When asked about the inspiration behind my book, Meditation as a Way of Life: Philosophy and Practice, I confess that I did so in response to a continual inner call to teach meditation.
Writing is simply an excellent platform for doing so.
Not that I’m an extraordinary writer or exceptional meditation practitioner but, rather, because both teaching and writing help clarify thought, deepen understanding, and refine skill.
So on a very personal level I grow by doing or, in this case, writing.
More importantly, however, is the subject of my work and the source from which it’s derived.
Meditation has garnered increasing respect in the West with the experimental application of sophisticated medical scanning devices that have, in part, authenticated long-touted mind/body/social benefits of meditation.
Yet much of this attention remains confined to the sterile atmosphere of scientific scrutiny or is segmented into the realm of secular mediocrity; touting calming and centering practices that, quite simply, don’t cover the depth of spiritual purpose and potential for which meditation is intended. Life is and always has been a ground for spiritual realization and awakening.
Meditation is the most effective means to achieve this end.
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, came to America in 1920 and spent the next 32 years laboring to uplift public understanding about what meditation is and why it is of such significant value.
The gist of his efforts resulted in providing scientifically sound, clearly articulated spiritual theory and technologies that facilitate direct realization of our divine nature and, by so doing, help us to achieve greatest life satisfaction and success. While that sounds grand, I still wanted to do more than parrot his insights or those of others who were close, immediate disciples.
I sought to depict meditative substance through the lens of my own 30+ years experience. Not as a saint or exalted adept but, instead, as a second-generation disciple; an ordinary, albeit dedicated, individual who pursued the path, practices, and promises of a renowned spiritual master.
To attest to its efficacy and worth if I found it to be valid. And I did. I’ve sampled the ‘goods’ and can genuinely vouch for them. Recognizing that people sometimes find it easier to relate to the testimony of a B student—me—than that of a straight-A monastic disciple or spiritual master like Yogananda, I felt my contribution culminate in a distilled, take-away truth; none need be perfect to begin practicing meditation, but, all will become happier persons for the effort.
It is an investment in technique and lifestyle that yields the greatest of all potential returns on investment; unconditional happiness and all-round fulfillment.
In the following excerpt from Meditation as a Way of Life about Energy, I address infrequently articulated aspects of life force cultivation and application to successful meditation practice. I invite you to read, learn, and pursue more.
A huge element for success in any spiritual endeavor involves building and focusing energy. And though not everyone shares my childhood relish of comic books, most people enjoy heroes or the qualities they represent.
I have long suspected that imagination is a psychic forerunner of tangible reality and that mythic materials, from Homer’s Odyssey to Superman, have a secret source in unconscious archetypes. Mixing the holy with the fantastic may seem unlikely, but we often project externally, through tales and legends, what we possess internally.
Heroes are fashioned by quests and trials; comic titans often appear after spectacular transformations. In real life, saints are forged by devotional perseverance amid extraordinary circumstances. Epic battles of light and dark played on the stage of fantasy reflect the spiritual contest between good and evil within us.
Where comic heroes use superpowers to combat wrongdoers, sanctified souls draw on Self-realization to defeat delusion. In fact, divine champions in the guise of illumined masters are periodically, and intentionally, sent into the world during times of spiritual darkness to manifest the light and redeem others:
Whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (1) For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. (2)
Ingredients of heroic power, real or imaginary, are energy, will, and intention. Energy is force, will marshals that force, and intention directs it, for better or worse. Hitler demonstrated the dark side of energy whereas Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna reflected only the light. Lacking abundant energy, we usually pass through life without significant impact; with it, we can shape destiny.
Energy, known as life force, alternately called chi, qi, or prana, must be fostered and channeled to be beneficial. To do so necessitates proper cultivation, removal of blockages, and correct use.
This process requires an integrated understanding of what the source of energy is, then how to harness and apply it effectively.
As repeatedly stated, creation is inseparable from its Creator. The creative act begins as thought emanating from Spirit, is condensed to omnipresent energy—the subtle force that forms and animates all creation—and concretizes into increasingly dense vibratory expressions that eventually manifest as the causal, astral, and physical realms. In short, the source of energy is Spirit.
Physical exercise is routinely touted as a key ingredient to “feeling great,” yet, while necessary for general health, it does not add life force. That occurs solely by drawing upon the nimbus of cosmic energy that surrounds and infuses each human being. None of us could live without it. To illustrate, just as toy planes, cars, and boats may be remotely operated by radio waves, humans are similarly powered by universal life currents. This energy is dispensed automatically in amounts relative for each person but can be augmented to boost mind/body functions and, most importantly, enhance inner growth.
Ways to increase this “allowance” are often found in select yogic and tai chi practices that specialize in life force control and development. When asked which of the two systems to recommend for such purposes, I defer. Both have merit and should be chosen according to innate preference. It is prudent to learn details about each method and evaluate their teachers or students to see if they demonstrate the benefits of practice. I personally use an exercise series from my tradition to enliven the body/mind.
The principles of these Energization Exercises, developed by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1916, are sound, and the routine is both healthful and invigorating. I will share more about these below but first need to point out that energy-building practices, regardless of type, should be used in conjunction with meditation to enhance inner realization.
The key to such practices generally lies in the use of will, breath, movement, or, as in Yogananda’s method, conscious physical tensing. Willpower is critical because it summons life force surrounding the body, and specific patterns of breath, movement, or tension infuse it into us. To grasp this process more fully requires a brief reference to the chakras, since they are our internal energy centers. The term chakra stems from the Sanskrit cakra and was earliest referenced in the Vedic Upanishads. Being intrinsic to human mind/body/soul functioning, they are present in the esoteric teachings of all major religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, and even the mystical branches of Christianity.
Chakra means “wheel” or “circle” and refers to hubs of energy that animate and sustain the body and mind. They are aligned in an ascending column from the base of the subtle astral spine to the top of the head, and each has a distinct color and sound, and physiological, mental/emotional, and spiritual impact.
Chakras also have two energetic poles, one negative and the other positive. The sixth chakra is central to energy dynamics because it is the principal center through which life force enters and is directed throughout the body. Its negative pole is situated near the base of the skull at the medulla oblongata, while its positive pole is the spiritual-eye center located between and slightly above the eyebrows.
Among other things, the sixth chakra is a locus of will and the gate that allows additional energy into the body through proper attitude, intention, and application of right technique.
The Energization Exercises utilize a process that combines focused will and conscious tension/relaxation to infuse energy into specific body parts. Simple as this seems, the theory is not. The process involves directing vital forces that perpetually surround the body into select areas by will-induced muscular engagement.
This muscular engagement activates a process that channels life currents to the brain via the medulla oblongata, routes them through the subtle circulatory system—nadis or meridians—and transmits them into the physical nervous system and relevant body tissues as directed. Other methods of energy cultivation may achieve similar ends differently, yet the underlying principles for doing so are usually uniform.
Before proceeding, let me share an experience I once had with the Energization Exercises after a transatlantic flight. As is often the case in such trips, sleep gets badly compromised.
On this occasion, my wife and I arrived in Amsterdam with sufficient layover time to visit a museum before catching our next flight. Unfortunately, jet lag was making me dizzy, and the idea of sightseeing was neither appealing nor very feasible. Under the circumstances, the best option for salvaging our excursion involved finding a discreet spot for me to do my recharging exercises. Fortunately, I did, and with immediate positive effect. Vitality coursed back into my system, eliminating all but trace elements of fatigue with no residual dizziness. I could resume touring with appropriate enthusiasm.
Though the practical body/mind benefit of these exercises was indisputable, I must be a stickler to my own rules and comment that energy- cultivation practices are primarily meant to enhance meditation and inner growth. Keeping a correct perspective on these matters is necessary to avoid the kinds of tangential involvements discussed earlier.
Building and focusing life force can be tricky, so it is worthwhile to review the basics. For starters, here is a warning: Energy exercises can be extremely potent and, if not practiced correctly, can severely damage the nervous systems. Students have hurt themselves from rash activity, so I strongly advise receiving instruction from expert teachers, not just books.
Texts impart information in a generalized way, whereas instructors can assess student weaknesses and vulnerabilities to tailor regimens accordingly. In this book I only use safe energy exercises that anyone can do. The following overview presents fundamental principles of the practices
I will cover in the next chapter.
Modern science recognizes that matter and energy are interrelated, separated solely by rates of vibration. Ancient yogis realized that even these hail from the subtler substance of divine consciousness. Accordingly, every human is made up of three increasingly dense and interpenetrating bodies: one of thought, another of energy, and the third, the densest, of matter. This complex unit is surrounded by a nimbus of life force that enters and animates the body via an astral portal at the medulla oblongata.
That energy is apportioned automatically, but willpower coupled with correct technique can increase the amount of vital force taken in.
Tension is usually associated with muscular or psychological stress but in our context refers to how energy manifests when it floods the body. Consider muscle flexing. As mentioned earlier, this set of actions draws life force into and through the nerves, thereby triggering processes that result in muscular contraction. The same may be said of all sensory-motor experiences. Vital energy transmitted via nerve wires facilitates physiologic responses. Our body machinery cannot operate without energy moving through the nervous system.
Relaxation depicts an opposite state where energy withdraws from the body. In the muscles, this registers as limpness; in the sense organs, it registers as an absence of function. In both cases willpower—either consciously or unconsciously applied—is central to the infusion and withdrawal of life force.
Paralytics, for instance, may want to raise their arms but cannot due to nerve damage; the will is engaged but not the means to access energy. On the other hand, hale individuals may be able to use their arm, but refuse to do so. Here the energy is available but not the will. In both situations, will is required for life force to flow, yet energy must be accessible to be applied effectively.
The sensory nerves conduct energy automatically, whereas its movement in the motor nerves is mostly voluntary and, again, prompted by will. Select body areas become charged with vital force when muscular contractions are practiced intentionally and correctly. Reversing this process induces relaxation by withdrawing energy from the body. We want the capacity to both infuse and retract energy at will.
Try this experiment: Make a gentle fist with your right hand and squeeze it lightly, gradually increasing the intensity until the right forearm vibrates. Notice how your will directs energy with progressive vigor until the fist and forearm tense accordingly. Now reverse the process. Will the energy to recede and the area will become limp and heavy.
When this method is applied to any body part it, will charge and then relax the area, creating an effect of vitalized calm. With practice, this process increases awareness and control over energy, a definite asset in spiritual training. Learning to relax and withdraw energy from the body is a precursor to directing it to higher centers of spiritual perception, and that is what meditation practice is all about.
Chakras, Life Force and Breath: Energy Exercises
In this chapter, we move more deeply into the application of practices that have a direct impact on consciousness. Principles addressed in a broad manner previously are now given more concrete expression through specific energy exercises that enhance spiritual awakening when done regularly and with right attitude. Dedicated repetition of these activities is necessary, for it creates subtle mental pathways that effectively balance, clarify, and heighten our awareness.
Preparatory Energy-Infusing Exercises
These first three exercises reduce fatigue and stress plus prepare one for meditation. Practiced singly or collectively, seated, lying down, or standing, they share a common operating principle: The greater the exertion of the will, the greater the flow of life energy into a particular body part.”
In laypersons’ terms, this principle reiterates what was shown in the fist-tensing experiment in the last chapter: A correlation exists between the amount of will a person uses and the degree of energy mustered.
Just as an electrical dimmer switch regulates current “owing into and back from a light bulb, thus affecting its luminosity, tensing the body—or parts of it—from low to high levels incrementally draws in more vital current until the body bulb shines brightly. In performing these exercises, the core of each muscle group should be gradually infused with energy that results in physical tension; then that energy must be gradually and fully withdrawn, causing a subsequent state of relaxation. Doing so charges the atomic structure of all impacted cells and then facilitates a state of calm repose. It is important to practice attentively with correct imagery and a willing attitude.
As a general rule, do these energy-infusing exercises in fresh air, and, whenever possible, open a window or go outside to harness the augmenting power of sunlight. Visualize solar radiation pouring into the medulla oblongata or spiritual eye.
This vibrant energy is absorbed through the skin and, in proper amounts, helps the body manufacture vitamin D, plus it provides energetic nutrition to the cells. A certain amount of sunlight is excellent for health despite valid ozone concerns. Doing these exercises in direct light should not pose a health risk because they can be done relatively quickly, but consult your doctor if concerned.
Never rush the exercises or move too rapidly from one to another. Haste compromises the process and its purpose. Savor the sensations each provides, and bask in the fruit of your efforts after every session. As previously mentioned, sensitivity toward energy is preparatory to controlling it, and the more adept we become at controlling it, the more we can direct energy by concentration and will alone.
The full series of Energization Exercises is available through Self-Realization Fellowship or other organizations that share Yogananda’s teachings. I teach them through personal instruction.
- Run your fingers down the back of the head until a soft spot is felt at the base of the skull. This is where the medulla oblongata is located.
- Picture a halo of cosmic energy surrounding you, with small streams of life current steadily pouring into the body at the medulla oblongata.
- With eyes closed or half open, direct your inner gaze to the spiritual-eye center, the seat of divine will and concentration located between and slightly above the eyebrows.
- Gazing into the spiritual eye, visualize the medulla center openly receptive to increased life force entering the body.
Part 1: Total Body Exercise
• Inhale through the nose in a double breath, a short breath followed by a long breath. (It sounds like hih, hihhhh.)
• Hold the breath and gradually infuse the entire body with low to high levels of energy by tensing it incrementally until it vibrates. Hold this high-level tension for several seconds.
• Exhale through the mouth using a double breath, a short exhale followed by a long one. (It sounds like huh, huhhhh.)
• As you exhale, simultaneously relax completely.
• Repeat three to twelve times.
• Notice the aftereffect of increased aliveness coupled with a sense of calm ease.
Part 2: Individual Body Part Exercise
• Proceed as follows using the same principles described above:
• Focus at the spiritual eye, yet drop your awareness to the left foot.
• Concentrate on the center of the left foot.
• Tense that area from a low to high level until the entire foot vibrates with energy.
• Visualize light emanating from that center point and bathing the foot in life force.
• Now relax and feel energy withdraw from the foot. Imagine it retreating up into the spine and going to the spiritual eye. Take your time to feel the impact.
• Repeat the procedure with the right foot.
• Slowly and mindfully apply this process to the following body parts in correct sequence:
• Left calf, then right calf
• Left thigh, right thigh
• Left hip and buttock, right hip and buttock
• Abdomen region below the navel, then abdomen region above the navel
• Left fist and forearm, then right
• Left upper arm, then right
• Left pectoral region, then right
• Left lower back, then right
• Left midback, then right
• Left upper back and shoulder, then right
• Left side of neck and throat, then right
• Front of throat and neck, then back side of neck
• Double-inhale, tensing the entire body together from low to high.
• Hold the tension briefly, then double-exhale and relax fully.
• Concentrate on the sensations of soothing vitality.
• Do this entire sequence once, or twice if so desired.
Part 3: Tensing Upward-in-a-wave Exercise
• Stand with feet shoulder-width apart for balance.
• Stretch the arms out to the sides at shoulder height, hands open and palms facing forward.
• Double-exhale through the mouth (short, then long) and bend the knees slightly while bringing the outstretched arms forward in an arc to the front of the body as if clapping. Relax briefly, completely, and feel.
• Double-inhale (short, then long) through the nose, straighten the legs, and pull the arms/fists apart in a gradual arc to their original, shoulder-high outstretched position. Simultaneously tense the body upward in a wavelike sequence, beginning with the feet and ascending to the head.
• Hold this position for two to three seconds while tensing fully.
• Open the hands, double-exhale, and repeat the initial relaxation step (third step in this sequence).
• Repeat this sequence three to twelve times, being attuned to your body/mind responses.
*This material was reproduced by permission of Quest Books, the imprint of The Theosophical Publishing House from Meditation as a Way of Life by Alan L. Pritz, © 2014 by Alan L. Pritz.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Alan L. Pritz
Editor: Renée Picard