Tips on how to study oneself and become one’s own self-help guru from practical mystic and yoga guru

The journey of yoga is to return to one’s own centre. One may have many guides on the way but ultimately one has to make choices that take and keep oneself in that direction. That is why man is said to have free will. He has the capacity to move from prakriti or a natural state towards sanskriti or a cultured and refined way of being. Or he can also move towards vikriti or imbalances and even perversion. Man thus has the capacity for both great good and great degeneration.  

His past conditioning binds him, yet the element of consciousness in him is the spark that allows him/her to shift those patterns that are unhealthy. So the spiritual path is essentially about making conscious choices. These conscious choices are made so that there can be harmony. The word guru means dispeller of darkness. In the outer world the better the light the better one sees. However in spiritual life or the inner world the more one SEES the more the light one creates and exudes.  

Over the last couple of months I have had many call or write to me about the scandals of professed God men coming to light. The god men had broken the trust placed in them and, yes, it is painful to be wronged. However, with many people, I find that they also go to these god men as they do not want to do the work. They feel if they find their guru then magically he can absolve them of their sins or mistakes. A mistake is there so one can learn from it and be aware of it. It is a stepping stone to better ways of doing things. When people are afraid of making mistakes that’s when they seek out cookie cutter solutions that are offered to them or glib talking people they can escape into and idolise.

In the Indian system, surrendering to the guru is very ingrained. That is a very beautiful concept and has many nuances. However most surrender to anyone who has the gall to call themselves god. Then they get attached. And, just like in the Stockholm syndrome, they even protect and fall in love with the abuser. 

Soham, which means I am the origin, is a reality where the divine potential is there within all of us. Yet there is a difference between realising that potential and megalomania backed by a big publicity machine. Bhagvan or God is a title some god-men give themselves. Despite the fact that they may have reached intellectual heights and even tuned into other dimensions, alarm bells need to go off when you see someone selling you enlightenment. In the west, I don’t see many gurus calling themselves gods but spiritual authors proclaiming themselves to be enlightened is quite common and the trend.  

So one needs to become a well informed and conscious consumer when one is on the path to buying enlightenment. One can start looking at different programmes that help you get a better understanding of oneself first.

It is good to enrol in a training programme that helps you manage yourself better and disciplines you, at the same time helping you loosen up and enjoy life. This balanced approach is what yoga encourages. 

So discipline is the first step in the practice. However that is very unglamorous. So, many go running after the elusive dream of instant gratification. 

Once you take responsibility for yourself you will automatically become a conscious consumer apart from consuming less. So if you are in the spiritual market place keep an eye out for the following 

Look for a programme that is gentle and advocates a step by step approach rather than professing to work a one day miracle.

Look for a programme that makes you understand the principles behind the science.

Look for a programme that will first ask you to develop and hone the mind before you go beyond it or drop it. Discernment is important.

An ashram is not an escape from your responsibilities; it helps you deal with them better. So look for such an ashram.

See if the atmosphere is relaxed rather than it being a cult or having to please people.

Find an acharya (behavioural trainer) you feel connected to and be willing to get feedback. Each trainer puts a value on their time so respect that.

Find a programme that is holistic and fits your budget. Don’t get into debt trying to become enlightened. Be mindful of money yet not money minded.

Once you find the programme, then be willing to commit and work on yourself.

Practice, Practice, Practice 

If one wants to regulate one’s system and find ones truth, there is no substitute for practice. Practice mindfulness, practice a grounded and harmonious lifestyle that encourages the sublimation of destructive emotions and practice tools like asanas, pranayamas, mantras. Most importantly practice being present and accepting life as a present. However, in the spiritual life, one practices because one enjoys it. Or one learns to enjoy the practice. Fine tuning oneself becomes joyous. This is a necessary foundation for any spiritual activity.  

Practice self-observation 

When one practices then one starts observing many layers in oneself. One is not afraid to see ones emotions and motivations. However one sees oneself with love and thereby one is not judging or condemning oneself neither getting stuck with what one sees. This frees up a space to shift to better ways of being.

In the Niyamas, which is the second anga or limb of the ashtanga yoga system, one of the practices listed is Swadhyaya. Swadhyaya is sometimes translated as study of the scriptures but is essentially study of oneself. It is not narcissistic but we see our patterns and free ourselves from that which binds by this awareness. The more one cultivates this practice of witnessing oneself, automatically one will see others and relationships as well with better clarity. One will become one’s own self-help guru with practice. 

Practice discernment  

The herd mentality is very common. So take the time to feel what our intuition is telling you. As a child, during many instances, I learnt that grown ups need not always be right. I observed that many did not want to admit they did not know and would rather give the most popular answer. 

Practice standing up for yourself and what is right 

Spirituality is not for the spineless. One needs to cultivate a sense of standing up for what is right without becoming a fanatic. This practice of being self-expressed yet non-aggressive can be cultivated. We will look at an asana that will help develop a strong and flexible vertebral column and back.  

Vakrasana 

The vakrasana is an asana practice that is excellent to strengthen the back. Vakra means twist. We wring a piece of cloth or twist it to get the water out. Similarly by twisting we release any toxins lodged in the system. This is a fabulous massage and detoxifier for internal organs like the liver and spleen as well. This twisting movement is excellent for strengthening the back muscles as well releasing old tightness. 

The technique: 

We will learn a simple variation of the vakrasana. Sit comfortably with your legs outstretched. Bend your left knee. Bring your left arm on the inside of your left knee and hold onto your ankle or place the palm below your feet. Then bring your right arm being your back on the ground and twist to your right. Use the right hand to straighten your back and don’t lean on the hand. Also keep a nice open chest and straight back. Remember to breathe deeply as you hold the position. Use the breath as a solvent to dissolve old tightness. In the beginning you can hold the position for 10-15 seconds. Then you can increase the time you hold it for. Now do the twist in the opposite direction. You can do the asana three times in the beginning. 

Yogacharini Maitreyi is a practical mystic who teaches yoga and creates conscious community around the world. E-mail: maitreyi9@hotmail.com; www.arkaya.net