ASHTAANGAYOGA OF PATAANJALI
(Prepared Lecture by N.R. Srinivasn for Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville)
Sanatana Dharma shows several paths of religious pursuits to suit our spiritual needs. These paths lead us to a stage when we become aware of Supreme Spirit which we call as God. We are said to unite with God when we attain such awareness. Yoga is one such path.
Patanjali, a renowned and ancient Hindu sage, is the author of a system of philosophy who elaborates topics concerning the mind and its functions, in his book called Yogasootra. It is a classical work consisting of 185 terse aphorisms on yoga and its four parts dealing with Samaadhi, the means by which yoga is attained, the powers the seeker comes across in his quest and the state of absolution. Only three Sootras out of these deal with Aasanaas (postures) The great majority deal with meditation, its theory and results. These Sootras (Aphorisms) are divided into four parts: 1) Samadhi- paada, dealing with the nature and aim of Samaadhi, a state of resolution of one's mind; 2) Saadhana-paada, which explains the means to achieve Samaadhi; 3) Vibhooti-paada, reveals the extraordinary powers which can be acquired through Yoga; and 4) Kaivalya-paada describing the liberation and the reality of Self. Later Bhagavad Geeta and Kaivalya Upanishad also dealt in detail on the Science of Yoga.
Yoga means union or communion in Sanskrit language. It is derived from its root word, yuj meaning to join, to yoke or to concentrate one's attention on. It is the union of our will with the will of God, a poise of the soul which enables one to look evenly at life in all its aspects. It means the disciplining of our will, intellect, mind and emotions to see and visualize everything as the creation of God. Hindus firmly believe that everything in the universe is permeated by the Supreme Spirit and that our individual human spirit is a part of that Universal Spirit. Ashtaanga Yoga, meaning eight limbs of Yoga is an important portion of his classical work.
Patanjali in his Ashtaanga Yoga deals with Aasanas and Praanaayaama, a kind of physical and mental exercises. These help to relax the body activate and strengthen various organs of the body. When the body is relaxed mind is ready for concentration and meditation. A healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy mind. A healthy mind is prerequisite for a healthy spirit. Yoga advocates control over body, mind and senses. Patanjali stressed the right means to achieve the discipline to keep under control our will, intellect, mind and emotions. Patanjali describes these means in eight limbs or stages of Yoga in his Yogasaastra, science of Yoga. These are: 1. Yama, Universal moral codes; 2. Niyama, Purification and control of oneself by self-imposed discipline; 3. Aasana, sitting, standing or lying postures for the control of the body; 4. Praanaayaama, rhythmic control of breath; 5. Pratyaahaara, freeing the mind from the domination of senses as well as external disturbances; 6. Dhaarana, concentration of the mind towards the goal to achieve union; 7. Dhyaana, meditation and 8. Samaadhi, a state of super-consciousness in which the meditate becomes one with the meditating object, which is in this case Supreme Spirit, Paramaatma or Universal Spirit. Saadhana-paada (the means for achieving the ultimate end) includes first five stages of Ashtaanga Yoga. Vibhooti-paada includes the last three stages of Ashtaanga Yoga.
Yama and Niyama control one's emotions and passions to live in harmony with others. When one achieves success in the yogic practices, he becomes a Yogi (male) or Yogin (female). At this stage one becomes free of body consciousness and his thoughts are only directed towards Supreme Spirit. Though Yogi is living surrounded with all worries and troubles of the world his thoughts are all focused on Supreme Spirit in every speech, thought and action. He is compared to a tall cliff whose peak enjoys eternal sunshine though it is surrounded by raging stormy clouds. The first three stages Yama, Niyama Aaasana are the outward pursuits or quests. Their control is called Bahiranga Saadhana. It keeps the seeker in harmony with his fellow men and nature. Praanaayaama and Pratyaahaara are called Antaraatma Saadhana. It is the inward quest of soul by Praanaayaama and Pratyaahaara whereby the mind is brought under control and the senses are emancipated from the thralldom of objects of desire.
The spiritual and technical terms used in Ashtaanga Yoga are in the ancient Vedic language, which are specific in their meaning and objective appropriate to the context. They therefore need proper explanation from knowledgeable teachers in Yoga to achieve the desired goals.
Aasana, posture has become very popular today all over the world and occupies a prestigious position in physical fitness programs. Many people immediately think Yoga means only the third stage of Aasana, posture and sometimes including fourth stage of breath control, Praanaayaama. They forget the fact that these two are only two preliminary stages of Yoga. Such thinking also has changed their goal of Yoga altogether reducing it to mere physical fitness and health improvement contributing to mere temporary worldly pleasures, missing the main objective of spiritual evolution to become one with the Supreme Spirit for eternal bliss and Liberation.
YAMA (1) —Yama are moral commandments. They are universal in nature for all times to come and are beyond religion, creed, country, age and time. They are universal ethical disciplines. Patanjali mentions five universal disciplines: Ahimsa (Non-violence); Satya (Truth); Aasteya (Non-stealing); Brahmacharya (Celibacy or Continence) and Aparigraha (Non- coveting).
AHIMSA—this is a Sanskrit word meaning, a=not and himsa=killing violence. Though it looks negative in its meaning it has a wider positive meaning, love. Men either kill for food or to protect themselves from danger. Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness which may cause injury to others and in extreme circumstances involve killing. Simply because one is a vegetarian it does not follow he is non-violent by temperament. A vegetarian diet is a necessity for the practice of Yoga. Violence is a state of mind not controlled by diet. A yoga practitioner opposes the evil in wrong doer but not the wrong doer. He knows that to love a person whilst fighting the evil in him is the right course to follow. Beating a child to cure it of a bad habit does not diminish the love of the mother towards the child and cannot be termed as violence. Freedom from fear and freedom from anger promotes non-violence. Hinduism emphasizes "Ahimsaa paramoe dharmah" (Non-violence is the noblest of all virtues). "Do not kill" is one of the commandments Moses received from the Supreme Spirit in his pack of Ten Commandments. Christianity insists on "Love thy neighbor as thyself".
SATYA --means truth in Sanskrit language. It is the highest rule of conduct or morality. Indian motto "Satyameva Jayate" (Truth alone triumphs is a quote from Upanishads. Mahatma Gandhi said: "Truth is God and God is Truth". When mind thinks of truth, when tongue speaks truth, when life is based on truth one is not far from the Supreme Spirit. We should therefore be truthful in thought, speech and deed. We can commit sins by not being truthful in our speech by many ways; abuse or obscenity, dealing in falsehoods and shady deals, calling names, telling tales or calumny and ridiculing holy people. Malice towards none is the first act of charity. When a person controls his tongue he is respected and heard. When one is established in truth and prays with a pure heart, all things come to him without much effort. God (Eesvara) is the only Truth and everything else is False (Maaya or illusion) is the fundamental thinking of Hinduism. When you are firmly established in truth you are one with God.
AASTEYA— it is a Sanskrit word meaning, a=not, steya=stealing. The greed to possess and enjoy what other has tempts a person to do evil deeds. "Life is full of misery and greed is its root cause" said Buddha. Aasteya includes misappropriation, breach of trust, mismanagement and misuse. A yogi avoids greed by minimizing his physical needs, believing that if he gathers things he does not need, he is a thief. He does not crave for power, fame or enjoyment and craves only to adore the Supreme Spirit. Freedom from craving, wards off temptation. "Thou shalt not steal" is one of the commandments Moses received from the Supreme Spirit.
BRAHMACHARYA—it means in Sanskrit language the life of celibacy, study of scriptures and self-restraint. It is abstention from passions and lust. It implies restraining one's senses from sense pursuits or indulgence in sexual pleasures. It applies equally to married as well as unmarried or single parent male or female.
Patanjali stresses continence of the body, speech and mind. Yoga is not meant only for celibates. One has to practice high principles of Brahmacharya in one's daily living whether one is bachelor, married and living the life of a householder if he practices Yoga.
When one practices principles of Brahmacharya, he develops a fund of vital energy, a steadfast mind and a powerful intellect. We must use our physical strength for doing the work of the Lord (Eeswara) which is the service to society called Seva, and mental strength for the spread of culture and the intellectual strength for the growth of spiritual life.
APARIGRAHA—it means to restrain from hoarding or collecting. This is another face of the same coin which contains Aasteya (restrain from stealing). One should not take anything without working for it or accept it as favor when he is capable because this would indicate poverty, a sign of weakness. A Yogi feels that unnecessary collection of things implies lack of faith in the Supreme who is always there to help the faithful in need.
Life of ordinary people who do not practice Yoga is filled with frustration and disturbances to which they react constantly. This makes it impossible to keep the mind in a state of equilibrium. The divine assurance given in Gita should give us that confidence. Lord Krishna says: "I bring full security to those who worship me with single minded devotion. I shall supply all their wants and shall protect them forever". Gita also says "Taeshaam nityaabhiyuktaanaam yogakshemam vahaamyaham". Yogakshema consists of two words Yoga and Kshema like Moha (passions) and Kshaya (destroying) in Moksha. Moksha means getting rid of all passions and desires to attain Liberation. Yoga means spiritual goal and Kshema means protection. Lord Krishna assures that he will take care of the spiritual goals of the persistent Meditates. Life Insurance Corporation of India has adopted "yogakshemam vahaamyaham" as its motto for promoting its business though does not mean it.
NIYAMA (2)—these are the codes of conduct that apply for individual discipline unlike Yama which is meant for universal discipline. The five Niyamas designated by Patanjali in his Yogasootra are: 1. Saucha (purification); 2) Santosha (contentment); 3) Tapas (penance or austerity); 4) Sva-adhyaaya (self-study for spiritual evolution); and, 5) Eeswara-pranidhaana (dedication to the Supreme Spirit).
SAUCHA— a healthy body is necessary for a healthy mind. Purity of body is therefore a prerequisite in the act of purification. Bathing purifies body externally. Praanaayaama and Aaasanas cleanse the body internally. Aasana helps to tone up the entire body and removes the toxic elements caused by over indulgence. Praanaayaama purifies the lungs, aerates, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves. Besides cleansing the body it is more important to cleanse the mind to get rid of all evil influences like passion, hatred, anger, lust, greed, delusion, pride etc. We have still to go a step further to cleanse our intellect (Buddhi) of impure and wandering thoughts. Self-study of scriptures and Bhakti (devotional) pursuits help in the process. Internal cleansing brings benevolence and removes mental pain, dejection and sorrow. It brings joy and imparts radiance which often reflects outwardly called Tejas (glow).
Besides purity of body, mind and thought body needs pure food. Purity of food is necessary not only in preparation but also in its procurement. Food should be taken to promote health, strength energy and life. It should be nourishing, soothing and juicy. Foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burnt, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean should be avoided. Yogi believes in harmony so he eats for the sake of sustenance. He eats to live but not live to eat. There will be a tendency to over-eat if the food is too tasty and consequently suffer from digestive disorders. A Yogi does not eat too much or too little. He also becomes a vegetarian, his goal being spiritual evolution. We should always remember that the type of food when and how we take molds our character.
The place where we practice Yoga should also be clean and calm. Cool seashore or shady bank of river or lake will be ideal. It is hard to find such a place in modern times. One should find a cozy corner in a room in one's own house keeping it clean, airy, dry, and pest free to practice Yoga.
SANTOSHA— Santosha means happiness but also means contentment in Sanskrit. Contented mind is essential for concentration. Contentment and tranquility are states of mind. Race, creed, wealth and learning cause differences in the states of mind. Differences cause distraction if one focuses his mind on the same. A Yogi has always the feeling that he lacks nothing and so he is naturally content. Contentment makes the man complete.
TAPAS— Tapas generally means penance. Tapas is a word in Sanskrit language coming from its root 'tap' to mean blaze, burn, shine, suffer pain or consume by heat. It is a burning process under all circumstances to achieve the desired objective in life. It involves self purification, self-discipline and austerity in one's life. Tapas is the serious and conscious effort to burn all desires and achieve ultimate union with the Supreme as is generally understood. But Tapas can be used as a powerful weapon in all walks of life. Gandhiji's Satyagraha was also a Tapas to achieve the goal of independence. Tapas may relate to body, speech or mind. Celibacy (Brahmacharya) and non-violence (Ahimsa) are the tapas of the body. By not offending others, praising the glory of God, speaking truth without fear, not speaking ill of others or carrying tales we observe the penance (tapas) of speech. Developing mental attitude to be tranquil and balanced at all times, in joy and sorrow, in sickness and health, and at all times is the penance (tapas) of the mind. Tapas should always be practiced without any selfish motive or expectation of reward. If one succeeds in his tapas, rewards will come of their own. One who practices Yoga develops strength in body, mind and character by resorting to Tapas. He gains courage, wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity, and commands respect from all.
SVAADHYAAYA—Svaadhyaaya is a Sanskrit word, Sva meaning self and Adhyaaya means study or education. Education is a means of drawing the best in an individual and therefore is the education of the self. All Upanishads are the product of self study under the guidance of a Guru. Svaadhyaaya is neither the modern class-room study with a syllabus and a prepared lecture, nor the showmanship of a lecturer before the ignorance of the listening audience. When people meet for self-study the speaker and listener are of one-mind and have mutual love and respect for each other. This is not a sermon where one speaks and others listen. The idea of self-study is very well explained in the Shanti mantra; "Sahanaavavatu sahanau bhunaktu saha-veeryam karavaavahai tejasvi-naavadheetamastu maa vidvishaavahai, Om shantih, shantih, shantih"—Om! May the lord protect us both (Guru and the Disciple)! May He prompt us to enjoy! May our study be brilliant! May we not become disputatious meaning let there be no hatred between us!
The individual practicing self-study reads his book of life, writing it and revising it as the knowledge builds up; his outlook in life changes. He starts realizing all creation is divine and there is divinity within him and the energy that moves him is not different from the energy that moves the universe.
Regular study of scriptures in a quiet place makes life healthy, happy and peaceful. Such a person is able to solve the difficult problems easily with this knowledge as and when they arise. Ignorance has no beginning. Knowledge has no ending. The sacred books are therefore for all to read with reverence. Yoga like Sanatana Dharma is not a religion. It is the science for all religions. Therefore its books are open to all.
EESVARA-PARIDHAANA-means dedication of all our actions and will to the Supreme. He who realizes that all creations are created equal and belong to the Supreme will neither become a subject of pride nor prejudice. When the mind has been emptied of desires of personal gratification it should be filled with the thoughts of Supreme Spirit. It is at this stage Bhakti (devotion) begins. Moon is full when it faces completely the Sun. If the shadow of the earth comes in between the Full Moon and the Sun there is eclipse. The individual soul experiences fullness when it faces the Lord without any disturbance. Actions reflect man's personality better than his words. A Yogi dedicates all his actions to the Supreme Spirit and therefore the divinity always reflects within him, which we call "Brahma Tejas" (The brilliance of the Supreme).
AASANA (3)—Aasanas are postures of the body. They bring health, lightness to limbs, and steadiness. A steady and pleasant posture contributes to mental equilibrium and prevents fickleness and wandering of mind. Aasanas are not merely gymnastic exercises. Costly equipment or large play-ground is not required to practice Aasana. What you need is a clean airy space, a blanket, determination and concentration. The limbs of the body themselves produce the necessary weights and counterweights. With proper training and practice one develops agility, balance, endurance and great vitality. Yoga is a discipline of the body. It gives physical support to meditation. Aasana must be learnt under the expert guidance initially.
One who practices Yoga realizes that his life and all its activities are part of the divine action in nature, manifesting and operating in the form of a human being. He visualizes the flow of seasons and throbbing of universal life in the beating of his pulses and rhythm of his respiration. To him, the needs of the body are the needs of the spirit. He does not look heavenwards to find God but looks for Him within himself. He feels the heaven lies in him. Where does the body end and does the mind begin? Where does the mind end and does the spirit begin? They are all inter-related and integrated. They are different aspects of the same all pervading divine consciousness. Therefore Patanjali gives equal importance to Aasana as other things.
Aasanas (postures) exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique which is strong and elastic. They keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and gives smoothness to the nerves. Most part of this is also achieved by actors, acrobats, athletes, dancers, musicians and sportsmen, who also have body control and possess superb physique. But the primary difference in Yoga lies in the way it trains and disciplines the mind.
The practices described in the Ashtaanga Yoga portion of Aasana and Praanaayaama are universally popular as efficacious means of physical fitness, health, calmness of mind and tranquility which cross all religious barriers. This is its bright side. The dark side of it is, it has moved away from its basic objective of spiritual evolution and union with the Supreme which is also above all religious considerations like Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Tradition). But the faithful few follow its path strictly and try to attain their spiritual goals.
PRAANAAYAAMA (4)—Praanaah is a plural word in Sanskrit to indicate five vital breaths. These are 1) Praana, 2) Apaana, 3) Udaana) 4) Vyaana, and 5) Samaana. Ayurveda, Indian medicine describes these five vital airs as follows: Praana is the vital air which pervades the entire human body. It moves in the region of chest; Apaana is the vital breath which moves in the sphere of the lower abdomen and controls the function of elimination of urine and feces; Udaana is the vital air which pervades the human-body filling it with vital energy. It dwells in the thoracic cavity and controls the intake of air and food; Vyaana is the vital air which pervades the entire body and circulates the energy derived from food and breathing all over the body; Samaana is the equalizing air that aids digestion.
In Yoga the word Praana indicates breath, respiration, life, vitality, wind, energy and strength. Praanah means breaths and Aayana means length, expansion, stretching or restraint. Praanaayaama therefore means extension of breaths and their controls .These are achieved under the guidance of an expert which otherwise would lead to bad after-effects. The functions of breathing are: 1) Inhalation or inspiration called Pooraka in Yoga meaning filling-up; 2) Exhalation or expiration called Rechaka, in Yoga meaning emptying the lungs; and 3) Retention or holding the breath which is called Kumbhaka in Yoga. There is no inhalation or exhalation in this act of Kumbhaka.
There are two states of Kumbhaka (retention of breath): 1) Retention of breath, when breathing is suspended after full inhalation that is at the stage when lungs are filled with air or oxygen. This is called Antara Kumbhaka in Yoga; 2) Retention of breath when breathing is suspended after full exhalation, that is at the stage when lungs are emptied of all noxious air, carbon-dioxide. This is called Bahya Kumbhaka in Yoga.
Breathing should be brought under control very slowly and cautiously in gradation measured according to individual capacity and physical limitation. This therefore needs an expert guidance.
Life according to Yoga is measured by the number of breaths and not by the number of days. One who practices Yoga enjoys long and healthy life by proper control of breaths. He follows rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing. By mastering the breath Yogi controls and stills his mind. Emotions and excitements affect the rate of breathing. Deliberate regulation checks emotional excitement. Control of breath helps him in controlling the senses which is an essential step for Liberation.
Breath is vital not only to the body but also to the mind. The vital energy that is the source of breath, and the mind which is the source of thought are the same. Healthy and unhealthy thoughts are attributed to different vibration of Nadis (nerves or blood vessels). The breath that passes through our blood vessels during respiration produces vibrations and our state of health depends on them. Those who keep their breath under rhythmic control through Yoga are amazingly healthy. They do not bleed even if their veins are cut. They can lay buried in the earth in Samaadhi stopping their pulses and heartbeat. They are not poisoned even if they are bitten by a snake or stung by scorpion. It is all because a Yogi can keep the vibrations of the Nadis under control while breathing.
PRATYAAHAARA (5)—it means withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of senses and sensual objects. It is the fifth stage of Ashtaanga Yoga. Rhythmic control of the breath too helps the senses to turn inwards instead of running after external objects of desire, thus bringing the senses under control. Senses are controlled by withdrawing the senses from outward objects. They must be checked and directed towards the internal goal. It is the process of introversion. The mind becomes pure when all desires and fears are annihilated.
DHAARANA (6)—it is the fixing of the mind on the object for a short interval of time. The mind must be steadfast like the un-flickering flame of lamp. It means meditation and consists in the undisturbed flow of thought round the object of meditation. Here one who meditates concentrates on a single point or task on which he is completely engrossed. It is the steadfast contemplation without any break. It is like concentrating on the tip of the nose for certain difficult postures in Aasana.
When the body has been tempered by Aasanas, when the mind has been purified by Praanaayaama and when the senses have been brought under control, one becomes ready for Dhaarana or single point concentration. Yoga practitioner's concentration is on union with the Supreme Consciousness. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state. It is like aiming at a target with an arrow or shooting at a thing, with nothing else in view. Here the target is Supreme Spirit and the arrow is self within us. To achieve this concentration on the Supreme Spirit a yogi concentrates on the symbol AUM, which is the symbol of divinity.
DHYAANA (7)—it means meditation and consists in the undisturbed flow of thought round the object of meditation. It is the steadfast contemplation without any break. The mind when it contemplates on an object is transformed into the shape of the object. It is like water when poured into a vessel takes the shape of the vessel. The mind which thinks of all pervading divinity which it worships through long and continued devotion is ultimately transformed into the likeness of that divinity. He is then said to be one with God. Continued practice of Yoga results in good health, a sense of physical lightness, steadiness and clearness of countenance. He acquires a beautiful voice, sweetness in the body and freedom from craving. A balanced mind and tranquil mind emerges out of it. He becomes a symbol of humility. He dedicates all his actions to the Lord by Dhyaana, takes refuge in the Supreme Spirit and becomes liberated from rebirth, from being born again and again. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in Bhagavadgita: "Adore me with faith. He is the greatest of all Yogis whose heart abides in me".
SAMAADHI (8)—it is the state of most intense mental concentration and is the last step in Yoga to achieve the object of contemplation. Here one becomes a Yogi at the peak of meditation and is said to pass into the state of Samaadhi. His body and senses are all at rest as if he is in deep sleep; at the same time his faculties of mind and reason are alert as if he is awake, yet he has gone beyond consciousness. The person in a state of Samaadhi is fully conscious and alert at the same time. Here the Yogi has departed from the material world and has merged with the Eternal.
In Dhyaana act of meditation and object of meditation remain separate. In Samaadhi they become one. It is ecstatic state in which the connection with the world is broken and through which one has to pass before obtaining liberation. It is a state of supra consciousness where the meditate and the object of meditation are completely fused together. It is the highest form of Yoga which can be called as divine madness, difficult to describe and even more difficult to attain. Even those who attain it cannot retain it longer. Immediately after a short time, the body breaks and they attain complete peace and liberation. It is the everlasting peace from the disturbing world outwardly, peace within and the divine peace which passes all understanding.
Is Hindu Spiritual Yoga beneficial to all Faiths?
Yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual practice of the people settled in Indus Valley even before others started calling them Hindus. The science of Yoga has grown enormously all over the world in the past few decades because of its physical and mental health benefits and practiced in tits and bits calling it as if it is the complete Yoga as postulated by Patanjali, the ancient sage of India. Besides its popularity all over the world it has drawn certain criticism from the protagonists of some religions.
Mohler, a Southern Baptist leader thinks Yoga promotes the idea that body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine. The stretching and meditative discipline derived from Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism etc., is not a Christian pathway to God, he says. (Tennessean, Oct.8, 2010). The Vatican has cautioned and issued several warnings to Catholics about Yoga over the years. In 1989 Vatican warned that practices like Vipassanaa (word in Pali language to mean Buddhist spiritual practice) and Yoga can degenerate into a cult of the body replacing the love of God, the sole goal Christian contemplation. Vipassana techniques were also known to Ancient Hindus called Vipasyanaa in Sanskrit.
A Malaysian Sufi Dr. Amir Farid Isahak feels, Sufis can practice Yoga without compromising their religion, provided they are careful about the type of practices they choose and as long as they focus on a goal achieving proximity to God, but not unity. Yoga philosophy marks a clear distinction between the Supreme Spirit and individual souls. Islamic Council of Malaysia issued an edict prohibiting Muslims from indulging in Yoga practices in 2008. Abdul Shukor Husim, Council's Chairman says: "We are of the view that Yoga, which originates in Hinduism, combines a physical exercise, religious elements, chanting and worshipping for the purpose of achieving inner peace and ultimately to be at one with God. Yoga destroys a Muslim Faith". There is no chanting and worshipping involved in practicing postures and breath-control exercises as is practiced in the so called Yoga studios. For meditating people of Muslim Faith may even concentrate on "Amin" or Kaaba if they so choose.
The worldwide popular Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) engaged in sports, athletics, physical fitness and Restoration (a life changing ministry to cast a hope-filled vision for improvement in body, mind and spirit) activities has its mission as: "Worldwide charitable fellowship united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of helping people grow in Spirit, Mind and Body". According to them a healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy mind and a healthy mind is a prerequisite for a healthy spirit. The science of Yoga has become very popular on the global stage in the last few decades due to widespread recognition of its physical and mental benefits. Patanjali's Yogasootras do not owe allegiance to any God or religion or even to Sanatana Dharma and have their own individualistic approach. However Sanatana Dharma popularly called as Hinduism later by others welcomed Yogasootras into its fold because of their high ideals for spiritual evolution in ancient times. People of all faiths in the world are members of the great organization YMCA, so also the participants in Aasana (postures) and Praanaayaama (Breath control) exercises designed by Yoga Studios drawing support and inspiration from Patanjali's Ashtaanga Yoga.
Sanatana Dhartma is no stranger to such criticisms from outside as well as within. Sankara, the great Spiritual and religious leader who founded the Advaita philosophy and a staunch follower of Vedanta, was also very much opposed to Sankhya and its closely allied Yoga philosophies; Sankhya system is silent on God and Yoga system is dualistic in its approach differentiating between the Supreme Spirit (highest Self) and the individual souls. Yoga came into the fold of Sanatana Dharma of early Vedic sacrifices to the acceptance of all, when Bhagavad Gita included Sankhya-yoga combining the two philosophies--Sankhya, the oldest philosophy of Kapila which is silent on God and Yoga of Patanjali, dualistic in its approach. While Sankhya is theoretical in its approach, Yoga is practical. Bhagavad Gita appreciates the great contributions of these two systems to Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Tradition), and therefore devotes the entire chapter two to them (Sankhya-yoga) for spiritual evolution. It was therefore not only accepted by Vedanta followers later wholeheartedly but also became universally popular with all people from the world with its Aaasana and Praanaayaama portion of Ashtaanga Yoga, which is only a small portion of the eight fold path which itself in turn is a small portion of the Yogasootras (Science of Yoga) of Patanjali. As a matter of fact it is wrong to call these physical fitness practices as Yoga (adopted from the Yogsootras) whose main focus is spiritual evolution of highest order. Indirectly it pays tribute to the Yogassootras of Patanjali by adopting the name rightly or wrongly.
Sanatana Dharma got the nomenclature of Hinduism more recently when foreigners invaded India and started ruling it. Today it is a conglomeration of heterogeneous traditions and plurality of worships and beliefs with a long history of development starting from the sacrificial Sanatana Dharma practices through the worship of epic and Puranic heroes and personal deities like Murugan, Bhagavati, Kali etc, cults and sects, as well as various philosophical systems rather than a monolithic tradition or a system based on single text as its scripture or single name for the Supreme Spirit called Brahman. It is no wonder then why even some Hindus think Yoga is not from Hinduism! It shows how Hinduism is open to all criticisms but at the same time has the magnanimity to accept all such good contributions into its fold when it is not against the principles of Sanatana Dharma which proclaims: "There is but one God whom the Wise address as many".
Yoga today is most known for its Yogic postures, the most popular visible and outward form, which is a very small portion of the whole system. Many Westerners look to Buddhist teachings for meditation and perfect their techniques after the more popular Buddhist meditation of Zen and Vipassanaa. We also notice the presence of Yoga in Jainism and Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, indicating that Yoga has started its world journey long back crossing the boundaries of Hinduism. Hinduism teaches one need not repudiate one's own faith and become a Hindu to reap benefits of Yoga. One can even concentrate on the Holy Spirit within every one's body, if he wishes to continue with the meditation part, instead of "OM" or even "Amen" in Christianity or on Mohammedan "Amin". They are all the same. Bible says: "In the beginning there was the Word". That word was OM. Om is again a Universal symbol for the Supreme Spirit. 'Om' is a Sanskrit syllable consisting of three letters "A" as in 'America', "U" as in 'suit', and "M" as in 'jam'. When you pronounce 'A' as in 'America' you open your mouth which is indicative of creation or beginning of the world. When you pronounce 'U' as in suit you have the continuity or long interval which is indicative of existence of the world. When you pronounce 'M' as in jam you close your mouth indicating culmination of sound by closing the mouth indicating ending of the world. All religions and faiths believe that the Supreme Spirit is responsible for Creation, Existence and Dissolution of the world. So, the symbol "Om" is universal if one knows the meaning of it. Similarly "Namaste" consists of two Sanskrit words 'namah (obeisance) and 'te' (you), means my obeisance to you. When you look at another person mentally and spiritually you are not looking at his physical form but visualizing the Holy Spirit within him, which Corinthians mentions in the Bible, which Hindus call 'Self' in man. You are paying respect to that Supreme Spirit by this action and word, for God is within our physical body. 'Om' and 'Namaste' are not specific to any religion but symbolic and divine to all those who believe in Supreme Spirit. Sanatana Dharma is an Eternal Tradition and not a religion and is also universal in nature.
Advaita philosophy of Sankara as well as Vishishtadvaita philosophy of Ramanuja postulates that the Supreme Spirit is the same as the individual Self or a spark of the Supreme Spirit while Yoga postulates the Supreme Spirit is separate from the individual Selves. Dvaita Philosophy (Dualism) of Madhvacharya which emerged later is more inclined to Yogasootra of Patanjali. All these three views can be found in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita which are accommodated in Sanatana Dharma. It may not be out of place to mention here that Corinthians1--6 (19-20) of the Holy Bible said much later: "Do you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body", thus inclined much towards its fore-runners Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita implying that the atman (Holy Spirit) within you is not different from Universal Brahman (Supreme Spirit).
Bhagavad Gita considers physical body (Bhoota sareera) as a garment which when worn out is cast off by the subtle body (Sookshma sareera) and the soul (subtle body) enters a new physical body, consistent with the "Theory of Incarnation" which Bible authoritatively removed from all its books around fifteenth century.
Froese and Bader's research indicates "24% of the people see a Distant God that delivered the universe then left humanity alone. This is a dominant view of Jews and other followers of world religions and philosophies such as Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Hinduism as well as many other religions that see a Distant God feels that the individual alone is responsible for all his actions and fixes the personal responsibility on the individual alone". They believe in the saying: "as you sow so you reap". Gita also says emphatically: "you alone are responsible for all your actions".
There are different views as per Froese and Bader, about God based on shaping the destinies of the individuals. These differences are responsible for universal unrest and in-fights. These different views are: "The Authoritative God who is engaged in the history and punishes those who do not follow him; The Benevolent God who is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others; The Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the other world; and, The Distant God who gifted the Universe, then left humanity alone" (Tennessean, Oct. 9, 2010).
In Hinduism itself one can see all these views which have been accommodated as long as they do not contradict the principles of Sanatana dharma which says: "There is no virtue like doing good to others and there is no sin like giving suffering to others; let us en-noble the whole world". If one closely follows Bhagavad Gita, all these four views about God, authoritative, benevolent, cruel and distant can be found. As a matter of fact ideal parents also show these characteristics in bringing up their kids and caring for them life-long. Hinduism however does not approve the ancient Charvaka philosophy (atheistic Hindu philosophy) and modern doctrines of atheism. During the last century, Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker started Dravida Kazhagam movement in Tamil Nadu of India who boldly proclaimed: "He is a fool who believes in God" who is also a Hindu. He was not thrown out of Hinduism as there is no such authority in Hinduism. His movement could not disturb Sanatana Dharma but the movement itself later turned political. But atheism promoted by him did not lost long amongst his politician followers who however continue with class hatred. They are also custodians of Hindu Religious and endowments Board in Tamil Nadu as the ruling party.
Patanjali's Yogasaastra believes in God as the 'Highest Self' distinct from other individual souls. Even in Christianity a distinction is made amongst God, his favorite son Jesus and the others, whom it addresses as Children of God. It also believes in Holy Spirit in each and every individual. Yoga system of Patanjali is a great system of spiritual discipline and shows practical path of purification and self-control in order to realize the true nature of the individual. Therefore it has universal acceptance and finds favor with many. Even atheists practice Aasanas (postures) and Praanaayaama (breath control). Many from different religions come to the so called modern Yoga Studios for practicing Aasanas and Praanaayaama when they are in chronic pain and while others come because they find them good for a nice work out. Some even feel that Yoga as they understand opens up their spirit and helps in renewing their spirituality which inspires them to attend church regularly. Aasanas and Praanaayama which are generally addressed as Yoga are very initial efforts in Yoga Saastra to attain perfection to control the body, senses and mind like the mission of YMCA. Postures and breath control units located all over the world and run by experts belonging to all faiths, which are sometimes located even within YMCA, call themselves as Yoga Units, and have the same mission as YMCA perhaps less spiritually oriented than YMCA.
One need not forego his religion or need not be spiritual to practice Aaasna (postures) and Praanaayaama (breath control) components of Yoga. Serenity of body and mind is good for all for physical and mental health. People learn enough about postures and breath-control sufficiently in the beginning. One can always make a decision later about their spiritual evolution after having mastered techniques in postures and breath-control. One should not feel shy to pay Yoga its due tribute having reaped the benefit from its postures and breathing control exercises. In fact all Indian Fine Arts have their origin in Sanatana Dharma, retaining their spiritual names often including some arts like Rangoli. Later they became a mode of worship too. People from other religions do not feel shy to master them and even excel in them. Even many sciences like astronomy, mathematic, medicine etc. have originated from Hindu sages in their pursuit of Sanatan Dharma which Arab community and others gladly adopted and took to their homes. Sanatana Dharma recommends welcoming knowledge from any source giving it a due credit to its fold also. Indonesian ballot performances are mostly based on Hindu mythology Ramayana popularized by Muslims without knowing their significance. Arts thus have also crossed religious barriers. Muslim and Christian musicians have often sung in praise of Hindu deities.
Yoga stands on its own path in Hindu religion amongst several other paths to come closer to the realm of divinity. Yoga guides individual souls to reach the Supreme Spirit (called Brahman) through the control of the body, mind and senses to reach Kaivalya (Kingdom of God as Christians call it) which is very difficult to attain. Aasanas (postures) and Praanaayaama are just the beginning and are only physical preparations. Determined rare few walk along the long and winding path, and succeed in attaining their goal of Yoga. Bible also says it is as difficult as the camel to pass through the eye of the needle to enter the Kingdom of God.
Hinduism however differentiates between gross physical body (Bhoota sareera) and the subtle body which it calls as Sookshma sareera which all human beings are endowed with and which one has to recognize and work out his way. Yoga crosses barriers of all religions and shows the way to reach divine sphere which it calls as Supreme Spirit (Brahman) which Christians call Holy Spirit, which Muslims call Allah, which Moses recognized as Divine Fire when he received his Ten Commandments, and which is all pervading, formless and beyond human description.
Yoga has certain side effects and generates certain super-normal powers. But they should be avoided and all attention should be fixed only on liberation to become one with divinity.
CONCLUSION--According to Hindu thinking People can be broadly classified under four groups: 1.The Rational Person; 2. the Devotional Person; 3. the Active Person; and, 4. the Meditative Person.
Yoga is a system of spiritual practice to realize unity of the individual soul called Jeevaatman in Sanskrit with the Supreme Reality or Supreme Spirit, called Paramaatman in Sanskrit. Yoga approaches are many, of which the four important ones are: 1) Jnaana Yoga, Yoga of Knowledge; 2. Bhakti Yoga, Yoga of Devotion; 3. Karma Yoga, Yoga of Action—the Art and Science of performing unselfish work, and 4. Raaja Yoga, Yoga of Meditation.
Jnaana Yoga is meant for Rational Person; Bhakti Yoga is meant for Emotional Person; Karma Yoga is meant for Active Person; and Raaja Yoga is meant for Meditative Person.
The eight steps of Raaja Yoga described by Patanjali in his Yogasootra help us to achieve the union of our individual soul with the Supreme Universal Spirit by becoming the ruler (Raaja) of the mind. The eight-fold path of Patanjali's Ashtaanga Yoga shows the road for achieving the objective by Raaja Maarga, the royal path. Hence it is popular as Raaja Yoga. It is also sometimes called Kriyaa Yoga.
Hindus believe, that using the above paths of different Yogas, great saints like Sankara, Ramanuja Madhwa, Vallabha, Ramananda, Raghavendra, Tulasidas, Meera, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Tyagaraja, Purandhara, Dayananda Sarasvati, Ramana Maharshi, Azhwars (Vaishnava Saints), Nayanmars (Saivite Saints), Tukaram, Sai Baba and many others, in silence and seclusion, in the past two Millenniums have attained Divinity. These are all historic personalities and are not mythological figures.
Bhagavad Gita gives the guidelines for the process of meditation. One who wants to meditate should choose a peaceful spot so that he is not disturbed by the on-going activity of the outside world. It is particularly important for a beginner. He should prepare a seat of grass in a clean place cover it with skin and then a cloth, so that it provides a kind of firm seat to sit on. Then he should sit erect on it head, neck and trunk in a straight line and eyes shut avoiding uncomfortable position; he should then start controlling his body, senses and mind and concentrate with a single minded devotion on the Supreme Spirit permitting no other thoughts to distract his attention.
A man with a tranquil mind is in full control of his mental and physical capacities, is determined, is moderate in his needs for food and sleep, and is capable of giving his full attention to the Supreme Spirit. He then succeeds in his mission to reach the Highest Knowledge (Jnaana). He is then capable of constant contact with the Supreme Spirit through meditation and becomes a Yogayukta. He sees God in everything. To him, joy, sorrow, pain and happiness mean the same. He sees divinity in all of them. Two achieve this end two things are important—constant practice and determination. Practice helps to persuade his mind back on the track on concentration on Supreme Spirit whenever it tries to wander. With determination he overcomes desires and temptations easily and returns to complete concentration on Supreme Spirit.
Of course, many Meditates achieve only partial success during their life-time which is short. But the soul (sookshma sareera), which is the reality (not the physical body) carries its good work to its next birth and it may need several births for it to attain complete salvation or Liberation. This is in a nut-shell the summary in Bhagavad Gita for the Yogic approach. Pataanjali's Ashtaangayoga is one such practical path.
As immigrant Hindus in the West we have significantly contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine, humanities and others and in the process improved our living standard also considerably. As long as we have no means of developing our deeper consciousness, however affluent and well developed we are outwardly, we cannot bring true happiness inwardly. India, our country of origin has made many gains in the inner world developing the science of Yoga and meditation. Yoga in the Western World which is physically and materially inclined emphasizes on Yogic postures already which is a small preliminary part of the whole Yoga system. Many Westerners have mastered the techniques of Aasana and Praanaayaama and act as teachers. Of course there are a few amongst them who have gone deeper into it and also assumed the role of Gurus in the field. But many immigrants are quite ignorant of it and even do not care about it. They sometimes cut a sorry figure while answering inquiring minds. It is high time they should be the ambassadors to bring its full message to the society we live in by practicing themselves Yoga system in its true value and spirit. This would help in East and West integration by a strong spiritual bond. This would also contribute to universal peace which includes peace in the outside world, peace within us and peace in enjoying divinity and immortal bliss which surpasses all others.
This lecture has been prepared by N.R.Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class by suitably extracting, abridging and editing material from the following literary sources which is gratefully acknowledged:
- B.K.S.Iyengar, Light on Yoga, Schocken Books, New York.
- Sunita Ramaswamy and Dr. Sundar Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage Teaching Programme, Sri Gangadhareswar Trust, Rishikesh.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India
- David Frawley, Hinduism, Voice of India, New Delhi.
- Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Swami, Hindu Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Dylan Lovan, Southern Baptist Leader says Yoga is not Christian, The Tenneessean, October 8, 2010.
- Cathy Lunn Grossman, Views of God shapes attitudes on everything, The Tenneessean,October 7, 2010.
- Chandradhar Sharma, Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India.
- Satguru Bodhinath Veylanswami, Hinduism Today, Himalayan Academy, Hawaii.
- Holman, Christian Standard Bible, www.HolmanBibleOutreach.org.
Yogic Path of Devotion
Yoga is the most precious treasure of ancient India. Today, Yoga is gaining popularity and its miraculous benefits are being unveiled in front of the whole world. Yoga was a secret knowledge, an untold devotion because a whole repository of spiritual knowledge is hidden inside it.
Therefore only devotees followed this path. Today, yoga is being practiced and used in a different form because it contains great power of increasing the physical, mental and intellectual capacity.
This form of yoga is creating and establishing its importance all over the world. The present form of yoga is welcomed, however this is only one side of Yoga and not a complete form, which is purely the external and elaborated form. Its internal and real form is the one, which has been practiced by ancient Indian sages and saints and people who followed the path of devotion for deep knowledge. This path automatically leads to physical, mental and intellectual development. One cannot achieve everything by overlooking the spiritual side of Yoga, which was the main purpose of yoga.
Yoga should not be used for the purpose of obtaining personal gains. Yoga will be centered within a limited field until it is spread throughout the world in the form of spiritual consciousness. The solutions to the problems like terrorism, atheism, commercial attitude, communalism, caste system, social enmities, sectarian fights and other related issues lies only in spiritual Yoga and not in yoga, which is purely meant for exercise. Therefore it is necessary to embrace the complete form of Yoga and not just a part of it and feel contended. Yoga does not simply means pranayama, rather resistance towards passion, rules, restraining the sense organs, conception, meditation and deep devotion are the integral parts of yoga, which are being neglected or considered secondary due to illusion. Importance, utility, capability and miraculous nature of yoga will remain stable only if Ashtaanga yoga (the eight yogic practices) propounded by Saint Patanjali are followed.
The situation is worsening gradually due to lack of spiritual consciousness. We can clearly see the inequality, hatred and deformity in the fields of politics, society, administration, courts, religion, education, service and others. Hence, in every age it has become a necessity to adopt Yoga and not consider it to be a compulsion. People have a serious misconception about Yoga, it is felt that a person has to sacrifice his home, family and relations and take shelter in the mountains and forests. People need to understand there is no condition or compulsion to do so. One can find a big list of those people who have devoted their lives to Yoga and also continued their household duties. Maa Giribala, was also a housewife, who used not to eat anything and was a well-known yogini. Another example is Swami Vishudhanand Paramhansa who was a household person. However this does not mean that residing in mountains and forests has no relevance in Yoga devotion. This has special significance to those people, who are not household persons or those who have sacrificed their families. It is also equally important to note that the entire mankind cannot sacrifice its families. The doors of Yoga are always open even for those people who want to live with their families and devote themselves to Yoga. A household person can accumulate lot of wealth but he will obtain peace through the shelter of spiritualism and yoga. It is extremely necessary to take the shelter of yoga in order to change the commercial attitude. One has to embrace Yoga in order to rectify the life style, which is driven by selfishness and hatred. Therefore Yoga is equally important for household people as well. Here, one point needs to be highlighted that those people who are adopting Yoga only for the purpose of exercise is significant in its own place, because this is the stepping stone for leading an ideal life. It has been rightly said in this context that only a seed can grow to become a banyan tree. In other words a big thing can be achieved with a small beginning. Good virtues adopted in the childhood produce good results in the future.
However for some people it becomes necessary to sacrifice household life and reside in a secluded place for the purpose of Yoga devotion, because house does not provide the right atmosphere, people feel that there is no possibility to lead a secluded life living in the society. Those who have the pious virtues brought forward from their previous births, have a strong character, will-power and determination, asceticism and disinterest are the natural qualities, need not sacrifice the household life. Therefore it depends on the individual’s internal qualities, nature and surrounding conditions that which path of yoga he adopts.
It should be remembered that Yoga is not accomplished in any one birth. It is not enough to sacrifice one life in order to wash out the impurities of the previous and present birth, to find the perfect Guru, to make up the mind for Yoga devotion and lead a life of a devotee, though it also has a great significance. In today’s condition it is very difficult to follow the first two principles of Ashtaanga yoga namely ‘Yama’ and ‘Niyama’ which means resistance towards passion, and rules. The fact is that the devotees who follow the path of Yoga or those who teach Yoga only for the purpose of exercise have no knowledge about them or do not intend to understand their meanings. The devotees, who adopt Yoga in the form of exercise, obtain physical, mental and intellectual gains and name it as positive consciousness or creative psychology, whereas this stage cannot be obtained without following rules and resistance towards passion.
Neither a Guru nor his disciple has the right to destroy the sequence, which has been presented by Saint Pataanjali. The Yoga devotee will not be able to obtain the desired results if he destroys this sequence. If a devotee desires mental, spiritual and intellectual development along with physical health then it is necessary to follow the right way of Ashtaanga Yoga. The eight principles are not different chapters, stages or list, wherein one principle is followed to obtain the second one and later on forget the first one. It is a complete process and there is no difference between the first and the last stage, all the eight principles have to be followed as a whole. A person who wants to obtain the stage of deep devotion should follow the principles of rules and resistance towards passions. The principle of leaving the basic to reach the height does not work in this situation. Therefore a devotee should be extremely careful and follow the sequence of Ashtanga Yoga – rules, resistance towards passions, aasana, praanaayaama, restraining the sense organs, conception, meditation and deep devotion. He should neither forget the sequence nor over indulge in them.
Rules and resistance towards passions are the two basic principles of Ashtaanga Yoga and devotees should concentrate on these two along with the practice of Yoga. Rules and resistance towards passions are both five in number. The five forms of resistance towards passions are -non-violence, truth, not stealing others things, celibacy and not collecting unwanted things. The five rules are – purification, satisfaction, devotion, regular and continuous study of Vedas and deep devotion towards God. Resistance towards passions, rules, aasana, praanaayaama and restraining the sense organs are external resources of Yoga. The internal resources of Yoga are – grasping, meditation and deep meditation, which are also called control.
Control Breathing to Control your Mind
Breath control or Praanaayaama is a very good stress-busting exercise. However those suffering from chronic blood pressure ailments and heart patients should consult their physicians before practicing this. Let the wisdom of ancient Indian seers help you to lead a better and healthy life.
Have you ever noticed that when you are surprised by incredible news you tend to hold your breath? It is a natural reaction. This can also work backwards, i.e., if you can control your breathing, you can control your mind. This is the basic principle behind "pranayama" - the technique of yogic breathing exercises. Though on a gross level you are trying to gain control over your breathing, in essence subconsciously you are trying to gain control over your very prana (the vital life force). Prana means "life force" and "yama" means "practice". So, pranayama is the science of gaining control over vital life force beginning with gaining control over your breath.
On an average a human being has a respiratory rate of 15 to 20 respirations. Ancient Indian yogis believed that by reducing the respiratory rate, longevity can be enhanced. Yogis have recommended that you should draw breath, hold breath, and breathe out at the ratio of 1:4:2 for healthy living. Holding breath is called "Kumbaka pranayama". Kumbaka pranayama helps you to gain control over the working of your mind and ultimately over your senses. A regular practice of this improves the praanic energy of an individual to a great extent. This is the reason that pranayama is mandatory before performing occult Rituals in Indian tradition.
A regular practitioner of pranayama gains such praanic vitality that he can use his praanic energy for healing purposes. Very many occult siddhis (possibilities) are obtained if a practitioner is successful in performance of pranayama. There are various types of pranayama: some are useful for purification of body (like bastika), some are useful for improving vitality, some to generate heat, some to cool your body (seethali pranayama),etc. These should be learnt under the close supervision of an expert as faulty practice of these can lead to undesirable side effects.
However there is one particular type of pranayama called suka-purvaka pranayama which anyone can practice with good results. In this respiration is done with alternate nostrils. Close your nostril with your right thumb. Draw in air for duration of 5 seconds. After that close both nostrils and hold your breath for duration of 20 seconds. Then release the air slowly for duration of 10 seconds with your right nostril (by closing the left nostril with the little and ring fingers of your right hand). Now, closing the left nostril, draw in air using the right nostril for 5 seconds. Hold breath for 20 seconds, and leave out air through your left nostril (by closing your right nostril with your right thumb). This is one cycle of suka-puraka pranayama. Beginners should restrict themselves to 5 cycles per day and should progress gradually.
The practice of this pranayama mentioned above improves vitality, gives cure from respiratory diseases, improves the functioning of the lungs, and helps the yogi to convert ojas (physical vitality) into tejas (spiritual and psychic vitality). While practicing this, you will observe that your mind comes under your control gradually. You will feel energized after this practice. The time duration mentioned above is for beginners. As you progress, you can gradually improve on the duration taking care to maintain the ratio of 1:4:2. Never exert yourself forcibly while doing this. This should be done with a conscious mind and deliberate rhythm.
The practice of this pranayama mentioned above improves vitality, gives cure from respiratory diseases, improves the functioning of the lungs, and helps the yogi to convert ojas (physical vitality) into tejas (spiritual and psychic vitality). While practicing this, you will observe that your mind comes under your control gradually. You will feel energized after this practice. The time duration mentioned above is for beginners. As you progress, you can gradually improve on the duration taking care to maintain the ratio of 1:4:2. Never exert yourself forcibly while doing this. This should be done with a conscious mind and deliberate rhythm.
Various methods of pranayama are described in the classic scriptural texts and each pranayama has its own importance. However, a practitioner will find it hard to practice all the seven types of pranayama on a daily basis. Therefore Yoga experts have formulated a sequence and time for all the seven Praanayaamas with their experience and divine blessings of god and teachers. Find a right Guru and practice pranayama and the various types of Yoga as per your need and capability.
This revised process of Pranayama takes around 20 minutes and a practitioner reaps the following benefits with regular practice:
1. Overcomes vaata, pitta and kapha problems.
2. Maintains the functioning of the digestive system and cures all the stomach diseases.
3. Relieves the diseases related to the heart, lungs and brain.
4. It is beneficial in cases of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, constipation, gastric trouble, acidity, respiratory problems, allergy, migraine, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, sexual diseases in men and women and even fatal diseases like cancer.
5. It can prevent hereditary diseases like diabetes and heart problems.
6. It prevents aging and is beneficial in controlling hair loss, premature graying of hair, wrinkled skin, poor eyesight, forgetfulness, etc.
7. The seven-step pranayama process gives a natural glow and shine on the face.
8. It purifies the chakras and arouses their strength, thereby providing spiritual strength and arousal of kundalini.
9. It keeps the mind calm, peaceful and cheerful and overcomes depression.
10. It is helpful in contemplation and also gives the strength to meditate for several hours.
11. It relieves all the physical and mental problems along with negative conditions like anger, lust, greed, attachment and ego.
12. It cures all physical problems, removes foreign particles from the body, etc.
13. Negative conditions are replaced with positive ones and the practitioner remains happy and cheerful.
Sit in any meditative posture and breath in deeply with both the nostrils and breath out with full force. This is known as Bhastrika pranayama. This can be done in three ways depending on the capacity, slow, medium or fast. People with weak heart and lungs should do it slowly. A healthy person and old practitioners (experts) should increase the pace gradually. This pranayama should be done for three to five minutes.
Breathe in deeply and think in the mind that the divine strength, energy, purity, peace and happiness present in the universe are entering into my mind along with the vital life energy. I am filled with divine strengths.
1. Patients of high blood pressure and heart disease should not practice this pranayama at a fast pace.
2. Do not fill the air into the stomach and do not expand it. Breath into the diaphragm, the stomach will not expand but the ribs and chest will expand.
3. Practice it for less duration during summers.
4. In case of kapha and sinusitis, people suffer from nose blockage. Such people should close the right nostril and breathe in through left nostril and then repeat it on the other side. Then they should breathe in and out from both the nostrils.
5. This pranayama should be done up to five minutes regularly.
6. Keep the eyes closed and chant Aum mentally with every breath.
1. It overcomes cold-catarrh, allergy, respiratory diseases, asthma, chronic cold, sinusitis and other kapha related problems. It strengthens the lungs, heart and brain and gives pure oxygen.
2. It cures thyroid problems, tonsil problems and other throat problems.
3. It maintains the equilibrium of all the three doshas and evacuates toxic and foreign substances from the body.
4. It stabilizes the mind and prana, and is helpful in the arousal of kundalini.
Kapal means brain and bhati means glow, shine, brightness, light, etc. The pranayama which gives a natural glow, brightness and shine to the face is known as Kapalbhati. It is slightly different from the previous one. In case of Bhastrika, breathing in and out are done with equal force and pace, but in this case the breathing out is done with full force and breathing in is done automatically as a reaction to throwing out the air. Breathing out process is done with full concentration. This contracts and expands the stomach and strengthens mooladhara, swadishthana and manipura chakras. This should be done for at least five minutes.
At the time of practicing this pranayama, the practitioner should think that he is throwing out all the problems of the body. Along with the breath the problems are getting relieved. The person should throw out the air with this feeling whatever it might be, doshas, anger, lust, greed, hatred, jealousy, etc. Think that diseases are getting relieved while breathing out to reap full benefit.
It should be done for three to five minutes. Take rest in between whenever you feel tired in the beginning. After one or two months, practice it for five minutes without stopping. This is the complete duration. Initially, the person could suffer from stomach or backache but it will get relieved gradually. The people with pitta nature should do it for two minutes in summers.
1. It increases glow, brightness and shine on the face.
2. Overcomes all kapha related diseases like asthma, allergy, sinusitis, etc.
3. It is beneficial in case of heart, lung or cerebral problems.
4. It reduces weight, diabetes, gastric trouble, acidity, kidney and prostrate problems.
5. Constipation is also cured with five minutes of regular practice. Diabetes is controlled without medicine and it also reduces excess fat from the stomach by four to eight kilos within one month. It opens blockages of the heart.
6. The mind becomes stable, calm and cheerful. It removes negative conditions and depression, etc.
7. It purifies the chakras and circulates a divine energy.
8. This pranayama is beneficial for the health of the stomach, pancreas, liver, spleen, intestines, prostate and kidney. This pranayama is sufficient to cure almost all the stomach problems, which even asanas cannot do. It also strengthens weak intestines.
1. Sit in padmasana or siddhasana and breathe out completely at one time.
2. Do moolbandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha and stop the breath (externally).
3. Remove the bandhas and breathe in slowly.
4. Inhale and without stopping inside, breathe out and repeat the process as mentioned in the previous steps. This can be done three to 21 times depending on the capacity.
Think mentally that all the diseases, doshas, negative energies are going out from the body as you throw out the air. Strong resolution at the time of doing this pranayama relieves all problems and gives instant results.
This is a harmless pranayama and overcomes playfulness of the mind. It increases digestive fire and is beneficial in case of stomach problems. It makes the mind sharp and bright. It purifies the body, overcomes seminal problems, night pollution, early ejaculation and other humour related diseases. This pranayama has special strength on all the stomach organs and initially the practitioner could feel some pain in stomach or weakness. Therefore it should be done with all the bandhas.
Method of closing the nostrils: Close the right nostril with the thumb and (alternately) the left nostril with the little finger and ring finger. The hand should be raised slightly above (it should not be in front of the nose).
The left nostril denotes the moon, strength or calm, therefore this pranayama begins with left nostril. Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale from the left nostril. After inhaling close the left nostril with ring finger and little finger and exhale from the right nostril. The pace of inhaling and exhaling should be increased gradually. Breathe in and out with full force and maintain the pace of respiration either slow, medium or fast depending on the physical strength. Fast pace of inhaling and exhaling creates loud sound in breathing. After breathing out completely, close the left nostril and breathe in from right nostril. Then close the right nostril and breathe in from left nostril. This is one cycle. Repeat it several times. In case of slight tiredness, take rest in between and repeat. Begin the practice from three minutes and increase it up to ten minutes. Regular practice for a few days increases the capacity of the person and the practitioner can do it for five minutes without stopping. Everybody practice it for at least five minutes and maximum ten minutes but not more. During summers it should be done for three to five minutes. Regular practice for five minutes arouses the energy accumulated in mooladhara chakra and helps in arousal of kundalini. Chant Aum mentally with every breath. This makes the mind suitable for attaining the stage of contemplation.
Think that sushumna nadi is getting aroused with the friction of right and left nostrils. Imagine that a divine light is moving upwards till sahasrara chakra.
Think that the whole body is enlightened with a divine light. Imagine the presence of divine light inside and outside the body and visualize Aum Kham Brahma.
Think that the divine energy, strength and knowledge are present on all the four sides of the body, that almighty god is filling celestial energy in the body, take in the energy. Guru is the only source of inspiration for getting this energy and guru combines with heavenly feelings. Anulom-Vilom pranayama done in this manner gives physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Mooladhara chakra arouses a light and arouses kundalini, the divine knowledge will flow upwards and gain tremendous energy.
1. This pranayama purifies 72 crore 72 lakh ten thousand two hundred and ten nerves. Purification of all the nerves makes the body strong, bright and healthy.
2. It cures joint pain, arthritis, gout, Parkinson’s disease, nervous weakness, vata diseases, urinary problems, humor related diseases, seminal loss, acidity, pitta, cold, catarrh, chronic cold, sinusitis, asthma, cough, tonsils and other kapha diseases. It cures tridoshas.
3. It opens heart blockages. Regular practice of this pranayama opens around 30 to 40 percent blockage within three to four months. We have experienced it practically on several patients.
4. It overcomes the irregularities of cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL or LDL, etc.
5. It replaces negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It helps in keeping the mind happy, fearless and enthusiastic.
6. In a nutshell pranayama purifies the mind, body and virtues. It cures all the ailments and the mind becomes capable of contemplation.
7. Repeat this pranayama 250 to 500 times, the energy present in the mooladhara chakra moves upwards and helps in the arousal of kundalini.
Note: See the cautions and methods of arousal of kundalini for further information in this regard.
Inhale completely, press the base of the nostrils with the little fingers, close the ears with your thumbs, keep the index fingers on the forehead, close the eyes and place the ring and middle fingers on the closed eyes. Chant Aum with the mouth closed (only the humming sound) and exhale. The sound resembles the sound of a honeybee, hence the name brahmari pranayama. Repeat it at least three times and maximum up to 21 times.
Imagine the synchronization of celestial power with divine strength. The practitioner should think that god is showering his empathy, love and happiness on him. He or she should visualize a divine light in the Aajnyaa chakra and removing all the ignorance present in the mind. The practitioner should feel that he or she is getting eternal wisdom. Pranayama done with such pure thoughts helps in reaching contemplation.
It overcomes playfulness of the mind and is very beneficial for meditation. It is beneficial in cases of mental stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
All the above-mentioned pranayamas should be followed by udgeet pranayama. Our eyebrows resemble the shape of Aum. The body and the entire universe are full of Aum. It is not an individual or a shape; it is a divine strength, which is circulating in the whole universe. As a knower, the practitioner should inhale and exhale so slowly that he or she should not feel the sound of respiration. The breathing should be so gentle that even a piece of cotton kept in front of the nose should not move. Try to feel the respiration from within. In the beginning you will feel it only at the tip of the nose but gradually you will experience it deep within. In this way chanting Aum for some time helps in contemplation of mind. The practitioner will be able to concentrate the mind and get engrossed in Aumkar. Gayatri mantra should also be chanted after understanding its meaning along with Aumkar. This will help the person in getting engrossed in the true form of god, which gives happiness. This should be practiced at bedtime also in order to enjoy sound sleep. It overcomes bad dreams and gives sound sleep.
In the beginning, close the right nostril and inhale from left nostril just like Anulom-Vilom pranayama. Stop the breath inside and do moolbandha and jalandhar bandha. Remove jalandhar bandha after sometime and exhale very slowly from the right nostril. Then inhale from right nostril and do kumbhaka, stop the breath inside and exhale very slowly from the left nostril. This is one complete cycle or nadi shodhana pranayama.
It is very beneficial if done with full concentration without pressing the nostrils. It helps in concentrating the mind and gives a lot of stability. There should not be any sound at the time of inhaling and exhaling. It should be done from one to three times or more. In the beginning, the ratio of poorak, antah kumbhaka and rechaka should be 1:2:2. for example, poorak, antah kumbhaka and rechaka should be done for 10, 20 and 20 seconds respectively. Gradually, the ratio can be increased to 1:4:2. Bahya kumbhaka can be added later and then the ratio can be 1:4:2:2. This pranayama should be done at a very slow pace. Focus on pace of respiration and its intensity instead of number of repetitions. This is more beneficial, and inhaling, controlling and exhaling the breath is the actual result of this pranayama. There is no need to take rest in between. Chanting Aum or gayatri mantra mentally is favorable while doing this.
The advantages are similar to Anulom-Vilom pranayama.