Anybody interested in yoga should read Swami Satyananda Saraswati's "Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha" or BKS Iyengar's "Light on Yoga" or Swami Vishnu Devananda's "The Complete Book of Yoga" (to name but 3 excellent authoritative books)
I didn't want to simply repeat what others have explained brilliantly elsewhere, so my "What is Yoga" focuses on its ancient roots and universal appeal and I include ideas that may be lacking in other books. I therefore don't go into the traditional subjects of hatha yoga namely asana, pranayama, meditation, bandha, etc (all of these are taught in our yoga teacher training program).
Yoga means union; often seen as the union of body and mind or the union of the individual human spirit with the universal, great spirit.
Techniques and methods to harness and liberate the body, to educate the individual and expand consciousness were important aspects of all ancient civilisations from Egypt to China. It's the process of becoming a fully functional adult with responsibilities towards family and / or society as well as liberating the individual from his own negative habits and so to fully develop his potential.
Part of this knowledge was generally diffused but higher levels of practice were only taught in special schools or organisations such as religious groupings or the ancient Mystery Schools.
Access to information depended on the various levels of initiation through which disciples had to pass to merit accessing further knowledge.
Knowledge included health, hygiene and medicine but was not limited to the physical body, breathing techniques and meditation but included mathematics and numerology, astronomy, music and dance. This approach to personal evolution through knowledge existed in all parts of the world right at the dawn of civilisation and is part of the inheritance received from the lost civilisations of the pre-flood era, the catastrophic events which wiped out the previous cycle of civilisation between 20.000 to 10.000 BCE, when the ice melted, sea levels rose by over 100 metres and other climatic changes plunged the globe from ice age into the current condition.
Certainly Yoga and Tantra, the Indian names associated with these practices date from at least the Indus Valley cultures which already existed by 8000 BCE. Excavations at Harappa have pushed back our sense of time regarding the origin of our civilisation and yet even these well documented facts are mostly ignored in school books and universities.
Yoga is discussed in detail in the Baghavad Gita which is part of the Indian epic The Mahabharata, further in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. These make up the classic texts.
The Baghavad Gita focuses on right action, fulfilling one's duty and mission; how through discernment and right conduct spiritual evolution and transcendence may be achieved.
The Yoga Sutras focus on moral precepts before any other techniques should be practised, it's only through mastering these moral commandments that a disciple can truly transcend his spiritual limitations.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika focuses on asanas (postures) to strengthen and purify the body, working also on concentration and co-ordination together with breath control in order to provide the disciple with a firm grounding and healthy body. It's only by developing both body and mind that the disciple is made ready to receive further instruction and can comprehend the importance of the moral commandments.
Various approaches have always existed and the difference in approach made for a different school or tradition. The pedagogical approach chosen depends on the history and experience of the instructor and the level at which he is teaching.
Students of yoga come with their own history and experience and need to find the type of teacher most suited.
Yoga has the great advantage of being a profound and coherent system of physical exercise, breathing techniques, meditation and philosophy as well as knowledge of the human energy system, psychology and nutrition. Nothing less than a total program for health, well-being and spiritual advancement.
Oriental teachers and most western teachers of oriental systems of philosophy are often ignorant of the western traditions which are all fundamentally based on Platonism and Neo-Platonism. For westerners any real spiritual and cultural grounding must involve an understanding of the occidental traditions and the specific meaning and mission these developed. Ignoring them means not looking at the big picture. Ignorance of their own culture cuts people off from the flow of energy to which they are heirs. A vibrational resonance to which they should be naturally attuned.
Westerners who believe that all wisdom is to be found in the east are deluding themselves. However it may be necessary to go east before returning to the west.
There has been a great need in the west to re-vitalise spirituality and religion by studying the great eastern spiritual traditions. The strength of yoga is it's coherence on all levels, providing grounding and a logical step by step approach to understanding spiritual philosophy without any need for just believing. (similar to Zen or Platonism)
Physical disciplines like Yoga or others that have great therapeutic value coupled with profound life enhancing philosophies are obviously very attractive, especially in a materialist culture that has lost it's way. The spiritual re-fertilisation and fusion of ideas in the west is a great hope for the future of mankind because it produces a wave of consciousness which is building up a critical mass helping more and more people to tune in and get the message. It may still be on a simple level but the broader the base the broader also the platform at the top of the pyramid with ever more beacons to light up the path.
Europe's particular history started with the Greeks who synthesized oriental wisdom and infused it with their own genius. Man was still bound by loyalty to clans and city states but fundamentally he was an individual with a personal mission to accomplish. The fetters binding his individual consciousness to that of the group were broken. In tales, myths, tragedies and comedies the Greeks constantly emphasised the importance of individuals in shaping their destinies and in free communication with divine principles. It was this freedom of consciousness which produced such a liberating effect that it could generate such amazing creativity in every field.
The idea of personal freedom is the running theme throughout western history and culture. It has not yet reached it's full potential and has often only reared its ugly head in blatant egotistical strife but its underlying value and importance for the development of mankind cannot be denied.
Freedom means the right to use one's own free will. However one must then suffer the effects of all the causes one has set in motion. Given too much rope many people will hang themselves. The Greeks themselves emphasised discipline and harmony, starting with a healthy body and healthy mind, the grounding and self confidence necessary for improvements in other fields.
Denying personal freedom means moving back in history. It is through the development of personal consciousness, that means exercising free will and understanding the nature of impermanence and cause and effect that new spiritual group awareness can be developed.
The oriental systems are here to stay. Yoga has proved its great benefits and has adapted brilliantly to the needs of modern man. Fusion with the western spiritual traditions is now necessary to turn the page of the century.
Platonism, Neo-Platonism and Christianity (which literally and philosophically built its churches on the old temples) are not a spent force. But their esoteric meaning and mystical nature have to be born out, understood and taught. Not just in an intellectual way; reason and logic lead to cognition but experiencing the learning process through the body, through meditation and the process of initiation opens our centres of consciousness which are fundamentally energetic and informational but include also the irrational..
Religious bigotry, arrogance and fanaticism have always existed but are of course irreligious, ignorant and vile. It has nothing to do with the great souls and their timeless teachings.
Yoga is a science of life on all levels which is why good health is a must, but it includes a spiritual dimension because spiritual growth is our mission. Otherwise life is meaningless. Only by advancing ourselves along with others are we contributing to the illumination of all and aligning ourselves with the source of consciousness and light.
This then is our path, not all duty and hard work but experiencing also great joy deep in our hearts through our chosen practice. Alignment with the source lifts the burden, shows that life's lessons are symbolic rather than personal and helps us stay grounded while contemplating the stars.
Any energy must have a source. The fundamental notion of source or origin of everything in both physical and non-physical realms is sometimes called God or the First Cause. It is the ultimate source beyond and at the beginning of all other sources of creation.
The Big Bang is often viewed as the only origin we can go back to where everything was created in a gigantic explosion. Both matter and consciousness contained in the cosmic egg expanded at phenomenal speed creating the universe known to us.
But it is the void that existed before time and space and the Big Bang and which produced the cosmic egg in the first place that we need to look at. This is the quantum void of infinite probabilities and possibilities which through an impulse incomprehensible to us but is consciousness itself decides to manifest itself in all the myriad possibilities we see reflected in the seen and the unseen. The phenomenal world and the purely energetic , informational un-manifested.
Energy is vital for the content of consciousness to be communicated. Informational blueprints vibrate and resonate in all manner of frequencies slowly establishing themselves in the various hierarchical realms until they get to the most dense, the physical where its organising properties quickly established what we call life on earth. This means the original source or divine principle divides into archetypes, the platonic forms. There is no fundamental difference between the ancient Greek philosophy, Platonism and Neo-Platonism, and Hinduism or Buddhism.
Therefore energy cannot be separated from spirit. All physical phenomena are energetic. Digestive, circulatory or hormonal system are all influenced by mind and emotions. Thinking and praying produce energetic frequencies containing information. The information is perceived passively or actively, consciously or sub-consciously integrated into the body-mind and aura.
Information or its energetic blueprints contain a binary code which allows for coherence and correspondence. That means the information is fundamentally functional and carries meaning but manifests differently on different levels of existence, as above so below, and contains the fundamental polarity necessary for action and growth on each level on which it is active.
Organising principles, coherence and correspondence are directly linked to spirit and consciousness and do not have totally separate existences.
Polarity is the fundamental law of a dynamic universe. Everything divides into male / female; hot - cold; dry - moist etc. Any initiating or affirming impulse must get to a corresponding receiving or enveloping energy. A thing or phenomenon can only be completely understood by knowing its opposite. And that is why there is good and evil. So we can understand the difference and exercise free will. Otherwise we would be clones.
Energy is constantly moving, nothing rests. "Panda Rei" or Everything Changes, Heraclitus' (Greek philosopher 600 BCE) famous realization implies impermanence as the fundamental law of existence. And movement implies vibration. Understanding and tuning into a movement's vibration means becoming sensitive and intuitive to that movement's signature.
Great movements are subdivided into smaller and smaller movements known as cycles, waves, tides and seasons. These have to be understood as both individual rhythms and how they operate to form a greater orchestra. Just the physical body is a universe onto itself. The body's rhythms are vital to keeping healthy. Breathing, heart rate, digestion, hormonal functioning, sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system and sleep, all have their own specific rhythm integrated and co-ordinated to function coherently as a larger organism..
Energy, not being static produces effects which by their very nature of manifesting themselves also manifest their cause. Every action has its reaction. Understanding the cause or multiple causes behind the apparent manifestations helps living more consciously as we become more aware that destiny is shaped by our own application of free will. We reap what we sow. It doesn't mean we can control everything; accepting and understanding that causation is multi-layered and maybe ultimately beyond human intellectual comprehension is another way of tuning into the great cosmic laboratory.
Energy gives rise to expression and form. Love existing in the field of both emotion and spirit gives rise to selfless human (and animal) action whereas beauty is expressed directly in the physical manifestation of the universe. Great beauty reminds us of something, that in fact the world is beautiful. This touches heart and soul keeping us connected to the ultimate source of love and beauty.
The vibrational universe is an enchanted universe with life teeming on all levels of existence. Prana or "The Informational Spiritual Life Force" is the energetic thread which permeates all of creation.
Karma is the Sanscrit word for action and reaction, or to us cause and effect which governs destiny and fate.
Any analysis of a given situation whether personal, social, economic or political will try to rationalize the causes which have produced the given effect. And the more complex the situation or problem the more difficult it is to discern the underlying cause or perhaps multiple causes. Not only that, the various causes may exist on various levels and may be open to widely differing interpretations.
Illness and disease is a case in point as stress factors, psychological blockages and defence mechanisms, lifestyle, diet and relationships all have to be taken into consideration.
However there is always the concept of a primal cause or origin, the idea of a starting point, creating movement in a particular direction.
Then there's the fact that multiple, seemingly unrelated factors converge to produce a specific result. So somebody may get sick or even seriously ill due to various factors including stress at work, problems in the relationship or lack of it, bad diet and digestion, lack of exercise etc which will cause the physical, emotional, mental and spirit bodies to show signs and symptoms which indicate a lack of coherence.
The various human organisms need to function at optimal coherence to produce optimal health. All the various functions produce the one, human individual, and all the levels of human functioning must be taken into consideration.
So the nature of or relationship between cause and effect makes us think, analyse and contemplate our actions and their possible reactions. This in turn leads to a higher state of awareness. If this is not the case bad habits or mistakes are often repeated until the individual finally becomes aware of the link between a given situation and and his /her own contribution towards its cause. Blaming others will no longer suffice! The individual's own role in shaping himself and the world around him becomes obvious and the fact that he/she exercises free will regarding his own destiny starts to dawn on him/her.
The physical body and character with it's talents and difficulties are all part of our innate nature. We are not born as white sheets of paper for our parents, educators and the environment to inscribe a random story. A 2-fold process of how the innate individual's nature is nurtured and how it reacts and develops is the process of growing up.
Understanding Karma means working towards a better understanding of ourselves and changing and adjusting in a positive way and through our own effort, creating a more meaningful and therefore more fulfilled life. It is possible to transcend the narrow and limited self, simply no longer accepting to live in our own shadow but to step forward into the light of our own illuminated light body deeply feeling the connection with the divine life force.
Any kind of therapy is a way of working on and therefore improving ourselves. Diet, exercise and relaxation are essential to well-being. Recognizing negative emotions such as anger and how they are fuelled or fed by thought processes is another dimension and just as important.
But real spiritual progress can only be made by opening the heart. Forgiveness is not just a mental process but must be worked on, felt and applied. Expiation and atonement are fundamental steps towards redemption. But forgiveness is also about forgiving and loving ourselves and therefore learning to value who we are and developing a healthy sense of self-esteem. Only then can intuition flow freely and we can follow it confidently as a guiding beacon.
In this way, who we are, our past karma, can be transcended, even transmuted as the past can be healed and is therefore no longer relevant. The present becomes the creative motor uniting past, present and future. Anything done with good intention frees us from negative spiritual karma even if the result is difficult or unpleasant on the physical plane.
By uniting the intelligence of heart and head the nature of cause and effect may be comprehended at a deeper level. Contemplation is the key to higher awareness.
However life is complex. Even the most saintly fall ill or may become the victim of an assassin's bullet.
Although we are ultimately the architects and masons of our own destiny certain events in life may be fated.
Fate is a karma that cannot be avoided. It has to be lived, experienced and dealt with to be exhausted. Even if it were possible to avoid or dodge, it would catch up with the individual at a later stage.
The impossibility of running away from fate is the great theme of Greek tragedies. These events may come into a person's life at any time and have their cause in the individual's long history of rebirths. But by experiencing, witnessing, accepting and living through it this old karma too will be burnt and the flame extinguished so that on his deathbed the person can truly look back at a life well lived; no matter the pain which was only a temporary purging.
Cause and effect are fundamental principles of esoteric science. The idea of random movement devoid of meaning implies a meaningless universe. Spiritual philosophy holds that the universe is not merely functional but that love and beauty are part of it. In fact it is these fundamental principles which inspire it. "Love is the architect of the universe" (Hesiod)
The unseen and spirit world is far greater than the physical universe and is ultimately governed by moral principles. To understand this we need more than a process of rational investigation. It involves the irrational and mystical dimension as well as an opening of heart and mind. Experience in real life is in-dispensable. Those who have very limited experiences rarely have deep interior realisations. That is why many people of high rank in religious orders or many therapists and teachers often show a great discrepancy between what they preach and teach and true life experience. It remains book knowledge or what they heard from their master. They teach the teachings without having paid the price.
Transcendence cannot be achieved by reading a book. It may inspire and inform, giving us food for thought. Suffering and reading about suffering is not the same thing. And so it is with everything else, meditation, exercise, climbing a mountain or experiencing great joy in profound connection with the divine principle flowing into one's aura.
That love and light are more fundamental than the flesh can be experienced in and through the physical body. There's no need negating the flesh; after all it's our nature and vehicle. But feeling vital energy surging through the body is not an intellectual experience. It is as real as climbing a mountain, dancing or making love (tantra) and can be witnessed while engaged in these activities or any others.
What the great masters have taught is more profoundly real than anything else. And it is attainable now more easily than at any time in recent history. Some effort and a good guide are necessary.
Exercising free will and taking responsibility for our actions in the experimental dimension of time and space where cause and effect flows from the divine logos, supplies both the grounding and sharpens the spirit.
Energetic disciplines, be they Yoga or any other physical, moral and spiritual discipline will have the same result if the disciple has enough motivation and discernment to tread the path and there is a true desire to taste the magic for himself. Guide or master will manifest sooner or later.
The universe is truly enchanted and stripped of it's magic only if the human mind contemplating it is devoid of imagination and cut off from the divine energy flowing through him/her. A faulty radio cannot be expected to pick up on the finer frequencies. Denial is no measure of truth.
It is by hauling the spirit out of the dungeon and paying homage to its divine origin that health is also regained.