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Yoga, longevity and quality of life

by Octavian Sarbatoare

Length and quality

The issues of longevity and quality of life as related to Yoga seem to be important reasons why people start Yoga practices in the first instance. In day to day life the desire to live a long life is the reason behind many of our activities, we pay attention to health and good life in many forms, all with the more or less hidden agenda of living longer. However longevity and quality of life are much related to one another as two aspects of the same desire, the quality of life (as intensity of life experience) is a qualitative progression of longevity.

In normal circumstances, people pay more attention to longevity, we are not so much aware of the issue of quality. It is not so in Yoga. Here the main issue is the quality that attracts also the longevity as a component of quality of life. Yoga sees longevity as a component, or more exactly a result of Yoga practices. The fact that the acquired discipline allows the body to function better and the mind to be under own control, a balanced life without doubt, has to extend the life of a practitioner. As Yoga is more about the quality of life, this issue will be addressed in detail.

Quality of life

The issue of quality of life has to be seen from both material and spiritual perspectives. The material issue can be simplified by considering it as an expression of the spiritual perspective. Indeed the spiritual side of quality of life takes credit for the material one that becomes more of an attitude to material things. In own turn, the spiritual side of quality of life has to be seen from body and mind perspectives. The body issue is essential, as the harmonization of body is a solid base for addressing the mind that is the tool of extension, the organ or function through which we experience the world. In practical terms the body has to be cleaned of impurities, i.e. toxins, etc., for this a multitude of Yoga techniques are used. The reason is that the toxins in the body corrupt the perception in various degrees. It is the quality of perception that gives in fact the quality of life. Yoga pays a careful attention to body as the vehicle of experience and host of mind. The issue of mind is far more complex, it requires a certain degree of abstraction as the mind experiences are much different from body experiences which do end up ultimately as mind experiences. One of the major mind experiences is awareness. It can be said in simple words that in Yoga the quality of life is determined by the level of awareness (consciousness).

Awareness

The end achievement of Yoga is in a form or another described by people who have experienced it, as the experience of awareness or the experience of being alert. A person possessing the Yoga awareness is known as Drashta ("witness"). The question we might ask now is: "What is a witness and what the witness witnesses?". First of all we have to mention that awareness comes gradually as Yoga practices become more refined and the practitioner is more alert to the environment and own person.

There is a wide spread idea of Yoga awareness as being a transcendent experience, but this is not true. Yoga awareness is an immanent experience as consciousness states are mental states therefore brain states. It will be more appropriate to see consciousness, as qualia of mental activities, the step ahead from animal to human species. The present Homo Sapiens has the capacity to graduate into the Yoga consciousness as qualia, but this ability is not a common feature of all of us. The Yoga practices in their advanced forms have the goal to acquire such awareness as a day to day feature of human activities.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, talk about Drashta ("seer or witness") from the beginning (Ch.I-3). It seems to be an important point, as the practitioner (as Drashta) is on the same site with the witness of all, i.e. the God (more often named in this tradition as Ishvara). The object of a witness is the nature (as manifestation of Shakti) itself. This includes the witness as well, as every witness is part of the nature. But the process of witnessing in not the ordinary seeing of things. It is a higher quality of perception. In practical terms a witness is somebody who is able to identify and be aware about the environment around as well as the process of witnessing that environment. It can be seen that it is not a simple contemplation of things, a one-pointed directional concentration, but a multilevel perception. What is a multilevel perception? It is in simple words the capacity to be aware of more than one thing at a time. It looks like beyond human capacity, but some people can have the experience of awareness of more things in the same time. It might be called a three-dimensional awareness, far beyond our ordinary ability to focus on one point of attention. This is without doubt a remarkable ability that expresses the qualia of human consciousness.

How to increase awareness

The Yoga practices by default do increase awareness, which can be of various forms. However, a more refined awareness comes from advanced practices, at this stage a Guru (spiritual preceptor) has to be considered. The preliminary stages of Yoga related to body start with a gradual elimination of body toxins and renunciation to various addictions, then the first fruits of practices come as awareness of pleasures of the five senses. Other practices are the use of Pranayama ("lengthening of the breath") by which the awareness of the lightness of the body is obtained. A qualified Yoga instructor will be able to teach all the basic Yoga techniques, everyone of it having specific awareness experiences. As far as the tantric practices are concerned, by eliminating ejaculation during sexual intercourse, the real sexual pleasure can be experienced, therefore Maithuna Tantra becomes a party of awareness. It is only by a personal experience that somebody can discover various kinds of awareness and the way to know and increase these experiences.

Siddhis as powers of awareness and expression of quality

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talks in Chapter III about various Siddhis ("powers resulting from Yoga'). It is an exposition of what a Drashta can do with his/ her abilities. Many people take the descriptions ad literam, but the fact is that all the Siddhis are products of the mind. It is the mind which assumes the form of that particular action or thing. This is where most of us get confused to believe that the Siddhis are powers of creation or destruction that can be acquired by somebody and the role of God can be obtained. All Siddhis are powers of awareness, the holder is indeed an out of ordinary person able to extend own mind beyond unimaginable things for most of us. The necessary quality for such a person in known as Amritapurna ("filled with nectar"), a certain state of purity of mind that is the result of body and mind purification. A Drashta has to be considered having the Amritapurna quality.

This can be certainly defined as a remarkable quality of life of a human being. From an encounter with a Drashta most of us will feel that there is something special about such a person, but usually we don't know what is it. We do observe that there is quality of experience in such a person, but we cannot see what kind of experiences a Drashta has, and how intense his/ her experiences are. It is at this point where we have to draw attention. The real longevity is given by the quality of mental experiences. For us as ordinary human beings the experience of life takes a form of a slice of time. Every now and then we have a slice of conscious experience, a very brief time of which usually we don't retain anything. It is not so for a Drashta. The slices of time are united, a continuous flow of awareness is present and retained in the memory. This state doesn't last for 24 hours continuously. It varies, perhaps our genetic structure doesn't allow us to have this experience as a dominant feature of mind, but no doubt there are people having this ability. Some people having this extraordinary ability can hold longer perhaps for hours, even during sleep in certain conditions the Yoga awareness can be held. In conclusion, it can be said that longevity in Yoga is a matter of quality of experience. If we compare the intensity of life experiences between an ordinary person and a Drashta for a certain numbers of years, it can be said that a Drashta has lived the equivalent of hundreds of years because of the ability to have a higher level of awareness. This perspective is outstanding, the many spiritual paths somehow or another talk about awareness as a soteriological and eschatological issue. In other words salvation is a matter of awareness.