Yoga is a Hindu discipline that has been around for thousands of years.
They have found a clay seal carving in the Indus Valley that is about 5000 years old that supposedly depicts a figure doing yoga.
However the first actual writings about it are found in a very early Hindu holy book called the Rig Veda, which was probably written some 3500 years ago. Another important Hindu holy book, called the Bhagavad Gita, which was written sometime about 2100 to 2400 years ago, list only 4 main forms, as follows;-
Karma Yoga– the yoga of action in the world.
Jnana Yoga – that of wisdom and intellectual endeavor.
Bhakti Yoga – that of devotion to God.
Dhyana Yoga – that of meditation.
Between then and now there has been almost an explosion of different kinds and forms.
All of the forms are offshoots from the Hindu religion, and there are many many different forms, which include the following named ones;-
Ananda Marga…. Anahata…. Anusata…. Anuyoga…. Ashtanga Vinyasa…. Ati…. Ajikan…. Bikram…. Cardiac…. Chair…. Hatha…. Integral…. Iyengar…. Kripalu…. Krishnamacharya’s…. Kriya…. Kundalini…. Laya…. Mahayoga…. Naked…. Natya…. Pranava…. Raja…. Sahaja…. Six Yogas of Naropa…. Sivananda…. Swara…. Trul Khor or Yantra yoga…. Yin…. Yoga Chi Gung.
As you can see – we have a lot to choose from !!
For the average person, it can be used as an excellent form of stretching exercise, a way of increasing one’s spiritual awareness, or developing compassion and insight.
Although there are obvious links to Hinduism, yoga itself is not a religion – rather it contains practical steps, that can also be found in many other religions, but are not religions themselves.
Thus it can be used by people of any religion, and equally by those who do not consider themselves religious in any way.
Many of the different forms are named after the particular Yogi who developed them, and many are very similar to each other, with only comparatively minor differences – so we will only be talking about the most common and popular forms, especially those most in use in the West.
This is probably the most common form that is taught in the majority of the Yoga schools in the West – and is therefore the usual kind that people think of when they talk about yoga.
It was originally introduced in the 15th Century, by a Yogic sage called Swatmarama.
The main focus is on — firstly, doing stretching exercises and special postures, called ASANAS, that cause a purification of the physical body –
– and secondly this in turn leads to a purification of the mind, together with an increase in vital energy (what we called Chi previously).
There are many influences from Tantric Yoga (see the page that includes Tantra later), and also is the first system where the concept of KUNDALINI energy was introduced into yogic practice.
It is the form that uses ‘full body’ stretches, and utilizes meditations based on the breathing being done in sync. with the full body exercises.
This is in contrast to the next form, called Raja Yoga which teaches basically the same thing, but in the reverse order.
The originator of this particular type was called Patanjali, who’s most famous teaching is that of The Eight Limbs of Yoga Practice which are;-
(1) YAMA – (The five “abstentions” or things to be avoided): violence, lying, theft, (illicit) sex, and possessions.
(2) NIYAMA – (The five “observances” or things to be encouraged): purity, contentment, simple life, study, and surrender to God.
(3) ASANA – Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to seated positions used for meditation. Later, with the rise of Hatha yoga, asana came to refer to all the “postures”.
(4) PRANAYAMA – (“Life Force Control” or things that should come under ones own personal control): Control of Prana or Chi – the life force, or vital energy.
(5) PRATYAHARA – (“Abstraction” or withdrawal of the senses from outside events – internalization): Reversal of the sense organs.
(6) DHARANA – (“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object – a form of Meditation that we will be experiencing in this website – for example a Mantra.
(7) DHYANA – (Meditation in a sense that we are also talking about in some of this website): Intense contemplation of the true nature of reality.
(8) SAMADHI – (“Liberation” also called Nirvana): Super-conscious state of enlightenment, Nirvana or ‘Heaven like state.’
Thus, where Hatha teaches that the exercises or Asanas come first, and then the purification of the mind comes second as a result of the first –
– Raja yoga teaches it the opposite way round – that the meditations on breathing and other similar techniques come first, and then the well being of the body by exercising and doing Asanas comes second.
A further difference is that Raja often concentrates more on sitting stretching exercises, as opposed to full body stretches as in the Hatha style.
The name Raja also means King – so its followers believe that this form is the ‘King of the Yogas.’
A separate branch of the Raja form is called the Ashtanga form, but although it has some differences, the similarities outweigh the differences. Patanjali himself sometimes also called his system as Ashtanga Yoga.
Philosophy of Yoga
In all branches of yoga, the final desired goal is the arriving at an eternal state of perfect consciousness, somewhat like being in a heavenly state of ‘bliss’.
Common to most forms of yoga are the practices of concentration – called DHARANA, and meditation – called DYANA.
Dharana, according to Patanjali’s definition, is the “binding of consciousness to a single point.”
The awareness is concentrated on one fine point of sensation (such as that of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils).
Sustained single-pointed concentration gradually leads to meditation (dhyana), in which the inner faculties are able to expand and merge with something vast.
These kinds of meditators sometimes report strong feelings of peace, joy, and oneness.
The focus of meditation may differ from school to school, e.g. meditation on one of the chakras, such as the heart center (anahata) or the ‘third eye’ (ajna); or meditation on a particular deity, such as Krishna; or on a quality – like peace, for example.
The influence of Yoga is felt throughout the whole of Buddhism. and in all of its offshoot forms.
It is very interesting to compare the Buddhist eight-fold path and the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga, I am sure that the one came from the other.
Their similar moral teachings also both share the Hindu principle of non-violence (ahimsa);
– their final steps are almost the same – steps leading to an identical goal – the stopping of mental fluctuations (or ups and downs) – being ‘one with the universe’ – and ending in a state of bliss or Nirvana or Heaven (to give it its Western name).
Within the last 80 years or so, there has been a sort of modern-day development of Yoga called Pilates, that has gained increasing popularity.
It uses many of the Yoga stretching type exercises, but focuses particularly on full concentration of the breathing while doing the exercises, and also intense concentration on the movements of the muscles at the same time.
Pilates originated just after the First World War, and is in effect – a more modern Western form of yoga.
To find out more about Pilates, click on this link;- pilates-exercise-for-health
As we can see above, all forms of Yoga are very much involved with some form of movement or another, often in the form of stretching exercises.
Obviously it is not feasible to teach the Yoga exercises online…one needs a personal teacher, who can teach by example – and show you HOW the exercises are done.
The same is going to be true about ALL of the Active Meditation types that we talked about in the Types of Meditation section.
It is essential that you have a teacher who is both SHOWING you how to do the different Active Meditation exercises, but also – is watching and correcting you to make sure that you ‘get it right’.
Therefore I will only be giving you ‘little snippets’ from some of the Active Meditation styles, but will be able to give more complete examples in the Passive Meditation sections.
So here is a ‘little snippet’ of online meditation you can try !
It is a form of breathing and energy meditation that comes from the Yogic tradition, is very easy to do, and is not involved with a specific physical yoga exercise, so it ‘works’ for our purpose as an online meditation.
Firstly, read through it all carefully, a couple of times, so that you will remember what order to do things, or else get someone else to read it to you slowly as you do it – which is sort of like a guided meditation, and works even better.
Then sit in the way that we talked about in the previous ‘Clothing’ section when we spoke about ‘positions for meditation,’ close your eyes, breathe through your nose, and spend a minute or two to just relax as much as you can. Try to breathe evenly and slowly, then –
……….slowly try to take your mind to the area of the first chakra, (remember that it’s between the genitals and the anus)…..try to take all your awareness there and tighten up the muscles in that area as much as you can –
….clench them tight…tighter …and yet tighter, for a total of about 15 seconds……then let everything relax..relax..relax…but keep your awareness on that area –
…..breathe slowly and deeply – slowly and deeply………
…………then, very slowly, imagine that your awareness is slowly moving upwards from that first chakra….upwards to the area of the second chakra…higher in the belly…slowly up further to the solar plexus –
….slowly up to the heart…then to the throat and slowly bring your awareness forward until it stops just at the end of the tip of your nose, and try to make your point of awareness smaller and smaller –
……….still breathing very slowly and deeply………
…………then, try to keep your awareness there…just on the tip of your nose…and imagine that your awareness is a minute version of you, just standing on the end of your nose –
…………imagine that your awareness is as small as a speck of dust…still just there on the end of your nose…and it is able to sense the movements of air…in and out…from each side of it through the two nostrils –
………… imagine that it is sensing the air going in and out….in and out…energy coming in with each breath in…and unwanted waste gases being carried away by each breath out –
……..very slowly in…..and then very slowly out……..
………… breath in full of energy..and breath out with the unwanted waste…in and out ..in and out.. and just keep watching for about 2 minutes –
………… then…imagine your small speck of awareness being carried inwards with a breath….. and with all of the energy contained in that breath….let it float down into your chest with the breath…..slowly –
………..and let it float further down…into your belly…down ..down..into your pelvis until it comes once again to the place where it started…the first chakra…between the genitals and the anus –
……….. feel it gently coming to rest there, and slowly allowing some of the energy that it brought to be spread about this area of the first chakra –
……….. mmmm!…just stay there for a moment longer….and then take a very very slow…very very deep breath in –
………..and as you breathe out this time through your mouth… through pursed lips…very slowly and deeply and completely…imagine that your small speck of awareness is traveling back up the chakras –
…but faster than before…and imagine that it is rapidly expanding in size…as it travels upwards…and by the time it comes out of your mouth it is getting huge –
………..and as it leaves your mouth your awareness or consciousness rapidly expands…bigger and bigger… until it fills everywhere and …bringing some energy with it to spread around to the whole world –
………..then slowly bring your awareness and some of the energy back to your body again….until it is exactly the size of your body…and still giving energy to it –
…..let your breathing gently come back to normal…..
……….. and then very slowly… come back to the present…to the here and now…and very slowly…open your eyes, and then give yourself a HUGE stretch and see how you feel !
I can guarantee that you will feel somewhat more relaxed, and yet probably more full of energy…am I right ?
You see how powerful your mind is, and how you can use it in meditation in a useful way ?
If you did NOT feel much of a difference between before and after- don’t be concerned at all.
Some people take several times of trying before their minds, both conscious and subconscious – and their bodies – get used to something new like this.
Try it a few times and you will gradually begin to the feel effects more and more, as your whole system slowly accepts the possibility of change in this way.
So that was our first real meditation as such, rather than just an exercise in thinking.
I hope that you enjoyed it, and we will be doing several more different kinds of meditations as we go on – you will probably find that some work better for you than others.
That’s why I am trying to give you as many as are feasible – so you can pick and choose.
………. So onwards we go !………….