Conviction Yoga History

After falling in love with yoga, I enrolled in Dharma Yoga’s teacher training to deepen my practice.  I had so many friends and acquaintances that needed access to yoga who found a regular yoga practice to be cost prohibitive, so I decided to teach yoga for free.  After surveying different groups that had little to no access to yoga, I noticed that many people want to help troubled youths, first time felons, the homeless, veterans, etc. but NO ONE wants to help those already incarcerated, those that may never be free because of the crimes they committed.  I happened to have a dear friend who brought yoga to Garner Betts, and over dinner one night, he said “You know Jim, you have to get to these kids early before they are lost forever…”  That statement broke my heart.  I mean, is ANYONE really lost forever?  

I began calling the area prisons and no one was interested in me teaching yoga to the inmates, or to the “offenders”, the moniker they are saddled with once convicted.  I soon learned that all volunteer services are through religious channels or 12 step recovery groups.  I was told that there was simply no place for yoga, no category to put me in.  And the western conception of yoga as a “workout” definitely didn’t help matters.  I began searching the internet for others who were trying to bring yoga to the incarcerated.  I learned of the Prison Yoga Project in San Francisco who had been teaching yoga in San Quentin for years!  I sought them out, took a seminar, and followed his model; upon return to Texas with my new “credentials”, still no one would touch me with a ten foot pole!  Several months later, James Fox, the PYP founder and I were on the phone, with me lamenting how no one wanted anything to do with me, when he remembered that a man from Dallas had contacted him some time ago, wanting someone to teach yoga to the inmates through his contemplative prayer group.  He asked if I wanted him to contact the Dallas gentleman and I jumped at the chance.  i was later contacted by Dennis McCain (the Dallas guy) and after getting approved as a volunteer, began traveling to Tennessee Colony, Texas, to teach in the Coffield Unit.  

My first class was a dozen or so men, with no mats, doing yoga on the laminated tile floor.  All we could really do was a standing asana practice.  Man these guys were stiff!  We had several onlookers, some of who started joining us.  The next week, the group grew to 15, then 20.  I asked the chaplain if I could have a separate yoga class, and he just scratched his head, having no idea how to classify me.  

My big break came when Dennis asked me if I was willing to go into a prison in Gatesville as the “Eastern Religions” volunteer.  I agreed and contacted the chaplain of the Hughes Unit.  I began teaching a meditation class with four men in attendance.  When i asked them if they were interested in learning some yoga along with meditation, they reluctantly decided to try it.  After some mat-less sun salutations on the linoleum floor, they were hooked!  The group grew from 4, to 8, to 12.  We had to start meeting in the large room of the chapel and the class kept growing.  We hit the big time when we got the warden to approve me donating yoga mats to the chapel.

I soon learned that as the “Eastern Religions” volunteer, the chaplains couldn’t tell me no, under the right to religious access.  Before long, I added 2 more prisons to my Tennessee Colony trip and then added a prison in Huntsville.  

An acquaintance from a meditation group learned that I was an attorney and that I had closed my practice to pursue teaching yoga in the prisons full time.  She worked for Texas Lawyer, an attorney interest paper, and she told me that lawyers who find something better to do are always big news!   She interviewed me and ran a short article describing what I was trying to do.  Here is a link to the article:

In a completely independent set of circumstances, Brandi Grissom with the Texas Tribune called Huntsville, asking if anyone had started a yoga program in any of the prisons.  Brandi found out about my project, called me, and made arrangements with Huntsville to attend one of my classes.  Her article in the Texas Tribune was picked up by the New York Times!  Here is a link to the both newspaper articles:

The publicity was wonderful for Conviction Yoga, and I started receiving inquiries from yoga teachers who wanted to help.  This was all very exciting because it was becoming obvious that with driving 1,000 miles a week to teach in only five prisons, my doing CY all by myself was not sustainable.  Several of the potential teachers were turned off by the amount of red tape that one must navigate to become an approved volunteer and eventually fell by the wayside.  Other teachers took it all the way to the finish line and even went into the prison with me, only to lose heart when presented with the magnitude of what is required.  It became increasingly obvious that my goal of having a yoga program in every unit in Texas was not going to happen depending on outside volunteers: the prisons are simply too remote and just teaching in one prison a week is more than most yoga teachers could commit to.  

So the idea came to me: why not teach the inmates how to teach and populate the system with inmate led yoga programs?  I bounced the idea of a few chaplains and they assured me that would never happen.  They explained that the system had a long history of gang violence, most of which had been eradicated with a policy of not allowing any inmate to have any semblance of authority over another inmate.  I did not lose hope; all along the way, I have received no, after no, after no, and persistence had eventually resulted in a yes.  So I kept discussing it with anyone who would listen and the more I talked about it, the more it started to make sense.  So, on an act of faith that setting the intention would get it done, I started to do advanced yoga trainings to become certified to train the men how to teach.  

In order to train teachers and give them Yoga Alliance certification, one must accumulate 500 hours of training: the 200 hours of training to get your certification to teach publicly and another 300 hours of advanced studies.  The advanced classes were going to require a few years worth of study in addition to teaching in my five prisons.  But I looked at it through the lens of the old adage of Rome not being built in a day, and I started to do my advanced trainings.

I began with taking the kundalini teacher training, thinking that it would count for 200 hours towards my 500 - well, I soon learned that is not how it works!  I learned that I needed to essentially start over, get my 200 teacher certification from a Yoga Alliance school (my original training, although very good, was not Yoga Alliance approved) and then do 300 hours of advanced trainings!  I was terribly disappointed, realizing that teaching the inmates how to teach was going to be a long road.  More disappointment arose when an old back injury reared its ugly head, requiring me to stop all the driving and cut my prison visits down to one prison a week.

I submitted a proposal to Huntsville to allow me to start a teacher training inside the prison system (I did not want to submit my idea until I knew I could pull it off).  A few months go by, and I was asked to travel to Huntsville to discuss the proposal.  I met with the New Programs Director and the Rehabilitation Director, both of whom were excited about our proposal but they recognized that the proposal needed to be modified in order to get it approved.  

The first and most problematic issue was calling the program a “teacher training”: calling an inmate a “teacher” is a negative buzz word that I learned would never fly.  They were also strongly against my ideas of giving inmates Yoga Alliance certification and having inmates transfer to a unit to get trained and then return to their home unit to start a yoga program. Although it was not exactly what I wanted, I agreed to their revisions and we now call the program “Conviction Yoga Advanced Yoga Studies”.  The training will go essentially just like a teacher training, we just can not call it that!  Inmates will be allowed to lead classes but a volunteer must always be present, which, at this point, essentially defeats the purpose: the end goal is to have yoga in the prisons and NOT rely on volunteers being present!  But I have learned that getting a NO on inmate lead yoga does not mean that it will always be a no: get the training approved and let the Universe figure out the details.

As of October 2017, we are over half way through the teacher training at the Hughes Unit and have set our sites on replicating the teacher training in one of the female units.  Meanwhile, we will continue teaching in all the local prisons that we can service.


An 8 Limb Practice in 75 Minutes or Less

The Sage Patanjali compiled a text called the Yoga Sutras, through which we were given a blueprint for practicing yoga.  In Section 2.29 of the text, Patanjali lists for us the 8 limbs of yoga:

  1. Yama: codes of restraint, abstinences (described in sec. 2.30, 2.31)
  2. Niyama: observances, self-training (2.32)
  3. Asana: meditation posture & now the plethora of postures in modern yoga (2.46-2.48)
  4. Pranayama: expansion of breath and prana (2.49-2.53)
  5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses (2.54-2.55)
  6. Dharana: concentration (3.1)
  7. Dhyana: meditation (3.2)
  8. Samadhi: deep absorption (3.3)

(A full discussion of the 8 limbs is beyond the scope of this article; for more information, take a Yoga Yoga workshop on the 8 limbs, or, better yet, take a teacher training!)

In the yoga tradition, there are two paths for the aspiring yogi; either become aSannyasi, a Brahmacharya (renunciate), acquire a monastic lifestyle, join an ashram, shave your head, wear saffron robes andcompletely devote your life to your yoga practice OR live the life of a householder.  Sannyasi yogis dedicate days, weeks, even months to one limb at a time; a householder, on the other hand, is one who wants to have a devoted practice but also wants to have a life outside of yoga.  A householder simply doesn’t have the resources or the time to devote his or her life to yoga, but still wants to receive the benefits of a yoga practice.  Householder yoga eventually evolved into the yoga we have today in the West: asana heavy practices, possibly mixed with some pranayama and meditation; essentially, a compromise with the traditional yoga path.  

(For an absolutely gorgeous explanation of the differences between Brahmacharya andhouseholder, see:

But is such a compromise really necessary?  CAN a householder, i.e. you and I, have an 8 limb practice, AND have a home, a spouse, children, a job?  Over the course of the next several weeks, I will share with you my personal practice that follows Patanjali’s 8 limb path.  I have attempted to distill each of the limbs into a simple, easily approached way that will allow us to explore an 8 limb practice in 75 minutes or less.  

We will begin with an assumption that you have already addressed the first two limbs, yama and niyama.  Yama and niyama are essentially moral instruction that allows us to start the purification process.  Svadhyaya, or self study, is one of the niyamas and is required to master the yamas and niyamas.  (I lean more to the tantra understanding that says we do not need moral instruction, we all know right from wrong, the question is “what are you doing about it?”).

I do 45 minutes to an hour of asana practice every day, followed by limbs 4 through 8. 20 minutes should allow you enough time to work from pranayama to samadhi, once you have acquired a certain level of proficiency in each practice.   

Each of the enlightenment traditions have their own definition of enlightenment: in Buddhism, enlightenment means freedom from suffering; in Jainism, it means spiritual purity, in Taoism, going with the flow of life. In yoga, enlightenment is self awareness, coming to know that we are Shiva, mahadeva, pure consciousness, the creator and the creation are one.  The 8 limb path leads an aspirant here.

So we begin with an exploration of pranayama.  Begin immediately after savasana.

Quick Pranayama Practice

The Prana Body |

The Prana Body |

“If one wants to lead a spiritual life, this very pranayama is sufficient. It will steady the way to mediation and samadhi.” ~ Swami Satyananda

Posture: Sukhasana.  

Mudra: Nasagra Mudra - right hand, index and middle finger rests on the eyebrow center; thumb is near the right nostril, ring and pinkie fold next to the left nostril (this is the suggested mudra by the Bihar Yoga folks but I typically use Vishnu mudra, which is folding the index and middle finger to the palm and extending the ring and pinkie - having the palm so close to my face makes me claustrophobic); left hand in jnana mudra at left knee (index finger folded to root of thumb - creates a small circle)

Preparatory Practice: 

  1. Several rounds of yoga breath
  2. create the intention of clearing the ida and pingala nadi
  3. close the right nostril with the thumb, take 5 breaths through left nostril.  Be aware of each breath.  Keep the breath silent.
  4. close the left nostril with the ring finger, same instruction as right.
  5. This is one round.  Practice up to 5 rounds, depending on time constraints. 

Alternate Nostril Breathing:

  1. create the intention of balancing the ida and pingala nadi
  2. continue with Nasagra Mudra (or Vishnu mudra)
  3. close the right nostril with the thumb, inhale through the left, count mentally but breathe without strain.
  4. Close left nostril with ring finger and release the thumb from the right nostril, exhaling through the right nostril, counting on the exhale.  Match the inhale and the exhale.  
  5. Inhale through the right nostril, keeping the same count.  At the end of the inhalation, close the right nostril and open the left nostril.  
  6. Exhale through the left nostril.  This is one round.
  7. Practice 5 -10 rounds.  

A good rule to remember is to always close the nostril following the inhale.

This is the basic practice.  If you want to go deeper, please see Prana and Pranayama; Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Yoga Publications Trust, Ch. 19, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.

DISCLAIMER: The following is a pranayama meditation that I made up, so consider this with a certain “grain of salt”.  That being said, I have found it to be very beneficial.

For the following, please see the figure above.

For this meditation, an understanding of the 7 primary chakras and the 3 primary nadis, the ida, the pingala and the sushumna is necessary.  

  1. The muladhara chakra is both the body’s energy generator and the abode for Shakti, the personification of energy.
  2. The jivatman, or individual consciousness, is contained within the anahata chakra.
  3. The sahasrara chakra is the abode of Shiva, the personification of consciousness.  
  4. The goal of this meditation is to visualize the unification of Shakti and jivatman with Shiva.
  5. This is the dawning of self realization.

  1. Immediately following Nadi Shodhana, visualize the ida and pingala as being perfectly clear, flowing equally.  Visualize the ida as taking in the moon energy, see it as calming and cooling.  Visualize the pingala as taking in the sun energy, see it as warming and vitalizing.  
  2. Visualize the mahaprana traveling down the ida and pingala, filling the muladhara chakra.  Visualize kundalini shakti as a sleeping serpent.  As mahaprana fills muladhara, see shakti begin to stir. 
  3. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti moving and beginning to rise up sushumna, moving into svadishthana chakra.  Exhale.
  4. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti rising up sushumna, moving into manipura chakra.  Exhale.
  5. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti rising up sushumna, moving into anahata chakra.  Visualize shakti merging with jivatman (visualize jivatman as a tiny you).  Exhale.
  6. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti and jivatman rising up sushumna, moving into vishuddi chakra.  Exhale.
  7. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti and jivatman rising up sushumna, moving into ajna chakra.  Exhale.
  8. Full inhale and retain.  Visualize shakti and jivatman rising up sushumna, moving into sahasrara chakra.  See shakti and jivatman merging with Shiva.  Exhale.
  9. Stay with the visualization of all that you are merging with cosmic consciousness.  Repeat the visualization 5 times while retaining your breath.

I’m sure this seems super complicated but if you’ll stick with it, you’ll get proficient enough at it to do it in 5 to 7 minutes.


Pratyahara, the 5th limb, is often defined as “withdrawal of the senses”.  But what does that really mean?  What exactly do the “senses” consist of, and how does one ‘withdraw” from them?  Before this can be addressed, we need to come to an understanding of what could be considered the “sensory body”.

Anatomy of the Sensory Body

As you know, there are 5 cognitive senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch - jnanendriyas in sanskrit, literally meaning the “knowing senses”.  In yoga philosophy, the citta, in the meaning of the yoga sutras as the “heartmind”, aka the mind and emotions, is considered the 6th sense - our ability to both think AND feel is, on at least one level, nothing more than another sensory organ, receiving input from our environment.  

According to yoga, there are also 5 active senses - eliminating, reproducing, moving, grasping and speaking - these are the karmendriyas, literally meaning “the senses of action”.

The jnanendriyas receive input from our environment and communicate it with the mind.

The karmendriyas are how we respond to the environment.  (I encourage you to try to find an action that doesn’t fall within one of the active senses).

This input is received by the antahkarana, the inner instrument.  The antahkarana  is made up of four relevant aspects:

  1. manas - part of the lower mind, through which the mind interacts with the environment.  The manas is similar to the sensory “superintendent”, taking in sensory impressions and data and interacting with the environment.
  2. ahamkara - the ego - that place of attachment and aversion; all the lower case “self” ways we identify ourselves, i.e. rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, atheist or religious, brown or white, etc.  Our sense of self and all its misperceptions. 
  3. citta - the memory banks, the storage unit for all our samskaras, the impressions left behind by all of our experiences.
  4. buddhi - the higher mind, the closest we come to the individual consciousness in the physical body - each aspect of the “lower” mind provides the buddhi with information and competes to be heard and considered.  From this information, the buddhi tries to make the best response.
  5. The antahkarana can be illustrated as follows:

Sensory Interference

Pratyahara is the bridge from the physical to the mental discipline of yoga.  Almost anyone who has ever tried meditation rightfully complains that they cannot still their mind long enough to get any benefit.  The truth is, ANYONE can meditate if given the right instruction.  Pratyahara is the key.

It is readily apparent how the cognitive senses interfere with our ability to meditate.  Our eyes, our ears, or thoughts, our emotions, all vie for our attention, and for good reason - each of those aspects evolved or were created within us in order for us to be able to protect ourselves and respond appropriately to life.  However, our nervous system being bombarded with all this information makes concentration and meditation difficult.  Practices that train our nervous system to pay less attention to the various input makes deeper meditation possible.  

Each of the cognitive senses operate on a spectrum from gross to subtle: with our eyes we can see images AND our mind can create mental images; we can both hear AND imagine sound, etc.  The active senses operate on a spectrum as well: we can both eliminate AND imagine eliminating, we can both speak AND create monologue in our minds, etc.  Although all of these abilities can interfere with our ability to meditate, the primary culprits are our ability to create mental images and our ability to create monologue in our head.  

Preliminary Practices

The first step is to become intimately familiar with the sensory body.  Study the anatomy of how we see, hear, smell, taste and feel.  Study the structure of the sensory organ and how the information gathered by it is communicated to the mind.  Also, look at both the gross and subtle aspect of the senses.  Then consider each of the ways the active senses are expressed by the body.  Bring awareness to the organs of elimination and reproduction, how you move, grasp and speak.  Look at both the gross and subtle aspects here as well.  

Second, do awareness practices that focus on the senses.  Move through each sense, focusing your awareness there and bring curiosity to that space.  Consider how the mind seeks more pleasant input and seeks freedom from unpleasant input.  Bring a “fine tuning” to each sense, carefully considering all the input and bring to it a crisp focus.  For the mind and emotions, bring a curiosity to how they arise and how they interact with the body. Determine for yourself whether thinking and emotions is nothing more than another sensory organ.  Generally cultivate a strong relationship with the sensory body and develop a visualization practice for each organ. Cultivate a witnessing presence that perceives all of the input and how it communicates with the nervous system.

And third, commit the aspects of the antahkarana to memory and direct your awareness to the instrument and how all the aspects interact with each other.  Discover for yourself if the concepts resonate with you.  

Pratyahara Meditation

Pratyahara Meditation

Now we are ready to practice pratyahara.  Begin immediately after you complete pranayama.

Return to your meditation posture.  Take a deep breath and hold; as you exhale, try to keep your torso in the same inhaling shape, heart rolled forward, shoulder blades down and back, chin tucked slightly.  Take several long slow breaths until your mind begins to still.  Remember to come back to this posture throughout your practice.

Part 1

Go through the entire list one at a time.  If you are having difficultly with one particular sense, repeat the phrase over and over until it falls under your control.

Say to yourself the following phrases:

“I have the ability to eliminate.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to reproduce.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to move.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to grasp and hold.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to speak.  I am not using that ability.”  You can replace “I am not using that ability” with “I am practicing pratyahara”.

Bring your awareness to the center of your being.  Even bring your eyes to the center, allowing them to cross slightly, seeing everything darken.

“I have the ability to see.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to hear.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to smell.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to taste.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to feel sensation.  I am not using that ability.”

Pull your awareness to the center and allow things to grow even darker.

“I have the ability to create mental images.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to imagine sounds.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to imagine smells.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to imagine tastes.  I am not using that ability.”
“I have the ability to imagine sensations.  I am not using that ability.”

Again, turn to the center.  Create the intention of going deeper within. 

“I have the ability to imagine eliminating.  I am not using that ability”.
“I have the ability to imagine reproducing.  I am not using that ability”.
“I have the ability to imagine moving.  I am not using that ability”.
“I have the ability to imagine grasping and holding.  I am not using that ability”.
"I have the ability to create words and thoughts.  I am not using that ability”.

Remember that your nervous system is going to move into complete rebellion against this practice.  All of the senses are going to try to get your attention.  The noisiest abilities will be the ability to create mental images and the ability to create words and thoughts.  As images and monologue arise, simply remind yourself that you are practicing pratyahara, and return to the center of your being.  Create an intention of operating from a whole new level of consciousness.

Part 2

Reconsider the diagram of the Antahkarana, the inner instrument.  From this new level of consciousness, re-engage your ability to form images in your mind.  Visualize the inner instrument.  Bring your awareness to the manas, the senses superintendent.  Visualize how manas manages the cognitive and active senses.  Visualize it working, keeping you safe, responding to the environment.  

Bring your awareness the ahamkara, the ego.  Visualize how the ego affects your thought processes.  See how the things that you believe define you affect your decision making.  See how your sense of self colors all your thoughts and emotions.

Bring awareness to the citta, the memory banks, the storage shed for all the impressions left on you by your life and possibly past lives.  Visualize how these impressions affect all your interactions.

Then bring awareness to the buddhi, the higher mind, driven and powered by your individual consciousness.  See how the buddhi receives input from the lower mind, weighs and considers the information, and how it attempts to respond appropriately.  See how it sometimes responds poorly, based on the samskaras, the ego driven information, and the misperceptions of the senses.  

Then bring awareness to the individual consciousness itself.  That place in you that is awake, enlightened, free from suffering, self aware.  Stay in that knowledge, reveling in your beautiful complexity.


Now let’s consider dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Collectively, they are called samyama.  (Part 3 of the Yoga Sutras, sections 3.1 - 3.6)

The concept of samyama resonates with me because, when I am practicing the last 3 limbs, it often feels like I’m constantly moving between concentration, meditation and absorption.  A great way to illustrate this process is a mantra practice.  Say, you are learning a new mantra, for example, Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.  First, you have to know how to pronounce the mantra and memorize the order, the cadence and the tune.  This takes a great deal of concentration, and you’ll probably need to have the mantra in front of you, reading it over and over as you chant.  Then you start to memorize it, and it starts becoming more natural, easier.  In fact, at some point, if you think too much about it instead of just “letting it happen”, you’ll probably get the words jumbled.  This is where you move into meditation.  Eventually, you chant the mantra with such ease that if feels like its written into your DNA.  And here we find total absorption in the mantra.  But as you practice, the mind wanders, requiring a return to concentration and starting the process over.  Hence, the idea of flowing back and forth between the three aspects of samyama.

As stated in the first article of this series, the yoga definition of enlightenment is self realization.  It could be said that, to know what we ARE, we must know what we are NOT.  Yoga could be seen as a process of eliminating everything that we THINK we are, moving towards our true essence. 

A great way to illustrate this idea is through the koshas, or psychic sheaths.

FIG. 1 |  Pancha Kosha: Vital Sheaths

FIG. 1 | Pancha Kosha: Vital Sheaths

FIG. 2 |

FIG. 2 |

FIG. 3 |

FIG. 3 |

FIG. 4 |

FIG. 4 |

The koshas have been depicted two different ways, all depending on what tradition you are following.  Figure 3 depicts the koshas emanating away from the body, Figure 1 and 2 depict the koshas moving inward.  Since yoga is really a journey within, the depiction in Figure 1 and 2 resonates the most with me.  And Figure 4 represents a fun way to depict the koshas with the largest doll representing the physical body, gradually moving within to the true self.

Notice that each of the koshas end with “maya”.  Maya means appearance, as if something appears to be one way, but is really another.  Here it means that the sheaths or koshas are only an appearance - underneath all these appearances we are pure, divine, mahadeva, cosmic consciousness.  

Consider Figures 1 and 2.  

The Physical body is ruled by the Annamaya kosha (anna means food). The yoga practices affecting the annamaya kosha are yama, niyama and asana.  (Some traditions include the practice of shatkarmas, which are additional body purifications.  You can find these in the Hatha Yoga Padipika.  Shatkarmas are pretty out there; I think most western yogis focus primarily on asana to purify the body).  

The Energy body is ruled by the Pranamaya kosha (prana means energy).  It’s the subtle energy body, affected by pranayama practices.  The Energy body is made up of the chakras and the nadis and is responsible for distributing energy to every cell of the body.  The Energy body is also the place of the kundalini shakti rising experience discussed in the pranayama section.  

The Mental body is ruled by the Manamaya kosha (mana means mind). It’s affected by pratyahara.  This “sensory body” consists of the cognitive and active senses and the lower mind aspect of the antahkarana (the manas, the ahamkara and the citta) that we discussed in the pratyahara section.

The Wisdom body is ruled by theVijnanamaya kosha (vijnana means wisdom or intellect).  Here is the sheath of wisdom underneath the processing, thinking aspect of mind, the buddhi aspect of the antahkarana.  

The Bliss body is ruled by the Anandamaya kosha (ananda means bliss).  Not Bliss as a mere emotion, it is the peace, joy, and love that is underneath, beyond the mind, independent of any reason or stimulus to cause a happy mental reaction.  This is the place of the individual consciousness, the Atman/Self, the witnessing presence underneath it all.  But even the bliss body is a kosha, a sheath, obscuring our true nature as pure consciousness. 

All of the koshas are prana dependent, which is very important to our samyama meditation: 

  1. The Annamaya kosha, the physical body, consisting of the bones, the muscles, the organs, in fact, every individual cell depends on prana as much as it does oxygen.  All of these structures receive the needed prana through the thousands of nadis inundating the physical body.
  2. The Pranamaya kosha, the chakras and the nadis, are also sustained by prana: prana circulates in the structure of the chakras and the nadi system, keeping the prana body strong and healthy, just like blood circulates through our digestive organs, not within the contents of the organs but within the walls of the organs carrying the food.
  3. The Manamaya kosha, the lower mind, the cognitive and active senses, AND the nervous system through which they all communicate is sustained by prana, exactly like the chakras and nadis are sustained by their own prana supply.
  4. The Vijnanamaya kosha, consisting of the higher mind, the buddhi, has its own prana circulation system as well, keeping the kosha intact.  The buddhi, however, is powered through the individual consciousness instead of prana.
  5. And, like the Vijnanamaya kosha, the Anandamaya kosha, the actual sheath, is powered by prana, although what it obscures, our individual consciousness, is not.
  6. Prana powers the entire kosha system and allows the yogi to pass back and forth through the koshas as he or she practices.

The aim of all yoga practices is to attain higher and higher states of consciousness by piercing kosha after kosha, ultimately coming to the realization that we are nothing but cosmic consciousness.

Determining What We Are Not

Determining what we are NOT begins with a simple statement: “If I can be aware of it, then it’s not who I am”.  This realization is incredibly simple, and incredibly profound.  Here begins the emergence of the “witnessing presence”; that state of consciousness that can witness all of our aspects and qualities.  Moving through the koshas brings this to light:

  1. The Annamaya kosha is the physical body.  On the surface, it “appears” (maya) that all we are is the physical body and all its vibrations.  But I can be aware of the physical body: all of the sensations I create through asana, all the thoughts, all the emotions, all the information being received through the senses and the prana moving through my system.  I have a “witnessing presence”, something entirely separate from the body.
  2. The Pranamaya kosha is the energy body.  My “witnessing presence” can be aware of the prana body, the chakras generating energy and the circulation of prana to every cell of my being through the nadis, as well as the prana running through the structure of the energy body.
  3. The Manamaya kosha is the sensory body.  I can be aware of the sensory body, the cognitive and active senses, the aspects of the lower mind, the prana that powers it.  
  4. The Vijnanamaya kosha is the wisdom body, the home of the buddhi, the higher mind.  I can be aware of the buddhi, how it operates within the structure of the inner instrument.
  5. The Anandamaya kosha is the bliss body, the abode of the individual consciousness.  And through a realization of pure consciousness, beginning through the pranayama practices, I can be aware of my individual consciousness, eliminating even the Self/Atman as “what I am”; allowing awareness that I am Divine, Cosmic Consciousness.

Now we are ready for Dharana.

The Sri Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (“VBT”), subtitled “The Ascent”, by Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati, provides us with over 100 Dharana practices to use.  The book comes from the Tantra tradition and is incredibly complex (it’s definitely directed at an audience that is way smarter than me and who has a level of knowledge at their fingertips that I am slowly trying to acquire).  The Dharana that I will be teaching you comes from Sloka 55 of VBT:

Sloka 55: Dharana on the Indriyas, or senses

पिनां च दुर्बलां शक्तिं ध्यात्वा द्वादशगोचरे।

प्रविश्य हृदये ध्यायन् मुक्तः स्वातन्त्र्यमाप्नुयात्॥ ५५॥

Having meditated on the gross and weak shakti in the dwadash indriyas (thus making it subtle), one who enters the heart space and meditates there attains mukti and becomes liberated.

The sloka can be paraphrased thusly: drain the prana into the heart space.

The Practice

Bring your awareness to the physical body.  See the prana that animates the body, coursing through the chakras and the nadis.  Visualize the prana beginning to withdraw from the extremities, draining into the heart space.  As the body empties of prana, visualize the body beginning to wither, shrivel and finally begin to disintegrate and disappear.  

Bring your awareness to the prana body.  See the prana moving through the structure of the chakras and nadis (not the contents).  Visualize the prana draining from the prana body structure, draining into the heart space.  Visualize the prana body beginning to wither and finally disappear.

Bring your awareness to the cognitive senses.  Focus on your sense of sight, the organ itself and the neurological structure of how it communicates with the brain.  Withdraw the prana, draining into the heart space.  Visualize the same for the sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch.  See the prana draining from the cognitive senses, draining into the heart space.  See each of the sensory organs withering and dissolving.

Bring your awareness to the active senses.  See the organs of elimination, reproduction, moving grasping and speaking.  Move through each, withdrawing the prana, draining it into the heart space.  See the active senses withering and dissolving.

Bring your awareness to the antahkarana, the inner instrument.  Visualize the manas, the sensory superintendent.  Begin withdrawing prana from the manas, draining it into the heart space.  See the manas wither and dissolve.

Bring your awareness to the ahamkara, the ego.  Withdraw prana here, draining it into your heart space.  See the ahamkara wither and dissolve.

Bring awareness to the citta, the memory banks.  Withdraw prana, draining it into the heart space.  See the citta wither and dissolve.

Bring awareness to the buddhi, the higher mind.  Visualize the individual consciousness draining the energy from the buddhi, causing it to wither and dissolve.

Finally, bring awareness to your individual consciousness.  From this new state of awareness, create the intention of realizing that you are nothing but pure consciousness, Divine.  Visualize yourself melting into the cosmic consciousness, realizing that you and the creator are one entity.  See yourself infinitely expanding in all directions.  Move back and forth through the three stages of samyama.


A daily 8 limb practice IS attainable.  Hopefully, I’ve provided you with a path to follow that makes the process less daunting.  Like all of yoga, perseverance is the key.

“Spirituality is not some external goal that one must seek, but a part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal.” ~ BKS Iyengar