By Christine and Venkat Machiraju
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular as people search for a way to reduce stress and find balance. My husband and I have been studying Yoga from the time we were teenagers and have found that this beautiful science really helps to improve life and quicken spiritual growth.
When we began to teach yoga in Canada we were often asked what kind of yoga we taught. In India where yoga originated, there really is only one type of yoga: the eight-fold path to union or ashtanga yoga. This eight-fold path consists of not only the Hatha pretzel position and Pranayama breathing, but also grooming, personal and social moral codes, concentration, focus, meditation and final union with the source.
1 . Yama (social discipline): Yama means restraint and is comprised of five main values: Non-violence: cause no physical or mental harm to any living creature. Do not harbor violent thoughts or speak cruel words.
Non-stealing: this includes carrying out one’s responsibilities and contributing to society. Truthfulness: truthfulness to self and others. Often when we lie to others we are really lying to ourselves – we do not want to face that which is negative within ourselves. This does not allow for self-improvement.
Celibacy: moderation in sex: this does not mean life long celibacy, but moderation between married couples or partners. Lack of desire: control over material desires and sensual pleasures.
2. Niyam (self-discipline): These are five physical and mental qualities one should possess. Cleanliness: internal and external purification of body and mind. Contentment: ability to live with a calm mind in any situation. Austerity or penance: purity of thought, speech and action. Self-study: looking inward to correct any flaws or appreciate personal growth. Surrender: surrender of all actions to the higher power and being open and ready to learn from all life experiences.
3. Asana: holding the body in a position to purify and heal the body and bring poise to the mind. Asana really helps to start clearing through toxins on all three layers of the self and helps to clear away even the negative emotions that cloud perception.
4. Pranayama (breath control): breath control is practiced as a purification for the mind and a way to balance vital energy in the body. When one is able to control the breath, one can calm his or her mind and be relieved of stress and tension.
5. Pratyahara (discipline of the senses): disconnecting the sense organs from desire. Looking inward to the soul and enjoying the connectedness of everything in creation rather than desiring external or material things to gain pleasure.
6. Dharana (Concentration): focusing the mind on one object in order to gain complete concentration.
7. Dhyana (meditation): when one is able to concentrate without noting time and space, it becomes meditation.
8. Samadhi (self-realization): this is the final stage of yoga. Also known as Nirvana or Moksha, it is the stage when the self and all outside objects become one. At this moment of Samadhi there will be no pleasure or pain, only complete union.
Once the first five angas are incorporated into life, there will be a great leap in the quality of one’s life and happiness as well as physical and mental health.
The last three angas are called samyama, or uniting disciplines. Once these are improved upon one will not be so affected by outside surroundings and will not be so easily upset or swayed by external objects.We should try to live all eight angas in unison rather than just trying to strengthen the body through Asana.
Since we are more aware of our bodies, we usually start with the physical exercises of Yoga and gradually move inward with concentration and meditation techniques toward the deeper layers of the self. The body is only the outer layer of the self, however. The remaining two layers are the energy, or light layer, and thought consciousness layer.
Yoga helps to clean all three of these layers of the self. Yoga helps to tone and strengthen the physical body, which consists of muscles, organs and flesh.
Chakras and meridians, or nadis are housed in the second layer, the astral body. The practice of yoga helps to slowly remove layers of cloudiness from the nadis to create a clear path for energy to flow into the chakras. The causal body is like our hard drive: it holds all of our samskaras or memories of our past actions from previous lifetimes. Doing meditation and concentration techniques helps one to slowly begin to remove all of the blocks and sorrows that have been stored on this layer of thought.
The practice of yoga helps to bring us into the deeper layers of the self so that life becomes less physical – we are less bothered by the things that go on around us and can find peace in all situations. When we start to be aware in the deeper layers of the self, we do not feel separate from other people, and feelings of hate and anger start to fade away.
Life is on an energy level rather than a physical level. Through the practice of yoga we strive to clear away all the heavy physical energies and move on to higher realms in our next life (there are astral and causal planes just as there are physical planes like the earth). Yoga truly is a mind / body /spirit discipline. As a practitioner advances, he or she will become aware of the transformation that is occurring on the three layers of the self.
As yoga has gained in popularity, various styles and types of yoga have emerged – Iyengar, Viniyoga, Power Yoga, etc.The list is almost endless. Most of these types are named by their founders and mainly vary in how they practice physical positions. But traditionally only five types were given:
Karma Yoga: doing good for the sake of good, not for personal gain.
Raja Yoga: the path of meditation.
Mantra Yoga: which involves the chanting of sounds which vibrate in the physical and astral worlds. The basis of this is the fact that the whole universe is held together and was created by vibrations and sound.
Laya Yoga : Concentration on astral sounds which can be heard by the inner ear rather than chanting to imitate astral sounds with the physical body.
Hatha Yoga: postures to balance opposite energies like male and female, yin yang and to tone the body to ready it for meditation.
So we see that the five main types of yoga differ not in how they perform physical postures, but in their approach to enlightenment.
*Venkat & Christine have both studied Yoga for many years and have received certification in India. They have returned to Canada where they now run an institute for self-growth and unity called Journey to the Soul.