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Posts tagged ‘Yoga in India’

Yoga in India: Liberation Without a Twist!

Yoga in India

Yoga in India.  Photo by Coni Hörler

BY SUZANA ALTERO

Yoga has a cluster of techniques distributed through a variety of branches. Their objective is the same: to experience oneness with the underlying reality that is the basis of the external word. Though they aim for the same goal they use different approaches for their journeys. (more…)

What is Tantra?

Written by Amala Klep

Photo courtesy - Coni Hörler

Photo courtesy – Coni Hörler

“But… What is actually Tantra?” How many times I have heard this question. And each and every time the same feelings arise inside of me, a mix of enthusiasm to share, from my personal experience, about this amazing and old philosophy. (more…)

Mahashivrathri – The Great Night Of Lord Shiva

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Murdeshwara Temple, Karnataka, India. Photo Credit – Coni Hörler

There are many myths that surround the festival of Mahashivrathri, but one in particular which is often repeated and remembered has to be the story of Samudra Manthan, or the ‘Churning of the Ocean’. Infact, this myth still bears a close resemblance to the way it is currently celebrated and has its origin from the ancient book of the Puranas, which when translated means ‘olden times’. (more…)

Geeta Iyengar’s words for her father

Geeta Iyengar in Pune

Geeta Iyengar in Pune

Within 12 hours from Guruji’s death at 20th August 3:15 AM Indian Standard Time the last rites and the cremation took place in Pune. We would like to share with you Geetaji’s last words for her father, B.K.S. Iyengar:

“Only his body has ended. One person’s efforts from inside out, changed the acceptance of yoga throughout the world. Nothing was hidden, from the time he began to practice, to his illness and death. Even last night he was telling Abhijata, “I have shown you all these things, now realize them for yourself.” What he has given cannot be encompassed by words. If a disciple is more developed, then that person will understand. What can be said in words, is that he was precious to us.”

Source: Iyengar Yoga Association (US)

Photo: by Coni Hörler

Interview with A. L. V. Kumar of Traditional Yoga

Interview by Anna Bhushan
Kumar

A. L. V. Kumar

A. L. V. Kumar has been a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation. His interest in teaching came about as a result of a car crash that resulted in complete paralysis of the lower body. He used his knowledge of yoga to restore his body to full health. Following this experience he decided to dedicate as much time as possible to teaching yoga to heal both body and mind. Since then he has taught yoga to over 13,000 people in India by conducting free public workshops, in addition to residential meditation courses, teacher training and yoga therapy courses in India, the US, UK and China. Kumar was recently honored with the Bharat Jyoti Award, The International Achievers Award and the Glory of India Award for his meritorious public service in the field of yoga.

Anna Bhushan is a Trustee of the Yoga Healing Foundation, under which Traditional Yoga programs are run. She is a trained yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a painter and lecturer.. She has been studying with A. L. V. Kumar for many years and writes the articles from her conversations and recordings with A. L. V. Kumar.

Read more about A.L.V. Kumar on the website of Traditional Yoga, Hyderabad, India. 

Why did you decide to come to the West?

I was invited to give some talks and demonstrations by people who met me in India and benefited from my teaching. In the West yoga is frequently considered to be simply the practice of asanas.  I have met many yoga teachers who are unfamiliar with meditation. Those who meditate in the West do not always practice physical yoga. The value of physical yoga should not be underestimated. I wish to give a picture of the completeness of yoga. Whatever I know I want to spread to help others.

kumar yoga poseWhat is different about your yoga?

The question perhaps should be where is the practice of yoga that has been taught for thousands of years? As this is where the problem lies today. There is much confusion regarding the understanding of the many branches of yoga, hatha, bhakti, jnana and raja yoga and how they are progressive, sequential. People even mistakenly think that Patanjali taught hatha yoga. I wish to clarify these misunderstandings to enable people to make swift progress.

Progress to what exactly?

Yog is the Sanskrit word which means getting on well with everything, or union; to get along with everything in life, with our own health, with the food we eat, with the work and activities we do, with our family and friends; to remove problems and be free of unhappiness. All this is possible when we get on well with ourselves. Knowing thyself is tattwamasi. The science of getting on well with ourselves is called yog. Exactly the opposite, viyog means separation. Separation brings unhappiness.

What do we mean by ‘ourselves?’ This includes our mind and body. In Sanskrit this is described as consisting of five layers, sheaths or koshas. The different sheaths or levels require different inputs. For example food is the input for the annamaya kosha or physical, gross body. Breath is the input for the pranmaya kosha or subtle, life force, astral body. Thoughts are the input for the manomaya kosha, the conscious mind including the five senses, altogether known as the six sense doors. Our perceptions, emotions and instincts are the inputs for the vignana maya kosha or the subconscious and unconscious mind.

Happiness is the input that creates bliss. All our problems are brought about by the wrong inputs to these koshas, for example not enough, an excess of or unpure food will lead to an unbalance or sickness. The formula for happiness requires cleaning or removing of all the impurities from the koshas. Yoga is a very precise and practical method to do this job of purifying the body and mind. That is why the study and practice of yoga in its entirety is so useful. It addresses life on every level.

You call it Traditional Yoga. Which tradition do you come from, Iyengar or Ashtanga?

Since I was a child of 12 years, I have looked into the practices taught in many schools of yoga. But I have only been interested in finding the ultimate reality through my own experience. I would sincerely follow any teacher or technique I came across until I knew the practice, had fully grasped it and could evaluate it in the context of my own life and behavior. I was never prepared to remain in one school until I had investigated all available knowledge. I have studied in about 26 schools in the north and 12 in the south including Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Kaivalyadama Lonavala, Bihar school of Yoga, all Kriya Yoga traditions of Lahari and non Lahari traditions. As I said before, I am teaching the genesis of yoga not just one school or another.

So many teachers are teaching to the best of their knowledge but unfortunately this knowledge may be limited to one teacher or tradition. They may be teaching certain asanas or postures but without the traditional understanding of the whole process, the integration of all the various limbs and how the practice unfolds. And so many of the pranayamas, bandanas and mudras, which are so effective, are slowly becoming extinct or have been lost altogether. These work on a cellular level, to rejuvenate and balance the whole system. There is little understanding of the relationship between the yoga that makes the body healthy, flexible and strong and the yoga that purifies the mind and leads to ultimate happiness. Actually hatha yoga is a preparation for inner yoga, sometimes called raja yoga, king of the yogas, which strengthens the mind and removes the impurities that lead to suffering.

kumar walkingIs it true that you were once told you would never walk again?

Yes, in 1992, I had a road accident in Pune and my pelvis was crushed by a truck. Except for those days following the accident I had never suffered physically or mentally because my body was like a tensile rod. It just bounced back whenever it got shocked and recovered very quickly. I use awareness as a tool to recover, not suppressing anything. The accident resulted in multiple fractures to my lower spine, hip and pelvic bone, and I lost complete control of my lower body because the back wheel of the truck had crushed my hip region. I was bedridden with a ruptured urethra, the pelvic bone having pierced the tube. The edge of the pelvic bone was so sharp it made sitting impossible. I had to go for dilation of the urethra every two months. The doctors told me I would probably be unable to walk again.

After a year my condition had not improved. My physical health was fine apart from the problems with walking, urinary discharge and reproduction function. I was due to be married so I tried to persuade my wife- to- be and her family, to cancel the marriage for her sake. What kind of life would it be for her with a husband so damaged? The doctors also advised them that that would be the sensible course of action. But she insisted the marriage go ahead as planned, so I was airlifted to the ceremony. After two years with no change I decided to ignore the doctors’ advice and began to practice yoga. At first it was very painful. I used my knowledge of the asanas, mudras and bandanas, and after a year I could not only walk but run and finally resumed my previous 300 asanas. Eventually I was blessed with two daughters. It was that experience of the healing potential of yoga that made me decide to dedicate my time to teaching.

You also treat people individually with something called kaya chikitsa, what is that?

Kaya chikitsa is a form of yoga that can be practiced on people unable to practice for themselves; it is for the seriously ill or bedridden. When I was in the Himalayas when I was quite young, I was approached by a man. His family was the last from a long tradition to practice this system. As he had no sons to pass it on to, in order to prevent this knowledge dying out altogether, he asked me to study it along with two of my friends. I only started using it after many years when I had made the decision to try to help people, and since have had good results for a number of problems such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, heart problems, skin diseases such as erythrodermatitis, spinal problems including slipped discs and spondylitis, reproductive problems such as infertility, polycystic ovaries, thyroid and respiratory problems like asthma and sinusitis. It is a very good system. I have trained a few people to do this work but you need to be physically strong and fitas it is very demanding.

Apparently you are a nuclear scientist – how do you reconcile the nuclear industry with teaching yoga?

Like many things, nuclear power can be used to help or to harm. I am a scientist and I work on the processing of fuel at a government plant. At our plant we have developed many processes that would help in a closed fuel cycle, so there is very little waste compared to the west. This is because the quality of the uranium in India is quite poor so we need to use it as effectively as we can. In India we are developing at a very fast rate and there is a great need for energy. It is important to take a responsible attitude to this problem of conservation of energy and to greatly reduce the burning of fossil fuels. By tradition, teaching yoga should not be used to earn one’s living in India. I am a family man so I work as a scientist to support my family.

kumar with dog

We have a lot of gurus who come to the west, are you hoping to be another with your own following?

I have no desire to be a guru. My only aim is to spread understanding of the traditional practice and the integration of yoga, to speed up the progress of all practitioners, and to help free as many as possible from physical and mental suffering. For that we need as many people teaching as possible, not just me. Perhaps in India we become a little cynical of the five star gurus who come to the west and enjoy the fame and fortune available here, and I’m afraid there are some gullible people who follow them. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. They teach maybe one or two techniques, and people are happy. People think this is the ultimate without looking further. That is why it is important to intelligently test what they say, to scrutinize them carefully and see if you do get what they claim to be offering. Is there any change in your behavior? Can you react without any anger or hatred to others? Can you be happy with whatever happens? The great scientists of the mind such as Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Patanjali, Guru Nanak, all spoke about removing defilements and developing love, compassion, forgiveness and equanimity. This should be the test of any teacher.

How do you reconcile your responsibilities as a family man with your commitment to yoga healing?

In India the family is still very important. We mostly live with our families and grandparents, aunts, uncles living close by. This gives everyone support. My wife works and my children are still at school. In my spare time I teach yoga and see people individually if they have serious problems. It is a matter of using one’s time efficiently and trying to help as many people as possible.

Sadhana Part III: What is the Purpose of Life?

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has travelled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritural traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 3: What is the Purpose of Life?

In Part 1 of this series on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self realization in yoga. In Part 2 I explored what yoga is all about and what we try to achieve by practicing Sadhana. In the last of this 3-part series, I ask: What do I need to know and experience the truth?

This questions occupies every moment of our lives, most of the time unknowingly! Yes, every single thought-feeling-action in our daily life is centered on ‘I’ and focuses on either proving its existence or protecting it from death.

One may say, “I know who I am already and what I want from my life.”

Okay, what do we want from this life?

That’s another big question which is asked by everyone at some point of their lives but hushed up in the restless waves of the ocean called the mind. Some would prefer to leave it for scientists or Socrates and don’t care about all this philosophy! Well, yoga is for the people who care about themselves and about life and the world. So, yoga students ask this question again and again and try to find the answer from within.

02 yoga class (8)smallA Big Question: What is the Purpose of Life? 

A typical answer can be:
1) To grow up as a healthy kid in a safe environment (we can’t do anything about it now).
2) Good education at school (with lots of games and fun).
3) Acquire skills/degrees at college (for some this can mean party time with drinks-drugs-sex!).
4) Finding friendships and relationships (Facebook time?).
5) Getting a job to make enough money, to meet our needs for existence and have a lot of fun on weekends and during vacations.
6) Marriage and having kids (for some it’s a scary burden and the end of freedom).
7) More money to support the family, pay credit card bills and insurance (Oh I am getting older).
8) Retirement (a long holiday and waiting for death).
9) Peaceful death (who cares what happens next?).

So, the purpose of life is reaching a peaceful death and on the way having some exciting times with work, a home, cars, money etc… Also it is important to have fun with friends, family, kids and let’s not leave out our lovely pets. For some, it is important to be something in society or to do something for society!

Right?

10 Students (17)Well, it’s not a pleasant way of putting the complexities, absurdities and subtleties of our life in a few simple points… but this is what most of us aspire in life, knowingly or unknowingly.

Actually, or psychologically, very few people aspire to some big goal which they have in mind! It’s not that we can’t dream but very few of us dare to break the walls of archetypal social patterns and dare to walk the unique path. We are told (or brainwashed) to flow with the masses or maybe a smart sheep in the flock of humanity. We surrender to the great wheel of Samsara, dictated by our parents, teachers, society, media, friends, family, colleagues, governments etc… and also by our own minds. So, we are busy getting small doses of happiness from events, things, people and meeting day-to-day challenges, with no time for all these weird ideas about life and death!

Happiness

When we study the undercurrents of human life, we have an unspoken rule of thumb:

1) Seeking happiness / life.
2) Avoiding unhappiness / death.

Names, places, people, things and gadgets may change or repeat themselves in a different order, but what everybody wants from living this life is happiness/life. Avoiding unhappiness/death is just another way of saying “I want happiness and I don’t want death or the end of happiness!”

All this boils down to one word: ‘Happiness’. Life becomes a pursuit of happiness! Happiness becomes a standard of living. When we are happy, we feel alive. When we are not happy, we call it bad times!

In the next section we will study the secret of happiness that yoga offers!

06 Eating Time (77)

The Secret of Happiness!

So, it is happiness that drives us crazy in doing, talking, thinking and feeling all the things which make up what we call life. Yes, happiness, the never-ending promise fueled by the desire to be happy. The desire to have nice clothes, a nice house, a nice car, a nice this and that is secondary, what is important is ‘to be happy’. We catch hold of anything that makes us ‘happy’ and leave or throw away anything that doesn’t give us that ‘happiness’. Deep inside us we feel anything that makes us happy is ‘good’ and what doesn’t make us happy is ‘bad’, irrespective of what we think or say about good and bad social values.

The few yogis who embarked on this journey of finding the truth of life and death, ask if we are really happy even after pursuing happiness for years and decades. Is Bill Gates, with all his wealth, luxuries, name and fame, happy? If so, why does he still do things to make other people happy – well, that’s another way of making ourselves happy!

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.

Sadhana Part II: What is Yoga?

By Krishna Chaitanya
Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya

Krishna Chaitanya is founder of Yoga Vidya Retreats and a professional yoga trainer and spiritual teacher. His expertise is in the field of meditation, philosophy and psychology of Yoga-Vedanta. He lived and practiced for more than twelve years in some of the best ashrams in India and embraced the monastic life at the age of 19. Krishna has traveled to various teachers and traditions in many parts of the world in order to gain knowledge from his experiences, not just from books or spiritual traditions. You can read more about him in our guest writer post or on the Yoga Vidya Retreats website.

Sadhana: Spiritual Practice in Yoga

Part 2: What is Yoga?

In Part 1 of this series of 3 articles on Sadhana, I introduced Sadhana as the path to self-realization in yoga. Now, we need to have a clear understanding of what yoga is all about and what are we trying to achieve by practicing Sadhana.

Yoga is mostly known around the world as a sort of fitness exercise to achieve total health, including physical and mental well-being. Yes, hatha yoga, one of the many yoga paths, can accomplish this, though this is considered to be a preparation and not the ultimate purpose of yoga or even hatha yoga.

Before understanding Sadhana, the path of Yoga, we need to have a fundamental understanding of what is not yoga and the right directions to take in inner fields of consciousness where yoga is mostly cultivated with love and dedication over years of purity, patience and perseverance.

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Yoga is a not an exercise. The focus of exercise is mostly concentrated on the skeletal-muscular system and extremities are the main tools. Hatha yoga deals with all systems and focuses on achieving a healthy state of homeostasis by training the autonomic nervous system (ANS) with conscious central nervous system (CNS) activity which involves a well coordinated activity on physical, mental and psychic levels. There are many other differences between the fitness-oriented exercise and hatha yoga combinations of flows and stillness that you can study in hatha yoga anatomy and physiology classes taught in our teacher trainings and other places around the world.

Yoga is not a religion. All the religions around the world have an origin, founder, holy book and some sort of religious authority or organization like a church or mosque where you have a father, mullah, rabbi or lama sermonizing the devout followers about what needs to be done and not. Religious people follow the holy books as interpreted by their religious heads without question, and also prove their allegiance to the founder of that religion on a regular basis. In yoga, we don’t have a founder, or a holy book, or an organization or authority figure. Though there are some great books, teachers and traditions, a yoga student is not expected to follow them blindly or to stay committed to one teacher or tradition all the time. We just take what is best and leave the rest to the few scholars to philosophize!

01 First Day Ceremony

Yoga is not a cult or sect. Though there are gods and gurus in some paths of yoga, one is not expected to stick with them forever. They are mostly used as a means which needs to be transcended at some later stage. There are lots of sects or traditions in yoga, but all of them are just a means to achieve yoga. A good yoga practitioner always reserves the freedom to learn and practice with as many traditions or sects or gurus at the same time. There are also many yogis who do not believe in a god or guru and are more rational than a scientist and more emotional than an artist in expressing their feelings . There are yogis who live in caves and some yogis who live in palaces ruling countries and fighting wars. Yogis can work in gardens or factories and do various professions in their normal life. There are also some great female yoginis who are housewives and still achieve high states of spiritual realization. So yoga is not a cult.

Yoga is not a culture or an Indian thing! But many Hindus adopted yoga early in history and still practice it, maybe without the deeper understanding of committed yogis who are always few in number. Buddhists and all the mystics of various religions, such as Islamic Sufism, Christian mysticism, Jewish Kabbalah etc., also practiced yoga, without using this word.

Yoga is not a lifestyle or a philosophy on how to live life. It is life itself. It is a science of how to experience this life here and now. Or to be frank, what is yoga cannot be expressed in words but anybody can experience it. Just like you cannot describe how sugar tastes! You have to put it in your mouth to experience its sweetness. It is an experience beyond words. Similarly, yoga is a pure experience beyond the prism of time-space-cause, which imprisons our consciousness with this body-mind identity of the ‘self’.

Yoga Vidya

By practicing yoga Sadhana,
A Christian can become a better Christian.
A Muslim can become a better Muslim.
A Hindu can become a better Hindu.
A housewife can become a better housewife.
A father can become a better father.
An engineer can become a better engineer.
A scientist can become a better scientist.
A nurse can become a better nurse.
An artist can become a better artist.
This is all about bringing out harmony from within.
This is all about fine-tuning the ‘I’ and ‘You’ within us.
This is all about seeing the reality in this great illusion of life.
This is all about making oneself happy in all circumstances.
This is all about playing the game of life, according to the fair rules of Karma.
This is all about harmony in love, work, relationships, dreams, hopes and aspirations!
This is all about peace – awareness – bliss.
Om Sat-Chit-Ananda!

Then, what is yoga? 

Literally it means union or harmony. In practical use it is known as a path to self realization or a means to experience Brahman (the ultimate truth), also known as God or Universe. Technically, it is a technique to experience the changeless eternal reality amidst the chaos of changes projected by our own minds. Mystically it means being one with truth, merging our own being with the cosmos! Karmically, it means learning the cosmic dance with Shiva-Parvati and feeling liberated to the very core of our being! Romantically, it means being one with everything!

A true yogi who experiences yoga in his or her super-conscious state of being, doesn’t talk much about what yoga is – because all man made languages and words fail to express what they experience beyond the mind and intellect! You know it when you see pure bliss in the eyes, peace on the face and joy in every action of a yogi. And yogis do not bother preaching or talking about That, because there is nothing else other than That. When there is no I and no you, who teaches whom?

Yoga Vidya

All yogis agree that the truth of yoga cannot be explained in words but can be experienced by anybody by practicing Sadhana. The best words that they could find to describe elevated states of yoga are: Sat-Chit-Ananda. Absolute Existence – Absolute Awareness – Absolute Bliss. The existence, awareness and bliss we experience in daily life is temporary and within the prism of time-space-cause and mostly projected from our mind. When a yogi can be free from the fetters that bind his or her consciousness in maya, he or she can spontaneously experience life in the absolute, timeless ‘being-consciousness-bliss’, which is part of the big picture of the eternal cosmos.

To summarize, yoga Sadhana is basically a practice to experience the truth and reality about ourselves, our true self, not the small self which is made of our identity along with the body, mind and intellect and constantly changing as per the judgments of others in the chaotic flux of human society.

In the next article we will study why we need to know the truth about ourselves and what is life with and without that knowledge of self.

Photos courtesy of Krishna Chaitanya / Yoga Vidya.

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