The Three Fields of Being: Questions to Go Deeper in Your Practice
We humans inhabit three interconnected fields: the physical, the subtle and the transcendent.
These fields are interdependent—to enhance one is to enhance all, and to neglect one is to hamper progress for the whole. So to experience optimal transformation in life, we need a synergistic set of yoga practices that directly addresses all three.
The surface field is the physical body, the field of action.
The next level in is what yogis call the subtle body. It’s the realm of prana and chakras, and the field of thinking and feeling.
Deeper still is the transcendent, the field of pure consciousness. Beyond doing or thinking, even beyond time and space, it’s often called the field of being. It’s subtle, yet it’s there, abiding as the source of everything, everywhere. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us this field of being is our true nature. He calls it samadhi, the pinnacle of the eight limbs of yoga.
The physical benefits of asana practices are well documented, but their potential effects go much deeper. The body closes down around pain, whether physical or emotional. While this closing down is protective, it often outlasts its usefulness. When the body closes down, we end up cutting parts of ourselves off from our selves.
This fragmentation results in pragya aparadh, a kind of amnesia wherein one “forgets” his or her inherent wholeness. The yoga scriptures say pragya aparadh is the cause of all human suffering.
A complete and progressive yoga practice can restore cellular memory of our unbounded true nature and reestablish the smooth and integrated functioning of all three interdependent fields.
Let’s take a closer look at each field. What practices are most conducive to the deepest transformation in each of these areas?
With skill, asana practice can enhance the physical systems of the body and assist its smooth coordination with the subtle body.
Some questions to help evaluate the overall success of an asana practice within the larger context of your life are:
Is my asana practice helping me release tension in the body, or adding to it?
After your asana practice, do you feel a sense of lightness, clarity, upliftment, energy or harmony? Or do you often notice that your practice leaves you feeling depleted or prone to sudden upsurges of anger during the day? If the latter, dial down the heat or intensity of your practice.
Am I respectful of my “edge” in each of the asanas?
The “edge” is that place in an asana where any more would be too much, any less not enough. Moving consciously and compassionately toward the edge can help the body unclench unconscious holding patterns, reestablish the flow of prana and awaken the body's intelligence.
While doing my asana practice, am I using the breath consciously?
The breath is your link among all the parts of your physical body, your subtle body, your mind and the underlying field of silence within. Making the duration and volume of breathing the same during inhalation and exhalation is called sama vritti pranayama. Sama vritti enhances that link. It adds more depth to any asana practice while awakening the body's intelligence and the integration of all the parts, gross, subtle, and subtlest.
Am I present?
Mindfulness during asana increases all of the benefits for the physical and subtle bodies. Prana follows awareness, and simply allowing awareness to be naturally drawn to the site of sensation in a held asana clarifies and refines pathways in the subtle body, called nadis. That process, along with using conscious relaxation to go more deeply into the experience, helps facilitate the integration that is yoga.
The Subtle Body
Hidden from view, the subtle body is the home of prana, the power of life itself.
If we add the suffix -ayama to prana, we get pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga. Pranayama includes breathing practices that increase the supply of, remove blocks to, and increase one’s sensitivity to subtle flows of the life force.*
Unfortunately, ever since Patanjali shared his Yoga Sutras, many imprudent students and teachers of yoga have equated pranayama with extending and forcefully holding the breath, which can actually harm the physical and subtle bodies.
Skillful pranayama begins with observation. A good first step to effective prana stewardship is to alert yourself to your energy posture—your habits of cultivating and utilizing your energy. You don’t have to limit it to your formal pranayama or asana practice; you can do it always and everywhere. Just like a yoga posture, you can check your alignment with your life, wherever you are. Do it in the checkout line. Sitting in traffic. During a meeting at work.
Ask yourself, “What's happening right now with my breathing? How’s my body position?”
Where do you carry tension in your body? Shoulders? Forehead? Jaw? Notice it, take in a breath and let it go. Make your body a conduit for the flow of prana. Whatever else you happen to be doing in the moment, make self-inquiry a habit and you will feel more alive, your mind will be clearer and you will cultivate a sense of ease.
Have you noticed that regular practice of asana and pranayama has increased your body’s intelligence, raised your level of consciousness and cultivated your life force? Are your diet and lifestyle choices starting to change in a good way?
If so, you may be wondering: “How can I go deeper?”
To gain the deepest transformation available through yoga, one must go beyond the most visible, surface forms of yoga and even beyond the depth of pranayama practices.
The logical next step for an evolving yogi is meditation. With so many types of meditation to choose from, each with its own method and effects, how do you decide what practice to begin and how to begin it?
The deepest teachings of yoga cannot be found in any book. That’s because the field of Being, of pure consciousness, is beyond thinking. It is a field of utter stillness that is an unlimited storehouse of intelligence and creativity, and the very source of prana.
For a meditation practice to give access to this field of Being, the teaching must meet certain criteria. The deepest teachings of yoga are teachings in silence. By tradition they have always been initiatory in nature, privately shared between the student and teacher.
Once the practice is learned, teacher and student examine certain experience-based criteria to assure correct practice:
- The practice should be almost entirely effortless.
- Mind spontaneously settles into silence through the gentle technique.
- Breathing during the practice spontaneously becomes very slow, soft and refined.
- Beneficial effects— peacefulness, increased creativity, more fulfilling relationships and a sense of being in the flow—extend into activities of the day.
- Beyond simply calming the mind, the practice is progressive, establishing progressively more confidence in its efficacy, based on experience both of meditation itself and of its benefits in daily life.
“Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” -RumiBased on the student's experience of meditation, the teacher introduces nyaya, the principles that support the practice and understanding of meditation. The whole process is independent of any need to understand philosophy, and doesn't require any particular skill or belief system. Instead, it is based on anubhava: direct experience.
*For more information, see Three Breathing Techniques to Improve Life at http://naatlanta.com/Fowler-0318.
Graham Fowler, E-RYT500, is the founder of Peachtree Yoga Center in Atlanta. He has personally trained and certified more than 800 yoga teachers from the U.S. and around the world. He has studied with several Indian and Western yoga masters and has practiced meditation daily for nearly 45 years. Contact him at [email protected].