Balance Yoga Poses
HATHA-YOGA – THE PRELIMINARY STAGE
Today, in many societies around the world, yoga has become very popular. There are innumerable yoga centers that teach the rudimentary aspects of the yoga system under the name of hatha-yoga, which is generally practiced as a form of physical exercise, to achieve good health, relaxation and peace of mind. The word ‘hatha’ means to ‘persist’. Therefore hatha-yoga means to practice or persist with perfecting the various sitting postures called asanas in order to achieve pranayama, or the system of regulating the breathing. The practice of yoga is not actually meant for the purpose of gaining some material benefit like good health, a good physique, or peace of mind etc. Although these benefits can be achieved along with many more such as the astha-siddhis (mystic powers), the real purpose of yoga is to gain control over the senses so that one can achieve perfect concentration while in meditation. No one has control over their mind or senses and consequently people are driven almost by force to engage in various aspects of sense gratification, simply due to the demand of the mind and senses. Those who are very much absorbed in the bodily concept of life, for them, hatha-yoga is prescribed in order to arrest the roving senses and gain control over them by a mechanical process.
However, hatha-yoga without yama and niyama is of no value as far as self-realization is concerned. The word ‘yama’ means ‘control’, or controlling the senses and ‘niyam’ means ‘regulation’ or the practice of ‘regulative principles’ Thus a yogi must follow the strict principles of sadhana meaning regulative practices, beginning with the four cardinal rules: no meat-eating, no illicit-sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. A yogi must eat food that is conducive to spiritual advancement and the flesh of animals cannot be consumed because it is procured through violence (ugra-karma) and produces negative reactions. The actual purpose of yoga is to achieve selfrealization and complete cognizance of God’s existence, therefore one has to be very serious if he wants to become a successful yogi.
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There are many new-age yoga gurus, who promote the mundane concept of yoga as a means of material improvement, by proclaiming the side-effects of yoga practice, like good health and peace of mind etc, as the ultimate goal. Thus they misguide people by coining slogans like ‘the art of living’, when in fact, yoga is only concerned with the ‘art of dying’. The whole process of yoga is directed towards achieving freedom from the mortal coil at the time of death and ending materialistic existence. The new-age yoga gurus are more like doctors than gurus, directing their followers to practice yoga to cure ailments, or promote their own brand of ayurvedic medicines. Therefore, such followers never understand the true purpose of yoga and consequently waist there valuable time in pursuing materialistic life in the name of yoga. The word yoga means reunion with God, therefore if the goal of yoga is not reunion with the Supreme Lord, then that is not yoga, but simply bhoga or sense gratification, and the guru is simply a bhogachary, or in other words completely bogus.
Hatha-yoga is a preliminary stage in the eight-fold path known as ashtanga-yoga that was taught by Patanjali Muni, and recorded in his famous Yoga Sutras. The word ‘ashtanga’ means ‘eight-armed’ and the ashtanga system contain eight levels that lead to attainment of samadhi, or complete absorption in the Supreme. The eight levels are; yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The ashtanga-yoga system must culminate in bhakti-yoga, the yoga of unadulterated devotion to God, which is the perfection of samadhi. Hatha-yoga requires one to practice various sitting postures (asana) and then perfect the art of controlled rhythmical breathing (pranayama). Once the preliminary steps of asana, pranayama, yama, and niyama are mastered, one can go to the next level in the ashtanga-yoga system, which is dhyana-yoga or contemplation. Thus, by the yoga process, the conditioned living entity can, step by step, gradually gain control over his mind and senses, which results in peace, tranquility, and a deep sense of spiritual happiness. As one advances in yoga, the symptoms of ecstatic love and spiritual bliss will eventually become manifest as one becomes more and more absorbed in love of God. Such ecstatic love is known as prema or prema-bhakti. “A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad reactions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, which is the art of all work.” (Bg. 2.50)