A case of Yogic Illness

Someone wrote to me regarding his experience of worsening health due to the practice of Integral Yoga.  He had read Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness” about 15 years ago and started practicing immediately.  In the beginning, it was slow walking meditation where he would attempt to suspend his thought process while keeping attention on surrounding objects.  Later, he imagined himself becoming one with his surroundings and offering it to the Divine.

Another method he tried in recent years was to focus on imaginary descending Force at the top of the head through the Sahasrara Chakra (to invoke the Descent of Shakti). He would experience a thick invisible substance coming down through his head into upper body, sort of like a heavy wave that relaxed and expanded local tissues in the head and upper body. When he focused on this wave, it would slow down or shut down the thoughts so he would stay in it for a few minutes.

He had a few uplifting experiences early on.  Once he felt strange strong vibrations for a few seconds around the backbone while awakening from a nap.  Another time, he felt some sort of very light “electrical” vibrations around the head, as if a thousand tiny electrical butterflies were flying in a circle, flying in and out such that these vibrations were felt inside and outside of the head.  When he went into a dark area, he could even see some very light blinks near the head.  This sensation disappeared after a few days.  He also began experiencing the phenomenon known as “déjà vu”, where you feel as if the scene that you are participating in right now has occurred before.

Unfortunately, in the last few years, his condition has deteriorated.  He has been experiencing a worsening of memory, mental cloudiness, physical and mental fatigue.  If he takes a nap, he feels refreshed but the thinking power does not recover.  He feels he is not in the present moment, because the mind is partially busy with something he is not aware of.  He also has a reduced sense of personality; he has no opinion and doesn’t care about many things which may be relatively important.  He feels body tension which starts from under chest and goes to the throat.

According to him, there is a remark in Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness” which accurately captures his condition: “We become extremely sensitive, with an impression of bumping into everything, into gray or aggressive people, heavy objects, brutal events”[1].

Painting by Priti Ghosh @ Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Click image for her page

After some back-and-forth, we tentatively agreed that his difficulties may be related to the excessive mental effort outlined in the following remarks made by the Mother:

Disciple: “In the inner life, why are there periods when one can no longer make a conscious effort, and if one enforces it, parts of the nature revolt or else everything in the being seems to become petrified; effort becomes the mechanical repetition of past movements. What should be done at such times?”

Mother: This has been very well observed.  What is not mentioned here is the nature of the  effort, for it is a certain kind of effort which leads to the result described here, which is either a revolt or a sort of—yes, petrifaction, truly, something that becomes absolutely insensible and no longer responds at all to this effort. This happens when the effort is almost exclusively mental and quite arbitrary, in the sense that it does not at all take into account the state of the rest of the being; it has its own idea, its own will, and without any consideration for the rest of the being, it imposes this will on the being as a whole. This is what usually brings about the revolt or the petrifaction. And the only thing to do is to make the mind quiet.  And this is the time to make a movement of self-giving, full of peace, quietude, confidence. If one makes this movement of selfgiving, of complete surrender to the divine Will, all the tension arising from the effort, an effort which could be called premature or unconsidered—all the tension arising from this effort gives way. There is a relaxation in the being. And the progress one could not make by this purely mental effort usually comes about almost automatically, by the very fact that one has relaxed in confidence and self-giving to the divine Will.

Disciple: “At other times, one has the impression of making no effort, but of feeling only the presence of a consciousness due to which in many circumstances of daily life a means of progress is found. One wonders then what effort is and what its value? What we call effort—isn’t it too mental a movement?”

Mother: That is exactly what I have just explained, which shows that the observation is quite correct.

It is an arbitrary decision of the mind, and being arbitrary and not in conformity with the truth of things, it naturally brings about these wrong reactions. This does not imply that no effort must ever be made but the effort also must be spontaneous. So too I told you once that for meditation to be effective, it must be a spontaneous meditation which takes hold of you rather than one you make an effort to have; well, effort, that kind of tension of the will in the being, must also be something spontaneous, and not the result of a more or less inopportune mental decision [2].

He wondered if living together with his spouse and kid, who live a conventional life and have no spiritual inclination whatsoever, might be adversely affecting his consciousness.   That is possible; an atmosphere permeated with chronic boredom, indulgence in frivolous pleasures and slovenliness is not conducive to any effort to raise one’s consciousness. The depletion of vital energy and the buildup of subconscious blockages due to aging can also take a toll on yogic practice.

This vignette illustrates the peril of having deeper Kundalini experiences in the absence of a Guru, who guides you in person or through your dreams.  Authentic Gurus like Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, Anandamayi Ma, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa are endowed with the occult vision that can discern and eliminate the energy blockages in a person’s subtle body.   In the absence of such vision and power, it is nearly impossible to determine if one’s yogic practice is heading in the wrong direction until it is too late.

One sometimes comes across Westerners, mostly men, who entertain the erroneous idea that they can just do Yoga on their own without any guidance from a Guru.  They have been raised to be highly individualistic since birth and bring the same go-it-alone attitude to the yogic path (The Mother had commented on this phenomenon as well).  For them, the Guru is a surviving artifact of the archaic and subservient Hindu or Tibetan tradition who can be discarded while adapting Yoga to their progressive, egalitarian, freedom-loving Western civilization of the 21st century.  If you search google for “age of gurus is over”, you will find quite a few people who claim that Gurus are outdated.

So can one actually practice Yoga without a Guru?  It depends on the individual and the goal which one seeks to attain.  There are precocious individuals like Ramana Maharshi who don’t need a Guru because they come predestined to attain Self-realization due to some innate power acquired during past births.   In case of other people, it is certainly possible that the initial stages of Yoga wherein one develops devotion to the Divine and learns to silence the mind for several minutes every day can be attempted on one’s own, but one has to be extremely cautious in the later stages when the Kundalini begins to circulate within the body.  Forcibly awakening the Kundalini through the strenous concentration on the Chakras and without any purification of consciousness is unquestionably dangerous.

More specifically, can one practice Integral Yoga without Sri Aurobindo or the Mother?  Sri Aurobindo once wrote to someone: “This yoga especially, as I have written in my books, needs the help of the Guru and cannot be done without it” [3]. This might summarily exclude the possibility of practicing Integral Yoga in their physical absence, and yet there are people who continue to do so.  They meditate on the psychic being in the heart and aspire for the initial psychic transformation.  There are also people who claim that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother continue to exist behind the veil and are still guiding them.  They feel  their transformative presence at the Samadhi in Pondicherry, in the relics which reside in various places in the world, in the voice of the Mother and her organ music, and also in their written works.

We shall end on this tantalizing note.  More on “Practicing Yoga without a Guru” in the next blog post ! (Update : See “Practising Yoga without a Guru“)

Painting by Priti Ghosh@Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Click image for her page.

References

  1. Satprem.  The Adventures of Consciousness, Chapter 4, The Silent Mind.
  2. The Mother.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, pp 391-392.
  3. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 23, Letters on Yoga, p 1051.

Related Posts

  1. Identifying the Signs of Spiritual Progress
  2. Receiving guidance from Masters of a bygone age
  3. Triple transformation
  4. The equipoise required for Yoga
  5. Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
  6. Disrupting the routines of life
  7. The spiritual ego
  8. The phenomenon of double consciousness
  9. Why spiritual experiences do not repeat?
  10. Sharing spiritual experiences with others
  11. Various ways in which the Kundalini rises
  12. The subtle sounds which indicate progress in Yoga
  13. Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
  14. Why does Yoga give you a “high”?
  15. The inversion of day and night (Gita 2:69) which occurs in Brahmic consciousness
  16. The Triple Cord which has to be sundered
  17. The Golden Lid or Hiranmaya Patra which has to be ruptured
  18. The Divine child suckled by the Vedic day and night
  19. States of self-realization defined in the Gita
  20. Dharana Shakti : the capacity to sustain spiritual experiences

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24 thoughts on “A case of Yogic Illness

  1. astrid

    In the second paragraph, there is probably a typo…
    “He would experience a thick invisible substance coming down through *my* head into upper body,” ; meaning “his” head probably….
    Thank you for the article!

    Reply
  2. RJ

    Looking forward to that next post. I certainly “wish” that I had the sense to come down 50-70 years earlier for the chance to absorb the vibrations of the Master and Mother. But I feel that there must be a reason why I am around now, and there must be a reason why I am so strongly drawn to this path now. So there is nothing to do but keep forging ahead.

    One thing I’ve thought would be interested in is collecting all the references that Mother and Sri Aurobindo made regarding the state of sadhana after their passing and information about how to proceed – if anyone is up to that archival task, it’s you, Sandeep! Maybe that’s already in store for the next article. I take the most comfort in the passage from the Agenda where Mother says she will always be there for the disciples and those who call upon her. (a very loose paraphrase)

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      RJ: One thing I’ve thought would be interested in is collecting all the references that Mother and Sri Aurobindo made regarding the state of sadhana after their passing and information about how to proceed

      Unfortunately, they said very little, which leaves the room open for a lot of different interpretations about the future. Secondly, as their own sadhana evolved, the remarks they made about the future also evolved which means you can’t really nail down the precise final formulation.

      The situation is similar to what happened after the death of the Buddha when multiple schools of Buddhism proliferated (same with Jesus, Mahavir, or other major religious figures).

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        The Mother on Northern versus Southern schools of Buddhism:

        Ah! as for Buddhism. The people of the South and the North have different kinds of imagination. The southern people are generally more rigid, aren’t they?.. I don’t know, but for Buddhism, the Buddhism of the South is quite rigid and doesn’t allow any suppleness in the understanding of the text. And it is a terribly strict Buddhism in which all notion of the Godhead in any form whatsoever, is completely done away with. On the other hand, the Buddhism of the North is an orgy of gods! It is true that these are former Buddhas, but still they are turned into gods. And it is this latter that has spread into China and from China gone to Japan. So, one enters a Buddhist temple in Japan and sees.. There is a temple where there were more than a thousand Buddhas, all sculptured – a thousand figures seated around the central Buddha – they were there all around, the entire back wall of the temple was covered with images: small ones, big ones, fat ones, thin ones, women, men – there was everything, a whole pantheon there, formidable, and they were like gods. And then too, there were little beings down below with all kinds of forms including those of animals, and these were the worshippers. It was.. it was an orgy of images.

        But the Buddhism of the South has the austerity of Protestantism: there must be no images. And there is no divine Consciousness, besides. One comes into the world through desire, into a world of desire, and abandoning desire one goes out of the world and creation and returns to Nirvana – even the nought is something too concrete. There is no Creator in Buddhism. So, I don’t know.

        The Buddhism of the South is written in Pali and that of the North in Sanskrit. And naturally, there is Tibetan Buddhism written in Tibetan, and Chinese Buddhism written in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism in Japanese. And each one, I believe, is very very different from the others.

        (Collected Works of the Mother, vol 5, p 326)

  3. Mark

    Sandeep Said:

    “So can one actually practice Yoga without a Guru?”

    M.P. Pandit said:

    “Everyone does not need to be a devotee of Krishna, or to Rama to be open to the consciousness that was manifest through them. There are many in different parts of the globe who have not heard these names but they are open to that consciousness.” from Selected Works of M.P. Pandit Vol 1 p.112

    Perhaps we do not need a guru to guide us, but we most definitely need to be called to the path:

    “For those who have within them a sincere call for the Divine, however the mind or vital may present difficulties or attacks or the progress be slow and painful, – even if they fall back or fall away from the path for a time, the psychic always prevails in the end and the Divine Help proves effective. Trust in that and persevere – then the goal is sure.” SA 23:549

    Thank You Sandeep. Wonderful article!

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The call to Yoga is important, no doubt, but that’s just the beginning. The fact remains that in the later stages of Yoga, when the Kundalini awakens, it is better to have a Guru who can heal any blockages otherwise you run into the kind of problems seen above.

      Reply
      1. Mark

        Sandeep: Sitting with a guru was never possible for me – I had no means. So, I have been on my own for almost thirty-five years with only books and the Divine guidance – only very occasionally was I able to meet with a teacher. And I survived the kundalini awakening – it wasn’t easy of course, I did experience problems, but got through them and now retrospectively I can fully understand all that I had undergone. Mine may be a very rare case, but I had no choice in the matter – and perhaps that was best for me, perhaps that is what the Divine intended – it appears that way to me now. This may be a new category: people who do not have access to a guru.

        Thank you so much for this thought!

        Mark

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Mark: And I survived the kundalini awakening

        Glad you did. Then you should be teaching rather than reading my blog 🙂

        Mark: This may be a new category: people who do not have access to a guru.

        I am sure there have been such exceptions in the past. There was Gopi Krishna, for instance, who also survived and lived to write a book “Living with Kundalini”. He wrote to Sri Aurobindo for help when the Kundalini awakening went awry but Sri Aurobindo asked him to search for a Tantric Guru instead.

        See the comments on Gopi Krishna over on another thread

      3. Mark

        Sandeep: Glad you did. Then you should be teaching rather than reading my blog 🙂

        Thanks, but I prefer to remain a life-long student. 😉 Even just this brief time that I have been reading your blog I have experienced growth. And I still have to reach the Third Transformation. So, much to do yet. 😉

        Even though I have been alone, I have been very fortunate. Again, only in retrospect, while going through it I found it very hard, painful, etcetera.

        Thank You!

  4. Diane

    I go to stay at my daughters several times a year, and as the energy there is very much a mix of vital mental unpurifed tension, I end up with some illness as I am just not able to protect myself from the external forces. I try and make productive use of it by closely examining what vital and mental attachments are still at play within myself, how can I remain detached and at the same time have a meaningful interaction with my family. I try each day to create a space where I can bring down the silent mind and bring the psychic being to the front.

    When we are within the family dynamic, often karmic issues arise, and it can be sometimes useful to observe whether we have an unconscious preference for specific mental and emotional responses, as this may arise from atavisms inherited or passed down from an ancestoral tradition. The Mother discusses this quite widely in the Agenda, and the references can be found by searching “atavism”
    Diane

    Reply
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  6. Kris

    Sandeep, thank you for this blog. Your posts are very interesting and helpful for me. I’ve been practicing yoga for many years, beginning with studying with a guru in India. The path I’ve studied is based on Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga also known as the 8 limbs of yoga. It includes asanas to help balance the body and mind, and guidance for daily living and relationships. I have noticed that at the times in my life when I’ve done long, intensive meditation it’s especially important to do yoga asanas and cardio-exercise. Otherwise the body can’t handle the spiritual vibration. I’ve also noticed that when I’ve had deep spiritual experiences my emotions, relationships with family and friends, mental energy are affected. My problems seem to intensify and need to be attended to. Sometimes I feel that all I want to do us meditate. Other times I am more focused on the outer world. I agree with Mother that thinking of others, trying to understand and help them also helps me. I think that deep meditation brings up feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the unconscious that need to be processed and worked through. When that happens then I have to cut down on my meditation and spend more time in my outer life. I think helping others and loving the Divine is as important as meditation. And I think saunga, being in spiritual community is so important. This blog helps me feel that community connection. I wonder if others would like to get together sometimes, to meditate and share stories. Thank you, Sandeep, for all your work with this blog.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Kris: Thank you, Sandeep, for all your work with this blog.

      You’re welcome. I do it because I feel impelled to share the meticulous explanations that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother provided to a range of psychic phenomena. I haven’t seen such level of clarity in any other work.

      Kris: I have noticed that at the times in my life when I’ve done long, intensive meditation it’s especially important to do yoga asanas and cardio-exercise. Otherwise the body can’t handle the spiritual vibration

      True. This was covered in an earlier post Dharana Shakti : the capacity to sustain spiritual experiences

      Kris: This blog helps me feel that community connection. I wonder if others would like to get together sometimes, to meditate and share stories.

      I don’t want to disclose other people’s locations without their permission, but if you wish I can post a separate request on the blog asking people from your area to contact you.

      In case you didn’t know, there is already a major Sri Aurobindo group in your area.

      Reply
  7. mike

    Mark, l’m in very similar situation to you. Never met SA and M physically but they have been with me from an early age, especially in dreams [in particular SA] and the Descent experiences have been going on for years. lt’s a long and arduous process as the Master says in many letters. lt’s exactly like that ‘chick pecking through the shell’ analogy that Mother used.
    The Ascent process has been slow in happening, with occasional chakra movements etc… The traditional upward kundalini movement that you mention, l think.
    l’m probably still at the purification stage, although quite a lot of occult stuff does happen, which would indicate the slow opening of certain chakras, l suppose.
    Right from the beginning when l had vivid visions of agni awakening, l was getting dreams about SA and M, so thank God the guidance was there all along lol… Then the Force and other things started descending and l suppose the WORK proper began. lt’s been excruciating at times because of all the subconscious garbage that arises to be dealt with. But, when the Force comes down it re-invigorates the whole system and creates a balance… so it keeps me on track.

    Reply
  8. mike

    “When we are within the family dynamic, often karmic issues arise, and it can be sometimes useful to observe whether we have an unconscious preference for specific mental and emotional responses, as this may arise from atavisms inherited or passed down from an ancestoral tradition. The Mother discusses this quite widely in the Agenda, and the references can be found by searching “atavism”

    Yes, Diane, l’m pretty sure the ‘atavism’ thing is true. SA has talked about it, somewhere, too.
    l had an experience on the subtle planes one night, in which l visited the Masters house [l believe he has a permanent residence there]. l made some attempt at humour when He came out to talk with me [there were other ppl seated around waiting their turn, too] and usually l’m of a very shy nature. He said ‘Ah! humour, or it would be but his parents are with him – an obvious reference to atavistic traits, l’d say. And, this atavism can probably go back generations.
    lt looks like it works through our soul-groups as well, because supposedly we incarnate with more or less the same souls [from these groups – in different relationships, of course] throughout every lifetime.

    Reply
  9. mike

    l don’t know if this will help others to recognise when the Force starts working in them, but hopefully it will.. it happened quite some time ago and the experience appears to be stable now so l’m shaing with like-minded seekers. This is what l personally believe is the experience of the Force Descending in me and l had it confirmed by one of the older sadhaks at the ashram years ago, so l’m reasonably sure this is what it is – although, l should say l haven’t come acroos the initial experience in the Master’s letters, only my later experiences.
    When the Force started at the beginning of my sadhana, l first felt a revolving movement around the ajna centre [l think it might have entered there]. Then, a Force or Power would fill my body and consciousness until l felt like an incredibly strong iron ball which kept on growing stronger. This would last quite a while [usually happened when l was lying in bed – it would just come on automatically].
    lt felt like something was trying to burst out or expand my consciousness. l really felt like l was going to explode, but it usually subsided at that point. This continued for some years, and l no longer get this experience, just the Descent of Force [among other things] all around me, these days [under any condition – sitting, lying, walking]. l think the initial experience was the OPENING of my consciousness to the full downpouring from above or wherever.
    l put it here just in case someone starts getting a similar experience like this and doesn’t know WTH is going on.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Anecdotes of my Guru | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  11. Aaron Asphar

    Surely the only problem was the mind electing to regard it as a problem. If the mind just noticed the petrification and accepted what was, the petrification would have surely given way.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep

      Nope Aaron, thats because the petrification is not a mental idea but a state of consciousness which is not easily surmounted. No powerful mental belief or excitation of willpower can help you overcome it.

      Reply
  12. mike

    Yes, l found that out personally. That straining and effort through any kind of mental will, only makes things worse [from which l still suffer today] – l’m talking about Spiritual Practice of course. Also, l believe Sri Ramakrishna suffered from ‘straining’ too, until he adopted the ‘baby cat’ approach…. l had a friend who, whenever he tried to meditate always got a headache [this is probably what Mother is talking about]. lf l do meditate [very rare these days], l just sit and ask for the Peace to descend, which makes it a lot easier. A good example of this was lndira Devi in Dilip Kumar Roy’s book ‘Pilgrims of the Stars’ – excellent read….
    Fortunately, these days l usually get a Psychic movement at the heart centre, which makes it easy to go within, or to make an aspiration toward something – self-giving as Mother calls it. lt’s a very concrete ‘movement’ and for me it seems to be unmistakebley Psychic in origin….

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Sandeep Joshi | The Mother's Lasso

  14. 01

    So short version for dummies would be: chill, stop straining and forcing things? Yeah?

    Damn, now that I’m reading this I’m glad I don’t meditate much. After experiences I realized it’s serious and I’m kind of stuck at preparations to preparations to prepariations, it’s quite pathetic. Just got the impression I’m not ready and it’s not good idea to rush things. But I’m always thinking I should do more and I’m a failure because I’m not doing more. But if it’s that dangerous… Hmmm. Most stuff I’m doing is in waking state, fixing my shitty karma, yama/niyama (now that is hard), also some dreamwork. No meditation unless you count palming (for, like, a minute, lol) from Bates Method, heh. I was actually thinking about getting into meditation Yoga Sutras-style, but it’s actually dangerous? I’ll get sicker from it?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I was actually thinking about getting into meditation Yoga Sutras-style, but it’s actually dangerous? I’ll get sicker from it?

      Not really. Just don’t get ambitious and push for results. Expect there will be periods in life where nothing will happen.

      Its like taking a walk in a park. Most days, you will come away better but on some days, you may not feel uplifted.

      Reply

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