Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Playing the Edge of Mind and Body - A NEW LOOK AT YOGA (Page 3)
Joel Kramer Yoga Journal, January 1977
Hatha Yoga stretches and strengthens one physically so that one has a stronger and more flexible body. Similarly Jnana Yoga stretches and strengthens one mentally so that one can use the structures that thought builds creatively and harmoniously, and yet not be bound by the limits that thought places on life.
Mental edges are similar to physical edges in that they are marked by resistance to movement and opening. In the mind, fear is the indicator of resistance as pain is in the body. Fear circumscribes the structure of personality or ego. The ways you think about yourself or the world are the basic building blocks of personality and they are very rigid. When these structures are challenged, fear arises. Fear often expresses itself through attack and defense as a means of alleviating the pain that fear brings. Attack and defense are a way of shoring up (protecting) the challenged structure and burying fear in what is called the unconscious, giving you the illusion of not being afraid. Fear is a great teacher since it is a key to finding out the nature, depth, and degree of your attachment to various thought structures.
In Hatha Yoga, as you awarely play the edge of what is physically possible, your edge moves. What is possible has changed - you have changed. There is more flexibility, more openness in the tissue, and correspondingly more energy. As Jnana Yoga plays the edges of mental resistance, the very doing of this moves the edge, enlarging the limits of what is possible. This is really what expanding consciousness is all about.
A major difficulty in Jnana Yoga is that since your mental edges define the way you perceive, the very perception of where your edges or conditionings are is limited by your present perception: if I try to look at the way that I look at things, the way I do it is the way that I look at things. How I look at things at any given moment is me. Another problem of Jnana Yoga is that there is no set body of techniques corresponding to asanas to use to play your mental edges. In Hatha Yoga the asanas are necessary because in living you rarely challenge or even reach your physical edges. You are, however, confronting your mental edges on a day to day basis whether you want to or not, so that mechanical technique is not necessary.
In Hatha Yoga the demands of a given posture, the immediacy of the feedback of physical pain, the possibility of injury through carelessness, the proper use of breath, can aid in bringing forth the necessary attention. In Jnana Yoga, attention is also the key. To find out how thought works, it is necessary to pay attention to the forms it takes: words, sentences, images. It is also very important to be aware of where your attention is at any given moment. Your attention at any moment is what you are at that moment and this directly reveals your conditioning.
Being aware of the movement of attention is actually a meditative process that shifts consciousness. The resulting sense of distance and quality of detachment permit an objectivity that is not bound by the structures of thought. This objectivity is the source of newness and creativity, bringing a sense of awe that transcends the merely personal. It can also bring fear. Since we hold the world and ourselves together with thought, real objectivity can challenge the fabric of our lives bringing resistance and fear. This very fear is an indication of the existence of mental conditioning and paying attention to it (playing the edge of it) 'stretches' it in a somewhat similar way as awarely playing the edge of pain stretches the body.
Although Jnana Yoga cannot be practiced in the ordinary sense, ('practice' usually means repetition toward the accumulation of desired habits), one may 'practice' Jnana Yoga by simply sitting quietly, observing the inner panorama. An advantage of sitting quietly is temporary removal from external reactions that permits more ready access to thought. Sitting also allows what has been repressed by thought or inattention to bubble up. Since one's mental edges display themselves in the relationships of daily life, with people, ideas, the physical environment, so the 'practice' of Jnana Yoga can and does occur not only during formal sitting, but in all aspects of life.
One might mistake attention for continually trying to figure out what's going on inside which can end up in paralysis or in removal from living. Attention is not an analytical process involving brain activity. It is a simple registering of what is happening so that there is no 'figuring out' involved.