By Myra Lewin
People often come to Yoga and Ayurveda seeking big changes in their lives, but the most profound changes that can happen are usually found on the subtle, energetic level.
Even if you don’t notice the energetic parts of life, they are part of everything you experience. This is why we say in Ayurveda that everything you do has an imprint on your health and well-being. Because we are only taught to notice the physical aspects of life, they can obscure our view of the energy of a situation. But the subtle level is always working and influencing how you feel and act. If you only give attention to the cause and effect at the surface level, you’ll never see the whole picture of life.
Learn to see energy by going within
In my experience as a practitioner and teacher, I find that the reason so many people are dissatisfied with their lives is because they are looking for fulfillment from the physical world. They believe that their jobs, family, social obligations and what they own is what defines them, yet none of these is ever truly enough. They are attempting to understand life only through what they experience with their senses and intellect, and they are limiting themselves greatly.
Living a life defined by things outside of you clouds the connection to the God of your heart. Yoga lights the way. Through regular practice, you can go on a deep, inward journey to clear the clutter that surrounds you. No matter if this clutter is physical (believing that an object is responsible for your happiness) or emotional (thinking that because I am a certain way now, I will always be like that), it creates a disconnection from the divine, subtle energy. This energy unites all life, and it is what brings a feeling of true joy.
The sattvic practice of meditation, pranayama and Yoga asana are tools that allow you to burn through these impurities and see how much exists beyond who you think you are. This unveiling can come from noticing that it is your breath and the flow of prana that lifts your leg in ardha chandrasana (half moon), not just your muscles, or experiencing anandamaya kosha, or a sense of bliss beyond the body and mind. No matter how you find it, knowing yourself on all levels of existence is a key ingredient for a meaningful life.
Sattva and the subtle realms
The effects of subtle energy is the reason Ayurveda recommends that you only eat food that was cooked by you or someone who loves you. You could go to the most highly-rated restaurant and be served a beautifully arranged meal. But if the cook was angry when she made it, you will digest her state of mind along with the food. Eat like this a lot and the consequences will build up. You might find that you are less tolerant of your spouse’s quirks, or quick to anger at the stranger in the car in front of you. As these subtle experiences accumulate over time, your view of life becomes becomes filtered through a lens of aggression, frustration and unmet needs. But you can live your life according to what you can control -- your choices. When you are aware of the impact of subtle energy, you will be drawn toward sattva, including eating simple meals at home, which will bring a calmer state of mind than any four-star restaurant.
Experiencing sattva is entirely energetic, so if you try to understand it with your intellect, all the lists of sattvic foods and training in sattvic styles of Ayurvedic cooking will amount to little change. But when you go inward and uncover the intuitive wisdom that exists within you, you’ll begin to notice the subtle energies behind an experience or object. There you can start to walk in the direction of sattva.
Here’s an experiment to understand subtle energy: Set out three types of food on your counter, sattvic food, such as a bowl of spiced millet, rajasic food, such as commercially prepared soymilk, and something tamasic, like a frozen meal. Close your eyes and hold your hands over each of them, one at a time. Go beyond the physical and allow the first thing you notice about each to be a valid representation of its qualities -- don’t second guess yourself. You’ll see that there is a different feeling in the sattvic food, a lightness that is not present in the others. That is you experiencing subtle energy. Make this a practice when you are at the grocery store and you’ll make better choices that will keep you moving forward on your spiritual path.
Why we meditate in the morning
If you have difficulty experiencing subtle energies, wake before 6:00 a.m. This time of day is called brahmamuhurti and is recognized as the most powerful for spiritual endeavors. The energy within you and in the world around is lighter and less tied to the heavier physical planes.
Find a place that is still and quiet. Close your eyes and do nothing but focus on slow, conscious breathing for at least 10 minutes. Don’t try to force anything to happen, just observe and be present. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to a state of observing. Perhaps you will feel a lightness in your mind or a flutter of energy somewhere. Recognize it, but don’t try to grasp the sensation; subtle energy cannot be captured. Try this daily for a week and see how much more you notice this subtlety during the rest of your day.
The more you are consistent with morning meditation, the more you’ll be able to experience your subtle energy. Being fully grounding in your physical experience, which comes from meditation, is what brings awareness of all things that influence you, including subtle energy.
For many, knowing that energy impacts our lives is the missing link between wanting to change and making change happen. When you are tuned in to energy, you’ll notice how a walk on a windy day makes you feel forgetful, so next time you’ll remember to wear a hat. You’ll notice that when you eat food grown without pesticides, you experience less pain in your body, so you’ll choose that next time you go shopping. These small shifts add up to big results, illuminating the fulfilling path that comes from recognizing yourself as eternal spirit.