Yoga Citta Vritti-Nirodhah – Yoga is the stilling of the mind Lake. Only when the Lake is Still and Calm can the beautiful jewel lying deep below be seen in all its glory. The jewel being the Atman or Pure Self. The Real You without the Mask.
To still the chatter of the mind is indeed an awesome task but it can be done. Yoga has a variety of methods with which to tame the unsteady mind and the undisciplined body. These include Asanas (Postures held over time) Pranayama (Breathing techniques) and Meditation practices. All of these work on both the physical and mental levels to bring back harmony and balance. They help make the body and mind strong and free from ‘dis-ease’ by influencing the internal systems such as the lymphatic, circulatory, endocrine and the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. Even the autonomic nervous system has been shown to respond to yogic techniques of relaxation, so that its sympathetic and parasympathetic branches are able to function efficiently rather than one going into overdrive or underdrive which results in feelings of stress, anxiety and many other modern day illnesses/allergies.
We do not need to know or understand these terms to feel the effects on our general well being. Just by practising yoga we begin to notice that the quality of our sleep and wakefulness improves. We have more energy, more joy in living in the present. Others begin to comment that we have ‘changed’. Perhaps the first signs of change may be a more toned body or a more relaxed attitude; An ability to communicate and get along better with others; A sense of fun. Deeper changes will come as you practise and your awareness deepens. Your changing perceptions may alter your values and purpose in life, which in turn may lead to different circles of friends and places, which will encourage further growth. You may choose not to go this deep as you will soon realise not everyone wants you to ‘change’ too much! It is your choice, your journey, your ‘Karma’.
So what exactly is Yoga? The word Yoga is from ‘Yug’ meaning to unite or form a spiritual union. If followed as a way of life it can lead to ‘self realization’ or ultimately to Samadhi which is a superconscious state where the meditator, the meditation process and the object of meditation become one: Union with ‘God’. However, Yoga is not a religion: it is a spiritual practice used by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and agnostics! There are many different paths offered to reach this ultimate goal and because of our different natures we are usually drawn more towards one.
Raja Yoga: The Royal Path. Has two major sub-divisions:
A. Patanjali, a sage in ancient India, describes the eight stepped path (Ashtanga means eight limbs). This way deals directly with the Mind.
- Yamas (Restraints) Truth, non-violence, control of sexual energies, non-stealing, non-attachment.
- Niyamas (Observances) Austerity, purity, self-study, contentment, surrender of the ego.
- Asanas – Postures. This is the popular understanding of yoga e.g. the Lotus or Headstand.
- Pranayama – Control and direction of a subtle life force which brings energy into the mind and body. Usually translated as breath control exercises but it is much more than this.
- Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal
- Dharana – Concentration on an internal or external object
- Dhyana – Meditation..A Deeper state without any distractions
- Samadhi – Absorbed in the Absolute. All sense of duality disappears. The last three stages are known as SAMYAMA.
B. Kundalini Yoga: Emphasises ‘pranayama’, works on purifying the ‘nadis’ (Astral tubes or energy centres) and seeks to awaken the Kundalini (spiritual energy coiled at the base of the spine). It describes the psychic system and also aims to still the mind. This is still a form of Raja yoga and follows the Ashtanga eight limbs; there is just a difference in emphasis and techniques.
Minor Sub-divisions include:
- a. Hatha Yoga – where Asanas, Pranayamas, Mudras and Bandhas (energy seals and locks) and Kriyas (cleansing techniques) are taught to varying degrees. This is the most popular form of yoga in the West.
- b. Nada yoga – uses music
- c. Laya yoga – concentration on inner sounds and lights.
- d. Mantra yoga – sacred sounds (sanskrit the holy language).
- e. Yantra – geometrical forms and patterns to stimulate and induce meditation. N.B. In a Chakra meditation (Chakras are wheels of energy- light and colour) several techniques can be combined. e.g. Music, voice, colour.
Jnana Yoga: The Philosophical Path. Using Viveka (Discrimination) and Vairagya (Dispassion) one seeks to lift Maya or illusion and thus ‘see’ the world as it really is. Deep study of the Vedas (Metaphysical texts) and self-enquiry. Requires a sharp intellect.
Karma Yoga: The Action Path. Service without thought of reward. Followed by those who wish to follow an active path and remain working in the world as part of a community. They seek unity within diversity.
Bhakti Path: Devotional Path. Creative, emotional individuals who sublimate their feelings through yoga techniques and turn them into pure devotion. ‘God’ is seen in all beings. This path uses Mantras, chanting, meditation. The paths are therefore distinct from the teaching styles and schools, which you will encounter when you seek out a teacher or book. Most teaching in the West follows the Hatha Yoga path – the yoga that begins with physical bodywork.
Four of the main schools are:
- Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Made popular by Sting, Madonna etc… This style was developed by K. Pattabhi Jois and is a flowing, strong and powerful workout. You need to be fit before you start unless you are lucky enough to find a good teacher who will take you in stages.
- Iyengar teachers follow B K S Iyengar’s method of attention to alignment. They use a lot of standing poses to build strength initially. They also use props such as belts and blocks, chairs and walls.
- Viniyoga teachers follow T K V Desikachar and offer individual and small group work with partner sequences. They emphasise step by step progression with awareness of the breath. These three teaching methods all derive from the three students of Sri Krishnamacharya (A revered guru who lived in south India). The last one was his son!
- Sivananda teachers follow the teachings of Swami Sivananda and his disciple Vishnu-Devananda who brought this type of yoga to the West. It teaches twelve basic postures following the Rishikesh sequence, some breathing techniques and has a more spiritual leaning with the use of sanskrit chants.
Some teachers dip into and learn from several schools and from their own introspection. Do not be put off by all these different routes. Find a class and just try it or buy a Book, CD or Video. We live in an age where we have access to so many ‘gurus’ (one who can lead you out of the darkness). They do not have to be a person we follow blindly. We can listen to our inner voice, read, explore. The story of how Krishna gave yoga to the world is told in the Bhagavad Gita. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which offer true insight into the workings of the mind and how to still it for a peaceful life, are available with commentaries by many different authors to explain their meanings. The Chief text devoted to Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika – it means Light on Hatha Yoga and it describes the techniques of Kriyas, Pranayamas, Mudras/Bandhas and Asanas. It also recommends a ‘Nutritious and Moderate diet’. If you want to read something lighter as a general introduction, try Yoga Mind and Body by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre. Pub. Dorling Kindersley. I also recommend any works by J. Krishnamurti; especially Meeting Life. Pub. Arkana.
CDs are available from the yogawise site which provide a good introduction and practise for those interested in exploring further although finding a teacher and going on a deep retreat is even better. Do not be afraid to try Yoga. I have students who range from 7 to 75 years who come in all shapes and sizes; all levels of ability. Yogis measure age on the number of breaths we take in a lifetime and the flexiblity of our spines! Most yogis look ten years younger than their chronological age. Keep trying until you find a way to bring yoga into your life. You will never regret it. Om shanti shanti shanti Peace from within Peace from outside Peace from all living beings