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Yoga: An Important Asset for the Four Pillars

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Disclaimer: Although I am a Certified Personal Trainer equipped to teach yoga, I am not an expert in the art of yoga nor do I know the intricate workings of the different types of yoga. I am a counselor and trainer who uses yoga to help myself and my clients to cope with all four pillars of wellness.

Yoga - What is it?

Yoga is a group of physical, spiritual, and mental practices that originated in ancient India as one of the six schools of Hindu philosophical traditions (Feurstein, 2012). Over the years, yoga has become a widely-accepted and respected form of exercise, self-care, and relaxation. Yoga does not have one religion or belief, it can be used by anyone. There are seven yoga traditions:

  • Classic Yoga

  • Buddhist Yoga

  • Jain Yoga

  • Yoga in Advaita Vedanta

  • Tantric Yoga

  • Hatha Yoga

  • Laya/Kundalini Yoga

Classic Yoga


Also known as Astanga (or yoga of eight limbs) and Raja Yoga, Classic Yoga is a tradition of yoga that focuses on the eight limbs (also called arms) and the various techniques that learners can use to built their yoga practice. Classical yoga requires concentration, discipline, eventually, enlightenment. The eight limbs are different levels of enlightenment that a yoga learning can reach. It is believed that once one reaches the eighth limb they are "free from Karma". The eight limbs are described below:

  1. Yamas: attitudes toward the environment

  2. Niyamas: attitudes toward ourselves

  3. Asanas: physical postures

  4. Pranayama: restraint or expansion of the breath

  5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses

  6. Dharana: concentration

  7. Dhyana: profound meditation

  8. Samadhi: state of meditative consciousness (also known as "perfect" consciousness)


Buddhist Yoga


Buddhist yoga encompasses a variety of methods that all aim to develop key "virtues" known as the 37 aids to awakening. Buddhist yoga, as the Buddhist religion, focuses a lot on mediation and reaching awakening or nirvana. In early Buddhist yoga practice (and Buddhism), six categories of yoga practices were taught:

  • The four dhyanas - four meditations or mental absorptions

  • The four satipatthanas - foundations or establishments of mindfulness

  • Anapanasati - mindfulness of breath

  • The four immaterial dwellings - supranormal states of mind

  • The brahmavihārās - divine abodes

  • Anussati - contemplation, recollections

Buddhism and yoga recognize that we all suffer and freedom from suffering is possible.



Jain Yoga


Jain yoga comes from Jainism. Jain spirituality is based on a strict code of nonviolence including vegetarianism. People who share these beliefs also believe in fasting, karma, and pursuit of knowledge (Mahapragya, 2004). Jainism encourages discipline, asceticism, and self-actualization. Followers believe in five vows:

  1. Ahimsa - non-violence

  2. Satya - truthfulness

  3. Asteya - not stealing

  4. Brahmacharya - chastity

  5. Aparigraha - non-posessiveness

Jains also believe in a threefold path to "Moksha" which translates to spiritual liberation.

The Three Jewels of Jainism are:

  1. Right view

  2. Right knowledge

  3. Right conduct

Jains believe that yoga helps then to keep their five vows and work toward Moksha.




Yoga in Advaita Vedanta


This type of yoga draws from Hindu influence. Important parts of this type of yoga include seeking awakening, self-realization, the ultimate truth, and unification of the individual soul and the ultimate reality. This type of unification and awakening is typically referred two as two types of "self-knowledge" (or Ātma-jñāna) - Astitva-jñāna, knowledge of one’s existence and Svarūpa-jñāna, knowledge of one’s true nature.


Advaita Vedanta has four foundational principles:

  1. the illusoriness of jīvatva, individuality

  2. a two-level reality

  3. ajñāna as the conjoint cause of the world

  4. the non-duality of Consciousness

These principles and beliefs show themselves in the yoga practice through meditation, introspection, and mindfulness.



Tantric Yoga

Tantric Yoga is one of the most taboo types of yoga as many people assume that it is sexual in nature. Tantrism focuses strongly on the feminine and the masculine and the juxtaposition between the two. Tantric yoga focuses strongly and mantra and yantra which are both tools used to enhance meditation. Mantra is the thing you say to yourself in mediation. Some use affirmations such as "I am enough" and other use mantras such as "life is beautiful". Yantras are the physical tools one uses for meditation such as a temple or a sacred place.


Tantric yoga, in practice, involves the following:

  • Asana - physical poses

  • Mantra - verbal phrases

  • Mudra - hand gestures used in yoga

  • Bandha - energy locks that run along the spine

  • Chakra - energy center


Hatha Yoga


Hatha comes from the Sankrit word meaning "force". This type of yoga emphasizes physical posture, balance, strengthening, and strengthening of the body. It pulls from all different types of yoga, but focuses on the physical attributes. This is the type of yoga that one is most likely to find in their local gym as a group exercise class. Hatha yoga rarely includes formal meditation or spiritual teachings as it is focused largely on the physical aspects that come with the yoga practice.



Laya/Kundalini Yoga


Both Laya and Kundalini Yoga are hatha-like practices that have their own independent approaches to yoga.

Laya Yoga focuses on meditative absoprtion (or laya). This type of yoga seeks transcendence, sensory experiences, and self-consciousness through listening to the "inner sound" (Feuerstein, 1989).

Kundalini is the technique meant to awaken the spiritual energy in the body. The Kundalini" is known as the "coiled one" like a snake that is disturbed so that it may uncoil and awaken (Vishnudevananda, 1999). Chakra is used often in Kundalini yoga and the kundalini is said to reside in the lowest chakra (seen above: Muladhara/Pelvic Plexus).


Spirituality/Religion


Although yoga began in Hindu, Tantric, and Buddhist belief systems, it is used world-wide regardless of the belief systems. The Catholic church essentially practices mantras through their repeated prayers. Christians of all kinds practice meditation every time they pray. Many strong beliefs that are shared in the yoga community involve eating healthy, doing no harm, and telling the truth which are all represented in the Christian and Jewish religious texts through phrases such as 'your body is a temple', 'thou shall not kill' and 'thou shalt not bear false witness'.


The Point


Yoga helps those who practice to get in touch with their own spirituality, gain mental clarity, promote physical wellness, and socialize with like-minded others regardless of their religion, sexuality, race, income, or any other category that separates people. This is why it is the most effective way to promote your own wellness in each of the four pillars. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend you find a practice that is comfortable for you or do some research and make your own yoga at home. This really is practice for everyone.


Resources

Feuerstein, Georg (2012). The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice.

Feuerstein, Georg (1989). Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy, J.P. Tarcher, p. 61.

Fohr, Sherry (2015), Jainism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mahapragya, Acharya (2004). "Foreword". Jain Yog. Aadarsh Saahitya Sangh.

Vishnudevananda, Swami (1999). Meditation and Mantras. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 89.

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