Give Up the Ghost Through Yoga
“Give up the ghost.”
My father (RIP 17 years this week) offered this phrase to me enough times that I associate it with him. (He was taciturn.) As a tot, I didn’t grasp its meaning. As an angst-ridden teen and 20something, I came to understand its concept, if not accept it. Then I heard it as, “Give you your dreams,” rather than let go of that which has passed.
To give up the ghost is to let it go. It is to cease the avidya (wrong knowledge) of attachment to a particular outcome. We might realize we need to give up the ghost when we are haunted by recurring thoughts, when we beat our minds silly wishing for the person/thing/situation that got away. When we obsess so, we need to: Give up the ghost.
Yoga recognizes these psychological ghosts, and Sanskrit has a name for them: Bhuta. Bhuta means “ghost,” or things that haunt us. (As with most Sanskrit words, it has multiple meanings, including “element.”) But rather than a mere parental command (because I told you to give up the ghost), yoga, specifically Tantric Hatha Yoga, has a methodology for giving up the ghosts that haunt the corners, and at times forefront, of our minds. It is Bhuta Agni.
If you practice yoga, you may be familiar with Jathara Parivartanasana, or reclining abdominal twist. Your teacher may have mentioned this pose’s capacity to increase gastric fire, or Jatharagni. In the case of jatharagni, we are tapping into our power to digest and assimilate food (“agni” means fire). The agni, or fire, in Bhuta Agni, is our inner transformative power (think of fire consuming whatever we throw on) to “burn up” mental/emotional stuff we take in.
If we begin to consider our mental/emotional/pranic “caloric” intake the way we do with literal calories, and limit the “junk food” thoughts, words, and actions (karmas), we will have less bhuta to burn off. The less recurring thoughts, frets, and obsessions we take in and store, the fewer “ghosts” take up residence in our hearts and souls (and body). It is exactly like food calories. The more calories you take in, the more you have to burn up least you begin to store weight. The accumulated weight may be of the flesh, or it may be psychic.
Tantric Hatha Yoga and the ParaYoga system have techniques (one meaning of the word tantra is technique) and practices specifically formulated to burn up the bhutas–give up the ghost that you can’t seem to get rid of. Through specific sequencing of asana, pranayama, mudras, and meditations (vinyasa krama), we can visualize (another key ingredient in the tantric system) surrendering anything that no longer serves us, or that we cannot/need not assimilate for optimum living.
As The Doors wrote,
The time to hesitate is through.
No time to wallow in the mire…
You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher
Come on baby, light my fire.
Come on baby, light my bhuta. Give up the ghost.
My Subtle Energy Vinyasa Yoga Classes often focus on “burning bhuta,” as well as other equally deep, transformative practices. Please come. Hear your soul.