Yoga

Yoga is a system of discipline that is dated over 5,000 years old. Yoga means union with the self.  The male and female, yin and yang, Shiva and Shakti, sun and moon, heat and cold.  There  is more to yoga than the stretches, but it is the easiest part of the discipline to learn before  incorporating the other components.  It encompasses eight systems combining mental, emotional and physical aspects.

The eight systems are:
Abstentions (yama), Observances (niyama), Postures (asana), Life force or breath control (pranayama), Sense withdrawal (pratyahara), Concentration (dharana), Meditation ( dhyana) and Contemplation (samadhi)
Hence the eight limb yoga system or Astanga yoga.  Other types of Yoga are Hatha yoga, Kriya yoga, Tantric yoga, Iyengar yoga, Kundalini yoga, Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga, Karma yoga  to name   a few. Each one focuses and utilizes different methods to achieve the same goal.

 



Guru
Guru, [remover of ignorance] is enlighten teacher who guide us in our growth.   As the saying goes, "when the student is ready the teacher appears."  Do not go looking for a guru.  When you are ready you will meet the right teacher for your growth.  A true guru does not claim ownership over a student. A true guru will also guide you to move on to other teachers to learn other aspects of the self. Do not become attached or co-dependent onto a guru. The whole idea of a guru is to find liberation not attachment or slavery to another being.

As J. Krishanmurti said, "No guru, teacher, religion, school can teach you about yourself, except yourself.  The teacher is only here to guide you on your path to self-discovery of your true self.  Do not seek extremes to find liberation or know yourself, but walk the middle path."
One of my favourite quotes is by Ramana Maharishi who request that each of us meditate on "Who am I?" All that we need to know about our self is in each of us.


Meditation
Meditation is a art of cultivating awareness, becoming aware of one's thought.  There is nothing mystical or magical about meditation. In cultivating awareness one is mindful of each action and thought before we act on it.  In becoming aware one is fully awake in the conscious decision  making process of the self.  Meditation is the slow doing.  Mindful meditation is to be mindful of your thoughts, breath, body and body parts. Meditation is the observation of oneself. As the saying goes, "wherever you go there you are."  It is a move into greater levels of oneself. Dwell in the period of stillness and silence/quiet the mind, even in pain and hold that moment.  The mind and body are capable of doing a million functions, except you have to know the operator model.  Mind goes, mind comes, and breath comes, and goes. In cultivating awareness we become mindful of who we truly are.


Breathing techniques
"When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still." Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Breathing correctly means breathing through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, and involves a full inhalation and exhalation which brings the whole of your lungs into play.  When you exhale, the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up, massaging the heart; when you inhale, the abdomen expands and the diagram moves down, massaging the abdominal organs (1).


In yoga different breathing techniques are utilized to help calm the mind.  These breathing techniques are called Pranayama. Pranayama comes from the word ‘prana" life force. Prana is most abundant during sunrise and sunset, hence the importance of early morning or evening meditation.  Prana moves in the meridians and is stored in the chakras.


Pranayama is cultivating proper breathing through the nostril by alternating breath through the nostrils or holding the breath for different counts of inhalation, retention and exhalation. To effectively learn the techniques, seek an experienced, certified yoga instructor and the type of yoga,  to learn and practice pranayam  correctly.


Chakras
The picture below is of the seven main chakras from the crown to root, according to the Vedic system.
There ares thousands of chakras in the body and most of them are aligned along the meridians. The chakras are energy vortex and are linked to the endocrine organs.  They have specific vibration frequencies and vibrate in opposite alternating directions in males and females.  Each chakra has specific deities, color of inner petals, mantra, and number of petals( see picture to your left).  The most commonly mentioned chakras are the seven chakras along the spinal cord. To learn about the chakras in the true Vedic tradition refer to the book by Goswami Kriyananda, The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga or  The Sivananda Companion to Yoga.  In Yoga the base chakra's internal color  is Yellow, pelvic (White), Solar plexus (Red), heart (Smoky gray), throat (Bluish gray) and fore head (Violet).  The bija mantra from base to forehead is as follows:  LAM, VAM, RAM, YAM, HAM, OM.  The crown is where the thousand lotus petals reside.


Mantras
Mantras are sounds that vibrate in the ether. All words and objects have a vibration frequency.  Repeating a mantra that is in tune with your constitution will calm the mind and open you to different levels of consciousness. The mantras also help open up the chakras to attune to universal energy.  Mantras are repeated during meditation to help focus the breath and mind. Ideally a mantra should be repeated for 20 minutes everyday (for as long as it takes) to break the hidden meaning and power of the mantra. In the Yoga traditional the Guru chooses a particular mantra for the student as different mantras have different powers.


The Gayatri mantra (see begining of page) is the premier Vedic mantra, an invocation to the sun.  By repeating the Gayatri mantra an image of the sun is created within the consciousness.  The sun is a powerful, noble, health giving, disease destroying being whose rays dispel fear, and weakness from the heart.  Best time to utilize the benefits of the sun is in the early morning.


Meditation
Meditation can be done anywhere, watching a sunset, painting, and exercise. The trick is to totally concentrate on the self within and your breath.  In utilizing breath work in meditation, you become totally conscious of your breathing. You become one with your breathe and you enter a heightened level of awareness.  These minute moments of awareness will propel you to further want to experience these moments of bliss. In becoming mindful, unhealthy habits are easily to get rid off.  Stress, anxiety, panic is much easier to handle or minimized.


Kriyas
In Yoga the body is viewed as a vehicle which is evolving towards higher levels of consciousness. To do so it has to run smoothly.  Thus it must be cleaned regularly internally and externally.   Kriyas are purification practices. There are 6 of them ;  kapalabhati (intense inhalation and exhalation), tratak (for eyes), neti (for nasal passages ), dhauti (for  digestive tracts ), agni sara, vastra dhauti, nauli ( for abdominal  viscera), and basti (for the colon). Some of them involve actual   cleansing, some intense breath work.
For most people it is extremely beneficial to do neti.  It involves running warm saline water in one nostril out the other . It is beneficial for sinus congestion, allergies, colds and flu, dry indoor air, environmental pollutants.  Mix 1/8 (one eighth teaspoon of sea salt) with one cup of luke warm water.   To perform this procedure you must have neti pot or a small teapot with a smooth snout. Pour into one nostril and out the other. If you have a cold, flu, sinus congestion it does not always flow into the other nostril easily.  Like everything it takes practice.  You can purchase a neti pot  at most yoga centers.  For more information on Kriya Yoga, refer to Temple of Kriya Yoga [kriya@yogakriya.org]


Asanas (Postures)
There are a few thousand yoga postures developed by the rishis (wise men and women).
A yoga posture affects the heart and pulse rate, breathe, blood circulation, endocrine glands, organs and digestion.  Every posture has an equal and opposite postures to remove any tension from the spine. Every posture involves breathing.


Specific postures massage and tone the internal organs.   Postures improve oxygen intake, strengthen the lungs and improve digestion.  Over a prolonged period of practice it affects right down to the cellular level. One is able to regulate one's breathe and to control the autonomic nervous system.  The conscious breathing helps to oxygenate the body on a cellular level to organ to bloodstream.


I have been practicing Yoga since 1981.  Over the years I have found these postures most suited for myself.
They are listed as  follows: Corpse pose (savasana), head to knee (uttihita-jamushira), child's pose    (moodha-asan), eye exercise, lion pose (simha mudra), sun salutations, leg raises (uttanatavasan), headstand (shirshasan), shoulderstand (sarvangasan), plough (lapasan) , bridge (setu bandhasan), supine (supta vijrasan), wheel (chakrasan), fish pose, forward bend, cobra (bhujangasan), locust (salabhasan), bow (dhanurasan), spinal twist (matsy-indrasan),  hand to feet, triangle  (trikonasan),  rocking chair (tadananas karasam), butterfly stretch, camel ( supta vajrasan), bat (chamagadarasan), symbol of yoga  (yoga mudra) and sage Dhruva (Dhruva asan).  Doing all these postures takes around 45 minutes in a calm steady manner.  It is great to finish your weight training /gym workout with Yoga postures.


Foods
Diet plays a crucial role in true yoga practice. Foods affect the mind and body.  Ayurvedic/Siddha   medicine contributes to the dietary aspect of yoga.  Food is divided into satvic, rajasic and tamasic foods. Satvic foods are pure, wholesome foods recommended in yoga. Before yoga classes one should avoid meals an hour before practice.  Avoid caffeine drinks and alcohol.


Hatha yoga is the most common yoga. Ha means the sun, tha means the moons. Hence Hatha is the attempt to balance the sun and moon in each of us with postures, breathing, and diet, prayers and ultimately to liberate us from this human bondage.


Kundalini is the dormant energy at the base of the spine. This potent energy will awaken on its own in the right time. In  Kundalini yoga classes, intense breathing is practiced to force this energy to awaken and travel up the sushuma (within the spinal cord). As the Kundalini awakens it affects the chakras and awakens them gradually to its full potential. The problem is that if you have not cleansed your chakra, mind, consciousness of all the lower vibrations, this premature awakening will only magnify the negative qualities in you plus it can cause an imbalance of your sense of reality. It is best to avoid forcing the kundalini energy awake. All yoga techniques will awaken gradually the kundalini with gentle techniques.


Tantric yoga is not about sex. Unfortunately, it seems to be the mindset in most people.  Trantra is  more ancient than most of the other yoga techniques.  It is  a strong combination of hatha yoga, pranayama, mudras (hands/finger postures/gestures), rituals, kundalini yoga , nada yoga, mantra, yantra, mandala, visualization of deities, alchemy, Ayurveda, astrology and hundreds of esoteric practices.


Iyengar yoga was invented out of the need for people in their later years who wanted to learn Hatha yoga, and were not so flexible.  In this modality of yoga, paddings, props, support are used to support the body, remove the fear of injury and to prevent injury. Thus, it is a gentler form of yoga in comparison to most other forms  of Yoga.  Also with the help of the props one can get a deeper stretch of the muscular system and stimulation of the endocrine system.


Iyengar yoga has been used successfully in rehabilitation of drug addicts (60% success rate ) and in significantly boosting immune system of PHAs  in Bombay, India.  The sequence of gentle, supportive yoga postures is available at http:///www.yogagroup.org and the video is titled "Living With HIV/AIDS Yoga Video", cost  is $35.00.  To purchase video contact Valery Petrich, Director, Kripa West Charity, 68- Edge Park Way NW, Calgary, Alberta, T3B 4V8, (403) 270-9691


Yogabasics.com
http://www.yogabasics.com
Don't know the difference between a reverse warrior and a revolved triangle, asanas or  pranayama? Head on over to Yogabasics.com, an attractive, fact-filled site that offers plenty of information for anyone interested in learning about yoga. Cast in a soothing green, the site currently offers a basic introduction to yoga and its history, an illustrated guide to over 45 yoga postures, introductions to and links for information on Pranayama and the seven Chakras, free yoga .mp3s, free yoga music radio, and a forum.
Yoga International , an excellent yoga magazine to subscribe.

References:
1. Father Joe Pereira. Yoga International 1996; March-April; 29-33
2. Kelly Morris.  Meditating on yogic science.  The Lancet 1998 April;351:1038
3. Lucy Lidell, Narayani et al. Breathing. The Sivananda Companion to Yoga, p. 69
Recommended Books
1. Ramana Maharishi.  The Direct Path, and Selections from Ramana Gita
2. M.P. Pandit. The Yoga of Love
3. J. Krishnamurti. On Relationship, and Krishnamurti for Beginners
4. Elise Sechrist. Meditation-Gateway to Light
5. Swami Muktananda.  Kundalini The Secret of Life, and  Play of Consciousness
6. Swami Vishnu Devananda.  Mediation and Mantras
7. Swami Vevekananda.  Raja Yoga
8. Goswami Kriyananda.  The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga
9. Lucy Lidell, Narayani et al. The Sivananda Companion to Yoga
10. Swami Satchidananda.  Integral Yoga

 

 

Image of sunset at Vivekananda Island Shanti Mantra
Aasato Ma Sat Gamaya (Om- lead me from unreal to Real)
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya (From Darkness to Light)
Mirtyor maamritam Gamaya (From mortality to Immortality)
 
Gayatri Mantra
Om Bhur -Bhuva Suvah
Tat-saitur Varenyam
Bhargo -devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah pracodaya
(We meditate on the glorious effulgence of the Supreme Being, out of whom all this creation-the earth, heavens, and beyond- has come into being. May s/he illumine our minds and hearts and guide our energies.)