A great, Chinese master once explained the effect of meditation without purification. He asked his students to imagine a pile of very large rocks, and to gather sand to pour over the rocks.
He then inquired, “What will happen to the sand when it is poured over the large rocks?. . .Of course. . . .It will simply fall through the spaces.”
In the same manner, when a yogi meditates without purification, the energetic body will not be able to hold the refined, divine energy that pours down into his/her system during the practice.
According to the Bihar School of Yoga (one of India’s classical yoga schools under the head of Swami Satyananda Saraswati), “the purpose of yogic practice is to influence, integrate and harmonize all levels of being: physical, pranic, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual.”
A key component to the integration and harmonization of these various levels of being lies in the practice of purification.
When many new yogis think of purification, they often think of some starvation detox scheme that consists of a chain-your-refrigerator-shut-restriction plan and a whole lot of blending kale.
While green drinks at every meal are not a pre-requisite, the purification of the physical body through diet is often the first phase of a purificatory practice in yogic philosophy. Many traditional yoga teachers call this “cultivating lightness in the physical body.”
Westerners often interpret this phrase lightness in terms of physical weight or heaviness. However, the deeper understanding and intention of the word is that of refinement.
As the diet becomes clean and full of real, organic foods, the physical body becomes “lighter” energetically, and is more easily fused or blended with the energetic or pranic body.
The pranic body (also known as the etheric field or in yogic terms, the pranamayakosha) is a subtle body that interpenetrates the physical body and extends outwards by a few inches in a healthy person. Its existence has been verified and accepted by science through the discovery of Kirlian photography—a type of photography that emerged into popular culture in the 1970’s (though discovered much earlier) and is able to capture the energy field around all living things.
When the physical body is “light” or refined through a healthy diet, during an asana practice, the meridians (energetic channels also known as nadis) and the chakras (energetic centers) also become clean.
The Bihar School of Yoga states one primary aim of the asana practice is “to remove any blockages which prevent the free flow of energy in the body and mind. . .In this way, it promotes total health, regulating and stabilising the flow of energy throughout the body” (Satyananda Saraswati, 1999, p. 22).
Thus, with an asana practice, prana (or life energy) is transferred from the energetic body to the physical body immediately, and there is a fusion, blending or integration of the two bodies.
The lack of integration between the physical and energetic bodies creates areas of congestion and depletion of life energy. From an energetic perspective, this is what can lead to disease or imbalance over time.
Breathing exercises (or the practice of pranayama) also assist in the blending, integration, and harmonization of the physical and energetic body.
“Thus being established in asana and having control (of the body), taking a balanced diet; pranayama should be practised . . .” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:1).
Through a clean diet and breathing exercises, the energetic body now begins to cultivate “lightness.” That is, it begins to accumulate more refined particles. (For those who are new to breathing exercises, a great book to start with is Light on Pranayama by B.K.S. Iyengar . . . or you can watch and be guided by one of The House of Yoga videos.)
However, the cultivation of lightness and the fusing of the various levels of being does not stop with the physical and energetic bodies.
“Physical activities such as exercise, work, sleep, intake of food and sexual relations, all affect the distribution and flow of prana in the body. Faculties of the mind such as emotion, thought, and imagination affect the pranic body even more.” (Satyananda Saraswati, 1999, p. 366)
The yogi must purify the mind and emotions through character building (referred to in yogic philosophy as the practice of the yamas and niyamas).
Resistance often surfaces when one talks about the practice of the virtues. But this is not a soap box or prescribed, unbendable rules to live by.
The yamas and niyamas are not commandments or orders, leading to condemnation if we do not follow them. Rather, they are invitations to experience what we may gain by adopting them.
This practice is simply purification of the mental and emotional bodies through right thought, right speech, and right action.
When one abstains from unwholesome thoughts, words, and behaviors and cultivates loving, kind, compassionate, and truthful ways of being in the world, those positive energies get attracted to that person, in return.
The yogi finds that over time, his or her internal world (and way of being in the external world) has transformed.Lightness is cultivated in the mental and emotional bodies, and impacts the physical and energetic well-being of the yogi.
“If you permit your thoughts to dwell on evil, you yourself will become ugly. Look only for the good in everything so you absorb the quality of beauty.”
― Paramahansa Yogananda
In our initial story, the master continued,
“What will happen to the sand when it is poured over the large rocks?. . .Of course. . . .It will simply fall through the spaces.
The key is to gather smaller rocks. Purify yourself through diet, exercise, breathing, and character building. Then, the small particles of divine energy can be absorbed and utilized for the maintenance and upgrading of your bodies, and your spiritual development. . .You can now hold the sand.” -Master Choa Kok Sui