Yoga paths for mental and physical health to reach your highest potential

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There are many yoga paths. The most popular are called Bhakti, Hatha, Jnana, Karma, Kriya, Kundalini, and Mantra yoga.

None of these yoga paths is better than the other, they are just different in their practice and application and suitable for different personalities.

Finding the most suitable yoga path for you is most important for you to gain maximum benefit of the yoga spiritual practice. Sadhana are the spiritual practices that lead to the development of our highest potential.

The aim of yoga is to cleanse and still the mind and emotions and revitalize mental and physical health. To reach these objectives or at least to advance in this direction several paths are possible: Hatha Yoga (control of the mind through the control of the energy, prana) Raja Yoga (observation and control of the mind, concentration) Bhakti Yoga (love and devotion) Jnana Yoga (use of the intellect to investigate the true nature of life) Karma Yoga (selflessness in action) Mantra Yoga (chanting a word or phrase until the mind and emotions are still and transcended.)

All these yoga systems are like road maps left to us by those who preceded us in the the exploration of the inner space. They reflect an extremely purified conscience and an experience that words can only elude to. We hope that you may be able to use the following overview of yoga paths to find the one best suited to bring you mental and physical health in order to reach your highest potential.

Yoga for the Special Child: A Therapeutic Approach for Infants and Children With Down Syndrome, Cerabral Palsy, and Learning Disabilities offers one more success story of a parent who refused to believe her disabled child could not be helped. It is a handbook for parents that demonstrates the use of centuries-old yoga practices to benefit the special-needs child.

Sumar's program, which she teaches throughout the world, draws on yoga's philosophy that intellect, mobility, and the senses are interdependent and that improved development in one area affects all areas.

This book provides clear visuals as well as written directions on how to coax your child to engage in various postures and breathing exercises, first passively, and in later stages, actively.

The author offers no quick fixes, and specifically warns against them. She emphasizes that patience, consistency, and a long-term commitment are the keys for the best results. She clearly prefers starting children in her program as soon as possible. However, there definitely seems to be no age limit to the kids with whom she works.

The author also conducts a teachers training program and has trained many people (professionals and parents) around the world, many of whom are available to help overwhelmed parents who want to try this program with their own children.

Yoga for the Special Child includes a glossary, case reports (including that of the author's daughter), and clear, step-by-step instructions with illustrations. It also includes important dos, don'ts, and medical precautions. The success of Sumar's program has been documented in education and psychology journals. An important addition to any special-needs collection.

Bhakti Yoga is the yoga path of love and devotion to the Creator, Heavenly Father, Lord Most High, the Divine, God, the Supreme Godhead - the path of transcendent Love which sees the whole universe, both animate and inanimate, as being pervaded by Divinity.

Bhakti Yoga

The cardinal principle of Bhakti Yoga is to learn the various feelings and emotions in the human mind. Feelings & emotions have to be controlled otherwise they themselves will take control.

Bhakti Yoga teaches not to hate or despise any other human being. Devotional worship and the choice to conduct one's life should be honored.

Bhakti Yoga involves keeping the body scrupulously clean and eating sattvic food. Bhakti is also expressed in cheerfulness.

In Yoga it is said that the cheerful mind can equip difficulties. The state of mind to aim Bhakti is of equilibrium. Worship is the only first step on path of devotion. Therefore to approach God by love is to prepare oneself for the greatest possible spiritual fulfillment. Yoga of Bhakti is a matter of the Heart and not of the Head.

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, in Calcutta in 1922.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was a religious scholar and the founder of sixty-four Gaudiya Mathas (Vedic institutes) in India. Srila Prabhupada became his student and formally his disciple in 1933. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Prabhupada to translate Vedic knowledge into English. In the years that followed, Srila Prabhupada wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita.

In 1944, he started Back to Godhead, an English magazine. Single handedly, Srila Prabhupada edited, typed, and distributed the copies. In 1959, Srila Prabhupada began work on his life's masterpiece: a multivolume, commented translation of the eighteen-thousand-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana).

After publishing three volumes of the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada came to the U.S. in 1965. Subsequently, His Divine Grace wrote more than 50 volumes of authoritative commentated translations and summary studies of the philosophical and religious classics of India.

When he first arrived by freighter in New York City, Srila Prabhupada was almost penniless. After only a year he established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in July of 1966. Before he passed away on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities.

Srila Prabhupada's most significant contribution is his writings. Highly respected by scholars for their authority, depth, and clarity, they are used as textbooks in numerous college courses. His writings have been translated into over fifty languages. His writings are a veritable library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature, and culture.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga literally means sun and moon. Hatha yoga strives to balance these two elements which represent the masculine and feminine, strength and flexibility. It is concerned with physical and mental purification and training. The goal is to bring the physical body into a perfect state of health so the soul has a fitting vehicle of expression (body) to work through.

Hatha yoga embraces many practices, including physical postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) which also act upon the physical nervous system and spiritual body (which is considered a corollary aspect of the physical body) and brings the vital energies of the physical and spiritual bodies under conscious control.

The ancient asana postures of hatha yoga are skillful, conscious movements of the body and breath that are based on biomechanical and physiological principles. The original yogic masters studied human and animal movement. They studied the subtleties of movement from infants through old age.

To understand these movements, one needs to focus on the sensations of their body and breath. The actions of the asana poses are elicited through specific images and guided by the breath, rather than imitate or approximate the surface or outer form of the pose.

"Swami Satchidananda has been a spiritual friend to countless thousands, catalyzing their transformations, and a clear, consistent and peaceful voice for honoring the many paths to the One." - Ram Dass

The Reverend Sri Swami Satchidananda is the founder of the worldwide Integral Yoga Institutes. An esteemed Yoga master, and spiritual leader, Sri Swamiji is regarded by many as an apostle of peace. He is often affectionately referred to as the "Woodstock Guru," because he inaugurated the famed Woodstock Festival and went on to introduce an entire generation of young people to the benefits of Yoga.

Not limited to any one organization, religion or country, Sri Swamiji receives invitations from around the world to speak about pathways to peace. He serves on the advisory boards of the International Yoga Teachers Association, European Union of National Yoga Federations, the British Wheel of Yoga, and numerous peace and interfaith organizations.

Born in India in 1914, Sri Swamiji had the opportunity to be associated with some of the great sages of the 20th century, including Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo. He received pre-monastic initiation from Sri Swami Chidbhavanandaji of the Ramakrishna Mission.

In 1949, he was ordained as a monk in the Paramahansa Order of Sannyas by the renowned spiritual master, Sri Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, Himalayas. Over the years, Sri Swamiji taught at the Yoga Vedanta Forest University and directed activities at Divine Life Society branches in India, Sri Lanka, and the Far East.

Integral Yoga, as taught by Sri Swamiji, combines various yoga paths including Hatha Yoga, breathing practices and relaxation techniques, selfless service, meditation, prayer, and a 5,000 year old philosophy that helps one to find inner peace and joy.

The practices and principles of Integral Yoga are at the foundation of Dr. Dean Ornish's landmark work in reversing heart disease and Dr. Michael Lerner's noted Commonweal Cancer Help program. He is the author of many books, among them: Integral Yoga Hatha, To Know Yourself, and Beyond Words. He is also the subject of two biographies, Apostle of Peace and Portrait of a Modern Sage.

In 1966, he was invited by filmmaker Conrad Rooks and artist Peter Max to visit the United States. Because of the enthusiastic response to his universal teachings, Sri Swamiji was asked to extend his stay. He was the first person to receive a visa under the title, "Minister of Divine Words," and eventually became a United States citizen.

Sri Swamiji has sponsored numerous ecumenical symposiums, retreats and worship services. During several private audiences, H.H. Pope Paul VI praised these efforts in promoting interfaith activities. He has also had an audience with H.H. Pope John Paul II and continues to travel around the world promoting religious harmony and meeting with spiritual and governmental leaders, and other dignitaries. Over the years he has met with, among others: Mahatma Gandhi, H.H. the Dalai Lama, U Thant, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

A physical manifestation of Sri Swamiji's interfaith work is the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS). Dedicated in 1986, this unique ecumenical shrine houses altars for all the major world religions. It lies at the heart of Yogaville, Virginia, a spiritual center that functions under Sri Swamiji's guidance and is based on the principles of Yoga and ecumenism. Open to all people, LOTUS addresses the need of the hour: the peace and harmony that can come from greater love and compassion for all humanity.

Sri Swamiji has received many honors for his public service. Among these awards are, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Anti-Defamation League's Humanitarian Award, and two honorary doctorates. The Juliet Hollister Interfaith Award was presented to Sri Swamiji at the United Nations in October 1996. In 1998, he was honorary chair for the gala during which H.H. the Dalai Lama received the same award. Sri Swamiji has dedicated his life to the cause of peace both individual and universal and to religious harmony among all people.

Asana practice can reduce stress and be restorative as well as energizing. Today's fast pace has some of us driven by concerns that keep us from experiencing the present moment - being in the here and now. Yoga practice can discipline us to stay present with the goodness of any given moment. It has at times been called meditation in action, going beyond mere physical exercise that can help realign an individual with the flow of nature.

Regular and consistent practice of these postures will improve the immune, respiratory, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems. It will bring you an ocean of calm and peace. The practice of Hatha yoga has been found to be effective in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

With skillful practice, someone in pain can begin to understand how to move out of pain by reducing the mechanical stresses. Once one realizes what mechanical stresses are perpetuating their pain, and develop the motor skills to move with normal bio- mechanical stresses, their bodies are allowed to heal.

This yogic practice can be safe for most people regardless of their level of conditioning with skillful instruction. To be able to resist disease, to bear strain, and to enjoy mental vitality, to feel the body as a luxury, as a bird feels when shooting through the air, and as a normal child does, is health.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the yoga of the philosopher and thinker who wants to go beyond the visible, material reality. The Jnana Yogi finds God through knowledge. Jnana Yoga is summed up in the Upanishads by the following statement: "In the method of reintegration through knowledge, the mind is ever bound to the ultimate end of existence which is liberation This method leads to all attainments and is ever auspicious."

Jnana Yoga of the intellect requires enormous strength of will to discriminate and to reason. It is the Yoga of analysis. In the first stage, one acquires knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. In the second stage, one takes the help of a Guru to guide her/him in doubts. In the third and final stage, one practices deep Dhayana of the absolute Brahman. Through study and analysis, our Jnana gets heightened. This Yoga is most suited to people who like to reason, who like to study, who love knowledge and the growth of intellect.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on 11 May, 1895, in Madanapalle, India. After moving to Madras in 1909, Krishnamurti was adopted by Mrs. Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society. She was convinced that he was to become a great spiritual teacher. Three years later she took him to England to be educated in preparation for his future role.

An organization was set up to promote this role. In 1929, after many years of questioning himself and the destiny imposed upon him, he disbanded this organization, turning away all followers.

"Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path."

From that time until his death in February 1986, he traveled round the world speaking as a private person, teaching and having discussions. Krishnamurti evolved his unique teaching from his own being and living, for he had read no religious or philosophical literature. His aim was to set people psychologically free so that they might be in harmony with themselves, with nature and with others.

He taught that mankind has created the environment in which he lives and that nothing can ever put a stop to the violence and suffering that has been going on for thousands of years except a transformation in the human psyche. If only a dozen people are transformed, it would change the world.

Krishnamurti maintained that there is no path to this transformation, no method for achieving it, no gurus or other spiritual authorities who can help. He pointed to the need for an ever-deepening awareness of one's own mind in which the limitations of the mind could drop away.

Education had been one of his chief concerns. If a young person could learn to see his conditioning of race, nationality, religion, dogma, tradition, opinion etc., which leads to conflict, then he might become a fully intelligent human being for whom right action would follow. During his life time he established several schools where young people and adults could come together and explore this possibility in daily living. He said that schools were places "where students and teachers can flower inwardly." Because, "schools are meant for that, not just merely to turn out human beings as mechanical, technological instruments - but also to flower as human beings, without fear, without confusion, with great integrity."

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga achieves union with God through right action and through service. Karma Yoga can also be summed up in a statement by Sri Bhagavan Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: "Worshipping Him with proper actions, a man attains realization". One key to Karma Yoga is the performance of right action and service for its own sake, without consideration of the results.

The word is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kri’ which means "to do". Everything that we do, all actions is Karma. And the word also seems the effects of action. Karma is work and Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Selfless Work, without any motive expectations in return.

The effect of Karma or action on character is the greatest power Man has to deal with in this aspect of Yoga. One can therefore call Karma Yoga, the essentially practical Yoga. Karma Yoga recognises the nature of work. The goal of all the Yogas is freedom and in Karma Yoga the goal can be reached through selfless work. ‘You have the right to work but not for the fruits in return’ . Bhagwad Gita.

Ram Dass was born in 1933 as Richard Alpert. He was the son of a wealthy lawyer, who was the president of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad and founder of Brandeis University. After studying psychology and earning an M.A. from Wesleyan and a Ph.D. from Stanford, he taught and conducted research at the Department of Social Relations and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University from 1958 to 1963.

Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), while a professor at Harvard, explored the human consciousness and conducted intensive research with LSD and other psychedelic elements, in collaboration with notables, such as Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg. Because of the controversial nature of this research, both he and Timothy Leary were dismissed from Harvard in 1963.

He is the co-founder and board member of the Seva Foundation ("service," in Sanskrit), an international organization dedicated to relieving suffering in the world. Seva supports programs designed to help wipe out curable blindness in India and Nepal, restore the agricultural life of impoverished villagers in Guatemala, assist in primary health care for American Indians, and to bring attention to the issues of homelessness and environmental degradation in the United States, among others.

Ram Dass continued this research with a private foundation through 1967, when he traveled to India. There he met his spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba. Under his guru's guidance, he studied yoga and meditation and received his Indian name, translated as "servant of God." Since 1968, he has pursued a variety of spiritual practices, including Hinduism, Kharma yoga and Sufism.

In 1974, he created the Hanuman Foundation, which has developed many projects, including the "Prison-Ashram Project," designed to help inmates grow spiritually during incarceration, and the "Living Dying Project," which provides support for the conscious dying. The foundation is also the organizing vehicle for his lectures and workshops, which constantly keep him traveling the world.

Kriya Yoga

Kriya Yoga is the scientific art of perfect God-Truth Union. To live and act totally consistent to action with the awareness of what is signified by Yoga is called ‘Kriya Yoga’ . Kriya means action, and Yoga means citta-vritti-nirodha : Citta (mind), Vritti (ideas), Nirodha (control). The process is control of ideas in the mind to contemplation; through discrimination to spiritual independence. Tapa (penance), Svadhyaya(self-study), Isvarapranidhana (devotion) together form Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is not a matter of doing but of being aware of everything that one may be doing.

Paramahansa Yogananda was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. In his youth he sought out India's sages, hoping to find an illumined teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest. At age 17, Yogananda met and became a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. He spent the next ten years, receiving Sri Yukteswar's spiritual discipline.

After Yogananda graduated from Calcutta University in 1915, he took formal vows as a monk of India's venerable monastic Swami Order, where he received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss through divine union).

In 1917, he founded a boys school, where modern educational methods were combined with yoga training and spiritual instruction. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: "This institution has deeply impressed my mind."

"Do not think that you can comprehend the Infinite Lord by reason.....Man's highest faculty is not reason but intuition: apprehension of knowledge derived immediately and spontaneously from the soul, not from the fallible agency of the senses or of reason." In 1920, Yogananda was invited to serve as India's delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston. That same year he founded Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India's ancient science and philosophy of Yoga.

Over the next decade, he traveled and lectured widely, speaking of the underlying unity of the world's great religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining direct personal experience of God. To serious students of his teachings he introduced the techniques of Kriya Yoga.

In 1935, he toured Europe and India. During his year-long sojourn in his native land, he spoke throughout the subcontinent and enjoyed meetings with Mahatma Gandhi (who requested initiation in Kriya Yoga). During this year, Sri Yukteswar, bestowed on him India's highest spiritual title, Paramahansa - the title signifies one who manifests the supreme state of unbroken communion with God.

On March 7, 1952, Paramahansa entered mahasamadhi, a God-illumined master's conscious exit from the body at the time of physical death.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga is the awakening of the "serpent of fire" energy to freely travel up through the chakras of the unblocked spinal column. The arousing of the Kundalini is usually brought about through a coordination of posture, breath and mantra, along with certain visualizations. Kundalini is an energy which may lie dormant at the base of the spine.

Self Realization is the awakening of the Kundalini through the central channel, piercing the seven chakras and emerging at the top of the head. Kundalini Yoga works with the seed energy of the subtle body, called Kundalini or the Serpent Power. It is said to reside in the root chakra and contain within itself all the power of consciousness.

In the Yoga of knowledge, energy is thought to follow awareness. Therefore the emphasis is on developing the power of attention. In the Yoga of devotion (Bhakti Yoga), energy is thought to follow love. Kundalini may not be recognized apart from the intense power of devotion or attention.

In neither of these other two systems of Yoga is any special method for awakening the Kundalini required. It is usually to supplement these two Yogas or in the absence of their full power that methods to arouse the Kundalini may be used. In this regard Kundalini practices can be an important part of these two paths as well.

It should be noted that Kundalini can be aroused artificially by a willful or egoistic practice. It can also be stimulated by drugs or extreme emotional reactions. If the nature is not purified, the Kundalini may only serve to aggrandize the ego. It tends to magnify our nature, so that if our nature is not yet attuned to the Divine Will, it may magnify our weaknesses. Hence Kundalini practices do have their possible side-effects and should be done with care.

The proper awakening of the Kundalini is through Divine grace. This does not mean that any effort on our part is not useful but that our effort must be to attune ourselves to the grace. Merely to arouse Kundalini is not an end in itself. The goal is to move more deeply into peace. When power is not part of peace it always becomes destructive.

The premature arousing of the Kundalini can burn up the nervous system. It can limit or prevent our spiritual growth for perhaps the rest of our lives. Kundalini can be used up to the level of the third chakra or solar plexus to increase the powers of the ego.

According the Vedas and Puranas even the demons practice Yoga up to this level because it gives them more power. The critical mind of the third chakra often considers itself to be enlightened. It does have the power to see through and control other personalities. It sees the limitations in others. However, it cannot see the Divine presence in others, or its own limitations and usually becomes caught in some process of manipulation. Most false gurus operate on this level.

Swami Muktananda (1908-1982) began living as a sadhu, a mendicant in search of spiritual fulfillment, at an unusually early age. Though as a young man he gained renown for his yogic attainments, Swami Muktananda often said that his spiritual journey didn't truly begin until 1947, when he received shaktipat, spiritual initiation, from the holy man Bhagawan Nityananda. It was then that his spiritual energy, kundalini, was awakened and he was drawn into profound states of meditation.

"Everything you seek in this world is within you. Supreme joy blazes inside. But it is not enough merely to have an intellectual understanding of this. You have to go deep inside. The heart is the true house of God. It is the seat of happiness, the abode of unending love. Go there."

In the 1970s, on his guru's behalf, he brought the venerable tradition of his master's lineage to the West, giving the previously little-known shaktipat initiation he himself had received to untold thousands of spiritual seekers.

Before his death, in 1982, Swami wrote many books; sixteen are still in print. He also established more than six hundred meditation centers and several ashrams around the world. His work, through the auspices of the Siddha Yoga Dham Associates Foundation, is carried on by his spiritual heir, Swami Chidvilasananda.

Mantra Yoga

Mantra Yoga finds unity consciousness through the proper use of speech and sound. It is the power of the word to create or destroy that this path emphasizes. It utilizes the focus intent to make every word you speak be in harmony with Spirit and your own soul. Mantra yoga meditation involves chanting a word or phrase until the mind and emotions are transcended and the superconscious is clearly revealed and experienced.

Since the mind wanders so much, the music of a mantra easily rescues the mind and brings it back to the object of one’s meditation. Both the rhythm of it and the meaning of it combine to guide the mind safely back to the point of meditation — the higher consciousness or the specific spiritual focus.

The Transcendental Meditation (TM) program and the worldwide Spiritual Regeneration Movement was founded in 1957 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Maharishi. He was widely regarded as the foremost scientist in the field of consciousness. He has completely restored the thousands of years-old Vedic Literature for the total significance of its theory and practice, and has organized it in the form of a complete science of consciousness. His Vedic Science and Technology unfolds the full potential of Natural Law in human consciousness as the basis of improving all areas of life.

"If we look into the process of gaining knowledge we find there are two sides to knowledge: the object of knowledge, that which we seek to know, and the subject of knowledge, the knower. What the present system of education provides is knowledge of the object; what it misses is knowledge of the subject, knowledge of the knower in the knower's infinite capacity. When the knower is ignorant about the Self, the whole structure of knowledge is as if baseless.

"It is for education of today's world to realize that complete education, or absolute education, is not a process of knowing anything else. It is in fact returning from anything else to knowing oneself."

The Transcendental Meditation program, the subjective technology of Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology, is the most widely practiced and extensively researched program of self-development in the world.

The TM program is the single most effective technique available for gaining deep relaxation, eliminating stress, promoting health, increasing creativity and intelligence, and attaining inner happiness and fulfillment.

Mantra yoga is practiced by 4 million people worldwide, is a simple, natural, effortless technique.

The effectiveness of the program has been validated by over 500 scientific studies at more than 200 independent research institutions in 30 countries. This technique requires no belief or lifestyle change, is non-religious, is not time-consuming, and can be learned by anyone regardless of age or level of education.

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