by Martin Berson
||Mother's note to the Athletics Competition, 1962:
examining sections on will and aspiration in Sri
We are here to lay the foundations of a new world. All the virtues
and skills required to succeed in athletics are exactly those the physical
man must have to be fit for receiving and manifesting the new force.
expect that with this knowledge and in this spirit you will enter this
athletic competition and go through it successfully. My blessings are
-Mother, Education, Part Three, pp. 56-57
Aurobindo's Integral Yoga I noticed some surprising
parallels to a particular physical discipline (martial arts) I have
involved with for twenty-two years. The body. What to do with it? The
obstacle to our progress? Exactly. Not!
For most of us, exercise and physical activity are a necessary
evil. We know we should do it to stay healthy, and we know the longer
our "temple'' of consciousness (body) holds out, the better chance
progress in Sadhana. The problem is that there just doesn't seem to
enough time for exercise, etc., etc.; plenty of reasons and excuses
But, what if there were a way that any physical activity (even brisk
walking) could be used as a potent tool to penetrate the subconscient
levels of one's being? That might put a whole new perspective on the
concept of exercise. Well, it happens that there is at least one way,
I'm sure that there are many more; all that is required of the Sadhak
couple of easy-to-understand mental concepts and a little self-effort.
Whether you are preparing your vessel for the Descent of the Divine
or it has already begun its descent, and is working on you, I feel
practicing or even experimenting with these concepts can make an immediate
difference in your Sadhana, and a very large difference within six
to a year.
these concepts are somewhat simplistic, they are very powerful.
The end result of utilizing them is that powerful conscious mental
formations will be established in the subconscient layers of being.
channels from the mental to the subconscient, consciously carved out.
Outposts where the Divine Shakti can flow in an undiluted, undistorted
to do its work more powerfully and effectively on the lower levels
If we follow Sri Aurobindo's Yoga to its conclusion we will have to
the subconscient layers of our being sooner or later. There is much
Sadhak can do prior to that time to prepare. It can be a kind of mental
"Lewis and Clark" trail blazing. A conscious clearing of the rubble
subconscient and replacing it with fresh new organized conscious mental
formations, that, even though they originate from the mental, rather
the Divine, forge a way for the Divine to penetrate more deeply into
lower subconscient layers of our being.
Some of you may recognize the concepts presented and may already be
actively using them. View this as another perspective, or confirmation
the reality of them. These concepts are extremely old.
The information I am going to transmit to you, (slightly colored by
experiences and perspectives, of course) comes to us from Bodhi Darma
(Daruma Dachi), the monk who first brought Buddhism from Tibet to China
about 1400 years ago. Some things I read in Sri Aurobindo, especially
section on Raja yoga , indicate to me that these concepts were actually
taken by Bodhi Dharma from Raja Yoga, making them quite a bit older
After establishing a monastery in China, Bodhi Dharma found that his
were meditating all day, but their bodies were wasting away. He became
extremely disturbed by this. He devised a series of exercises for them
strengthen their bodies and provided them a certain 'mentality' with
to practice the exercises.
first step in this process is to determine what the "self
set" physical limits of our physical bodies are. The human body
a most marvelous instrument. It is far stronger than many of you realize.
We've all heard of tiny women lifting automobiles off their children
save them, so the strength is most certainly there. How can we tap
that strength under controlled conditions, without having to place
ourselves in a life-threatening or crisis situation? How can we find
direct that strength into our sadhana? We can do it the "old fashioned
way," using the same concentration techniques we use in our meditation
practice. The only difference is, that the consciousness is turned
"slightly outward" rather than "inward." The body and its activities
the object of meditation.
How do we determine our physical limits? The first step is easy. Do
whatever physical activity you happen to enjoy until you are tired
doing it and want to stop. This is your "self set limit." It is by
your actual limit. Far from it. We'll use brisk walking as the example
physical activity. Briskly walk as far as you are able until you start
breathe heavily, feel tired, and want to quit. This is your baseline
set limit." It's not your true physical limit; not even faintly close
your actual limit. You could briskly walk for miles and miles if your
depended on it. But it's ok. That's where you start measuring this
The next day you walk the same distance, only this time you go right
that limit and at the point that you want to quit and stop the activity,
you "tighten your mind and push yourself harder" instead of giving
next thing you know you have "pushed" beyond your so-called "limit."
you are actually doing is making a conscious penetrating entry with
mind and your will force into the subconscient levels of your being.
"Tightening your mind" is actually a gathering and focusing of the
That "gathering" is directed at the "mental block" or self-set barrier,
pierces through it. Exercising the will in this way is like exercising
muscle. It just gets larger and stronger the more you use it.
The further you push past your limit, the deeper into the subconscient
penetrate. This is a gradual process, so it is important to set realistic
goals for yourself. Remember, whatever "distance" you go, that is your
"limit," and you must at least go up to that limit the next time. You
the choice whether you want to push through the limit, but you must
least up to your current limit each time, and not less than it.
This technique is a double-edged sword. If you fail to go at least to
limit, you will actually weaken your resolve and slide backwards. It
better not to do it at all if this is the case. If this event happens,
you will know about it. It's called "cheating oneself." It can create
extremely deep negative feelings and depression in the sadhak. But,
fortunately, there is a cure for the condition. The next two sessions
must push even harder than you usually do and go even further. That
care of any negatives and puts you back on track. Then, there will
when you just don't feel like doing your physical practice. We all
experienced that in meditation and yoga practice. While it is good
time off occasionally to rest from sadhana and refresh oneself, these
of days should actually be perceived as exceptional opportunities to
great strides forward. Why? Because if you can drag yourself to do
physical activity when you don't want to do it, you will be piercing
enormous mental tamasic streak of laziness we all have, and your reward
will be ten times as great. The more rigorous the physical activity,
the more you push yourself, the quicker and more dramatic the results.
The body is a paradox. It wants you to test its limits. It will complain
first, but then it will become extremely pleased and reward you in
ways. It takes 30,000 to 50,000 repetitions of a physical movement
it into the nervous system as a reflexive action (a pro's golf swing,
example). 30,000 repetitions if you're a professional athlete and have
"smart" body, 50,000 if you're like the rest of us and have a "dumb"
This amounts to 100-200 repetitions daily for about one year. Fortunately,
it takes far less time to train a new mental formation. Daily practice
yields measurable results when training a mental posture. Over the
of six months people see major changes in themselves. After one year,
changes are dramatic enough for others to notice.
This "tighten your mind and push yourself harder" mentality
begins to spill over into the rest of your life activities. Before
you know it, every time you encounter a problem or obstacle, or your
intuitive mind senses a "false limit," you will find yourself reflexively
"pushing through it." This mentality has served me well over the years
really helped me pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward
whenever I have been knocked down by the events of life, especially
during those times of wanting to give up on the sadhana.
There is one phenomena to be on guard against when doing this practice.
is common to all practices, actually. It is allowing the activity to
mechanical. This is like losing consciousness. When one becomes proficient
in any activity, eventually it can be performed while the mind daydreams
away. Driving a car is a great example. Sometimes we arrive at our
destination and don't even remember the trip getting there. Performing
practice in this fashion makes it virtually worthless and a waste of
time. It is better to do something else.
In meditation, we attempt to focus on something, or the silence, and
our mind drifts, we gently bring it back to the meditation. Same in
physical practice. We hold our mind on our body's activity. When the
drifts off to daydream, we do exactly as we do in meditation and bring
awareness gently back to the body and its physical activities. Once
an effort must be made using the will to perform "conscious exercise"
it's a waste of your time and you might as well be doing some other
activity like sleeping.
Conscious exercise strengthens the will rapidly. Sri Aurobindo has this
comment on the will: "If there is a constant use of the will the rest
the being learns however slowly to obey the will and then the actions
become in conformity with the will and not with the vital impulses
desires." (Bases of Yoga, p. 106)
one's body becomes stronger and more healthy through
exercise, certain urges (usually worse in spring) may (and
probably will) rise to the surface as is natural for healthy, living,
bodies. These times should be viewed as excellent opportunities for
with these natural forces and vital urges. Dealing with these energies
face-to-face on a conscious level is much more effective than trying
deal with them on a subconscient level where they exert their influences
subtly. It is much harder to reach them there and transmute them.
It is very important during any exercise and physical activity to "control"
one's breathing. This is pranayama, and another very potent subconscient
penetration tool (See Raja Yoga in Synthesis of Yoga, page 514.) When
body is exerted, oxygen is depleted and carbon dioxide levels rise.
body wants to hyperventilate and one breaths shallow and rapidly. This
"unconscious" breathing. At these times, focus on the breath and take
slow, deep breaths, Filling the naval area first, the lower chest next,
then the upper chest. Exhale slowly, pushing from the naval. Do this
the urge to breath shallow and rapid passes.
This is very similar to ujjayi breath in Hatha Yoga. Ujjayi breath is
"conscious" breathing. You can use Ujjayi breath if you want. By
controlling the breath, you are focusing the mind and the will to control
an autonomic nervous system reflexive action. This penetrates the
subconscient very powerfully and strengthens the will quite effectively.
When you are gasping for air due to heavy exertion, that is the most
time to exercise control over the breathing. Don't worry, you won't
suffocate. I believe Satprem called pranayama a "scientific method
choking." This practice isn't choking, but the same control used in
pranayama is used here.
Something else I would like to add is that it seems (in my personal
experience, but I suspect it is general) that the Divine Shakti can
work more effectively if there is an organized, balanced Ki (Chi) (Physical
Prana) flow in the body. This comes about as a result of doing conscious
exercise. When you exercise consciously, Ki flow in the body becomes
stimulated and extra Ki drawn into the body from the Earth becomes
in the Manipura chakra, like electricity in a battery. Eventually the
becomes literally "saturated" in Ki and is always "ready," always "awake."
My feeling is that this provides an excellent environment for
the Force to
perform its work on the mental, vital and physical layers. I can tell
that although Ki is a form of Shakti, it is a contracted, more narrow
(but still extremely powerful) because it can be manipulated using
and will. It has no intelligence.
The Divine Force, on the other hand is completely intelligent and no
can tell it what to do. My personal experience with the Divine Force
the Ki force is that larger amounts of Ki, and balanced Ki flow in
seem to allow for easier reception, assimilation, and integration of
amounts of Force into the body over shorter periods of time. The Widening
For those who are Descending, the Ki force comes up out of the earth
the body, through the feet and into the Manipura chakra. I believe
Ki to be
an ascending ray of Shakti ascending upwards towards the Divine. I
to make a leap here and conjecture that it is rising from, and anchored
into, the nescience, and may be useful as a means of descending deeper
more rapidly. The Ki-line Express, if you will.
During those times when the sensations of the Force become somewhat
overwhelming, physical activity helps me to diffuse and integrate the
within the body. Exercise wakes the body up and allows the force to
integrate evenly and more smoothly with less resistance. I have begun
understand the logic of a "step by step" ascension towards samadhi,
than shooting up there like a rocket, like we all want to do.
Twenty years ago, a yogi threw me into samadhi four different times.
experience for me was being wide awake and conscious, no body, no weight,
soaring freely and rapidly upwards, in an infinite golden, luminous
expanse, with an ecstatic feeling. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well,
back here wasn't so great. In fact it was awful to be back, slogging
in a "heavy" awkward body, moving through the molasses of the physical.
it did show me the reality of the samadhi state.
I should mention that those experiences were followed by 20 years of
sadhana without even one experience of anything. Not even a glimpse.
finally changed last August in the 25th year.
I feel that the Ki force keeps one's feet on the ground and allows for
slow gradual ascent, each level building on the foundation of the previous
level as Sri Aurobindo suggests (see triple transformation). Then,
to experience each level of consciousness on the way to samadhi, building
slowly, firmly upwards on a solid foundation. I suspect that ascending
this fashion one might even enter into samadhi with eyes open and directly
experience samadhi in the body as Sri Aurobindo and Mother did, without
ever losing body consciousness. Maybe not. But, I would bet the border
the last level prior to samadhi is fascinating. It would be nice to
there and gaze in both directions simultaneously. towards the finite
The other alternative seems to be what I like to call the "Yo Yo." You
high, right into samadhi. Eventually your psychic momentum (karma)
you back here. You crash back down into the physical and try to make
of your experience and integrate what you learned. Unfortunately, most
the experience is just a "faint memory" that made "so much sense" at
time, but from the finite perspective is very difficult to grasp onto
integrate. You bounce up and down like a yo yo, each time rising a
higher. I believe it could be very disconcerting and disorienting,
own limited experiences of it. Of course, I crave those soaring ascensions
as much as anyone, but it looks like we have to sacrifice them for
part in the gradual ascension method. Maybe an occasional foray above
inspiration, or to get a "birds eye" view of where one is heading,
as permanent practice.
In conclusion, conscious exercise will: (1) prepare the vessel for
reception of the Force; (2) strengthen and focus the Will force; (3)
the Mind; (4) create powerful conscious formations in the subconscient
which will help one in sadhana or any life activity, and especially
persevering in Sri sadhana; and (5) allow assimilation and integration
the Force into the physical body more easily and quickly.
Miscellaneous exercise notes
Do not jump into any rigorous physical activity without assessing your
current physical condition. See your doctor for a physical. "Jumping
the worst possible thing you can do to yourself.
Muscle pain is natural and OK. Joint pain is not. If your joints hurt
your activity, you are doing something wrong and making an "unnatural"
movement. For instance, knee and foot should point as much as possible
the same direction whether you are walking, or going up the stairs.
Otherwise you will be putting undue torque stresses on the knee joint.
If you accidentally injure yourself, ice the injury first to inhibit
swelling, (use an instant cold pack) and then apply moist heat to promote
blood flow and accelerate healing. Only moist heat penetrates.
Without re-injuring yourself, try to regain full range of movement
quickly as possible. It turns out that the quicker you can get up and
return to your normal activities, the quicker you will heal.
It's a good idea to do some stretching before strenuous exercise. Don't
bounce or do stretching like a calisthenic. Stretching is a mental
exercise. Go to your limit slowly, gradually, and then back off slightly.
Then breathe to the place of resistance. It's gentle. If you bounce,
muscle will lock and you will tear the fascia and connective tissue.
The practice regimen: Conscious exercise, followed by asana practice,
followed by meditation, followed by conscious exercise. This regimen
worked well for me. It wakes the body up and makes it more receptive
force, allows it to assimilate and integrate it into the body more
smoothly. The body should get slightly aerobic first, then calmed with
asana. The last part is to help with the assimilation and integration.
On pushing oneself
If you're wondering just how far the "tighten the mind and push oneself
harder" concept can be taken, let me tell you. The discipline I practice
offers an intensive a couple times per year which is (thank God!) optional.
It consists of 11 two-hour, non-instructional, rigorous physical practices
over 4 days. The final day has only one practice, so each of the other
have 3 hour practices, and one day has 4 of them. It is called "Special
Training" and it's only purpose is to create an environment to "push
oneself" as close as possible to one's actual physical limit.
Each two-hour practice addresses one aspect of the discipline. By the
practice it feels as though one has been there one's whole life and
there for the rest of it. Time dilates fiercely. At the point where
truly physically exhausted, and want to curl up into a little ball
and blow away in the wind, we really push ourselves even harder. The
result is that the mentality becomes "ingrained" in the subconscient.
Always there, to be drawn on whenever needed. An automatic reflex.
In my 23 years of practicing, I have attended 10 of these trainings.
do not get any easier as one does more of them because there is virtually
no limit to how hard one can push oneself. The longer a person has
the practice, the more they are expected to push themselves.
When a human body reaches its actual physical limit, the person will
consciousness. This is the body's defensive circuit breaker to avoid
damage. It is extremely difficult to reach this limit and takes a very
concentrated, powerful mentality and many years of training to even
chance at doing it. In my early 20's, during the very first practice
first Special Training, an older gentleman who was near me passed out
the first 20 minutes. I became horrified and thought he was having
attack. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. People came
and resuscitated him. I was told after the practice that the person
passed out had been training for 20 years and that if someone does
out, it usually only happens during the first practice, and only to
who really know how to push themselves. It is an honor to pass out
it means you have actually pushed yourself to your physical limit,
turns out to be a very rare occurrence.
Once you start Special Training, the rule is that you have to finish.
could leave, but if you do, you can never come back and practice with
group or the organization ever again. A perfect Special Training starts
from the very first technique with a strong mentality and is continuous
the way through until the very last technique. My 10th one was like
About 4 years ago. It was exhilarating.
I have not encountered anything like Special Training anywhere. It is
good place to "meet the cells." As a result of the experience, the
cells in the body die, but the organism is stronger and more healthy
whole. The "cell death" memory is kept in the cell consciousness of
ones that survived and the information is passed on to new cells.
Forever after the first training, whenever one decides to do
training, a queasy feeling comes. The closer the training gets, the
intense the feeling becomes. The cells who will die know exactly who
are and start to raise a great clamor. They don't want to die. They
the others. It can become quite a loud clamor and supersede all other
activities when it gets within two days of the training.
The cells will wake one in the middle of the night. Wide awake. I recall
years ago, driving to a training I had neither prepared mentally or
physically for. I was going to do what we call "jumping in." No
preparation. It is highly recommended to start preparing mentally and
physically for the training a minimum of 6 weeks previous. The cell
became so great that I felt that if I did the training, I would die.
is impossible of course, but I turned around and decided not to do
training. It took quite a while to work through emotional upheaval
by turning around.
It's been said that conscious exercise is 99% mental and only 1% physical.
And you wouldn't even need that 1%, except that you need a physical
instrument as a means to express the mentality. I believe that would
classify conscious exercise as Raja Yoga. Interesting....
"You are not in the body, the body is in You." (Kashmir
Martin Berson started sadhana in Boulder, Colorado in 1972, but did
start to practice Sri Aurobindo's yoga until last April. When he
description of the descent in Satprem's book, he began to plunge
Aurobindo's yoga. It took him from August to about April to determine
was happening (beginning of descending force). He now lives in Avon,
Connecticut. All his disciplines and practices are in the application
of development, and he belongs to a non-profit, international martial
group that teaches interested, sincere students at no charge.