Posts Tagged Yoga Philosophy

What is Tantra Yoga?

Experienced Tantra and Kundalini Yoga Teacher - Gail Pisani

Popular Tantra

Tantra is currently and popularly defined and interpreted as a method of sexual practices, and modern Tantra is often not associated with yoga practices at all. However, this is a very limited view of Tantra. The true essence of Tantra is a meta – philosophy , a universal meditative method of being… which integrates the small personal self living its daily life into the larger arena… of spiritual evolve-ment and enlightenment. This aspect of Tantra has been completely missed in the common limited misinterpretation of this ancient body of principles.

The Essence of Tantra Yoga

General Yoga practice, as we’ve generally come to understand it today, involves practising a series of postures, meditations and breathing exercises on your yoga mat. These practices are a part of Tantra, and perfect as preparation for Tantra Yoga. But Tantra yoga is more than this. Tantra yoga is the “mother of all yogas” – leading one to the higher universal principles of “living Yoga.” It is about yoga beyond being in a studio or on a mat – where every aspect of your life becomes yogic or tantric.

A Different Approach or Perspective

Living in yoga, in awareness, in tantra – is a state of being which embodies the feminine energy – known as Shakti. Shakti receives life and celebrates all the pleasures of life, including our sexuality, as a gift. This is in contrast to the current western approach – which is goal-oriented, where the practice of yoga on the mat is generally understood as the “way to” achieve better health, a better body, a better mind, a better spiritual state.

This goal-oriented approach today is predominantly Masculine, goal-driven energy. Tantra acknowledges a balance in both Masculine and Feminine Energy, and hence, introduces Feminine Energy – as a way of receiving life rather than doing life. The feminine receives and the masculines does

Tantra says, ‘Receive every moment as a gift’. Receive the breath, the food, the sounds; receive yourself; receive the gift of another. It is an ‘Allowing’ of Life.

How Does Sex Come into the Picture?

Tantra honours the Feminine and Masculine energy that exists in each person, in everything in the world, and the universe we live in. In sex, one partner embodies the feminine or shakti energy and the other embodies the masculine or shiva energy. Tantric lovemaking is a prolonged meditation in the pre-orgasmic state. It is a way of empowering and nurturing each other, rather than simply being a way of achieving orgasm.

Why the focus on Sex?

In the context of love-making as a meditative practice, one allows the sexual energy to be in continuous never-ending flow – and the partners nurture this eternal and ongoing flow of energy in each other. This is different from the common masculine, logical approach to sex where the couple directs the sexual energy to the achievement of an outcome, that is – an orgasm. So in the practice of tantric sex, the goal is not to orgasm.

There is no finish – the journey of being completely present and “with the other” is celebrated as an ongoing meditation. As a Holistic Practice Yogic practices on the mat, such as– meditation, yoga postures, and breathing – prepare each partner to be a pure vessel for the orgasmic energy – my physical body as strong, flexible and healthy as I can make it, my emotional body as joyful and light as I can make it and my mind as clear, open and receptive as I can make it for sacred love making. By bringing sexuality into our yoga practice, and sacred lovemaking into our relationships, we are moving closer to making our lives truly enlightened.

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What is Vedanta?

Vedanta is a philosophy taught by the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of India. Its basic teaching is that our real nature is divine. God is our innermost Self, an underlying reality that exists in every being. Religion is therefore a search for Self, a search for God within. We don’t need to be “saved”. At worst, we are unaware of our true nature.

“Children of Immortal Bliss, what a sweet, hopeful name. Allow me to call you, brethren by that sweet name, heirs of immortal bliss. The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. You are the children of God, holy and perfect beings. Sinners? It is a sin to call a person so. It is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, oh lions, and shake of the delusion that you are sheep! You are souls immortal, spirits free, blessed and eternal.”Swami Vivekananda

Is there such a thing as Right or Wrong Conduct?

All ethics are merely a means to the end of finding God within ourselves. “Right” action is action that brings us nearer to the knowledge of God (the God within us). “Wrong” action leads us away from that knowledge. Our ideas of “good” and “evil” are therefore only relative values and must not be used as an absolute standard by which we judge others. Each of us has our own problems and our own development – our own path to self-mastery. But the goal is the same for all.

“Find God (the divinity that is you). That is the only purpose of life.”Sri Ramakrishna

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The Paths to Yoga

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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Why Practice Yoga Asanas?

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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Eight Limbs of Yoga

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:

  • Ahimsa – Non-violence
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-stealing or Non-taking
  • Bramacharya – Positive Sexual Conduct
  • Aparigraha – Greedlessness

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:

  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Soucha – Cleanliness
  • Tapas – Discipline; Passion; or “fire in the belly”
  • Svadyaya – Study of Self
  • Ishvarapranidana – Devotion to God

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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A take on “Namaste”

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!


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