Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Yoga is not a religion but a science of living according to our means and to the laws of life.
The classical techniques of yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life gave birth to this system of physical and mental practices that has since spread throughout the world. The wisdom and knowledge of yoga has been transmitted to humankind from the great yogis and rishis (sages) of long ago. Though yoga’s geographic origin lies in India, it is universal, all-valid, eternal knowledge. The word yoga means ‘to join or yoke together.’ It is a science of body, mind and consciousness that brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.
THE PATHS OF YOGA
Much confusion revolves about the word yoga and what exactly yoga is, especially since so many approaches exist, all given the name yoga. A mountain climber may take a variety of paths to reach the top of a mountain. From the plain at the mountain’s base, all these routes seem distinct and different, but from the summit, the view is always the same! This is also true of the seemingly diverse paths of yoga. These different paths are not mutually exclusive or conflicting, but are intended to accommodate the various inclinations and personalities of individual students. Like the routes to the mountaintop, the yoga paths have the same goal.
Each of the paths described below can help to enhance your health, spirituality and wisdom. You may choose one or several paths that seem best suited to your temperament and approach to life, or combine elements of all of them into an integrated yogic lifestyle. More details can be found under “Yoga Practices.”
Hatha yoga is the practice of asanas (postures). The syllable “ha” denotes the pranic (vital) force governing the physical body and tha denotes the chitta (mental) force. Thus hatha yoga is a catalyst to awakening the two energies that govern our lives. More correctly the techniques described in hatha yoga harmonise and purify the body systems and focus the mind in preparation for more advanced chakra and kundalini practices.
The hatha yoga system includes asanas along with shatkarmas (physical and mental detox techniques), mudras (spiritual gestures), bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques) and pranic awakening practices. Fine-tuning the human personality at increasingly subtle levels leads to higher states of awareness and meditation.
Bhakti yoga is the path of channelling the emotions and feelings to realise the transcendental and divine nature inherent in every human being. Many people describe this as the yoga of devotion and give it a religious connotation; however, it is through bhakti yoga that it becomes possible to experience the unity of all life.
The stages of bhakti yoga can be classified as follows:
1. Meditation, to realise and channel emotional energy
2. Mantras and kirtans (nada yoga), to open the heart
3. Identification with the source of inspiration and life, God
4. Experiencing transcendental human qualities in daily life
The validity and depth of bhakti yoga can be understood only through awareness of the experiences of union that masters have had over the course of their lives. Living in an ashram with a master (guru) is one way to observe and comprehend this transcendence.
Nada Yoga – union through sound
Mantras and chanting are part of nada yoga … the yoga of internal sound. Chanting of sacred mantras is considered to carry a pure energy and to have a harmonising effect on the physical body, mind and astral body (a subtle body between the intelligent soul and the physical body).
Nada yoga is the ancient spiritual art and science of inner transformation through sound and tone. Nad means ‘flow of sound vibrations,’ and yoga means ‘to unite or merge with.’ Nada yoga is the practice of using subtle sound vibrations as a vehicle to transcend the mind and experience inner unity.
Chanting and kirtan (singing/chanting Sanskrit) groups can be found on the internet by Googling kirtan (in your specific area).
Jnana yoga is the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. It is a discovery of human dharma (life journey or path) in relation to nature and the universe. Jnana yoga is described by tradition as a means to obtain the highest meditative state and inner knowledge.
Jnana literally means ‘knowledge,’ but in the context of yoga it means the process of meditative awareness that leads to illuminative wisdom. It is not a method by which we try to find rational answers to eternal questions … rather it is a part of meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realisation.
Some of the components of jnana yoga are:
- not believing but realising
- witnessing the self; self-awareness leading to self-analysis
- as an outcome of witnessing, realising the personal nature, that is, determining who you are and your dharma (path)
- experiencing knowledge
- developing intuitive wisdom
- experiencing inner unity
Dharma has been a concept of Eastern philosophy since the era of the Vedas thousands of years ago. It is thought of as an unchanging universal law. Dharma is the belief that each person has a particular life path and that following your right path is the way to higher Truths. This path leads to minimal accumulation of karma and is therefore the fastest path to personal liberation.
The Sanskrit word kárma means ‘act, action, performance.’ In practice, karma is cause and effect. The process of action and reaction on all levels – physical, mental and spiritual – is karma. It is an important spiritual law that governs our life experiences through principles of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility.
According to Hindu philosophy, karma isn’t given to us by God or the universe – we create our own. Nor is it fate. We have free will; no God or external force controls our lives. Our lives are own karmic creation. We are bound by karma in this and other lifetimes until we understand the complete consequences of all our actions.
Karma yoga develops immunity to the reactive and negative components of an action. By performing karma yoga with observation, reflection and complete focus on the aspect of witnessing we are able to see specific patterns that arise time and again and create problems and obstacles in our lives. Once these patterns are recognised, the negative action and reaction dissipates over time without effort. The awareness attained by becoming the witness to action and reaction leads to a greater ability to manage mental associations such as desires, ambitions, ego and other limitations of personality.
The aim of karma yoga is to gain freedom from the bondage of karma that restricts and inhibits dynamic, creative and constructive expression in life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna emphasises the need for action as a means to become truly human and attain divine grace. The state of karma yoga can be attained through seva – selfless involvement in all activities, the spirit of which can be absorbed under the guidance of a competent master.
The practices of kriya yoga have been developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati from ancient secret teachings described in the Yoga and Tantra Shastras. The kriyas as taught by Satyananda Yoga™ are one of only two systems of kriya yoga recognised the world over, the other being that of Paramahamsa Yogananda.
The word kriya means ‘activity’ or ‘movement,’ referring to the activity or movement of consciousness. Kriya also refers to a type of practical or preliminary practice leading to total union, the final result of practice. Kriya yoga does not curb mental fluctuations but purposely creates activity and awakening in consciousness. In this way all faculties are harmonised and flower into their fullest potential.
Kriya yoga originated in antiquity and evolved over time through practise and experience. The full form of kriya yoga consists of over 70 kriyas out of which only 20 or so are commonly known. To find out more about kriya yoga refer to
Kundalini Yoga by Swami Satyananda, available through Anahata Retreat. This book explains the purpose of kriya yoga and presents in detail the 20 kriya practices which in part blend with hatha yoga.
The kriya practices are inscribed in numerous tantric texts written in Sanskrit. To date only a few of these have been translated into other languages. The most authoritative text on the subject of kriya yoga is Swami Satyananda’s A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya.
Raja Yoga (Tantra)
The following explanation of tantra and tantric yoga is adapted from the book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda.
Tantra, a combination of the words tanoti and trayati – expansion and liberation, is the science of expanding the consciousness and liberating the energy. It is the way to attain freedom from the bondage of the world while still living in it.
Yoga arose at the beginning of human civilisation when humans first realised their spiritual potential and began to evolve techniques to develop it. The yoga we know today was developed as part of the tantric civilisation that existed in India and most other parts of the world more than ten thousand years ago. The first books to refer to yoga were the ancient Tantras and later the Vedas.
Tantra or raja yoga helps unfold our divine nature. By weaving the awareness of yoga into every detail of life, we can heighten our experience of life. When we apply the spiritual viewpoint to all mundane activities, the inner yoga or expansion of the feeling of oneness naturally evolves from the limited human state to the exalted divine experience.
Tantra yoga encompasses teachings from all the different paths. Because of its variety it can be practiced by people of many backgrounds and temperaments. It involves all three dimensions of human interaction – physical, mental and spiritual. Through tantra yoga, we achieve balance and harmony on all three levels and then attain full realisation of the Self.
This yoga path usually refers to the eight-stage system first described in the ancient Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali. It is a comprehensive system that deals with the refinement of human behaviour and personality. Its elements are the practice of the yamas (restraints such as non-violence, truth and moderation) and niyamas (disciplines such as purity, contentment and self-study), attainment of physical health and vitality through asanas (postures) and pranayama (pranic breathing techniques), management of mental and emotional conflicts and development of awareness and concentration through pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) and dharana (concentration), and developing the creative aspect of consciousness for transcendental awareness through dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption in the universal identity).