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Practice of Yoga

Asana | Pranayama | Meditation

The many practices of yoga are designed to help the body and mind meet every situation that arises in life from moment to moment.

The purpose of yoga asanas (postures) is to keep the body healthy and supple enough to sit comfortably and practice pranayama (breathing) and meditation practices that calm and still the mind.

Yoga often begins with the body because most people can identify with the body very easily. Most of our awareness, in fact, revolves around physical conditions and desires. As such most yoga today is done with physical outcomes in mind. People tend to identify with the body in the initial stages of yoga and work with the body using asanas, pranayamas and other Hatha Yoga practices. 

The practices of yoga gradually evolve from the body to the mind and eventually to the spiritual realms, developing awareness of different aspects of life and utilising yoga to harmonise various dimensions of life. Yoga is ultimately concerned with development of the total human personality.

The physical aspects of yoga are particularly suitable for general health and well-being as well as many stress-related problems, sciatica, back pain, asthma, rheumatism, arthritis, many digestive ailments and menstrual problems. As yoga utilises breath awareness, various body movements and mental training for the mind, the techniques and their practice can help bring about balance and harmony in many of the bodily systems over time.


Techniques in a typical hatha yoga class are often the physical postures or asanas, which help heal and maintain the body by increasing flexibility, strengthening various muscles and helping to detoxify and tone many of the body’s systems. It is important to know about all the physiological systems and then begin to feel them working, changing and balancing in the body.


The various breathing exercises and techniques, called pranayama, are used firstly to balance and then to stimulate and increase the vital energy, or prana in the body. Pranayamas are also helpful in calming the mind and emotions and helping to sharpening and focus the mind for the later, more advanced techniques of meditation, or dhyana.  The relaxation techniques also require a certain amount of skill and knowledge in breath control to access the changes in the brain and autonomic nervous system.


The relaxation practices of yoga nidra help to achieve a very deep relaxed state by taking the mind on a journey around the body, systematically guiding awareness through all the parts of the body in a particular pattern that matches the sensory-motor homunculus in the human brain.


Meditation techniques are many and varied with different approaches and very different outcomes depending on the techniques used and how they are applied. Meditation at a simple level helps to bring awareness to the inner world of the mind instead of always being extroverted. This leads to transcendence of normal awareness along with reducing the many stresses of life.

Anyone can begin yoga at any time in life. The ultimate goal is to find perfection in life. The result is greater awareness, more knowledge, harmony and a deeper understanding of our true nature.

Perfection is the aim of yoga. Everything else an outcome, the result of that process. So even if you begin yoga for a flat tummy or to simply relax, there are so many other benefits from practicing yoga that you can't help but grow and evolve. It is always up to you, of course, but eventually even the sky is no limit.

By integrating yoga into our life, we begin with the awareness of ourselves in our present condition and through practice come to know the potentials and possibilities that exist within us, and then we can begin to use those strengths or possibilities to reach a higher awareness in life.

Main Branches of Yoga

Hatha Yoga
The term “Hatha Yoga” commonly describes the practice of asana, though Hatha yoga involves physical and mental balance. Hatha yoga has become very popular and is the most recognised form of yoga in the West. It is classically described as “ha” and “tha,” the unity of the solar and lunar forces in mind and body or the union of prana and apana. The syllable “ha” refers to the pranic or vital forces that govern the physical body and the syllable “tha” refers to “chitta” or mental forces. Hatha Yoga is a catalyst to awakening the two vital energies in life. More correctly the techniques described in Hatha Yoga harmonise and purify the body systems and focus the mind in preparation for more advanced chakra and kundalini practices. Hatha Yoga includes asana mudras and bandhas as well as subtle pranic awakening practices to lead the practitioner to higher states of awareness and meditation. Hatha Yoga is described in various classic texts of yoga such as “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” and the “Gherand Samhita”

Raja Yoga 
Raja Yoga is the “supreme yoga” and refers to the system of yoga that is described more fully in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Raja Yoga is a comprehensive system dealing with refinement of human behaviour and personality through the eightfold path of Patanjali. This involves incorporating the practice of yamas (restraint) and niyamas (disciplines) into one’s life. There is also maintaining physical vitality through asanas and pranayama, practices for mental and emotional development and awareness and concentration through pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) and dharana (concentration). This then leads to developing the more creative aspects of consciousness into a transcendental awareness through dhyana (meditation) and eventually leads to samadhi or perfect absorption into cosmic awareness. Patanjali describes the eight stages of yoga, which are collectively known as Raja Yoga. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the true subject matter of Patanjali and are the culmination of all yoga practices.


Jnana Yoga

Jnyana yoga is the yoga of self-knowledge, self-inquiry and eventually understanding the true nature of Self. There is a great difference between knowledge and wisdom, though. It includes disciplining and training the body and mind in thought, word and deeds. It requires the use of three important techniques: postures, breath-control, and meditation. “Jnana” literally means “knowledge” Jnana Yoga is a process of meditative awareness, which leads to illuminative wisdom by converting intellectual knowledge into learned wisdom. It is a path of inner discovery of the higher human nature and universe truths. Jnana yoga is meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realisation and is described as a means to obtain the highest meditative state and inner knowledge. Jnyana yoga is explained in great detail in of Patanjali’s Yogasutras and consists of his classical eight-fold path.


Bhakti yoga
Bhaktiyoga is the yoga of devotion, the oldest form of yoga. Bhakti yoga practices includes prayer, worship of various deities and practice of certain virtues. Examples of Bhakti yoga are Christianity, the Hari Krsna movement. Bhakti Yoga channels the emotions and feelings to a transcendental nature inherent in human existence. Many people describe Bhakti yoga as religious life but it is not. Various religions have Bhakti yoga as part of their make up and practices. Bhakti yoga aims to allow an experience of the unity of all life. Bhakti Yoga can only be realised by personal experiences of union with divinity.


Karma Yoga
Karama yoga is the yoga of action in everyday life. It requires meditative awareness of everyday activities in normal life and is a valid path for more dynamic personalities It is described in the Bhagavad Gita and includes a sense of duty as well as not being affected by the fruits of the actions performed. A classical example of karma yoga is the action of missionaries when they help out but does not include the practice of conversion to any particular faith or religion. Karma Yoga leads to a greater ability to manage desires, ambitions and ego.


Kriya Yoga
The word kriya means “activity” or “movement” and refers to the movement of awareness or consciousness along specific pathways within the body. Kriya Yoga is more than a meditation and it does not necessarily curb any mental fluctuations. It purposely creates activity and stimulates an awakening in higher consciousness. Kriya Yoga was brought to the West by Swami Yogananda and by Swami Satyananda Saraswati from ancient teachings described in the Yoga and Tantra Shastras. These kriyas are the only two systems of Kriya Yoga recognised the world over. Kriya Yoga consists of over 70 kriyas, of which only 20 or so are commonly known. The most authoritative text on this subject of Kriya Yoga is “A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga & Kriya” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Another very good text is “Kundalini Tantra,” also by the same author.



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