There are records indicating that yoga is at least 5000 years old. Hatha yoga is the main form of yoga taught in the West, this involves mainly the physical aspect of this ancient Indian discipline. Hatha yoga is a physical practice which links the breath, the use and development of your understanding and the cultivation of intelligence within your body so that you become congruent. Each part of you in graceful balance one with the other, the smallest cell with the largest muscle.
There are also many different types of Hatha yoga, taught in the west, just to further confuse you. Iyengar yoga developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, author of “Light on Yoga”, is a strong teaching method with an emphasis on anatomy and physiology and strict adherence to correct alignment.
K. Pattabhi Jois developed Ashtanga yoga, a dynamic Hatha yoga style with an emphasis on aerobic conditioning, flowing movements and balanced breathing. This is a vigorous work out and is not for the elderly or infirm.
T.K.V. Desikachar has developed Vinyasa yoga. This is a gentle method with an emphasis on individual requirements, self practice, chanting and study of relevant texts.
These three men, B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois and T.K.V. Desikachar were all students of Tirumulai Krishnamacharya. The fact that yoga is a part of thousands of peoples’ lives is due, in large measure, to this Indian sage and healer. He was pre-eminent in preserving, teaching and promoting this ancient wisdom. He was a “teacher of teachers.” T.K.V. Desikachar is his son.
Yoga is a practice and area of study that necessarily has to be experienced to be truly understood. It is both physical, mental and spiritual in its application. Discussions and arguments abound as to its relevance, its efficacy, its usefulness to people in this modern age. Yoga is often defined according to the needs of the practitioner or society in which it is practiced or not practiced.
One text, the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, explains that yoga is the union between the universal soul and the individual soul, this working definition requires the practitioner to be conversant with abstract thinking processes, this is often beyond the lay practitioner, caught in the material world.
The Bhagavad Gita is part of an epic, written around 300BC. Krishna, the teacher, focuses on dividing yoga into selfless action (karma yoga), devotion (bhakti yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). This simplifies the practice of yoga making it understandable. Action performed without thought for personal gain but done from a sense of heart felt love is karma yoga, it simplifies how we are to aim to act to achieve the aim of yoga and that is spiritual liberation. Wisdom comes when you realise that the soul energy, god or unconditional love pervades everything and thus you can regard life with equanimity and thus treat others from a deep knowledge of serenity.
Patangali, was a sandscript scholar, grammarian and yogi, he wrote, “The Yoga Sutras”. He made a distinction between consciousness and the soul. He did this to help practitioners control their mental activity by discipline and then renunciation of their attachment to that activity. For it is the movements and attachments of men’s minds and hearts that are the root cause of sorrow.
Each of these texts are manuals of how to become a spiritually realised human and each practitioner on the path of yoga enters the stream at a different place and depth. Understanding comes at the level of one’s consciousness and intelligence and both of these attributes can be developed and refined until your true nature shines forth and that beingness is indescribable.
So the aim of yoga is liberation, by stilling the fluctuations of consciousness. These fluctuations are not the self and when they are active the self identifies with them, it is only when the body, mind and heart are still that an insight into your true nature emerges.
The study of yoga is really the study of the “various conditionings of the human being…in order to learn how far the conditioned zones of the human being extend and tosee if anything else exists beyond these conditionings. Hence it is that, long before depth phychology, the sages and ascetics of India were led to explore the obscure zones of the unconscious.”1
You may have thought yoga was a series of physical stretches and maybe a little deep breathing. I hope I have, for the moment, dispelled that fable. The truth is that the discipline and art of yoga includes physical manoeuvres and manipulations and these are designed to bring to your body health, fitness, balanced chemistry, mental and emotional equanimity. With these in place the practice of mental disciplines becomes possible and the ensuing stillness of mind is deeply energising, renewing, inspiring and leads to the effulgent realisation of the Self.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, said to be by Svatmarama, is an early yoga manual. It imparts information on 16 yoga postures, (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), ways to support the body and energies (bandhas), the use of sounds (nada) and cleansing practices (Krias). It was written “for those who wander in the darkness of conflicting creeds, unable to reach the heights of Raja yoga (meditative states leading to self-knowledge and cosmic consciousness) the merciful yogi, Svatmarama has lit the torch of Hatha wisdom.2”
Hatha Yoga has become in the west a generic term for many forms of yoga. Most practitioners in the west enter the study of yoga needing to tame both the body and mind. Most yoga classes are posture (asana) classes. If you are stiff and elderly and that is when you come to Yoga then the body must be treated slowly and with care, a younger person can and should attempt more vigouous actions.
Yoga can increase your physical and mental wellbeing by improving the quality and circulation of your electro-magnetic energy, fluids and intelligence. It helps to refine and tune your body. For example as you practice Hatha yoga, you may be simultaneously stretching one muscle, relaxing another, contracting another while maintaining focus on the quality of your breath, thus increasing your sensitivity to the structure of your body and noting those reactions which interfere with a balanced breath.
The word Hatha means pressure or force. Ha means sun or positive polarity or high pressure. Tha means moon or negative polarity or low pressure. All things created have polarity. For an event to take place movement or vibration occurs between different pressure gradients. Work, creates heat, by moving from an area of low pressure to one of high pressure, for example, a muscle contracting. The opposite dynamic occurs with the relaxation of a muscle.
The deep conditioning of your body through yoga takes time. Patience and persistance are useful qualities. It is important for you, as a beginner to meet your limitations. At first these appear as physical anomalies caused by accidents, indolent lifestyle or social conditionings. It takes time to correct the obvious physical and mental imbalances to the extent that your body feels freer and more poised in equilibrium. This is done through the exploration of simple postures. The beginner notices very little, then an unnoticed sensation or feeling becomes significant and leads the new practitioner to inner exploration, sensitivity and awakens a curiosity born on the wings of increasing intelligence.. Once the simple postures have been mastered then more complex movements can be attempted safely, using awareness and breath to balance your body. Your true limitation are blockages in your energy.
Yoga teachings have a sophisticated energy anatomy and physiology which are difficult to understand for Westerners because the basic terms and concepts are unknown. Once we accept that there are energy patterns fashioning our body and consciousness Yoga becomes an exploration of energy. You have arrived at the beginning of understanding in Yoga when nothing becomes something.
Patangali outlines the eight stages of yoga. They may be characterised as emotional and mental restraints on the self, self regulation in relation to others, the work of postures, breath control, control of your senses, developing your ability to concentrate, meditation or the ability to beome enthralled in concentration and finally enstay or Samadi, that is, the loss of your personal identity with your ego in a state of ecstatic reflection.
It deprives you of your energy if you assail yourself with guilt about past actions or fear for the future. The codes of conduct are not righteous precepts to chain you to a way of behaving but guidelines to free you from actions that create schisms between your actions and your feelings or emotions. The more unified or congruent you are the more efficient your behaviour in relation to your life’s journey and the more you cultivate your spiritual path. At the most fundamental level of life you are learning to live more fully, to love more deeply, to act more sagaciously. Yoga is an ancient tool that leads to self knowledge, wisdom and the ability to live life with equanimity and love.
International Yoga Teachers’ Association.
PO Box 207 St Ives NSW 2075, Australia.
Internet Site: www.iyta.org.au
“Light on Yoga.” BKS Iyengar. Schocken Books 1966.
“Yoga Immortality and Freedom.” Mircea Eliade. Bolligen Books 1958.
“The Light of Yoga, Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika.” Commentary by Hans Ulrich Rieker. Translated by Elsy Becherer. Unwin 1972.
Maggi Nimmo has studied and practiced yoga for over 20 years. Her interest in the subject and exploration of the Art of Yoga is inspired by an insatible curiosity about the limitless questions of consciousness and awareness. She teaches Hatha Yoga from a school in Balmain Sydney and runs seminars on the Philosophy of Consciousness. Maggi is a master healer and guide for both your body and spirit.
She can be contacted at magginimmo.com
Mobile Australia: +61 403095779
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One on one therapy: Enso Healing Space, Number 50, Street 240, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1 Eliade M.Yoga, “Immortality and Freedom”, Princeton University Press, 9th edition, 1990. pages xvi- xvii.
2 Rieker, Hans-Ulrich, “The Yoga of Light, Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” Allen and Unwin, 1971, pages 24-25.