Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means Union or Yoke.
The ultimate goal of Yoga is Union with the Divine. Self-Realization. Enlightenment.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an effective and powerful practice to enable you to connect with the deeper aspects of yourself. Ultimately it is about realizing the Self, who you truly are within, and learn to live your life authentically. As you integrate the practices of yoga into your life you begin to see the world and your role in it in new ways that bring greater contentment. It is a practice that includes a large variety of tools to open the body, to quiet the constant chatter of the mind and be more mentally focused, to shift inner emotional suffering to a space of peace within, to help heal emotional and physical ailments, to learn to relax deeply, breathe deeply and move intently. The most effective tool in yoga is practicing the mind stuff – to observe yourself (your thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses, behaviour, etc.) from a more objective point of view, outside of the dramas. This is referred to as “mindfulness”. In other words, the mind steps out of the dramas of life and sees them from a new perspective rather than being sucked into them and simply respond automatically. This tool brings greater awareness of what drives you, what makes you tick. Know thyself and you gain infinite amounts of wisdom. The key to yoga is to practice these tools constantly. Integrate this practice of awareness into your every moment on and off the yoga mat.
The Benefits of Yoga
- Increases Conscious Awareness. Being far more aware of your body, breath, thoughts, behaviours, emotions, where they come from and how they affect your life can be a life changing experience.
- Yoga postures increase overall health, vitality and stamina. They strengthen and lengthen muslces keeping you strong and supple. They help alleviate physical ailments and open up the body’s tissues to release tensions, held emotions and blocks in the energy centres. They can prevent injury in sports activities and keep the body in balance.
- Yogic breathing techniques powerfully ease emotional states, calms and soothes the nervous system, decreases stress, balances the energies in the body and helps to centre and focus the mind. Some techniques bring alertness to the mind, awaken the energies and ignite the chakras.
- Relaxation and Meditation help bring stillness to body and mind allowing for a greater state of focus and a deep sense of peace within. Particularly great for stress relief.
These are only a handful of the vast array of benefits that yoga can have on the mind, the body, our lives and our interactions with the world. The effects of regular practice go far beyond the physical experience on the yoga mat. What we practice on the mat transfers into our every moment. Experience it for yourself!
There are 4 main Paths of Yoga:
While there are many different yogic practices, there are 4 main paths. Each of these paths will bring you into awareness and ultimately enlightenment, though many people follow more than just one path. In fact, it is recommended that one pursue more than one path and engage in a variety of different practices.
The Royal Path – This is the path of mental and physical purification through learning to control the mind and optimize its full potential of opening to the fullness of the Divine. It includes the practice of the 8 Limbs of Yoga – engaging in ethical principles (yamas and niyamas) to form the foundation for the mastery of life, and practicing pranayama (control of life force through the breath), asana (postures), pratyahara (control of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and ultimately reaching samadhi (oneness with all of creation – union with the Divine).
The Path of Devotion – This is the path of total devotion to God, The Divine, The Great Spirit using the power of the Heart’s Pure Love to transform and transmute the lower energy vibrations of the ego mind and emotions into pure Love. Includes practices such as the repetition of mantras, chanting, prayer, creating an open heart, channeling emotional energy into devotion. It is engaging fully in faith and trust in the Divine.
The Path of Wisdom – This is the path of self-study, delving into “Who am I?” on a deeper, spiritual level and learning to live as one’s true spiritual Self. It is seeking to know Thyself. It can involve the study and analysis of sacred texts and learning how to apply sacred theory to one’s every day life. It is a path that involves inquiry into the nature of one’s own mind. In order for this path to lead to enlightenment one must look beyond philosophical ideals about the nature of one’s own mind and one’s true identity and truly become that. One cannot simply engage in idle speculation and guess at spiritual theory. One must become.
The Path of Right Action – This is the path of selfless service to others and to the Divine. This involves doing things for others without expecting anything in return – doing and giving for the sake of giving wholeheartedly and with total love. It goes beyond doing the “right” thing. It is doing out of Divine Love – serving from the heart.
the practice of austerities. Should be done under guidance of a Master.
Specific Yogic Practices:
There are many specific practices in Yoga that are followed within all of the 4 Paths to Yoga. Below is an outline of only a few yogic practices to give an idea of the vast array of tools available to help you on your journey toward Divine Realization.
The practice of coordinating breath with the movement of the body into a variety of different yoga postures. Asana is the Sanskrit word for posture. Within hatha yoga is a huge array of different styles from Ashtanga to Vinyasa flow to Classical to Sivananda, Iyengar, Tantra, Kriya, Anusara, Bikram, Moksha, etc. Some styles use a lot of props to help support the body, some practice asana in high heat, some focus on 18 postures only, some constantly move from one posture to the next to the next in a dance like style, while some go into a posture and hold it for long periods of time and some use specific breathing techniques while holding a posture with the focus of directing life force energy. All of these hatha styles of practice will yeild similar results – open and stregthen the physical body while moving life force energy through the body and focusing the mind on observing itself and the experiences inside. Hatha practice also often includes playing with a variety of different breathing techniques (pranayama), locks (bandhas) and hand gestures (mudras).
Prana means ‘life force energy’ and yama means ‘control. The practice of pranayama is to control the movement of life force energy in the body. There are many different breathing techniques each with a specific intent and effect on the body and the energies. Some techniques calm the body and mind, some fire up our energies, some powerfully detoxify the body and some balance our energy systems.
The practice of using sacred sounds and mantras that create an inner experience of peace, love and Divine devotion. Japa yoga is often practiced in Bhakti yoga.
Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behavioural patterns. It is observing what happens inside of us without judging ourselves or trying to figure out why we think, believe, feel and behave the way we do. It is simply witnessing our patterns and consciously making the changes to those things that do not serve our Higher Spiritual good. Anything that causes suffering can be changed, but not if we are unaware of it. Mindfulness brings things to our awareness so we can begin to see what makes us tick, what we identify with, and to explore our inner Divine Selves.
Meditation is a powerful practice that is found in many traditions around the world. There is a large array of meditation techniques. The basic way to meditate is to focus the mind on one thing and one thing only until the mind becomes quiet and still and focused. As the state of meditation deepens the mind’s attention shifts from being focused outside of oneself to inside. The senses withdraw inward, meaning that you no longer hear the sounds around you, your sight turns inward into the mind’s eye and even the sense of touch changes. In deeper states of meditation it can feel as if the body is asleep or as if the edges of the body are melting and you are becoming one with all of creation. In Yoga this is the experience of Samadhi, becoming one with the Divine.
Meditation increases your awareness of yourself. This in itself is a powerful thing. If you know what you think and what you believe you can make changes to those thoughts and beliefs that cause you to suffer. Meditation allows you to step out of the dramas of your life and connect with the innate Divine wisdom you hold within. Being able to apply your Divine wisdom to your dramas can powerfully change your life.
Meditation calms the body and the mind, having a big effect on stress. Meditation can help you to let go of tensions and mental and emotional stress. Meditation calms the nervous system which calms the entire body creating relaxation.
Meditation teaches the mind how to focus, a skill that transfers into your every day tasks. The more you practice meditation the more focused you become in everything you do and as a result you will experience more calm in your every day life. You begin to experience peace in ways you never have before.