Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Different forms of yoga
Yoga has many different forms, goals and ways to achieve "yoga". Different traditions had different interpretations and ways how to achieve "yoga" as a goal. This is not very different from what is happening nowadays. Many modern classes are a mixture of different traditions (Vedic Yoga mixed with Buddhist tantra) and emphasise one aspect more than others. All sorts of physical yoga exercise fall more or less under the term "Hatha Yoga", but because of branding and mixing, it can become very confusing to the beginner. Often Hatha Yoga is seen as a mild form of yoga and Power Yoga as a stronger form of yoga, but this does not really justify the term "Hatha" and what our traditional yogis were able to do within the Hatha Yoga tradition.
In the first instance, when practising physical exercise therapy, such as Hatha Yoga, there is a connection between your brain and the rest of your body. As you move through space, ultimately you should be able to connect better with everybody and everything around you. This connection becomes instant. It’s like a pervading awareness. In the end, we may realise that this connection is global and unites us with all beings, regardless of likes or dislikes. It is only together can we avoid the destruction of our planet earth. We do need some form of political and socio-economic cooperation between all nation-states.
Throughout history, there have been many types of yoga. We have the Hindu system, the Chinese or Tibetan Yoga System. Within the Hindu schools of Yoga, we can divide further into:
1) Raja yoga – ashtanga yoga 8-fold path - meditative approach (also called the royal path) – see above and below
2) Hatha Yoga – physical yoga
3) Jñāna Yoga – mental process – knowledge approach – logical approach, using science
4) Karma yoga – the yoga of action, selfless service
5) Bhakti yoga - devotion
6) Mantra Yoga - the yoga of sound
7) Tantric yoga – last 1000 years or more, embrace everything, everything is part of the ultimate reality
8) Kundalini Yoga
In this blog, I am going to elaborate on the first two Yoas, that is Raja and Hatha.
1) Raja Yoga
Rāja yoga often is called the royal path of yoga and especially since the 19th-century Swami Vivekananda equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sûtras of Patañjali. The ultimate stage of Raja Yoga is the meditative state (Samadhi). It is achieved by a non-physical approach mainly through studying the mind in meditation. Many people need to practice physically Hatha Yoga first to be able to sit still and observe the mind in meditation. Here hatha yoga serves as the method to achieve Yoga.
Meditation must be experienced and is difficult to describe. We take our awareness on a journey to different parts of our mind to achieve self-realisation. The image of a cobra is used symbolically depicting the mental bearing down and blocking out external distractions to achieve a one-pointed focus. For example, in the invocation dedicated to Patañjali above ‘who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra’.
There are different types of Meditation, according to different schools or traditions. You can sit in different postures (that are firm, stable but yet your mind is alert and your core soft) to facilitate the observing of your mind and the object of concentration can vary according to method and school. Some meditations use objects or ideas (those are called meditations with seed) and others are formless, void and focus on nothingness (without seed).
The most auspicious spiritual hours of meditation are dusk and dawn. This is when it is quiet, and we find fewer disturbances and our mind is, therefore, more likely to be in a state of clarity.
The mind (manas) is influenced by different energies or vital essences that are essential and help us in our spiritual transformation. Those subtle energies sustain our physical vitality, mental clarity and our health overall.
Those vital essences or types of subtle energy, we can tap or tune into, are:
Ojas - subtle energy of water and is related to our metabolism and digestion. For example, according to the Charaka Samhita, “a diminished level of ojas leads to the person being weak, fearful, anxious, weakened mental ability and can easily get ill, e.g. catch colds frequently, feel under the weather and suffers from fatigue.”
Prana – vital energy or spontaneous energy, to do with our intuition.
Tejas is a Sanskrit term and translates to ‘fire’ (the inner fire or intense inner power) or ‘illumination.’ It is also one of the five gross material elements that make up the body in Samkhya philosophy. This inner power is a kind of deep enquiry into life. Through this inner radiance, we digest all of our impressions, thoughts and visual impressions. It is the essence of heat we absorb through food (as well as sunshine). This internal fire is fuelled by Ojas (the physical and mental endurance energy).
There are different stages of meditation, so fixing the mind on an object (sound, breath or picture), allowing a free flow of thoughts and thereby exploring our lower mind, we can explore superconscious realms and transcend our mind finally to attain what the sages called “oneness’.
“The energy of the mind is the essence of life” Aristotle
2) Hatha Yoga
Often the term Hatha Yoga gets confused with being a simple soft practice in comparison to what people perceive as stronger practices, such as Vinyasa Yoga. However, that is not necessarily true. Vinyasa is an invention of more modern times. In contrast, the physical aspect of Hatha goes back into history and the physical aspect as practised by ascetics of ancient times involved some pretty tough austerities.
Definition of Hatha in a more modern context:
Hatha was made available to the householder (you and me) and watered down throughout time. Hatha gets translated as ‘physical force’ or ‘forceful’. However, ‘force’ or ‘forces’ can also relate to energetic forces within the body. If we apply too much force, apart from possible injury, we may block the free communication of those energy forces.
There are opposite forces in everything. You may have heard that HA translates as the Sun and THA the Moon (an early text called Bija Yoga that watered down the meaning of Hatha as described previously in the Pradipika and earlier versions). Opposite forces are like Yin and Yang, Femininity and Masculinity, Cold and Heat, High Pressure and Low Pressure etc.
For example, we are moving energy from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area. The physical force that generates heat is High Pressure, and the physical force that generates coolness is Low Pressure. Our body acts in the same way as the weather. Give it too much force, and it will be like a devastating storm, but with not enough force, no movement might take place, and it feels lethargic, heavy and stale. A body can get too hot or too cold. Through Hatha Yoga, we can regulate those forces and either encourage more heat or more coolness.
Yoga translates to ‘union’, so it’s also the union of opposing forces. We get the movement of information and energy when we practice hatha yoga effectively. We get this movement of information and consciousness not only through the pumping of the heart (the heart is not necessarily the most effective distributor of blood) but through effective muscle activation and relaxation, specific breathing exercises, gravitational pulling, applying of bandhas (co-activation of opposing muscle groups) and rapid movements. This movement of information or consciousness (chitta) and vital energy (prana) is said to flow through the channels (nadis) in our body.
To keep the pressure between any given two body parts in balance and not to overstimulate (i.e. work with the minimum effort to encourage maximum circulation), we must keep certain parts of our body soft and at low pressure (e.g. face, neck and heart). This is important as otherwise there might be increased blood and stressful and potential harmful pressure to this area.
Increased blood pressure to the heart can result in an alteration of the heart rate. This, combined with breath control, can increase/decrease the rate. The movement of energy and communication throughout the body does not have to be through cardiovascular fitness in yoga. Still, it can happen through other circulatory pumps (e.g. musculoskeletal or respiratory pump of circulation etc.)
“A Yogi is said to measure his life not by his or her heartbeat, but by the breath”
The minimum physical effort gets the yogi the best results. Too much effort in attempting to move energy through the body can block the communication and distribution of energy throughout your body.
“Hatha Yoga is bringing opposing forces within our body into balance for a maximum flow of information and energy so that we can realise yoga”
As we already have seen, there are different types of Prana, sheaths and winds. There is heat energy, electrical heat or electromagnetic energy, physical heat, molecules that can carry, e.g. glucose and electromagnetic energy. Chitta (consciousness, information flow) can include electrical signals, electrochemical, electromagnetic fields or other information-carrying molecules, such as neurotransmitters and hormones, information molecules from one immune cell to another. Nadis can be anything, such as blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, acupuncture meridians and connective tissue (applied Anatomy and Physiology of Synergy Yoga).
Acupuncture meridians and pressure points (Chinese) overlap with the ayurvedic system of nadis and marma points. The Indian ayurvedic system talks of Marmas (Sanskrit origin word 'mri' meaning ‘death’ and Marma hidden or secret). By definition, a Marma point is a junction on the body where two or more types of tissue meet, such as muscles, veins, ligaments, bones or joints. When a marma activates, it forms a chakra.
Our body is said to have more than 72,000 energy channels (nadis), but commonly the most important ones mentioned are three along the spine:
Ida (left channel or esoterically called Shakti – the female power in nature, associated with the moon, being cold and colour white)
Pingala (right channel and esoterically associated with Shiva or the male energy in nature, associated with the sun, being hot and colour red)
Sushuma (along the spine or central channel) where energy moves through.
The purpose is to activate Sushuma and not to stay in the dualities of our mundane world.
Those three main nadis start at the first energy wheel, and meeting point Muladhara kanda (see below) and ida goes out through the left nostril, pingala through the right nostril. Along the spine, they cross over 5 times and another two times above the spine like a spiral (eye brown centre and crown of the head) and form the 7 main chakras.
Those are the 7 main chakras (however some books speak of about 108 chakras, some 114 – 112 within the body and 2 outside – minor chakras are in legs, hands, elbows, tongue, clavicle, shoulder, eyes, ears and nose etc. Not all chakras are active, and some are dormant.
In Muladhara (the root chakra) lies Shakti, the static and unmanifested Kundalini, which is symbolized again by a snake, but this time by a serpent coiled into three and a half circles around the central axis at the base of the spine. The serpent lies blocking the entrance to Sushumna with his mouth and waits for this unifying power of the two opposing forces to pierce through and energise the chakras. It is the awakening of Consciousness, leading to a higher evolved being. When they meet again at the eyebrow centre liberation takes place through the highest centre at the crown of the head. Along this evolutionary path, we experience certain obstacles and knots that tie us back to earthly possessions and attachments.
“When the dormant Kundalini is aroused by the grace of the guru, then alone can all the padmas (lotus flowers chakras) and the granthis (knots) be opened” Hatha Yoga Pradipika 111.2
Each of those chakras connects and affect our nervous and endocrine system and therefore are responsible for our emotional well-being (feeling fearful, courageous, balanced, unbalanced, joyful or angry/sad etc.) and the development of our personality.
Energy wheels (chakras) and points (107/108 Marmas), we may know them as ‘Acupressure point’ or “Acupuncture points” (Chinese medicine) get activated. For example, in martial arts, Marma points are denominated as ‘dim maks’ meaning ‘touch of death’. This is a point you can hit somebody, and he or she dies, once a person knows how to activate those points fully, they become ‘invincible’.
Those energy centres or points can be charged; they can lack or are deficient or have an excess of energy. Yoga aims to balance the flow of energy and information. You can compare this to a powerhouse, you don’t want too many dim lights or a blackout, but neither do you want to cause an explosion, but a constant flow of the appropriate level of energy & lighting.
A major chakra can be found (as explained above) at an intersecting point of two major nadis (ida and pingala: energy channels along the spine where the sushuma, another major Nadi, flows). Some minor chakras are to be found between intersecting points of blood vessels and nerves.
There are said to be up to 114 chakras in our body plus 75,000 energy channels (nadis) and about 107/108 marmas, but most textbooks only speak about the 7 main chakras.
Lotus flowers traditionally depict charkas. The lotus flower was chosen long ago to symbolize the chakras because a lotus flower rises through the mud to light, symbolically it is our life rising through difficult situations/pain / karmic mental imprints gaining experience and maturity to become a more enlightened and contented being. The more lotus petals a chakra contains, the higher the vibration of that chakra.
If you want to learn more, why not join my next yoga teacher training? I also offer online classes and workshops. Please send me an email for further information. You will learn about different forms of yoga, different traditions and more.