This post is about Yoga. It has been discussed here due to the recent queries and doubts amongst Islamic authorities as to what aspects of Yoga are not religious and can be practiced by Muslims. A fairly thorough introduction to Hinduism is followed by the role of health in Yoga.
DEFINITION of YOGA
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and means “union” or to yoke and make One. Most people think of Yoga as the physical exercise practiced by the Indians for health. In fact, Yoga is a lot broader and deeper in perspective and effectively means any practice that takes you closer to union with the Divine or God. Yoga is part (Darashana) of the Sanatana Dharma of the Hindu religion. Specifically, it means any method of restraining and slowing down the natural turbulence and agitation of our thought and mind; which without stilling, we cannot glimpse our true nature.
According to Sathya Sai Baba; “The Yoga one should practice is: watch the agitation in the mind as a Witness, free oneself from resolutions and even decisions, for and against. Have one’s mind and its journey always under control” – that by understanding the nature and mystery of the mind, as its Witness, naturally brings about this control and freedom from the strain of unnecessary thought.
And ”Moksha is not merely to discard fleeting thoughts and desires. One has to develop faith in the Eternal Principle and thereby develop pure, unwavering and selfless Love” – that real wisdom lies in visualizing (and experiencing) the Yoga of non-duality or Adwaitha Darashanam Jnanam. This is one’s highest Dharma or duty is the Yoga of Love.
“Duty without Love is deplorable, Love with Duty is desirable, Love without Duty is Divine”.
THE SANATANA DHARMA
“Dharma never declines – It is the practice of Dharma that declines”
The Sanatana Dharma means the eternal or perennial (philosophy) way of nature and is based on the ancient scriptures called the Vedas which were received by rishis in the sacred metaphysical language of Sanskrit. They contain mystical formula, chants, rituals, teachings and philosophies that allow man to live in harmony with the Universe. The 4 goals of life (wealth, righteousness, desire & freedom), the 4 castes (priestly/spiritual teachers, warrior/social guardians, merchant/businessmen & workers/employees) and 4 stages of Hindu life (student, householder, monk and renunciant) were guides for society to live in this harmony or dharma throughout their cosmological cycles of the 4 yugas or ages (truth/golden, silver, iron, bronze and iron). It is much the same as the Tao of the Taoist with the balance of ying, yang and chi corresponding to the Gunas of Hinduism (activity, inertia and harmony) and the Ayurvedic doshas of Pitta, Kapha & Vata; as well as to the Buddhists Dharma of right living to escape the wheel of Karma , transmigration and suffering. The ultimate goal is to use Self-knowledge, usually through the teachings and Grace of a spiritually illumined Guru, Satguru and Satsang, to transcend knowledge as well as ignorance; thereby transcending the play of the Gunas; the 3 qualities of Nature; and Maya; the veiling (ego- “me”) and projecting (desire- “mine”) power of the mind & the “world” illusion and change (ie. Lila and Samsara).
Thus, Hinduism is the oldest religion of the world or, the great grandfather of religions, and has the most comprehensive and complex coverage of all aspects of life. Its scriptures are so many and vast as to defy description and are an ocean of practical as well as spiritual knowledge. They are believed to have been received and passed down to humanity via the revelations of Indian Himalayan Godmen, rishis and sages.
To categorize this work, for the purpose of understanding Yoga, Hinduism can be divided into the following:
(i) The 4 VEDAS (including the subsidiary 6 limbs: grammar, pronunciation, poetic meter, etymology & lexicology, ritual & astrology/astronomy) – they are highest authority of Hinduism; being the revealed scriptures. Some consider the BHAGVAD GITA, the cream of the Vedas or a 5th Veda. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita
(ii) 18 PURANAS (6 Brahma, 6 Vishnu, 6 Siva) – mostly allegorical in nature though containing many historical narratives. The most important and significant of the Puranas is the BHAGAVATAM. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavata_Purana
(iii) The SMRITIS (2 epics of the Ramayana & Mahabharata -Bhagvad Gita) – compositions of sages interpreting the Vedas and prescribing codes of conduct
(iv) The 6 DARASHANAS (VEDANGAS): Metaphyscial Systems (including Sage Pantanj’si Yoga Sutras, Sage Kapila’s Sankhya Philosophy, Shankacharya’s Vedanta, Bhadrayana’s Mimamsa/ritualism, Jaimini’s Logicism, Atominism)
Also, there are the 2 heteredox systems of Buddhism & Jainism, which of the 5 general values of the Sanatana Dharma (ie. Sathya, Dharma, Prema, Shanti & Ahimsa), respectively emphasize Dharma (Noble 8 fold-path of Righteousness) & Ahimsa (Non-violence to all Beings). Thus, in total, there are a total of 8 Darashans. (note that the word “Darashan” here implies a viewpoint or school of thought but can also mean vision of a Holy person or a state of Consciousness)
All these systems have 2 axiomatic assumptions:
- Endless cycle of re-birth (of matter, “bodies” & individualization through the transmigration and evolution of “mind” (via vasanas & samskaras & a philosophy of mind) & thus, through rock, mineral, vegetation, animal, domestication, man, sophistication, spiritualism, devotee, yogi, sage/rishi to the simplification of a Jiva-mukti or Liberation/Realization of one’s eternal, transcendental and Absolute nature)
- Possibility of transcending phenomenal existence (through Devotion or Bhakti , and Self-inquiry or Atma Vichara, and Detachment/Dispassion or Vairagya leading to Divine Grace, Self-surrender, Self-realisation, Self-awareness & Enlightenment).
Note that Vedic Dharma differs slightly from Buddhism, but conceptually their fundamentals are the same. In Hinduism, Dharma is twofold; characterized by the outward, involution of the soul or “jiva” into matter called the “Pravritti Marga” (social action & the way of the world), and inward evolution of the soul called the “Nivritti Marga” (inward contemplation & the way of return). Both Margas (paths) are designed to promote order in the world with this twofold dharma having in view the true social welfare and spiritual emancipation of all beings. However, Buddhism appears to place emphasis on the Nivritti Marga aspect of renunciation, but without the concept of a lord of the Universe (Ishwara), “Gods” or Avatars of the Godhead. (Rather they emphasize Bodhisatwas and the concept of Sunyata or Void). There are also some theories that Jesus Christ was a gnostic Essene who traveled to Tibet, India & Egypt to master Yoga, Buddhism & other sacred mystery teachings during “His lost years” and was known as “Isa”; a Bodhisattva, Perfect Yogi & Master.
(v) The TANTRAS (including Agamas , Shiva, Shakti, Lingam, Yoni, Vibhuti, Shaivism, History of Shaivitism, Shaiva Siddhanta, Siva Sutras) – sacred writings which deal with the practical aspects of religious disciplines.
(vi) The 64 ARTS (branches of knowledge in the arts – chatuh shashti kala)
A classical curriculum of sacred sciences, studies, arts and skills of cultured living listed in various Hindu shastras.
In addition to these it lists 64 bahya kalas, or practical arts, as required study for cultured persons. They are: They are: 1) singing, 2) instrumental music, 3) dancing, 4) painting, 5) forehead adornments, 6) making decorative floral and grain designs on the floor, 7) home and temple flower arranging, 8) personal grooming, 9) mosaic tiling, 10) bedroom arrangements, 11)creating music with water, 12) splashing and squirting with water, 13) secret mantras, 14) making flower garlands, 15) head adornments, 16) dressing, 17) costume decorations, 18) perfumery, 19) jewelry making, 20) magic and illusions, 21) ointments for charm and virility, 22) manual dexterity, 23) skills of cooking, eating and drinking, 24) beverage and dessert preparation, 25) sewing (making and mending garments), 26) embroidery, 27) playing vina and drum, 28) riddles and rhymes, 29) poetry games, 30)tongue twisters and difficult recitation, 31) literary recitation, 32) drama and story telling, 33) verse composition game, 34) furniture caning, 35)erotic devices and knowledge of sexual arts, 36) crafting wooden furniture, 37)architecture and house construction, 38) distinguishing between ordinary and precious stones and metals, 39) metal-working, 40) gems and mining, 41) gardening and horticulture, 42) games of wager involving animals, 43) training parrots and mynas to speak, 44) hairdressing, 45) coding messages, 46) speaking in code, 47) knowledge of foreign languages and dialects, 48) making flower carriages, 49) spells, charms and omens, 50)making simple mechanical devices, 51) memory training, 52) game of reciting verses from hearing, 53) decoding messages, 54) the meanings of words, 55) dictionary studies, 56) prosody and rhetoric, 57) impersonation, 58) artful dressing, 59) games of dice, 60) the game of akarsha (a dice game played on a board), 61) making dolls and toys for children, 62) personal etiquette and animal training, 63) knowledge of dharmic warfare and victory, and 64) physical culture.
Hinduism holds as sacred 4 mothers; the physical mother, the cow, mother nature and the Gayatri mantra. The Gayatri (ritual), Ganga (worship) & Gita (knowledge) make up the 3 fundamental aspects of the Hindu religious life and philosophy.
The Gayatri mantra is thought of as the mother of the Vedas (the first expansion of THE WORD – AUM). Veda means knowledge and the 4 Vedas (beginning with the Rig Ved) are considered the oldest foundation of Hindu scripture and culture; dealing with knowledge for the maintenance of dharma, prosperity and fulfillment in the world.
Vedanta means the end of knowledge and is the philosophical cream of the Vedas, called the Upanishads; dealing with the highest philosophy of the Self -realisation and ones ultimate freedom or Moksha from identification with the world.
The triple cannon of Vedanta are the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras (Sage Vyasa) and Bhagvad Gita (sometimes referred to as the 5th Veda).
Vedanta also forms one of the 6 Darashanas (mentioned earlier – under categories of Hinduism), and 3 of its schools are associated with Advaita/non-dualism.
Advaita, or the philosophy of non-dualism is a later development through the works (Vivekachudamani) and commentaries of Adi Shankacharya and has become the most popularised aspect of Vedanta and Hinduism; more recently made more relevant for our times through the methods of Self-inquiry as taught by the Sages Ramana Maharishi (Who am “I”?), Nisargadatta Maharaj (I am That), Ramesh Balsekar (synthesis of Ramana, Nisargadatta, Zen, teachings of Wu Wei Wu and modern physics) and Eckhart Tolle (equating the “I” to being, presence or the Power of Now).
In fact, some of the ancient works of Hindu Vedanta trying to explain the unexplainable though prose are very similar to Zen Buddhism and the concepts in the Tao Te Ching as well as in the mystic poets ranging from the Hindu poems of Jnana Sambandar to the Sufi poems of Kabir, Rumi & mystic Ibn Arabi to concepts or similar references in the western works/treatise of Kant, W.R.Emerson, Blake, Keats and Milton. And, though Advaita was established by Shankacharya to resurrect the Vedic philosophy and counter the spread of nihilistic Buddhism in India in the 8-9th Century , a similar philosophy to Advaita, Ajata Vada, can be traced as far back to the eternal works of Sage Ribhu (Ribhu Gita), Rishi Vaishista (Yoga Vaishista), Ashavakra Gita (to King Janaka) and Dattetraya (Avadhuta Gita) over 20,000 years ago in the Hindu Treta Yuga.
After Shankacharya work on Non-dualism, a further division was propounded by Ramanujacharya (Qualified Non-dualism) and Madhvacharya (Dualism). In fact, the 5 other Darashanas are Monotheistic, and along with qualified non-dualism and dualism, are relevant to the effect of Shankara’s work with the Vedanta Darashana leading to the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.
Thus, Vedanta are often broadly classified conceptually as falling into one of these three schools of thought (non-dualism/advaita, qualified non-dualism or dualism). Perhaps, this could be extended to include 2more schools in the modern context; (ajata/non-causality, non-dualism (oneness), qualified non-dualism (spontaneous creation/existentialism), macro-dualism (world of objects & phenomena), micro-dualism (mind-body complex); with dualism associated with causality & concept of karma.
In fact, there are 3 others subsidiary schools; Dvaitadvaita vada, Shuddhadvaita & Achintya Bheda vada; that came after the 3 primary ones, but these are elaborations of the 3 primary schools and focus on the idea of a personal God (Vishnu or Krishna) rather than the concept of the Absolute (Ajata philosophies), or a purely materialistic level of dualism (ie. macro & micro modern sciences).
Note, that within Hinduism, and the above 6 schools of thought (3 primary), there is a general division between followers of Vishnu & Siva philosophies based on the difference of opinion regarding the relationship with a personal God (more dualistic in approach) and the trans-personal Absolute Reality, represented by lingam worship (non-dualistic emphasis). But, this is resolved with the great Vedic proclamations such as “Tat Twam Asi” or, “I am That”; where “I am” relates to the immanent “Vishnu Narayan” (the all-pervasive consciousness) and “That” to “Siva” the transcendental Reality. ie. I and teh Absolute are One.
As far as the philosophy of Yoga goes, it is well acknowledged by Hindus that it is best exemplified by the Bhagvad Gita – the Hindu equivalent to the Koran or Bible – as taught by Krishna over 5,000 years ago; a period long after the “eternal” Vedas were received and transmitted by the rishis. It contains the essence of all Hindu teaching (Yoga, Vedanta & Sankhya) and explains that there are various types of yoga for the various temperaments, inner instrument, or psychological constitution of the individual and are all valid paths leading to realizing God or the Self.The easiest beginners version of it is most likely the one interpreted by Jack Hawley called “The Bhagavad Gita: A Walk-through for Westerners.
It should be noted however, that strictly speaking Yoga as it is applied as an alternative exercise (Hatha Yoga) is derived from the Raja Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali; one of the 6 darshanas mentioned above; and that of these 6, the combination of (i) Yoga, (ii) Vedanta (along with the triple cannon of Upanishad, Brahma Sutras & the Gita; incuding the various older gitas) and (iii) the Sankhya philosophy are the 3 darashanas that have become the most universally appreciated by all; modern Hindus and westerners.
VARIOUS YOGAS (as per the Bhagvad Gita)
i) Yoga for technique & ritual = Tantra Yoga using Yantras (sacred shapes & designs) and Mantras (sacred sounds of Sanskrit) and Mudras (hand gestures) and Timing (Jyotish); often conducted by the Brahmin caste and priests.
There are two paths to Tantra; left hand & right hand, with the right considered the more satwic, safer, orthodox path related to the worship of Consciousness and Nature as the feminine (10 Shaktis or Mothers – Mahavidya). The Sri Vidya is the most popular one identified with the Goddess of Fortune (Tripura Sundari), and the worship of the Sri Yantra (main Siva-Sakti Yantra representing the Universe in microcosm). The concept of right-hand Tantra is one of worshiping and evolving through Nature whilst the left-hand is more focused on transcending nature through going beyond the “gunas”.
The left-hand, unorthodox path (Vamachara) has become synonymous with sexual practices, but it more clearly involves breaking of Hindu societal taboos that confines the ego in, and ignorance of, social constructs, as well as to transcend even the righteous, satwic ego, guna & intellect that still lies within the realm of judgment and consciousness. Traditionally, after a period of discipline and preparation, this sometimes, in extreme cases, involves partaking of the 5 forbidden fruits (ie. sexual intercourse in ritual, drinking alcohol, eating meat etc.) as a part of the spiritual practice. The Aghora (Siva Babas) are a well known sect who follow a left hand path, assembling in graveyards, eating corpes etc..).
In one sense, Tantra Yoga can be seen to address the fundamental duality; a Siva-Sakti polarity, Sun-Moon, Pingala-ida, and the male-female aspects of life, similar to the Yang-Yin polarity of Taoism.
ii) Yoga for dedicated selfless action and work = Karma Yoga for detachment. This is expressed as surrendering the fruits of one’s action to a higher Power, while delivering excellence to the attention of the work at hand; thereby psychologically distancing the sense of “ego” from involvement.
iii) Yoga for the emotion and worship = Bhakti Yoga for devotion. There are 9 types/paths of devotion leading to Atma-nivedana (Self-surrender). “Namasmarana” & “Japa” or remembrance of God’s names is an essential component of devotion.
iv) Yoga for knowledge (Vidya), intellect (Buddhi), discrimination (Viveka) = Jnana Yoga for intelligence, understanding & wisdom. Note this is different from individual cleverness (Medha Shakti), but denotes fundamental discrimination & purity (Viveka Shakti) based on Vijnana (consciousness & experience) leading to Self-inquiry & Self-knowledge.
v) Integral (Self) Yoga = Raja Yoga (incorporates aspects kundalini yoga, hatha yoga, mantra yoga, dhyana yoga, etc…) and is a yoga for will power and mental control.
The Bhagvad Gita explains the various Yogas concisely and in their philosophical essence. These yogas are given as exercises of body, mind, heart, will and intellect for realizing God or the Self that transcends these instruments, time or space.
Often the idea of reincarnation or evolution requires a transformation from the yoga of ritual to a yoga through contemplation (Sravana or listening & learning, Manana or reflecting, & Nidhidhyasana or putting knowledge into practice) and meditation (Raja Dhyana Yoga). However, the framework is such that any path can be chosen and the goal reached by the earnestness and ripening of following ones “swa” dharma or one’s individual nature along any or all of these aspects of yoga. Ultimately, it must lead beyond any requirement or prescription to a state of Oneness.
These beliefs are part of Hinduism in the larger context of Yoga as Union with God rather than health. The Bhagvad Gita makes little reference to the health exercise or techniques of Raja Yoga but rather the role of yogic will in practices of austerity, penance and “tapas”.
Of the 6 Darashanas from the above categories of Hindu schools of thought, Maharishi Pantanjali’s Raja Yoga Sutras is the source of the modern day concept and practice from which term yoga is derived and used. This Sutra explains all the exercises and powers (or siddhis) that develop in the consciousness of one who practices this yoga of will diligently. Thus, Raja Yoga is the yogic science of consciousness and is very much associated with the yogic physiology which shall be discussed later.
There are 8 steps to Raja Yoga starting with the outer discipline, transformation and control of behavior. They make up the first 2 steps called Yama & Niyama.
Yamas = DON’TS (restrainsts over lower nature)
Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyam (truthfullness), Brahmacharya (moderation/celibacy), Astaya (non-stealing), Aparigala (non-coveteousness)
Link to posts on Vegetarianism (non-violence) & Brahmacharya (continence).
ie. Don’t waste the 4:- Food or Energy nor Money or Time. ie. don’t be a yogi & a hypocrite!
In Yoga, “earnestness or Shradda (faith/purity) & Sahana (forbearance/patience) & Sadhana or Tapas (practice/perseverance) achieves everything.
Niyamas = DO’s
Saucha (purity), Santosham (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Swadhyaya (study sacred texts), Ishwar Pranidhana (living with awareness of the divine – surrender to God’s Will)
These have a lot to do with moral conduct and social precepts and prepares the “yogi” for the next 2 steps of Asana & Pranayama or posture and breath. The focus now becomes the body rather than the inter-action with the world and the environment.
The practice of Yoga as we know it , for its contemporary, commercial and health benefits only , involves these 2 components of ASANA & PRANAYAMA and is called HATHA YOGA.
The aim of these is to make the body flexible and the mind calm to prepare for the deeper practice of Yoga through the remaining 4 steps: Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) to Dharana (concentration) to Dhyana (contemplation) to Samadhi (absorption) and have more to do with the mind and its transcendence.
Thus, Raja Yoga is also called the Integral Yoga and it integrates aspects of the the various yogas (outer karma, inner bhakti & wholeness of jnana), through these 8 steps, to take the Yogi to the state of Samadhi, Self-realisation and Enlightenment.
HATHA YOGA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatha_yoga
Hatha Yoga is a component of Raja Yoga and ranges greatly today from the more traditional versions to Iyengar and the more contemporary ones to fusion yoga, that incorporates other health or exercise disciplines such as in Pilates.
Some Yoga styles are more physically health orientated, solely hatha, whilst some are more spiritual in orientation, sometimes adopting the full Raja Yoga philosophy. Others are a blend between these two and this is where confusion often arises regarding the religious orientation of practitioners.
Asana & Pranayama = posture & breath Postures in Hatha Yoga are numerous and often have an element of animism in the poses; for example, the cobra pose. But even this pose is more for the bio-mechanical benefits and, in fact, the cobra pose is almost identical to one of the main exercises physiotherapists give patients for low back pain because it strengthens the back muscles, lengthens the abdominal muscles and adds flexibility to the spine.
The most popular and well known component of hatha yoga is the series of sequential movements that are made up of 12 postures and is called the Surya namaskar. This means prostrations to the Sun and is part of the solar yoga to worship and concentrate on the Sun as the source of life and thereby, imbibe its properties and qualities into the yoga practitioners body and mind through its prana giving life force.
An ASANA often involves a prolonged stretch of the whole body in different positions and directions and involves all limbs.
PRANAYAMA at its simplest level just involves deep breathing and is often combined with postures to maximize the blood flow to the areas after a prolonged stretch. One usually breathes in with a stretch and out with exhaling or relaxing.
HATHA YOGA in this physical aspect is solely for health and not for inner yoga of self realization. It is just a preparation, i.e. a healthy, flexible body makes for a healthy, subtle mind; potentially relaxed and receptive for the meditation (dhyana yoga) of Raja Yoga
CONTRAST OF AIMS between Raja Yoga & Hatha Yoga
RAJA YOGA = Union with GOD within your SELF or HEART through whatever form your mind conceives (visual light or personality) or through contemplation on the abstract formless (auditory AUM) = PSYCHOLOGICAL in orientation
HATHA YOGA = flexibility and strength for a healthy body and relaxed mind = PHYSICAL in orientation
VARIATIONS OF HATHA YOGA
Practitioners need to be aware of the differences in terminology and practice between traditional Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga and various modern eclectic off-shoots. Perhaps there needs to be a clearer suffix before the word Yoga to decipher its orientation as health or spiritually based.
The one problem here is that there are already such words as mentioned earlier with regards to Karma, Bhakti & Jana etc… So maybe Yoga instructors should become more aware in differentiating between these essential variations of Yoga to the sub variation within Raja Yoga’s Hatha Yoga. The most fundamental thing for non Hindus to realise is the purely bio-mechanical and bio-chemical scientific advantages of practicing physical yoga for health
————- HEALTH MODALITIES – HOLISITC ———–
5 LEVELS => MAINSTREAM VS ALTERNATIVE => SYSTEM => ELEMENT
5th.Bio-spiritual => Prayer/Worship/Meditation VS Linga amrit/ash/Dhyana => Atmic (Ether)
4th.Bio-environ-mental => Anti-pollution VS Homas, yagnas, jyotish => Mind/ Nervous (Air)
3rd.Bio-vibrational-pranic => Acupuncture VS Pranayama => Pranic/Vibration (Fire)
2nd.Bio-chemical =>Allopathy & Nutritional VS Ayurveda, TCM, Naturopathy => Endocrinal (Water)
1st.Bio-mechanical => Surgery & Massage VS Psycho-somatices => Musculo-skeletal (Earth)
PHYSIOTHERAPY/Body Work VS HATHA YOGA/Asana
From Bio-mechanical up to Bio-spiritual levels, the focus goes from Hatha Yoga to the higher psychological components steps of dhyana or meditation in Raja Yoga. But there is NO need to involve these subjective psychological steps if it is against ones religious beliefs. Rather just accept the health benefits to posture and health
MECHANICS of PHYSIOTHERAPY & YOGA
Physiotherapy is a paramedical health profession that is part of the mainstream bio-medical model which subscribes to the authority of the scientific method and is an accepted part of the medical institution. It involves manual handling, exercise prescription and education and covers all aspects from orthopedics to neurology to cardie-respiratory medicine.Its focuses is on rehabilitative medicine and deals mainly with bio-mechanics, movement science and the musculus-skelatal system of the body.
One of the main principles of this is the fact that muscles use the bones as levers to cause movement and depends on the antagonistic relationship of muscles. This means that often muscles must work in opposition via vector forces to effect movement in the desired direction under the control and co-ordination of the brain and nervous system. This relationship between muscle working in tandem depends on the length-strength relationship between them. If across a single axis hinge joint there are two muscles if one contracts and shortens the other must relax and lengthen.
In physiotherapy treatments and exercise prescription, this it is often a vital aspect of a physiotherapist job to use this principle to correct the muscle balance in localized areas of the clients body; whether as part treating tone in a stroke patient or training an elite athlete. This flexibility and strength allows optimal movement as well as contributes to ones overall posture.
It is with regards to this aspect of posture that Yoga follows the same bio-mechanical principles. Rather than across one or two joints, Yoga effectively leads to the same flexibility, tone and strength throughout the whole body by the same principles of stretching and isotonic strengthening leading to optimal length and strength of muscles and ultimately flexibility of body posture and indirectly mind.
It is also useful to note that many yoga instructors do not have a foundation in anatomy, physiology and movement science as physiotherapists do. By understanding bio-mechanics yoga instructors who are so trained are more able to detect compensatory and incorrect movements in their students but also better able to adopt and modify postures to suite those students with pathologies, injuries or limitations (such as the obese).
Yoga also compliments internal systemic medicine through its pranayama component. By combining with deep breathing Yoga postures, which stretch specific internal organs and on releasing the position, increase well oxygenated blood to circulate more deeply into the tissues to remove toxins and increase life to these areas.
This compliments the other Indian health practice of Ayurveda that is a natural alternative to allopathy. Thus, Yoga helps for both bio-mechanically for the musculus-skeletal and bio-chemically for the internal organs and endocrinal systems.
Also, by holding the stretches in a prolonged position it strengthens the will and nervous system.
Thus, the whole purpose is for health to have muscles of iron and nerves of steel to deal with the challenges of life and living.
And as a life-style, the combination of specifically, co-ordinated administration of appropriate herbs (Ayurveda), asanas and pranayama techniques (Hatha Yoga), mantras (Sanskrit Metaphysical sounds) ideally with timings to nature (Tantra & Jyotish) such as gathering the solar rays at dawn and dusk especially during the half yearly passage of the Sun northwards, Yoga is really part of a very holistic process of preventing disease, increasing longevity, health and happiness.
SANKHYA PHILOSOPHY & THE 5 SHEATHS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samkhya
Just as the Raja Yoga Sutras came from the Maharishi Pantanjali forming one of the Darashanas of Hinduism, so too was the Sankhya philosophy received and given as a Darashana by Sage Kapila. Rather than explaining health through bio-mechanics or the medical mainstream of alternative models, this explains the constitution of man from the aspect of vedic metaphysics and nature in general.
This divides up the Universe into 24 components of corresponding 5 elements (elements of nature & food), to 5 organs of knowledge (senses), to 5 organs of actions, 5 pranas (breath), 4 components of Antahkarana or mind (citta – memory, buddhi – intellect, manas – mind/perception, ahamkara – ego). (For more knowledge of this inter-relationship it is suggested that you read Dr David Frawley’s works on the Vedas and health. He is one of the foremost Vedic scholars and pundits.)
And, just as Sad-gurus, Jnanis or Avatars, from the Absolute level, explain that “He” (Tat) has both Maya and all Jivas in His hand, so too, the Sankhya philosophy reveals the reflections of the Maya of the Universe on the macro God level to the Koshas or sheaths of the body on the micro-individual level.
Cosmic to Individual
Paratma Eswaran (God) => exists in Man as Jiva, Soul, Atma, purified Ego;
Prakriti or nature => Chitta or Consciousness
Mahat (Cosmic intelligence) => as Buddhi or discrimination
5 Koshas – Atmic Sheaths
1) Annamaya kosha – food – physical – the five elements
2) Pranamaya kosha – breath – vital – the five pranas
3) Manomaya kosha – impressions – outer mind – the five kinds of sensory impressions
4) Vijnanamaya kosha – ideas – intelligence – directed mental activity
5) Anandamaya kosha – experiences – deeper mind – memory, subliminal and superconscious mind
Of the 5 sheaths, the sheath of pranayama carrries the prana through the breath and is related to the nadis of the yogic physiology and chakras
BIO-PRANA & YOGIC PHYSIOLOGY & CHAKRAS
According to yogic physiology, the breath is also supposed carry prana into the body as it enters to be absorbed from the atmosphere, originating form the Sun. Like meridiens in the chinese systems which carry chi, the indians ayurvedic system of health have a similar bio-pranic system called nadis which carry (5) prana(s) or this life force via the breath. The 5 types are: pranas (air that moves forward), Apana (air that moves downwards) Udana (upward moving air), Samana (balancing air), Vyana (outward moving air)
There are 72,000 nadis or channels that make up the bio-pranic anatomy with 12 main ones and 3 notable ones that inter-lock up the spine at the chakra points.
There are 7 main chakras and these correspond to the spokes where the nadis meet in the centre bringing prana to these locations where there are the associated nerve plexus, organs, endocrine glands and blood circulate.
In fact, in yogic philosophy the only 2 properties we have are the consciousness made up of the 5 elemental food body and the breath made up of this life force. The mind is nothing but the breath which according to yoga carries the thoughts through the prana and the 7 levels of chakra represent psychological levels of functioning from the root of controlling expenditures (including the root of money) to the 7th of thoughtless blissful samadhi state!
These 3 main nadis (psychic nerves) are called ida, pingala with a central sushmuna nadi that runs centrally up the spine. The image is clearly represented by the symbol for medicine; the cadeucus with the staff and the inter-twining serpents. The 2 serpents are the lunar (ida) and solar (pingala) psychic nerves or currents that carry yin and yang energies respectively throughout the body.
Interestingly, the breath alternates between these 2 currents every 2 and a half hours and tantric and kundalini yoga is the science of consciousness that uses techniques to time actions to the activities of the cosmos and breath; for example through alternate nostril breathing.
In fact, the cosmic sound AUM equates to the 3 gunas, internal and external states as well as to these currents. Thus, the best time for aggressive actions is during the day when the person is in the waking state and the raja guna is predominate and the solar current is more open. This equates to the function of Brahma, the creator, and the letter A in AUM. Thus, yoga is a metaphysical science that harmonises the individual to nature and the cosmos.
Ultimately, yogic physiology considers that the each person’s constitution can ultimately collect a reservoir of pranic cosmic force that stores coiled at the seat of the spine and is called Kundalini; the serpent psychic force of energy. This is not normally activated as sufficient energy and prana is available through food and the breath to deal with the activates of daily life.
KUNDALINI & SAMADHI
But the yogi, yearning to attain the Godhood or sometimes to achieve siddhi powers, aims to increase the prana into the nadis through his practices and eventually awaken and raise the Kundalini force to the crown chakra for the descent of the universal cosmic force, so as to still the mind and experience glimpses of enlightenment (satori of Nirvana) or Samadhi (equanimity of intellect = no thoughts);
Note: There are different stages of samadhi from (i) Kevala Samadhi (oneness with efforts to still mind), Savikalpa (spontaneous thought free experience of oneness with environment), Nivikalpa (transendence, suspension of faculties withouth awareness of body or world), Sahaja Samadhi (final natural state of freedom but with full spontaneous use of faculties).
It should be noted that often people’s complaints about Kundalini energies, whether genuine or psycho-somatic only, have more to do with purification of the nadis than an actual awakening of the Kundalini. However, there are great dangers to mind, sanity and life when the kundalini is forced up too early or artificially by drugs or will power without devotion.
The breath, mind and nadis are inter-connected and sensitize the individual consciousness to nature and the environment. As the purification happens, more and more nadis get activated, stimulating and activating chakras from the foundation of the base to move higher and higher up to the 6th ajna mind chakra. The alchemy and purification of the brain bio-chemistry, nerves and cerebro-spinal fluids through diet, yoga and sadhana all prepare the yogi for his aim of transforming the constitution from more material to the more vibrational light qualities of prana and the solar light.
THE EYE OF WISDOM & THE “I” OF ADVAITA
In fact, the practice of gayatri mantra, jyotish meditation and the practice of jyotish astrology all serve the purpose of invoking the solar and atmic light, strengthening the intellect, balancing the brain (hemispheres), opening the eye of wisdom and causing the descent of the brahma prakash and jyotish.
The bio-mechanical and bio-chemical development of the body is for the maturation of mind to spiritualise matter. And philosophically, the human body and birth is the paradixcally illusion to realise that one is never the body and never born.
So ultimately, it is through Self inquiry (Advaita) into the source of consciousness and devotion to being that naturally makes the life force abide in the heart or centre (hridayam), opening the knots of the heart and allowing the purified, ripened, full life force to pass up to the thousand petalled lotus (Brahmaranda at the fontanelle) and sink back down into the heart via the amrit nadi (with its primary 8 nadis centered 2 inches to the right in the chest) where the source of consciousness sits. Here inner and outer become one in consciousness and realisation becomes final by remaining fixed in this state.
Interestingly, in Hinduism this absolute formless state is represented by the abstract mathematical ellipsoid shape of the a stone called the lingam. The 3 horizontal lines with the red central dot represents the 3 planes; physical, astral and causal as well as the brahma, vishnu and rudra pranic knots at the 2nd, 4th and 6th chakras in body. The red dot symbolises the Sun and light of consiousness that sits in the heart as Narayana or the immanent God whilst the Lingam represents Siva as the transendental reality and inexhaustable source. Swami,who devotees accept to be the incaranation and manifestation of this imminent Narayana with all the powers of Siva-Sakti (Sai-Mother Baba-Father) coughs up this lingam from his body every Mahasivaratri night (symbolising when the Moon/Mind is most dead), and recently conducted the Athi Rudra Yagna (shamanic ritual conducted according to the prescritions of the Krishna Yajur Ved) also worships the Lingam; symbolising Siva or the formless Reality. The similar worship of a stone in Mecca is used by Muslims to worship the formless Allah. Curiously, if you remove the 3 lines of Sivaitism on the lingam you are left with the stone on its own and, if one removes the 3 parts of AUM one is left with the crescent Moon with a dot above it, symbolising the absolute. This dot takes the shape of a pentagram star in Islam. Co-incidently, Allah, Aum & Amen all use the latter A as the alpha of alphabets that points to wordless, namless, formless, Absolute.
Thus, not to digress, whilst simple asana, posture and pranayama in Hatha yoga prepares the musculo-skeletal and endocrinal systems to prepare the body and mind to receive more pranic energy into the body and, higher raja yoga exercises focus the mind and intellect for inquiry (tejas), both primarily borrow their the source of strength (ojas) and life from the heart which is tapped by sincerity and one-pointed devotion.. whatever you denomination and practice is. Love is God !
According to Gurus, an analogy can be taken from the lamp. The oil (ojas) is the devotion and bhakti in the heart, the flame (tejas) is the wick of the mind that burns with effulgence of jnana or knowledge and the air is the fan (prana) that allows it to happen (hatha and raja yoga through the will)
Prana is gathered from the Sun, absorbed from the food and inhaled through the breath; stored in the hair, finger tips/nails and semen and, is lost through speech, the eyes, sex and cutting the nails or hair.
Hindus also use jyotish or vedic astrology via their almanac called the Panchanga to time activities that best harmonise the direction of activities. This even includes the appropriate times for cutting their hair and nails so as to minimise the loss of prana; for example on full Moon days when the mind can absorb the maximun amount of prana. Symbolically, the Moon correlates to the Mind and the ida nadi current and full Moon days reflect the maximun amount of prana from the Sun.
VEDIC METAPHYSICS & WESTERN SCIENCE
As mentioned above, Jyotish or Vedic astrology uses the Panchanga or almanac to time all its festivals as well as finding the correct time or “Muhurta” to conduct events conducive to nature and the balance of elements and cosmic forces. To a large extent this is part of the Vedantic metaphysical philosophy which very much subscribes to the the sacred geometry of a closed Universe of symmetry and harmony.
Western science and minds, being very much more analytic and linear rather than synthetic and lateral in approach is less open to making the same assumptions that the Vedas do on the authority of the rishis. Its approach to metaphysics has been reflected in the Greek civilisation by Pythogorus to the Rennaisance.
However, western philosophy, being made up of logic, theory of knowledge, aesthetics, metaphysics and ethics, would place the Indian symbolic mind, that makes associations based on correspondence, into a realm of metaphysics. It is much more prone to question the very acquisition of knowledge from the mind itself and take the Socratic skeptical approach to assumptions with any dialectically meaningful discourse based on axioms, bias, deductive and inductive logic. In fact, it’s approach is more empirical and often scientific in following the method of observations with induction against stringent doubts posed by Poppers rules.
However, what is does not acknowledge is that what scientists of quantum mechanics are discovering about Consciousness is already presumed through Vedantic authority; that is that dualism, qualified non-dualism and non-dualism have already considered the observer (with his antarakarana) as well as the observed (universe) on the foundation of the one non-dual consciousness. Anyway, the science from the Greeks to the British seem to have set the stage for a grant synthesis with Vedantic metaphysics.
Interestingly, swami seems to have prepared us for this gradually, from the free modern education to mantric bhajans to the promotion of the Gayatri mantra, to the state of the art super-speciality hospital, to introducing Veda chanting, to an small Ayurvedic clinic for students, to the recent introduction of Jyotish classes for his students, to the plan of a Metaphysical school to be opened in the near future.
NUMBER 9 & the UNIVERSE
As far as Vedic Metaphysics goes, this post is already long enough and perhaps more shall be mentioned in future ones. But in relation to the Vedic concept of Brahma and a closed, intelligent Universe based on a law of symmetry, proportion, harmony and balance, numbers play the significant role in sacred geometry. This is used in Vedic numerology, Vastu (Indian Geomancy) as well as the Vedic science of Jyotish as the highest limb of metaphysics in the Vedas; studying the three dimensional light show of space and time using divisions based fundamentally on the number 9. The following are some abstract points to think about.
* Number 9 is the most important number in the decimal system (10 fingers to count with!), is the only number that when added against returns a number to itself and always return to 9 again with its multiplication. It therefore represents completion and the universe in numerology and is always associated with Brahma, the Absolute and space.
* In a Jyotish Vedic chart there are 27 Nakshatras or divisions of the constellations around the Milky Way. Each has 4 parts of padas to make 108 sections. This is also related to the 9th divisional harmonic chart called the Navamsa. The Moon as the ruler of the mind placement in a 108th pada reveals a lot about the nature of the persons mind. Each pada also has a Sanskrit alphabet associated with it that helps choose a new borns name; resonating the cosmic nature with the individual temperamental type. Jyotish consider 9 planets in reading a chart (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu & the 9th south node of the Moon, Kethu)
*With 108, metaphorically, 10 symbolises the Sun and Atma whilst 8 the transformational powers of nature and projecting powers of Mind or Maya (Rahu). Or, as the great Advaitic proponent Adi Shankara explained, it projects the illusion of the Universe of name and form appearing as a snake rather than the foundation on which it appears; the rope as the the veiling powers of mind & memory/vasana (Kethu) , brahma or space = 9
* There are 108 (9) parts to a mala. The number 108 represents God or natures in all its aspects. In Hinduism, the number 108 represents the alpha & omega or the infinite potentiality where;
108 togehter = Paraatma GOD where
Generational – Brahma Raja Guna (waking state/day time) A = 1,
Organisational – Vishnu Satwa Guna (dream state/twilight) U= 0,
Destructional – Rudra Tama Guna (deep sleep/night) M = 8
* The significance of number 9 is found in the sacred geometry and architecture of the Pyramids and was used in Keith Critchlows (Head, Royal Architecture of Lonon & leading exponent of Sacred Architecture in the world) design of Sathya Sai Baba’s super-speciality hospital.
Just as the metaphysics of 9 has some connection to the universe, the number 5 is connected to man. From the 5 koshas to the 5 senses to the 5 digits to the 5 limbs to the pentagram to the Fibonacci number to our DNA spiral to perhaps the 5 root races of mankind, 5 features significantly with man. And co-incidently, there are the 5 aspects of western philosophy mentioned earlier. So I have further divided Vedantic metaphysics into 5. From the (i) micro-dualism of health to the (ii) macro-dualism of causality and karma to (iii) qualified non-dualism to the (iv) non-dualism of advaita to the (v) ajata philosophy of non-causality, Hinduism covers every point of view. On the other hand, western philosophies are mainly dualistic but are beginning to approach the non-dualistic revelations through advances in theories in quantum physics and the science of consciousness.
But the foundation of progress is on the assumption that the world is real and has existed prior to the observer whose intellect in perceiving the effects and thereby via cognitive phenomena of memory, traces the original cause to the cause of karma itself; ie. the original big bang of AUM. This cosmology is traced to the Creator Himself or God with cosmological story of MahaVishnu-Brahma to the Laws of Manu & Lords of Karma, but even in western science the same causality and logic was applied for the singularity theory (of Penrose), that led physicists such as Hawkins to use Einstein’s relativity theory in reversing speed and time to the original minute point of immense mass, that exploded to be come the universe of today.
This concept is that the Universe is the reverberation of this original explosion and to Vedantists is the cosmic hum permeating the space of ether as AUM made up of the 3 Gunas of consciousness. The 3 inner subjective states of mind & 3 outer objective states of nature are part and parcel of this cosmic matter and hum.
In Hindu cosmology this AUM of causal (heaven), astral (nether) and physical worlds (earth) are reflected in the body through the 3 granthi that refract into the 7 colours that make up the 7 levels, above and below, to cover the 14 worlds. In the body these are the 7 chakras with each nadi in a chakra denoted by a petal that has a sanskrit letter attributed to it and whose sound causes it to vibrate the chakra and direct prana to that nadi to receive the assocaited powers of nature through the ethers of sound and consciousness.
Thus, Sanskirt and the Vedas are the Language of Nature and the Gods (the 7 seed bija sounds in the chakras & the 7 Rishis Seers) and is used in Yoga to help direct prana through mind (thought) and word (Mantra) to the body and is often used in co-ordiation with asanas and pranayama to activate these forces of nature.
The 5 popular and relevant aspects (A’s) of Hinduism for the modern age:-
1st A = Asana (Yoga), Acoustics & Action. (could include Indian classical music, singing & dance including gypsies!)
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharata_Natyam & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_classical_music - Samaveda, Carnatic, Gandharva)
2nd A = Ayurveda & Alternative Health
3rd A = Abode & Architecture
4th A = Astrology, Astronomy & Jyotish
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_astrology & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astronomy
5th A = Advaita & Philosophy of “I”
(Advaita; philosophy of Non-dualism or Oneness of the individual and the Absolute)
All (5 religions, values, elements, races; black, brown, yellow red or white) are ONE, Be a-like to everyone (Sanatana Dharma of Love & Law). ie. a metaphysical philosophy of identity based on ONE Consciousness (from science to metaphysics)
It is my belief that a deeper understanding of metaphysics/sacred geometry/mysticism & mythology (of all traditions) and the integration of these holistic systems into the mainstream of many people’s lives and cultures will help revolutionize a spiritual consciousness that is taking place under the current era of global financial, mental and spiritual crisis.
A deeper, intellectual understanding of inter-faith, symbolic metaphysics and a humanistic approach is required.
In particular, I find sacred geometry, as in the metaphysical patterns of man, architecture, nature & the Universe, an interesting way to reveal unity in diversity. (ie. from the level of the body through architecture to the Wholeness of nature & the cosmos)
For example, by studying and perceiving this Unity through the intermediate medium of Vastu, Feng Shui, Islamic Patterns, Sacred Geometry & Modern Architecture; ie. of light, space, electro-magnetism, movement & time; reflecting thier corresponding intelligence in the microcosm of man and macrocosm of the Universe.
In this way, Muslims and others will be able to understand their own faith and mysticism better through the application of its metaphysics, whilst also better appreciate and tolerate others practices, as well as adopt those aspects which do not conflict with their own faith. Thus, in Yoga, it’s physical aspects can be adopted whilst not necessarily subscribing to mantras and chakras.
For more on Yoga, see:
Yoga Sutras (Very good translation by Christopher Isherwood & Swami Prabhavananda)
Yoga & Kriya – A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga & Kriya by Satyananda Saraswati
For more on Jyotish Vedic Astrology
jyotish-vedicastrology.blogspot.com – metaphysical correspondence of Yoga & Chakras (micro-body) to Jyotish (Vedic Astrology/Astronomy of the macro-Universe)
For more research into Islam, Sufism & Perennialism:-