Category Archives for "Yoga"

December 28, 2017

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga is viewed as the “royal path” to attaining the state of yoga or unity with mind-body-spirit. Raja Yoga is so highly revered because it attains enlightenment from direct control and mastery of the mind. This approach makes Raja Yoga an extremely challenging and difficult practice to engage in. Hatha Yoga, what we usually know as just “yoga” in the West is a much easier path. Hatha Yoga aims to control the body and breath to still prana (energy) that in turn stills the mind. Although Hatha Yoga was developed as a preparation for Raja Yoga, they can be practiced simultaneously. 

Raja Yoga is often referred to as “classical yoga” as it was the oldest system of yoga to by systematically developed into a unified practice. The practice of Raja Yoga was compiled by the sage Patanjali in his famous Yoga Sutras during the second century CE. The Yoga Sutras break down the practice of yogic meditation into eight limbs or sub-practices. The first four limbs are referred to as the external limbs and are to be practiced simultaneously. Some of these limbs have the same names as the Hatha Yoga practices, but are not the same and should not be confused. The last four limbs are referred to as the internal limbs and are practiced sequentially.

The foundation of Raja Yoga is Patanjali’s external limbs of Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama. Yama and Niyama are the principles of right conduct and lifestyle, the dos and don’ts of yoga. Yama, respect for others, includes nonviolence, truth, honesty, moderation, and noncovetousness. Niyama, positive self action, includes purity, contentment, discipline, self study, and devotion. Asana in Raja Yoga is not the same Asana that we are doing in yoga class. Patanjali simply instructs one to find a comfortable yet stable seated position. The same confusion exists with Patanjali’s instruction in Pranayama. Patanjali only instructs the Raja yogi to observe and slow the breath down to the point where one cannot distinguish between the inhalation and the exhalation. The numerous yoga postures and breathing exercises were developed much later as part of the Hatha Yoga system of mastering the body to still the mind.

Once a comfortable seated position and a slow deep breath are obtained, then one begins practicing the internal limbs: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Pratyhara is the drawing of the mind’s focus away from the external senses to the inner sensations of the body. When the mind draws inwards, then the next limb, Dharana, is useds to concentrate the mind on a single object, usually the breath. This is where the practice becomes challenging, keeping the mind focused and releasing attachment to thoughts. When one obtains the ability to concentrate the mind on a single object to the point of being completely absorbed in it, then one has moved into the next limb of Dhyana, meditation. When the mind is absorbed in Dhyana the thoughts cease and the mind stills. The sustained practice of Dhyana leads to the last limb, Samadhi. Enlightenment, ecstasy and bliss are all words used to describe this last limb where one sees pure awareness reflected on the still surface of the mind. Here object, subject and perceiving all melt into a feeling of oneness

December 28, 2017

Karma Yoga

Karma yoga, also called Karma marga, is one of the several spiritual paths in Hinduism, one based on the “yoga of action” To a karma yogi, right work done well is a form of prayer. It is one of the paths in the spiritual practices of Hindus, others being Raja yoga, Jnana yoga (path of knowledge) and Bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion to a personal god). The three paths are not mutually exclusive in Hinduism, but the relative emphasis between Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga varies by the individual.

Of the paths to spiritual liberation in Hinduism, karma yoga is the path of unselfish action. It teaches that a spiritual seeker should act according to dharma, without being attached to the fruits or personal consequences. Karma Yoga, states the Bhagavad Gita, purifies the mind. It leads one to consider dharma of work, and the work according to one’s dharma, doing god’s work and in that sense becoming and being “like unto god Krishna” in every moment of one’s life

Karma yoga (also called karmamarga) is the spiritual practice of “selfless action performed for the benefit of others” Karma yoga is a path to reach spiritual moksha (liberation) through work. It is rightful action without being attached to fruits or being manipulated by what the results might be, a dedication to one’s duty, and trying one’s best while being neutral to rewards or outcomes such as success or failure

The tendency for a human being to seek the fruits of action is normal, state Hindu texts, but an exclusive attachment to fruits and positive immediate consequences can compromise dharma (ethical, rightful action). Karma yoga, states Bilimoria, is “ethically fine-tuned action”.According to Stephen Phillips, a professor of philosophy and Asian studies, “only dharmic action” is suitable in karma yoga, where one downplays one’s own exclusive role or one’s own exclusive interests. Instead, the karma yogi considers the interests of all parties impartially, all beings, the elements of Prakṛti and then does the right thing. However, adds Phillips, there are commentators who disagree and state “any action can be done as karma yoga” and it doesn’t have to be consistent with dharma

Karma yoga, states Bilimoria, does not mean forfeiture of emotions or desires, rather it means action driven by “equanimity, balance”, with “dispassion, disinterest”, avoiding “one sidedness, fear, craving, favoring self or one group or clan, self-pity, self-aggrandizement or any form of extreme reactiveness”. A Karma yogi acts and does his or her duty, whether that be as “a homemaker, mother, nurse, carpenter or garbage collector, with no thought for one’s own fame, privilege or financial reward, but simply as a dedication to the Lord”, states Harold Coward – professor of Religious Studies with a focus on Indian religions.

December 28, 2017

Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is a form of yoga popularized by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s in California. The patented practice involves repeating the same 26 poses in set cycles over a 90-minute class. Bikram yoga instructors go through a nine-week training program in which they learn the set practice and dialogue. Currently, there are more than 1,650 Bikram studios around the world.

The poses were chosen by Choudhury from classic hatha poses and are designed to “systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to 100 percent of your body, to each organ and fiber,” according to the official Bikram yoga site. The poses — which include triangle pose, tree pose, eagle pose and cobra pose, among other common hatha yoga poses — should be done in a specific, unchanging order, in order to achieve the desired benefits. This traditional Bikram pose series does not include inversion poses — such as headstands — typically found in yoga classes because it is difficult for beginners to do them safely. In highly advanced Bikram classes, the instructor may lead students in inversion poses.

In most classes, rooms are heated, often up to a sweltering 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) and kept at fairly high humidity (usually about 40 percent). Consequently, Bikram yoga is often called “hot yoga”; however, the two are different. Hot yoga refers to any yoga practice done in a hot room. Hot yoga rooms are often not as hot as Bikram rooms, which Choudhury referred to as “torture chambers.”

Bikram yoga follows the 80-20 method and the exhalation method of breathing. With the 80-20 method, you take a full breath, assume the pose and continuously exhale 20 percent of the air through the nose. With the exhalation method, you take a full breath and exhale completely when you have assumed the pose, and continue exhaling while you hold the pose. Both of these breathing techniques are difficult, and most beginners probably will not be able to do them successfully for a while.

Proponents of Bikram yoga claim that the practice yields many benefits, including flushing toxins from the body through sweating, and even helping with weight loss. Additionally, they state that the hot temperature improves blood flow and helps oxygen reach muscle tissue, which may make practitioners more flexible.

Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can help lessen back pain, sharpen the mind, improve mood and even lower blood pressure. However, no large-scale scientific research has backed up benefits specific to the Bikram practice. Toxins, for instance, are typically flushed out not by sweating, but by the liver and the kidneys, and are removed through urination or bowel movements.

Bikram yoga does have some potential dangers. The profuse sweating involved in the practice can lead to dehydration if practitioners don’t drink enough water. A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal Case Reports described a woman who developed seizures and went into a coma after losing so much salt through profuse sweating in a Bikram yoga class. And the increased flexibility can actually be a bad thing, because it can make practitioners prone to overstretching that can facilitate strains and sprains, wrote William J. Broad in “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards” (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Hot yoga can also worsen the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or heart conditions should also avoid it, experts say.

Generally, if someone starts feeling nauseated, dizzy or otherwise ill during a Bikram yoga class, it’s a good idea to have some water and take a break.

Still, there’s little risk of developing heat stroke during a Bikram yoga class, at least if it’s practiced in a room kept between 90 and 95 F (32 and 35 C), according to a small 2013 study by the American Council on Exercise. That study, which tracked 20 people practicing both hot and regular yoga, found virtually no difference in core temperature or heart rate between the two groups. Those practicing the hot yoga, however, did perceive it to be harder, even if their bodies didn’t register the increased difficulty.

December 28, 2017

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini yoga is also called the “yoga of awareness.” Originally known as Laya yoga, the practice was brought to the West in 1969 by Yogi Bajan, the founder of 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization).

The primary aim of Kundalini yoga is to awaken the kundalini energy, which lies coiled, serpent-like, at the base of the spine. In Kundalini yoga, practitioners use breathing exercises, physical postures, chanting and meditation to unlock this energy.

Yogapedia explains Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini means “coiled like a serpent” in Sanskrit. Kundalini energy refers to the coiled up energy that lies at the base of the spine. When released, this energy moves from the base of the spine through the seven chakras (or energy centers) in the spine. Specific meditation and breathing techniques were used to tap the kundalini energy, and these practices were known as Laya yoga. This school of yoga was founded by Sage Gorakshnatha, a sage from Nepal.

The ancient practice of Laya yoga was secret, and finds mention in classical Indian texts such as the Upanishads (which date back to 500 B.C.E.). The secrecy of these practices was challenged and it was eventually taught publicly to the West in 1969 by Yogi Bajan.

Kundalini yoga is a combination of specific kriyas and meditation aimed at raising the kundalini energy. The practices also help prepare the practitioner physically and spiritually for the intensity of this energy. Each kundalini class begins with a chant and is followed up by a warmup for the spine. The main part of the class is the kriyas, which combine postures and breathing techniques and end with a meditation and chant.

December 28, 2017

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa Yoga is a flowing, dynamic sequence of poses that is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the United States. Also sometimes called “Vinyasa Flow Yoga,” this type of practice involves synchronizing the breath with a continuous flow of postures. The fluid, almost dance-like movements increase flexibility, strength, and stamina, as it calms the mind and improves overall health.

The literal translation of the Sanskrit word “vinyasa” is “to place in a certain way.” It refers to a certain sequence of poses that are performed in a particular order. Today, it also refers to the style of yoga that focuses on breathing in conjunction with body movement.

History of Vinyasa Yoga

This popular, flowing style of yoga developed as a sort of “free-form” offshoot of the more methodical Ashtanga Yoga system. Ashtanga Yoga is a powerful and dynamic style of yoga developed in the 20th century by the guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga incorporates the sequence of linked poses called a vinyasa, but where Ashtanga has a strict structure and precise set of rules, Vinyasa Yoga is creative and exploratory.

Vinyasa Yoga contains many, if not all, of the poses included in the Ashtanga Yoga series, but it does not require its students to perform them in exactly the same sequence. For example, in Ashtanga, students are not allowed to move to the next series of poses without first mastering their current one. Vinyasa Yoga breaks those rules, often including poses from various Ashtanga sequences in one class.

These days, many different popular styles of yoga fall under the “Vinyasa Yoga” heading. These include, but are not limited to, Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Anusara, Jivamukti, and other unique styles, such as Hot Vinyasa (performed in a heated room) and Prana Flow.

In 2008, a survey showed that over 15.8 million Americans practiced yoga. It’s also estimated that the percentage of people who practice yoga increases up to 25% every year!

Components of a Vinyasa Yoga Practice

Because of the great amount of creativity allowed, Vinyasa classes can vary greatly from teacher to teacher, and even from city to city. The one thing that will not change, however, is the emphasis on linking movement with breath. Vinyasa Yoga is performed using a deep breathing technique, which is called “Ujjayi Pranayama” (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah) in Sanskrit. This phrase translates to “Victorious Breath,” but is also sometimes called “Ocean Breath” because of the sound it makes.

When practicing Ujjayi, practitioners breathe through the nose to completely fill and empty their lungs. Each movement in a Vinyasa practice is partnered with either an inhalation or an exhalation, creating a flowing link between breath and movement. The poses are sometimes held for several breaths, but when moving between poses, Ujjayi breath provides the connection.

Vinyasa Yoga classes may incorporate music, meditation, or chanting. They will typically include a broad range of poses, including standing and balancing postures, twists, backbends, inversions, seated poses, and forward folds. Every class will end with Corpse Pose (Savasana), the final relaxation posture. These classes are often vigorous and demand (and produce) a lot of strength and stamina, making them great classes for those who want a “workout” style of yoga. In general, Vinyasa classes place less emphasis on absolutely precise alignment, in favor of finding one’s unique ability to “flow,” even when presented with challenges.

December 28, 2017

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript “said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy” (Jois 2002 xv). The text of the Yoga Korunta “was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga from his yoga shala, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (Jois 2002 xvi), according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara [disciplic succession] (Jois 2003 12).

Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

Yama [moral codes]

Niyama [self-purification and study]

Asana [posture]

Pranayama [breath control]

Pratyahara [sense control]

Dharana [concentration]

Dhyana [meditation]

Samadhi [absorption into the Universal] (Scott 14-17)

The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable. However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the “Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga” (Flynn).

The definition of yoga is “the controlling of the mind” [citta vrtti nirodhah] (Jois 2003 10). The first two steps toward controlling the mind are the perfection of yama and niyama (Jois 2003 10). However, it is “not possible to practice the limbs and sub-limbs of yama and niyama when the body and sense organs are weak and haunted by obstacles” (Jois 2002 17). A person must first take up daily asana practice to make the body strong and healthy (Jois 2003 10). With the body and sense organs thus stabilized, the mind can be steady and controlled (Jois 2002 16). With mind control, one is able to pursue and grasp these first two limbs (Flynn).

To perform asana correctly in Ashtanga yoga, one must incorporate the use of vinyasa and tristhana. “Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

“The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Tristhana refers to the union of “three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Posture: “The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana” (Jois 2002 22). In Ashtanga yoga, asana is grouped into six series. “The Primary Series [Yoga Chikitsa] detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series [Nadi Shodhana] purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D [Sthira Bhaga] integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility. Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further” (Pace). Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit (Flynn).

Breathing: The breathing technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi [victorious breath] (Scott 20), which consists of puraka [inhalation] and rechaka [exhalation] (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Over time, the length and intensity of the inhalation and exhalation should increase, such that the increased stretching of the breath initiates the increased stretching of the body (Scott 21). Long, even breathing also increases the internal fire and strengthens and purifies the nervous system (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Bandhas are essential components of the ujjayi breathing technique. Bandha means “lock” or “seal” (Scott 21). The purpose of bandha is to unlock pranic energy and direct it into the 72,000 nadi [energy channels] of the subtle body (Scott 21). Mula bandha is the anal lock, and uddiyana bandha is the lower abdominal lock (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Both bandhas “seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Mula bandha operates at the root of the body to seal in prana internally for uddiyana bandha to direct the prana upwards through the nadis (Scott 21). Jalandhara bandha is the “throat lock” (Jois 2002 23, n.27), which “occurs spontaneously in a subtle form in many asanas due to the dristi (“gaze point”), or head position” (Scott 23). “This lock prevents pranic energy [from] escaping and stops any build-up of pressure in the head when holding the breath” (Scott 23). Without bandha control, “breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Looking Place: Dristhi is the gazing point on which one focuses while performing the asana (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). In the practice of asana, when the mind focuses purely on inhalation, exhalation, and the drishti, the resulting deep state of concentration paves the way for the practices of dharana and dhyana, the six and seventh limbs of Ashtanga yoga (Scott 23).

Instruction in pranayama can begin after one has learned the asanas well and can practice them with ease (Jois 2002 23). “Pranayama means taking in the subtle power of the vital wind through rechaka [exhalation], puraka [inhalation], and kumbhaka [breath retention]. Only these kriyas, practiced in conjunction with the three bandhas [muscle contractions, or locks] and in accordance with the rules, can be called pranayama” (Jois 2002 23). The three bandhas are “mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha, and they should be performed while practicing asana and the like” (Jois 2002 23). “When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “In this way did Patanjali start Yoga. By using mulabandha and by controlling the mind, he gradually gained knowledge of Yoga” (Jois 2003 11).

Practicing asana for many years with correct vinyasa and tristhana gives the student the clarity of mind, steadiness of body, and purification of the nervous system to begin the prescribed pranayama practice (Flynn). “Through the practice of pranayama, the mind becomes arrested in a single direction and follows the movement of the breath” (Jois 2002 23). Pranayama forms the foundation for the internal cleansing practices of Ashtanga yoga (Flynn).

The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi—bring the mind under control (Stern and Summerbell 35). When purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons surrounding the spiritual heart [kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (sloth), and mada (envy)]—”will, one by one, go completely” (Stern and Summerbell 35), revealing the Universal Self. In this way, the correct, diligent practice of Ashtanga Yoga under the direction of a Guru “with a subdued mind unshackled from the external and internal sense organs” (Jois 2002 22) eventually leads one to the full realization of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga.

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