Drinking Soma – Yoga and the Elixir of Life
(A course I occasionally teach)
A fundamental teaching of yoga that the elixir of life is right here, in each breath, if you but know how to absorb it. The soma the gods drink is right here in a glass of water, if you will only pay attention. The magic substance that lights and delights the senses is here in each perception if you will only receive it. All the practices of yoga alert and train the body to imbibe soma, the elixir of life.
The techniques for entering this realm of perception can be called Soma Yoga, and involve paying special attention to breathing, drinking, and eating. If you sign up for class, you will be asked to agree to do half an hour a day of special attention practices – one of which is to eat at least one meal a day with great gusto, and even ritual – light a candle and put a flower on the table. Then taste your food fully. Also, do half an hour a day of special meditations and awareness exercises that rejuvenate the body and activate the senses.
The intent for the month is that we allow our attention to be enchanted by these practices. During this four weeks, we will be focusing with joy on these practices, so that you can learn to rejuvenate yourself quickly. The techniques are actually quite simple, and once you bond with them, you'll always have them at your fingertips. Soma Yoga practices satisfy a deep craving in the body for rich and intense experience, and can help you to develop a healthier relationship with eating, drinking, and the body in general.
You can take this class by phone and email, even if you are not in Los Angeles and thus able to come to the Continuum studio. Just do the exercises. We can arrange phone sessions and email contact. I will give you meditations, techniques and assignments and hear your experiences.
Soma is an ancient word, going back to the dawn of time. It is used in the Vedas, the sacred chants of what is now called India, to refer to the way that meditation wakes up the senses. We are using the term to refer to the magic of life that is there in a breath, if we really savor it. Not just as a metaphor, but as pointing to a quality of prana that is available everwhere.
I am of the school that feels the human body produces its own magic juices when we treat it right. The senses are so mysterious that when we pay the slightest bit of attention, they tend to awaken. To give a example, some people walk outside on a glorious morning and just inhale vitality – you can see them drink in the essence of life just from the beauty that surrounds us all. We have all done this from time to time. That's what I'm talking about.
The word Soma has been co-opted by some modern peyote users. Fine. But that is like giving the name yoga to a drug. Or giving the name Prana to a brand of cigarettes. Go for it, marketers!
About the word, Soma
From the American Heritage Dictionary
online at bartleby.com
SOMA , psychotropic plant, the juice of which was sometimes drunk as part of the Vedic sacrifice (see Veda). Many hymns in the Rig-Veda are in praise of soma. In the late Vedic period substitutes for soma came to be used, and the original plant was lost. It has recently been identified with the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, used in Siberian shamanism. See R. G. Wasson, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1971).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.
VEDA [Sanskrit,=knowledge, cognate with English wit, from a root meaning know], oldest scriptures of Hinduism and the most ancient religious texts in an Indo-European language. The authority of the Veda as stating the essential truths of Hinduism is still accepted to some extent by all Hindus. The Veda is the literature of the Aryans who invaded NW India c.1500 B.C. and pertains to the fire sacrifice that constituted their religion. The Vedic hymns were probably first compiled after a period of about 500 years during which the invaders assimilated various native religious ideas. The end of the Vedic period is about 500 B.C. Tradition ascribes the authorship of the hymns to inspired seer-poets (rishis).
Types of Vedic Literature
Composed according to an advanced poetic technique and complex metrical system, the Veda consists of four types of literature: Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Upanishad. Most important are the four Samhitas, which are the basic Vedas. The earliest is the Rig-Veda (rig=stanza of praise), a collection of 1,028 hymns. The Sama-Veda (saman=chant) consists of stanzas taken from the Rig-Veda meant to be sung to fixed melodies. The Yajur-Veda (yajus=sacrificial prayer), compiled a century or two later than the Rig-Veda, contains prose and verse formulas that were to be pronounced by the priest performing the manual part of the sacrifice. These three Vedas were recognized as canonical and called Trayi Vidya [the threefold knowledge]. The Atharva-Veda (atharvan=charm), written at a later period, was included in the canon only after a long struggle. Influenced by popular religion, it included spells and incantations for the practice of magic. Each of these Vedas was taught in different schools, and each school produced commentarial literature. The Brahmanas are prose explanations of the sacrifice, while the Aranyakas, or forest treatises, give instruction for the mental performance of the sacrifice through meditation, thus forming a transition to the Upanishads, works of mysticism and speculation.
The Gods and Vedic Sacrifice
In the Vedic sacrifice a god or gods are invoked by the hymns or mantras. Offerings of food, butter, or soma are prepared and offered to the fire, which as an intermediary god, conveys these to the other gods. The total number of Vedic gods is said to be 33, although more than this number are actually mentioned in the Veda. The three main kinds of gods are celestial, atmospheric, and terrestrial. Their attributes shift, and one god can be identified with another or take on his or her powers.
The most important gods are Agni, the fire god, who plays a central role in the sacrifice, and Indra, the warrior god and thunder god, celebrated for his slaying of the drought demon Vritra. Several solar deities are found, including Surya, Savitri, Pushan, and Vishnu. Varuna is the all-seeing god of justice, guardian of the cosmic order or rita. Soma personifies the plant whose intoxicating juice was offered as an oblation.
With the passage of time the sacrifice became increasingly elaborate, and priests became highly skilled specialists. The conception of the sacrifice’s meaning also developed. Correlations were made between parts of the sacrifice and of the cosmos. The sacrifice came to be regarded as the fundamental agency of creation, embodied in brahman, the mystical power of speech in the mantras. Theories of cosmogony and the idea of a single underlying reality found clear expression in philosophical hymns and the later interpretive works.
See M. Bloomfield, The Religion of the Veda (1908, repr. 1973); A. B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads (1923, repr. 1976); M. Winternitz, History of Indian Literature (3 vol., tr. 1927–33); R. C. Majumdar, The Vedic Age (1951, repr. 1957); E. V. Arnold, The Rigveda (1960, repr. 1972); P. Olivelle, tr., Samnysa Upanishads (1992).