link to Yoga: the Vedanta Shastra, Sankhya Shastra and Yoga Shastra. The philosophical teachings of Yoga are found in the Vedanta Shastra ; the scientific basis is formulated in the Sankhya Shastra; and the principles and techniques of Raja Yoga are enumerated in the Yoga Shastras, written by Rishi Patanjali (approximately 200 BC).
The Four Paths of Yoga
The Four Paths of Yoga lead us to the goal:
- Karma Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Raja Yoga
- Gyana Yoga
Prana is energy, vitality, power. Prana is the foundation and essence of all life; the energy and vitality that permeates the entire Universe. Prana flows in everything that exists.
Furthermore, Prana is the connecting link between the material world, consciousness and mind. It is what makes life on the material level possible. Prana regulates all physical functions for example, the breath, the supply of oxygen, digestion, elimination and much more. The function of the human body is much like a transformer, receiving energy from the Universal flow of Prana, distributing that energy, and then eliminating it. If a person or a room has a healthy, harmonious vibration, we say: “There is good Prana here”. Illness, on the other hand, disturbs or blocks the flow of Prana. As we develop the ability to control Prana, we gain harmony and health, of both body and mind. In addition to this, with long and consistent practice an expansion of consciousness is experienced.
Prana is divided into ten main functions:
- The five Pranas – Prana, Apana, Udana, Vyana and Samana.
- The five Upa-Pranas – Naga, Kurma, Devadatta, Krikala and Dhananjaya.
The Five Pranas
Prana is that special function of the Cosmic Prana, which supplies the human body with essential oxygen. Its energy flows from the nostrils to the level of the heart.
Clean air is vital for health however, on its own air, is not the decisive factor in good health. Some people are prone to illness, even though they are frequently out in the fresh air. On the other hand, people who live in rooms or suburbs with relatively poor air quality remain healthy. Our health is not influenced by external factors only. Health is also governed by our inner condition, by the power of resistance and the inner will – Atmabala – the inner vitality. When Atmabala is strong within, external forces can barely harm us. The practice of “Yoga in Daily Life” strengthens our vitality. Certain techniques in particular activate Prana Shakti, these are Bhastrika, Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi Pranayama.
Apana Prana influences the lower part of the body from the navel to the soles of the feet. This Prana regulates the elimination process. Diseases that affect the lower abdomen, intestines, kidneys, urinary tract, legs, etc., are the result of disturbed Apana Prana. The techniques of Nauli, Agnisara Kriya, Ashvini Mudra and Mula Bandha serve to strengthen and purify Apana Prana.
Vyana Prana flows through the nerve channels of the human body. It has an effect upon the whole body and particularly on the Nadis. Poor circulation, impaired nerve stimulation and nervous breakdowns, originate from a deficiency in Vyana Prana.
Vyana Prana is activated and strengthened in the practice of Kumbhaka (breath retention). With each natural, relaxed breath that we take, there is an automatic pause between inhalation and exhalation. In the practice of Pranayama, this pause is consciously lengthened. When we retain the breath, we withhold energy in the body with a resultant build up in pressure. This pressure has the effect of releasing energy blockages. Kumbhaka stimulates the nervous system. Anyone who has combined the techniques of Kumbhaka and Maha Bandha, knows the subsequent, pleasant sensation of peace that flows through the body. This is the reason for being able to meditate well after this practice. The feeling is produced by the increased flow of Vyana Prana throughout the whole body.
It is highly recommended to perform the following breath exercise several times a day.
- Inhale deeply and exhale once
- Again inhale and hold the breath for as long as comfortable (counting to 20, 30, etc.)
- Exhale and hold the breath again for a while
- Repeat this exercise 4-5 times.
The benefit of this simple breath exercise is quickly noticed and our nerves are truly grateful.
Udana Prana is the ascending energy that flows from the heart to the head and brain. Udana Prana accompanies the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti. It is with the assistance of Udana Prana that the Astral body separates itself from the physical body. A strong Udana Prana eases the phase of death.
With the control of Udana Prana, the body becomes very light and one may gain the ability to levitate. When Udana Prana is in our control, external obstacles such as water, earth or stones no longer obstruct us. Intense practice of the Yoga breath exercises also gives the possibility of walking on water, or even floating in the air. Fakirs who sit or lie on a bed of nails possess the ability to control their Udana Prana. Yogis who live in the forest and remain unaffected by heat, cold, thorns and insects, etc., are protected through the control of Udana Prana. Udana Prana is activated by the practice of Ujjayi Pranayama, Bhramari Pranayama, as well as Viparitakarani Mudra.
Bhramari Pranayama Technique
- Close the ears with the fingers and inhale. While exhaling through the nose, hum like a bumble-bee (the mouth remains closed).
- After about 5-7 breaths sit motionless and breathe normally with the ears still closed. Concentrate on your inner space and listen to the inner sound.
- This exercise will calm the nerves and thoughts, promote concentration and bring you into contact with your Self.
Samana is a very important Prana that connects two main Chakras – Anahata and Manipura Chakras.
Samana Prana distributes the energy of nutrition throughout the human body. We are aware that food not only influences our physical body, but also affects our psyche and consciousness. The quality of our Prana (all types of Prana), is directly associated with the quality of our food. Pure, sattvic, vegetarian food and the practice of Pranaya ma will provide a healthy and balanced body for life.
Samana Prana has an influence on the Manipura Chakra, whose corresponding element is fire. When Yogis are able to control Samana Prana it is a pure flame within them. Those in whom Samana Prana is completely pure are surrounded by a radiant aura, which is even noticeable by those who do not have the ability to see auras.
This Prana is strengthened through the practice of Agnisara Kriya and Nauli. The practice of these two Kriyas prevents digestive problems and Diabetes. It also improves one’s resistance to infectious disease and cancer, due to the digestive fire that is awakened in the whole body, which purifies and cleans.
The most effective technique for awakening Samana Prana is Kriya Yoga. The practice of Kriya Yoga warms the entire body. This is due to the rising of Samana Prana. A very aware person can observe the aura of a Kriya practitioner becoming brighter and stronger with each round of practice.
The Five Upa-Pranas
The five Upa-Pranas regulate important functions in the human body.
NAGA – Burping
Removes blockages of Prana and Apana and prevents gas formation in the digestive system. Constant suppression of Naga can lead to Cardiac Arrhythmia. Other functions include triggering of the vomit reflex due to indigestion and dissolving blockages of Samana Prana.
KURMA – Blinking
This Upa-Prana functions in the area of the eyes, controlling opening and closing of the eyelids. The energy of this Upa-Prana is active when we are awake and is revitalised when we sleep. Kurma protects the eyes from the penetration of dust and foreign bodies etc. Disturbance of this Upa-Prana causes uncontrolled blinking and twitching of the eyelids. The practice of Trataka provides balance and strength to Kurma, as does the chanting of OM, placing warm palms over the eyes and Asanas where the head is bent forward.
DEVADATTA – Yawning
The function of Devadatta is similar to that of Samana Prana. Yawning expels gas, reducing tiredness after eating. Certain foods such as grains, onions and garlic cause fatigue. Many Yogis only eat vegetables and some milk products in order to sustain their level of vitality and thereby reduce lethargy.
KRIKALA – Sneezing
Clears blockages in the respiratory system. Sneezing can also ease headache as it releases energy blockages in the head and neck. A sneeze should not be suppressed, as this may affect vertebrae in the cervical spine. In folk tales it is said that he who sneezes loudly and strongly, has a long life. Weak sneezes indicate weak vitality.
DHANANJAYA – Opening and Closing of Heart Valves
Dhananjaya resides close to the Heart. It influences the whole body and in particular the muscles of the heart by opening and closing the heart valves. Cardiac Arrhythmia and even Heart Attack may occur due to a serious disturbance of Dhananjaya.
There are four areas in the human body where the flow of Prana is particularly intensive – through the sole of each foot and the palm of each hand. The feet are closely related to the earth element and represent negative polarity. Therefore one should never concentrate on the feet in meditation. Conversely, the energy of the palms originates from the heart. It is related to the air element and produces positive polarity.
There is an exercise through which we can very clearly feel Prana in the hands.
Raise the arms out to the sides of the body with palms facing to the front. Keep the arms straight and move them in a half-circle to the front of the body, slowly bringing the palms towards each other. Remain completely relaxed, slowly reducing the distance between the hands. As the palms become closer, you will be conscious of a growing sensation between the hands, or a feeling of pins and needles in the palms. Bring the palms closer until the distance between them is only about 1 centimetre. Now, due to the energy that streams from your hands, it feels as though the hands are really being pulled towards each other. Prana causes this. If you now move the hands apart again, you will feel pressure on the back of the hands, producing the opposite effect. This is also Prana, because Prana flows without hindrance throughout the entire body.
Prana is distributed throughout the whole body, through the network of the Nadis (nerves). There are 72,000 Nadis in the human body. Of these, there are three Nadis of particular importance.
- IDA, the “Moon System”, correlates with the left nostril and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
- PINGALA, the “Sun System”, correlates with the right nostril and the Sympathetic Nervous System.
- SUSHUMNA, the “Central Nadi”, penetrates the spinal column and correlates with the Central Nervous System.
The practice of Asanas and Pranayamas, harmonise the Ida and Pingala Nadis and has a purifying, strengthening and balancing effect upon the energy flow in all 72,000 Nadis. Pranayama and Meditation practice enhance energy flow in the Sushumna Nadi. When spiritual energy begins to flow in the Sushumna certain brain centres and Chakras are activated, creating a development and expansion of our consciousness to higher spiritual levels.
Prana itself is totally pure and neutral, just as the spring-water of a river is clear and clean. In its course, the river picks up many substances which change the quality of the water. Exactly the same occurs with Prana. Prana flows into the body clean and pure, but how it departs depends upon the individual – on their lifestyle, their inner qualities and feelings, the type of food consumed and the environment and company in which one lives. The quality of the Prana that radiates from people impacts on both the surrounding environment and the individuals themselves.
The level of vitality existent in the blood and individual cells determines the condition of the human body.
The more cells that die, the weaker one becomes, and the quicker one ages. When the flow of Prana is restricted, the result is the same. The flow of Prana is affected by the worries we create for ourselves. The more we feel disheartened or depressed, the weaker the flow of Prana, leaving us more susceptible to illness, and the aging process occurs more rapidly. On the other hand, those who are balanced and content radiate vitality, and their strength reaches out to touch fellow human beings. Therefore, we should always endeavour to radiate positive Prana.
The Prana that we radiate (our “vibration” or “aura”), is clearly perceptible to others. The type of aura depends upon the purity of our thoughts and feelings, and also our internal Biorhythm and physical state of health. Mental unrest, inner tension and illness are clearly seen in the aura, as is a harmonious balance of body, mind and soul.
It is most advantageous for others, and ourselves to cultivate positive, confident, trusting and good thoughts. Above all else, negative, self-destructive and hostile thoughts are most harmful to us. With such a mental attitude we poison ourselves. That is why Yoga aspirants always endeavour to keep their thoughts and feelings pure and positive. The practice of meditation and Mantra maintains pure Prana and the practice of Pranayama increases our capacity to store Prana.
When the soul leaves the body and death comes, the life energy also escapes from the body. It is our destiny to die one day, but we always forget this fact. When we die we leave everything behind – our body, worldly possessions, friends and also enemies. So wherein lies the meaning of life? The purpose of life is to recognise reality. This reality is the Divine Self (Atma) within us. This is what we seek in meditation, when we ask ourselves the question: “Who am I?”. When we recognise our Self, we have Realised our Self.
In order to achieve this, physical exercises and breath techniques alone are too little. One’s whole life must be directed towards the good. When we are free of hatred, greed, anger, envy, jealousy, passion and dependency, and live in love, harmony and understanding with the environment and ourselves, all our problems will be resolved. When daily practice and a positive way of life merge with each other in such a way that they become one, our practice has become effective and successful.
Chakras are those energy centres through which the Cosmic energy flows into the human body. The practice of “Yoga in Daily Life” can awaken these centres, which are manifest in each and every person.
There are eight principal Chakras and each is associated with certain aspects of our existence .
- Muladhara Chakra – Root Centre
- Svadhishthana Chakra – Lower Abdominal Centre
- Manipura Chakra – Navel Centre
- Anahata Chakra – Heart Centre
- Vishuddhi Chakra – Throat Centre
- Agya Chakra – Eyebrow Centre
- Bindu Chakra – Moon Centre
- Sahasrara Chakra – Crown Centre
The Light of Life
In Sanskrit, the Cosmic Self is known as Atma. In contrast to the individual soul, the Atma is Universal. It is the “Light of Life” in all beings. The relationship between the Atma, the individual consciousness and spirit, can be illustrated by the following example.
The Atma is the light, the light bulb is the individual and the beam of light that radiates from the lamp is the spirit. In English the expression “spirit of the soul” is used and in this expression it is clear that the spirit emanates from the Atma. This “spirit” possesses qualities such as clear or unclear, strong or weak, confused, lively, creative, lethargic, etc. But the Atma is completely without attribute, comparable to a cloudless sky or water without waves. Clouds in the heavens, waves in the sea, a film projected onto a screen, all allude to movement. Mostly, our individual consciousness identifies with this movement and remains unaware of the background, the “Atma”.
In the symbolic image of a lamp, we can compare individual consciousness to the lampshade. How much light radiates from a lamp depends on how much energy the light bulb is able to receive. It is the same with the nature of the lampshade. The amount of light able to penetrate the lampshade depends on whether the shade is clear and transparent, or dusty and dirty.
Spirit and consciousness are not the Self, but merely an emanation of the Self, from which they manifest. The light of the Atma always remains unchanged, vibrant and pure. The extent to which the light of our Atma may penetrate externally, is dependent on the quality of our consciousness. Our thoughts, feelings, qualities and actions shape this. Negative qualities and ignorance darken our Phanomen . Divine qualities such as knowledge, wisdom and love, brighten it. The higher our consciousness is developed the more clear, pure and transparent is the radiating light of our Atma. If our consciousness is completely pure and spotless, so that the light of the Atma radiates in full beauty and splendour, then we speak of Enlightenment or Realisation. Holy people are completely pure and clear and have become true channels of God. They radiate light, love, kindness, wisdom and clarity – consider for a moment the halo of Saints. However, when there are many layers of karma and ignorance veiling the Atma, this Divine light cannot shine through.
The Atma, our inner Self, is the essence of the Cosmic Self, whose nature is Maha Ananda, supreme bliss. Therefore, the inner-most essence of each and every individual, as part of the Cosmic Self, is Ananda, Bliss.
The human body, sense organs, intellect and mind, are all tools of the Atma. In one Bhajan, Paramhans Swami Madhavanandaji says:
My brother, I saw a wonderful coach (the body) pulled by ten horses (the senses). Manas (mind) was the reins that controlled the horses and Buddhi (intellect) was the coachman who directed the reins. Inside sat the Atma, the King, accompanied by his trusted Minister, Viveka (discrimination). Within the coach resounded the music of different instruments (sense organs, thoughts). If the light of knowledge arises within this coach, it is forever illuminated.
Viveka is the most refined form of the intellect. It carefully considers all thoughts, feelings and experience. Decisions are made according to what is reality, and not based on egoistic desire, which is what the mind usually does. Light is the symbol for knowledge, darkness means ignorance. Where light appears, darkness disappears. It is the same with knowledge. When knowledge is awakened within us, ignorance is immediately banished.
- Who are we? Are we the body? To believe that we are the body is ignorance.
- In reality we are pure Consciousness!
We are not skin, bones, blood, flesh, nerves or glands. We say, “This is my blood, these are my limbs, my feelings, thoughts, ideas and experiences”. But who is it that speaks about these things in such a way? Who is it that, consciously or unconsciously, uses the word “I” and “mine”?
Take an onion as an example. We hold it in our hand and identify it without further consideration as an “onion”. Now we remove the outer layers of skin, one by one. This we call the individual parts of the onion, the “onion skins”. It is not an onion any more. But what remains of the “onion” now? Is “onion” only a name for the sum of these skins? This cannot possibly be so. An onion, out of which an entire plant comes into being when planted, is something much more comprehensive, more highly organised than the mere fitting together of individual skins!
The Atma is also infinitely much more than the mere sum of its parts. The Atma lives within us. Nobody can see how it enters into the womb or how it leaves the body of a dead person. It comes and goes. The physical body changes, just like we change our clothes. The Atma, the Self, is never born. It is Immortal, Eternal, Divine and unchanging.
The Atma itself does not need to develop, it is complete. Only the consciousness must be purified and developed so that it is able to recognise its real nature. The Atma is life itself, pure energy. For example, contained within the seed of a tree is already the whole tree. The energy that brings forth all things, from which everything comes into being, is the Atma. The Atma is the essence of God. It is not Divine, but God Himself. Not Holy, but Holiness itself. The Atma is like a light, an inextinguishable flame. This light within us is only veiled and hidden by our Karmas. Just like fire is covered by smoke, or a diamond remains unrecognised because of the layers of dust and dirt.
Any flame, be it a candle, torch or a burning pile of wood, is in essence the same. Fire doesn’t need to develop, it is, and always will be, fire. The quality in each flame is the same – contained within the tiniest spark is an infinite potential of energy. When many flames unite an immense power is formed – the Sun. The light emanating from this is immensely strong. Using the same analogy in terms of the full potential of Light becoming manifest in a human, it is then that we speak of a Mahatma, a great soul, a Saint or a Divine incarnation.
In Vedanta philosophy, the fundamental philosophy of Yoga, the Atma is described as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Sat means truth, Chit means consciousness, Ananda means bliss. The Atma, or the Self, is therefore truth. It is conscious and blissful. And this Self is the Self of all beings.
Many people ask what they should think about during meditation and what to concentrate on. Initially one concentrates on the breath, on the body, or on the relaxed state of the muscles. Later one may visualise the full moon, sunrise or sunset. But real meditation is Atma Chintana, concentration on the Atma. At this stage our concentration moves beyond concern of the physical body and is no longer occupied with thoughts of the meditation posture. All imagination is surrendered, along with all earthly desires and thoughts. In Atma Chintana there is no visualisation of light, or the moon or sun. There is no thought of the rising Kundalini, the opening Chakras or the attainment of Supernatural powers. All these are really only Beginner level meditations. Do not cling to such methods, meditate only with Atma Chintana. Always be conscious of this – feel and experience it. In order to bring the mind to stillness and to strengthen the power of concentration, Mantra is used as an aid. The use of Mantra purifies and frees the mind so that the Atma can emerge.
At the stage of Realisation, a Yogi has only one thought: “Who am I?” This is the contemplation of the Yogi not only during meditation but also in each moment and in every life situation. This is the call of his Self, the song of his heart, his Atma. A Yogi doesn’t think, “I strive to come closer to you, my Lord”. But asks, “Come closer to me, my Lord”. We humans often feel ourselves weak and helpless. We think God is far away and difficult to reach. But God is Omnipresent. God will certainly find a way to us. In meditation always aim to develop uplifting and confident thoughts, because thoughts have great power and can achieve anything.
As we progress in meditation the ability of spiritual perception develops. Mind and consciousness become the eyes of the Self as our spirit roams throughout the whole Universe (astral travelling). Just like the headlights of a car illuminate the street in front of us, so the spirit perceives all things and transmits this experience and knowledge to our consciousness. However, first we must recognise our Self in each living being, in every atom and in all planets and stars. This means that we must progress to such a degree that we can identify ourselves with all beings and all things. We should not identify with a philosophy, religion, nationality, gender or race, but discover the unity that transcends all external appearances.
Duality is prevalent in today’s world, but a wise person can recognise unity appearing in many different forms. When the wise one looks at two jugs in front of him, he is conscious that the clay from which they are made is the same. In this way the Self-Realised, the God-Realised, does not view the external form, but rather its inherent reality, the Atma, the Self.
It is not enough however to understand this intellectually, one must feel and experience this more deeply within. Once we have heard the call of our Atma, then we no longer desire any Siddhi or miracle. We no longer need anything else in order to be happy. We don’t seek someone to extend a hand to us, rather we hold out a helping hand to others, because we know, “I am the Atma and this Self lives in others also. We are not two, but one. We may dwell in different bodies, but the body is transitory. Our reality exists in the unity that is immortal.”
As long as we entertain thoughts of duality, thoughts of separateness, we make a grave mistake. We help ourselves the moment we overcome dualistic thoughts. Then we recognise that this world is simply a manifestation of our mind, that in reality our mind has created the world as we see it before us. We realise that all of creation is changeable and transient like waves on the ocean. In due time, all waves sink back into the ocean and unite with it. One day too, the world as we know it will vanish and all that we will see everywhere is God the Supreme, our Atma.
Therefore in meditation, practice Atma Chintana. Know that you are strong, pure, happy and immortal. You are the Self! In the Self exists no fear, no sadness and no guilt. Worldly life is not to be condemned. After all, we live in this world and it offers us wonderful experiences. Therefore we should not make life difficult for ourselves, but rather enjoy life and free ourselves from self-reproach as we sincerely endeavour to remain on the right path.
Live now, in the present. Do not brood about the past. Yesterday is gone and will never again come back. Also, do not dream about a “better” future. The future is still not here and we will never reach it, for the future is only ever the present. Tomorrow remains tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow always remains the day after tomorrow. Always live only in the now. When we are conscious of this we will have overcome time and live in its midst as the observer and witness of all change.
There are two basic reasons for fasting.
- To develop willpower and spirituality.
- This reason relates to health, such as
- purification and detoxification of the body
- weight reduction
- reduction of fatigue and sleep disorders
- attaining a state of inner balance and harmony
Long fasts should only be carried out under supervision. Spiritual fasting should be practiced under the guidance of the Master, and fasting for physical wellbeing must be with medical supervision.
Here we will primarily deal with the first type of fasting – fasting to aid one’s spiritual development. If one wishes to fast for reasons of health, or weight reduction, one may do this at any time according to the given medical recommendations. However, when fasting for spiritual development there are certain rules and regulations to observe. The preparation and structure of the fasting days and one’s mental attitude are of greater importance in the spiritual fast. Any action performed consciously has greater influence upon the mind and psyche than any activity performed unconsciously. For the spiritual aspirant, fasting is not just to forgo one or two meals, but above everything else means to overcome bad habits, negative qualities and thoughts, and to restrain one’s self physically and mentally from any unnecessary activity. The fasting day should be a conscious, selfless, physical and mental sacrifice. If all of mankind lived as Vegetarians and fasted one day each week, the hunger problems, as well as many health problems, in the world today would be resolved.
Fasting has no religious basis, rather it is a training for self-discipline and an opportunity to gain greater self-knowledge. We strengthen our inner willpower by fasting and through this, can better manage our life in the world. We come to know our deepest, innermost thoughts and also gain the ability to persevere with what we have set out to do. Developing the ability to complete a self-imposed task is especially important for Yoga aspirants so that they can carry out their daily practices regularly without inner “discussion”. By fasting we gain sensitivity and intuition. We raise ourselves above the gross, material plane and intensify our contact with the subtle elements and spheres. Through this we can better understand the vibration and effects of the Cosmic powers.
The days on which we should fast are determined according to the position of the planets and the phases of the moon. The planets exert a tremendous influence upon our lives, but the changing phases of the moon have an even greater impact on the flow of energy in the Cosmos. In the Cosmos, two strong powers affect the earth – the power of the Sun and that of the Moon. The Sun symbolises consciousness and the Moon symbolises feelings and emotions. Feelings are a thousand times stronger than consciousness. It is these energies that change and move the world.
The radiation of the sun is constant, therefore its effect is always of the same strength. The effect of the moon however, is a hundred times stronger, but also far more variable than the sun. The phases of the moon influence nature as well as consciousness.
The ocean is often used as a symbol for inner peace, because its depths are always motionless and peaceful. However, at the time of the full moon when its radiance is at its strongest, even the ocean is set into motion. The highest waves and strongest storms mostly occur one day before or one day after the full moon. The moon also makes itself felt in both animals and humans. Cats, dogs, wolves, tigers and many humans are especially restless on full moon nights. They are affected emotionally and behave like the waves of the ocean. Women are quite strongly influenced. On full moon days women may become more sensitive, a little emotional, sometimes depressed or nervous. The moon is symbolic of the feminine energy principle and that is why a woman’s natural disposition is intensified at the time of full moon. However, these expressions of emotion do not mean a loss of power, rather a more intensified flow of energy.
But why do many people fall into depression on the full moon?
Those who become depressed are unable to allow their feelings and energy to flow outward. Their energy is blocked, therefore they feel nervous, touchy and despondent. However, precisely on the day of the full moon there exists a great opportunity to inwardly purify. The strong energy that streams into us on these days can release energy blockages and one’s energy can be restored to its natural flow. This functions like a drain or a channel where much rubbish has accumulated and become blocked. In order to clean it, one takes a hose and flushes out the drain with a strong jet of water to sweep away all refuse. In just this way the energy of the moon can have the same effect on blocked feelings and complexes. When we strengthen this effect by repetition of Mantra and fasting we purify our inner functions (Antahkarana) – our mind, intellect, consciousness and ego.
Just like the night of the full moon, the night of the dark phase of the moon has its own specific influence. The directly opposite effect of the full moon occurs at this time. All inner movements and stirrings of emotions are repressed and inhibited. Charitable activities (Paramartha) can unblock and release these emotions and purify them. Paramartha means unselfish action. To sacrifice something for others. For example, one can give half of one’s food to someone more needy, or a donation can be made to needy animals. In other words, one hands over to another something that belongs to oneself.
On the dark, moonless nights there are certain activities that one should not perform, such as pruning plants, or laying the foundation stone for a house. It is because these acts go against the law of nature. When one unwittingly violates this law, the action is generally a failure.
The cycle of the moon is as follows.
It begins with the day of the full moon however, this day itself is not counted. The 15 days following the full moon are known as the “dark nights”. The day after the full moon its influence has already weakened and continues to weaken up to the 11th day. During these last four days the influence of the moon switches to the opposite effect. On the 15th day after the full moon the moon becomes invisible in the sky – this is the “dark night of the moon”. Two days later it reappears, very thin, as the “new moon”. In reality it already reappears on the 1st day, but its crescent is so thin that we are unable to see it. It is first visible with the naked eye on the 2nd day and begins from there to grow slowly. These are the “moonlight nights”. From the 11th day the effects of the full moon begin to unfold and on the 15th day after the dark night of the moon, the moon is full and the cycle is complete. As well as the day of the full moon and the dark night of the moon, the 2nd and 11th days in the moon’s cycle are the most suitable days for spiritual fasting, as on these days the influence of the moon is changing.
Fasting helps to develop and strengthen willpower. If one really wants to achieve something, one can fast until that goal has been reached. Many people who would like to realise something specific take a vow that until they have reached their goal they will fast. Through sheer willpower their wish is eventually fulfilled. Of course, when not eating for a whole day one naturally becomes hungry. You would like to eat but control the yearning of the senses with your willpower. For as long as your will is not strong enough, one may eat some nuts, fruit or milk. However, fasting not only develops willpower but one also learns to do without. One learns to sacrifice. Therefore, on this day you should give your food to others who are more needy.
On a fasting day one feels physically and mentally light and relaxed. You can concentrate more easily, things become clearer and you can use and direct your energy more consciously. Fasting on the days on which the influence of the moon changes (the 2nd and 11th day) has an especially purifying effect physically and mentally due to the intensified flow of energy.
Practice of the Spiritual Fast
How should you begin, continue and end a day of spiritual fasting? Since you already know beforehand that you are going to fast on a particular day, you need not buy any extra food. Simply begin to adjust yourself inwardly in preparation for the fast. In the morning light a candle, do your morning meditation and afterwards a few Asanas. Read a chapter from a holy book, then begin your day’s work.
Throughout the whole fasting day, be mindful that you are fasting for your mental and spiritual development. Be mindful of the promise you have made to yourself not to eat on this day. Within, you will feel happy and your self-confidence will be stronger when you keep your resolution to fast. Always be conscious that this is a special day and try to treat other people in a particularly friendly and positive way. When you come home in the evening, wash again, change your clothes and begin to prepare Prasad. Traditionally this is a sweet dish or milk dish, such as milk rice (Keer), sweet semolina (Halva), or something similar. Besides this you should also cook the normal evening meal for yourself and your family. The Prasad, as well as the meal, is prepared with much love, positive thoughts and with the singing of Mantras or spiritual songs. When you have finished cooking, place flowers, fruit and the Prasad on your altar or meditation place. Light a candle and a stick of incense. Light is symbolic of the presence of the Supreme. It represents knowledge and wisdom. The flowers, fruit and incense are an offering to the good powers in the Universe.
Then sit before the altar, either alone or with family or like-minded friends. Read a spiritual text from the Bhagavad Gita or the Bible, sing a spiritual song and say a prayer. Then distribute Prasad with the following Mantra:
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