Rediscovering the spiritual aspects of yoga
“Now the practice of yoga begins. Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind.”
Patanjali, second century BCE.
We have come to know yoga for its physical poses but the original intention of a yoga practice was to quiet the mind and find bliss through stillness. To the ancients, Yoga was a complete system, with asanas or postures playing a small but quite useful part. The original purpose of yoga was spiritual in nature and it was only recently that the relative position of postures was elevated resulting in people viewing yoga as a physical exercise with perhaps some mind calming work “thrown in”.
What we currently refer to as yoga is mainly Hatha Yoga – the posture based branch. It does not matter what the actual class name is: Ayengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Yin Yoga, Flow, Bikram, Hot Yoga or just plain old Yoga – all are a part of the Hatha Yoga tradition. This is not to say that we have totally veered from the true purpose of Yoga. Hatha Yoga is an integral part of the yoga system. It is through postures and breath that we open up our energetic channels, allow the energy to flow freely and prepare the body for stillness in meditation. And let’s face it – it is fun, relaxing and inspiring to move our bodies in a way we never thought we could.
The type of Hatha Yoga taught varies greatly from class to class, allowing the student to pick the style that is appropriate for him or her today. For example, a yoga class at the gym is completely posture based, there is very little breath work if any, and the emphasis is strictly on the physical part. The names of the poses are in English, there is no chanting and there is definitely no mention of anything spiritual. This type of practice is appropriate for those looking for strictly a physical form of exercise. Some yoga studios are solely workout based, while other yoga studios include more pranayama (breathing) classes and do mention the chakras and energy flow to some degree. Spiritual Centers, such as Temple of Light, offer a spiritually based, rather than exercise based, type of Yoga practice which incorporates breathing, chanting and very little posture. The Self-Realization Foundation teaches Kria Yoga which is completely breath based with no postures at all.
The beauty of yoga is that regardless of what kind of yoga class we take, there is still “yoga magic” that happens, even if we are not aware of it. For you see, yoga provides a means to become a self healer – physically, mentally and spiritually. It helps us to rediscover health, freedom, power and happiness. It is nice to get a massage or go to a doctor for treatment, but it is even better to be able to recognize when the body or mind are beginning to be disrupted and consciously make changes deep within ourselves. The more aware we are of our breath, the more focused we become during our yoga practice, the more we are able to bring awareness and healing to all aspects of your life: physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Adding healing modalities of visualization, meditation, crystal and sound therapies to a yoga practice allows us to expand its benefits even more and deepen the spiritual aspects of yoga that Patanjali so articulately stated in his famous work that we now know as “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”.