Yoga

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word, Uje. Later it became Ugcar and then Yog, until finally it became Yoga. The meaning is connection, joining or union.

Yoga is a union of the Mind, Body and the Soul. As one of the oldest philosophies, Yoga is considered by many as the path to the true art of living. Much research on this subject shows that the study of Yoga is a true science.

Archaeological studies have proven yoga to be over 5000 years old. References within the epic works like The Ramayana and Mahabharato (and within this, the poetic scripture Bhagavad Gita) alongside the stories passed down through generations of Yogis, suggest that Yoga is in fact older than 10,000 years old. Yoga is the oldest personal development training in the world. Although many traditional Yogis believe that yoga originated from India, close to the Himalayas, observing different world cultures there is evidence of the sun salutation in the artwork of Egyptian, Sri Lankan, Mayan and other cultures. It is, in fact, impossible to know who the founder of Yoga was and where and when it occurred.

Traditional yogis believe Lord Shiva was the founder of Yoga and in his previous life he was Ishwara and was born in India. He and his wife Parvathi had two sons; Ganesh and Skanda. They were a yogic family and Ishwara was the first yogi to open the third eye. He was reborn in the next life as Lord Shiva.

As the human intellect evolved; man was able to understand that there was much suffering in life; from the pain of childbirth, throughout life there is illness, ageing and eventually death. Solutions to deal with suffering came in many forms; including the observation that many animals would eat certain herbs to cure sickness. This study of herbs and medicinal plants led to Ayurvedic and other natural healing methods (Ayu, meaning lifetime and Veda meaning knowledge or wisdom).

Jothishaya (Astrology) is also an ancient study and many people believed, and still do today, that our lives are ruled by the planetary positioning and Yogis developed asanas worshipping especially the sun and the moon. Religions were created as people worshipped God or gods, believing they control our destinies. Philosophers and Yogis understood how our mind controls our thoughts and how we lead our lives through the way we decide to use our minds. Mind control became an important part of Yogic practice. We use the word Yogi, meaning practitioner of Yoga, or Yogini for a female practitioner, for the person who combines mental, spiritual and physical practises in order to eliminate suffering and in an attempt to reach enlightenment.

Why Yoga is important for modern living

As the human population continues to grow; the competition to acquire just the basic of human needs like water, food and shelter is as great as ever. Just to maintain essential needs like education and health care, clothing and housing is an everyday stress for many. There is also competitive stress in the modern world to acquire a sense of stability, to acquire luxuries, to own the latest technological tools etc. Stress related ill health has never been as well recorded as it is today and it is common knowledge that pollution and the destruction of nature by man has and will have very dire consequences. Today we suffer existential stress as we are all, through the access to worldwide information are able to witness war, unhealthy politics, extreme religions and the consequences of unbalanced power, wealth and greed. Never has there been a time when Yoga as a lifestyle can help to reduce some of this stress.

Embracing Yoga can create a totally new lifestyle through a number of ways:

  1. Proper postures
  2. Proper breathing
  3. Proper diet
  4. Proper relaxation methods
  5. Positive thinking and meditation

 There is now a lot of scientific research proving again and again the many benefits of living a yogic lifestyle.



Yoga Styles

Bhakti Yoga

Yoga is not a religion, it is a philosophy, but the cultures in which Yoga developed, like India, Tibet, China and Japan, Yoga became intrinsically tied up with religion. Now, in the west as we are becoming aware that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is in essence essential to the true practice; rituals and offerings should be an important part of that practice. Bhakti yoga includes offerings, incense, flowers and reverence to spiritual teachers. Mantra chanting is important and spiritual music and dancing may also be included in the practice.

The Bhagavad Gita, the famous Hindu Bible contain texts that explain yogic ideas and explains that yoga is a method of worship and by exercising our physical and mental capacities, we connect with God. The final goal of a Bhakti Yogi is enlightenment.

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Tantra Yoga

The word Tantra has different meanings. One meaning is the name for traditional texts written about Yoga like the Bhagavad Gita and The Veda. Other texts are the Yoga Sutra, Kama Sutra etc. Often these teachings are thought to be only erotic, because of the famous Karma Sutra. This is much misunderstood. Our lives begin because of the sexual connections between our parents. All animal beings come to be born in the same way. Traditional Yogis believe that at the very moment of orgasm when the coupling is complete, animals, including humans have achieved a few seconds of enlightenment. Yogis want to bring this very important lower sexual energy into a higher form of energy through Tantric practices. This procedure is known as Ojas becoming Teges.

Tantric Yoga is very special energy works. Tantric teachings can be divided into two groups:

  1. Left Tantra
  2. Right Tantra

 The terms originate from the fact that in Asia the left hand is used for cleaning the body after defecation. The right hand is never used; traditionally the right hand is used while eating. Thus, there is considered a right and a wrong form of Tantra.

 Left tantric people are practising poojas (rituals) using alcohol, drugs, sex, black magic and other dark practices. Of course, not all of these practices can be classed as wrong; but the left tantric refers to when these practices become addictive and overpowering and therefore cannot be recommended.

 In Right hand Tantra, the right hand is used for eating and for offerings and other positive rituals. There are powerful mantras including the Bija mantras for each chakra and special pranayama methods. Swara yoga is a branch of Tantra which includes very specific deep breathing practices. Today, many Kundalini Yogis and Hatha Yogis include aspects of the Tantric practices within their practice.


Kriya Yoga

The word Kriya has several meanings. A Kriya is a cleansing treatment or practice used in Yoga practice. A second meaning refers to actions taken with awareness. In addition, Kriya Yoga is also a specific Yoga tradition. A Siddha is a particularly respectful name to Yogis who have acquired, through training great accomplishments and even seemingly magical powers. The traditional name of the practises is 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga. Lord Shiva is known as Adi Guru the teacher of all yogi richis and teachers) Eighteen Siddha Yogis were given the teachings of Lord Shiva which they took and spread around the world. 

The most famous of these Yogis is Mahavatar Babaji. After reaching Sahaja Samadhi (a very advanced stage of enlightenment), Babaji’s physical body became an energy body. His age is now more than 1000 years and he still appears to his devotees with a perfect body. His system of teaching is known as Babajis Kriya Yoga.

 This system has five branches:

  1. Kriya Hatha Yoga
  2. Kriya Kundalini Pranayama
  3. Kriya Dhyana Yoga
  4. Kriya Mantra Yoga
  5. Kriya Bakti Yoga

The Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, the author of the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and the yogi S.S.A. Ramia spread the Kriya yoga throughout the world. Today, the modern legends of Babajis Kriya Yoga are Archarya Marshal Govinden and Archarya Satyananda. (I was lucky enough to receive three initiations into Babaji’s Kriya Yoga from Yogi Badridas, Acharya Marshal Govindan and Acharya Satyananda).


Laya Yoga

Laya Yogis do not follow any religious views, they concentrate on their own willpower. Laya in Sanskrit means dissolve. The aim is to dissolve the self and merge with the Supreme Consciousness in order to reach Samadhi through pure concentration and willpower.


Gyana (or Jnana) Yoga

Gyana or Jnana means wisdom. Gyana Yogis study their philosophical and religious masters in order to reach a level of spiritual wisdom that will lead to enlightenment. These Yogis use deep meditative states to realise an understanding of the truth of life. Theravada Buddhist Yogis study the text written in the Dhammapada and in the Tripitaka (the canons of the Buddhist scriptures) Tibetan Buddhists meditate on the Heart Sutra or the Golden Sutra amongst other texts. Hindu Yogis often meditate on the text written in the Bhagavad Gita.

Mantra Yoga

Mantra is a Sanskrit word. Man refers to the mind and Tra refers to release. Freedom from the mind. Mantras include powerful words that can heal us physically and mentally. Sound is one form of energy.

We can divide mantras into three groups:

  1. Religious mantras: e.g. Buddhist spirit chantings, Bhajan chantings of the Hindus, Christian prayers etc.
  2. Universal mantras: the most famous being the word Om. The Gayathri mantra and Shanti mantras are also examples of Univeral mantras.
  3. Chethesika mantras (also known as Ajapa): These are mantras that are chanted mentally. E.g. Sat Naam, Om, So Haan.


Karma Yoga

The word Karma means action. Throughout each day we are performing many actions physically, vocally and mentally. Each action has a reaction and this is a universal principle. For good actions we receive good reactions, for bad actions we receive bad reactions. It is believed by Karma Yogis that to reach the ultimate aim of enlightenment, we must burn out bad karmas. A true Karma Yogi practices only good actions and selfless service to others. Cleansing our yoga practice place is a typical method of ensuring good karma as is cleaning up trash and wearing clean clothes and keeping our bodies clean.


Raja Yoga

Raja means King in Sanskrit. The highest practices of Yoga philosophies are the most important aspect of Raja Yoga. This includes Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment). Much of Raja Yoga practices are meditations. The Yoga Sutra by the sage, Patanjali is the first Yoga book ever written and describes a lot of contemplation and concentration practices; here are found the meditations practised in Raja Yoga. In ancient times in India, Yoga was a secret science and only persons of a high social rank like Brahmans and Kings (hence the name Raja) practised. As teachers, the Brahmans covered the practises with secrecy and withheld some important details. The wealthy kings and rulers would pay the Brahmans richly in order to be given the secret practices. The sage, Patanjali opened up the practices to the world by recording the sutras and is still greatly honoured by Yogis for having done this.

Raja Yogis seek enlightenment through their practices. Throughout our lives we all take many different roles i.e. child, parent, ruler, worker, teacher. We all perform our own life drama as various ‘characters’ in that performance. By becoming enlightened Yogis, the life drama can be completed successfully. Until we reach this mission of enlightenment, we are reborn again and again.


Kundalini Yoga

In Sanskrit the word kunda means coiled or serpent. All living beings have a spinal cord. At the base of the spinal cord, close to the tail bone is the Muladhara chakra. Within this region sits a wealth of potential energy. The image of the coiled, sleeping serpent is often used to describe this. The Kundalini Yoga practise aims to awaken this potential energy through a combination of Tantra, Mantra, Kriya, and Raga yogic ideas.

 The sets are known as Kriyas. Each Kriya is connected with the Chakras.

 Chakras are energy centres and in Sanskrit the word means wheel. Powerful meditative Yogis can see these energetic centres like rotating or vibrating energy wheels. We have many chakras throughout the body. In traditional Indian Yogic science, we learn about the seven main Chakras. Tibetan Yogis focus on six Chakras. They see the sixth and seventh Chakras as one. Chinese Yogis focus their practice on twelve Chakras.

 Each of the Chakras are closely connected to the hormonal glands and the ganglion of the nervous system in our physical body. There is also an invisible energetic connection to our subtle bodies (i.e. the 5 koshas, our biological aura and the astral body).


Hatha Yoga

Ha means Sun and The means Moon. Yoga means union. The Hatha Yoga system is based on the sun and moon principle and is the most well- known Yoga practice around the world. One of the main teachings is that ‘The healthy body has a healthy mind.’ This principle has become popular today as the practice of asanas. There are variations of the practice. In the classic Hatha Yoga book, Pradipika there are thirty two main yoga postures. In Babaji’s Kriya Hatha yoga eighteen postures are learnt and performed in a specific order.

 Today we can identify many modern versions of Hatha yoga, e.g.: Astanga yoga, Power Yoga, Bikrim Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yang Yoga etc.

Many of these systems emphasis postures but the asanas are only one limb of the Hatha yoga system. 

The limbs of traditional Hatha Yoga:

  • Asanas: yoga postures
  • Bandas: muscular bonds
  • Pranayama: Breathing techniques
  • Mudras: Special yoga symbols connected with the reflex nervous system
  • Shat Kriyas: Six types of yoga cleansing treatments

 Yogi Matsyendranath from the early 10th century is known as the founder of Hatha Yoga to have scribed the first known texts. Yogi Gorakhanat and his followers later championed Hatha Yoga as a practice to gain enlightenment. For some followers they named Hatha yoga Natha yoga after their teachers’ names.


What is Astanga Yoga?

Today, especially in the Western world, one yoga style that is predominant is Astanga Yoga; which is an intensive series of Yoga asanas promoted by Yogi Pathabi Goes from Mysore in India. He was an advanced student of Swami Shivananda. In this tradition they are training especially two types of Sun Salutation and thirty-two asanas, pranayama and relaxation.

The traditional meaning is Astanga is very different from this stylised method. Astanga yoga is the very foundation of Yoga philosophy. When we study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the first formal book of Yoga, it is clear that the Yoga philosophy follows eight steps, also known as the eight limbs of Yoga.

The eight steps of Astanga yoga philosophy

 Yama

These are the five social disciplines that a yoga student should follow:

  • Ahimsa: Non-violence
  • Satya: Truthfulness
  • Astheya: Non stealing
  • Aparigrahe: Simple living
  • Brahmacharya: Self control

 Niyama

  • Socha: Cleanliness
  • Santosha: Happiness
  • Thapas: The burning of bad karmas
  • Swadyaya: Self study
  • Ishvera Pranidani: Bhaki or ritualistic worship of Shiva or God.

Asana

  • Yoga Postures

 Pranayama

  • Breathing Control

 Prathyahara

  • Control of Senses

 Dharana

  • Concentration

 Dhana

  • Meditation

 Samadhi

  • Self-Realisation


Although there are many styles of teaching and many traditions, the final aim is the same. It is enlightenment:

  • Bhakti Yogis attempt to reach this mental state through performing rituals and chanting
  • Karma Yogis reach this stage by burning bad karma through good deeds
  • Tantra Yogis try to reach enlightenment by transforming sexual energy into spiritual energy (Ogas becoming Tegos)
  • Kundalini Yogis try getting to this high state by opening the Chakras. Raja Yogis come to this stage by becoming high spiritual masters
  • Gyana Yogis try by achieving higher knowledge and wisdom
  • Laya Yogis through physical power
  • Hatha Yogis can reach enlightenment when they open and balance the Ida, Pingali and Shushuma Nadis.

Important Do's and Don'ts

Important to do

  • Wear light and comfortable clothing.
  • Keep the practice place clean.
  • Light incense.
  • Keep images in the form of statues or pictures of spiritual teachers in the practice place.
  • Create a calm, quiet atmosphere.
  • Keep mobile phone switched off and do not wear a watch.
  • Begin the practice with a calm mind.
  • Start practice with Om meditation or chanting.
  • Warm up exercises before asanas. Sun salutation or Pavananuktasana (Wind relieving asana)….
  • Between asanas (postures) rest in either savasana or makarasana (crocodile pose).
  • Visit the toilet before practice and if it is necessary visit toilet during practice rather than holding on.

Important not to do

  • If you have any injury or sickness stop practice for the day or even a few days if necessary.
  • Stay within your limitations while practicing asanas. Yoga is not a competitive sport.
  • Do not over stretch. Flexibility can be improved, but it needs time and practice. Do not stretch to 100% of your capacity, injuries will occur. Stay at around 70%.
  • Do not drink too much water before or during practice. Start to drink more half an hour after the finish of practice.
  • Do not eat for three hours before practice. Leave it one hour after practise before eating.

Important to note
If you are suffering from hernia, heart problems, high blood pressure, discuss these matters with a well-qualified Yoga teacher. They will know which asanas you should not perform. Also, pregnant and menstruating women should not practice certain asanas, again discuss this with your teacher.