SIX THREADS OF YOGA
There are a lot of reasons to practice yoga including: increase strength and flexibility, good health, and or spiritual development. Here is our take on the most important six threads of yoga.
OVERVIEW OF YOGA AND ITS WESTERN INCEPTION
Yoga began over 5,000 years ago and has tried to answer fundamental questions about the human experience. What’s my life’s path? What is the source of discontent? How do I find lasting peace? Deep inside, people long to know themselves more fully and to live harmoniously. Yogis explored these questions from many angles and adapted their approach through time.
In our modern age people continue to find refuge in the principles of yoga. They find shelter from stress and anxiety, bodily woes, and feeling adrift within their own lives. Yoga is as timeless as the perennial questions it seeks to answer.
Yoga stems from an ancient time,
and from a culture situated halfway around the world.
It seems very unlikely that it would become
the global movement and industry that it is today.
Big Five sells yoga mats, you can find it in preschools and senior centers. And there are plenty of destination yoga retreats to choose from.
Traditionally speaking, yoga has far more to do with the quality and content of our mind than our outer appearance. The word yoga literally means to unite, which refers to the union of one’s individual Soul and the Supreme being.
Yoga is both a final destination and the means by which we grow from our current finite awareness into limitless consciousness. This process is not a straight-forward trajectory into the light.
Yoga is as much about understanding our shadows as
it is about understanding our light.
Shadows have a life of their own and they are a visceral part of the yoga journey. Yoga teaches how to move through shadows rather than repress or avoid them. The very circumstance of your life, your soul’s curriculum is the rough playing field of the yoga process.
All of our expectations, attachments, disappointments, successes and virtues are the vital nutrients for yoga. Yoga makes us resourced within the sometimes messy process of life. It ultimately leads to unbridled freedom. Being open to learn from all life experiences, both favorable and unfavorable, is food for wisdom.
Just as a lotus rises from the muck beneath the water’s surface,
so to our higher nature emerges from the vacillating content of our lives.
Asana can play an important part in the yoga process. A more comprehensive approach to yoga includes: philosophy, guidelines for personal conduct, pranayama, meditation and more. Practiced as an entire system, yoga touches every aspect of our lives,
THREAD #1: LINEAGE BASED YOGA TRAINING
Yoga has a rich and varied history. Unlike many of the world’s spiritual/religious systems yoga has no one particular founder such as Jesus, Buddha or Muhammad. Yoga arose out of the prophetic vision of the great rishis, or “seers”.
Their visions were handed down from teacher to student over the course of a millennium, and still exists to this day. Over the last century, and primarily since the 1960’s a few great masters established themselves in the U.S. One such master was Baba Hari Dass (1923-2018) under whom our staff studied for decades. Hari Dass’ teaching of ayurveda, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga are the staple components of our yoga teacher training.
Rod Stryker also informs our approach to yoga. I first met Rod Stryker in 2011 and have since become a dedicated student, amassing well over 300 hours of study. I also assist him at workshops and retreats.
Rod is an internationally recognized teacher and lifelong student. He also happens to have been a resident of Denver during his formative years and was first exposed to yoga while living in our city.
He is a dedicated student of the Sri Vidya tradition and his teachings of Hatha Yoga and the metaphysical sciences of Tantra infuse our advanced trainings.
THREAD #2: AYURVEDA
Ayurveda is the ancient medical healing system of India. It has been taught in conjunction with yoga since the very beginning. According to Ayurveda, every person has a unique constitution. As such, their approach to health will be different. Ayurveda prescribes a different diet, lifestyle, herbs and a yoga practice based on a person’s constitution.
Having a lifestyle and doing yoga practices that align with one’s constitution is the cornerstone of physical health, increased happiness and spiritual evolution.
Denver Yoga Underground yoga teacher training students receive personal and collective support for making real world changes in their health and their lives. People experience profound shifts in their health and an overall sense of wellness.
Ayurveda is an integral part of our curriculum. It gives a framework in which to live a healthier lifestyle and is the perfect complement to yoga practice. It’s also an invaluable tool for assessing the needs of future students.
“Ayurveda is to free the mind from the body and
yoga is to free the Soul from the mind.”
– Baba Hari Dass
THREAD #3: RAJA YOGA
Written by the great sage Patanjali over 2,000 years ago, Raja Yoga literally means “The Royal Yoga.” It’s also called “Ashtanga Yoga” from which the famous “Eight Limbs of Yoga” are derived. In truth, the Eight Limbs are only a very small, but none-the-less a meaningful portion of the scripture.
The text is revered for presentation of yoga as a meditative path. In a loose sense, Patanjali outlines a form of yoga psychology. It describes the components and nature of the mind; how to overcome the trance of our own conditioning; and how to reach a state of unbridled freedom call kaivalya.
“Yoga is the stilling of all thought.”
– Yoga Sutra 1.2
THREAD #4: KARMA YOGA – THE YOGA OF SERVICE
Karma Yoga literally means the yoga of action. The word karma is the same word that is commonly used in English, as in “good karma,” or “bad karma.” More literally, it simply means “action”, as well as the corresponding result of an action.
To practice karma yoga, one performs all actions without selfish motivation. How many of our daily activities are geared around personal gain? What if everyone operated out of a mode of service to one another? How can I serve or help you? It would be a very different planet.
Great exemplars of karma yoga include Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Terresa and Thich Nat Han. All of them dedicated themselves to causes much greater than themselves and in the service to humanity.
Baba Hari Dass, the first of my two primary teachers was a master karma yogi. As a silent monk he led by example. He lifted rocks and pounded nails alongside his students to construct the Mount Madonna Center in California and the Salt Spring Center in Canada.
Both of these residential retreat centers serve many thousands of people each year. All the proceeds from his many books go directly to support the Sri Rama Orphanage in India, which was also constructed with the aid of his own two hands.
Working alongside Baba Hari Dass felt like you were
a part of a cause that was much greater than yourself.
Everyone was united by a common spirit of selfless service. In a larger sense, our efforts were in service to the creation herself.
You don’t have to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela to practice karma yoga. Karma yoga has less to do with the magnitude of the actions we perform, and more to do with the spirit in which we perform actions. Karma yoga asks us to act in service to the whole.
Operating in a mode of selfless service is a rare anomaly in American culture, where the emphasis is on personal gain. At DYU we try to emulate Hari Dass’ example by helping out at the church where we rent space and doing partner events with social advocacy groups such as Yoga for the People.
In part, this is what makes our programs richly satisfying for those who wish to grow beyond themselves.
“When dutiful action is performed solely because it should be done, forsaking attachment to it and its fruit, that renunciation is considered pure and wholesome.”
-Bhagavad Gita 18:9
THREAD #5: TANTRA YOGA
Evidence of Tantra dates back to the earliest yogic scriptures. Tantra holds that the world is a sacred emanation of the Divine and therefore life itself is sacred. There are dozens of tantric texts, of which many are not available in English. These texts describe metaphysical practices to merge with the Absolute. Meditation on the chakras is one example of these methodologies.
The early Tantrics saw the body as a consecrated shrine through which we can approach the Divine. They developed rituals and bodily methods, such as the asanas to prepare the physical and energetic bodies for deeper states of meditation. These meditations, in turn led to the Source of life itself.
“If you meet someone who is a truly devout tantric, you will discover a practitioner uniquely themselves, fully enmeshed in the world, fully focused with a dedication to just doing the practices as a method of tapping into the deep beauty and joy of liberation for themselves and for others. This form of awakening is the nectar, the juice, of real tantric practice.”
– Richard Freeman
THREAD #5: HATHA YOGA
The Tantric view of the body as a sacred vessel formed the foundation of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga laid the ground work for all the postures that we see today. Without Hatha Yoga there would be no restorative, yin, power, Forest, or Iyengar yoga classes.
The asanas are the second of seven steps that comprise the Hatha Yoga system. The purpose of asana is to purify the physical body and make it healthy. It also opens the channels of the subtle body to help prepare oneself to sit comfortably for meditation – free from physical discomfort. Done well, the postures also support mental stability. Postures are a means to a much greater end, and not an end unto themselves.
In the end, yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body and more to do with the happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential.
THREAD #6: ASANA
For many the postures are a gateway to yoga practice and open a new world of physical ease and mental health. And, the words asana and yoga are not the same. People often equate flexibility with mastery of yoga, which is not the case. In many cases postures that promote physical and mental stability are more beneficial. Yoga has far more to do with our mind than our body.
Additionally, yoga is a much bigger concept than asana is. You can do asana and not really cultivate yoga.
If one’s ego hinges on doing a handstand,
they’ve missed the yoga part.
Asana, will get you only so far on the path of yoga. Asana is limited in its ability to generate inner and outer transformation. It’s ability to expand your awareness and give peace is limited.
Traditionally speaking, asana is a preparatory method, the first of many steps that gradually draw one to the source of life itself. Pranayama, meditation and other methods are more integral to maturing in yoga.
Our approach is holistic, we present yoga as a comprehensive system that includes the postures. We place the asana within the larger scope of yoga practice. We also recognize that asana is an integral part of how we practice yoga in the West. Students in our yoga teacher training are versed in how to teach them in addition to other practices.