There are four main paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Each is suited to a different temperament or approach to life.
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action. It is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions you learn to sublimate the ego.
This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. The Bhakti Yogi is motivated chiefly by the power of love and sees God as the embodiment of love. Through prayer, worship and ritual he surrenders himself to God, channelling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.
Raja Yoga is also called Ahtanga Yoga referring to the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It also includes all other methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind. The Hatha-Yogi uses Relaxation and other practices such as Yamas, Niyamas, Mudras, Bandhas etc.. to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called Prana. When body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally.
This is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta the Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.
The 12 basic poses or asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously, becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.
Yogic physical exercises are designed to develop not only the body, they also broaden the mental facultiesand the spiritual capacities.Proper exercise should be pleasant to the practitioner while beneficial to the body, mind and spiritual life.
The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. However this is quite an advanced practice. Initially, our concern is simply to increase body flexibility.
Yoga teaches us how to use the lungs to their maximum capacity and how to control the breath. Proper breathing should be deep, slow and rhythmical. This increases vitality and mental clarity. There are 3 Types of Breathing
Actually none of these types are complete. A full yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostals and clavicular areas.
When the body and the mind are constantly overworked, their natural efficiency to perform work diminishes. Modern social life, food, work and entertainment, such make it difficult for modern people to relax. Many have even forgotten that rest and relaxation are nature's way of recharging. Even while trying to rest, the average person expends a lot of physical and mental energy through tension. Much of the body's energy is wasted uselessly.
More of our energy is spent in keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work than in the actual useful work done. In order to regulate and balance the work of the body and mind, it is best to learn to economize the energy produced by our body. This may be done by learning to relax.
Our body usually produces all the substances and energy necessary for the next day. But it often happens that all these substances and energy may be consumed within a few minutes by bad moods, anger or intense irritation. The process of eruption and repression of violent emotions often grows into a regular habit. The result is disastrous, not only for the body, but also for the mind.
During complete relaxation, there is practically no energy or "Prana" being consumed, In order to achieve perfect relaxation, three methods are used by yogis: "Physical", "Mental", and "Spiritual" relaxation.
As long as a person identifies with the body and the mind, there will be worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear and anger. These emotions, in turn bring tension. Yogis know that unless a person can withdraw from the body/mind idea and separate himself from the ego-consciousness, there is no way of obtaining complete relaxation.
The yogi identifies himself with the all pervading, all-powerful, all-peaceful and joyful self, or pure consciousness within. He knows that the source of all power, knowledge, peace and strength is in the self, not in the body. We tune to this by asserting the real nature, that is "I am that pure consciousness or self". This identification with the self completes the process of relaxation.
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind. For maximum body-mind efficiency and complete spiritual awareness, Yoga advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet. This is an integral part of the Yogic lifestyle.
The yogic diet is a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. Nutritional requirements fall under diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. Processing, refining and overcooking destroy much food value. Dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds provide the vegetarian with an adequate supply of protein.
Yogic diet is actually even more selective than this. A Yoga Practitioner is concerned with the subtle effect that food has on his mind and astral body. He therefore avoids foods which are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp.
The Yogic diet will help you attain a high standard of health, keen intellect and serenity of mind.
"We become what we think." Thus we should exert to entertain positive and creative thoughts as these will contribute to vibrant health and a peaceful, joyful mind. A positive outlook on life can be developed by learning and practicing the teachings of the philosophy of Vedanta. The mind will be brought under perfect control by regular practice of meditation.
The mental ability to concentrate is inherent to all; it is not extraordinary or mysterious. Meditation is not something that a Yogi has to teach you; you already have the ability to shut out thoughts.
The only difference between this and meditation (the positive way), is that generally we have learned to focus the mind externally on objects. When the mind is fully concentrated, time passes unnoticed, as if it did not exist. When the mind is focused, there is no time! Time is nothing but a modification of the mind. Time, Space, and causation and all external experiences are mental creation.
All happiness achieved through the mind is temporary and fleeting; it is limited by nature. To achieve that state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, we must first know how to calm the mind, to concentrate and go beyond the mind. By turning the mind's concentration inward, upon the self, we can deepen that experience of perfect concentration. This is the state of Meditation".
The meditative state transcends all such limitations. In it there is neither past nor future, but only the consciousness of "I am" in the eternal NOW. It is only possible when all mental modifications are stilled.
The closest analogous state that we can experience is deep sleep, in which there is neither time, nor space, nor causation. Meditation, however, differs from deep sleep, for it works profound changes in the psyche. By curbing and stilling the oscillations of the mind, meditation brings mental peace.
On the physical level, meditation helps to prolong the body's anabolic process of growth and repair, and to reduce the catabolic or decaying process. Ordinarily the anabolic process predominates until the age of 18. From 18 to 35 there is balance between the two, and after 35 the catabolic process dominates. Meditation can significantly reduce the catabolic decline. This is because of the innate receptivity of the body cells.
Each of our body cells is governed by the instinctive subconscious mind. They have both an individual and a collective conciousness. When the thoughts and desires pour into the body, the cells are activated; the body always obeys the group demand. It has been scientifically proven that positive thoughts bring positive result to cells. As meditation brings about a prolonged positive state of mind, it rejuvenates body cells and retards decay.
If you meditate for half an hour daily, you will be able to face life with peace and spiritual strength. Meditation is the most powerful mental and nerve tonic. Divine energy freely flows to the adept during meditation, and exerts a benign influence on the mind, nerves, sense organs and body. It opens the door to intuitive knowledge and realms of eternal bliss. The mind becomes calm and steady.
By far the most important thing about good breathing is the Prana, or subtle energy of the vital breath. Control of the Prana leads to control of the mind. Breathing exercises are called Pranayamas, which means to control the Prana.
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