The ultimate aim of the discipline of Yoga is seamlessly unite the individualised consciousness with its Cosmic Nature.
The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilisation. In yogic lore, Lord Shiva was the first yogi, or Adiyogi. In his life, Lord Shiva experienced deep oneness with existence, and accessed profound knowledge, including 112 methods to achieve universal union. He passed this wisdom to seven sages or rishis, who shared the science of Yoga in other parts of the world.
Many millennia later, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematised and codified the existing knowledge and practices of Yoga in his Yoga Sutras. In essence, these sutras or verses include eight distinct 'limbs':
The five main practices include:
The subtlest observance is non-violence. If this is achieved, the others are more readily realised. The grossest yama is non-greediness. It can be easiest to begin here.
The five main practices include:
Of almost 200 Yoga sutras (verses), only three sutras discuss physical postures. The main verse—Sthira-sukham asanam—means Yoga postures should be steady and comfortable.
Traditionally, physical postures and yama and niyama (see #1 and 2 above) were considered the basic moral and physical foundation of Vedic culture. They were performed by all students, especially those of the Vedas (sacred Hindu texts). The ultimate goal of Yoga asanas was to prepare the body to sustain higher levels of energy, and enable the practitioner to sit effortlessly in meditation.
Today in the West, the physical postures of Hatha Yoga are by far the most common form of all Yoga practices, and often practiced independent of the eight-limb path.
On their own, Yoga postures are excellent for building flexibility and strength of the joints, muscles and nerves. And when practiced with awareness and patience, they help to harmonise the mind-body relationship.
Across different styles of Hatha Yoga (such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Kundalini, Vinyasa), the main difference is the physical postures. Choose a style that suits your physical constitution.
Prānāyamā techniques regulate the inhalation and exhalation, depth, speed, duration and movement of breath, and also its temporary stoppage. Many preparatory breathing practices also exist, and are likewise of great value.
As a therapy, short periods of breathing practices or prānāyamā—such as five or ten minutes once or twice a day—can help to: cultivate breath awareness, expand breathing capacity, energise the body, calm and clear the mind, balance the doshas, stabilise wayward hormones, and build and eventually master flows of vital energy.
Sensory withdrawal or detachment helps to calm and rejuvenate the mind and senses, which are in turn redirected inside the body. An excellent method of prātyāhāra is Yoga Nidra.
In Dharana, the mind may focus within the body, or on a deity, mantra, or other singular point. Concentrating the mind builds mental stability and power.
Dhyana, or meditation, is a flowing single-mindedness that can involve a subject or symbol to meditate on, or be abstract and formless. Meditation is not a doing; it is a simple state of being.
Short, regular periods of meditativeness offer huge physical, mental and spiritual benefits. On the physical level, regular meditation beneficially re-wires the nervous system, brain and memory; synchronises heart and lung activity; stimulates pleasure centres; releases stress; cleanses and rejuvenates; and increases physical endurance and productivity. (Scientific research into the benefits of meditation began with the work of Itzhak Bentov. But the best evidence is personal experience).
At the mental level, regular meditation helps to break the constant flow of thoughts to create more space and peace within. Regular meditation helps to free us of unhelpful attachments and emotions; to feel more clear and vital. We become less dependent on energy from external sources (including food and people). Access to intuition is heightened.
From a Yogic perspective, meditation enables the practitioner conscious access to subtler states of being. Sitting in silence helps to reveal our true, ever-present nature; to access what is already there. As the consciousness expands and integrates, we change our sense of “normal”.
Indian saint of the 20th century, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, said, Meditation will help you to find your bonds, loosen them, untie them and cast your moorings. When you are no longer attached to anything, you will have done your share. The rest will be done for you.
[I Am That, p. 51]
As a therapy, approaches to meditation can be honed to the needs and tendencies of each individual.
Samadhi means “placing or putting together,” referring to the unification or perfect equilibrium of the human consciousness, absorbed in the Absolute.
This final stage of Yoga, and ultimate human attainment, cannot be taught. It can only be experienced by those devoted to the path.
Keep reading about Yoga Therapy here.