Types of Yoga
Patanjali Yoga: Patanjali is regarded as a divine incarnation of the serpent Anantha, who is revered as the ‘supporter of the whole universe’. He is the Adhisesha of Lord Mahavishnu. It is believed that on instructions from a great teacher, Patanjali identified all the teachings in the Vedas about the mind and presented them in a precise and organized form called ‘yoga’.
Patanjali’s yoga system aims to unite the individual self with the Supreme One. According to Patanjali, one can attain this union by controlling and eliminating the ever- arising ‘vrittis’ or modifications of the mind. He also suggests that the mind, in turn, can be controlled through the right kind of discipline and training. Patanjali says that there are basic obstacles pervading the mind that are not conducive to yoga practice. He divides these obstacles into:
- Antarayas (intruders in the path of yoga):There are nine Antarayas:
- Vyadhi (physical disease): Vyadhi means physical disease and is the first obstacle to the practice of yoga. If the body is inflicted with disease, it has to be cured and restored to a healthy state. Disease causes disturbance in the mind and makes it impossible to practice yoga or, for that matter, any other form of physical discipline.
- Styana (mental laziness): Styana refers to mental laziness. This trait in the human psyche makes one desirous of the fruits of action without the required effort. Discrimination and will power should be cultivated to do away with mental laziness. Discrimination helps us to understand the benefits of yogic disciplines.
- Samsaya (doubt): Samsaya means doubt. When one tries to control the mind, doubts arise. The mind does not know the benefits of concentration. Therefore, faith in oneself, the spiritual teacher and holy books is essential. Faith is necessary to dispel doubt.
- Pramada (heedlessness): Pramada means heedlessness. If one is heedless to cultivate virtues and follow truth, then the practice of yoga is not possible. Lack of vigil will lead to a steep fall in spiritual life.
- Alasya (physical laziness): Alasya or physical laziness (sloth) will attract ills like poverty. One should involve oneself in healthy activities to overcome such laziness.
- Avirati (detachment): Avirati refers to detachment. To practice yoga, the mind should be purified of material desires and a sense of detachment should be cultivated.
- Bhrantidarsana (false perception): Bhrantidarsana or false perception leads to self-conceit. This trait is not good for anyone who is keen to practice yogic disciplines.
- Alabdha- bhumikatva (non-attainment of yogic states): Alabdha bhumikatva means non-attainment of yogic states due to evil tendencies in our personality. These should be recognized and eliminated by dispassionate and deep introspection. Otherwise, progress is hindered.
- Anavasthitatva (falling away from yogic states attained): Anavasthitatva means falling away from yogic states after reaching them. A person who has reached a lofty mental state can slide to a slow ruin, with just one base action. So, actions leading to a downfall have to be obliterated.
- Viksepasahabhuvah (co-existing with mental distraction): dukha (sorrow), daurmanasya (disappointment), angamejayatva (physical restlessness), svasa and prasvasa (forcible inhalation and exhalation).
- Vrittis: pramana (true cognition), viparyaya (false cognition), vikalpa (verbal misconception), nidra (deep sleep) and smriti (memory).
Kundalini yoga: “The practice of Kundalini yoga balances the glandular system, strengthens the nervous system and enables us harness the energy of the mind and the emotions, so we can be in control of ourselves, rather than being controlled by our thoughts and feelings.” – Yogi Bhajan
Kundalini yoga is the yoga of consciousness. Kundalini is the dormant, spiritual energy that lies coiled up like a serpent, at the base of our spine. It is the energy of consciousness, within each human being. Kundalini yoga awakens our soul and is a profound inner experience.
Kundalini is the storehouse of psychic energy. This energy has to be awakened, as it is an essential part of self-realization. When awakened, this Shakti (energy) uncoils and ascends the spinal column, also called ‘Sushumna’, to merge with the top of the head ‘Sahasrara’. This is the spiritual state. The ultimate goal of yoga is the awakening of this energy such that it merges with the absolute.
Benefits of Kundalini Yoga: It keeps the body and mind strong.It increases oxygen capacity.It helps to boost the flow of blood.It balances the glandular system.It strengthens the nervous system. It creates self-awareness and vitality that helps gain mental and emotional energy; Ultimately peace of mind, concentration, deep inner calm and self-confidence fills the being.
Tantra Yoga: The objective of Tantra yoga is to awaken the Kundalini located at the base of the spine. It aims to achieve perfect unity between this energy center and the crown chakra, also called Lord Shiva. A state of perfect harmony can be reached through constant practice that involves chanting the holy name, offering prayers and engaging in various rituals.
Swami Gnaneshwara Bharati, has embodied the tenets of tantra yoga in these words: “The journey of tantra is to know them both (Shiva and Shakthi), at once, as one. Through the process of Kundalini awakening, the two are eventually experienced in their state of union". Rightly then, the goal of Tantra Yoga is the union of the dynamic (Shakti) and static (Shiva) aspects of the personality.
It is recommended to pick up the nuances of Tantra yoga from a guru or preceptor. Tantra practice or sadhana involves:
- Bhuta Suddhi (tantric rite)- which helps to purify the five elements of which the body is composed. The body of the person practising it (sadhaka’s) becomes a fit vehicle to receive the light of the goddess.
- Nyasa (a powerful tantric rite) involves placing the tips of the fingers of the right hand on various parts of the body and reciting mantras.
- Kavacha (means protection) – The Supreme Lord is invoked with different names to protect the different parts of the body of the aspirant.
- Mudra – They are gestures performed by the hands, consisting of 108 mudras. Mudras delight the different deities invoked and an appropriate gesture is made to welcome a particular deity.
- Yantra – It is a diagram drawn on paper or a metal sheet and revered as an object of worship. Yantra is considered as the body of the deity and is appropriated to a specific deity only. The yantra is empowered with divine energy when the practitioner or sadhaka meditates upon the deity and invokes the powers of the deity into the yantra by reciting the appropriate chants or mantra that are vital to kindle the powers of the deity.
The essence of Tantra Yoga reverberates in the words of Soundarya Lahiri, which says, “only when Shiva is united with Shakthi does he have the power to create.”
Therapeutic Aspect of Tantra Yoga: Tantra Yoga focuses on spiritual healing. It helps in better utilization of energies locked in our lower chakras. This will eventually empower us to lead our daily lives efficiently.
Laya yoga: Laya yoga is an ancient form of meditation, with concentration on energy centers or chakras. Sage Gorakshnatha, an ancient sage of Nepal, and a disciple of Matsyendranath is the founder of Laya yoga. There are five main energy centers in the spine and two in the head. Laya yoga attempts to locate these energy centers and channelize them through meditation.
Laya essentially means to dissolve all Karmic patterns or conditioning and merge into the transcendental reality. It also means deep concentration and making an effort to obliterate the ego, thereby rising to a higher state of consciousness, called Turiya.
Essence of Laya Yoga: Laya yoga involves techniques of meditation that cause the energy or Prana to move in certain ways, to awaken the Kundalini, the coiled up energy at the base of the spine. Laya yoga channelizes the energy forces in the Kundalini instead of merely controlling the mind. It is important that the Kundalini is activated through performance of asanas, practice of pranayama and making a conscious effort to guide this awakened energy in the spine and allowing it to immerse in the crown chakra.
The ultimate goal of laya yoga is to attain supreme consciousness through pranayama and breath control; it is a method to prevent fluctuations of the mind.
Therapeutic Aspect of Laya Yoga: The practice of laya yoga cleanses the mind and body. It uplifts the consciousness of the seeker. As most people live only on three levels of consciousness- material, egoistic and sensual- laya yoga opens us to higher levels of consciousness. It teaches the seeker to locate the different centers of the spine and meditate on them, thereby transforming the consciousness.
Nada Yoga: The word ‘Nada’ comes from the Sanskrit word, ‘Nad’, which essentially signifies sound. It also means ‘flow’ and in this context would relateto the flow of consciousness. Nadam resonates to the sound of ‘Om’, which is the primordial energy. Nada yoga is an exercise invoking a union with God, through sound or music.
In Nada yoga, the aspirant focuses his attention on the anahata nada or the inner sound. The focus should be on the sound produced within the human body and not on any external vibration. The practitioner experiences a feeling of stillness, which instills an ability to reconnect with the soul or the ‘atman’.
Yogis extol the ten inner astral sounds along with the supreme sound of ‘Om.’ Nada yoga assists in tuning ourselves to all the astral sounds, ultimately immersing oneself with the cosmic sound, ‘Om’; perhaps the reason why the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say that mantra Om is “the sound that expresses the divine absolute, which should be repeatedly intoned while absorbing its meaning.” In nada yoga practice, we start by merely observing the sound around us and then cultivating awareness to them. There are four types of Nadas:
- Vaikhari – audible sound
- Madhyama – mental sound, unstruck sound
- Pashyanta – a subconscious sound
- Paranada – transcendent sound
Among the four Nadas, Para Nada is endowed with the highest frequency that produces nil vibration. The cosmic ‘Om’ is Paranada, full of pure energy and light. Nada yoga helps in raising the awareness of the self and experiencing the profound inner layers. The essence of Nada Yoga is summed up in the words of Sankaracharya,, “By one, who is desirous of attaining perfection in yoga, Nada alone has got to be closely heard (meditated upon), having abandoned all thoughts and with a calm mind.”
Therapeutic Aspect of Nada Yoga: This yoga alleviates the problems relating to the mind. It calms the mind and raises one’s level of consciousness. Nada or sound exerts a powerful influence on ones mind. It brings about a healthy state of consciousness in an individual. A sense of joy, harmony, flexibility and fulfillment develops. The potency of sound promotes relaxation, relieves ailments from aches and pains. It also reduces the anxiety that accompanies chemotherapy. The vibrations lower the heart rate, relax the brain wave patterns and reduce respiratory rates.
Swara Yoga: Swara Yoga is an ancient science that existed even before the Vedic period. It is believed to be a secret science revealed to sages and saints by the Divine. Swara is the science of nasal breathing, which means ‘sound’ or musical note in Sanskrit and signifies the continuous flow of breath through the nostril.
This form of yoga is an ancient tantra science, aiding a realization of the cosmic consciousness through a systematic study of the flow of breath. Swara yoga demonstrates that the flow of breath dominates each nostril alternately and regularly. The flow of breath changes from one nostril to the other periodically, thus balancing the entire system, which is the key objective of Swara Yoga.
Swara Yoga establishes the relationship between the dominance of breath and the different activities of the body and the personality. The flow of breath at regular intervals indicates a pattern and a rhythm that affects the physical and mental states. Swara Yoga pays attention not only to the quantity of the breath through each nostril, but also it’s position in the nostril, direction of swirl, degree of coarseness and many other characteristics.
Science of Swara Yoga: It was believed in ancient times that by learning to read the breath and manipulate it, we would be capable of maintaining harmony with the outer and inner world. The breath should be allowed to flow evenly; when the breath is balanced, there is a shift in consciousness. The breath that flows in the right is ‘Pingala’ and the left is ‘Ida’. The left signifies an association with the lunar while the right is solar. The nose is in direct contact with the hypothalamus of the brain and through the sensory nerves is connected to subtle nerves or the nadis. The key technique of Swara Yoga is to influence the nadis, which carry prana current to all parts of the body.
KRIYA YOGA: Kriya Yoga is a science that uses the flow of breaths to oxygenate the body and make it fit for meditation. Signifying action, kriya yoga is a meditation technique of energy control, also called Pranayama. This ancient technique was revived in India in 1861.It was passed on by the great yogi Mahavatar Babaji to his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya, in the Himalayas.
Swami Yogananda became the leader of modern kriya yoga that is a concentrated approach to self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. It is a time-tested method to realize the innate spiritual nature, develop rational thinking, achieve emotional balance, promote physical health and live a life of purpose.
Influences on the mind -body- soul: The all pervading power of the life-force or prana flowing through the body and the influence of kriya yoga in balancing this energy is lucidly explained in The Bhagawad Gita by Lord Krishna. He says, "offering inhaling breath into the outgoing breath, and offering the outgoing breath into the inhaling breath, the yogi neutralizes both the breaths. When he does so, the yogi releases the life force from the heart and brings it under his control."
Sage Patanjali drawing on the goodness of this form of yoga says, "Kriya yoga consists of body discipline, mental control and meditation. Liberation can be accomplished by that pranayama which is attained by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration".
The practice of Kriya yoga ensures growth on a physical, mental and spiritual level, bringing about a transformation. The brain cells are energized and rejuvenated, enhancing memory power. Control over the emotions is a crucial outcome of kriya yoga, achieved by the regulation of the neurons in the nerves. A sincere practice of kriya yoga clears the pathway leading to the divine power within.
MANTRA YOGA: The word mantra comes from the Sanskrit, “mantrana”, meaning suggestion. Mantras are sacred, potent words, which yield tremendous results in the physical, mental and spiritual levels, when chanted with concentration and devotion. Mantra yoga is an exact science where the mantras are signposts to the wandering mind, steering it to an ambient poise for meditation. Repetition of mantras completely engages the mind, offering a means of getting closer to the divinity within. Chanting of mantras produces positive vibrations, bringing benefits to the one who chants as well as the one who listens.
By constant repetition of the mantra, the aspirant absorbs the power of the presiding deity in the mantra. Chanting of mantras generate potent divine vibrations. They help fill the cells of the aspirant with the divine energy. They destroy the microbes and restore strength to the cells and tissues. Tradition says that there are 70 million mantras. The ancient text, Yoga-Yajnavalkya says that a whispered mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than a spoken one, a mental mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than a whispered one and finally meditating on a mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than its silent recitation.
The aspect of ‘Japa’ in mantra yoga: Repetition of mantras is called japa. Every mantra is a symbol of the supreme divinity and when chanted, helps to gain access to the transcendental realms of absolute reality. A mantra has 6 parts:
- Mantra includes a religious teacher or rishi to whom the mantra is first disclosed. The teacher is instrumental in enabling the mantra to the world.
- The mantra has a metre, which governs the voice, making it imperative to be recited the way it should be.
- Each mantra has a presiding deity.
- Each mantra has a bija or seed, which accords a special power to the mantra. Bija is the essence of the mantra.
- Each Mantra is inherent with energy or sakthi. The vibrations carry the man to the deity that is invoked in the mantra.
- Each Mantra has a kilaka or pillar, pin or plug. By constant repetition of the mantra, this pin or plug is removed and the devotee gets a glimpse of the presiding deity.
Chanting of mantras brings the aspirant into blissful union with the Lord. Mantra repetition evokes god-consciousness in the purified mind and becomes the direct cause for union with god.