The first teacher training I participated in, the asana instructor looked around the classroom, smiled, and then asked me point blank in front of everyone else in the class:
"What is yoga?"
Except this was Rishikesh -- so he didn't say "yogā". He said "yoga", which actually sounds a lot more like "yog" to the native English speaker's ear....but this is neither here nor there.
Think about the question being asked.
Pause from reading, close your eyes and ask yourself:
"What is yoga?"
If you haven't studied this topic -- it would be natural, in this Western world, to assume that yoga is stretching and bending and the occasional headstand.
Even if you have studied for years and hold a deep practice, this might be the answer that felt right to you.
And to be real, that is yoga. All of the postures are the yoga asanas. It is a part of yoga.
If you're a theory junky like me, then you'll be interested to know that there are many "types of yoga" because yoga, by definition, roughly translates to "union".
What is yoga the union of?
The Ananda Foundation put it this way "...the aim of this science is to take the practitioner or yogi [yogini] to an awareness, not only underlying unity of all things, but also of his [or her] own essential identity with this deeper reality".
That is not crystal clear at all, is it?
For some of us it might be, but I wouldn't take it out on yourself internally if that was as clear as mud.
It's like this -- there is a duality that exists within us. It begins in our second chakra, Svadisthana. This duality is written all over us. This is the duality of existence between the conditioned self and the supreme self.
You know the conditioned self. You know what this self sounds like, the things that the conditioned self becomes stressed about, paranoid about, insecure, boastful, vindictive, distraught, elated, passionate so on, so on.
This self isn't all bad. This is the also the voice in your mind that loves, is considerate, plans ahead, calls to check-up on others... The conditioned self is ego.
Ego in the sense of the psychoanalytic definition: the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
The conditioned self is personal identity. The conditioned self lives and dies with this body.
My friend and fellow yogini, Hannah (@hanitasol) said something I loved the other day.
She said "I'm just asking myself lately, what is my yoga?"
Which got me to reviewing all of the different styles of yoga [union] that are recognized by the Indian Yoga Association. I've included a list of the schools of yoga and a brief paragraph describing the specific practice at the end of this article.
I've said it before and I will most likely say it again and again. Yoga is a science. All of the different disciplines of yoga -- they are the science of union. Yoga is science by the definition of what science is...hahaha, by definition.
Here is where "I" am at so far with my own studies and practice:
I am grateful for the insights, wisdom and teachings that traditional yogic knowledge offers. So much wisdom was lost from my families blood line when the Druids and the Gauls were conquered by the Romans -- but there is reason to believe that the teachings would have been similar.
I do not believe that you have to follow any path of any practice dogmatically. In fact, I would recommend constant caution of dogma. But ultimately, it is up to you.
I cannot help but intake information, process it and then produce readable and sharable experiences for others. This is part of my practice.
So I hope that the list provided below can serve as a compass point.
A keyword to google when researching your spirit.
A conceptual path that has existed for thousands of years that may help you on your exploration of yoga. On your path of union.
Do you know what I am saying when I say there is another part of you that exists as stillness?
Do you know the part of yourself that is peace?
Maybe you have experienced this at the end of an asana flow? When your body and mind have come together, when your breath surrenders to the rhythm of prāna (vital life force). Maybe you are already familiar with the union of the conditioned self with the supreme self.
I don't know...I'm not you.
What is yoga?
It is the goal.
Union of the conditioned self with the supreme self is to exist in a space that understands there was never a division to begin with.
Certain disciplines or practices of yoga are advisable (theoretically) to certain predispositions of the mind, while others are not. This is the benefit of working with a teacher who you understand and who understands you.
All of the Styles of Yoga
As put forward by my teacher Yogi Sachin Om I have included links to all of the books I have geeked out on over the years.
Hatha Yoga (Yoga of Body & Mind Purification)
The original gangster, so to speak. The most fundamental text of Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatamarama. We all begin our spiritual journey in the
vehicle that is the body -- for this reason, Hatha is often considered synonymous with yoga asanas. As a practice, Hatha is incomplete without teachings of Prānayāma and yoga science (there are 7 main components to the holistic practice of Hatha -- Hatha is a lifestyle of balancing sun and moon energy.)
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ahh...Ashtanga...Okay, so there are literally thousands upon thousands of articles about Ashtanga on the internet. Not to be confused with Ashta-anga (The 8 fold path). In 1948 Ashtanga was taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and it is rooted in the concept that there is one breath for each movement. The movements are meant to flow together so as to heat and detoxify the body. Not a walk in the park, my dudes. You are gonna sweat in Ashtanga Vinyasa. You are gonna union the selves tuh-day!
Mantra Yoga (Yoga of Recitation or Vibration)
Okay, first, a shameless plug -- the recent Creative BC Grant recipient, HalfAsian is going to be one of the facilitators joining us at Panther Lodge for our June retreat -- he studied Mantra Yoga in India some years back, he will be sharing and chanting during our asana sessions. The origins of this practice are in Vedic Science. Mantras are the chanting of syllables, words and phrases -- repeated in meditation these sounds will bring the conditioned mind to a higher state of consciousness -- supreme.
Raja Yoga (Yoga of Meditation / Royalty)
A practice such as Raja yoga is not recommended for a beginner. Raja yoga for the unprepared can easily have the un-prepared practitioner developing shame and guilt at inability. These are the systems described in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. (Just realized how badly I would like to write the mythos of Pantanjali). It is here that you will learn, embody and develop presence with the Yamas (restraints) and the Niyamas (disciplines).
Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)
Karma yoga is a practice best suited for one who finds divinity and reward in the work that they do; the action that they put forward in each moment -- but this is a difficult yoga to practice, because it is difficult to not include the concept of money as the reward for ones action. Work, with Karma yoga becomes worship.
Vijnana Yoga (Yoga of Enquiry)
Vijnana yoga is a practice best suited for the conditioned selves that require a realization before they may surrender to belief. This is a studying style of yoga that calls for experiencing inner unity. My teacher once put it, "Jnana is self-awareness leading to self-analysis". Jnana literally translates to "knowledge" -- this is not a necessary practice towards union for a conditioned self who is naturally predisposition towards a Bhakti path. Although, many who follow the Bhakti path also practice Jnana.
Iyengar Yoga (B.K.S Iyengar's Method)
Iyengar style of asana is what my (Colby's) teaching is rooted in. I studied his book, "Light on Yoga", while living off-grid in a hunting tent for two years. I also learned the asanas from a woman who studied under B.K.S Iyenger through her early twenties in India. She lives in Maui now. She doesn't believe in age, and I am down with her.
In Iyengar yoga it is taught that there is a correct way to do each pose and that through constant practice we can obtain perfection.
I have released this expectation of perfection but have chosen to hold on to the alignment discipline that Iyengar developed. This methodology is owed merit on the account that this man shouldn't have been able to walk by what the doctors told him. He was sick and he practiced religiously. So in many ways, the proof is in the pudding with Iyengar's modern yoga. A major innovation that Iyengar yoga gave us is the use of props to maintain a true alignment. Iyengar style of yoga requires the student to acknowledge where they are not perfect as opposed to pushing through the posture in an effort to simply "do" it
Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion)
Essentially, the Bhakti path is the path towards union that disciples of all religions are practicing. This path of conditioned self uniting with supreme self calls for a strong emotional bond with the object of faith -- the Godhead. That could be the Universe if that's the language that works for you. In India I was told that this is the path which is most natural for women... I don't know -- I'm just repeating what I was told.
Kundalini Yoga (Yoga of Energy)
To be a practitioner of Kundalini you are in essence a practitioner concerned with the awakening of the psychic centres or chakras, which exist in each and every one of us. There are seven major chakras and all must be awakened for Kundalini Shakti to ascend and create union between the physical self and the supreme consciousness. Earth and consciousness. Physical and energetic. Deep concentration, asanas, prānayāma, mudras, bandha and other forms of yoga such as mantra are engaged in this union science.
Kriya Yoga (Yoga of Acceleration)
Kriyas are not easy for me to explain. I am still practicing, I am still working with my teachers. Kriya is a very ancient tradition that was passed down orally for thousands of years. It was recently popularized by Yoganada in his book "Autobiography of a Yogi", likely, you have seen this book. It is wildly famous. Kriya works with Kundalini energy and it is a combination of Prānayāma, meditation, postures, philosophies and daily observances. It can be quite intense. It is the Kriya teachings practiced in Kundalini Yoga which are emphasized as that they should not be practiced without a teacher.
Side note for those who read this far: I chose to certify as a Kundalini Instructor because for seven years I studied out of books by myself (on recommendation from the Iyengar teacher, who told me "a good book is better than a poor teacher"). Every time I read of Kundalini and Kriya my printed teachers emphasized the importance of working with a trained master or instructor.