The Cyclical Movement of Amrit Yoga
By Lori (Kavita) Richardson
It’s barely 4:30 in the afternoon, yet out the window, daylight fades swiftly. The season of long nights has begun to prevail once again in the northern hemisphere of this planet on its annual journey around the sun.
Once more, we are thrust into the season of deepening dark, a ritual that we must all partake in, as much as our ancestors who came before had done in their own time over the ages. This planetary ritual played out in the galactic field is, of course, the touchstone of the myriad light rituals that have developed over eons: the desire to connect, to feel safe and warm, and to represent the light that always returns.
The word ritual is derived from the Sanskrit ŕta, which means to turn or rotate. Related to this is mŕt, which in simplicity could translate to cease to rotate, mortality. To cease the functions of daily rituals is nothing less than the impact of death. And interestingly, to step beyond the maw and claws of death is to step into immortality; amŕt – beyond death, the deathless state. To state that one practices Amrit Yoga then, is nothing less than to lay claim to the realm of immortality, even if only for just one precious and spacious moment. We claim it each time we intone the Asatoma Prayer: Mritorma amritam gamaya – Lead us from death to Immortality. Rather heady stuff, to be sure.
Traditions and rituals are an inheritance. We have received our traditions from our family and social communities, and we imbue these traditions with meaning. Otherwise, they become stale, more chore than joy. Yet ritual and tradition are also part of our daily routines. So our lives take on this layering aspect of ritual laid upon ritual set within a framework of ritual. We relate to these patterns of ebb and flow, often unconsciously. However, ritual and tradition are vehicles to consciously engage ourselves in the present moment. It is simply a matter of discerning a sense of awareness and recognition.
The beauty of the Amrit Yoga practice is that it precisely cultivates these layers of awareness within the framework of ritual. The practices are not meant to tie you down to the yoga mat, but to free up the conceptions of mind and body so that every encounter in life can be used as a teaching moment, a healing moment. In Amrit Yoga it is important to understand that the therapeutic benefit of the postures is based on the harnessing of energy felt in the body. The physical therapeutic benefit of structural alignment is a byproduct of the practice, a means to an end. What we strive to reach is jivan mukti: absolute freedom of the Self. The practice, via the levels of 1, 2, and 3, along with yoga nidra, is continually drawing us toward that state, loosening the bonds that tie us to unhappy self-identification. In Level 1, we begin to cleanse the body through the creation of nadi shuddi, the clearing of the energy channels with a series of 26 simple posture alignments. The emphasis is not on the outwardly exotic, but on the development of the conscious yoking of the inner energetic flow (prana).
Level 2 builds upon the harnessing of prana via breathwork, extended holding of postures, and exploration of movement within and beyond the posture. Level 3 uses the power of the breathwork to invite the practitioner to explore new realms of movement and stillness in free flow. The imperative here is to trust the body’s intuitive relationship with energy. It’s not about the pose you’ve been dying to try or perfect (unless you are led there), nor is it about running through your regular asana series with skill. While you are perfectly free to do that, you must realize that rather than making yourself perfectly free, you’re just trading one expression of bondage for another. Can you recognize it?
Finally, in yoga nidra we find the ability to plant the seeds of intention into the deepest part of the psyche with guided meditation and relaxation. Yoga nidra by itself is an incredible tool for transformation. Compounding it with the Amrit Yoga series creates an unstoppable force for transformation. Moving through the levels of Amrit Yoga is not so much about expertise of movement as it is about adeptness of self-observation. It is important to understand that moving through the levels is not so much based on an idea of graduating from one level to the next. Rather, by recognizing that one’s energy is not static, but tidal, that one’s practice can be respective of energetic fluctuations within the framework of the series. A regular practice throughout the 3 levels is encouraged, as new experience sheds light over previously treaded ground, and basic practice provides a sense of grounded-ness for prana-induced levels of ecstatic experience.
The return to the yoga mat is a ritual. The mat reminds us of the commitment we have made, and continually remake to ourselves, a covenant that we share as individuals and as a community on this journey spinning through the universe.