Yoga: 4. Pranayama: Extension of Life Force

When prana moves, chitta (the mental force) moves. When prana movement seizes, so does the movement of chitta - Svātmārāma

(previous: Yoga: 3. Asana - Strength Training)

The purpose of all pranayama practices is to create a perfectly still state of body and mind, so that inhalation and exhalation stop with the cessation of pranic movement. Before we dwell into the intrinsic details of practice, lets understand how the breath flows in our body. As we all know, breathing keeps the body and mind alive. Every breath we take simulates these five vayus, that regulate the functioning of the body and mind.
Five Vayus
Prana is upward flowing vayu from heart region to the head. It nourishes brain and controls the mental activites.
Apana is downward flowing vayu from navel region to the perinium. This is responsible for excretory functions and reproduction.
Samana is inward flowing from periphery of the body towards the pranic center (navel region). This regulates digestion.
Vyana is outward flowing from pranic center to the periphery of the body. This takes care of supplying the nourishment to all the cells of the body and hence prevails all over the body.
Udana is upward flowing energy from the throat region to head, arms and legs. This vayu is the result of right functioning of other vayus. This is responsible for growth and expression (all forms of communication).
The importance and function of these vayus are explained in detail in this five vayus section.

Pranayama is meticulously controlling these vayus to obtain mastery over the breath, hence taking control over aging of the body, mental patterns, emotions, expression and intelligence.

Raising the apana upward and bringing the prana down from the throat, yogi becomes free from old age - Svātmārāma (Pranayama - Verse 47)

In general, breath flows through left nostril (ida nadi) or right nostril (pingala nadi). Science calls it ‘alternate rhinitis.’ In yoga it is known as swara. This keeps alternating every 90 minutes in a healthy body.
Pingala Nadi Ida Nadi
When we breath through right nostril, pingala nadi is active. When the breath is flowing through the left nostril, ida nadi is predominant.
It is connected to the left brain hemisphere and it processes information logically, sequentially and functions according to time sequence.  It is connected to the right hemisphere and hence is concerned with intuition, mental creativity and orientation in space.
The body functions under dynamic masculine principle. (irrespective of actual gender, everybody oscillate between masculine and feminine principles). Mind is extroverted and body is heated. Passive feminine principle governs. This is denoted as sakthi (feminine) and shiva (for masculine) in the east. It has cooling effect on body and the mind is introverted.
During this time, sun is said to be governing the body and rajas guna (over-active temperament) is exhibited by the person. This is the right time to do physically active work like waking-up, workout, celebration, eating, etc. Moon governs the body and tamas guna (inert temperament) prevails. Apt time for subtle activities like taking a nap, desk-work, art-work, etc. Basically, physical rest and creative work.
When both nostrils operate simultaneously the energy is being transferred from one hemisphere to the other. It passes through a thin sheet of membrane between the two hemispheres called the corpus callosum. At this time the whole brain can function and perception will not be limited to one mode of processing. This happens naturally when the breath flow changes from left to right, but lasts just few seconds or lesser. These are the moments of higher intelligence.

With basic practice of pranayama, this balance can be obtained and retained for minutes. It takes a sustained and dedicated practice to get the lasting effect, that is when both ida and pingala get dormant and the prana flow through susumana nadi (middle channel). When a person can retain this state and can make the yoga (join) between jiva-atma (soul) and parama-atma (total conciousness), he/she is enlightened.

Pranayama does purify all the 72,000 nadis (energy channels), but that is not the sole purpose of pranayama. There is an efficient way to purify the nadis as preparation, so the real benefits of pranayama is obtained. It is called shat-karmas or shat-kriyas. These six methods of cleansing balances the three doshas (bodily humor), namely, vatha (wind), pitta (bile) and kapha (mucus). When these are not balanced, it'll be a huge hinderance to practice pranayama.
Shat-karmas (or) Shat-kriyas
Dauti (esophagus and stomach cleansing). Removing the excess mucus from esophagus and stomach and thus hinderances to pranayama like, coughs, asthma, diseases of the spleen, leprosy and twenty kinds of diseases caused by excess mucus are destroyed.
Basti (yogic enema) cleanses large intestine. It is not considered a common practice as it involves sucking water through rectum and releasing. Enlargement of the glands and spleen, and all diseases arising from excess mind, bile and mucus are eliminated from the body through the practice of basti. 
Neti (nasal cleansing). Cleanses the nasal passage, between two nostrils and between the nostrils and mouth. There are two ways of doing it; sutra (thread) neti and jala (water) neti. Neti cleanses the cranium and bestows clairvoyance. It also destroys all diseases which manifest above the throat.
Trataka (concentrated gazing, no blinking). Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed is known as trataka. Commonly practiced with candle light, it can be practiced with moon, stars, idol, dot, etc. Trataka eradicates all eye diseases, fatigue, sloth, depression, insomnia, allergy, anxiety, postural problems, poor concentration, memory and closes the doorway causing these problems.
Nauli (massaging internal abdominal organs). Lean forward, protrude the abdomen and rotate (the muscles) from right to left with speed. This is called nauli by the siddhas. Nauli kindles the digestive fire, removing indigestion, sluggish, digestion, and all disorders of the doshas.
Kapalbathi (brain frontal lobe cleansing). Perform exhalation (forced) and inhalation (not forced) rapidly 108 times. This is called kapalbhati and it destroys all mucous disorders.
These six methods are discussed in detail in the internet. By the shat-karma one is freed from excesses of the doshas. Then pranayama is practiced and success is achieved without strain.

Pranayama constitutes of 3 parts:  pooraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation), and kumbhaka (retention). Kumbhaka is again of two types: sahita (with conscious effort) and kevala (automatic). Until kevala kumbhaka is perfected, sahita kumbhaka (retention with conscious effort) has to be practiced.

General guidelines for inhale:retain:exhale is 1:4:2. i.e., if you inhale for 2 seconds, retain for 8 seconds and exhale slowly for 4 seconds.

Suryabheda (right nostril inhalation) means piercing the body with solar energy. In empty stomach, sitting comfortably in siddhasana, the yogi should become fixed in his posture and slowly breathe the air in through the right nostril. Retain until you feel the breath diffuse to the roots of the hair and tips of the nails. Then slowly exhale through the left nostril. Repeat it 10 times.

Suryabheda is excellent for purifying the cranium, destroying imbalances of the wind dosha and eliminating worms. In general, when we inhale only through left nostril, it is exhaled without retention. The retention in practiced only when we inhale through the right or both nostrils.

Bhastrika (bellows breathing). Sit in padmasana to ensure sturdy posture, neck and abdomen in alignment, inhale and exhale in like pumping a ball or a tire. First start with 20 pairs of inhalation and exhalation. Then take a deep breath with right-nostril and retain breath for a count of 40 and slowly exhale through left nostril. Gradually, in weeks, increase it to 50:50:100 (inhale:exhale and retain). Repeat it 5 times. imbalances of vatha (wind), pitta (bile) and kapha (mucus) are annihilated and the digestive fire is increased.

Padmasana is emphasized here because the body is to be firmly locked so that physical movement is restricted and the spine remains straight. Nervous impulses are then able to travel directly up through the central nervous system. Bhastrika stimulates the circulation of cerebral fluid and increases the compression and decompression upon the brain, creating a rhythmic massage. The rhythmic pumping of the diaphragm and lungs stimulates the heart and blood circulation. Accelerated blood circulation and rate of gas exchange in each cell produces heat and washes out waste gases. In advanced sadhakas (practioners), bhastrika unties the three granthis (pranic knots), namely, rudra granthi, vishnu granthi and bramha granthi. These 3 knots will be discussed in detail in kundalini chapter.

Ujjayi (victorious deep breathing). Sit in siddhasana or lie down in savasana. Closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration through both ida (left) and pingala (right), so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound. Do kumbhaka (retain) as before and exhale through ida (left). Continue for as long as you can. 10 mins will be apt. This removes phlegm from the throat and stimulates the (digestive) fire.

Seetkari (hissing breath) and Sheetali (cooling breath):
Seetkari: Sit in Siddhasana, get in chin-mudra (tip of index finger and tip of thumb touching) and Inhale through the mouth, clenched teeth, making a hissing sound and exhale through the nose. repeat it 20 times.
Sheetali: Sit in Siddhasana, get in chin-mudra (tip of index finger and tip of thumb touching) and Inhale through the mouth, tongue rolled on both sides to make a passage in the middle, making a hissing sound and exhale through the nose. repeat it 20 times.

The benefits of sheetali and seetkari are basically the same. They cool the whole body and the lower energy centers, particularly those connected to the reproductive and excretory organs, is cooled down significantly. Eliminates indolence (sloth) and the need and desire to eat, drink and sleep. These are useful techniques for alleviating psychosomatic disease such as high blood pressure.

These two practices are unique because inhalation is done through the mouth. In every other yogic practice and in breathing in general, we are told to always breathe through the nose. When the breath is taken through the nose, the nose heats up and cleans the incoming air. This infringement is acceptable providing you do not practice in a dirty, polluted atmosphere or in excessively cold weather.

Bhramari (humming bee breath). In empty stomach, inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, listening to the sound of the breath. Close the ears with the index and middle fingers by pressing the middle outer part of the ear ligament into the ear hole. Keep the ears closed and exhale, making a deep soft humming sound. Concentrate on the sound, keeping it low pitched. When exhalation is complete, lower the hands to the knees and breathe in slowly. repeat it 20 times.

Bhramari awakens psychic sensitivity and awareness of subtle vibrations, therefore, it is better to practice in the early hours of the morning or late at night. The sound produced in bhramari is very soothing and thus the practice relieves mental tension and anxiety and reduces anger.

Moorchha literally means "to-faint". Sit in padmasana, hands on knees, inhale slowly and deeply through both nostrils, get into jalandara bandha (with erect spine, bend the head forward so as to chin touching collar bone) and retain breath for even longer than it is comfortable. Then relax and wait till breath is normal. Repeat it 5 times, pushing the limit of retention every time.

This pranayama clears the mind of unnecessary thoughts and reduces awareness of the senses and external world. Hence, it is an excellent preparation for meditation and enhances dharana (concentration) practices. It helps reduce anxiety and mental tension and induces relaxation and inner awareness.

Plavini means "to float". When the inner part of the abdomen is completely fitted with air, one can float like a lotus leaf on water. Sit in padmasana or siddhasana and start inhaling slowly. After inhalation the air has to be swallowed as you swallow food, retained inside and not belched out. Do it 3-5 times without expelling the air. While retaining the air inside the stomach there should be absolutely no physical movement or the air will escape. Try to retain the air in the stomach for at least thirty to ninety minutes and burp it out voluntarily.
Plavini should be practiced after asana and all other pranayama techniques, or it can be practiced during the day if you are fasting. This will keep the stomach full and prevent hunger pangs and the desire to eat. Yogis practice plavini before going into samadhi for days together so that the stomach remains full during their natural fast.

Not all these pranayamas to be practiced at the same time. Learn them all and with right practice, the need will arise automatically to perform different methods of these pranayama in different situations.

Next: Yoga: 5. Bandhas (Locks) and Mudras (Gestures)

Yoga: 3. Asana - Strength Training

(Previous: Yoga: 2. Where to start?)

"Overeating, exertion, talkativeness, adhering to rules, being in the company of common people and wavering mind are the six causes which destroy yoga." - Svātmārāma

Asana is spoken of as the first part of hatha yoga. Having done asana one gets steadiness (firmness) of body and mind; devoid of any form of disease and lightness (in terms of flexibility) of the limbs.

Hatha Yoga is preparing the body and predominantly constitutes asanas and pranayama (with kiryas, bandhas and mudras). 'Ha' (sun) and 'Tha' moon and yoga is 'to unite'. Hence, Hatha yoga's goal is to unite the hot sun energy flowing through pingala nadi connected to the right nostril and cold moon energy via ida nadi connected to the left nostril. The moon is the mental energy of chitta (pool of memory). It is the subtle force which is concerned with the mental layers. The pranic force is like the sun, dynamic and active. The two create the extremities of introversion and extroversion. It is the practice of hatha yoga which enables the fluctuations between these two energies to become harmonious and unified into one force. When it is united, the practitioner (sadhaka) attains a calm state of mind and set to progress to next level, Pratyahara (mastery over senses). With minimal practice this can be attained, but to sustain the state, a dedicated sustained practice is needed.

Yoga is a personal affair. It is not a group workout. Just like studying, painting and singing; people learn it as a group, but practice the teachings alone in solitude. Learn it from qualified people. As there is no guidelines to find the qualified teacher and everyone needs to find a teacher who resonate with them. Internet provides good lessons, but try to compare independent sources to understand the asanas clearly. 

To practice, find a room, just tall enough to jump without touching the ceiling, not wider than two to four times the width your stretched hands sideways, not longer than two to four times your height. This is to contain the vibrations in the preliminary stages. Keep it very clean as there will be rigorous breathing involved during pranayama. Ensure the room temperature at comfortable level. Since the asana's will exert heat, starting with a little cooler temperature is fine. Comfortable clothing and a floor with good grip will do. Yoga Mat and tight attire is western innovation to suit their needs. Just understanding the reason, like, the yoga studios have smooth surfaces, the mat was needed and since it has become a group activity here, the tight attire was needed to comfortably orient the body in all direction amidst others. This is as unimportant as the description of yoga hermitage (shelter) in hatha yoga pradipika.

There are 84 core asanas.  It is said that lord shiva has described eighty-four asanas, taking examples from each of the 8,400,000 kinds of creatures in the world. There have been several derivations from these 84 asanas. Since there is no place where the original 84 asanas are summarized and mentioned together, it might become a longer than expected quest to list down the original 84 asanas. We'll jump start with the main asanas and depending on the level of dedication, the practitioner can embark on the quest.

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is a series of 12 asanas done in succession. Sadakas (practitioners) generally practiced this during sunrise and also solar energy is life source for everything on earth. This is by far the only complete workout system for the body, meaning, when one can just practice this for the rest of their life, all the organs of the body will stay in top notch condition for their lifetime.
Start from tadasana (mountain pose) and go clockwise till you are back to the starting point. There are several variations in the internet, don't get diverted. Minor modification doesn't hurt. This can be practiced in single breath or multiple breaths (per pose), irrespective of that, while changing the pose the breath should be flowing. General rule of thumb is; when chest expands inhale and exhale when it contracts like bending forward. Repeat it 3-7 times, based on the time dedication.

Between the lunar cycle (28 days approx.) and the solar cycle (12 years approx.), there are many other cycles that directly impact us. Some one who is not so conscious will undergo alike situations, experiences, thoughts and emotions in a cyclic way. It keeps happening in same order every month, six months, eighteen months, three years or six years. If this cycle comes once in over twelve years, that means your system is in a good state of receptivity and balance. Surya namaskar will assert that balance. The sadhana (practice) is always to break the cycle of unconscious and autonomous activities. So that there is no more compulsiveness, and you have the right kind of foundation for consciousness.

Asanas are 84 in total, Practice at least these 21 and master at least 1. When you can perform these 21 asanas mentioned below, you can consider yourself graduated the course of asanas. There is abundant details on each asana and step by step guidance in the internet. KinoYoga is one of them. She learned hatha yoga from Pattabhi Jois, who was a preliminary student of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, father of modern yoga. All the Theories around each asana is explained in detail in the internet, my intention here is to emphasis on the practice and this information will serve as a stepping stone.

Standing Asanas
For these asanas, when the fingers are stretched out and in the line of sight, unwavering concentration on finger tips without blinking is necessary while sustaining the peak of the pose for 3-5 breaths.
1. Trikonasana (Traingle Pose): 'trikoṇa' literally means triangle. Practice both the poses shown below on both sides (left and right). This corrects the alignment of neck, shoulders and knees, massages pelvic organs and ligaments along with strengthening the ankles and core. concentrate on the finger tips.
2. Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose): Strengthens legs and improves balance. Impersonate the attitude of a warrior to refine the level of concentration.
3. Pada-Hasthasana (Hand-Under-Foot Pose): Stretches and strengthens the total back from head to heals.
4. Talasana (Palm-Tree Pose): Stretches spine and corrects the alignment of all 24 unfused vertebrae of the spinal column. Simultaneously inhale and stretch towards the sky, standing on toes. Pierce those finger tips with eye sight. Exhale and relax into casual stand.
5. Vriksasana (Tree Pose): As obvious as it is; increases balance, poise and concentration. Start with a weak leg and finish with a strong leg.

6. Utkatasana (Chair Pose): Increases strength, balance and stability of the lower body (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles and calves).

Seated and lying-down Asanas
7. Bhadrasana (Cobbler Pose): Directs life force upwards, calms mental plane, and regulates the adrenal and reproductive organs. Recommended pose to treat infertility. Still in eastern countries, cobblers mend shoes in this pose and they'll often have several children.
8. Sethu-Bandhasana (Bridge Pose): Stretches legs, chest. Alleviates stress and depression. Best suited to relieve menstrual discomfort.
9. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Spinal twist): It stands of half-lord of Fishes pose. Its primary purpose is restore spinal health and it is also said that it increases appetite, destroys deadly diseases, and awakens kundalini.
10. Shalabhasana (Locust Pose): Simulates svadhishthana Chakra(Gonads) and hence restoring hormonal balance. Strengthens gluteal muscles.
11. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Strengthens arms, chest and gluteal muscles. Improves metabolism.
12. Mayurasana (Peacock Pose): Strengthens arms, wrist, tones the body and improves balance and concentration. Mayurasana should not be done at the beginning of asana practice. Do it after performing other asanas or any inverted postures. Mayurasana quickly alleviates all diseases like enlargement of the glands, dropsy and other stomach disorders. It rectifies imbalance of the five elements. It reduces to ashes all food taken indiscriminately, kindles the gastric fire and enables even destruction of kalakuta (a deadly poison).
13. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose):Stretches the front of the body; abs, quadriceps, chest and biceps.
14. Paschimottanasana (Sitting Forward bend): Stretches the back of the body; spine, hamstrings and calves. Simulates manipura chakra (pancreas) and svadhishthana Chakra(Gonads).
15. Matsyasana (Fish Pose): Expands chest, relieves breathing disorders, tones pituitary and pineal glands.
16. Navasana (Boat Pose): Strengthens abs, simulates svadhishthana chakra (adrenal, reproductive glands).
17. Sarvangasana (Shoulder-stand): The pressure on vishuddhi chakra (thyroid gland), regulates the and restores metabolism to ideal state.
18. Halasana (Plow Pose): Stretches cervic spine (7 vertebae in the neck), which is often mis-aligned due to the day to day activities.
19. Sirshasana (Head-stand): It is called King of asanas and it is practiced to reverse attitudes, literally. Looks harder, but with right guidance, you'll be doing it in less than ten minutes. Head and elbows form a tripod, which supports the body much easily than it looks. Short-tempered people should compensate by cooling their head with different means while practicing this asanas. Else they might have more frequent outbursts of anger.
20. Balasana (Child/Rabbit Pose): Natural pose, restores blood flow to normal, especially after head/shoulder stands.
21. Savasana (Corpse Pose): Looks easy, but the perfection is attained when you can move you attention to any part of the body instantaneously and seize all attention out at will.
There are asanas like natarajasana, titibasana, vakrasana, vrschikasana, etc. that looks visually stunning, and does need regular practice to attain the pose. Once the sadhaka (practitioner) can perform the above 21 with ease, explore and try such asanas to keep from getting monotonous and to continuously challenging oneself.

21 Asanas: Download this image and print it for quick reference

Dhyana Asanas ( Seated Postures for Meditation)
Practice all these 4 and find one that best suits you for meditation. This will be the stepping stone for further sadhanas (practices). Once meditation transcends on the practitioner, the sense of time is shaken and one can go hours in the same pose.
1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose): Natural siting posture. However, in this pose people tend to relax on the spine and when the spine is not erect, the energy flow is not even.

2. Siddhasana (Perfect Pose): Siddhasana is purely a meditative posture. It is designed to channelize the prana (life force) or vital energy directly to ajna chakra (endocrine glands between eyebrows). Siddhasana prevents nervous depression from occurring during meditation. Siddhasana purifies all the 72,000 nadis (energy channels) in the body. It is also said that just by meditating in siddhasana for 12 years, enlightenment is attained.

3. Vajrasana (Diamond Pose): Vajrasana can be practiced even right after a meal. Its is not possible to bend the spine in this pose, hence it is one of the apt poses for meditation.

4. Padmasana (Lotus Pose): Again, this is a fool-proof method to ensure right posture. Spine will stay erect automatically.

Shat-kriyas (six cleansing methods), followed by asanas, then pranayama with bandhas and meditating in one of these poses with right mudras (hand gestures) will put the sadhaka (practitioner) on a fast-track in attaining higher goals in yoga.

Next: Yoga: 4. Pranayama: Extension of Life Force

Yoga: 2. Where to Start?

(Previous: Yoga: 1. What is Yoga?)

It is wise to choose a right path before taking the first step. Yoga sutras and all its interpretations from different times denote that there are four paths to liberation;
  • Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)
  • Karma Yoga (Path of Dutifulness)
  • Gnyana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)
  • Kriya Yoga (Path of Deed) a.k.a. Raja Yoga
A basic level of all these; devotion, knowledge, dutifulness and deed is needed for all and a specialization in one. As a matter of fact, when someone specialize in one of these, other three automatically transcend on them.

Bhakti yoga is comparatively the easiest path as it doesn't take much troll on a person, especially psychologically. Since, a real devotee doesn't really take any responsibility. Anything that happens to him/her or anything they do, they dedicate it to the one they are devoted to. Hence its very common for the parents to indulge in pious upbringing of their children.

The devotion here is absolute devotion, not a feign one or a lukewarm devotion. This path is very natural for people practicing any form of art. There had been several glorified stories and shows on devotion of poets like meera, tulsidas,  alwars and nayanmars to inspire people to follow the path of devotion. It is not a coincidence that many of the top artists, authors, architects, musicians and several other fields of art of our times are from islamic culture, where the devotion is certainly at higher degree. This path is best suited for the people in the field of arts.

It is still a common practice in east for people to bow down to the elders and in india people do touch the feet of elders seeking their blessings. The genuine elders gratefully accept this gesture without any hesitation. The real reason behind their acceptance is not to glorify themselves, but to provide you an opportunity to practice this devotion. If you don't like it, don't do it. The empty gesture is absolutely meaningless and it actually does more harm by poisoning your own ego.

Karma yoga is fulfilling the duties. This is the path of kshatriya (warriors) and grihastha (householders). The vast majority of the population in the world are householders. Farmer, barber, washermen, fishermen and people of every other occupation whose key purpose is to provide for the family are categorized as householders. In the current world, we've intertwined art and occupation together. Hence to make it clear, for a author whose main purpose is to provide for the family is a householder and one who write for the pure sake of writing is an artist. Artists do acquire wealth, but that is a by-product of what they do.

This is certainly the longest path to liberation. It is obvious as they keep accumulating and dissipating several degrees of karma continuously. No deed is classified as good or bad as such. It emphasis that, anything you do will have an equivalent consequence. Before you do it, try to interpret the consequence and make the decision.

In olden days, killing a 1000 elephants will make one a glorified fearless hero. Nowadays, hunting even a single elephant will get you a lifetime imprisonment. Warning some brat child in the park with corporal punishment is a punishable crime. While the parent or the teacher can do so. The point is, how the deeds are perceived by the society changes between time and place. So yoga never enlisted good and bad acts. It insists on becoming aware. To put it in a gist, Any act of total awareness cannot go wrong and any act out of unawareness will not be right, even accidentally.

Gnyana yoga is path of knowledge. This is the path of attaining the liberation through contemplating, understanding, wisdom and practicing the understood. This path is unique in the sense, it's the only path with strong emphasis on using the mind extensively before taming it down, while all other paths directly go to work with taming the mind down. 

The knowledge in the context here is not mere physically identifiable, but also the subtle knowledge of working of the existence. Much of this knowledge and clairvoyance is attained in meditation and this path involves attaining several kinds of meditation like vipasana, zazen, samatha and so on. Buddha, Vivekananda, Adi sankara are some of the well-known Gnyana Yogis of the east. 

Vivekananda became of devotee of ramakrishna, who is a bakthi yogi. This emphasis the fact that once enlightened, no matter what path they took, they are all in the same state and will be mentor the practitioners of all paths. As obvious as it is, this the apt path for scientists and inquirers.

Kriya yoga (or) raja yoga is attaining mukti through sadhanas (austerities). This is the most direct way and this involves using the body as a vehicle and tuning it for samadhi. This type is predominantly the face of yoga in our times. This is the path of arduous stretching and bending the body into various poses, several kinds of breathing technique, uncommon way of detoxing the body and mind. All these practices are to get to state where we have absolute mastery over the senses (indriya), endocrine glands (chakra) and the energy channels (nadi). All these sadhanas (austerities) are mere preparation and they themselves are not the goal. As a result of these austerities the usual distractions of the body and mind are wiped clear and the final stages, meditation and nirvana trancends with absolute ease. 

It is uncommon to know the Kriya Yogis as they are very introverted and often live in solitude. Mahavatar babaji is allegedly the most famous kriya yogi and most respected among the yogis of himalayas. This is best suited for the sportsmen as it involves onerous training, strong physical and mental strength, patience and a resilient attitude.

Kriya yoga is what we are going to dig in deep with the forth-coming chapters.

Next: Yoga: 3. Asana: Strength Training

Yoga: 1. What is Yoga?

“Yogaschitta Vrittinirodha" - Patanjali
(“Cesssation of the mental modifications is yoga”)

Yoga literally translates to to-join (or) to-unite. It inherently means to unite the jeeva-atma (individual soul) to parama-atma (total consciousness). This union is termed as enlightenment which leads to moksha (a.k.a.) mukti (liberation). Liberation of this individual soul from the cycle of physical birth and death.

To a modern mind it sounds mythical as science couldn't navigate this subject and produce the post-mortem reports. It is purely experiential. When we take a deep-breath (sukha purvaka) and exhale, there is a great sense of pleasantness. Ignore all the sanskrit jargons, prophecies, beliefs and doubts and consider a multitude of this pleasantness is yoga.

Pretty much everything in india roots back to Lord Shiva. Yoga is not an exception. But all the knowledge of the current times comes from the artifacts from two prominent people. Patanjali (allegedly, 400 AD) compiled yoga sutras and svātmārāma (15th century) authored hatha yoga pradipika.

Yoga emphasis on these 8 steps (ashta rung) of the ladder. 
  1. Yama (ethics)
  2. Niyama (self-discipline)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (mastery over breath)
  5. Pratyahara (mastery over senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute stillness)
Often, yama and niyama are taken for granted as everyone believes they are ethical and disciplined in their own measure. The 5 attributes of each is explicitly listed by patanjali and svātmārāma extended it to 10 yamas and 10 niyamas.

In the western world, Yoga often translates to hatha yoga, which is mainly asana and pranayama (along with kriyas, bandhas, mudras). Svātmārāma's hatha yoga pradipika serves as the ultimate source of truth for the practitioners and pretty much every single commercial yoga school teach a subset of hatha yoga.

The latter half (5-8) is quite advanced and often applicable for the dedicated practitioners.

Pratyahara is complete explicit control over these 10 senses. 
autonomous senses cognitive senses
elimination hearing
procreation tasting
motion (legs) seeing
holding (hands) touching
speaking hearing
Dharana (Concentration) is fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place. 

The Last two (7 & 8), are not something that can be practiced. Rather a flowering of the previous 6 steps (sadhanas) and transcends on the practitioner.

Dhyana (Meditation) is sustained concentration, whereby the attention continues to hold the same object or place without any effort.

Samadhi is total absorption where the practitioner is not identified with their body or mind. It is a complete stillness, total emptiness. Mind is totally tamed and no ripples of thought exists. This state is the goal of all yogic practices.

As obvious as it is, these abilities will enhance anyone to live the life to the fullest. Everything they do will be at its best and automatically the person gets in tune with the cosmos.

As the topic is vast, this could be a 10 part series, uncovering every topic around yoga in detail.

Yugas - Concept Of Time

Planet Earth
Before we venture into the unknown, lets starts with things that science has uncovered and proven with enough evidence. Just like the existence of sun, we are quite sure about the earth rotating its own axis every 24 hrs and moon revolving around the earth.

Moon also revolves around its own axis and it takes the same time to revolve around the earth. This is known as synchronous orbit.

Solar System
Similarly, earth revolves around the sun and each orbit is observed as completion of a year. Sun also completes one revolution around its own axis every 25 days (24.47 days to be close to precision). The distance between center of earth and center of sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun. same is the case with earth and moon.

Now we are venturing into the zone that has no scientific proof yet. But, its logical as it follows the same principles of the so-far known celestial objects, though this concept was penned down at least 5000 years ago in the period of 3000 BC in India. Majority of this comes from Sage Ganita, mentioned in Mahabaratha.

Before we venture into the details, lets get an understanding of these measuring units in the units of our times.

deva (devi femminine) are the deities, can be inferred as super-humans. One full day (and night) of the devas (celestial) is called ayana. daytime is called utarayana is the first half of the year when it appears the sun is moving towards north and the night time is called dakshinayana, the later half of the year, when the sun appears to move towards south.
  • 1 celestial day      = 1 human year
  • 1 celestial month  = 30 celestial days = 30 human years
  • 1 celestial year     = 12 celestial months = 360 human years
Our Solar System is allegedly orbiting the galactic center and each orbit is known as maha yuga (or divya yuga). Maha yuga is a cycle of four yugas, namely, krita, treta, dwapara, kali. These yugas are decided based on the proximity of our solar system to the galactic center. The closer we are, better we are.

One maha yuga is 12,000 celestial years, i.e., 4.32 million human years.
  • Krita yuga      4800 celestial years = 1,728,000 human years
  • Treta yuga      3600 celestial years = 1,296,000 human years
  • Dwapara yuga 2400 celestial years =    864,000 human years 
  • Kali yuga        1200 celestial years =    432,000 human years
We are currently believed to be in kali yuga, where the solar system is at its farthest (apogee) from the galactic center. Kali yuga is also known as the age of ignorance. In this yuga, life span of a healthy human is 100 yrs and their stature is 3.5 cubits (முழம்).

Dwapara yuga is known as the age of ambition. It preceded and succeeds the current kali yuga. Healthy humans are said to live 1000 yrs with a stature of 7 cubits. This might be an explanation for why the statues in pyramids are of 7 cubits scale. Lord krishna of hinduism is said to be from the dwapara yuga that preceded the current kali yuga.

Treta yuga is known as the age of virtue. With a healthy human lifespan of 10,000 years and 14 cubit statues and 3/4th of the people being enlightened, it sound beyond the imagination. Lord rama of hinduism is allegedly from the recent treta yuga.

Kirta yuga is know as age of truth, hence it is also referred as satya yuga. This is the when the solar system is closest (perigee) to the galactic center. As a result, Life span of 100,000 yrs and 21 cubit statures and every human is enlightened.

Every 71 maha yugas, the existing human race is wiped clear and a manu surfaces in the world in an epoch after universal destruction. The word 'man' is derived from this eastern word 'manu'. According to the puranasVaivasvata is the manu of current manvantara. His story is same as the story of Noah of christianity and gilgamesh of mesopotamia.

Each manvantara is preceded and followed by sandya, a time period of 4800 celestial years (1.728 million human years), where a partial creation (srishti) and destruction (laya) occurs.

Now we are entering the scale of whole cosmos. One full day of cosmos (bramha in hinduism) is called kalpa, known as aeon in the western part of the world. Currently we are said to be in sveta-varaha (white boar) kalpa. 

daytime of a kalpa = 14 manvantaras + 15 sandyas = 1000 maha yugas = 4.32 Billion human years
(followed by a night time of equal length)

As shown in the picture, one year of the cosmos (bramha) is 3.1104 trillion years.

Lifetime of the cosmos is allegedly 100 cosmic years, 311.04 trillion human years. A total shutdown of equal time span is expected after this and another big-bang and so on.

We (people of the 21th century AD), are in the middle of everything;

Allegedly, this kali yuga started in 3102 B.C. (18 Feb 00:00) - about 5100 yrs have passed, 427,000 more to go (as of 2000 AD).

Among the 14 manvantaras of this kalpa, we are in the 7th (Vaivasvata) and 7 more to go.

Among the 100 kalpas for a year of cosmos, we are at the 51st (sveta-varaha (white boar) kalpa).

311.04 trillion years translates to 1022 seconds. The same puranas denote that smallest indivisible life particle is called kalapa (not kalpa) and every living being is made of that, which closely resembles the latest discovery higgs-boson particle, also known as god particle with a life time of 10-22 seconds. isn't this more than just a co-incidence?

There is nothing to doubt or believe here. I'm just passing on what i've read, heard from independent sources and pondered over for years. Just reading this should give a good perspective of how vast the cosmos is and how insignificant are the objects of our vanity.

Related Theory: This may be very well be explaining the inner cycle of the yugas described above. As this whole is cyclic with just varying scale.

Some sources totally decline this celestial year concept. This celestial years was an adulterant concept introduced lately by aryans to exemplify it beyond human imagination and eventually make it consider more fictional. This theory emphasizes that its all actual human years, meaning, kali-yuga is 1296 human years, 108 years of pradosagama (dusk), 1080 years of actual kali-yuga and 108 years of sandhya (dawn). Going by that kali-yuga started in 3102 BC (krishna's demise), peaked at 1806 BC, started descending and ended on 510 BC (buddha's enlightenment). Dwapara yuga began then and it ends in 2082 and treta yuga begins. There will be significant global transformation during such conjunction of yugas. This video from a reliable source explains this point of view.

7 Generations

ஏன் ஏழு தலைமுறை?

சுக்லதாதுவில் 84 அம்சங்கள் உள்ளன.
தந்தை, தாய் உணவால் உருவாகுவது :28 (33.000%) 
  2. தந்தையிடமிருந்து              :21  (25.000%) 
  3. பாட்டனிடமிருந்து              :15  (17.857%) 
  4. முப்பாட்டனிடமிருந்து        :10  (11.904%)
  5. 4 வது பாட்டனிடமிருந்து    :6    (7.142%)
  6. 5 வது பாட்டனிடமிருந்து    :3    (3.571%)
  7. 6 வது மூதாதையிடமிருந்து :1    (1.190%)
ஆக மொத்தம் 84. சுக்லதாதுவில் உண்டாகும் இந்த ஏழு பதிவுகளே ஏழு தலைமுறைகள் எனப்படுகின்றன.
Significance of 7 Generations

Genes have 84 attributes.
  1. Food of the Parents:  28 (33.000%)
  2. From Father            :  21 (25.000%)
  3. From His Father      :  15 (17.857%)
  4. From His Father      :  10 (11.904%)
  5. From His Father      :  6   (7.142%)
  6. From His Father      :  3   (3.571%)
  7. From His Father      : 1    (1.190%) 

A Total of 84. Hence 7 generations was insisted often and a son was said to carry the Lineage.

What it means to us?
Great Law of the Iroquois holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future. The exact statement is emphasized in all the mature civilizations of the world.

What we think, eat, learn, practice and how we live affects seven generations directly. While the appearance, built and adaptability is commonly credited to genetics, Genes also have a strong influence on natural abilities, eating habits and interests of a person. Instead of bequeathing our desires to our children, lets pass on some good health, habits, interests and skill-set directly by the up bringing and indirectly through the genes.

Lets not repeat these mistakes...
Caste Obsession: In eastern countries, it was a common practice for children to get into the occupation of their ancestors. They would instinctively know how to succeed in that. But, the civilizations failed to account for the fact that there will always be a small percentage of exceptions. The lifestyle and occupation, from being a mere choice of a person, had turned into enforcement and it is human nature to resist any form of enforcement and the whole system is collapsing.

Sons carry on the Lineage: Kings, scholars, very sophisticated farmers, ranchers had spent years learning and practicing several things beneficial to the humanity to co-exist in harmony with nature. They were wise enough to know that it would take several generations to refine and master it. So they were persistent on having a son to continue their quest. This turned into an obsession with the masses and for over few millennia resulted in a large scale female infanticide. Of course, there were several other rationalizations derived for this, but their innate desire for having a son roots back to this gene theory. In the current times, a vast majority don't plan for more than a weekend and it is safe to say that there is not much to carry forward for even a single generation. what is the need for carrying forward a lineage?

Suffocating the Children: If a child is not good at math, it is not his/her cup of tea. Children have abundance of energy and we all know that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed but only be transformed. Redirecting it into something creative is the way to go. Their abundant energy will constantly divert them from all activities. But they've found it when you see your children do something with undivided attention like painting, singing, dancing or any sport. In general, any activity that keeps them in the moment without pondering over the past or wondering about future. The ambitious mind of the parents immediately jumps on it and suffocates the child to pursue it for fame and wealth. It doesn't matter what the intention is, when something is forced, humans retaliate. Finding this creative path is utterly important as the energy needs to be channeled, else it takes undesired course. It is said that, Hitler wanted to be a painter. But his application to the university got rejected and you know what happened.