yoga philosophy

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Raja Yoga

Raja yoga is a term with different meanings depending on context; in the 1900s, Swami Vivekanada equated it with the sutras of Patanjali. Raja means best, chief, or king; when used in yoga it means the highest state of yoga practice or striving for samadhi (bliss). This is the feeling that you achieve in savasana after a well afforded practice; after you’ve pushed yourself and worked hard. Hatha yoga is described as the way to achieve raja yoga when combined with the sutras of patanjali.

Raja is a term that has undergone changes over time until it was most recently equated with the yoga sutras by Swami Vivekanada, but it has always referred to a style of yoga that attempts to make unison with the Brahman, or universal divinity. Eight different steps have been mentioned numerous times and have also evolved over time as the usage of the word has evolved since it was used in the Bhagavad Gita. It has always been considered a type of yoga.

Raja yoga is similar to a path of meditation towards the divine, assimilating the philosophy of samadhi and complete awareness into everyday life. Historically, there are three goals of Raja yoga: an altered state of higher consciousness, an uncovering of the soul, and the yogic traditions of isolation, meditation, and retrospection. It is a term used to largely define the goal of the practices of hatha yoga.

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The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 1: Yamas)

Ashtanga yoga is more than exercise or meditation. It is a lifestyle, a way to live that allows for the body and mind to be free from pain and suffering and to be at peace. REAL yoga happens outside of the yoga room; Asana is only one part of real yoga, albeit a very important one. The true yoga begins off the mat, when you start interacting with your world, from strangers on a subway to your family and children at home. The 8 limbs of yoga is a guide to happiness, tranquility, peace, and ultimately freedom to transcend consciousness and realize god (enlightenment).

The first limb of yoga is no doubt the most foundational, the Yamas (ethical disciplines). These are universal principles, or rules for interacting with the world that lead away from stealing, violence, chaos, greed, and untruth. Essentially they are equivalent to the 10 commandments of Moses or the beatitudes of Jesus, but with the spin that these external rules will create room for detachment and constitute the first steps and foundation for yoga to expand within one’s consciousness. Yamas are like scaffolding that you are building your temple around, and keeps the temple sacred, clean, and free from outside destruction. In the same way the Yamas will keep your mind free from distraction and lead you to closer to enlightenment.

There are 5 parts of the Yamas, each of which is essential to success, though these concepts should be interpreted and applied to your own individual life. No two people will ever live the same life, therefore each individual must adapt the Yamas to their lifestyle. They are Ahisma (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), and Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Ahisma, (‘a’ means not and ‘hisma’ means violence) or non-violence, is probably the most important of the Yamas and is truly very difficult to achieve. Violence is not only physical and can occur within the mind creating distance from creatures and people we are meant to love. Ahisma is far more than just pacifism, non-violence, non-killing, or eating only vegetables; it means finding love and appreciation for all beings. This almost always means eating vegetarian, unless you grow your own animals and treat them with respect and love. Many people interpret Ahisma as vegetarianism, which is important for yoga, but it is also about appreciation for all beings (even the smallest ones!). Then love and true gratitude can flow like water for all the life that surrounds you. Freedom from fear and anger are also intrinsic to this Yama, known as Abhaya (‘a’ means not and ‘bhaya’ means fear) and Akrodha (‘a’ means not and ‘krodha’ means anger). A yogi truly has no fear because of the pure love and focus he brings to his own life and he realizes his own divine connection to all beings as well as his own gift of the body, which allows the yogi to treat all beings with respect, love, and peace.

Satya means truth. The divine exists only in truth, so it is necessary for a yogi to become truthful in all things, to make room for the divine in their life. One of the biggest aspects of Satya is speech, though it is not limited to this. Ridiculing others, telling untrue stories, lying and abusing others are what we really want to avoid here. By rooting out falsehoods, yogis can live truthfully and without fear being at peace with the people around them. This will also contribute to a person’s charisma; when the speech is controlled and truthful, words become far more powerful. When the yogi ceases lying, falsehoods, and malice of speech, self-control is greatly increased and truth begins to drip from the yogi’s actions and life, giving him what he needs to survive and thrive.

Asteya (not stealing) is the desire to own something that another has. This is at the root of all yoga, detachment from the material world and possessions. We need to realize that you really don’t own anything; it is just bullshit you have told yourself to make your life easier. You borrow from this planet, from the people around you and really everything that you have ever received is a gift. Yogi’s do not gather or take possessions of others at all, and even his own possessions are minimal to allows for no distractions from his path. Jealousy, greed, and cravings are abandoned on the journey to the divine and once the yogi relinquishes possessions, the yogi will be given treasures and gifts that will sustain him. Each small gift will be a treasure beyond measure for it was given to the yogi directly from the source of life.

Brahmacharya (‘Brahma’ means the god of creation and ‘charin’ means constantly moving) is by definition living a life of restrain, celibacy, or oneness with god. Iyengar mentions in his book that the loss of semen leads to loss of life and talks a lot about living a celibate life, but I truly do not believe this is necessary at all for realizing the divine. I do believe it is necessary to temper desire, and to avoid meaningless sexual encounters, but most religions will agree that god is love and a yogi’s pursuit is to realize that god. Therefore, it is more about self-control, care, appreciation and love for the gift of sexuality and respect and commitment to the sacred gift it can bring to two people. Masturbation is also good for healthy prostate functioning,  (20 or so times a month will reduce the risk of prostate cancer) so I don’t think celibacy in any way is a necessity for union with the divine, though abuse of any sexuality will certainly lead away. This also applies to cleaning the spaces that you use, keeping the place where you practice yoga sacred, and performing your duties and jobs to the best of your ability.

Aparigraha (‘parigraha’ means hoarding, collecting) is avoiding collection or things that one does not truly need. These objects are really distractions for the yoga from the truth they are seeking and lead away from the divine. So even too much of one thing can be viewed as stealing from others. The yogi lives a life of minimalistic material possessions; the yogi does not value them because they are only borrowed and never truly his to begin with. The yogi should make his life as simple as possible so as to focus his time on the connection with the divine, then everything that he needs will come to him at the proper time. A true yogi is satisfied no matter what happens to him, for he appreciates the gift of his own life and trusts in god to provide him with whatever he may need for his journey back to god.

The Yamas are the first limb of yoga and can really help the yoga to live in harmony. It brings stillness, beauty, love, and peace to the yogi and happiness will thrive as a result. These are the foundations of living your yoga, living a life that is at peace with god, and ultimately finding fulfillment in life. This is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga, stay tuned for the Niyamas, the second limb of Ashtanga yoga.

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Shiva (the god of Death)

Shiva is the god destroyer, his matted hair and ash smeared face sit silent in meditation or flow eternally in his cosmic dance of death. From his matted hair flows from the Ganges river in India and he often adorns himself with snakes, particularly cobras. He lives far secluded from the other gods in his abode in Mount Kailash, which is a real mountain from which many of the rivers in Asia begin. It is on top of this mountain that the destroyer of ignorance, suffering, illusion, and sadness finds his eternal meditation with his wife Parvati and sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. He is a simple herdsmen and yogi at certain times with his family, and at others he slays demons to protect the equilibrium of the universe. He also wears a garland of skulls, to show his victory over death and holds a three forked trident to represent the meeting of three worlds, immediate, internal, and external.

Shiva is a powerful god that creates change through chaos and destruction. The symbols of Shiva are extremely powerful, they bring a stoic freedom to find peace in each moment knowing that someday the moments will end. He is a part of the Trimurti and makes way for Brahman to create through his destruction. Vishnu preserves the continuous cycle; some claim Vishnu as the primary deity, called Vashnavism, and some claim Shiva as the primary god, called Shaivism. Together, they complete the cosmic cycle of death, rebirth, and life. Shiva is the cosmic dancer, and often slays demons with his trident while playing the damaru. Shiva is also well-known for playing the flute.

The final pose in a yoga asana series or sequence is devoted to Shiva. In Ashtanga in particular, the final meditation is focused on the death of the individual and release from the cycle of Samsara. He is the patron god of yoga and is one of the primary focal points of the philosophical traditions. Death is undoubtedly the primary reason yoga is practiced, whether it is to ensure a long life, to improve health and vitality, or to find meaning in life. Yoga helps us to come to terms with our own mortality and know that one day, we will stop breathing. But in that cessation is the beauty of the unknown and the release from this world that grants freedom that is unequaled.

The next time you are in Shivasana, meditate on your own death. It is very powerful and drops me into a deeper Samadhi every time, minimizing distractions. There are also many powerful chants used before class to destroy obstacles and invoke the presence of the great transformer. If you have different ways of showing love for Shiva, or ways that you know Shiva to be different, let us know!

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“The goal is ne…

“The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice”
Patanjali

Yogis who practice with enthusiasm, self-honesty, and high levels of energy are close to reaching Samadhi, or the supremely blissful state of existence. But sometimes, even the most intense and powerful of aspirants may become mild or average, slow and moderate in his practice.

This is part of the Sutras where Patanjali talks about the different categories of practitioners and their path on the yoga journey to enlightenment. I interpret this as attempting to give continued inspiration to people who take their practice seriously, and gives understanding that even the most powerful and steadfast of yogis will experience some turbulence on the journey. Bad days happen. Consistency is key with yoga, so detaching from the performance of a practice is key, especially for the impassioned yogi.

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Patanjali on partial understanding

“Uncertain knowledge giving rise to violence, whether done directly or indirectly, or condoned, is caused by greed, anger, or delusion in mild, moderate, or intense degree. It results in endless pain and ignorance. Through introspection comes the end of pain and ignorance.”

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras

Patanjali (most believe this personification of the yoga guru to be a compilation of ancient Hindu philosophers, rather than an individual)

This quote refers to acting according to uncertain knowledge and how it leads towards painful experiences. Just knowing a part of the story is not enough to act or truly understand a situation; this is why detachment from the situation is important. Then you can examine which variables that are unknown as decide what is likely, while detaching from the conclusion as well. Then no matter the situation or outcome, the yogi is peaceful, calm, and happy. I think that partial knowledge is perfectly useful, but action should be carefully examined before acting on a partial understanding.

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