Yoga is vast and has a rich tradition with a long history. Underneath it all are several basic principles.
• Yoga is what is known as a liberation teaching (moksha-shāstra). Its practices aim to free us from conventional beliefs created by the history of civil rules, which continually pressure us to define ourselves only through our bodies, our thoughts, the things we possess, our associations, and our deeds. But this intellectual concept, according to yoga, is a limiting concept that chains us to the physicality of life—and a focus on suffering (duhkha). The essence of ourselves is beyond the conventional beliefs. From a yogic perspective, our essence is immortal, and is a reflection of the living universe. Embracing our essence and filtering life through this essence, allows us the freedom to pursue our life activities with reduced suffering. Yoga’s teachings and practices aim to help us live this freedom.
• Everyone is different in their own ways. All of us have different characteristics, and this is reflected in the different branches of yoga. There are seven main branches: Rāja-yoga, Hatha-yoga, Jnāna-yoga, Karma-yoga, Bhakti-yoga, Tantra-yoga, Mantra-yoga.
• As their foundation, all branches of yoga have integrity and morals based on non-harming (ahimsā), being truthful (satya), not thieving (asteya), having virtue (brahmacarya), being compassionate (karunā), and practicing kindness (maitrī). When we fall short of quality in moral integrity we experience separation from our spiritual inner selves (purusha) which then presents us with emotional turmoil and the de-valuing of our character.
• Living yoga requires flexible examination of the exercises and techniques embodying yoga’s theories behind the practical disciplines. This calls for thoughtful and mindful awareness in regular practice of physical yoga (hatha) along with daily processing of mental-emotional experiences (raja) and an ongoing study (svādhyāya) of the nature of our minds as a part of all minds.
• However manageable a particular yogic approach may be, each requires a serious commitment to continual re-defining of ourselves. If we resist change and cling to familiarity, we eventually lose yoga. The practice of yoga is dynamic and calls for personal effort (vyāyama), and self-discipline (ātma-nigraha) to replace inappropriate and limiting behaviours and concepts, with useful and dynamic ones. Abhyāsa is the repeated performance of physical and mental exercises to maintain an assured state of mind, while vairāgya involves complementary practices to detach from out-dated behaviors and thoughts—to replace them with effective ones.
• The closer we link to self-realization, the more natural we become. Striving for yoga as if it were a trophy, romanticises the yogic processes and leads people from the path. Wanting to appear extraordinary leads to an egoistic fall from grace, whereas expressing naturalness in doing ordinary things and presenting oneself just like everyone else, ensures yoga. Yoga has always celebrated many pathways from that of the world-renouncing ascetic (samnyāsin) to that of the family member to that of the business person, who use the opportunities of daily life to practice the virtues of a yogic lifestyle.
• In all yoga practice, there is a flow of grace (prasāda), from teacher to student. In the theistic schools of yoga, this is explained as the grace of God. In nontheistic schools, such as Jaina yoga or Buddhist yoga, grace is said to flow as wisdom from liberated beings. Gurus are channels of benevolent wisdom and assistance for progressing their students (samcāra). In some yoga schools it is known as shakti-pāta, which means ‘the descent of power’—the infusion of passion.
• Refinement of yoga involves initiation (dîkshā) by an accomplished teacher (guru). While everyone can get some benefit from the exercises and breath control of hatha-yoga, and the quietness of meditation, if the higher states of yoga are desired, most will require association with an accomplished teacher. The habit patterns of the mind are too solidly engrained for most of us to accomplish deep-level changes without assistance from those who have gone before and succeeded.
• Yoga involves patience and thoroughness. It is a gradual and ongoing process of replacing our non-conscious patterns of thought and behavior with new, more gracious patterns that are expressive of the higher purpose and virtues of Self-realization. It takes time to accomplish self-transformation. Enlightenment and wisdom, are not realized in a matter of days, weeks, or months, but require an entire lifetime of yogic practice and effort with patience, to experience oneness with self and oneness with the living universe.
As you can see, there is much more to yoga than saluting the sun or doing the downward dog. I have been focused on the yoga life for 43 years and have been directing the Samyama Yoga School for 25 years. The time has come for me to share my indepth understanding of yoga through a comprehensive Samyama yoga teacher training course starting in February 2016. This 12-month course is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work closely with me and become a qualified Samyama yoga teacher, as I will not be offering this course again. If you’d like to find our more information or express your interest, please contact us.