The holiday festive season is almost here!

While the holiday season is super exciting, it can also mean stress and anxiety for both adults and children. This time of year often gets our minds racing with all the things on our to-do lists. There is usually a lot to organize to get our families together or get ready for trips. Adding yoga and meditation to your Christmas rituals might be the perfect way to bring calm, clarity, and peace to these busy months.

How can we incorporate yoga and meditation into our Christmas festivities? First, let’s get out our Christmas and holiday books for inspiration. Make a list of all the things that remind you of the holiday season, such as gingerbread cookies, Christmas trees, snowmen, reindeer, candles, elves, or Santa. Now make a list of things that you do during the holiday season, like sledding, ice skating, making snow angels, caroling, sipping hot chocolate, or sitting in front of the fire. Think of ways to ignite all your five senses, like playing “Silent Night”, eating your favorite treats, playing your favorite games, baking your favorite food, or talking to your favorite people.

Now that you are getting into the festive mood, let’s add movement and meditation. You could follow the suggested Christmas yoga sequence below or grab a yoga pose card pack and make up your own holiday-inspired Christmas yoga sequence. Don’t worry about practicing the yoga poses perfectly—just give it a go. Ignite your children’s learning by asking them questions: What does Santa do and why? What’s important about Christmas? What do you remember about past Christmas holidays? How do people around the world celebrate Christmas? What other holidays might people celebrate during this time?

Use Christmas or holiday books to spark your children’s creativity as they invent their own yoga poses for kids or follow the Christmas Yoga sequence below.

Practice Christmas Yoga Poses for Kids

Imagine you are sitting in a cozy living room in front of a log fire, looking outside at the snow falling. Use these five yoga poses for kids below to imagine the lights of the holiday season to bring you calm and peace. Follow this light-inspired yoga sequence or make up your own Christmas yoga sequence:

1. Star Pose (Variation of Mountain Pose) – pretend to be a sparkling snowflake falling from the sky.

Stand tall with your legs hip-width apart and feet facing forward. Straighten your arms out alongside your body. Pretend to be a snowflake drifting down from the sky. Close your eyes (or gaze down in front of you) and take a few deep, calming breaths.

mountain_baraka

2. Tree Pose – pretend to be a Christmas tree with flashing lights.

Stand on one leg, bend your knee, place the sole of your foot on your inner thigh, and balance. Pretend to be a Christmas tree with flashing lights and delightful decorations. Switch sides and repeat the balance on the other leg.

tree_sophia

3. Dancer’s Pose – pretend to be the moon lighting up the sky.

Stand tall in Mountain Pose. Then stand on one leg, reach the opposite leg out behind you, place the outside of your foot into your hand, bend your torso forward with your arm out in front for balance, and arch your leg up behind you. Imagine creating a moon shape with your outstretched leg. Pretend to be the moon shining over a forest of pine trees or a house filled with sleeping children.

dancers_-anamika

4. Chair Pose – pretend to be a candle flickering on the mantelpiece.

Stand tall in Extended Mountain Pose with your feet hip-width apart and your arms extended above you. Then, bend your knees and sink back as if you are sitting in a chair. Imagine that you are a white candle flickering light over your family. Hold Chair Pose for a few rounds of deep breaths. You should start to feel heat in your body.

chair_sophia

5. Easy Pose – pretend to be a log fire with dancing flames.

Sit comfortably cross-legged and rest your hands on your knees. Close your eyes (or gaze down in front of you) and imagine that your crossed legs are the logs on the fire. With every extended inhale, imagine filling your body with fresh oxygen (fire). Simply focus on the sound of your breath and begin to quiet your mind.

easy_pose_mai

Note that this sequence has been specifically laid out to flow from one pose to the next in a safe, logical way.  Feel free to adapt the sequence to suit the age, needs, attention span, and energy level of your child.

Source: Kids Yoga Stories

Alice McLeod, commonly known as Alice Coltrane, was born August 27, 1937. She was raised in Detroit’s east side in a home where prayers and hymns extolled the Lord. Her interest in music blossomed in early childhood.

By the age of nine, she played organ during services at Mount Olive Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan. Alice’s interest in gospel, classical, and jazz music led to the creation of her own innovative style. In time her talents expressed more fully when she became a solo recording artist. Her proficiency on keyboard, organ, and harp was remarkable. Later her natural musical artistry matured into amazing arrangements and compositions.

Alice collaborated and performed with Kenny Clarke, Kenny Burrell, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Charlie Haden, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJonette and Carlos Santana. Her twenty recordings cover a time span from Monastic Trio (1968) to Translinear Light (2004). Her last unreleased recorded work is Sacred Language of Ascension (2006).

She met and eventually married the legendary Jazz musician, John Coltrane. Together they embarked on a deeply spiritual journey of musical exploration and forged a new genre of musical expression. Many people are unaware that Alice replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with the John Coltrane quartet and continued to play and record with the band until John’s death on July 17, 1967.

Alice was left to raise their four small children, Michelle, John Jr, Ravi, and Oran. Alice entered into a most significant time in her life. As a seeker of spiritual truth, she spent focused time in isolation, fasting, praying and meditating. In 1970 she met a guru, Swami Satchidananda. She traveled to India, and was divinely called into God’s service. Alice dedicated her life to God and came to be known as Turiyasangitananda.

Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda became the Founder and Director of The Vedantic Center in 1975, and later established a spiritual community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. She would orate discourses, and then play the organ to lead the members in devotional song for Sunday services. Spiritual guidance was always given without any mention of compensation.

Her spiritual music contributions include Divine Songs and Infinite Chants CDs.

Her writings include Monument Eternal, Divine Revelations, Endless Wisdom, a trilogy of three volumes inscribed as sacred texts received in her meditations. The booklet, Turiya Speaks, consists of five discourses. A.C. Turiyasangitananda, known as Swamini to many, left her physical form January 12, 2007. Her spiritual and musical legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of the people. The innovative, futuristic sound of the Coltrane musical heritage known around the world will always be revered.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

Ashtanga yoga is one of the oldest forms of yoga. It was first recorded in ancient Indian manuscripts, but brought to life by K. Pattabhi Jois in 1948. After leading the yoga philosophy department at the Sanskrit College of Mysore from 1937-1973, Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India which became training grounds for yoga teachers from the West.

Ashtanga, which literally translates to eight-limbed yoga, is influenced by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the principles and basic teachings of yoga outlined in 196 short versus called “sutras”. These eight limbs which make up the practice of yoga, or union of the soul with the divine, includes yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.

Asana, Sanskrit for “posture”, is but one aspect of the path that most Westerners have come to know as yoga. Jois’s Ashtanga yoga is indeed bedded in tradition than trend, and it is known for its challenging nature. The Ashtanga technique is concerned with linking breath and movement, referred to as vinyasa. The advanced practice utilizes the dristi, the gaze, as a form of concentration and the bandhas, internal body locks, which assist in holding some of the more labored poses. There’s nothing fancy about the Ashtanga practice – no props, music, or extraneous instruction. The emphasis is in remaining present in the moment. Ashtanga yoga encourages the practice of all eight-limbs taught in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, leading to the ultimate “goal” of self-realization.

Watch a session of Ashtanga Yoga led by its founder, Pattabhi Jois.

 

Yoga Therapy is a fairly generic sounding name for an important field that is emerging in medicine.  When most people think of yoga, groups of people gathering in a hot room performing different body positions usually comes to mind. While these poses, or asanas, can be beneficial, they are most effective when used as part of an overall yoga health plan that includes diet (Ayurveda), energy movement (Pranayama) and meditation.  Since yoga considers all of the different aspects that make us who we are, it helps to have someone with a deeper understanding of these subjects to help guide us on this journey. That is the essence of what Yoga Therapy is.

 

It’s really only been in the last decade that traditional medicine has begun to research the benefits of Yoga Therapy, and in just the past couple of years that the results have begun to be analyzed. So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, showing positive effects on conditions ranging from heart disease and cancer, to the more modern maladies such as PTSD, MS and a variety of conditions that affect the nervous system.  The reason that yoga therapy has been so effective is that it works with the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

 

Yoga-Therapy-1_08Everything we have ever done or thought of is stored somewhere in our bodies. This fact makes each of us a unique combination of physical, emotional and energetic influences that can be quite different than anyone else in our environment. Understanding those unique elements in our self is a key component to true healing. If, for whatever reason, my body tended to run hot, and with it came the inevitable issues associated with that condition, I would definitely not want to participate in hot yoga as a form of therapy. On the other hand, that type of class might be ideal for someone whose body was made up differently. The opposite can be true as well. If I tended to run a bit cold or was perhaps lethargic, then activating energy may be more appropriate. The yoga therapy credo seems to be “it all depends,” and what it all depends on is who we truly are.

 

Understanding the elements that make you you is the first step in developing an effective yoga therapy plan. A skilled yoga therapist can help you with this step, as they have many tools that can help identify different areas of influence in your life. While there are many individuals in the world practicing some form of Yoga Therapy, it wasn’t until 2014 that a formal certification process for Yoga Therapists has begun. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) recently certified the first group of schools to train certified yoga therapists, and throughout the world there were twelve schools that met the initial qualifications (Ananda School of Yoga & Medicine, located in Nevada City, CA, is included in that group).

 

Yoga Therapy is not meant to replace traditional medicine, and it’s important that there is a flow of information between the parties to create a cohesive overall plan. For instance, it is important for a client to continue to take their prescribed medicines while working with a Yoga Therapist, even if they start to feel better. If, through the efforts of yoga therapy, the doctor determines that it is no longer necessary for a client to continue taking a particular medication, then that would have to be seen as a step in the right direction. Our goal as Yoga Therapists is to help our clients feel better. It is in that essence that true healing can occur.

 

Yoga TherapyWhile Yoga Therapy has not yet been integrated into our traditional western medical system, inroads are being made. Organizations such as the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Veterans Administration (VA) and the American Heart Association, to name just a few, have begun to speak out in favor of programs based in Yoga Therapy as a way of combatting many of the conditions that are currently plaguing our society. We are also seeing health insurers beginning to accept Yoga Therapy as not just a valid treatment method for particular conditions, but also as an effective preventative maintenance plan for our overall health. The Dean Ornish Heart Method and iRest Yoga Nidra are examples of Yoga Therapy-based programs that have been accepted by a number of insurers, and there are similar programs being developed for other conditions. Over the next decade, we should see a big push to include Yoga Therapy in our current medical system, not unlike the way we currently use Physical Therapists.

 

In addition to the health benefits of Yoga Therapy, research is also showing that implementing Yoga Therapy-based programs has great cost-saving benefits to both the insurers and the individual patients. A recent study published in PLOS ONE, showed dramatic cost savings when Yoga Therapy programs were integrated into a traditional healthcare environment. In a study at Massachusetts General Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School, 4,452 patients practiced a home-based Yoga Therapy program for a median of 4.2 years. When focusing on the cost-saving effects of the program, the results were very impressive. Total utilization of health care services decreased by 43%, clinical encounters decreased by 41.9%, imaging by 50.3% and lab encounters by 43.5%. In addition, emergency room visits decreased from 3.6 to 1.7 per person, per year, saving individuals an average of $2360 annually. That’s quite a dramatic change, and it appears the industry is beginning to take notice.

 

Is America ready for a more preventative-based health care system? Can we shift our focus away from the take a pill mentality we currently suffer from? It will take a dramatic cultural shift, but the seeds are being planted. In the meantime, we need to more deeply understand our own health, as individuals. We need to take responsibility for our own wellbeing and take steps to improve all areas of our mental and physical health. These bodies we inhabit are truly miraculous, and when functioning optimally, they have proven the ability to overcome almost all health challenges.

 

-By contributing Blogger and Yoga Therapist, Bob Ash, of DevPrayag Yoga Therapy

If you grew up in an era that now makes you a part of the Senior Community in the United States, you may have some misconceptions about yoga.

For many, the images that come to mind when you hear the word “yoga” usually include young people twisting and stretching their bodies in unimaginable ways.

If you are a man, your images most likely are of a female practitioner, further distancing you from the prospect of participating.

Over time, images and attitudes become imbedded in our brain, solidifying our perception of what yoga is.

Over the past two decades, yoga has gained in popularity to the point that you can’t walk through a checkout line at a grocery store without coming across an image of some beautiful woman in a yoga pose.

The current marketing of yoga seems to be done by young people, for young people.

There is by no means anything wrong with that, other than it gives those on the outside a distorted view of what yoga truly is.

However, the heart of yoga cannot be shown on a magazine cover as it is an experience and not an idea.

It is an experience that can be had by people of any age or physical conditioning.

Although yoga is inherently spiritual, it does not require that the practitioner hold a particular set of beliefs; Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims and just about every other faith you can imagine practice yoga across the globe.

Yoga is not a religion; it is a science.

It is a systematic way of increasing the energy in the body and directing that energy in a way that suits the needs of the individual.

By lifting and directing our energy flow, we create healthier and happier bodies and minds, greatly improving the quality of our lives.

Yoga tunes the body physically, promotes mental clarity and calms the nervous system. This is true whether you are seventeen or seventy.

YogaPracticeForSeniors

While yoga is great for all ages, it is especially beneficial for those who have been in their bodies for a while.

Aging can be a scary process. In addition to experiencing the natural changes that occur as the body ages, we become more susceptible to environmental effects if the body and mind are not functioning optimally.

An automobile engine can function almost indefinitely if it is treated properly throughout its life, but as the parts age, more care is needed to maintain the functionality of the engine.

We also need to understand which parts of our automobile are most vital in maintaining longevity and how the various parts interact with each other.

Putting a fresh coat of paint on the car every year may keep it looking new, but it has no effect on the longevity of the engine.

That’s not to say that fresh paint doesn’t serve a purpose, we just need to place it in the proper context as it relates to other aspects of overall car health. So it is with the human body. 

We need to understand the vital components that make up optimal health, primarily, oxygen intake, proper hydration, effective movement, diet and a calm nervous system. As we age, these factors become increasingly important in maintaining a high quality of life.

When done properly, yoga addresses all of the components that make up optimal health.

While there are precautions that must be understood before participating in yoga program, the beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to suit almost all individual needs.

There is no one yoga program that fits the needs of everyone, so it’s important that we understand our unique bodies and choose a style that works best for who we are in our current state.

This is especially important for members of the senior community, as we are faced with a whole new set of challenges as our body’s age.

Fortunately, yoga has been shown to be extremely effective in combating many of the conditions associated with aging.

In the past five years, there has been extensive research done on the benefits of yoga and meditation as they relate to some of the more common conditions effecting our aging population. Here are just a few of the findings:

 

  • Osteoporosis/Osteopenia: Not only has yoga been shown to reduce the bone degradation in osteoporosis patients, but in some cases it has actually reversed the trend and begun increasing bone density.
  • Hypertension/Cardiovascular Disease: Yoga and meditation decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, relaxing constriction of the blood vessels, leading to a drop in blood pressure and increased blood flow to muscles. Yoga also fights stress, lessens anger, improves cardiovascular conditioning, helps control weight and is an antidote to depression.
  • Cancer & Post-Cancer Surgery: Specific yoga programs have been shown to effectively reduce the growth of cancer cells. Additionally, PSA levels have been shown to actually decrease in individuals participating in yoga programs for cancer recovery. Restorative Yoga programs, such as those developed by BKS Iyengar, have proven to be especially effective.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Although these studies are in their infancy, there is evidence to support that specific yoga programs can actually reverse memory loss in those suffering from Alzheimer’s
  • Anxiety & Depression: Yoga and meditation programs have been shown to be extremely effective in decreasing anxiety levels and calming the nervous system. They promote a sense of well being, combating the effects of depression.
  • Insomnia: Yoga and meditation have proven to be very effective in combating sleep disorders. It’s not excess energy that normally causes sleep disorders, but misdirected energy. Yoga and meditation align the body’s energy in a way that supports proper sleep patterns, and there are specific breathing techniques that can effectively calm the body and mind.

 

Additional studies have shown that yoga positively influences arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, menopause and just about all other conditions related to the aging process.

As with any exercise program, it is important to consult with your doctor prior to participating. It is also important to work with an instructor who understands your individual needs (such as a certified Yoga Therapist) and can offer adjustments to suit your body.

 

-By contributing Blogger and Yoga Therapist, Bob Ash, of DevPrayag Yoga Therapy

Mariah Simpson's outdoor yoga class

Laura Petersen, a freelance writer featured in Nevada City’s local newspaper, The Union, recently introduced Inner Path yoga instructor, Mariah Simpson. Simpson, who discovered yoga as a form of emotional and physical therapy, is offering yoga both in and outdoors.

“It changed my life,” Simpson recalled. At 17, like many teens, she was “getting into trouble”, so her parents sent her to Hawaii where she attended a two-week intensive program and learned life skills such as organic gardening, meditation and yoga, in the backdrop of nature.

Practicing yoga and meditation outdoors brings about many benefits, in addition to having access to fresh air. Simpson said, “When you are outside and present in the body you can hear birds chirping and the breeze blowing. There’s something really peaceful about that and it enhances the whole experience.”

Such a serene environment assists in lowering erratic moods, depression, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. It also strengthens the muscles, particularly those of the abdomen and back. This improves posture and breathing which, in turn, improves energy and stress levels.

“The way I teach my class, you do what feels comfortable and safe. Accepting where you are and where your body is, is huge. It takes a lot of patience,” said Simpson. “Not worrying about what other people think is one of the biggest challenges in life, so is trusting your own judgment and what the body can do.”

Mindful breathing, movement such as yoga, and meditation – principally in nature – allows people to tune into the feelings and openness that the poses create in the body, Simpson explained. Such an environment can further place things into perspective – one’s “development, beliefs, and outlook on life” – the very benefits that Simpson experienced through yoga. It brings upon calmness, energy, and awareness of the Self.

Simpson is certified through Ananda Yoga from the Expanding Light retreat center in Nevada City. Since attaining her yoga teacher training credentials, she has developed a series of “Treks for the Spirit,” outdoor yoga classes for Bear Yuba Land Trust. She also recently launched her website and business name, Yuba River Yoga.

Mariah Simpson teaches classes from 7:30-8:30am Wednesdays and 8:30-9:30am Saturdays at Inner Path, 200 Commercial St., across the street from Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Co. parking Lot. Her outdoor yoga classes are on Sundays at 11:00am, near the amphitheater in Nevada City’s Pioneer Park.

Always wear comfortable, flexible clothing when practicing yoga. Bring water and a yoga mat as well. Outdoor yoga may call for sunglasses, sunscreen, and a towel to assure comfort. For more information, visit Inner Path’s website. The cost for Simpson’s yoga classes are $10.

The original article by Laura Peterson, A Changed Life in Nevada City, was featured in The Union on May 9, 2016.

Patanjali outlined what he called Ashtanga Yoga, or the “eight-limbed” Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is a classification of the eight stages on the route to Self-Realization: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Ashtanga Yoga (also called Raja Yoga) is not a “type” of Yoga; it is Yoga. It provides not only an invaluable “road map” of where we are going, but specific instruction on what we must do to achieve the state of yoga (union with the Infinite.)

In this post, we will focus on the first two limbs, the niyamas and yamas, the “do’s” and “don’ts” (respectively) of our thoughts and actions and of Yoga. The first two limbs (literally “control” and “non-control”) concern outward behavior and, more importantly, the inner attitudes which lead to outward behavior. Certain kinds of thoughts and actions are discouraged, while others are encouraged. These two limbs comprise five yamas and five niyamas, which should be practiced regardless of outward circumstances. Acting in accordance with these principles allows one to live in deep harmony with the universe; mastery of each of these principles brings certain powers, which are also listed below.

Niyama (Practices, Observances)

Cleanliness (saucha)
Obvious: Purity of body and environment.
Subtle: Purity of consciousness/vibration.
Upon Mastery: Indifference to things of the body; no longer seeking pleasure physically.

Contentment (santosha)
Obvious and Subtle: Ability to embrace things just as they are.
Upon Mastery: Unceasing inner happiness, arid realization of bliss in every atom of creation and beyond creation.

Austerity (tapasya)
Obvious: Self-discipline, simplicity; removal of distractions.
Subtle: Mastery over likes and dislikes, attained in large part by not giving in to them.
Upon Mastery: Attainment of various psychic powers (siddhis).

Self-Study (swadhyaya)
Obvious and Subtle: Introspect objectively about our behavior, motivations, desires, etc.
Upon Mastery: Ability to commune with beings on higher spheres of existence and to receive their help.

Surrender (Isvara pranidhana)
Obvious and Subtle: Surrender of the self to God. Acknowledgement that there is a higher principle in the
universe than one’s own small self. Modesty. Humility.

Yama (Restrictions, Moral Restraints)

Non-Violence (ahimsa)
Obvious Sense: Never to harm or demean any living thing.
Subtle Sense: Overcome tendency to wish harm in any way, e.g., judging others.
Upon Mastery: All creatures become harmless in your presence.

Truthfulness (satya, which also means “truth”)
Obvious: Always be truthful; never say what isn’t so with intent to deceive.
Subtle: Never wish things were different from what they are; absolute self-honesty; cling to highest truths.
Upon Mastery: Whatever one says will come true.

Non-Stealing (ashteya)
Obvious: Don’t take that which is not yours; material things.
Subtle: Never desire that which isn’t yours, even praise or status or love; never gossip (i.e., try to steal another’s good name); see everything as a part of your greater Self.
Upon Mastery: Whatever you need comes to you when you need it.

Non-Sensuality (brahmacharya, lit. “flowing with Brahma”)
Obvious: Overindulgence in sense pleasures of all types.
Subtle: Interiorizing the senses; learning to enjoy God in everything.
Upon Mastery: Mental clarity and great physical strength; good health on all levels.

Non-Greed (aparigraha)
Obvious: Letting go of all attachments, even to things that are yours by right.
Subtle: Non-attachment even to your own body and identity.
Upon Mastery: Ability to remember former incarnations.

 

Source: Ananda Portland

There are four main yogic paths to unite with God and our higher selves: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, gyana yoga, and raja yoga. Each of these paths can serve individuals based on different temperaments. You can focus on one at time or practice a combination of them. Karma yoga is for those who like to work and serve others. Bhakti yoga is for those who are devotional and feel in their hearts, whereas gyana yoga is for those who are more cerebral and embody qualities of the intellect, philosophy, and wisdom. Raja yoga, the path of meditation, combines all practices to address the whole of our being.

In the following, each path is broken down so you can experiment with which path suits you.

Karma Yoga: The Path of Action

badri-mariaKarma yoga is the yoga of action. To perform karma yoga perfectly, you must do every action with the thought that God (or your higher self) is acting through you. When you practice karma yoga truly, you have no desire for a reward or any recognition of your actions, because you know that it was really God, not you, who was the doer. It doesn’t matter so much what you do, although it may be easier when you know that your action is benefiting someone. Mother Teresa and Gandhi are famous examples of karma yogis, and many Christians also do a form of karma yoga when they do charitable work, because they are doing it for the sake of others, and not for money or prestige. However, to be a true karma yogi you must feel that God is acting through you, and it’s not you, the small self or ego, who is acting.

Your ego, which is your soul that now believes it’s a mortal body, thinks that it does everything itself and that it deserves credit for all its actions. However, if you go about your day reminding yourself that everything is a manifestation of God, either by repeating a mantra, by prayer or talking with God, or by keeping your mind focused at the spiritual eye, you will begin to know that everything you do is also a manifestation of God (even if you make a mistake). Eventually you will see that even you are a manifestation of God, as is everyone else, and you will once more be united with Him.

Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion

medody-prayerBhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, is the main focus of many religions. It’s the simplest and sweetest of the paths. Bhakti yogis merge back into God when they have attained perfect divine love. Just as it doesn’t matter what type of action is being done in karma yoga, it also doesn’t matter what the object of one’s devotion is. In Christianity it’s Jesus; in Hinduism it can be one of thousands of gods and goddesses or the one infinite God beyond creation; in Islam it’s Allah.

The key to bhakti yoga is to be nonattached to the object of your devotion. This may sound impossible, but it’s the only way to truly love. Most people only love someone else because that person makes them feel good; if that person always made them feel bad, most people would cease to love them. How many people actually love without expecting anything in return, whether their love is reciprocated or not? The truth is that each of us has the presence of God within us. To truly love another is to love the presence of God in that person. Not all of us have appealing personalities. When you can learn to love everyone and everything as part of God, you will become part of that love and merge into it.

Gyana Yoga: The Path of Wisdom

yogananda-readingGyana yoga is finding God through wisdom. Gyana yogis use self-examination and ever-deepening insight to penetrate through their likes and dislikes and extract the seed of Truth. The key is not to become attached to one’s insights into profound truths, which again allows the ego to come in. There is a Sanskrit saying that describes gyana yoga: “neti neti,” meaning, “not this, not that.” Gyana yogis toss aside everything that is not eternal, until all they are left with is God.

One well-known gyana yogi is Shankaracharya. Once when he was young, he lay motionless on the floor and held his breath, pretending he was dead. He realized that although his body and breath had stopped, he was still self-aware. This led him to realize that we are not our bodies: that there is something else that is truly “us,” which survives the deaths of our bodies. The Buddha was also a gyana yogi, and many Buddhists still practice this tradition.

Raja Yoga: The Royal Path

krishnabai-meditatingRaja yoga translates as the royal path to God. Raja yoga combines the three yogas above, with an emphasis on meditation. Meditation helps to strengthen and guide each person’s practice of the other yogas to keep them heading toward God and self-realization.

All of the yogas described above help people find a path to God that fits their natural tendencies. At the same time, all of the paths need to be included in our practice or we become one-sided. For example, practicing only bhatki yoga (devotion), but no gyana yoga (wisdom), leads to fundamentalism and fanaticism. And practicing only gyana yoga, but no karma yoga (serviceful action), can lead to pride and aloofness.

In everything you do, try to bring a blend of the yogas. As you work selflessly, try to sweeten your service with love. When you practice devotion, try to feel the expansive wisdom of gyana yoga and know that the God you love is the essence of your own Self, and of everyone you meet. Let your experience of God through the stillness of meditation bring greater depth and focus to your practice of the other yogas.

Try This

Whichever of these yogas seems to be most natural to you, make sure to practice at least a little of all four. When you go about daily activities, remember that it’s really God serving through you. When you are with your loved ones, love God in them even when you disagree with aspects of their personalities. When you feel a strong desire or get angry or frustrated, remember that those are just the likes and dislikes of your ego, which are not rooted in your soul and which you will soon forget about. And try to fit in at least 10 minutes of daily meditation, and longer as you become more experienced. This will keep your practice going in the right direction and allow you to progress much more quickly.

Source: Ananda

In February of 1968, the Beatles went to India for an extended stay with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their new guru. It may be one of the most renowned spiritual retreats since Jesus’ fast and seclusion for 40 days and nights in the Judean desert. And while the Beatles’ exploration into Hinduism and Indian culture was far from complete renunciation, their widely documented and influential visit was one of the first popular milestones to open the gates for yoga’s entrance into the West. In his book, American Veda, Philip Goldberg chronicles India’s influence on American culture, which led to today’s commonplace practice of yoga. Yoga has come to be known as an exercise of flexibility and strength, but it has always been a diverse system of individual practice of spirituality for thirsty truth seekers in the West, for whom religion and dogma have proven insufficient. Whether or not these truth seekers truly understand the source of yoga, the ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta and the mind-body methods of yoga have profoundly affected individuals’ worldviews, their understanding of Oneness, strikingly shifting the religious landscape.Philip Goldberg

Goldberg asserts that what draws Americans to “Vedanta-Yoga” is its emphasis on spiritual experience over religious belief, a notion that resonates with the equally influential Buddhism. Goldberg traces the transmission back to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and other Transcendentalists, who tested the theory of enlightenment through personal experience and were concerned mainly with spirituality in this life rather than the next. These distinguished spiritual thinkers subscribed to the idea of Oneness at the core of all beings. Partly inspired by them, later generations embraced what Goldberg calls India’s “science of consciousness” and integrated the ideals into their lives.

Hinduism as commonly practiced in India never caught on among Westerners, who were less interested in ornate temples, complex mythologies, vibrant rituals, and a slew of gods and goddesses than the meditation, yoga practices and Vedantic philosophy emphasized by the gurus who came here. The Transcendentalist era paved the way for those guru, a process that culminated in the 1960s and 70s, when free spirits opened themselves up to LSD and other psychedelics to realize a fully awakened mind, only to then search for safer, natural methods. Vedanta and yoga promise permanent transformation and liberation.

Charismatic teachers from India swarmed West in waves. The first was Swami Vivekananda in the 1890s. Paramhansa Yogananda arrived in 1920, setting the stage for the guru invasion of the sixties.  Those teachers, along with numerous books, prompted influential intellectuals, artists, and scientists – e.g., Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Allen Ginsberg,  JD Salinger, and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) – to adapt and propagate what they learned from India. Movements of the time began to change the way people saw themselves and their place in the universe.

By the late 70s, however, sex and money scandals caused disillusioned American practitioners to ask important questions about the role of gurus. Goldberg documents that this led to a maturation of spiritual understanding; practitioners recognized their overly romantic relationship with Vedanta-Yoga and a more reasonable, less guru-centered and more mature attitude evolved . Other truth seekers, weary of teachers in general, took a more personal view of spiritual growth, relying on their inner guru to guide them.

Teachers such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, who do not function in the traditional guru role, became more prominent.american veda

Goldberg paints moving pictures of this remarkable journey of yoga from East-to-West, showing how it has moved from counterculture into studios, community centers, hospitals, schools, and living rooms. Physicians and therapists today prescribe yoga and meditation, and terms like karma, ,mantra, karma and  chakras are part of our everyday vocabulary. Yoga today is a $6-billion-a-year industry and everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Dr. Oz tout yoga and meditation. Goldberg shows how Vedic wisdom and Hinduism transformed and adapted, reaching us through the arts, science, healthcare, and self-improvement, becoming repackaged to the point that many people don’t realize its foundation in Indian religion. The guru invasion may have slowed down, but the teachings of the ancient seers still resonate with seekers all over the world.

We will regularly spotlight some of these key players in yoga’s movement to the West.