It is interesting to note that the percentage of people practicing Yoga in America is rising by 14% on average per annum. Given that the majority of Yoga available out there are mostly limited to Asanas, I wonder what percentage of this 14% increment had actually experienced the full complete practice of Yoga up till now.
In Singapore we have a plentiful supply of Yoga classes in gyms, Yoga studios, and public communes known as Community Centers. There is a curious side of me that loves asking every Yogi that I meet this question – What is your understanding of Yoga and why do you want to practice Yoga?
Most of the answers I get are “For physical health; increase flexibility”. Some people who have been practicing for years would say “mental peace; body mind awareness”.
I have yet to come across anyone in Singapore (or most developed countries where Yoga is a rising phenomenon) that could answer in a way that demonstrates a true understanding of what is Yoga and what it offers.
Briefly, the real meaning of Yoga is “Union”; and the real reason behind practicing Yoga is to cultivate the Mind towards its highest realization. What is this realization?
This realization refers to the understanding of how a person is an ‘architect of his own destiny’ as Swami Rama calls it; and the freedom to choose thoughts and actions leading to the highest possible development and expression of this person.
Something I would add to that would be the cognitive ability to realize how at any given moment in time, we as an individual human being is partnering the greater creative power of Life to result in both individual and planetary outcomes.
All the benefits of physical health, mental peace, higher awareness are milestones along the Yoga path, they are not the actual benefits although it is not a bad thing to practice Yoga for these benefits.
Yoga is just – Yoga
So which is the ‘best’ type of Yoga to practice? My take is – all Yoga are good. Any practice is better than no practice at all.
However if you have a chance to know and practice the authentic system of Yoga that brings benefits on levels much more than the physical plane, wouldn’t you want to?
Think of the scenario where you have a choice to invest the same amount of money into 2 different risk free bonds. Within the same investment period, one gives you 2% return, and one gives you 8% return. Which one would you choose?
In this case, your time and effort is your investment money, and the type of Yoga is the bond that you choose to invest in.
Many people, after practicing for years and decades, have come to realize that Yoga offers much more than what is being taught. One can’t help but wonder how much more progress they would have made if they had invested the same number of years in practicing Yoga integratively.
Contemporary types of Yoga
The most commonly known types of Yoga are namely Ashtanga, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Power, and the rapidly growing Yin Yoga.
In the 196 scriptures of Yoga Sutras, only 2 of the above words are mentioned – Ashtanga and Hatha.
Let’s look at Ashtanga (made popular by the teacher Pattabis Jois). Based on the Sutras, the original meaning of this word is ‘8 fold path’. It describes the systematic process to enlightenment with 8 steps, of which Asana and Pranayama are 2 of them. However, now if you do a google search for Ashtanga Yoga, you would find it to be defined as ‘a series of challenging Asanas…’, and most Ashtanga fans now hardly practice it beyond the challenging Asanas.
Now let’s look at Hatha Yoga. The word Ha means ‘sun’ and Tha means ‘moon’. Hatha Yoga refers to a physical Yoga practice to balance the sun/masculine and moon/feminine channels of a person. Again, looking at the cyber information out there, there is much misrepresentation. For example, some websites explained Hatha Yoga as a ‘forceful yoga’ on their website, which is totally off from the original meaning as taught from the Sutras.
Iyengar Yoga is named after the teacher BKS Iyengar, and makes use of props like blocks, chairs and ropes etc to reach deeper postures. Bikram Yoga, also named after the teacher who invented it, refers to a specific series of Asanas done in a hot room. Power Yoga is yet another contemporary form of Yoga that integrates aerobic movements and cardiovascular strength training poses to result in a challenging workout.
All of the above are good, except that more than 50% of the important aspects of Yoga have been left out. Much of the work done out there are limited to the physical body. Based on the ancient teachings of Yoga, this physical body is only one out of the five bodies we have. Which means contemporary types of Yoga, in their isolate natures, give us limited benefits.
The premise of Integrative or Transformational yoga
According to one of the earliest Taittiriya Upanishads, there are 5 koshas or ‘sheaths’ to every human being. We have namely a physical body, energetic body, mental body, higher wisdom body and a bliss body.
The cultivation of the mind towards enlightenment, can only begin to happen when these 5 bodies are activated and integrated.
To begin working on these ‘sheaths’, we have to start with the densest body which is the physical body – this is where Asanas are used.
After the physical body is cleansed, the next step is to activate the energetic body with Pranayama – which means vital energy generation and redirection.
Subsequently, the mental body is cleaned up and activated with Mantra invocations, which is a combination of breath, sound and mental focus; and meditation.
After the first 3 bodies are activated, we enter into the higher wisdom body using self study/contemplation, Bhakti Yoga (which is the Yoga of devotion and love), Karma Yoga and guided meditation with visualizations.
The final 5th body is the bliss body. When awareness permeates through the outer 4 bodies, we connect with this bliss body, and a supreme sense of joy is experienced. When the bliss body is lived, a person embodies characteristics similar to the Divine Consciousness – of pure creation, joy, bliss, unconditional love, equanimity and Oneness.
Why Integrative Transformational Yoga works every time
We have countless testimonials from Yogis who, although have had a number of years of conventional (by conventional I mean conventional by modern world standards) Yoga practice proving the effects of Integrative Yoga practice. After just one practice, they often exclaim that they felt a deep sense of calm and peace, an awakening that they never felt in other ‘normal’ Yoga classes; or some would inform us that they achieved the same effects as when they had done 3 times longer of a practice.
Besides a solid education of the relationship between Chakras, Nadis, Prana and Kosha systems, what sets our Integrative Yoga classes apart from the others, is the underlying fundamental understanding that humans are a multi-dimensional organism. Our experience of reality is made up of a multiplex of projections.
At the beginning of every Integrative Yoga class, the sequence is designed with a purpose of waking up and activating the respective Chakras, directing Kundalini up the spine, permeating awareness through the 5 bodies, and then a guided Shavasana leading into Yoga Nidra.
Every practice brings you deeper into integration, closer to Spirit and makes you more aligned with the creative forces of Life.
(C) Linda Loo