Exploring the Different Types of Yoga

Yoga is generally understood as a process of unification. This unification is multifaceted. In one dimension, it is a unification of the various systems that exist within the human being including the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual systems. In total there are believed to be five different systems within human life. These are typically referred to as the koshas which are the physical, energetic, mental, subtle, and bliss sheaths. In our current understanding of yoga, we are working to unify these five bodies or layers of the human being. Another process of unification occurs between of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.

This unification is often referred to as Samadhi and is one of the primary transformations that occur within the practice of yoga. Observing this from a different angle, Samadhi is a transformation of perception in which disillusionments about the world are reformed so that the truth behind reality can be seen in its purest of form. Yoga, as a system, has developed into various branches through which people pursue the evolution and unification of the elements within their being. Each branch retains its own unique set of ideas and philosophies which defined the process and eventual obtainment of complete unification.

There is no right or wrong system of yoga as the each possesses their own distinct characteristics that accommodate the needs of various characteristics and personalities that exist among human beings. Each system is designed to accommodate a different personality type, and yoga has developed into a broad reaching system that can be practiced by nearly anyone who is interested in pursuing a spiritual life. A practice like Jnana yoga is ideal for someone who is philosophically minded whereas the practice of bhakti yoga is good for someone who is emotionally perceptive and inclined towards a sense of devotion. In this article we will be reviewing the more mainstream practices of yoga which are derived from the tradition of yogic spirituality. These traditions of yoga are as young as 500 years and as old as several thousand. While there are many modern practices of yoga which have been defined by various teachers, the systems we will be discussing are traditional systems which have been in existence throughout many generations.

Bhakti Yoga The first system we will discuss it is Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a practice in which the spiritual practitioner focuses on developing a state of devotion within the mind and the heart. In bhakti yoga a strong sense of faith is needed as one is expected to submit themselves to God through a process of self surrendering. The practices and techniques of bhakti yoga are therefore designed to help surrendered the ego and embrace with love the thought of the creator. The more common practices of bhakti yoga are kirtan (chanting/song), japa (mantra repetition), and meditation on the divine.

Usually the practice of bhakti yoga is advised to be practiced by those who are well connected to their emotions and also receptive of more subtle feelings within themselves and others. Emphatic love defines the practice of bhakti yoga as the practitioner devotes their whole being towards the spiritual divine. A belief in God or a higher being is vital to the practice, and without it, it is near to impossible to practice bhakti yoga. The devotion that is practiced by the bhakti Yogi is not one of slavery towards the divine. Rather, it is a relationship that is filled with love, friendship, and companionship. In bhakti yoga people view God as a friend, a lover, a father, or mother. It is through this relationship that bhakti yoga is practiced. There are many aspects of devotion for the bhakti yogi; there are many forms of God that are worshiped in yoga including Shiva, Vishnu, Brahman, Parvatti, etc. Aside from the metaphysical forms of God, a guru or teacher can also be worshiped within the practice. The primary purpose of this practice is to help in relinquishing the ego and unifying the individual being with the universal.

Karma Yoga Karma is an aspect of human life that is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is believed in yoga that Karma keeps the cycle of rebirth in motion as past actions and events force us to take another life in the world to balance out the inequalities that we have imposed within our spirit and the universe. Once accumulated Karmic merit is balanced or destroyed then cycle of birth and death is stopped and the spirit is return to its origins within the universal divine. The practice of Karma yoga directly addresses this primary aspect of life, works to abolish the effects of Karma with disciplined action that formulates a separation between the individual and the effects of Karma. This separation occurs through a process of disassociation in which the individual separates themselves from the benefits or losses from their actions within the world.

The practice of Karma yoga is typically based around one’s Dharma or duties within the world. Dharma is determined by the actions of the individual in the past, including both the past of the current life as well as the past of previous lives. In some respects, Dharma is the most effective way for an individual to use their time on earth for spiritual progress as it is based upon the realistic capacities and potential of the individual. One of the main components of Dharma is acting in the world without thought of the benefits or losses of one’s actions. The practitioner lives and acts within the world without any expectations or imposed impressions of how the future should unfold. The mind is focused on selfless service and working for the benefit of the greater good as opposed to the independent needs of the individual. In Karma yoga the practice is gradual as the individual slowly relinquishes the bonds of karma and liberates the spirit from the confines of egocentric thought processes.

Although a Karma yogi may practice techniques such as the asanas, breathing practices, and meditations, the primary focus of their spiritual practice is service and actions with the focus of selflessness and humbleness. The first mention of Karma yoga is within the Bhagavad-Gita in a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. In this dialogue, Krishna informs Arjuna that he can merge his consciousness with Krishna’s when he surrenders his actions to the divine (which in this case is Krishna). Krishna encourages Arjuna to act and follow out his duty without worry or consideration of the benefits or losses of his actions. He informs Arjuna that acting in the name of Krishna (or divine) will provide him with the liberation that he has set forth to achieve.

Kundalini Yoga Kundalini yoga is a practice of yoga which originated from the practice of tantra yoga. Historically speaking, tantra yoga is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality which is still in practice today. One of the key components of tantra yoga is the incorporation of kundalini which is considered to be the primordial force existence within each human being. The practice of Kundalini yoga was formed to control and harness the potential of the kundalini energy within the body. Unlike the other systems of yoga, kundalini yoga can be a highly unstable practice of yoga as the release of kundalini energy can lead to extreme psychological and physical disorders if not controlled in the proper manner.

Abdominal Weight Loss

Whenever anyone says or gestures that they want to lose weight, most of the time, they point to their guts saying “I wanna lose all this!” Obviously, abdominal weight loss is a goal for many people.

However, what most people might not be aware of is that-of all exercises-Yoga actually can help immensely for weight loss in the abdominal region. There are specific poses, that target excess weight in the abdomen and coupled with a customized diet, those seeking abdominal weight loss would find success in using these yoga exercises.

Let’s go over them, shall we?

Abdominal Weight Loss: Yoga Poses to Use.

1. The Sun Salutations: These are a combination of poses that serve as a warm up-routine for a Yoga session or class. They are very similar to the popular calisthenics exercise known as burpees. However, they differ in that they have a spiritual significance included as a result of executing them. Due to the forward and backward bending motions involved, after performing a few to several rounds on a daily basis, you are bound to notice a marked loss of weight in you abdominal area and the added bonus of muscular tone.

2. The Bow Pose: This simple pose involves laying flat on your belly and grabbing your ankles with both arms while simultaneously lifting your head up high. When performed correctly, you should be resting on your abdomen. Needless to say, it is a pose commonly recommended for weight loss and the prevention and correction of chronic constipation.

3. The Peacock Pose: This is slightly more challenging. The objective is to balance your abdomen on your conjoined elbows while simultaneously raising your legs and head of the floor. Naturally, merely attempting it speeds up abdominal weight loss and detoxification of the visceral organs and the preparatory stage could suffice as the actual execution of the pose till the mastery of it is achieved.

4. The Abdominal Lift: This is not a pose, per-se but is a specific exercise that involves you exhaling your breath and pulling the diaphragm in while holding the breath out. This is a specific abdominal exercise for weight loss, spiritual rejuvenation and detoxification.

Now friends, there are other poses such as the shoulder-stand, the forward-bending pose, the spinal twist and the wheel pose that also target increase in muscular tone and weight loss in the abdominal regions, however from practice the 4 above will perhaps be the most effective.

Do note though that if you are female and pregnant or in your menstrual period, some of these poses might not be the best to execute.

Moreover, since these poses-besides helping with abdominal weight loss-aid tremendously with detoxifying, it is advised that one eats a proper and healthy diet to augment the actions of these poses.

Other fantastic exercises for abdominal weight loss include your intense Aerobics, the use of the ab-wheel, basic sit-ups, windmills etc.

So empower yourself with these tips and information to achieve your goal for weight loss. Lose that gut starting today.

12-Step Salute to the Sun

One of the all-around yoga exercises is the 12-step salute to the sun. Do it once or twice when you get up in the morning to help relieve stiffness and invigorate the body. Multiple repetitions at night will help you to relax; insomniacs often find that six to 12 rounds help them fall asleep.

1. Stand with your feet slightly apart, palms together, thumbs against your chest.

2. Inhale deeply while slowly raising your hands over your head, and bend back as far as possible, while tightening your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

3. Slowly exhale and bend forward, keeping your knees straight, until your fingers touch the floor outside your feet. (If you can’t touch the floor, go as close as you can.) Bring your head in toward your knees.

4. Slowly inhale, bend your knees, and if your fingertips aren’t outside your feet on the floor, place them there. Slide your right foot back as far as you can go, with the right knee an inch or so off the floor, (a lunge position). Now look up as high as possible, arching your back.

5. Before exhaling again, slide your left foot back until it is beside the right one, and with your weight supported on your palms and toes, straighten both legs so that your body forms a flat plane. Make sure your stomach is pulled in.

6. Slowly exhale, bend both knees to the floor, bend with your hips in the air, lower your chest and forehead to the floor.

7. Now inhale slowly and look up, bending your head back, then raising it, followed by your upper chest, then lower chest. Your lower body – from the navel down – should be on the floor, and your elbows should be slightly bent. Hold for three to five seconds.

8. Exhale slowly and raise your hips until your feet and palms are flat on the floor and your arms and legs are straight in an inverted V position.

9. Inhale slowly and bring your right foot forward as in position 4. The foot should be flat on the floor between your fingertips. The left leg should be almost straight behind you, with its knee slightly off the floor. Raise your head, look up, and arch your back.

10. Slowly exhale and bring your left foot forward next to your right one. Straighten your legs and stand, trying to keep your fingertips on the floor, and try to touch your head to your knees as in position 3.

11. Slowly inhale, raise your arms up and stretch back as in position 2. Don’t forget to tighten your buttocks. Hold for three seconds.

12. Slowly exhale, lowering your arms to your sides. Relax. Repeat the series.

Origin and Background

Yoga is an age-old science made up of different disciplines of mind and body. It has originated in India 2500 years ago and is still effective in bringing overall health and well being to any person who does it regularly. The word yoga is based upon a Sanskrit verb Yuja. It means to connect, to culminate or to concur. It’s the culmination of mind and body or the culmination of Jiva and Shiva (soul and the universal spirit). It’s also a culmination of Purush and Prakriti (Yin and Yang).

The term Yoga has a very broad scope. There are several schools or systems of Yoga. Dnyanayoga (Yoga through knowledge), Bhaktiyoga (Yoga through devotion), Karmayoga (Yoga through action), Rajayoga (Royal or supreme Yoga) and Hathayoga (Yoga by balancing opposite principles of body). All of these schools of Yoga are not necessarily very different from each other. They are rather like threads of the same cloth, entangled into each other. For thousands of years, Yoga has been looked upon as an effective way of self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment. All these systems essentially have this same purpose; only the ways of achieving it are little different for each of them. In its most popular form, the term Yoga has come to associate with the last of these systems which is Hathayoga. For the purpose of this article too, the term Yoga is used with the same meaning. Although, when it comes to Philosophy of Yoga, which is at the end of this article, the term Yoga will have a broader scope.

Asana and Pranayama

Let’s take a detailed look at the main two components of Hathayoga i.e. Asana and Pranayama.

a) Asana:
Asana means acquiring a body posture and maintaining it as long as one’s body allows. Asana, when done rightly according to the rules discussed above, render enormous physical and psychological benefits. Asana are looked upon as the preliminary step to Pranayama. With the practice of Asana there is a balancing of opposite principles in the body and psyche. It also helps to get rid of inertia. Benefits of Asana are enhanced with longer maintenance of it. Asana should be stable, steady and pleasant. Here is the summary of general rules to be followed for doing Asana.

Summary of rules:

1. Normal breathing
2. Focused stretching
3. Stable and pleasant postures (sthiram sukham asanam)
4. Minimal efforts (Prayatnay shaithilyam)
5. No comparisons or competition with others
6. No jerks or rapid actions. Maintain a slow and steady tempo.

Each asana has its own benefits and a few common benefits such as stability, flexibility, better hormonal secretion, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s a misconception that an Asana (Yoga stretch) has to be difficult to do in order to be beneficial. Many of the easiest Asana render most of the common benefits of Yoga to their fullest. Besides, the beauty of Yoga is in the fact that at a not-so-perfect level most of the benefits are still available. That means even a beginner benefits from Yoga as much as an expert.

In their quest to find a solution to the miseries of human body and mind, the founders of Yoga found part of their answers in the nature. They watched the birds and animals stretching their bodies in particular fashion to get rid of the inertia and malaise. Based upon these observations, they created Yoga stretches and named them after the birds or animals or fish that inspired these stretches. For example, matsyasana (fish pose), makarasana (crocodile pose), shalabhasana (grasshopper pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), marjarasana (cat pose), mayurasana (peacock pose), vrischikasana (scorpion pose), gomukhasana (cow’s mouth pose), parvatasana (mountain pose), vrikshasana (tree pose) etc.

Many of the Asana can be broadly categorized based upon the type of pressure on the abdomen. Most of the forward bending Asana are positive pressure Asana as they put positive pressure on the stomach by crunching it e.g. Pashchimatanasana, Yogamudra (Yoga symbol pose), Hastapadasana (hand and feet pose), Pavanmuktasana (wind free pose) etc. The backward bending Asana are the negative pressure Asana as they take pressure away from the abdomen e.g. Dhanurasana (bow pose), Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Naukasana (boat pose) etc. Both types of Asana give excellent stretch to the back and abdomen and strengthen both these organs. Alternating between positive and negative pressure on the same area of the body intensifies and enhances blood circulation in that area. The muscle group in use gets more supply of oxygen and blood due to the pressure on that spot. E.g. in Yogamudra (symbol of Yoga), the lower abdomen gets positive pressure due to which Kundalini is awakened. Hastapadasana refreshes all nerves in the back of the legs and also in the back. As a result you feel fresh and rejuvenated. Vakrasana gives a good massage to the pancreas and liver and hence is recommended for diabetic patients

Important Tips for Yoga Success

Yoga has been proven to relieve stress by using exercises that unify the mind, body, and spirit. If you are new to yoga, these seven tips will start you on the road to a more centered life.

1. Talk to your doctor and explain what type of yoga poses you intend to practice. Show your doctor pictures of the poses for illustration. Your doctor may rule out specific poses if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, a history of retinal detachment, or heart disease. Make sure you follow your doctor’s recommendations.
2. Find a yoga class that best fits your abilities. Talk to prospective teachers, and decide whether of not you can handle a program before you sign up. It’s very important to take it one step at a time. Try a few beginner classes before you attempt more vigerous classes. Don’t move ahead too quickly. Allow your body to adjust to your exercises.

3. Listen to your body and be aware of your physical abilities. You don’t want to hurt yourself. Make sure the instructor understands your level of experience and any limitations you may have. Don’t allow anyone to push you ahead too quickly. Remember, this is supposed to be fun and relaxing.

4. If you can’t find a class that meets your needs, you can always practice yoga at home. There are many books, programs, and tapes available to help you get started. Search for the best products on the Internet and read reviews. Talk to others for recommenations.

5. Why not try private lessons? You can book some one-on-one sessions with a teacher in your area. Most yoga instructors offer private classes or can help you design your own program. This is a good way to get started. You can always take group lessons or practice at home after you’ve had private lessons and learned the basics.

6. Find a yoga buddy. It’s nice to practice with someone and it will help reduce injuries. It’s also a great way to keep up your enthusiasm and interest.

7. Eat lightly before practice. Wait at least two hours after meals before yoga class or practice. An empty stomach is best, but don’t let yourself get too hungry to think. You won’t be able to focus on the poses or enjoy yourself during the relaxation or meditation exercises.

Now it’s time to grab your mat and a towel and get the most out of your yoga exercises.