Yoga pathways part 1

Submitted by Bijam on Sun, 08/12/2013 - 23:04

Yoga is an experience, a state of being with potential for action.  It can be translated literally as union, a coming together of body, mind and spirit to a point of balance.  English words such as “yoke” are derived from the same root word. When we are “doing” Yoga we are actually practising some form of technique to bring us to this state of union.  So Yoga is both the aim and the pathway.

Anna Yoga – the yoga of awareness of what we eat and drink and its effect on our inner balance, physical and mental – hyped up, torpid or balanced.  Linked to Ayurveda, the ancient science of healing that is the partner of Yoga.

Jnana (pronounced gyana or like the Spanish ñ)the yoga of Self - enquiry – what life is about, what death means; what the human being is and the nature of the Ultimate Reality; the Self as pure consciousness.  Consider the soaring beauty in the Upanishads, some dating back 3000 years:

“Smaller than the smallest particle of an atom, and yet more vast than the whole expanse of space, this Self resides in the heart of all beings.  …….One who meditates on that Self which is formless in the midst of all forms, eternal in the midst of the momentary, which is everywhere at once and great beyond compare- such a one will know that Self and finally cease all grieving.”

Katha Upanishad Part 1 (2)

To be continued......

Adventure in India - The World Yoga Convention

Submitted by Bijam on Tue, 26/11/2013 - 13:28
Ganga Darshan (image from www.

In October 2013 I was one of a group of yoga enthusiasts- mainly, but not all, yoga teachers - who travelled from the UK to India for a double celebration - the World Yoga Convention, held every 20 years, and the Golden Jubilee of the setting up by Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga.  Four of us from Scotland joined the UK group led by Swami Satyaprakash Saraswati, who is based in Birmingham.  The theme of the Convention was summed up as "Immersion in Yoga - serious, sincere and committed".  I'd never been to Ganga Darshan, the Bihar School of Yoga ashram situated just outside Munger, but apparently it had grown substantially in the last ten years.  Security was tight and rules such as no mobiles, no cameras, not being allowed out of the ashram except at permitted times were strictly enforced.  The need for this came home to me when we heard reports, on the final day, of bombs going off in Patna, the capital of Bihar state.  Something to do with elections I think.

The Convention was huge: 22, 000 delegates from all areas of India and a substantial number of overseas delegates heard 5 days of academic presentations focusing on all aspects of yoga, especially some very interesting scientific studies on the benefits of yoga practice.  The speakers came frrom many different traditions of Yoga. Every session was preceded by a kirtan;  mantra meditation as song, led in a call-and-response way so thousands of voices were raised in chant. It almost always resulted in dancing and clapping as well as chanting!   Swami Niranjanananda presided over every session and did most of the translating, either from English to Hindi or vice versa. There were lunchtime workshops too but unfortunately for one reason or another I didn't manage to get to any so I can't report on those.  The Golden Jubilee was celebrated in parallel, with a large fire ceremony (havan) burning all day accompanied by deep-voiced pandits chanting in Sanskrit.  There were all-day kirtans by various national groups, evening entertainment programmes and a specially commissioned DVD of the life of Swami Satyananda.  One of the highlights for me was called the Kundalini Awakening Centre or KAC for short.  It was a short film in 5D (don't ask!) made by the sannyasins, with great effects illustrating the five senses and the awakening of the primal energy of kundalini, ascending up the spine- brilliant graphics!  

As is traditional at Satyananda gatherings we also participated to some extent in the life of the ashram, contributing karma yoga for example in the kitchen, or cleaning bathrooms.  Cleaning duty was 5-6 am; on the first morning I hadn't quite realised this but I did wonder why there were so many people in the shower area as I tried to complete my morning ablutions.  Someone kindly explained so I then knew I should be working, not showering at my leisure.  Karma yoga takes priority so when we were summoned to the kitchen  area to help prepare vegetables we just had to drop all other plans.  

The sannyasins based at the ashram had obviously been working very hard, under the direction of Swami Niranjanananda, because BSY published new or revised editions of 350 books (!)  We were allowed to choose as many as we wanted, given away to us as prasad - gifts - so my luggage coming home was very heavy.  Actually I had to post most of them back and they've just arrived, so I'll have a lot of reading to do.  





What are Mudras and Bandhas?

Submitted by Bijam on Mon, 14/10/2013 - 12:07

Mudras and bandhas are subtle techniques usually introduced once students have some experience of yoga practices.

A mudra is a specific gesture, shape or attitude.  The subtle physical movements that make up the gesture can alter the flow of energy in the body in order to bring about changes in mood and perception, deepening awareness and concentration.  Most commonly mudras are made by adopting certain positions of the fingers and hands - these are called hasta mudras (hasta = hand in Sanskrit).  They are used in meditation practice.  You're quite likely to meet chin mudra  - index finger and thumb touching, or index finger sitting into the fold of the thumb, quite early on in a Satyananda class as we sit for a brief meditation at the beginning and chin mudra will be explained to you.   For more experienced students a mudra can involve the whole body in a particular asana, with breath awareness, bandha and visualisation techniques.

Bandhas aim to lock prana in particular areas of the body and redirect it for the purpose of spiritual awakening.  The Sanskrit word bandha means to hold, tighten or lock.   Bandhas can be used in asana work but are more often associated with pranayama practice because their action is to enhance energy or prana with a view to progression in pranayama and meditation practice.  

Five Ways of Practising Awareness in Daily Life -

Submitted by Bijam on Mon, 14/10/2013 - 11:54
  1. Set an alarm as a reminder to pause and take three deep breaths, whatever you’re doing
  2. Bring yourself into the present moment, even briefly, using awareness of sensations in your skin or nose!
  3. When you eat, focus on your food.  Don’t do anything except eating, including reading, tweeting, phoning.
  4. Check in and “be present” with the breath, while driving; and other sensations such as bumps in the road.  Helps to stop the mind wandering so you arrive at your destination without having noticed the journey.
  5. Create morning and evening rituals.  For example, noting at the end of the day one happiest moment, then taking a few deep appreciative breaths.

From Yoga Journal