CONVERSATIONS AT THE SANCTUARY: Creating a deeper awareness of asana practice with Gokul Yoga
What are the different bandhas? And how does willing the flow of energy in specific directions (Vrttayah) within our bodies, create these energetic locks? Pearl Bhasin explains
QN: WHAT IS GOKUL YOGA? AND WHAT CAN IT DO FOR YOU?
“Yoga practice is, in actual fact, so much more than “a good stretch”. It is a path to realising who and what you really are, how you are related to the Source of your being, and what is your duty as a human lifeform – basically, the meaning of Life,” explains Pearl Bhasin, who teaches Gokul Yoga at The Yoga School. “The Gokul practice is open to everyone. Just like any yoga class, you do what you can do. Yoga happens not with a fancy pose, but with the awareness of knowing the difference between trying your best and trying too hard. That’s Yoga.”
QN: WHAT IS GOKUL YOGA? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER STYLES OF YOGA?
Pearl: Gokul Yoga is an approach to yoga practice taught by Mahayogi Gokulacandra Das (aka Guruji).
This Hatha-based practice is extremely technical in terms of physical and mental practice, after all, our being is a Science. In Sanskrit, this is called Sankhya, the analytical study of something. In a Gokul practice, you are constantly cued to engage and execute asana (postures) in both physical and energetical terms, and then to observe how one supports the other. Practising doing this helps to refine one’s awareness, and admittedly can be taxing on the Mind. Which in turn serves up the lesson: nothing is easy.
So, the Gokul practice is a rather exacting one, demanding on both body and mind. The poses are not necessarily difficult (no flinging leg behind the head and such, to begin with at least), but the practitioner gets an opportunity to realise yoga beyond the poses and become aware to the fact that there is that much more to the mind and body. All the techniques taught are based on the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.
Gokul Yoga is based on Guruji’s lineage of Gaudiya-Vaishnav parampara. “Parampara” simply means “passed down from teacher to teacher”, and in that line of essence, keeps things true to the original as much as possible. Gaudiya-Vaishnavism is a “sampradaya”, or spiritual lineage, from West Bengal and Orissa, in which Guruji is initiated.
Although not usually expounded in the regular once-a-week one-hour classes, Gokul Yoga actually sheds light on the Science of the Soul according to Vedic scriptures. Honestly, real yoga done properly, inevitably leads to questions/work/realisations of the Spirit Self. Yoga practice is, in actual fact, so much more than “a good stretch”. It is a path to realising who and what you really are, how you are related to the Source of your being, and what is your duty as a human lifeform – basically, the meaning of Life. All our spiritual studies are based on The Bhagavad Gita.
QN: YOU ARE ALSO TRAINED IN ASHTANGA YOGA. WHAT DREW YOU TO TRAIN IN GOKUL YOGA?
Pearl: Ashtanga itself is a beautiful practice, and I love how it has given me a very solid foundation in Yoga in terms of the physical practice and level of mental fortitude. I am also trained in Dharma Yoga, which offers a very different approach, propounding the idea of gifting all your poses to a Higher Power; a fast-track of sorts to approach Yoga as spiritual practice.
Gokul Yoga takes both these aspects and gives it due integrity with a full presentation of the science of it all. Gokul Yoga is steeped in tradition, and as such Guruji is insistent, as far as possible, learn all the Sanskrit names. A typical Gokul Yoga class given by Guruji is heavily Sanskrit-ed. All the bandhas have Sanskrit names, likewise all the marma points. This is in keeping with tradition, and with due respect to one that we keep benefitting from so much.
QN: GOKUL YOGA EMPLOYS THE WORK OF BANDHAS TO CREATE A DEEPER AWARENESS OF ASANA PRACTICE. WHAT ARE BANDHAS?
Pearl: Bandhas are the Energetical Locks in the body, used to facilitate the body, to move into and hold a pose. Practising with bandhas is based on the fact that our Being is made up of 5 layers: Physical, Energetical, Mental, Spiritual, and Pure Consciousness. The energetical layer of our body supports the physical layer of our body (without energy coursing through us we are practically a pile of flesh and bones, no?)
Take one step deeper now, and realise that the Mental layer of our body supports the Energetical layer of our body. First the thought/intention/memory has to be there, in order for you to even just raise your arm to scratch your head.
So Bandhas are Energetical Locks created by making energy flow from one point of the body to another, in a specific direction – much like how you’d join the dots in a kid’s activity book, dot 1 to dot 2 to dot 3, and so on. These points that exist on the Energetical layer of our body are called Marma points, a bit like acupressure points (but not).
QN: MOST YOGA PRACTITIONERS ARE AWARE OF USING THE MIND AND FEELINGS DURING YOGA PRACTICE, BUT THE IDEA OF HARNESSING VASANA (“WILLING”) MAY BE AN UNFAMILIAR CONCEPT. WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN THE CONTEXT OF GOKUL YOGA?
Pearl: Let’s take for example the Mula Bandha. Mula means Root, so Mula Bandha is Root Lock. There is a Marma point at the perineum, and a Marma point at the crown of your head. This piece of information about the location of the Marma points requires you to exercise the Thinking faculty of your mind; to receive and process information. Now focus a little harder and mentally locate these Marma points within your energetical body. Now you are using the Feeling faculty of the mind. And now create a line of energy between those 2 Marma points by bringing the perineum towards the crown, in that specific direction, and keep it locked. To do this, you’ll have to exercise the Willing faculty of your mind; to will the perineum to travel to the crown. And there you have the Mula Bandha, the Root Lock.
So, you see, Bandhas cannot exist without these 3 faculties of the Mind. As such, the Gokul practice requires a rather high level of focus, and a deep level of awareness.
To answer your question regarding harnessing Willing faculty… It is there in the Vedic texts, that the Will (Vasana) has 3 components: focus (Dhrti), control (Jayat) and surrender (Saranagati). The action to facilitate a Bandha and internally observe how it serves to hold you up in a certain pose, requires all three aspects. Willpower falls under Jayat. And if you understand Surrender as a Will, then you come to realise that surrender is not about giving up, but a decided renunciation. Any spiritual progress begins with renunciation.
QN: WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE BENEFITS OF THE GOKUL YOGA PRACTICE?
Pearl: As you can see by now, the Gokul practice is one that delves rather deeply and intricately into the subtle bodies. Practising Gokul Yoga thus refines your awareness. Awareness of the deeper and more intangible aspects of your Being. You’ve heard that Yoga is an Inward Journey; and this is how it’s done in Gokul Yoga, in this very systematic study of the subtle aspects of Being, all clearly laid out in the Vedic scriptures and the Yoga Sutras.
Of course, there is the danger/possibility of acquiring all this knowledge and have it sit on a mental level; by that I mean, receive all this knowledge only as theory and philosophy. But this is admittedly, the gateway to having sound faith, which is to know true and well the nature and Source of our Being. Only from there Faith (Shraddha) can come. Then you would have entered the Spirit layer of being, where there is no Mind, no cognitive/reasoning mechanics, just Absolute Knowledge, Real Knowledge that we all actually already have.
The Yoga Sutras states very clearly right from the beginning that the aim of Yoga is to still the Mind (Yoga citta vrtti nirodhaha). The Yoga Sutras being a manual of sorts, lays out the steps very clearly. Yoga is already there to be studied, not be thrown about/”explored” in new-fangled “styles”.
Why do we want to still the Mind? So that we can get past that mind layer, and see through to the spiritual layer. Yoga is spiritual practice at the end of the day.
ABOUT PEARL BHASIN
Yoga has been in Pearl’s life for more than 15 years now. What started out as a fun way to stretch her stress away, evolved into a journey into awareness, care, and healing. Motivated to share the goodness of yoga, the warm-hearted mum-of-two decided to embark on teaching and sharing.
Pearl is trained in the tradition of Ashtanga Vinyasa, and graduated from Tirisula Yoga, under the watchful eyes of Master Paalu and Master Satya Wei Ling, here in Singapore. Although trained in Ashtanga, Pearl’s self-practice is heavily inspired by Dharma Mittra Yoga. While living in London for some years, she practised regularly with Senior Dharma Teacher Mark Kan, and Emi Takahashi Tull.
Delve deeper into the concept and precepts of Gokul Yoga with Pearl at the Gokul Yoga Bandhas 101 workshop on Saturday, 5 September 2020, from 10am to 12pm. Learn what the different Bandhas are, and how these energetical locks are created by willing the flow of energy in specific directions (Vrttayah) within our bodies. Learn to refine your awareness of the deeper layer of your being, thereby reaching the centre and finding the true aim of Yoga: Self-realisation. Reserve your mats here!