Melanie Drury - freelance writer
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Yoga for Everyone
Holistic Health

When we speak of yoga, we usually refer to the physical postures and breathing techniques becoming more and more popular as an alternative way of releasing stress and keeping fit and healthy. Delving deeper into the world of yoga we find that this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Yoga actually means 'to unify'. This may be taken to refer to the harmony between body, mind and spirit, the affinity with the external environment as well as the unity between the individual living entity and the Divine. Any yoga system is a tool for well-being in all spheres, which are inter-related. Different yoga systems emphasise different aspects, but the interconnection contributes to overall fulfillment.

Hatha yoga, the most widely practiced in the Western world, primarily deals with the third and fourth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga, outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These sutras deal with the various yogic disciplines which purify the body, mind and spirit. These are:

Yama – Behavioural principles (in external dealings)
Niyama – Moral observances (within)
Asana – Physical Postures
Pranayama – Regulated Breathing
Pratyahara – Sense Control
Dharana – Concentration
Dhyana – Meditation
Samadhi – Superconscious state of absorption in the essence of Divinity.

Most yoga has nothing to do with postures and breathing at all. Several yoga systems have been identified according to the differing innate abilities and tendencies of the individual, which have been outlined in the Vedas, the timeless scriptures of India. Perhaps the most famous section of the Vedas, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita deals with karma yoga, jnana yoga, dhyana yoga, bhakti yoga and moksa yoga in great detail.

Karma yoga, for example, is the path of selfless action. Some may have heard the term 'karma' with reference to the concept of action-reaction, as in 'What goes around, comes around.' Actually karma yoga deals with the execution of one's duties without desire for the fruits of that action. It is thus ideal for humanitarians and activists, who voluntarily invest much energy without return. Eventually such a person is advised to offer that loving service towards the Divine Source, just as one would water the roots of a tree rather than the leaves and branches. Thus the action becomes wholly spiritual.

Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge. Because it is based on the acquisition of empirical knowledge and reflection upon it during meditation, it is ideal for the intellectuals. Focus is shifted away from speculation based on scientific theory when the intellectual directs his intention towards understanding the nature of the Divine as well as creation. He begins a process of obtaining available knowledge about the Supreme in an attempt to become self-realised and identify the Absolute Truth.

Dhyana yoga is the path of meditation. The mind is considered to be one's greatest friend or one's greatest enemy depending on who holds control. The controller of the mind is also a controller of the senses. The thinker or the worrier should aim to withdraw the mind from the mundane objects it pursues and instead dwell on the self and the Supreme. In this way one is utilising the mind to overcome the mind and gain spiritual insight through meditation.

Meanwhile Tantra Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga, is unique in that it is the only yoga system that suggests that responding to, rather than controlling, the body and mind's desires may ultimately increase self-awareness and consciousness. However this path is tricky and not recommended for those who have not previously walked with dedication on other yoga paths, due to the high risk of remaining entangled in desire instead of becoming liberated.

Raja Yoga, which translates as the King of Yoga, is a comprehensive yogic lifestyle based on all the eight limbs outlined by Patanjali. It aims to transform all spheres of human existence, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, and it is practiced in order to acquire liberation (moksa) from the material entanglements arising from the mind, ego and senses. It is ideal for a person already intent at achieving self-realistion by his own efforts. Both Raja Yoga and Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion – incorporate a completely dedicated lifestyle.

Bhakti yoga states that we have a choice to live in exploitation, renunciation or dedication, but that dedication is supreme since it is based on love which is selfless and unconditional. Its goal is  thinking, speaking and acting with the Supreme Divinity at the centre of everything – so mundane activity is transformed into meditation on the Supreme. Thus it is not necessary to withdraw the senses but simply engage them in the right direction. In this day and age, when our pace is so fast and we have so little free time, it is the ideal yoga system for the modern world.

Mantra yoga is often integrated within the other yoga processes rather than used by itself. It deals with meditation by use of a mantra – a string of sounds whose vibration possess healing potential to assist the purification process, just like a prayer. There are no rules and regulations for chanting most mantras. It can even be done while executing household chores. It is thus the simplest form of yoga and requires no qualification. Mantra yoga is an integral part of Bhakti yoga.

The simplest mantra is OM, or AUM, which is the sound of creation, preservation and destruction. The Mahamantra, or great mantra, is the white light AUM split into a prism: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” whereby Hare refers to the energy of the Supreme; Krishna refers to the all-attractive Source, Cause of all causes, and Rama means the reservoir of all pleasure. Mantras should be chanted with a mood of surrender and service.

Several yoga schools ultimately claim that all other yoga paths are preparatory stages for Moksa yoga, the yoga of liberation. Moksa means liberation from desire and implication in this material world, and self-realisation through surrender unto the Supreme will. Bhakti yoga gives the same results of  complete knowledge, selfless action, renunciation and surrender with added devotion and divine love (prema).

Liberation automatically releases one from the grips of stress, anxiety, conflict, grievance, disease and suffering. The lotus is often used to represent the spirit-soul, with each of a thousand petals slowly peeling off by the yoga process in order to uncover its original pristine glory. All types of yoga lead to this position, which is expressed as a mood of loving service, humility, tolerance and respect for all beings without expecting any for oneself.

For more information call Jenny on 99867015 or email If you would like to receive a monthly e-newsletter about hatha and bhakti yoga from the Lotus Room, subscribe to the Awareness newsletter. 'Srimad Bhagavad Gita – The Hidden Treasure of the Sweet Absolute,' is also available for purchase.

Publication: Alive and Healthy
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