Philosophy

FEBRUARY 27, 2014

The Tiny Hatha Yoga Philosophy

Posted by Dorothy under Community Interests, Interesting Reads, Philosophy, Wellnessno responses

Shannon Frances is a freelance technical writer who is currently living in Nibong Tebal, Penang, Malaysia. She is a yoga enthusiast who has decided to write and publish ‘The Tiny Hatha Yoga Philosophy’. Below is a snippet of the contents of her book which can be bought at www.lulu.com

Is Buddhism a kind of yoga?

Before becoming the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama studied yoga with at least two yoga masters, who apparently emphasized extreme self-discipline of tapas (see “What are the eight limbs of Patanjali yoga?”). He eventually abandoned these yoga practices as being too harsh and damaging to the mind and body. Instead he developed his own method, referred to as the Middle Way, which avoids the extremes of over-indulgence and intense asceticism. Although Buddhism was eventually driven out of India, the teachings and methods of Gautama Buddha influenced the subsequent development of yogic philosophy and practice, particularly with respect to meditation. In fact, many scholars speculate that Patanjali’s eight-limbed path was based on the Buddha’s eight-fold path. As Buddhism is based on yoga and has influenced the development of yoga, it is considered by many to be a kind of yoga. Notably, yogachara is a Buddhist philosophy that emphasizes meditation and other yogic practices. Some have argued that current yoga practices are more similar to the teachings of the Buddha than to the kind of yoga practiced in India at the time he lived.

Buddhism was driven out of India, in part, as a result of the teaching of Adi Shankara (800 CE), who argued that any religion not based on the Vedas should be abandoned. In contrast, Gautama Buddha implored his followers not to blindly follow any teaching but instead urged them to investigate his methods and determine their validity directly. Both of these trends — following scriptural tradition and relying on personal experimentation — have been very important to the development of modern yoga practices. How do you respond to each approach? Do you favor one? Can you embrace both?Compare the eight limbs of Patanjali (see “What are the eight limbs of Patanjali yoga?”) and the Buddha’s eight-fold path (right understanding, right thought, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right mental attitude or effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). Do they describe the same things in different language? Or are they fundamentally different? Which would be more effective for you to follow?

Is yoga a religion?

Yoga practitioners are not required to hold any beliefs. Thus, yoga can be practiced as a religion, as a supportive activity to a specific religion or as a completely non-religious activity. Yoga is currently being practiced by members of many religions (including Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Rastafarians) as well as agnostics, atheists and people who do not care one way or the other.

The goal of yoga is often described as union with the absolute. Depending on the school, the absolute can be the one true God, a specific god or any divine aspect of the universe, including absolute consciousness, nature, etc.

Although some Veda-based religions (Hinduism) have narrow and restricted definitions of the absolute, most are astonishingly inclusive. For example, many contemporary sects consider Jesus as a Hindu saint. The absolute may be described as vastly as the universe and all its contents, real and unreal.

Many religious sects that practice yoga generally embrace both monotheism (belief in one god) and polytheism (belief in many gods) simultaneously by explaining that all gods are aspects of the one God and the one God can be understood only through a multitude of gods. Some even go as far as claiming that everything is God (pantheism) and it is only delusion that prevents us from realizing this.

However, many contemporary hatha yoga schools conceive of a yogic union that does not concern the divine or the supernatural. For example, some schools teach that yogic union is the attainment of your highest self, in other words, being the best you can be. Others teach that yogic union is the state of respecting all life or is simply a desired state of mind — a neurological phenomena that does not extend beyond the encasement of the skull.

While specific sects and schools may accept only limited definitions of yogic union, the practices of yoga do not. Thus, religious and non-religious practice of yoga is equally valid.

What is your opinion of religious and non-religious schools of yoga? Are you attracted or repelled by spiritual teaching? Does it matter to you if your teacher and fellow students have different beliefs than you?Some people feel that taking yoga out of its cultural and religious context dilutes it and, in fact, renders useless thousands of years of valuable teaching. Others feel that a modern approach to yoga must free it from superstition, racism, social injustice and sexism. Where do you stand on this issue?In 1893, Swami Vivekananda argued at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago that Hinduism (and, by extension, spiritual yoga) should be considered a world religion with the same status as Christianity and Buddhism. His passion for this argument was fueled by his strong nationalistic and ideological feelings. Some have argued that modern yoga is more or less a product of the Indian nationalism that culminated in the partition of British India. How does this opinion agree with your own beliefs about yoga? Is it relevant?

Can people of non-Hindu religions practice yoga?

As most religions encourage yoga-like practices, such as prayer, meditation, chanting and ritual movements, there are many opportunities for religious people to incorporate the specifics of their religion into their yoga practices.

For example, many forms of prayer and ritual include specialized movements, such as kneeling, making the sign of the cross, symbolically holding the Qur’an, bringing palms together at the forehead, symbolically washing smoke over the head or kissing a piece of cloth. According to some teachers, when these movements are united with the breath and performed mindfully, they constitute a yoga practice as well as a religious one.

Classical yoga requires study of the scriptures, stipulating no limitation on the scriptures that can be studied. Any study that inquires into the nature of God or the individual soul is yoga.

Mantras and chants can be modified to include religious words and phrases. For example, OM can be replaced with “Allah,” “The One Who Can Not Be Named,” “Jesus,” “Jah,” or other names of God.

Many members of theistic religions have used yoga to enhance their other religious practices and several groups are dedicated to exploring this synthesis. If you are interested in using yoga in your own faith, you might search the Internet or at your local library to see if such a group is available in your town.

If you belong to a religion that prohibits acknowledgement or signs of respect to gods of other religions, talk to your yoga teacher about any images or texts that he or she uses that might be in violation of your faith. Help sensitize the people you practice with to your issues and cultivate tolerance and understanding within the group.

Can atheists practice yoga?

The concept of yogic union does not require a belief in God. Many atheists choose to recognize the absolute in non-theistic terms, such as nature, higher power, love or realized consciousness. The spiritual aspect of yoga can be honored as an historical component of the practice without requiring that it be embraced personally. Most religious images and texts can be interpreted or replaced with secular concepts. For example, many yoga studios contain images or statues of various Hindu gods or spiritual leaders. These are often considered representations of desirable qualities, such as generosity, creativity and compassion.

Of course, hatha yoga is currently practiced primarily as a form of exercise, without reference to religion or spirituality. Yoga practitioners can validly focus strictly on the physiological and psychological benefits of any yoga practice, including postures, meditation, chanting and gestures.

If you practice with a teacher or group that uses religious images or texts that you are resistant to, you can make them aware of your issues and explain why you wish to interpret them differently. Help sensitize the people you practice with to your issues and cultivate tolerance and understanding within the group.

Copyright Shannon Frances, 2014


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SEPTEMBER 29, 2013

A Quick Guide To Mudras

Posted by Dorothy under Natural Highs, Philosophy, Wellness1 comment

Mudra is a spiritual or symbolic gesture which helps manipulate prana or energies in our physical body (anamaya kosha), mental body (manomaya kosha) and pranic body (pranamaya kosha). Mudra can also be translated as a seal, or circuit by pass as it helps to create barriers within the body and direct the energy within. These energies, if not manipulated with the intention to retain them within the body will otherwise escape from the body. In scientific terms, mudras start electromagnetic currents within the body which balance various constituting elements and restore health.

There are generally 5 types of mudras:

a) Hasta / Hand
Prana emitted by the hands are redirected into the body with this mudra

b) Mana / Head
These mudras are important in kundalini yoga and some are meditation techniques as the utilise the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and lips

c) Kaya / Postural
Kaya mudras are commonly practised during asanas, with concentration of breath in mind.

d) Bandha / Lock
This is a combination of mudra and bandha

e) Adhara / Perineal
These mudras are usually used to redirect prana from the lower centres of the body to the brain, aiding also in sexual energies.

Most mudras can be done as a combination with asanas and pranayamas or just by itself.

In this posting, the focus will be on hasta / hand mudras as it is the most commonly used gesture. There will be 8 types of mudras and their benefits listed out. One can perform it for about 15 minutes each.

1) Chin Mudra
- join the tips of the thumb and index fingers together, middle , ring and index fingers together and extended
- generates prana flow below the navel to the toes

2) Chinmaya Mudra
-join the tips of the thumb and index fingers together, middle, ring and index fingers to fold towards the palm then keep the elbows close to the body
-prana flows above navel to the throat

3) Adhi/Tse Mudra
-fold thumb towards the palm, then fold all the other fingers to the palm with the thumb under them
-prana flows from the throat to head

4) Merhu danda Mudra
-thumb towards the sky, fold all the other fingers to the palm
-generates prana flow in the spinal column

5) Brahma/Poorna Mudra
-fingers like in adhi/tse mudra
-palm to face up to the sky, knuckles together, gently press towards the lower abdomen
-helps generate prana to the entire body
-helps in fatigue

6) Panchabutha/5 Elements Mudra
Our physical body is made up of 5 elements:
-thumb=fire
-index=air
-middle=space
-ring=ether
-little=water

a) Prithvi/Earth Mudra
-join the tips of the ring and thumb fingers together, extend the other fingers
-
the earth element represent  the solid contents in our body ie: musculoskeletal
-
this mudra helps strengthen the earth element

b) Agni/Fire/Surya Mudra
-fold the ring finger towards the palm, fold the thumb on the ring finger,  the other fingers to stay together and extended
-helps increase heat in the body
-can be of help with indigestion, obesity and hyperthyroid

c) Vayu/Air Mudra
-fold the tip of the index finger to the base of the thumb, keep the thumb on the index finger while extending the other fingers, keeping them together
-
helps to regulate air in the body and encourages movement
-can be of help with gastric, stiff joints, athritis

d) Jala/Water Mudra
-join the tips of the little finger and thumb, extend the other fingers, keeping them together
-maintains moisturisation in the body
-helps with dehyration, hormonal imbalances, urinary problems, sweating problems, increased or decreased production of mucus

e) Akash/Space/Shunya Mudra
-join the tips of the middle finger and thumb, extend the other fingers
-akash mudra is more effective when practised with shunya mudra (fold the tip of the middle finger to the palm, then place thumb on the middle finger, extend the other fingers, keeping the ring and little figners together)
-helps with ear,nose and throat problems or any sicknesses caused by any imbalance to the ear, nose and throat ie vertigo and travel sickness

7) Prana Mudras
Our body consists of 5 koshas and one of it is called the pranayama kosha. Pranayama kosha is also composed of 5 pranasEach of the 5 pranas can be activated with mudras.

a) Prana aka Bhu Mudra
-join the tips of the thumb, ring and little fingers together, extend the others
-benefits the respiratory and cardio system

b) Apana Mudra
-join the tips of the thumb, ring and middle fingers together
-benefits the excretory system

c) Samana Mudra
-join the tips of all fingers
-benefits the digestive system

d) Udana Mudra
-join the tips of all fingers except the second finger to be extended
-benefits the upper chest and throat area

e) Vyana Mudra
-join the tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers, extend the others
-balances the entire body

8) Chakra Balancing  Mudras

a) Mooladhara Chakra-Bhu Mudra
-R hand: join the tips of the thumb, ring and little fingers together, placing the tips of the index and middle fingers to the ground
-L hand: in chin mudra

b) Swadhisthana Chakra-Yoni Miudra
-interlock the 3rd – 5th fingers, join the tips of the thumb and little finger together
-place it at your swadhisthana chakra

c) Manipura Chakra-Matangi Mudra
-interlock all fingers except the 3rd finger to be stretched out
-place it at your manipura chakra

d) Anahata Chakra-Kamala Mudra
-form fingers like a lotus petal joining tips of thumb and little finger
-Place slightly on the right side of the heart as the heart is a sensitive organ

e) Visshudha Chakra-Shunya Mudra/Akash Mudra
- refer to #6(e)
-place on the knees

f) Ajna Chakra-Chin Mudra
-refer to #1
-place on the knees

g) Sahasrara Chakra-Hakini Mudra
-join all the tips of the right fingers and the left then spread them
- place at manipura chakra

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AUGUST 26, 2013

Against The Stream

Posted by Dorothy under Community Interests, Interesting Reads, Philosophy, Wellnessno responses

Noah Levine ‒ the son of Buddhist teachers, rebel of cultural norms, punk rocker, drug addict, juvenile criminal turned Buddhist believer and now a preacher calling himself a Dharma Punx ‒ was the student of the well-known spiritual teacher, Jack Kornfield. Son of proud parents Stephen and Ondrea Levine, he voluntarily swayed from the spiritual paths which his parents were following even before his teenage years. After rediscovering meditation and Buddhism, Noah now aims to to use his early life’s experiences to serve youth in juvenile halls, men in prison and the general public interested in such topics.

In his book “Against The Stream”, Noah explained that the Buddha isn’t a god or deity to be worshipped. He was a rebel and an overthrower, the destroyer of ignorance, the great physician who discovered the path to freedom from suffering. The Buddha left a legacy of truth for us to experience ourselves. The practices and principles of his teachings lead to the direct experience of liberation. Since Buddhism is not a religion, people should stop worshipping Buddha like a god and try to become a good Buddhist. Instead learn his teachings to become a wise and compassionate human being, to awaken from our life of complacency and ignorance and to be a buddha!!

The Buddha delivered the four noble truths of the revolutionary path to freedom which he referred to as the setting in motion of the wheel of Dharma. The term wheel is used because the Buddha’s teachings explain the cycle or circle of existence. Furthering that imagery, the wheel of Dharma consists of eight trainings, the eightfold path, which are seen as the wheel’s spokes. When a wheel is set in motion it revolves.

The First Truth

The Buddha taught that life by its very nature is unsatisfactory, that some level of difficulty exists for all unenlightened beings in creation. We face sickness, old age, and death; the sense pleasures we do experience don’t last; and physical and perhaps emotional pain is a given in life.

There are two levels to this truth. The first is the pain of exeistence that we can’t do anything about. The second is the suffering and unhappiness that we create for ourselves due to our lack of wisdom and our vain attempts to control the uncontrollable-that is, the transient nature of all physical, emotional, and mental phenomena. We are born into a realm of constant change. Everything is decaying. We are continually losing all that we come into contact with. Our tendency to get attahced to impermanent experiences causes sorrow, lamentation, and grief, becuase eventually we are separated from everything and everyone we love. Our lack of acceptance and understanding of this fact makes life unsatisfactory.

Pain and suffering are two completely different experiences. pain is unavoidable. Suffering is self-created.

Some level of dissatisfaction exists for all unenlightened beings.

For some this is a revelation, a normalising statement that brings about a great sense of relief. Finally we are being told the truth: life isn’t always easy and pleasant. We already know this to be true, but somehow we tend to go through life thinking that there is something wrong with us when we experience sadness, grief, and physical and emotional pain. The first truth points out that this is just the way it is. there is nothing wrong with you; you have just been born into a realm where pain is a given.

The Second Truth

There is a cause for all this dissatisfaction and suffering. It is our craving for life to be filled exclusively with pleasure. That craving for pleasure creates a naturla reaction of aversion to the pains and difficulties of life. This truth can be seen as a simple lack of acceptance: unwilling to accept the pleasures and pains as they are, we go about clinging to the experiences we like and trying to get rid of the ones we don’t like.

We also create suffering for ourselves due to our craving to exist permanently-that is, our craving for eternal pleasure. When life is good, we want it to go on forever. At other times, though, we create suffering for ourselves through our craving to not exist at all-the craving for nonexistence, which results from the desire to escape from the pains and difficulties of life. When life is difficult of painful, we want to no longer exist.

As long as greed, hatred, and delusion exist within our hearts, suffering will continue in our lives, no matter how much we seek to experience pleasure and avoid pain.

Craving is a problem. Desires are natural, but craving-which is painful-is the extreme aspect of desire.

The Third Truth

Freedom from suffering is possible. There is a way to relate to all experience that is in harmony with the reality of constant change and the ultimately impersonal nature of all things. When greed, hatred, and delusion are destroyed, a state of peace and happiness is all that remains. This is the state of freedom from suffering referred to as Nirvana (which means cessation).

The Buddha experienced it, and if he could do it through his own efforts, others can too.

We all have mini-experiences of this-moments in our life, perhaps even on a daily basis, when we are free from greed, hatred, and delusion, when we are satisfied and at peace. Yet we tend to ignore or forget those experiences. The truth of craving blocks the truth of freedom. the path of rebellion, the Buddha’s path, will bring us to a more consistent state of freedom.

Freedom is available in this lifetime.

The Fourth Truth

The path to freedom consists of eight factors (often referred to as the eightfold path). These eigh important areas of comprehension and practice, which make up the spiritual revolutionary’s training manual, can be broken down into three sections:

Wisdom
1.Understanding
2.Intention

Conduct
3.Speech
4.Action
5.Livehood

Meditation
6.Effort
7.Mindfulness
8.Concentration

Studying and contemplating these eight factors, the enlightened revolutionary can experience the freedom celebrated and taught by the Buddha.

Keeping these four noble truths and eightfold path in mind, let us all go against the stream and free ourselves from negative emotions and adopt positive ways of life. This will not only benefit ourselves but those around us, in hope of setting them free too.

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