What is Yoga?
Yoga is a tantric tradition
that teaches mastery of the body. This includes not only control of bones
and muscles, not to mention the mind, but also, of subtle aspects or energies
such as the "winds," "drops" and "channels." In other words, it comprises
much more than the stretching and breathing exercises usually called Hatha
The most dramatic proof of accomplishment that the general public is likely
familiar with is "raising
Kundalini" , a feature of Hinduist tradition.
:: See also, Lotus
Yoga and Buddhism
Himalayan Buddhism has strong links with the yoga tradition.
Indeed several contemporary Buddhist masters are yogis in their own right.
Also, the founders of many ancient lineages -- Buddhist or other -- were known, during their lifetimes, as mahasiddhas
(Skt. for greatly accomplished) a description that means people able to perform wondrous activities
through mastery of yoga.
The teacher of the great Tibetan Yogin, Milarepa, was Marpa the Tibetan
translator, whose own guru was the Indian Naropa, and among his
teachers was Tilopa, from Bengal. The
chain of transmission to those great Buddhist yogis undoubtedly included many
masters (not all of whom were men) whose own teachers were not always
Legend of the Founder
The origins of yoga probably pre-date by thousands of years the life of sage Patanjali,
who is generally estimated to have lived between the 5th and 2nd centuries
He is the one credited with codifying yoga in a 4-chapter work called Yoga
Darshana, a sutra that comprises a mere 196 lines of
Patanjali had also written the Mahabhasya, a classical work on grammar and another on
Ayurveda, the science of life and health. On the strength of
his expositions on yoga, grammar and ayurveda, Patanjali came to be regarded as the foremost thinker of his time.
Even today, Patanjali’s works are followed by yogis in their effort to develop a refined language, a cultured body and a civilized mind.
BKS Iyengar. Light on
the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Harper Collins, 1993.
His name derives from Pata meaning he fell and anjali the
kneeling posture with palms pressed that signifies supplication/worship.
It refers to his origins:
Once, when Lord Vishnu was seated on his couch supported by Lord Adishesha (the
king of all serpents,) and they were watching Lord Shiva's dance of enchantment (Skt.
tandava nrtya,) Lord
Vishnu became so absorbed in the movements of Lord Shiva that
his body began
to vibrate to the tandava rhythm. The vibration made him heavier and heavier
causing a lot of discomfort to Lord Adishesha who, nearing
the point of collapse, was
gasping for breath.
But as soon as the dance came to end, Lord Vishnu's body once again became
Lord Adishesha was amazed at the transformation and asked his master
the cause of the changes. Lord Vishnu
explained about the emotional impact, the aesthetic and
kinaesthetic effects that dance can have on the spectator. Marveling at this,
Adishesha was then inspired to learn to
dance to do honour to his lord.
Lord Vishnu reflected on that aspiration, and then made
the prediction that soon Lord Shiva would request of Adishesha that he write a commentary on grammar.
At that time, he would also be
able to devote himself to the art of dance.
Hearing this, Lord Adishesha was filled with joy and eagerly looked forward to the
future grace of Lord Shiva. He meditated in order to ascertain the manner
of his next incarnation, and then he had a vision of Gonika, a female ascetic adept
tapasvini, yogini) who was praying for a son to whom she
could transmit her knowledge and wisdom.
Now, Gonika, thinking that her life was about to end, had not yet found anyone to whom she could transmit her
knowledge. As a last resort, when her austerities had come to an end,
she called upon the
Sun God, who is a witness to all on earth, and prayed that
he fulfill her wish. Taking a handful of water as a final offering,
she closed her eyes and
concentrated on the Sun.
Then, looking at her hands as she was
about to offer the water, much to her surprise, she
noticed a tiny snake moving in the cup of her palms. As she looked, the
snake assumed human form, and prostrating to the yogini, he asked her to accept him as her son.
She was overjoyed and accepted, and for his act of devotion, she named him Patanjali.
"The study of the eight limbs [Skt. ashtanga]
of yoga leads to the purification of the body, the mind, the intellect.
The flame of knowledge is kept burning and discrimination is aroused."
BKS Iyengar, the 20th-century Hindu master, who also said:
"Even though it has been suggested that
the 196 Aphorisms attributed to him are in fact the collected works of more than
one author, Patanjali is always referred to as
svayambhu, an evolved soul who
incarnated in order to help humanity. These uncertain details need not detract
from the wisdom to be found in the Yoga Sutras which open with a code of
conduct and close with a vision of man's true nature.
At this point we may profitably look at the principles which sustain Buddhist and
Yogic practice. Both the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism and the Eight Limbs
of Yoga provide a context in which meditation can take root. If we do not set
meditation within the context of a whole life, we make the fundamental mistake
of believing that we can simply add practice to daily live without truly making the
space to incorporate and integrate its effects.
There is some noteworthy
similarity between The Noble Eightfold Path and The Eight Limbs of
each case a moral framework precedes meditation practice. Both traditions
establish clear moral ground rules which cover behaviour in all forms, social,
moral and ethical. Buddhism sets out the Five
Precepts: killing, stealing, sexual
misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants are expressly forbidden. Yoga
commences with the Five Yamas: non-violence or non injury, truthfulness, not
stealing, chastity and non acquisitiveness. Both traditions build the practice of
meditation upon a period of moral and ethical preparation."
May 5/04, The (Houston) Chronicle, "Tibetan yoga found to help improve sleep,"
by Kate Ramsayer:
East meets West in one corner of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson
Cancer Center, where researchers are using the techniques of Western
medicine to examine the efficacy of Eastern practices.
Along with his colleagues, Dr. Lorenzo Cohen of M.D. Anderson recently
published a report in the journal Cancer that found cancer patients who
participated in a Tibetan yoga course noticed improvements in their
"It was quite remarkable to us that we were actually able to have an
impact on patients' sleep," said Cohen, the director of the integrative
medicine center at M.D. Anderson and an associate professor in the
behavioral science department.
"Cancer patients' sleep can be so disruptive, so to have designed a
program that significantly improved their sleep seems quite beneficial."
The yoga that patients practiced was not the Hatha yoga that is familiar
to many people, but is based on forms called Tsa lung and Trul
described in 11th century Tibetan texts.
Alejandro Chaoul-Reich, a doctoral candidate in the religion department
at Rice University, is writing his dissertation on these texts and a
19th century commentary on them. The documents, he said, impart
techniques of breathing, focusing the mind and movement.
"The main thing is that (practitioners) can find a way to tame what we
call the 'monkey mind' that goes from here to there, emotion to
emotion," he said. "Especially when (patients are) undergoing treatment,
there are so many other things going on in their lives."
The study, conducted at M.D. Anderson's Place of Wellness, looked at a
group of 38 patients who were undergoing cancer treatment or had
recently completed treatment.
(The Place of Wellness provides services such as acupuncture, tai chi
and workshops to cancer patients, their families and supporters who are
interested in using other therapies.)
Half of the patients were randomly assigned to a group that attended
Tibetan yoga classes once a week for seven weeks; the others were put on
a waiting list for the program. All patients answered questions about
their sleep patterns and state of mind before the program started and
after the classes were completed.
The researchers found that while yoga did not make a significant
difference in the patients' level of anxiety or depression, it did
improve their sleep patterns. Also, the yoga practitioners reported that
they found the course to be beneficial.
In fact, three years after the study was performed, Georgia Williams of
Houston still takes 45 minutes or an hour out of her day to do the
movements and breathing exercises she learned from Chaoul.
"Sometimes I would think, `Oh, I can't do this today,' but after I have
done the exercises, there's a sense of well-being," said Williams.
"You're more alert; it's invigorating."
This study is part of the research component in the integrative medicine
program. Integrative medicine combines traditional Western medicine with
other treatments such as acupuncture or herbal supplements, which may or
may not have been proven to be effective.
Cohen and his colleagues are also interested in subjecting traditional
Chinese treatments to the experimental protocols that American and
European researchers use to test potential cancer drugs. M.D. Anderson
and the Cancer Hospital, Medical Center of Fudan University in Shanghai,
China, recently received a grant for such a study.
"We'll conduct rigorous research on the types of treatments they are
currently using to treat cancer in China and see if some of these
natural products should be brought to the U.S.," Cohen said.
The integrative medicine program also emphasizes education about the use
of non-Western treatments and cementing communication between patients
and their health care providers, Cohen said.
svayambhu: self-manifested, taking form
Tsa lung and Trul
khor: Prana and chakra are the corresponding Hindu
terms. The first refers to special breathing techniques that help direct
"psycho-physical" energy to, and/or through, a system of nexuses (neural
"wheels") experienced as part of our "aetheric" body.
visualization: The example is not applicable
to every case. The syllables can depend upon the particular deity.
It is not recommended that you play around with this without guidance from a
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