The beauty of yoga is that it does not restrict you. There are different branches serving different purposes and varieties as per preferences. Integral Yoga is one such variety of yoga. It is a synthesis of various branches of yoga and is a scientific system for the harmonious development of every aspect of the individual.
According to Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga organisation, "The goal of Integral Yoga, and the birthright of every individual, is to realise the spiritual unity behind all the diversity in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family.
It's like suddenly seeing multicoloured rays—like a rainbow. Remember that all those rays come from one source. A prism makes seven different colours, the colours of the rainbow. But, if you see the other side, there's only one colour—one light. Because it passes through a prism, it appears to be many. This is what you call yoga—the oneness among many. You see the unity in diversity".
Integral Yoga, as taught by Swami Satchidananda, teaches us that to experience our true nature, we need to return to the simplicity of our essence—to undo. He would jokingly refer to himself not as a Hindu, but as an Undo, and as a teacher of Undoism. He taught that our search for happiness is a longing to reunite with universal consciousness—God, the divine, or whatever we choose to call it. Yoga is a return to our roots, to our very essence. But, in reality, we are never really separate, and the union that we are seeking already exists.
Unfortunately, most of us have lost the understanding that we are already united. We spend our lives searching for something to complete us, fill the void, and make us happy. The great irony is that this outwardly focused searching is actually the source of our pain and unhappiness. Instead, yoga teaches us to turn inwards, and reconnect with our true nature.
Swami Satchidananda explains, "The complete definition of yoga is serenity of mind. That's all, in a few simple words. Equanimity of mind is yoga. Samatvam Yoga ucchyate, says the Bhagavad Gita. That means equanimity is called Yoga. The Yoga Sutra begins with this definition: yoga chitta vritti nirodhah. That means to control the modifications, the restlessness, of the mind and to keep it serene. That is yoga."
A complete combination
To help us experience peace, Integral Yoga combines various methods including physical practices, selfless service, meditation, prayer, and ancient yoga philosophy. Swami Satchidananda defines Integral Yoga as, "A flexible combination of specific methods designed to develop every aspect of the individual—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual."
It includes six branches: raja yoga, hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and japa yoga.
Raja yoga: This is the underlying philosophy as taught in the yoga scriptures. Raja yoga focusses on mastering the mind through ethical perfection and regular practice of concentration and meditation. It is the foundation of all the other branches of Integral Yoga.
Hatha yoga: This helps keep the body healthy and strong, and prepares it for meditation. It consists of asanas [postures], pranayama [breath control], mudras [energy seals], bandhas [energy locks], kriyas [cleansing practices], and diet.
Bhakti yoga: This helps turn emotions into devotion. It involves kirtan [chanting], puja [worship services], prayers and prostrations. By constant love, thought, and service of the divine [either as God, a divine incarnation, or a spiritual teacher], we can transcend our limited personality and connect with our true self.
Karma yoga: Selfless service is Karma Yoga, the path of action. We perform our duty without attachment to the results of the action. In karma yoga, we dedicate the results of our actions to the divine.
Jnana yoga: This is the practice of reflection and self-inquiry. It offers an intellectual approach where we access our inner wisdom. Through the knowledge of what really exists, jnana yoga allows us to realise our oneness with the entire universe.
Japa yoga: This branch of yoga involves repetition of a mantra and is easier than other forms of meditation. It is a particularly helpful practice in this busy age because concentrated mental repetition of the mantra produces vibrations within our entire system that are in tune with the divine vibration.
Integral Yoga offers a practical and open-minded approach to yoga.
Goodness of Integral Yoga
Imagine looking into a tranquil pool of water. The stillness allows you to see your reflection clearly. But, if something falls and disturbs it, you cannot see your reflection anymore. Our mind is like water. When it is serene, we see our true self reflected clearly. When it is disturbed, we see a distorted image and think we are disturbed. We no longer see our true self, and may even forget that it is there at all.
For most of us, controlling the mind seems like a daunting task. Perhaps we have tried sitting in meditation and have felt the mind racing like a renegade freight train. But, upon examination, we see that quieting the mind is something that we are naturally drawn to do. Our habits, even unhealthy ones, are an attempt to relieve the stress and tension of a busy mind. We look outward, desperate for momentary relief from the constant spinning in our heads. We may use entertainment, food, sex and even drugs to dull or slow our crazy minds. Unfortunately, these activities bring only fleeting happiness, and may leave dangerous side-effects. Fortunately, quieting the mind is what yoga practices are specifically designed to do. These ancient practices have healthy benefits and lead us naturally to a calm mind.
Quieting the mind is associated with the practice of meditation, which is the quintessential yoga practice. But, in order to be accessible, meditation needs to be practiced in conjunction with a variety of other techniques that prepare the mind for stillness. For example, the ethical precepts of Yoga—Yama and Niyama—direct us to live in a way that won't disturb our mind. Imagine how upset we are if we've hurt someone's feelings, or after we are caught in a lie. But, by practicing ahimsa [non-violence] and satya [truthfulness] we can avoid being disturbed. Swami Satchidananda says that when it comes to meditation, "Well-prepared is half done." So it's worth taking time to prepare the mind.
In a typical Integral Yoga session, we move from gross to subtle in an inward progression. We start with yoga asana postures, using poses to warm-up the body, balance the nervous system, and release tension and toxins from all parts of the body. After performing asanas, we practice Yoga nidra—deep relaxation. This is a guided meditation that takes us on a journey through all the layers of our being. After relaxation, we sit up for pranayama, breathing practices. These breathing practices use breath as a tool to expand prana, vital energy. This expanded energy creates a feeling of spaciousness in the mind, preparing us for the focus of meditation. After preparing well, we slip into meditation, and move beyond the limits of our busy mind to reconnect with our true self.
Do it yourself
Try a mini-Yoga session right now:
- Sit up, lengthen your spine and be aware of the sensations that are in the body.
- Deepen and slow your breath.
- Allow the weight of the world to slide off your shoulders as you exhale. As you inhale, feel energy and peace filling you.
- Allow the exhalation to last for a long time, trailing off into a moment of no breath.
- After a few full, slow breaths, begin to notice if the mind seems more relaxed, but also more alert. See how few conscious breaths can transform the moment into calm and relaxation.
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