Now, I know last episode I said write about what yoga actually is but as I got writing, I soon realised that there were was a lot to talk about and it was probably easier to talk about different concepts in clear chapters through some kind of written series, separate to this blog. So I’ll be working on it in the background and will hopefully be able to share the pilot in the near future. With any luck, it will be full of spiritual nectar, that which not even Google knows about ;)
Throughout my time, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore and learn core Yoga philosophies. There are actually 4 different paths in Yoga. Each path leads to the ultimate goal, Samadhi (aka Moksha, Mukti, Nirvana, Enlightenment, Liberation, Self-realisation). Here is a brief description of each:
Bhakti Yoga — Path of Devotion. This is considered the easiest path to follow and maybe the reason why it is also by far the most popular. It involves surrendering to the higher being typically in a place of worship. Chanting, Kirtan, Bhajans and Japa Mantras fall in to this path.
Karma Yoga — Path of Action. This is where selfless action is carried out without expectation of reward.
Jnana Yoga — Path of Knowledge. Considered the most difficult path where one vigorously studies Vedanta and then meditates on aspects of the truth with the aid of a Guru. Both a rational and open mind is needed.
Raja Yoga also known as the royal path. The most recent creation, 2500 years ago a sage called Patanjali devised a practical system with 8 sequential steps with Samadhi being the final step. Most modern practitioners, myself included, fall into this category.
To the outsider, you probably have lots of questions on the above. There is a logical reasoning in all the paths and I’ll make it crystal clear in the written series. First I just wanted to introduce them as here in the Sivananda ashram, we must practice all forms of Yoga bar Jnana, every day. It’s taught that a combination of the 4 paths is the most conducive. What proportion of each will depend on the individuals characteristics. For me, Karma, Jnana and Raja suit me well, as I’m more intellectual. However, I know others who are more emotionally minded and prefer chanting. There is no correct way, it’s purely down to the individual.
A typical day here at Sivananda will involve the following:
1 hour of Meditation.
1 hour of Bhakti Yoga in the form of chanting.
1 hour of Karma Yoga.
4 hours of Asana & Pranayama practice which represent steps 3 and 4 in Raja Yoga.
At first I really struggled with the Bhakti Yoga as chanting really isn’t my style and my singing voice is more of just a loud deep voice. However some of the staff often have to lead the chants and, like me they are not natural born singers yet they still go hard on the mic. Often they close their eyes, bang their hands on their knees and really go for it. Intention is all that really matters, not ability. It was admirable to see but I also simply could not understand how repeating mantras helped progress one along the path, for me it was all a little blind. I did obtain a solid answer from the teacher which now meant all blockages had disappeared, now I just needed to perform.
Karma Yoga usually involves selfless action for others, indirectly or directly. At the ashram it will usually come in the form of cleaning. At first I was given the duty of sweeping and mopping either the Yoga hall or the men’s staff dormitory.
I actually enjoy cleaning as I enjoy seeing a visible transformation. Over the course of my stay, the tasks got more challenging. On 4 of the days, I was responsible for cleaning the public toilet and showers. Often, I would think someone else should do this job, of course this is incorrect thinking and the statement assumes I am more important than others. When your face is overlooking a basin with skid marks and there’s ants and mosquitoes flying around, your ego is clearly put into perspective through the distasteful thoughts which get churned out. One of the major purpose of Karma Yoga is to dissolve the ego. It seems the grittier the job, the more ego gets removed.
The asana practise is based on 12 core poses and their variations. It is much more chilled than Ashtanga so I found the classes not to difficult, physically. In order, the class looks a little like this; warm up the body with the Sun Salutations, core work, inversions, forward folds, back bends and strengthening, spinal twists, strength balance pose, side stretches and relaxation. Nothing is missed and it’s super easy to remember. For beginners that want to learn Hatha Yoga or simply want to give their body some physical love, I’d recommend using the below diagram to start with and then later adopting some variations of each.
Looking back and what I found most fascinating was how much I enjoyed or disliked the different Yogas on various days. It varied wildly. Some days I would be front row for chanting, other days I would turn up 15 minutes into the opening prayer. It’s said that your emotions are constantly changing so your view and the affect of different yogas changes too. Often, the one I really didn’t want to do was the one I needed most. Most of the time, I only realised this until I had completed that specific Yoga.
I wanted to end this episode on perhaps the most important aspect. Sivandana centers exist all over the world and they come from a pure place. I got to understand this when I got speaking to the staff at the ashram. Many of them were karma yogis. This meant that they were there on a volunteer basis. One lovely lady had been at the ashram for 2 years! In these 2 years, she hasn’t had to pay a penny to the organisation. All she has to do is give 3 hours of her time and help out around the ashram and in return she gets food, accommodation, amazing scenery and all the classes a paying visitor would get. 3 hours a day is the currency for all her basic needs. This is direct evidence that obliterates the age-old societal saying that you need money to live. In this instance, 3 hours a day is the currency for all her needs. Don’t think this lady was there out of necessity, oh no! She was there by choice. The heads of the Sivananda organisation were very smart as financial liberation is achieved on day 1 for long-term karma yogis. In removing such a common blockage, people can focus diligently to work spiritually on their path to Samadhi.