Yoga is generally understood as a process of unification. This unification is multifaceted. In one dimension, it is a unification of the various systems that exist within the human being including the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual systems. In total there are believed to be five different systems within human life. These are typically referred to as the koshas which are the physical, energetic, mental, subtle, and bliss sheaths. In our current understanding of yoga, we are working to unify these five bodies or layers of the human being. Another process of unification occurs between of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.
This unification is often referred to as Samadhi and is one of the primary transformations that occur within the practice of yoga. Observing this from a different angle, Samadhi is a transformation of perception in which disillusionments about the world are reformed so that the truth behind reality can be seen in its purest of form. Yoga, as a system, has developed into various branches through which people pursue the evolution and unification of the elements within their being. Each branch retains its own unique set of ideas and philosophies which defined the process and eventual obtainment of complete unification.
There is no right or wrong system of yoga as the each possesses their own distinct characteristics that accommodate the needs of various characteristics and personalities that exist among human beings. Each system is designed to accommodate a different personality type, and yoga has developed into a broad reaching system that can be practiced by nearly anyone who is interested in pursuing a spiritual life. A practice like Jnana yoga is ideal for someone who is philosophically minded whereas the practice of bhakti yoga is good for someone who is emotionally perceptive and inclined towards a sense of devotion. In this article we will be reviewing the more mainstream practices of yoga which are derived from the tradition of yogic spirituality. These traditions of yoga are as young as 500 years and as old as several thousand. While there are many modern practices of yoga which have been defined by various teachers, the systems we will be discussing are traditional systems which have been in existence throughout many generations.
Bhakti Yoga The first system we will discuss it is Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a practice in which the spiritual practitioner focuses on developing a state of devotion within the mind and the heart. In bhakti yoga a strong sense of faith is needed as one is expected to submit themselves to God through a process of self surrendering. The practices and techniques of bhakti yoga are therefore designed to help surrendered the ego and embrace with love the thought of the creator. The more common practices of bhakti yoga are kirtan (chanting/song), japa (mantra repetition), and meditation on the divine.
Usually the practice of bhakti yoga is advised to be practiced by those who are well connected to their emotions and also receptive of more subtle feelings within themselves and others. Emphatic love defines the practice of bhakti yoga as the practitioner devotes their whole being towards the spiritual divine. A belief in God or a higher being is vital to the practice, and without it, it is near to impossible to practice bhakti yoga. The devotion that is practiced by the bhakti Yogi is not one of slavery towards the divine. Rather, it is a relationship that is filled with love, friendship, and companionship. In bhakti yoga people view God as a friend, a lover, a father, or mother. It is through this relationship that bhakti yoga is practiced. There are many aspects of devotion for the bhakti yogi; there are many forms of God that are worshiped in yoga including Shiva, Vishnu, Brahman, Parvatti, etc. Aside from the metaphysical forms of God, a guru or teacher can also be worshiped within the practice. The primary purpose of this practice is to help in relinquishing the ego and unifying the individual being with the universal.
Karma Yoga Karma is an aspect of human life that is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is believed in yoga that Karma keeps the cycle of rebirth in motion as past actions and events force us to take another life in the world to balance out the inequalities that we have imposed within our spirit and the universe. Once accumulated Karmic merit is balanced or destroyed then cycle of birth and death is stopped and the spirit is return to its origins within the universal divine. The practice of Karma yoga directly addresses this primary aspect of life, works to abolish the effects of Karma with disciplined action that formulates a separation between the individual and the effects of Karma. This separation occurs through a process of disassociation in which the individual separates themselves from the benefits or losses from their actions within the world.
The practice of Karma yoga is typically based around one's Dharma or duties within the world. Dharma is determined by the actions of the individual in the past, including both the past of the current life as well as the past of previous lives. In some respects, Dharma is the most effective way for an individual to use their time on earth for spiritual progress as it is based upon the realistic capacities and potential of the individual. One of the main components of Dharma is acting in the world without thought of the benefits or losses of one's actions. The practitioner lives and acts within the world without any expectations or imposed impressions of how the future should unfold. The mind is focused on selfless service and working for the benefit of the greater good as opposed to the independent needs of the individual. In Karma yoga the practice is gradual as the individual slowly relinquishes the bonds of karma and liberates the spirit from the confines of egocentric thought processes.
Although a Karma yogi may practice techniques such as the asanas, breathing practices, and meditations, the primary focus of their spiritual practice is service and actions with the focus of selflessness and humbleness. The first mention of Karma yoga is within the Bhagavad-Gita in a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. In this dialogue, Krishna informs Arjuna that he can merge his consciousness with Krishna's when he surrenders his actions to the divine (which in this case is Krishna). Krishna encourages Arjuna to act and follow out his duty without worry or consideration of the benefits or losses of his actions. He informs Arjuna that acting in the name of Krishna (or divine) will provide him with the liberation that he has set forth to achieve.
Kundalini Yoga Kundalini yoga is a practice of yoga which originated from the practice of tantra yoga. Historically speaking, tantra yoga is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality which is still in practice today. One of the key components of tantra yoga is the incorporation of kundalini which is considered to be the primordial force existence within each human being. The practice of Kundalini yoga was formed to control and harness the potential of the kundalini energy within the body. Unlike the other systems of yoga, kundalini yoga can be a highly unstable practice of yoga as the release of kundalini energy can lead to extreme psychological and physical disorders if not controlled in the proper manner.
Therefore, the practice of kundalini yoga is a highly advanced system which is usually only practiced by those who are well advanced in the practices of spirituality. One of the primary prerequisites of kundalini yoga is a strong mind and a healthy body without which the release of kundalini energy can be damaging or even fatal. Even a specific term in psychology known as kundalini syndrome has been developed for those who have gone into dementia because of the improper release of kundalini energy. In kundalini yoga the techniques presented are designed to help awaken the kundalini energy. Aside from its definition as the primordial energy, kundalini is also known as the serpent energy. Prior to its awakening, the kundalini energy rests at the base of the spine in the form of a spiraled coil similar to that of a serpent. When released, the kundalini energy shoots up through the spine, making its way towards the crown of the head. Depending upon the purification of the energy channels along the spinal column known as chakras, the kundalini will either reach its final destination and the head or will be stuck within one of the chakras. Usually kundalini yoga starts by purifying all the chakras. This purification helps to maintain a balance flow of prana within the body. It is believed that a balance flow of prana within the body leads to a sound state of mind and body. Once the body, mind, and pranic channels are purified, the practitioner of kundalini yoga works to release the kundalini energy. The purification process an essential quality of the practice as it helps to ensure a smooth flow of kundalini energy through the chakra system.
For both the purification of the chakras as well as the release of kundalini energy a wide variety of techniques are implemented. These include yoga asanas (postures), pranayamas (breathing practices), meditations, and mudra (gestures) specifically designed to help regulate the pranic energy and awaken kundalini. Unlike some of the other systems of yoga, kundalini yoga should never be practiced through self training. It is vital that one who is interested in practicing kundalini yoga finds an adept practitioner and teacher of this system of yoga to guide them through the process. Without such guidance, it is likely that severe physical and mental disorders will arise as kundalini energy is a highly potent element within the human body that is not meant to be tempered with unless the body, mind, and pranic channels are fully purified. There are countless tales of individuals who released kundalini yoga prematurely and found themselves in a disoriented and neurotic state. There are many books published on kundalini yoga and those who have experienced kundalini energy always advise to have a highly knowledgeable and observant teacher to guide a practitioner through the system of kundalini yoga.
Hatha Yoga The word hatha has several meanings. Typically it is divided up into two individual words, ha and tha. The meaning of these words can be interpreted as the sun and the moon. It can also be said that these two words are Beeja Mantras or primordial sounds that are responsible for composing matter. At the same time, ha represents the pranic body while tha is that of the mental body. Whichever interpretation one chooses to believe or follow, an essential component of hatha yoga is a balancing of the polarities of energy within the body (ida and pingala) as well as a purification of the mind and the body.
Most people, in a modern context, consider hatha yoga to be a practice of the physical body. While this is not incorrect, hatha yoga includes many more philosophies and techniques that address more subtle aspects of the human system. One of the essential components of hatha yoga is the element of purification. In hatha yoga purification occurs within the many aspects of the human being; there is a purification of the physical, mental, and energetic, and emotional bodies. It is believed that once all of the bodies are purified than spiritual advancement towards self liberation can occur. Unlike Raja yoga, which we will discuss later, hatha yoga does not outline a prerequisite of moral values before conducting the techniques of yoga. Rather, hatha yoga begins with the yoga postures or asanas and the energetic purification techniques of pranayama. Once a considerable understanding of these two practices is attained, more advanced techniques including Shatkarmas (body cleansing), Pranayamas (nadhi cleansing), Mudras (energy channeling), Bundhas (energy locks), and other techniques which lead towards Samadhi (self-realization) can be practiced.
Similar to most practices of yoga, hatha yoga maintains the belief that techniques such as meditation and concentration should only be practiced after the body and the mind having purified. Without such preparation it is useless to practice meditation as no benefit will be received from the practice. Hatha yoga originated from a number of texts all of which were written between 500-1500 A.D. In comparison to the other forms of yoga we are discussing, hatha yoga is the youngest of them all with its major text the Hatha Yoga Pradipika being finalized in the 16th century.
Hatha yoga could be considered to be a preliminary practice to more advanced systems of yoga, however it possesses within itself the capability to lead towards spiritual liberation. A more modest system of yoga, hatha yoga can be practiced by most people and does not require a well established mind and body to begin the practice. Therefore, it is a practice used by many who wish to use yoga as an aid towards spiritual freedom.
Raja Yoga Raja yoga is considered the Royal path and is literally translated as royal union from Sanskrit. The system of Raja yoga is derived from the teachings of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras which were written between 100 and 300 A.D. Some may also refer to this system of yoga has Ashtanga Yoga, however Raja yoga has been the traditional terminology used for the practice of yoga guided by Ptanjali's Yoga Sutras and some distinctions separate the two from one another. Here, we are primarily concerned with the traditional system of Raja yoga which has been practiced in India since the origins of the Sutras. Raja yoga is a path of intuition and also psychic perception. Therefore these two facilities are needed in order for spiritual growth to occur. Some spiritual masters like Swami Tureyananda believe that Raja yoga is practiced after one has obtained substantial transformation through preliminary practices of yoga.
Even still some other teachers believe that the practice of Raja yoga is commenced after preliminary states of Samadhi are experienced. Therefore, Raja yoga is not a practice for the vast majority of people. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali lightly outlines the prerequisites for the more advanced techniques of yoga. The vast majority of the yoga sutras are devoted to understanding and controlling the mind including its four components of Chitta, Buddhi, Manas and Ahamkara. Considerable attention is given to how the mind works and operates as well as the various levels and dimensions that exist within the mind. The remainder of the text discusses the stages through which one experience along the path towards self-realization, and attention is given to all the various pitfalls that can arise along the way. The system of Raja yoga is generally outlined in defined within the "8 limbed path." These limbs include:
- Yama - code of conduct and self restraint
- Niyama - religious observances, devotion to ones practice, and discipline
- Asana - formation of a stable seat for both the mind and the body
- Pranayama - regulation of breath which leads to a unification and balance between the body and the mind
- Pratyahara - withdrawal of the sensory organs of perception from the external environment including all five senses (six if you include the mind)
- Dharana - concentration
- Dhyana - meditation
- Samadhi - self realization, or a super conscious state of being.
Together these eight limbs form the practice and systematic approach of Raja Yoga. Like kundalini yoga, Raja yoga requires a significant amount of guidance and direction without which many problems and ultimate failure will arise. It is therefore essential that one who is interested in practicing Raja yoga finds a teacher or guru who has perfected the system and has achieved a true state of self-realization.
Jnana Yoga The practice of Jana yoga is easily understood within the two words 'Jana' and 'Yoga' which together mean 'Union through Wisdom.' the practice of Jana yoga is a very practical system for the Western mind which usually approaches things through the intellect and rational deduction. While ultimately these two aspects are abandoned later in the path, Jana yoga begins with intellectual inquiry and rational observation. While Jana yoga encourages a belief in God or the supreme, it does not necessitate the belief and therefore it can even be used by those who are rational atheists. The techniques used in Jana yoga are primarily concerned with a process of deduction in which one observes all aspects of life.
A process of self inquiry and questioning is undertaken as the practitioner gradually removes the illusions and misperceptions of the mind as they work towards the truth of their most basic nature. The practice of Jana yoga can be understood within the simple Sanskrit phrase "Neti, Neti," which is openly translated as not this, not that. In Jana yoga one removes the various layers of the onion of their mind until they reached the core which is no-thingness or unmanifested. Jana yoga has four major guidelines which helped to lead to the practitioner towards self-realization. As Jana yoga is primarily a system of inquiry, it does not require techniques such as pranayama and asanas in order to achieve self-realization. The four guidelines of the Jana Yogi include: Viveka- Discrimination (between truth and not truth); Vairagya- Dispassion (from attachment world and the mind/body); Shad-sampat- Six Virtues (tranquility, dama (sensory control), uparati (renunciation), titiksha (endurance), shraddha (faith), and samadhana (concentration)); and Mumukshutva- longing for liberation.
Conclusion If you have read this article for the sake of finding a system of yoga to help you grow spiritually, it would be advisable to do further research into the systems that seem compatible to your needs and character. Not every individual is practicing yoga for the sake of self-realization. Each system of yoga provides its own unique benefits that evolve from the practice and therefore can be practiced without the intention of achieving self-realization. While the ultimate goal of yoga is liberation, there are many benefits of the practice that naturally occur as the body, mind, and energy within the human being are purified. As mentioned previously, if you decide to take up the practice of Raja yoga or kundalini yoga it is best to seek an experienced guide before commencing the practice. However, ultimately, every system of yoga requires a guru or adept practitioner who can direct the student through a specific system of yoga.
Each style that we have mentioned above is unique and there is no right or wrong one, or one that is better than the other. In actuality, there are thousands of different styles of yoga, yet the ones we have mentioned are the primary branches for the practical side of yoga. When choosing a practice, select one that seems to possess characteristics that are in harmony with your personality and individuality. Starting from there will give you a good relationship to your practice and make it easier to gradually introduce it into your life on a daily basis. A consistent practice provides the greatest opportunity for self-growth and transformation.
Sarah Mhyers is a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist in the United States. After completing her MS in Clinical Psychology, Sarah spent much of her time continuing here studies of psychology from and Eastern perspective of thought. She began her study of Yoga Psychology through the Tureya Foundation and Ashram http://www.tureya.com/ in 2005 and has been pursuing research in this field since then, applying yoga psychology in her clinical environment. Sarah is an author of free lessons, audios and videos from yoga at http://www.tureyayoga.com and contributes to the ongoing development of research in Yogic Spirituality.I instructed a yoga class for a high school football team last week. A bunch of the teens didn't want anything to do with yoga. I guess they thought it would have no benefit to them and I think they felt embarrassed to be out on the field in plain view practicing yoga.
The guys that stayed had an open mind to a point, but mainly had the idea that this was an easy workout and they were humoring the captain by taking part.
We started with some sun salutations. It was a steamy hot day with the sun blaring, but from what I could see during the warm-up these guys weren't very flexible. I wanted to warm up their muscles so we could get into some stretching. We worked on standing poses and upper body strengthening, balancing and then some core work. Then we went into some deep muscle stretching and finished with relaxation ~ lying on the field and watching the white puffy clouds float by.
Being sport specific, these guys need it all. It is just the beginning of their season and I am sure they will be working hard. My goal was to give them an exercise practice that would help them recover from their workouts, gain some flexibility and strengthen their core to help avoid injuries.
The complaints began.... This isn't easy....wait, which foot? .... I can't reach my toes....and then the realization started....look, I can reach my toes now.... Is this right? As we worked through the practice they paid closer attention and complained less. At the end of relaxation I told them we could practice again if they liked it and I heard... let's do this every Friday.... let's do it before every game.
The point here, I guess, is that they gave Yoga a chance and it helped them. They realized it wasn't a girlie thing that they should be embarrassed by. I know, they are teenagers. So as adults what benefit will yoga have for you?
Do you golf? Then you are probably out of balance from swinging that golf club the same way all the time. Yoga can help with lower back strengthening. Repetitive motion of swinging the same way all day puts your body out of balance. Balancing poses help to correct that imbalance, as do the standing poses. Side stretching and twisting (both ways) also helps with the imbalance while keeping your torso flexible enough to follow through with your swing.
Do you play baseball or softball? Those explosive runs can be hard on your body. Again, swinging the bat in the same direction and throwing with the same arm over and over. Are you the catcher? You need some core strength to squat down and up so many times. You think about the leg strength but if you don't have core strength you are not taking care of your lower back.
Tennis? Side to side, explosive reaction; one shoulder gets more repetition. Volleyball? Jumping; explosive running short distances.
Are you a runner or a biker? Your continually work the front side of your body but the back side is left out. Usually runners are tight in the hamstrings and sometimes in the calves. You need to stretch those body parts out to bring some balance back into your body.
The flexibility and the core strength that yoga provides can help with all of these sports. Many people are tight in the shoulders - especially athletes. More flexibility means more safe range of motion. With any sport and for any person yoga promotes muscle recovery. We always feel better after we stretch out those sore muscles.
Are you open to trying something that will enhance your sport? Take a yoga class. Have an open mind and tune in to your body to see if you gained any benefit, during the practice and after. Many professional athletes practice yoga - maybe you should too...
By Kathi Duquette
Certified Yoga Instructor
Certified Personal Trainer
http://www.basic-yoga-information.com I should say that inversions, and especially Handstand or Adho Mukha Vrksasana, are not difficult poses physically, although it do require a certain level of strength and flexibility. Instead, the real challenge of Handstand for many practitioners is working on the necessary physical skills in a calm, focused way while facing the primal human fear of falling. For a beginning inverter, the seemingly simple act of kicking the legs up to a supporting wall can be frightening. Even for more advanced handstanders, going to a next level with the pose (leaping up with both legs at once or balancing in the center of the room) presents challenges that call up the fear factor.
As a result, you have a question - if Handstand generates feelings of anxiety in so many people, why should I learn it at all? The challenges of these asana are precisely what make it so valuable. Since Handstand brings you face to face with your anxieties and fears, it provides a wonderful opportunity to observe attacks of panic and work on overcoming all such emotions. Handstand offers a controlled situation in which you can develop self-confidence, courage, and a somewhat playful and curious approach to solving challenges. In addition, it increases your understanding and control of your body because it turns your world upside down and requires you to master an unfamiliar relationship with gravity. Practicing Anjali Mudra or Salutation Seal is an excellent way to induce a meditative state of awareness. Start your practice sitting in meditation in Anjali Mudra for five minutes. You can also use this hand position in Tadasana prior to beginning the Sun Salutation sequence, as you contemplate the "sun" or light of awareness that the yogis say is resident in your heart. Here are several steps to practice it:
1. Sit comfortably in Siddhasana(Perfect Pose) or stand in Tadasana(Mountain Pose). Inhale and bring your palms together. Rest the thumbs lightly on your sternum.
2. Press your hands firmly but evenly against each other. Make sure that one hand (usually your right hand if you are right-handed, your left if left-handed) doesn't dominate the other. If you find this imbalance, release the dominant hand slightly, but don't increase the pressure of the nondominant hand.
3. Bow your head slightly, drawing the crease of the neck toward the center of your head. Lift your sternum into your thumbs and lengthen down along the back of the armpits, making the back elbows heavy. No matter how careful you are to avoid putting yourself in taxing situations, as long as you're living on this earth, stress will hunt you down and wreak havoc on your day. More often than not, it will set up camp in your neck and shoulders, causing even more tension and discomfort. If you're stressed out today, breathe deeply as you try this easy neck release:
Stand in a strong but soft Tadasana (Mountain Pose), feet hip-width apart. Ground firmly into all four corners of each foot and create length in your spine, gently drawing your tailbone toward the floor and the top of your head toward the ceiling. Maintaining that sense of length, reach overhead with your left hand and hold under your right ear at the notch just behind your jaw; as your head tilts slightly to the left, make sure you don't tip it back and jut your chin toward the ceiling. Rest your right hand on your right shoulder, fingers pointing toward your neck. Take full, deep, but unforced breaths for a minute, letting your muscles relax and expand into that gentle rise and fall. Then deepen the stretch by gently pulling your head to the left and your right shoulder down, away from the ear. Pull right up to the edge of discomfort, then pause and relax into the stretch for another minute before repeating on the other side. We often think of the masculine principle as active and creative, while the feminine is passive and receptive. While in hatha yoga, these are reversed: The goddess Shakti (literally "power") creates and nourishes the world, while her spouse, the god Shiva (the "auspicious one") is her silent audience. Shakti and Shiva are the heroes of an old parable that epitomizes the practice and goal of hatha yoga. Briefly it goes: In a cave at the foot of mythic Mount Meru, the axis of the Hindu universe, the goddess rests after creating the world. She's pictured as a slumbering serpent wound three-and-a-half (sometimes eight) times around herself, and therefore called kundalini, or "coiled one." When the time is right, she awakens and laboriously ascends to Meru's summit, where she's reunited with the waiting Shiva.
What do serpents, mountains, and unhelpful husbands have to do with yoga? Each of us is a composite of Shiva/Shakti energies. While we refer to them as distinct, they are actually inseparable complements, like the north and south poles of a magnet. When they are in balance, our lives are harmonious and joyful; but when one is set over and above its mate, we suffer from heartrending feelings of fragmentation, alienation, and loss. Shakti's climb and ultimate reunion with Shiva represents, in the context of our practice, the gradual awakening to and realization of our authentic Self. In our case, kundalini is at the base of our spine, "asleep" to our infinite potential but coiled like a spring under pressure, eager to spring to life. Meru is compared to our spine, the "axis" of our body, a universe in miniature. In turn, our spine is an image of the "ladder" of consciousness, starting at the bottom of the spine, where kundalini nests, and extending to the transcendent abode of Shiva at the pinnacle of self-knowing.
Many traditional texts make the spiritual conquest of Meru seem akin to the scaling of Everest and discourage all but the most dedicated from attempting the climb. But all of us have, in our heart of hearts, the longing to be whole and—as sincere yoga practitioners — all the mountaineering equipment we'd ever need. If we can't march all the way to the top, at least we can get a good way up from base camp. Bathing, the daily chore or indulgence we've come to know as a way to wake up and scrub ourselves clean, is actually much more than a simple hygiene regimen. In many cultures, it's seen as the final step in a detoxifying process that can begin with circulation, digestion, breath, sleep, or even thoughts and emotions. Nowhere is this approach more evident than with Ayurveda. Ayurvedic bathing goes beyond soaking in a warm tub. It essentially consists of nurturing the body inside and out by balancing within ourselves the forces of the five elements: water, air, earth, fire, and space (which encompasses all of the others).
One way this is done is with several types of internal cleanings. For instance, an air bath consists of deep breathing and focused awareness of the breath. "Air bathes the lungs, while feeding oxygen to the whole body and purifying it," says Sudhakar Selote, a visiting consultant at The Raj, an Ayurvedic health center in Fairfield, Iowa.
A space bath uses deep meditation to extend purification to all areas of the mind and body, according to Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty. A fire bath involves consuming spicy, warm foods and beverages to stimulate the digestive system and increase circulation, while a water bath—drinking water and herbal teas—hydrates and detoxifies the body.
Another aspect of Ayurvedic bathing involves the three doshas—vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth)—which are said to govern all mental and physical aspects. Everyone has a predominant dosha, and keeping that force balanced means following a certain lifestyle, including diet and exercise. For traditional bathing, Melanie Sachs, author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care, suggests bathwater temperatures should be suited to one's dosha. For example, vata types fare better in warm to hot water; kaphas gravitate toward warmer temperatures, too, but the already fiery pittas might want to run a cooler bath. Doshas are also balanced by certain essential oils. In Ayurveda, oils are recognized for their ability to anoint the body and harmonize the mind. In fact, Ayurveda prescribes an oil massage before bathing, says Selote, as the warm water will allow the oil to penetrate skin tissues more deeply and help mobilize toxins in the body.
As for adding essential oils to bathwater, rose, rosewood, rose geranium, and neroli work well for exuding calm and warmth with vatas. For pitta types, calming and soothing oils for the skin and mind include jasmine (for women) and vetiver (for men), as well as mint and lemon. Kaphas can be stimulated and uplifted by rosemary, juniper, orange, and bergamot oils. However, soaps are generally discouraged in Ayurveda, says Sachs, "as they can be too scouring for dry types, causing dryness for vata and skin irritation for pitta." If you're developing a dedicated yoga practice, you have surely heard of the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali's classical yoga, which include such virtues as ahimsa (nonharming), satya (truthfulness), and samtosha (contentment). Lesser known are the "yoga vitamins," as B.K.S. Iyengar named them in The Tree of Yoga. These five partner virtues, set forth in the Yoga Sutra, reinforce the classical practice of yoga and generate an abundance of good karma for the practitioner.
The first vitamin is sraddha, usually translated as faith. But many interpreters of Patanjali have also translated it as many other things - 'trust and confidence'(in the rightness of what you're doing and in the sympathy of the divine), 'firm conviction'(which is free of doubt), 'positive attitude'(even in the face of momentary setbacks), 'acceptance'(of traditional teachings and the words of your teacher), and 'sweet hope' in the ultimate success of your practice. In Sanskrit, sraddha is a feminine word, suggesting that faith is gentle and supportive. Indeed, the sage Vyasa, who is credited with writing the oldest surviving commentary on the Yoga Sutra, said that faith is: "benevolent like a mother; she protects the yogi." When the practitioner holds to faith, the mind becomes tranquil and, as Vyasa concluded, "strength gathers in him."
Such strength is known as virya, the second vitamin. Virya is usually translated as 'energy' or 'vitality', the sort that comes from knowing you're doing the right thing. But it's also characterized as 'courage', 'strong will', 'enthusiasm', 'stamina', and 'dedication'. As virya gathers in the practitioner, said Vyasa, "intentness attends upon him."
'Intentness' is one interpretation of the Sanskrit word smrti, the third vitamin. Usually, smrti is simply translated as memory, but in this context, it's better understood as mindfulness. What are you supposed to be mindful of? Some commentators talk about the practice of constantly minding the more palpable aspects of your life experience: your body, the contents of your consciousness, your surroundings, your breath. Others interpret mindfulness as a diligent remembrance of and reflection on the true nature of the Self. Still others believe that memory also includes the recollection of what you've studied in yoga scripture. In any case, mindfulness focuses the energy of consciousness and so serves as a prelude to meditation. According to Vyasa, - "At the presence of intentness, the mind, free of disturbance, becomes harmonized and established in samadhi."
Samadhi, the fourth vitamin, is a highly technical term in classical yoga that literally means 'putting together'. It ultimately allows the practitioner, said Vyasa, to "perceive things as they really are."
This perception of things as they really are leads to the fifth and final vitamin, prajna , which is actually the goal of yoga practice. It roughly means 'knowledge', but Patanjali wasn't talking about knowledge in a worldly sense, of course. The great 20th-century sage Sri Aurobindo defined the term prajna as the 'knowledge that unites' all the loose ends of one’s self in the Self...