Hatha Yoga is what most people think of when they hear the word “yoga”. Hatha yoga is the practice of asana, or physical postures, and it is used to balance and purify the body and mind in preparation for more advanced practices.
In addition to the asanas that many people are familiar with, Hatha Yoga also includes shatkarmas, or cleansing practices. (For information on Hatha Yoga cleanses at Anahata, please click here.)
The practices of mudras and bandhas are also a part of Hatha Yoga. Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements or positions done with the hands, head or whole body. They alter the mood, perception and deepen awareness and concentration. The aim is to link the neo-cortex with the limbic and instinctual structures of the brain, bringing the practitioner out of unconscious habitual patterns and emotional reactions and into more conscious control.
Bandhas were originally understood as types of mudras, and they are often used in conjunction with mudra as well as pranayama. Bandha means to “hold”, “tighten” or “lock” in Sanskrit, which is an apt literal description of how to perform a bandha. The intention of bandha is to hold prana (energy) in a specific area in order to then redirect the movement of prana for spiritual awakening.
For CDs of Hatha Yoga classes, please click here.
"Karma is literally translated as action, which everyone in this world performs, whether consciously or unconsciously. When the word yoga is added to the word karma, then it means that any action performed with a meditative awareness becomes karma yoga."
- Swami Niranjanananda
Karma Yoga is the yoga of dynamic meditation. Through Karma Yoga, qualities such as being present with the action, witnessing the inevitable thoughts, and remaining unattached to the results of the action can be perfected. Karma Yoga is performing each task with meditative awareness.
In this existence, we cannot live without acting, as thought, speech, movement are all part of action. Therefore, here at Anahata, we see all our activities as an opportunity for reflection and growth. All guests are invited to join Anahata's Residents in contributing to the Retreat through the practice of Karma Yoga. We invite you to bring a new quality to your everyday actions through seeing “work” in a new light. The attitude developed during the practice of karma yoga can be brought back to your life thereby transforming daily living into conscious living.
“Bhakti is an inherent part of every individual. Bhakti, devotion, faith, or the ability to surrender, is the result of being open in mind and in spirit.”
- Swami Niranjanananda (Yoga Darshan)
Bhakti Yoga is a systematic means of channeling the emotions to assist in spiritual awakening. On a practical level it can give individuals the tools to transform troublesome emotions such as fear and anger and to focus this energy on a higher purpose.
Bhakti means “devotion” in Sanskrit. The practice of Bhakti Yoga from a spiritual perspective is focusing on serving the Divine, allowing the spirit of service and love to purify and transform us, resulting in noticeable changes in every corner of our being – from our innermost thoughts to our external interactions with others.
How, where and with whom we practice Bhakti Yoga will vary from individual to individual. It can be practiced in any service or relationship; it is about the attitude that we cultivate through practicing selflessness and compassion, not the context. Bhakti Yoga is practiced through Anahata chakra, as Anahata is where we purify our emotions. When Anahata chakra is purified we embody selfless love, compassion and devotion.
"Everything that is manifest vibrates, and if it vibrates then it is bound to have sound, even if the human ear does not hear it. Sound is the root from where vibrations emerge. In the experience of stillness lies the beginning of sound."
- Swami Muktidharma
The world is composed of vibration. In a forest, the natural vibrations induce relaxation. In a city environment, the noises have a different effect. Thus, by chanting positive vibrations, or mantras, there is a positive affect on the body and mind.
The word mantra has two roots: “man” from the word for “mind” and “tra” meaning “tool” or “to release”. So the idea behind mantra is a tool to release the mind. Mantras are combinations of syllables or words that are chanted to stimulate and awaken the faculties of different chakras. They have a purifying effect, clearing the body-mind of negative impressions and tendencies. The meaning of the words in a mantra is not important; the impact of a mantra lies in the effect each particular sound vibration has on the body. The most common short mantra is Om.
It is possible to demonstrate scientifically the benefits of chanting Om for the human mind. If we connect the electrodes of an ECG machine to the scalp of a yogi who is chanting Om for some time, we can see how the sound vibrations create alpha waves, which are the brain waves of deep relaxation. This type of deep relaxation has a tremendous effect on our health and well-being. Other sounds and practices of yogic meditation techniques also have the capacity to create alpha waves.
For CDs of kirtans and mantras, please click here.
Jnana yoga is a process of sincere self-enquiry using the intellect to attain true wisdom and, eventually, realisation. It is closely linked with meditation.
We use the witness awareness to reflect back on our actions and thoughts with the aim of gaining deeper self-understanding. Swami Niranjan has also developed the “SWAN” technique as a practical means for individuals to practice self-enquiry and self-analysis as the basis for developing wisdom. SWAN is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs. Through deeply reflecting on each of these aspects over time, we come to know and understand ourselves objectively. As we come to have a true understanding of ourselves, we come to understand the nature of life itself and develop intuitive wisdom, eventually culminating in an experience of inner unity.
Raja Yoga stems from the ancient text Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. The eight stages of yoga that Patanjali describes are together called Raja Yoga.
Raja Yoga is well known for its ethical guidelines of yamas (self-restraints) and niyamas (observances).
The yamas are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (moderation) and aparagraha (non-possessiveness).
The niyamas are: saucha (purity), santosh (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (study) and ishvar pranidhana (surrender).
These form the basis for remaining six stages of Raja Yoga: asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and meditation. The ultimate aim is samadhi - merging with universal consciousness.
It should be noted that these practices as taught in Raja Yoga are quite advanced, it is not for beginners or intermediate practitioners, but for persons who have already purified themselves to a great degree through Hatha, Karma and Bhakti yogas and awareness meditation techniques. For an explanation of Raja Yoga and commentary on the Yoga Sutras, see Four Chapters on Freedom by Swami Satyananda.