“I am not in the world, the world is in me.” ~Ramana Maharishi
Yoga is the practice of uniting mind, body and spirit into one. Originating in India, the benefits of this ancient meditative practice has triggered an international craze. Training in yoga provides a multitude of advantages to every aspect of one’s life; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, making its practice a highly regarded pursuit.
Health benefits of yoga include:
– Improved physical health
– Enhanced mental clarity and capacity
– increased flexibility
– improved posture
– strengthening of muscles
– enhance circulation
– heightened sense of perception
– increased vitality
– physical and emotional balance
– inner peace, pure awareness
As described by Deepak Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, traditionally there are four styles of yoga:
Karma Yoga: yoga of action
Leads to spontaneous detachment from goals and keeps your mind focused. Leaves you feeling liberated and free of worry as you recognize that you hold an eternal place in the universe and each lifetime is a journey. Each action you perform attends to your desired result.
Gyan Yoga: yoga of understanding
Provides an understanding of the laws of nature and its exploration unlocks secrets of the unknown. Also known as the yoga of science as its practise paves the way for scientific breakthroughs and new understanding in the mysterious field of pure potentiality.
Bhakti Yoga: yoga of love and devotion
The discovery of one’s higher self through an increased expression of love in one’s personal relationships. Encourages one to use love as the basis of all one’s choices, putting one in touch with the intimacy of the divine.
Raja Yoga: yoga of knowledge and experience
Taking awareness inward, this leads to the union of mind, body, and spirit. Frequent training brings the wealth of knowledge and experience while enhancing physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of self. Brings joy, inspiration, and enthusiasm.
In addition to yoga’s four traditional forms, there are 8 branches of yoga, each serving as an access point to unity and the discovery of one’s fundamental being. They are meant to guide one’s experiences and interpretations of the world so as to maintain complete conscious awareness.
Yama is the section that describes the rules of social behaviour; it is the encouragement of universal ethics and living harmoniously with others. Specifically,
- Practicing nonviolence
- Truthful speech
- Sexual control
Upon recognizing our connection to the universe and all beings within it, we understand that our behaviour towards others is reflected directly back to us. Therefore, right actions are chosen as they produce positive actions in return.
Next, Niyama are referred to as the rules of personal behaviour or how one would act when alone. They are outlined as follows:
- Spiritual exploration
- Surrender to the divine
In order to evolve, we must strengthen our connection to spirit. By engaging in these guidelines of personal behaviour we become deeply engaged with the ‘infinite and unbounded field of intelligence’.
Asana refers to the physical strengths achieved through yoga as well as the physical awareness attained through mind-body integration. Through yoga, flexibility of the mind and body are reached and this is extended to one’s daily life by giving one the ability to adapt to all of life’s changes and circumstances.
Prana means life force (also known as chi or qi in Ancient Chinese Medicine). It’s the soul energy that separates a living person from the dead. What’s important is that Prana is flowing with ease throughout your body, allowing you to maintain strength and vibrancy. When Prana is otherwise blocked, your energy becomes limited, restraining your body until your eventually succumb to illness. In order to prevent this from happening, we are called to enliven our prana through conscious breathing techniques (pranayama—mastering the life force). This we accomplish through the various breathing exercises practised through yoga, taking us from a harmful constricted state to a heightened level of awareness and tranquillity.
Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing oneself from the senses of the outer world in order to experience the impressions from the awareness of the inner world. When full consciousness is centred on the inside we are able to reconstruct the sensations we experience on a daily basis. As well, by temporarily removing ourselves from worldly feelings we become more sensitive to their effects, making their enjoyment more powerful. Thus, it in practicing Pratyahara it is important to become attentive to the sensory signals received throughout the day, restricting the ones that are toxic and increasing the senses that promote health and nourishment. This not only includes proper diet, but also limiting stressful situations and negative influences.
An essential aspect of yoga is the mastery of attention and intention, also known as Dharana. Effectively, whatever we choose to direct our attention to will flourish, whether it be our relationships, business, health, etc. Yoga provides great assistance in helping us organize and focus our attention while surrendering our desires to the universe so that ultimately we can manifest our greatest wishes. By focusing our intentions clearly and as they become more refined, we begin to see them actualize as the divine organizes itself to fulfill even our greatest aspirations.
Next, Dhyana is the cultivation of awareness that teaches us to remain focused in the face of perpetual change. It is to recognize ‘being in this world but not of this world’. If we remain centred and aware, we will always be prepared to make the best decisions under every circumstance; alternatively, we would get caught up in the super fluidity that surrounds us on a daily basis and become distracted.
Last, departing from ego to spirit leaves one in the transcendent yogic state known as Samadhi. Surpassing the boundaries of space and time, one enters the realm of eternity. In this state one is now able to act as an individual while retaining the divine awareness of one’s universal self, perceiving oneself as taking the role of an actor in the world that is a play. Under this condition, one is not influenced by negative emotions or stressful situations because the basic knowledge of being part of the universal grants one peace and a knowingness that cannot otherwise be achieved.
Chopra, D. & Simon, D. 2004. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. Wiley Publishing, New Jersey.