Blood Memories book

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What is Yoga?

Many people associate yoga with the postures of Hatha Yoga and come to yoga class for fitness. Nothing wrong with fitness, and a regular yoga practice will indeed make you fit: strong, lean and flexible, with glowing skin and vibrant health inside and out. But these are merely the side benefits. The ultimate purpose of yoga practice is not healing the body or making it beautiful, but attaining direct experience of the deepest truth of our being. It is about enlightenment. The many paths and schools of authentic yoga all lead to the same goal: transcending the limitations of ordinary consciousness, bound by time and space, and realising what lies beyond.

The Jnana Yogi follows the path of rigorous intellectual discernment, the Karma yogi the path of non-attached action, the Bhakti yogi the path of ecstatic devotion. But the deeper you get into any type of yoga practice, the more you realise that all paths include the others. The field of yoga is one vast interconnected web, just like Indra’s net, that jewelled lattice which stretches out infinitely and symbolises the cosmos. Each eye of the net contains a jewel whose facets reflect every other jewel, and each reflected jewel reflects all the other jewels too . . . infinitely. So you can start anywhere: each point of experience is sacred, essential and interconnected. Each can lead to the ultimate experience of being.

Hatha Yoga begins with the body, teaching deep attention to the present moment, to ever subtler levels of awareness. It includes asanas (postures), which open the body, dissolving the density solidified from past conditioning; pranayama, which extends the breath, bringing the mind to stillness; and kriyas, which purify the physical body, making it an ever finer instrument of perception.

Ha-tha refers to the sun and moon (masculine and feminine) channels of the energetic body which run either side of the central axis of the spine. Hatha Yoga brings about their union. Practice works to balance and harmonise these energies so that the cosmic (kundalini) energy which lies dormant at the base of the spine awakens, opening the central channel of the energetic body and dissolving the blocks which obscure awareness of its identity with  the boundless energy of the cosmos.

Hatha Yoga is a psycho-spiritual technology for realising the ultimate reality. So Hatha leads to Raja Yoga, the royal way of meditation and enlightenment. Actually, Hatha and Raja Yoga contain and depend on each other. And in Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, which establish the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, they are one continuum.

In the West today, Hatha Yoga commonly refers to a gentle asana practice accompanied by pranayama and meditation. But in fact, all styles of asana practice are forms of Hatha Yoga. And though the emphasis may vary, all paths of yoga include the eight limbs of Ashtanga:

  • Yamas --ethical observances,
  • Niyamas--personal disciplines,
  • Asanas—postures,
  • Pranayama—control of the vital energy ,
  • Pratyahara-- withdrawal from sense perceptions,
  • Dharana--concentration,
  • Dyana—meditation,
  • Samadhi—merging with the Absolute.

Confusing? Perhaps. The Indian tradition, which refined the practice of yoga over many thousands of years, rests upon core philosophical paradoxes. But yoga is even more ancient than its Vedic sources--with roots extending into Neolithic and perhaps Palaeolithic times.

The first yogis were shamans: practitioners of ecstasy, spiritual healing and transformation. This transformative power remains unchanged today. Though you will experience benefits after a first practice session, yoga is deep, slow medicine. With time and devoted practice, yoga works to heal the physical body, purify the subtle body, and bring the mind to razor-sharp clarity. Inner peace and fearless trust are the fruit. Yoga awakens us to our true identity as boundless Being, which is the core reality of each moment of experience.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna articulates this awakening:

“I see Thee (boundless Being)---beginningless, middleless and endless; infinite in power, of boundless energy active everywhere, having the sun and moon for eyes, with a face luminous like a flaming fire, and with spiritual radiance energising everything.” ---- Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 11, Verse 19)

Do you feel drawn to follow this path? A willing heart--together with a good measure of patience and commitment--are what you need. The journey belongs to all who desire it.

Om Shanti

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