Five forms of Yoga
Yoga is a classical Indian science dealing with the search for the Soul.The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root Yuj meaning to unite. It is the uniting or the communion of the individual human spirit (jivatma) with all forms of life, and beyond that with the universal energy, God (paramatma). The most important authority on Yoga philosophy is the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) first written down in 300 BC. In his introduction to the Gita according to Gandhi, Mahadev Desai says about yoga: “It thus means the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God; it means the discipline of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that Yoga presuposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly”. Yoga philosophy was systematized by Patanjali around 300 BC in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras wich consist of 185 terse aphorisms. In order to attain divine communion, a man must control his mind and direct his energy by the right means. Patanjali enumerates these means as the eight limbs of yoga for the quest of the soul.
What yoga means in my personal life
I look forward to my yoga class every week where I can find a haven of peace. I enjoy practising the yoga poses which can be gentle but very often challenging and very strong. Since starting the YTTC in September I have been practising the various asanas that we learned on the course nearly every morning and I am amazed at how my body has become so much more flexible and supple. My legs have become stronger and my posture in general has improved. I enjoy the practise of various breathing techniques and relaxation. They are very calming and bring about a great sense of peace. I must say that I find it more difficult to practise them on my own, I much prefer being guided into them. My mind wanders off much more easily when I try to meditate on my own. This is a challenge for me, even moreso now, in the winter months because of my suffering SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My concentration is badly affected and I am hoping that the practise of yoga will help me through it.
Five forms of Yoga
1. Jnana Yoga – Yoga of wisdom
The early Rishis, men from a higher cast who withdrew from society into the forest, were the first Gnani Yogis. They were contemplatives, hermits of the forest concerned with the study of the nature of man and the universe. They sought wisdom in an intuitive way by going within, by reflexion and contemplation. The Rishis were the first to formulate the idea of one God who was neutal, Brahman. They believed that the soul of man, Atman, was at one with the Spirit of the universe and with God: “Brahman and Atman are One”. For many centuries the teaching of the old Rishis were spread by word of mouth until they were finally written down in Sanskrit in the Vedas, in 2000BC. The Vedas, sacred scripture, became the basis of Hinduism. In the West, the best known part of the Vedas are the Upanishads, written down from 1000BC to 500AD. Upanishad means “sitting next to”, in other words learning from a teacher.
2. Raja Yoga – Yoga of meditation
At the time that Sankara was collecting the Upanishads in 300BC, another scholar, Patanjali, codified yoga practise in “the Yoga Sutras”. He deals almost entirely with Raja Yoga. He enumerates the eight limbs of yoga for the quest of the soul; Yamas: restraints, Niyamas: observances, Asanas: postures, Pranayama: control of breath, Pratyadhana: sense of withdrawal, Dharana: concentration, Dhyana: meditation and Samadhi: illumination.
In Raja Yoga it is through meditation that one can control the thoughtwaves of the mind. The word “Raja” means a “King”. According to BKS Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga “The mind is the king of the senses. One who has conquered his mind, senses, passions, thoughts and reason is a king among men. He is fit for Raja Yoga, the royal union with the Universal Spirit. He has inner light”. “He who has conquered his mind is a Raja Yogi”. It is also around 300BC that the Bhagavad Gita was first composed. In it a comprehensive system of yoga is explained, appealing to people of all opinions and aptitudes. Various types of yoga are described including Karma and Bhakti Yoga.
3 – Karma Yoga – Yoga by action
Karma Yoga is the achievement of union with the Supreme Universal Soul through action. A man realises his own divinity through work and duty. In the History of Yoga, Vivian Worthington defines Karma Yoga as follow: “Karma Yoga is the way of activity, of service to humanity, to the plant and animal kingdom, indeed to the whole of creation. It is the way of selfless work”. “ Arjuna, hero of the Gita is a Karma yogi”. You can attain enlightenment by what you do. You don’t have to be a recluse any more. For every action there is a reaction. You perform actions and offer them to God for the good of mankind. Your actions must be appropriate to your position in life (e.g. a mother and father in Tibet rear their children first and then become nun and monk). You must not expect any result from your actions and not take credit for success or failure.
4 – Bhakti Yoga – the way of love and devotion
This is the first time that yoga is open to women and children as well as men. It is the yoga of service and love and devotion to a deity (Personal God). The easiest way to attain enlightenment is through worship of a personal God through prayer, singing, chanting, lighting candles. We see God in everything and in every human being. We want to serve the Divine Being which is the source of help and guidance. We meditate on God, go into his temples, always carry his name within us. We act and serve out of a conviction that it is God that we are serving. We are completely devoted to him (i.e. Christians, Muslims). “through Bakti, the emotional side of humanity was able to express itself”.
5. Hatha Yoga – self-realisation through perfection of the body
Hatha Yoga is first mentioned in the Gita but the founder of the complete system is Goraksanatha. He saw the need in India for Yoga to be available to more than the elite. It opened up to all castes and both sexes. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1400AD) is based on a work originally composed by Goraksanatha. Nowadays, BKS Iyengar in “Light on Yoga” lists over 200 Asanas. The word Hatha is a composite of Ha and Tha, which are symbols for sun and moon. These symbols signify positive and negative forces in the electro-magnetic sense, so Hatha Yoga is the yoga of polarized or balanced force. Some Hatha Yoga Techniques are designed to gain enlightment by direct physical means, otherwise Hatha Yoga is used as preparation for meditation ( Raja Yoga). The Hatha Yoga system includes Asanas, Pranayama, Kryias, Bandhas and Mudras.
Five aspects of Hatha Yoga
1. Asanas (postures)
The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities. It energises, stretches and strenghtens the physical body. It corrects our posture and brings a fresh blood supply to our organs. “By practising them one develops agility, balance, endurance and great vitality”. “They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves, but their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind”. The practise of asanas releases tension and prepares us for meditation. It broadens our mental faculties, enhances our spiritual capabilities and opens our different energy centres. The physical body encapsulates the spirit, through working withthe body, you can access the inner layers of yourself. Your body recalls every experience, you touch your memories by moving your body. The strength you need to stay in a pose will help you when you are faced with difficult times.
2 Pranayamas (breathing techniques)
Prana is the vital energy, the life force of the universe. Everything that moves in the universe is a manifestation of Prana. Prana exists in our food, water, sunlight, air .”Prana is our true nourishment for without Prana there can be no life”. Yamas means length, expansion, retention and control. Pranayamas is the regulation of prana and its distribution to the various levels of our being. The first step in pranayama is to tune into the rhythm of the breath and regulate it. We use the breath to bring the body and mind together. The breath improves our ability to concentrate. “When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind. Therefore the breath should be restrained .Pranayama consists of three types of control of the breath: the control of inhalation is called Puraka (filling up), the control of exhalation is called Rechaka (emptying of the lungs), the holding of the breath is called Kumbhaka. It takes a long time to master proper inhalations and exhalations. One must be careful when one starts holding the breath and only practise it under supervision in class.
3. Kriyas (cleansing processes)
We want to cleanse all the systems in our body (digestive, respiratory, elimination and nervous system) for the body to be a worthy vehicle for the spirit. There are six acts that purify the body:
- Trataka is the cleansing of the eyes by gazing at an object till
tears are shed, candle gazing for example. By bringing tears to the eyes we remove diseases of the eye and get an emotional cleansing. Its western equivalent would be weepy movies, wakes at a funeral, cutting an onion.
- Kapalabhati breath is done by performing passive inhalation
(Puraka) and short, sharp exhalation (Rechaka) through the nose. We cleanse our respiratory system, we strengthen our lungs and bring clarity to the brain
- Nauli, with the shoulders bent down, one should rotate the
stomach very quickly to the right and left. It is like tumble drying your abdomen. One must do this in the morning before food. It tones up the abdominal muscles and works on the digestive and elimination systems.
- Jalaneti, salted water is inserted into one nostril and expelled out
through the other nostril, (Sutraneti is done with a string). It is a nasal cleansing which is good for sinuses, it purifies the skull and brings mental clarity. It is better to do it in the morning, specially in the Autumn and Spring time.
- Dhauti, one slowly swallows a wet and salty piece of cloth and draws
it out again. This cleanses out the digestive system and help diseases brought on by phlegm. In Kunjal, one swallows salted water and then vomits. Its Western equivalent would be when one has the stomach pumped or when we use tongue scrapers.
- Vasti, seated in water, one inserts a straw of reed into the anus and
draws the water by contracting the anus then expels it. This washing helps to cure diseases arising from excess of wind, bile and phlegm. Its western equivalent would be colonic irrigation and enemas.
4. Mudras (hand and body gestures)
Mudras are precise hand and body gestures which develop energy circuits in the body. They channel the breath and energy forces to particular areas of the body and can be very healing. These subtle physical movement alter our mood and deepen our awareness and concentration. Mudras can bring us to a deep meditative state. Mudras can be gestures we use every day like greeting someone with an outstreched hand, blaming someone by pointing a finger, having our hands in prayer position, nodding the head to agree with someone etc… they can be gestures in dance and theatre which help to convey the meaning of the words and music. In our YTTC we have experienced The Prana Nadi Mudras. They channel the breath and prana into various parts of the lungs and torso.
- Chin Mudra directs the breath to lower lungs and torso.
Sitting in siddhasana, allow the breath to come naturally, don’t try to influence the breath in any way, just let it be. You connect the tips of the thumbs and forefingers together to form a circle, keeping the other fingers straight, turning the palms face down on the thighs, straight arms, relax the shoulder, taking twelve breaths.
- Chin Maya Mudra directs the breath to middle of lungs and torso.
As before but three fingers curled into palms and maintaining a gentle pressure of the fingernails into the palms. Take twelve breaths.
- Addi Mudra directs the breath to upper lungs and torso.
As before but placing the thumbs inside the curled fingers. Take twelve breaths.
- Brama Mudra activates the entire torso and lungs.
Thumbs tucked inside the curled fingers, middle finger knukles touch together and back of hands turn down towards the floor, little fingers side of hands against solar plexus, relax the shoulders , take twelve breaths.
“We do not direct prana or breath with the mind when we use mudras, instead prana and breath flow spontaneously.”
The Prana Nadi Mudras offer a rich source of energy and breath to the lung lobules and in doing so, support the body’s own healing abilities. They will be very helpful with someone with pneumonia or other lung disorders such as asthma, emphesyma and even cancer.
5) Bandhas (energy locks)
A Bandha is a restraint that regulates the flow of prana (energy) just like fuses and switches control the flow of electricity.
The role of the Bandhas is to direct the descending movement of consciousness upward. They have a massaging effect on the muscles and organs of the body so they purify the body. They lower the heart rate and induce calmness. When you hold your breath, you arrest your consciousness,you are “locked into now”.
- Pada Bandha. The Bandhas start in the feet. We connect to the
earth energy with our feet. When we stand, lifting our feet arches, we rise up the earth energy and aspire to grow taller. Our body rises when standing strong on our feet.
- Mulabandha (root chakra). We direct the energy from our feet to
our lower abdomen. We draw our perineal body up by contracting our pelvic floor muscle. When passing water, it is good to stop and start the flow to tone up our pelvic floor muscle, specially after giving birth.
- Uddiyana Bandha (means flying up). In this Bandha, the prana is
made to move from the perineum, up into the spine, towards the head, by drawing up all abdominal muscles and organs into the spine and chest. You do this standing up, bending forward. This Bandha tones the abdominal organs and eliminate toxins in the digestive track.
- Jaladhara Bandha (the chin lock). In this Bandha, the chest rises
very high to meet the chin. The chin comes down so the energy stays contained. The sun (in belly) doesn’t come into contact with the moon (in head). It cleanses the body and like the shoulder stand, affects the thyroid and pineal gland.
My personal experience of Kriyas, Mudras and Bandhas
I enjoy practising Trataka by gazing at a candle, sitting in siddhasana. I gaze at a candle without blinking and then close my eyes. I can see the whole shape of the candle first, then a lovely circle of blue light appear on top with a yellow, red or green thin flame inside it. The flame moves around a bit but I can bring it back to 12 o’clock. Eventually it disappears and I open my eyes and start the process again.
I find this practise good for focusing my mind and it is helpful for my concentration. It is very calming and relaxing.
I experience Mudras every day when I wave “hello”or “good bye” to someone or say no with my index finger to a child.
We have practised The Prana Nadi Mudras in our Yoga Teacher Training Course and I found them very relaxing, specially the last one in the series, the Brama Mudra where I really experienced the full breath.
It is a nice feeling to stand strong on my feet, connecting with the earth energy, feeling supported by the earth and growing taller (Pada Bandha). It gives me a sense of stability, strength and balance. If I direct this earth energy up to my lower abdomen and contract my pelvic floor muscles (Mulabandha) it makes me very aware of my perineal body and tones up this whole area.
Monique Walsh IYA TTC Trainee