Yog(a): The basics

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.



Anandmurti Gurumaa, Preliminaries On The Path Of Yoga , June 20, 2017: The Times of India

Much before the human mind learnt language skills, or start ed writing, sages understood knowledge about the deeper recesses of the mind. Body , mind, senses, intellect, the essence of being, and Supreme Consciousness ­ these were all concepts that were thoroughly understood by them. Scientifically , they meticulously explored and precisely understood profound intricacies of the inner world.

Let's say that there is this consciousness in us and then, there is this consciousness in every cell, every atom and every molecule of the universe. Conjoining of this micro-consciousness with the macroconsciousness is yoga. And attaining to this state of awareness and consciousness is the higher goal of the path of yoga.

Yoga is not just the pinnacle of inner evolution; it is also the path of discipline to holistic progress. The opening sutra of the most celebrated yoga text delineating the precepts, the `Patanjali Yoga Sutras', compiled almost 2,500 years ago, emphasises this when it says: `Atha yoga anushasanam' ­ indicating yoga as a set of disciplined practices.

And when it comes to following the path of yoga, it is not about how much you know, but how much you practice, and how much you are in discipline. Aiming to integrate body , mind, intellect and breath, the discipline of yoga entails eight steps in progression, that is, maturity of each leading to the next: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and culminating in the highest point of samadhi.

Yoga is not a panacea for diseases, as is being interpreted by some and touted by prac titioners at large, although it is a fact that a healthy body and mind are byproducts of its dedicated practice. But confining its practice to merely gaining good health would be like using an airplane to go shopping.

Yama and niyama are the basic guidelines for aspirants. Yama entails five moral codes of conduct for interacting with others. The foremost is satya, truthfulness, not only at the level of thought, speech and action but also in being com mitted on the journey to truth.

Next comes ahimsa, non violence, towards others and also towards oneself. Then comes asteya, non-stealing ­ not cove ting that which does not belong to oneself. Next is aparigraha, non-hoarding, and the fifth is brahmacharya that, at the physi cal level, refers to celibacy and for householders, it implies fidelity .

Niyama, the second limb of Ashtanga Yoga, lays down the raints for self-discipline. The five restraints for self-discipline. The first is shauch, cleanliness; not only outer cleanliness but also purity of mind. Then comes santosha, content ment, the choiceless acceptance of all that is happening in one's life. Not hankering for anything or being a grudge-box. Third is tapah, austerity , to bear anything and everything on the spiritual path and with complete dedication to spiritual practices.

Next comes swadhyaya, self-learning and also learning about one's Self. Reading books about yoga and contemplation on what is read is also swadhyaya. The fifth is Ishwara pranidhana, surrendering completely to the will of the Almighty with great devotion. Not being egotistical but being humble, always remembering the Lord.

In this way , yama and niyama are the foundations of the yogic path. When these are faithfully and diligently practised under the guidance of the master, only then will the five rungs on the ladder sequentially unfold and bear fruit, culminating in the transcendental experience of samadhi.

Top 10 'dos' and 'don'ts'

Ayush ministry's 'Common Yoga Protocol': Top 10 'dos' and ‘don’ts', Jun 20, 2017, The Times of India

The Ayush ministry's new 'Common Yoga Protocol' booklet, released a day before International Yoga Day, has a wealth of information about the history of yoga, its benefits and step-by-step instructions, with sketches on specific 'asanas'.

Here's a handy list of top 10 'dos' 'don'ts' as prescribed by the ministry's Yoga Protocol.

· Keep surroundings, body and mind clean

· Practice on an empty or light stomach

· Wear light and comfortable cotton clothes

· Start practice sessions with a prayer

· Perform 'asanas' slowly

· Be aware of your body and breathing, hold breath only when specified

· Always breathe through the nostrils unless specified

· End yoga session should with meditation, deep silence

· Bathe only 20-30 minutes after yoga session

· Eat only 20-30 minutes after yoga practice

“What is yog(a)?”: the masters explain

The Times of India, May 23 2016

Nayaswami Devarshi 

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, gives the most clear and succinct answer to the question, “What is yoga?“ in his aphorism, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodh.“ The great master of yoga, Paramhansa Yogananda, interpreted Patanjali thus, “Yoga is the neutralisation of the vortices of feeling.“ Thought itself is neutral. It is only with disturbed feelings and emotions, likes and dislikes, along with emotional reactions to events, that humans truly suffer.

The mind is like a mirror. If a horse is reflected in the mirror, it will not discriminate as to what is reflected. The intellect is necessary to define it, “That's a horse.“ The ego chimes in next and says, “Why , that's my horse!“ It is only when feeling and emotion become engaged, that one says, “How happy I am to see my horse!“ Soul-bondage begins with the ego's `ownership', but real suffering happens with the involvement of feeling and emotion. This is why so many practices of meditation and yoga involve calming the waves of feeling and emotion.

Does this mean that we must deaden or kill our feelings? No! Adi Shankara described God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, or ever-existing, ever-conscious divine bliss. Bliss itself is pure feeling, so one could say , “God is feeling.“

Thus, the true yogi does not kill emotions, but instead transmutes them from restless human emotions that disturb and bind ­ into the calm pure divine `emotion' of Sat-ChitAnanda. Practices of yoga and meditation are simply an ancient technology (technology definition: “the practical application of knowledge“) given to humankind to help us achieve that goal. Following are two simple yoga practices that will help to calm your emotions. The next time you find yourself getting upset or angry , take a long deep inhalation for 10 counts, completely filling the lungs. Hold the breath for 10 counts. Then exhale slowly for 10 counts. Immediately begin inhaling again, and repeat three to five times.

You will notice an immediate and positive change in your state of mind and emotions. The reasons for this change are too complex to explain in a short article, but they are based on the inner science of yoga, breath control and control of the life force, or pranayama.

You can see that when done properly , yoga is an extremely practical technology . It can help you face everyday problems ­ in business, family life, relationships, moods, health, etc ­ with more clarity , calmness, energy and thus with more effectiveness.

Here is another simple practice: Next time you find yourself feeling sad, depressed and emotionally heavy , take note of your physical posture. It is likely that it will reflect your inwardly down-pulling feeling, with the shoulders being slumped, spine bent and eyes looking downward.

You've likely never seen someone looking down at the ground with such a posture stating enthusiastically , “I feel so uplifted!“ And you will never see someone with a straight spine, shoulders back, chest out, eyes looking upward, saying, “I feel so depressed!“ By changing our habitual posture, we can influence our mood and emotions. Hatha yoga can help with this process, so can physical exercise, but simply changing your habitual posture will have surprising effects on your mood. This is one reason why yogis meditate with a straight spine, and with the eyes gazing upward to the spiritual eye at the point between the eyebrows, the kutastha chaitanya centre.

A Healthy Way Of Life

BK Brijmohan, Yoga As A Healthy Way Of Life, March 15, 2017: The Times of India  

The most popular concepts about yoga are ­ asanas, physical stretches, breathing exercises and techniques to relax and focus the mind.There are many kinds of yoga ­ Hatha Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Raja Yoga (of Patanjali), Kundalini Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Tattwa Yoga and many others.

Today yoga is practised mostly to attain physical fitness, stamina and l weight-loss. But yoga as a holistic practice was seen as a tool to facilitate inner peace, Self-realisation and mental purification. Yoga isn't just exercise, it's a state of mind. All over the world, those l who consider yoga to be a set of bodily and breathing exercises aiming at body-mind well-being are more than the number of people who consider yoga to be a spiritual journey .

The health benefits of yoga are manifold. However, all these systems of yoga mentioned above involve physical stretches, postures, bending and flexing of the body which cannot be practised regularly by old, unwell and those with physical challenges. To be of benefit, it requires plenty of time and motivation to practise regularly.

The word `yoga' is derived from the Sanskrit term `yuj' which means to connect. Yoga is a communion of the human soul with the Supreme Soul. Such a spiritual union empowers a human to overcome lust, anger and ego and live a virtuous life with spiritual awareness and compassion.

In the present age of Kalyug, most people are leading a bhogi life. A bhogi chases happiness in possessions, roles, status and all outer achievements that gratify his sense of `i' and mine. He engages himself endlessly in competing for space, position and material resources. His actions gradually entangle him in a web of greed, ego and attachment. A bhogi ultimately becomes a rogi ­ physically , mentally , morally and spiritually unhealthy .

Health is not just absence of disease but is a state of wellness in which a person enjoys physical, mental, social and spiritual health. Most diseases today are psychosomatic, caused by negative emotions. The negative `sanskars' of the soul adversely in fluence the individual's attitude, outlook, dietary habits, relationships and behaviour. As a consequence, norms of physical and mental health are violated.

When the body's tolerance limit is crossed by repeated violations, disease sets in.

Yoga is a way of life. It involves satvik diet, positive thinking, spiritual study , healthy relationships, silent meditation and selfless service. A yogic lifestyle does not mean renunciation or shedding family responsibilities. A yogi maintains his mental equilibrium even in adverse situations. He is naturally free from addictions and unhealthy habits. A yogi celebrates the spirit of love through a very deep and authentic spiritual connection with each other.

The basis of Raja Yoga is soulconsciousness which means considering one's true Self as immortal soul having eternal relationship with the Supreme Soul and the disciplines of a yogic lifestyle are clearly described in the Gita. The Gita describes the essence of Raja Yoga as mental communion with God: man-mana bhava; sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja.

Raja Yoga is easy to practise. Everyone in a family including elders and children can practise this.The aim of this union with the Supreme is to become like Him in His qualities. As souls, we have similar attributes as God. As God's children, we human souls are innately good and pure; peace, truth, love and bliss are our innate nature.

An integrated science

The Times of India, Jun 18 2016

Nivedita Joshi

Yoga, an integrated science, enables wellness

The sutras of Patanjali cover all aspects of human life, prescribe a code of conduct to lead a life of fulfilment and end with a glorious vision to reach our full potential. Yoga Sutras begin at the very root, mind and intelligence, called chitta or conciousness.In the first chapter Samadhipada, Patanjali analyses the movement and functioning of the mind. The second chapter Sadhanapada deals with practise.Patanjali goes on to provide deep insight into the nature of kleshas or afflictions that affect the body and distract the mind, resulting in distorted behaviour patterns of an individual. The cause of suffering is lack of knowledge and failure to understand the conjunction between Purusha, the seer, and Prakriti, the seen. The external world lures the seer towards its illusory joys, arousing desires. Non-fulfilment of desires results in pain and suffocates freedom if not controlled through yoga. We are all bound by the chain of pain and pleasure.Practise of yoga leads us to experience bliss untainted by pleasure and pain.

Pain may be adyatmika, self-inflicted, or due to adhidaivika, fate or heredity. Or caused by an imbalance of elements in our aadibhautik or constitution lust, anger and greed, all give birth to pain. We participate and aggravate these pains by direct krita, indulgence, by provoking them in karita, the other, or by anumodit, passive acceptance.

In Sadhanapada, Patanjali reaches out to the lowest level of the seeker who is spiritually yet unevolved. The sage strives to inspire him to aspire for absolute freedom and here he coins the term Kriya Yoga. Kriya means action and Kriya Yoga emphasises the dynamic efforts on the part of the sadhaka.

Kriya Yoga comprises eight yogic discipline ­ yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The seeker is taught to perform asanas so that he becomes familiar with his body and sense intelligence. He becomes alert and sensitive and sharpens his power of concentration. Pranayama gives control over subtle qualities of the elements ­ sound, touch, shape, taste and smell. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses and organs of action.

The 16 sutras of the Samadhipada is most illuminating where Patanjali states ­ `Heyam Dhukham Anagatam' (II.16). This aphorism explains that past pain is already extinguished and while the pain we are in process of experiencing can't be totally avoided it can certainly be mitigated to some extent with yogic practice and powers of discrimination. Pain that is likely to occur in the unknown future too can be prevented by adhering to yogic discipline.

According to Patanjali, yoga is a preventive healing art, with its science and philosophy . Practise of yoga assures us of robust health that alone can let us experience spiritual bliss. Patanjali also warns us of the pitfalls that may impede spiritual growth and advises us to stabilise body and mind so that we are not shattered when confronted with tragic realities of human existence.

The third chapter, Vibhutipad, deals with attainments. Patanjali exhorts us to continue the practise of yoga so that the intelligence of consciousness and soul may be equally balanced. Then we attain the highest state of wisdom where the person exists in a perfectly integrated state. This is known as kaivalya. This is the subject matter of the last chapter in the Yoga Sutras called Kaivalyapada that focuses on absolute liberation.

Yoga is an integrated science which alone can restore the wholeness and integrity of our divided being and lets us enjoy real well-being.

A healing of mind, body and spirit

The Times of India Feb 27 2015

Swami Chidanand Saraswati

The practice of yoga was intuited, channelled, perfected and codified by our rishis and sages for the attainment of total health in body , mind, and spirit, so that the material human body may be a vehicle for spiritual awakening and enlightenment. The word `yoga' means `union'. Yoga is that which we become, that which unfolds and awakens when the body , mind, thoughts, motions and intentions are joined together. Today , joyfully, the practice of yoga is burgeoning throughout the world. Yet, there is rampant competition amongst styles, lineages and `brands' of yoga.`Which is the best?' is a common question. If there can be a `best' and therefore a `worst', it is not yoga. If there is competition, criticism, back-stabbing and cheating, it is not yoga. Yoga is cooperation. Yoga is togetherness. Yoga is a practice through which we connect to our own breath, bodies, minds and ultimately to our spirits. Then, in that divine, eighth limb of yoga as elucidated by Patanjali, we experience samadhi, the ultimate union of our spirit with the Supreme Spirit, our soul with the Supreme Soul. It is a union, verily, of us to each other and to the Universe.

Today the world needs yoga more than ever. However, we need it not only because we are more out-ofshape, obese and at risk for diabetes and heart disease than ever. All of that is true and yoga can be a fabulous panacea for nearly all that ails our physical body . Yet yoga has much more to offer. Today that which ails us ­ as individuals, communities, societies, religious groups and nations ­ is separation. The borders and boundaries between `me' and `you' and `us' and `them' are thicker and more i and `them' are thicker and more intractable than ever. Our personal frame of reference is narrowing each day .

Our culture expounds `Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam', that the world is one family . However, today , most of us do not identify as members of the world family .Rather, we identify as members of a political party or a religious group, or a country club, or followers of a particular guru. The lines between us get thicker and thicker. That separation, that sense of `self ' versus `other' is what permits us to dehumanise each other so drastically that we can be complicit, directly or indirectly, in each other's suffering and death. That sep aration is also what leads to the increase of depression world wide. Depression is marked by feeling alone, disconnected, isolated from the world, feelings which, when taken to an extreme, permit us to even take our own lives without realising the pain our death will cause others.

Yoga is a solution. It is a solution to our abysmal physical health and skyrocketing medical bills. The postures and breathing exercises are unparalleled in their ability to restore wellness.Yoga is a solution to personal angst, depression and lack of meaning in our lives. As we connect with divine prana, we realise that we are being nourished by the Universe, and inextricably linked to the web of Life. Yoga is also a solution to that which ails our planet. When we realise our interconnectedness, then we stand up and change our attitude and our actions into ones that protect that global family as ardently as we'd protect our own nuclear family .

The challenge is ours: to co-opt yoga into yet another way to compete with each other and separate ourselves from each other, or to use it in its fullest meaning, bringing health to ourselves, our communities and our world. The International Yoga Festival is being held at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, March 1-7. For details, visit http:www.internationalyogafestival.com

Mainly for the mind; body secondary

The Times of India, Jun 20 2016

Hasmukh Adhia 

Yoga is for mind, benefit to body is incidental

Most people think of yoga as asanas only , as a way of physical exercise. Some people think of yoga as postures and breathing exercise.Few know of yoga as a technique of meditation. Yoga is a technique of developing awareness of mind with a view to enjoy life with fullness. The benefit that comes to body is incidental. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as the process of gaining mastery over mind.The second appropriate definition of yoga, given in the Yoga Vasishta is “Manah Prasamanopaya Yogah“, which means `Yoga is a subtle technique to calm down the mind'. The Bhagwad Gita defines yoga as a state of equilibrium of mind ­ “Samatvam Yoga Uchyate“. Aurobindo calls yoga as a process of rising above our base nature to divinity . Vivekananda calls yoga as a tool for condensing the process of evolution of man to cosmic being or super consciousness. Who is the ruler of our life? Undoubtedly it is our mind. Raja Yoga is so called because it is a technique of training our mind, which is controlling our life. Many people mistake yogasana to be one of the alternatives available for physical workout. This is so untrue.First of all the purpose of physical exercise is to improve the body , while the purpose of yogasana is basically to control modifications of mind. When we do asanas in the way prescribed by scriptures, our mind becomes steady and quiet.

Once you practise asanas for a long period, the mind learns to be steady in all situations. In the process, the body also becomes flexible and toned.

Another major distinction between asana and other physical exercises is in the method of performing them. In physical exercises, it is believed, that faster the movement, better it is. But in asanas, slower the movement, better it is. And the main benefit of asana comes in maintaining the posture in the final stage.

Also, in yogasana, the coordination of breath with body movement has to be perfect. Then it becomes more beneficial.Breath carries prana, the life-energy of our body . The disturbance in flow of prana in our body causes restlessness of mind and disease in body . Systematic breathing practice removes the imbalance of prana in our body .

So along with asana, breathing coordination is necessary .

The third main distinction lies in the level of awareness.While doing asana, one has to remain fully aware of the body part which is being affected by the posture. Listening to music while doing asana can also cause distraction.This is not the case with physical exercise. Most people workout while listening to loud music or watching TV .Yogasana has to be done in a quiet and pleasant surrounding where one can link body and mind properly by maintaining awareness.

Because of all these differences, yogasana is far superior in its benefit to both body and mind. While both physical exercise and asana improve our skeletomuscular, cardiorespiratory and circulatory systems of the body , yogasana also improves the neuromuscular system and endocrinal system which control our sympathetic and parasympathetic reactions in case of perceived stress. So, in lifestylerelated diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression, yogasana gives spectacular results.

Happiness is a state of mind. Our idea of `what makes us' happy changes from time to time depending on how trained our mind is to experience happiness. This technique of training your mind is nothing else but yoga.

Vedic Yog

Inner Growth

KV Raghupathi, April 8, 2021: The Times of India

Vedic Yog is different from modern yog in many ways. Modern yog mainly deals with asanas and pranayama, focussing more on health. In the present-day world, people have become more conscious of their health due to the emergence of chronic diseases. They have turned to yog, which has been amended to suit their body and context. But this yog is a mixture of martial arts and other forms of physical exercise. The number of asanas performed by practitioners are unrelated to the actual yog that had existed in the Vedic times. These are unknown even to several Hatha Yog texts, namely ‘Hatha Yog Pradipika’, ‘Siva Samhita’, and ‘Gheranda Samhita’.

Vedic Yog is not centred on asanas, powerful pranayama methods, or special meditative techniques. It cannot be reduced to the body and its health or to a set of mantric formula. Vedic Yog is vast and many-sided. It contains all aspects of yog, from lifestyle to devotion and deeper meditation. It can be approached both at a philosophical level and spiritual level. It rests upon connecting with the Divine and a return to the universal life, deeper rhythms, and transformational processes.

This Vedic Yog is classical, ancient and sanatan. It is our Sanatan Dharma, the ‘eternal tradition’. The ter m ‘dhar ma’ stands for the laws of truth and consciousness that uphold the universe, including the great laws of karma. This yog dharma rests upon the Sanatan Dharma. Dharma is the highest pursuit of truth. The highest human dharma is the pursuit of Self-realisation or direct awareness of the Cosmic Being. Yog is the means of fulfilling this highest dharma or duty of inner spiritual growth. This yog dharma is called Satya Dharma, the natural law of truth. It is Manav Dharma, the ‘dharma of humanity’, which is not only an inward seeking of truth but also outward respect for all life as sacred.

Vedic Yog also is called Rishi Yog since it was practised by sages. These rishis lived in the forest to be free from the external disturbances so that they could contemplate and meditate deeply. Hence, they were called forest sages. Pranayama and dhyana were the techniques they used to attain the highest state of consciousness. In the state of samadhi they had profound revelations, which later came to be known as Vedic wisdom. These rishis were not mere human sages but the actual sages with spiritual and cosmic powers. They were the earliest and extraordinary sages and yogis possessing great wisdom and magical powers, who gave early humanity its first religion, culture, language and medicine.

To carry forward their legacy and transmit their knowledge to future generations, they developed secret teachings and mystical traditions. These teachings invited special initiations and strict disciplines in order to receive and understand their real import. These rishis were Raja Yogis since they mastered the inner yog of mantra, meditation, pranayama, ritual and service.

To this tradition belongs Patanjali, the great sage. The distinctness of Patanjali is that he systematically organised the wisdom of yog in a scientific way and offered it to humanity.

Yog, not bhog is the goal

The Times of India, March 30, 2016

Yogi Ashwini

What is the point of playing the best music in the world to a person whose ears are plugged? What is the point of showing the best scenery to someone who refuses to open his eyes? What is the point of offering the finest delicacies of the world to someone who does not have the appetite for them? Yoga is the final frontier, a very serious subject. If you are not ready to do the practices as taught to you, there is no point of taking up yoga. You will neither get the experience, nor the glow because your higher senses will not awaken. Even if those senses are forcibly activated for some time, it is not going to last forever. There are two kinds of people. First is the kind in whom this sense is completely missing. Second kind is that you have the sense, but it is curtained with veils of maya. For you to experience the truth, these veils have to be removed.

Sanatan Kriya is the process of removing these veils. The practices that you have been given, individually or collectively, are a process to remove the veils that have curtained your senses. When you do the kriya, you establish a connection with the gurutattva. It is like inserting the plug into a socket, and the current flows. But if you do not want plug in, despite having the sense, you are unable to experience it. You only perceive creation by your five senses ­ sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste. You do not know anything beyond because you are veiled by the five senses, maya. At times, a guru helps you to remove that curtain, you are made to experience what lies beyond. You see it, appreciate it, but after sometime the curtain is back because of your inherent desires.

There are five basics to yoga ­ one asana, one mantra, one guru, one isht and a single intent. If your intent is evolution, if your intent is of your guru, you can never digress from the path.

Ego is the biggest road block for a sadhaka. Jnana never comes from reading books or listening to lectures; it comes from somewhere else. Divine messages come in mysterious ways. Ego is the greatest veil, which never allows you to see the truth. It makes you believe that you know everything. The one who understands and accepts what is lacking in him, where he is going wrong, can very easily go ahead but the one who keeps denying till the very end ­ nothing can be done for such a person. Do not try assessing the subject of yoga with your limited five senses, that `this will happen' or `this should happen', wait for your experience. You are a normal human being ­ you have five senses and certain desires. Every soul has a desire and to fulfil that desire it takes a body and to rise above that desire it holds the hand of the guru. The problem arises when people start doing yoga for bhoga. Yoga is for rising above bhoga.The body and five senses are for bhoga, but yoga is to rise above desires. Yoga chitta vritti nirodh. Gita talks of control of senses. What that control is, the guru will guide you. Just like indulging in senses is an experience, similarly control of senses too is an experience.But for this, you need a guru.

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