28 November 2011

Forms of yoga - Hatha

Using Satyananda's Yoga Magazine as a resource, here is their definition of hatha yoga:

"The term Hatha Yoga has been commonly used to describe the practice of asana (postures). The syllable ha denotes the pranic (vital) force governing the physical body and tha denotes the chitta (mental) force thus making Hatha Yoga a catalyst to an awakening of the two energies that govern our lives. 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.The Hatha Yoga system includes asana along with the six shatkarmas (physical and mental detox techniques), mudras and bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques) and pranic awakening practices. Fine tuning of the human personality at increasingly subtle levels leads to higher states of awareness and meditation. Hatha Yoga has been described in several classic texts, notably Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherand Samhita." 

In order to benefit from the great science of hatha yoga, I believe it helps to understand that it is a way to prepare ourselves for spiritual awakening AND it is also a science of health.

When Richard Rosen visited Richmond, he gave an excellent talk entitled "Introduction to the History of Hatha Yoga" which I encourage you to listen to here. If you have ever spent time with Richard, you know that his knowledge of yoga is extensive.

There is so much to understand that I'm going to stop writing and leave you to your reading and listening and encourage you to follow your own path. Find a teacher, practice, read, love yourself, practice some more, and watch what happens.

15 November 2011

Forms of yoga - Bhakti

Lotus blossoms in Locustville, VA
According to the Bihar School's Yoga Magazine:

"Bhakti Yoga is the path of channelling the emotions and feelings to realise the transcendental and divine nature inherent in every human being. Many people describe this as the yoga of devotion and give it a religious bent, however, it is through Bhakti Yoga that it becomes possible to experience the unity of all life. The stages of Bhakti Yoga can be classified as follows: 

- meditation, to realise and channel emotional energy, 
- mantras and kirtans, to open the heart, 
- identification with the source of inspiration and life, God, 
- experiencing transcendental human qualities in daily life. ..."
Mantras and Kirtan always come to mind when I think of bhakti - follow these links to learn the difference between the two. If you've ever participated in a lively kirtan, you know that it may indeed open your heart, not to mention occasionally whipping the crowd into a frenzy of whirling, clapping ecstasy. 

There are many talented kirtan wallahs, one of the most popular being Krishna Das. I've had the privilege of attending numerous kirtans led by KD. The most memorable was on a farm in Princeton, NJ. It was a dark and stormy night (honestly), and I traveled over with some Jersey yoga buddies. After dinner, we drove to what felt like the middle of nowhere. It was raining HARD! Somehow we found our way, parked in the middle of a muddy field and waded across to a giant old barn, guided by warm lights. Inside, the place was strewn with hay and there where hay bales everywhere covered with Indian blankets for sitting. It was crowded and steamy and smelled of sweet hay and electric rain. Krishna Das and crew were up front on a rickety platform - this was just before his star rocketed. It was an unforgettable, intimate evening and we continued our chanting all the way back to the Shore when it was over - definitely an experience of the heart.

My yoga education occurs daily. Reading more about bhakti, I realized that I'd forgotten that meditation is bhakti, that going to Pony Pasture can be bhakti, that my daily work is bhakti, giving and receiving love is bhakti - any time my heart is open and I am connecting to what I believe is god is an experience/practice of bhakti. I believe this is what Swami Satyananda referred to as "dynamic bhakti" - when the division between me and the focus of my devotion or love is lost. Dogs do this really well.

Meditation can be understood in as many ways as it can be practised. When teaching meditation, I try to keep it as simple as possible. While learning to practice, we benefit most when we feel comfortable in our seat and our environment - this inspires us to create the space to practice diligently. With this regularity of practice, we learn to feel less anxious being alone and minus distraction- no music, tv, phone, internet. Practice can eventually become something that comes unbidden and does not have to occur formally. Meditation happens. We will be able to observe ourselves - both the negative and positive aspects of ourselves - with less judgment and attachment. Read more about meditation and daily life here.

The science of yoga is vast. It interests me to read about it and continue to learn. Sharing, for me, is the best way of learning. So thanks to all of you who read this blog. My practice is deeper because of it. Namaste`