Whatever you choose to pursue in this life, you must have a heart-felt realisation that your true nature is spiritual – that you are one with the universal spirit. Vedanta stresses the idea of self-effort or working on yourself (i.e. personal development). It encourages everyone to realize the God within by certain methods, called paths to yoga, which channel the tendencies we already possess. The ideal is to practice a harmonious balance of the four paths to yoga.
Bhakti Yoga is for the person with an emotional nature. It teaches a devotional relationship with God, since God is love itself.
Jnana Yoga is the approach to spiritual enlightenment through discrimination and reason. This makes strong use of the powers of the mind. It is the path of the philosopher who wants to go beyond the visible universe.
Karma Yoga is for the worker. It teaches us how to work in spirit that will bring peace of mind, and yet harness the natural desire to be productive.
Raja Yoga is sometimes called the yoga of mediation. It is the soul of all the yogas. The emphasis here is controlling the mind through concentration, meditation, and asana practice. Raja yoga is called the psychological way to union with God.
Note that none of these paths to yoga ask you to give up your reason or submit your power to the hands of a spiritual teacher. You are divine and power is within you. Determine and be clear with what you want to express from your essence and go and create it! Live in creation – instead of in “reaction” to your world.
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The perfection of the body or of yoga postures is not the goal of yoga practice. The fundamental principles of yoga are couched in Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, and these limbs give central importance to the yamas (our relationship to others and the world around use) and the niyamas (principles which foster the soulfulness of the individual, or our internal relationship with ourselves).
What yoga teaches us is that who we are and how we are constitute the ultimate proof of a life lived in freedom. In the West we are taught from an early age that what we do and what we own are the sole components for measuring whether we are “successful”. We measure our success and that of others through this limited vantage point. If you do not truly believe in living out who you are from your true essence, it is likely that you will measure success in your yoga practice, and in your life, through the achievement of external forms. And in this reactive way of living, freedom is elusive.
This superficial way of measuring success has brought about a subculture of yoga today that is nothing more than a sophisticated form of physical exercise — measuring “masters” as those who are most flexible, or who can do the fanciest most extraordinary postures. These outward feats do not necessarily constitute any semblance of balanced practice or a balanced life.
When we remain committed to our most deeply held internal values (who we are and what we really want to express in this lifetime), we begin to discern the difference between the appearance of success and the true experience of success and freedom — going for to pursue these dreams – these things of real internal value to us.
So why do the asanas? Why practice them? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to live compassionately and truthfully in accordance with the yamas and niyamas? Why do we need to twist and stretch our bodies and listen to our breath?
The word asana translates as “pose” or “posture”, but its more literal translation is “comfortable seat”. These postures were discovered and developed by the early yogis – as postures that do not only have a strong physical effect on the body, but also a strong effect on our consciousness. By exploring both familiar and unfamiliar postures we expand our consciousness and learn to be comfortably seated and centred regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Asana practice allows us to develop this internal awareness.
What distinguishes asana practice from an aerobic class or callisthenic exercise is that in asana practice we focus our mind’s attention completely on where the body is at present. Hence, asana practice is a reunion between the usually separate body-mind. Through the asana we practice being present, and aware, and doing things consciously, instead of mindlessly, numbly and distractedly.
Yoga practise is a good direct and expedient way to really meet yourself. Asana practice is an effective tool to explore and connect with yourself. When we feel disconnected to our body, we are dissociated from our instincts, intuitions, feelings, and insights, and it becomes possible for us to dissociate ourselves from other people’s feelings, and the physical reality in our day-to-day lives. Feeling disconnected to ourselves manifests in feeling numb to our daily physical experiences feelings and perceptions — which prevent us from really discovering who we are, what we really want to express and create in our lives.
Yoga brings us in awareness with our breath. By being aware of when we breath in and out, we are able to create balance when we perceive tension.
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This is also commonly referred to as ‘Patanjali’s Eightfold Path’.
Your successful and well-rounded growth through Yoga will depend on how effectively you integrate these eight limbs in your practice. These are wonderful fundamental principles found in the ancient text, Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali, an ancient Sanskrit scholar who wanted to make Yoga principles accessible to everyone.
The eight limbs are as follows:
1. Yamas (also called ‘the Laws of Life’). These sutras cover your external relationships, or the relationship you have to your environment and those around you.
There are 5 sub-limbs to Yamas:
2. Niyamas (also referred to as “Rules of Living”). This limb covers our internal relationship or the relationship we have with ourselves.
There are 5 sub-limbs to Niyamas:
3. Asana – These are physical postures/ asanas that open up the energy centers in the body allowing the flow of prana (life force, also called chi). Practising the asanas regularly, with a view to being able to hold a meditation posture comfortably still for extended periods. When the posture is steady, so is the mind.
4. Pranayama – The expansion and increase of life force/ prana in the body with the asanas / yoga postures, and as a separate practice. Also means, “controlling the life force”. Commonly over-simplified to refer to “breathing”.
5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses from external noise/ distractions/ stimulation. This serves to prepare the mind for visualisation and concentration.
6. Dharana – Concentration – learning the one-pointedness of the mind.
7. Dhyana – Practising regular meditation so that the fluctuations of the mind or the internal dialogue ceases and you become calm and undisturbed by interrupting thoughts.
8. Samadhi – The final goal: bliss/ enlightenment/ transcendent consciousness.
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In yoga, “Namaste”, like many words uttered frequently, can become cliche. Namaste – “the Divine in me bows down to the Divine in you.” And along with that is the often mentioned but rarely extensively explored concept that “you are whole, perfect and complete.”
Taking this into daily like was very interesting in the beginning for me, as I was raised Catholic and hence, that brings with it all the fractured guilt feelings of never really feeling good-enough, feeling ‘incomplete’, born a sinner and perhaps slipping into heaven by-the-skin-of-my-teeth if I’m good and repent consistently in this lifetime… ‘the undeserving’… etc etc.
Anyway, without getting side-tracked into religion, the point is that, I wasn’t exactly feeling “perfect, whole and complete”. And my perception of others was far from them being them being “perfect and complete” either. What is within is mirrored without, so to speak.
So here came the question of how to integrate this concept of Namaste, of celebrating human divinity, in daily life. It puzzled me. A wise teacher came to me at the opportune time who allowed me to begin to understand this. He gave me feedback and said I was by nature a kind and giving person who is genuinely interested to help other people. The problem was, I often (if not always) see the person I need to help as being weak and fractured (me the “helper” being more powerful than them, “the helpless”).
Of course – this was because the underlying assumption I have of myself (which I’ve made-up in my head) was also that of being weak and fractured. So when I give someone feedback with the intention of helping them, the assistance is “tailored” to their weakness. And hence is not in service of their highest good. It is in essence a reaction to my underlying fears. I would proceed differently if I acknowledged their strength and divinity.
The underlying decision I have before making any decision is that which I propagate and nurture, by giving more power to it through my actions.
At that point, I realised that my decisions would be very different if I celebrated the other person’s divinity, (i.e. their own true power) and that of mine. The shift was and continues to be significant. Specially for example, when I teach yoga. I teach very differently if I assume my students are weak, as compared to seeing them as perfect and powerful beings. It is only when I take the latter perspective that I can teach the class completely in service to their highest good. Without any of my “baggage” getting in the way.
The good thing is – it’s a “quick fix”. Since I made-up the first dysfunctional assumption “in-my-head”, I can just practice choosing a different assumption “in-my-head”.
I find “personal power” to be very different from being “empowered”. The perception of being seen to be powerful can be superficial. I think in this human journey, each of us to some degree will always be exploring “stepping into our personal power”, i.e. our own true power as beings.
And so long as we are on this journey, we will always be pushing past our comfort-zones – as we continue to study ourselves (Svadyaya – 8 Limbs, “Study of Self”), & learn more about ourselves and who we are. Unless of course we choose not to participate in this life and stay within our physical comfort-zones – but even then we are confronted by our unsettled and unfulfilled spirit.
Namaste to you!
Describing Yoga Nidra is a bit like reading a description of honey before you’ve ever tasted honey. The actual taste experience is beyond words. Nevertheless, understanding how yoga nidra works helps the mind relax and allows a much deeper experience.
Yoga Nidra is a most profound and natural state of meditation. Through the process of being guided into being conscious of different sensations throughout your body, and of opposing experiences such as warmth & coolness, agitation & calmness, fear & equanimity, sorrow & joy, separation & oneness – you are invited to rotate your attention through these different changing sensations, through pairs of opposites, until you embody these opposing experiences and sensations with neither attachment nor aversion, and with complete awareness.
The outcome or benefits that can be derived from this deep meditative process include:
Many of us know of the fragile peace that’s easily disturbed by the onslaught of daily life. Yoga Nidra is a form of meditation that can assist you to cultivate or remember that space of pure awareness – that unshakable steadiness that exists in each one of us, and that is present in all circumstances and situations, bearing in mind, that the true test of inner peace or consciousness is not in the meditation hall or studio, but in our daily life.
At the core of Yoga Nidra and all yoga and mediation practices – is NOT a dogma, but rather, a system that blends with many universal principles that are concerned with knowing one thing – WHO WE TRULY ARE.
At its minimum, Yoga Nidra will lead you to experience profound relaxation, the release of chronic stress, restful sleep, and a greater sense of harmony in your daily life and relationships
At it’s ULTIMATE – Yoga Nidra points to your True Nature – a peaceful countenance and steadiness that is available to you, to every person, right now.
The Process – Yoga Nidra mimics sleep, however, you want to remain alert throughout the practice. Hence, if you do decide to do it at home, practice in a room other than where you sleep in, and definitely not on your bed – there’s a subconscious connection between your bed and falling asleep.
The Process – Yoga Nidra approximates sleep, but unlike sleep where the mind unconsciously identifies with the dream, during Yoga Nidra you WITNESS these dream-like fragments. You remain observing and aware without falling into unconscious identification with the different sensations and images.
Yoga Nidra is not hypnosis. It is a form of meditation that goes through the different layers to your being – your physical body, emotional sheath, the mind, the ego, etc. Going through these different layers is like visiting a new destination – being in this new place without attachment to the many changing factors – you are completely present, observing – you are completely WITH these various sensations
How to Set-up for Yoga Nidra
Lie down flat, put a bolster under your knees, a blanket over the body, and an eye pillow. Now RELAX THE BODY….
Step 1: Set an intention to give the practice your wholehearted attention. Silently say to yourself, “I give this practice my whole-hearted attention.” Acknowledge your desire to remain focused, to remain aware, to get in touch with the witnessing part of you.
Step 2: is to choose a Sancalpa or intention, or AFFIRMATION – Let this affirmation be a heartfelt prayer in the present tense – instead of a future possibility. Meditation encourages us to acknowledge the NOW.
Finish the line, “I am ________” (whole, healed and healthy). OR “My true nature is _________” . Silently say this to yourself once again to acknowledge your affirmation. Then set your affirmation aside gently – you will visit them again at the end of your practice.
We have available MP3 meditation classes for you to download:
Written by experienced yoga teacher James Bryan from Knoff Yoga School in Cairns, Queensland
For those of us who practice Hatha Yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation), when we are pressed for time, meditation often gets set aside – we want to do it, but how to fit it in our busy day? To get the full benefit that Hatha Yoga offers, we do need to meditate and in this article, we will look at a few reasons for setting up a daily routine to include it.
Patanjali, the father of Yoga, recommends an 8-step program which includes the practice of:
This is based upon:
… or, moving from the gross to the subtle. Another way of looking at the intent of Patanjali’s traditional sequence is comparing to a child’s developmental stages of crawling, walking, running. You need to learn how to control the energies of the physical body, which is tangible, before we will have success with the less tangible breath and the ephemeral mind.
The effects of yoga practice are cumulative, this is, they build upon each other and overall it is greater than what would be achieved from doing the asana, pranayama and meditation separately – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Because the body and breath have already been awakened by the time we are ready to meditate (with traditional sequencing), the meditation can be more powerful and effective. Keep in mind that 10 minutes of focus is more beneficial than 30 minutes of fuzz. No part of yoga practice is about chronological time; it is always about the awareness/consciousness we attain.
“A slack spine equals a dull mind”. When meditating, it is vital to sit correctly with a properly activated and elongated spine. To do this we need to slightly flatten out the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) curves. Internally we balance along the median plane by aligning the soft palate of the mouth over the perineum – then pressing down into the sitting bones and lengthening through the crown of the head. When sitting properly, the mind is energized and meditation will be more successful, i.e. alert and attentive to whatever meditation technique we are using. With correct posture and technique, the spine should be longer after the finish of meditation than when we started.
In Vipassana Meditation it is recommended to sit for 2 hours per day, 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Because we encourage the practice of Hatha Yoga for 1 to 2 hours per day, as well as meditation, the overall time commitment is impractical for those with work, family and life responsibilities. We found that when meditating for 2 hours (in addition to asana and pranayama), some of the time we would be mentally drifting off because we were tired, i.e. non productive time. This experience taught us to adjust the Vipassana ‘chronological’ recommendation (doing time) and focus on the quality/clarity – “quality vs. quantity”, that is, making the best use of our limited time.
Meditation is highly beneficial BUT ONLY when we are awake, alert and attentive. If you are tired and falling asleep, go to bed!
Regardless of the type or style of yoga we practice, the ultimate goal is the same – Samadhi, which is super-consciousness or experiencing a profound sense of belonging in the universe, of oneness with the life-force sustaining all of nature. We require a strong body and nervous system in order to achieve this desirable goal. We obtain a strong body and nervous system from practising asana and pranayama. The Buddha did 6 years of austerities (yogic practices) before reaching enlightenment. By his example, we see the importance of asana and pranayama in any meditation practice.
In Patanjali’s teachings, we see that all of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are equally important, and with experience in practice it is obvious that they are all spokes in the same wheel – each contributing to the overall integrity and strength of the whole.
Once students are competent with the Beginner Level syllabus (Knoff Yoga) they should easily be able to complete it in 45 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama) in order to fit in 5 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 50 minutes. This is not too much to ask for health and well-being. It is possible to get up an hour earlier to make space in your life for yoga.
Once students are competent with the Foundation Level syllabus (Knoff Yoga) they should easily be able to complete it in 1 hour and 10 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama), in order to fit in 20 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 1 and 1/2 hours. Yes, this is a considerable slice out of the day, but it can be done by getting up earlier and dedicating yourself to becoming the best person you can be.
Make sure with your meditation, you are focusing on quality and not quantity. 5 minutes of sitting with a dull mind is 5 minutes wasted.
Experiment with the practice and see what works best for you.
Yours in Yoga,
James has a range of products available for you – from Chair Yoga for all levels to Pranayama for beginners and intermediate: