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 longer life is the reason behind many of our activities as we pay attention to health and good life in many forms, all having more or less a hidden agenda that 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) being a qualitative progression of longevity.
In normal circumstances, people pay more attention to longevity, not being much aware on the issue of quality. It is not so in Yoga, for here the main issue is the quality of life experience 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 yogic discipline allows the body to function better and the mind to be under one’s own control (that is a balanced way of life without any doubt), has to lead to a longer span of life of a practitioner. But, Yoga is primarily about the quality of life, an issue that is outlined by the Yoga philosophy in its very authoritative book known as Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Quality of life
From the yogic perspective, the issue of quality of life has to be seen from both material and spiritual angles. Yet, the material angle of quality of life 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 side that becomes just a matter of a right attitude towards 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 the body is a solid foundation for addressing the issues of the mind that becomes a the tool of extension, the organ and function through which we experience the world.
In practical terms Yoga recommends the body has to be cleansed of impurities, i.e. toxins, etc., for this reason a multitude of Yoga techniques being used. The motivation behind it is the fact that the toxins within the body do corrupt the perception to certain degrees. It is primarily the quality of perception that gives in fact the quality of life, is so Yoga pays a great attention towards the body as a vehicle of sense experience and host of mind experiences. Yet, here, the issue of the mind is far more complex because it requires a certain degree of abstraction to understand the mind experiences. However, we cannot miss the point to mention that body experiences, as sense experience, do end up ultimately as mental experience. From the point of view of Yoga, what is essential is that the experience of awareness known as Samadhi, is the focus and end point of the entire practice. It can be said in simple terms that in Yoga philosophy and practice, the quality of life is determined by the level of awareness that leads to yogic liberation known as Kaivalya.
The end achievement of Yoga practice is in some form or another described by people who have experienced it, as the experience of awareness or the experience of being alert. A person possessing such an awareness is known in Yoga as Drashta (“witness”), as is mentioned in Yoga Sutras. Here. the question we might ask is: “Who is a witness and what the witness witnesses?” The relevant yogic literature does mention that awareness is a gradual process, as Yoga practices become more refined and the practitioner becomes more alert towards the environment and towards one’s own person.
There is a wide spread idea in the Yoga literature about awareness being a transcendent experience in the sense that somehow the one who does experience it gets out of this material world, but this is not true. Yoga awareness has to be seen as an immanent experience for the fact that conscious states are mental states therefore brain states. It will be more appropriate to see consciousness, as qualia of mental activities, that step ahead from animal to human species. As such, Yoga does assume that 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. It appears, as the yogic literature points out that only after practicing advanced forms of Yoga, somebody is capable to acquire such an 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). The issue seems to be of an utmost importance, as the practitioner (as Drashta) has to be now on the same site with the the one who is the witness of all, i.e. the God (more often named in Yoga tradition as Ishvara). According to Yoga, the object a witness witnesses is the material nature, as manifestation of Shakti principle. Yet most important is the fact that the witness does witness himself/ herself, as every witness is part of the material nature. Yet, this process of witnessing is not the ordinary way of seeing actions and things within the world of nature (Prakriti). According to Yoga, this kind of witnessing has a high quality of perception.
Yoga claims that this the enhanced quality of perception does not lead to a simple passive contemplation of things or to a one-pointed directional concentration, but a multilevel degree of perception. Naturally we might ask the question of what is a multilevel degree of perception? Yoga explains in simple words as being the capacity to be aware of more than one thing at a time. Yet, this capacity appears to be beyond the human capacity, but Yoga has proved that some people can do it. Such an experience might be called a three-dimensional awareness, for the fact that attention is directed now in the entire surrounding space. Such a remarkable ability has to be seen to be indeed a high degree of expressing the qualia of human life.
How to increase
The Yoga practices normally do increase awareness to a certain extent depanding on the kind of practice. The preliminary stages of Yoga that are related to body optimisation, start with a gradual elimination of body toxins and renunciation to various addictions. At this stage, gradually the perception of the senses increase in quality. By other practices like the use of Pranayama (“control of the breath”) Yoga says that there is a sensation of awareness of the lightness of the body (called Laghima), i.e. the heavy barden that hanged on the body appears to be removed. Yet, as far as the tantric practices are concerned, awareness can be obtained by elimination of sexual ejaculation during sexual intercourse. Therefore, according to Tantra Yoga, the real sexual pleasure can be experienced, in so such a practice known as Maithuna Tantra becomes a training towards obtaining awareness. Overall, it can be said that it is only by a personal experience that somebody can discover an inclination towards specific practices leading to the increase of awareness by a proper training. However, the tradition stipulates that a more refined awareness comes from advanced practices, and at this spiritual stage an aspirant has to consider having a Guru (spiritual preceptor) as a guide to help overcoming the obstacles towards a refined experience of Yoga.
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’ or ‘supernormal abilities’). It is an exposition of what a Drashta can do with his/ her abilities. Many people take the descriptions of Siddhis 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 by being empowered to do so. This is where most of aspirants 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 by confronting the laws of nature. It has to be clearly understood that all Siddhis are powers of awareness, the one possessing them has to be seen an out of ordinary person that is able to extend one’s own mind beyond unimaginable realms surpassing the ordinary imagination. Yoga believed that one necessary quality for such a person has to be what is known as Amritapurna (“filled with nectar”), that is an advanced state of purity of mind as a result of body and mind purification. A Drashta, according to Yoga has to be considered having the Amritapurna quality.
The ability to experience awareness has to be seen as a remarkable quality of expressing the human life. Such a powerful is the experience that by an encounter with a Drashta most people will feel that there is something special about such a person, but are unable to know what could be. It will be easy to observe the quality of experience of life in such a person, but will be heard to know details like how intense his/ her experiences of perception of life are. It is at this point where we have to draw attention to the issue of longevity. The real longevity is not given by the span of life, but by the quality of mental experiences. The awareness of life, as is normally experienced, is like a photographic shot, i.e. a slice at a time. Every now and then, normally we have a slice of conscious experience, that is a brief experience. It is not so for a Drashta, according to Yoga, for the fact that the slices of time are united in a continuous flow of awareness. Yet, some people having this extraordinary ability that could hold on awareness for hours or even during sleep.
Considering all of the above, it can be
certainly said that longevity in Yoga is a matter of quality of
experience. By deduction, it can be also said that a Drashta has
lived the equivalent of hundreds of years because of the ability
to have a higher level of awareness.