Yoga: A Life Practice for Enlightened Living
Dec 16, 2008 06:04PM
The Greater Charlotte area offers a varied menu of experienced studios and teachers that can facilitate the needs of everyone, no matter their physical or emotional state or stage in life. If you’re looking for a dynamic workout, supreme enlightenment or anything in between, find a starting point and watch your spirit open like a lotus flower.
The sacred science and art of yoga is a timeless, life-affirming practice that transcends cultures, religions and philosophies and offers a place for everyone regardless of age or physical ability. The only qualification needed to practice yoga effectively is the ability to breathe. From the yogic view, the great breath flowing through us all is intelligence or consciousness itself.
In Sanskrit, yoga means union - union of environment, the senses, body, mind and soul. Yoga is both a practice and a way of being that leads us to realize the inherent unity of all. Since its creation in India over 5,000 years ago, yoga has been a grounded practice that prepares us to live life in full enjoyment and awareness of our divine birthright.
Eastern cultures typically maintain a traditional, spiritual yoga practice focusing on meditation as a constant immersion in self-discovery. In contrast, yoga practitioners (also known as yogis) in the United States tend to use yoga more for an overall program of reducing stress and keeping physically fit.
People are led to yoga for various reasons. Enhancing strength and flexibility, releasing stress or recovering from an injury are noble reasons to initially seek out a yoga class. The physical and mental benefits of yoga are powerful and numerous.
Life Positve, an organization dedicated to holistic living, notes the discoveries physicians and scientists are making from their research on yoga. The aging process, caused mainly by auto-intoxication or self-poisoning, can be slowed down by practicing yoga. By keeping the body clean, flexible and well lubricated, we can significantly reduce the catabolic process of cell deterioration.
Studies indicate that yoga can help diverse ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, asthma, varicose veins and heart conditions. Yoga also enhances immunity, eases pain, anxiety and depression and improves memory, attention and concentration.
According to medical scientists, yoga is successful because of the balance created in the nervous and endocrine systems which directly influence all the other systems and organs of the body. Thus, yoga acts both as a curative and a preventive therapy.
Often after one’s physical problems improve and stress begins to dissipate, yoga’s deeper spiritual benefits slowly begin to surface. Through pranayama, or controlled breathing, yoga calls us back into our bodies to irrigate our being with life energy known as "prana." Prana is the animating force - the energy of being alive - and is most clearly felt through breathing.
The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient vedic text states, “A person is said to have achieved yoga, the union with the Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind gets freedom from all desires, and becomes absorbed in the Self alone.”
Through a steady practice of pranayama - either blended into physical yoga or practiced on its own -Â there is a progressive settling down of the mind, which is typically overburdened with activity. Stilling the mind brings us to our calm, inner center, where we find a wellspring of peace, inner strength, and mental clarity. Â Over time, yogis note that their physical practice of yoga becomes less about seeking perfection in a pose and transforms into an ability to open the heart and love with greater kindness and compassion. They begin to realize that what they are actually seeking is an intimate relationship with the potent higher power that stands behind all creation.
Yogis acknowledge that their actions on their yoga mats actually reflect their actions in everyday life. Swami Kriyananda, who wrote The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, notes that how one practices yoga postures is important to spiritual development. He believes that infusing your yoga practice with divine intention is the difference between calisthenics and a true spiritual adventure.
He says, “If one enters a poseâ€ .â€ .â€ .â€ with an inner sense of harmony and peace, the very act of assuming that position can help to develop a spiritual attitude. How one gets into the postures, the mental thought that he holds during the practice of them, how he comes out of them, and the consciousness of returning to his deepest inner center as he rests between the poses–all of these are an important part of the practice of hatha yoga.”
Practicing mindfulness - being non-judgemental and intentionally aware of our thoughts and actions in the present moment – helps bring us into alignment with our True Selves. Mindfulness is an important companion to yoga and the development of consciousness.
“What started out as a remedy for a back injury has evolved into something much deeper. I approach life differently since I started yoga,” says Linda Dobson, a student of five years. “I feel centered, fearless and free. I can feel life flow through me. My awareness is heightened and all of my relationships are enhanced. I more often react to things on a spiritual impulse now.”
Donna Farhi, an author and respected international yoga teacher for over 30 years, describes the natural awakening that often occurs from a dedicated practice.Â
“After time, we turn outward our inner focus that has been paramount to establishing a yoga practice. What started as a personal practice for our benefit transforms into the power to change the nature of our everyday life and the world we live in. We realize we must use the life we have been given joyfully and for the benefit of serving others.”
By releasing the perception of separation, Farhi says we can drop our guards and “recognize the vibrating matrix that stands behind and interpenetrates our very being.”
So grab a mat, take your focus inward and explore a time-tested practice that can lead you to live the largest life possible.
Developed in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara means, “go with the flow” and Friend encourages this both in yoga practice and life. This Tantra-based system combines attention to alignment with awareness of the energy flow in the body in order to realize your divine nature. Anusara celebrates truthfulness, beauty in all its diversity and honors the creative freedom of the Divine in all beings.
Developed by yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi, Ashtanga features a progressive series of poses that are synchronized with the breath. Students begin with the primary series and move on once the poses have been mastered. Classes are challenging and vigorous and are designed to produce intense internal heat and purifying sweat to detoxify muscles and organs.
Bhakti Yoga is pure spiritual devotion to the Divine presence that is meaningful to you. Unsettled minds, intellectual concerns and the material world all fall away as love takes over and the heart is enveloped in thoughts of the Divine. This non-physical form of yoga strengthens personal spiritualism through kirtans (spiritual hymns), the chanting of mantras and the study of the Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Vedic text. Practicing Bhakti yoga in a group is interactive and entertaining.
Created by Bikram Chadhoury, a former National India Yoga Champion, Bikram - sometimes called hot yoga - is taught in rooms heated up to 110 degrees to simulate the temperatures found in India. The purpose is to warm up the muscles quickly and promote detoxification via sweating. Each class consists of a series of 26 poses and breathing exercises repeated twice and held for 30 seconds or more.
Hatha Yoga is best known in the US and is one of the four main traditions of Tantra yoga. With “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, hatha yoga focuses on balancing the opposing forces of the body. It emphasizes the physical as a means to self-actualization by practicing postures ranging from simple to complex, using breath control and enlivening the subtle energy channels in the body. By mastering the poses and the breath, one is more capable of mastering the mind and deepening meditation.
Brought to the US by Sri Swami Satchidananda in 1966, this gentle practice integrates hatha yoga with other yoga branches, such as karma yoga (selfless service) and bhakti yoga (devotion) and emphasizes union with God and promoting peace and tolerance throughout the world. Classes balance physical effort with guided relaxation, meditation, chanting and breathing practices.
Developed by B.K.S Iyengar, who still teaches at age 88, this restorative method promotes awareness through attention to anatomical precision and alignment in poses. Ideal for healing physical ailments, Iyengar uses props - including belts, chairs, blocks and blankets - to achieve the subtler aspects of body alignment and to allow for deeper breathing. This helps the practitioner to achieve perfection in any pose.
The Kripalu style of yoga, created by Amrit Desai, is a free flowing form of yoga that supports relaxation, healing, emotional development and spiritual awakening. It incorporates three stages of development – postural alignment, meditation with longer posture holding and meditation in motion. Classes can be dynamic or restorative and are ideal for someone with physical limitations or interested in a meditation practice.
Paramahansa Yogananda, best known book for writing Autobiography of a Yogi, first brought Kriya yoga to the West. Kriya yoga is a concentrated approach to Self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment by awakening to full knowledge of the Infinite and of cosmic processes. To facilitate the unfolding of innate qualities and elicit superconscious states, specific meditation techniques are taught and practiced.
In 1969, Yogi Bhajan introduced this energetic style of yoga to the US. Kundalini incorporates sensuous, non-static postures, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting and meditating on mantras to awaken the kundalini energy. This energy is represented by a sleeping, coiled serpent residing at the base of the spine. When awakened, the serpent energy moves up the spine through each of the seven chakras resulting in a deeply blissful state.
An American adaptation of Ashtanga Yoga developed by Beryl Bender Birch in the early 90’s, power yoga is an intense and challenging workout that flows like Ashtanga, but does not follow the same sequence of postures. Poses can be advanced and held for long durations, requiring stamina, strength and flexibility.
Raja Yoga, also known as the Royal Path, emphasizes control of the intellect to attain enlightenment. Raja yoga meditation is generally based on directing one’s life force to bring the mind and emotions into balance so that the attention may be easily focused on the object of meditation. Meditation, concentration and breath control are paramount in this yoga of the mind.
In Sanskrit, Vinyasa means “without obstacle.” By unifying breath to movement, this freeform American derivative of Ashtanga is a seamless, flowing practice of postures that can be vigorous or meditative. Classes incorporate alignment principles and can be challenging and dance-like.
Yoga Therapy facilitates the body's own natural healing processes to treat an array of ailments. By combining simple movements and postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, the body and mind can return to a state of balance to promote health and a sense of inner peace. Yoga Therapists adapt traditional yoga for people with health problems and Yoga Therapy can be used in conjunction with traditional medicine and other complementary modalities.
Lisa Moore is a registered yoga teacher and freelance writer in Charlotte, NC. Her 13-year personal yoga practice has cultivated compassion, resilience and wisdom and helps her to face life’s challenges with courage and equanimity.