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Yoga

September 09, 2013 at 9:38 PM

What is Yoga?

There are indeed many ways to describe or define Yoga. Let's just start by understanding that the whole of Yoga goes beyond the physical postures performed on a mat. To a very broad extent Yoga is essentially a path. Hence it may be suitable for some and not so for others. Nevertheless its goal is indeed universal, and therefore suitable to all mankind. This goal is to lead the practitioner to a state in which he or she is established in communion with the Divine Essence, with the Source of Creation, with the Fountain of Life, with God.  This communion is what is called enlightenment. By achieving this goal we come to acknowledge ourselves as Divine Beings, Holy and Whole, hence we enable ourselves to live in Bliss.

Yoga is an individual practice and although the subject of Yoga can be learned from books and teachers it is only our self-experience which will take us to attain its goal. In other words, being a path it needs be walked.

Why do we practice Yoga?

We practice Yoga because we might develop the awareness to realize that from the many possibilities to accommodate the body in the posture, there is always one that feels effortless. In this way, and when we practice with diligence we might even realize and gain the vision to see the effortless path in our everyday living.

How is the practice of Yoga done?

The path of Yoga is blissful and fulfilling, and offers a variety of approaches, some of which are:

Raja Yoga - Known as the royal path and views the mind as the king of the psycho-corporeal structure of the human being, attribute by which it rules his thoughts and actions. This path is also known as Ashtanga Yoga or Eight- Limbed Yoga, the eight limbs outline steps to be followed in order to achieve the goal of self-awareness and consciousness development aiming for the ultimate Union.

Hatha Yoga - Known as the the path of physical well-being. It branches from the Raja path, emphasizing the practice of physical postures, breath control and meditation, which are three of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Its primary aim is to prepare the practitioner to develop discipline, self-control, health, and strength ideally to undertake the whole Ashtanga path or the other paths of Yoga. The different styles (Power, Iyengar, Anusara, Jivamukti, Vinyasa to name a few)
taught in studios and gyms derive from Hatha Yoga.

Jnana Yoga - Known as the path of wisdom, this approach leads the practitioner to the development of the intellect in a way that he or she comes to gain consciousness of the underlying truth found in the subtleties of life, hence it goes beyond what is material or earthly to enter in what is ethereal and eternal. Practitioners approach this path with a philosophical attitude seeking to find the meaning of the Absolute Reality of Life or Sat.

Karma Yoga - Known as the path of action in which the practitioner emphasizes on the attitude towards duty taking action selflessly. Practitioners embody the universal law of giving and receiving, and they understand that receiving is a part of the flow of the universe, therefore they experience detachment from the outcome of their actions, knowing that they have been performed whole heartedly, selflessly, lovingly and unconditionally.

Bhakti Yoga - Known as the path of devotion and love, Bhakti yogis see the whole of creation as an embodiment of the Creator and therefore they approach life with devotional love and respect. Practitioners may approach this path by learning about the glories and virtues of God from a guru or teacher, by performing chants and dances dedicated to the Creator, by prayer, meditation or worship fixed on the Supreme, by surrendering personal desires to the Lord.

Tantra Yoga - Known as the path of ritual, and finds its base on the concept that everything we do is sacred and therefore if life is approached with reverential attitude it allows us to experience the true divinity of all creation. Because sex is part of humans' deeds it is also approached with a consecrated attitude by the practitioner, yet this aspect of life is just one more opportunity to experience the Divine and not the whole of this path.

Nada Yoga - Known as the path of sound, it involves tuning with the vibrations in sound and music to achieve the state of communion with the Supreme. For its practice and transmission Indian classical and spiritual music is used in the forms of Mantras, Kirtan, Bhajans, Slokas, Talas, or Ragas. A passage in the Bible states "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became manifest". This is interpreted as the universe being and expression and manifestation of God. In Yoga tradition, through the Vedas, Brahman or God, manifests as this universe in the form of vibration, this is the vibration sought in this path.

Kriya Yoga - Not necessarily considered popularly as a path, Kriya Yoga has been described by the great yogi of the XX century Paramahansa Yogananda, known to have preserved his body intact long after death, as "the easiest, most effective, and most scientific avenue of approach to the Infinite", and he calls it the "airplane" route towards God. He defines Kriya Yoga as a simple psychophysiological method through which the practitioner seeks union (yoga) with the Divine through a certain action or rite (kriya). According to him "a yogi who faithfully practices the technique is gradually freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause and effect equilibriums". Paramahansa Yogananda provided for the perpetual dissemination of the Kriya Yoga science through his Self-Realization Fellowship, for more information please visit: www.yogananda-srf.org

Based on these elemental descriptions one can realize that to some extent most everyone, and many times even unknowingly, is a yogi (practitioner of Yoga), yet it is the awareness of the practice and one's establishment in its goal what leads to fulfillment, peace and bliss.

Where do I start practicing Yoga?

Using the information above allow yourself to be guided towards the path that is appealing to you, and perhaps with the use of resources such as the internet, your network of friends, books, and others you can begin to look for a teacher with which you feel connected. You can seek for private or public/group instruction, remember once your decision is made and your intention set you can only succeed in reaching what you search for. Also, bear in mind that the paths are not exclusive, so feel free to explore or delve into the practice of more than one path if your inner voice guides you to do that.

I thought Yoga is a physical exercise for stretching and relaxing. Is this not correct?

As mainly known in the western hemisphere and perhaps all over the planet, Yoga is a series of postures, usually performed on a mat, that over time deliver to the practitioner flexibility, balance, strength and a sense of relaxation. It is valuable to understand that although these attributes may result from a sustained practice, practicing Yoga only to obtain these results is limiting our openness to a much broader spectrum of opportunities, for instance the possibility of living in fulfillment.

Often times individuals driven to this practice, start by seeking these bodily benefits, and often times too they soon come to understand, through their selfexperience, that these attributes extend themselves to other aspects of their being. For instance, developing flexibility in the body over time fosters the mind to also become flexible and expanded, therefore life situations may be perceived under a different light and in a fruitful way. Learning to master balance is not intended to only have the ability to stand on one foot despite the distractions in the surroundings or in the mind, but to a further extent to teach us to focus on our goals with equilibrium, clarity and equanimity.

The development of physical strength finds its counterpart in the development of inner strength, conviction and will power, all of which are very useful in daily life and in the pursuit of fulfillment. Stress has a widespread presence in today's daily life of a vast number of people, so a sense of relaxation is greatly appreciated by the practitioner, yet understanding the root cause to this effect is highly valuable and even life transforming. Given the practice of asanas (physical postures) are usually paired with a form of breath regulation (pranayama), this slow paced breathing directly affects the our cardiovascular system, lowering the heart rate, which too has an effect the central nervous system by expanding our brain waves. Expanded brain waves produce a sense of calmness, well-being, clarity, and over time increased awareness and awakening of consciousness. The cardiovascular effect of the breath hence promotes the thriving of other attributes such as increased concentration, alertness, focus, decision making, tranquility, and if attention is given we realize that the capacity for introspection is also enhanced. It is important to note that introspection is such trait that when deeply cultured leads to Self-realization, the acknowledgement of our Divine Essence.

How can all these non-physical effects result from a physical practice?

To understand how a sustained practice of what appears to be only physical postures can build over time all these effects in our lives, let's consider how the human brain works. Self-experience conduces to true knowledge, repetition conduces to learning. In this way when we come to our practice and consistently repeat the postures, the techniques, the breathing control, then the effects are produced and they establish themselves as learning in the brain. It is then, by repetition, by self-experience, by dedication to the practice that these traits become a part of our way of living and therefore they stay with us whether we are on the mat or off of it. So, bear in mind each sincere practice contributes to your learning, it is not enough to take the body to the practice, be aware to also be present in the mind, allow yourself to live your experience. As one of my teachers says "the way we do one thing, is the way we do every thing". So as you empower yourself to be present in the practice, living your experience, then you will also be present in the things you do in daily life whether it is at work, with your loved ones, or when you are on vacation; in every circumstance you will be living the moment, savoring your experience.

Which path can I take if I am seeking for an integral practice that leads me to fulfillment?

The Raja/Ashtanga/Eight-Limbed path, outlined by the sage Patanjali through his Yoga Sutras, offers a wholesome, structured and practical approach to Yoga and to life, while keeping the goal of taking the practitioner to the self-realization that we are all spiritual beings having an earthly experience, therefore awakening as the Divine beings we all are. This eightfold path is composed by: yama and niyama (self-restraints and fixed rules to observe as the first steps to yoga), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing practices), pratyahara (disconnection of the mind from the sensory organs), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (state of superconsciousness).

From these branches or limbs, many practitioners begin their approach to Yoga by the practice of asanas (physical postures) and pranayama (breath control), which are also main components of the path of Hatha Yoga. Starting with the practice of asanas and pranayama, the practitioner many times begins to experience the understanding of certain subtle transformations that occur physically, emotionally, mentally and maybe even spiritually. In addition, these practices also serve to develop certain qualities in the practitioner that become resources for the undertaking of the other limbs.

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