“Health is your birthright, but not disease; Strength your heritage, but not weakness;
Courage, but not fear; Bliss, but not sorrow;
Peace, but not restlessness; Knowledge but not ignorance.
May you attain this birthright, this Divine Heritage
to shine as fully developed Yogis,
radiating joy, Peace and knowledge everywhere.
Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.” (Sri Gurudev)
Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda was an accomplished yoga master who came to the west in 1966 and offered the traditional Yoga teachings and practices in a way that was unique. Even though the class is called Integral Yoga Hatha, it is a complete Yoga practice. Each class contains asana (physical postures), pranayama, kriyas (purification practices), Yoga nidra (deep relaxation), pratyahara (control of senses), chanting, mantra repetition and meditation. Sri Gurudev always presented Yoga as a comprehensive spiritual path not just a physical practice. For those seeking the physical benefits of Yoga, of course that is readily available, but the Integral Yoga Class itself opens the doorway to a more all-inclusive understanding and practice of the Yoga lifestyle.
Sri Gurudev’s emphasis was on using a regular asana practice to gain the maximum health benefits with the minimum number of asanas. This approach prevents one from becoming stuck in the physical asana aspect of Yoga and allows one to maintain a healthy body and peaceful mind in order to experience a more useful life.
Sri Gurudev presented us with a core sequence of asanas for daily practice. One of the primary benefits of this sequence is to experience balance on all levels of our being. The practice balances the endocrine system on the physical level and on the more subtle level it balances the prana or vital life force throughout the system. The asanas are performed with a meditative attitude. Sri Gurudev advises that our awareness during an asana should be on the benefit of the pose. The concentration should be directed toward the vital organ, gland, or area of the body that is receiving the flow of prana. By placing the awareness on a particular area of the body, the prana is directed to that area. (Actually, it is the awareness or concentration that sends the prana to the particular area of the body.) This greatly enhances the benefit of the asana.
As one becomes more comfortable in a pose, the asana can be held for a longer period of time. To progress in the Integral Yoga Hatha practice, there is no need to keep adding additional poses. The practice deepens and advances as the poses are held longer with greater concentration (from 3 – 30 minutes depending on the pose (see Integral Yoga Hatha book for details). It is the nature of the mind to always keep jumping, seeking change and variation. Sri Gurudev offered us many optional poses to “play with” in order to keep the mind occupied with variety but still stay on track with our Yoga practice. These poses can be added to, but not substituted for the basic sequence of poses.
The Integral Yoga class is designed to give the student a feeling of complete relaxation and an experience of Peace and Joy. This experience can be replicated in every class or practice session. It is this experience of Peace that is the goal of Yoga.
Developing a Personal Yoga Practice
At some point one may feel the need to make a transition from being a Hatha Yoga class attendee to being a more involved yogi. This means developing a personal practice where one makes the connection to one’s own inner Peace on a daily basis. In fact this connection with our Peace within becomes the most significant aspect in one’s day-to-day life. Having made the connection, one continues throughout the day’s activities full of energy and radiating Peace.
The most essential aspect of developing a personal practice is regularity. This may sound mundane and obvious, but the reality is that life itself gets in the way of a regular Yoga practice. We find ourselves putting our Yoga practice on the back burner while taking care of all the other important emergencies of life, and we find ourselves becoming stressed out and needing the very practice that we don’t have time for.
First: take back the time needed for practice. This has to be done by analyzing one’s life schedule and realistically finding a time for Yoga. Probably this will mean either getting up earlier or staying up later. Pick one—you can’t do both. It is best to have a consistent time.
After you have the time, you need a place. Create a place, a sacred space where you are comfortable and free to practice without interruption. This is your time and place. It should be clean, well ventilated and have whatever is necessary for you to do your practice with no distraction. Turn off the phone and TV: avoid chaos and go within. Gurudev says that preparation is 90% of the practice. If everything is ready, it will be easy to get started and continue.
Practice taking the core sequence of Integral Yoga Hatha to make it your own. Depending on the time available to you, create a practice of asana, deep relaxation, and pranayama leading into meditation. If the time is limited, reduce the amount of time in asanas so that the pranayama and meditation time is never lost.
Over time, the personal practice of Hatha Yoga will grow and change according to one’s needs. Although the basic core sequence remains the foundation of the practice, optional poses may be added and varied depending on the goal and need of the time.
• Someone concerned with his/her weight may want to do more repetitions of Surya Namaskar and more standing poses.
• Someone wanting to sit comfortably in Lotus Pose or some other meditation pose may need to do more hip opening asanas, and poses that protect the knee, by strengthening the muscles surrounding that area.
• Someone wishing to build upper body strength may find more arm balances and shoulder stretches very helpful for keeping them limber.
• Someone with digestive problems may concentrate on more twists and poses that massage the abdomen.
• Someone whose practice needs a good push might choose a new, challenging pose and work with that for some time.
The specialty areas will change from time to time, but the foundation remains the same. This simple and balanced approach given by Sri Gurudev leads one to a body of health, strength, balance, and flexibility and a Peaceful mind.
Take some time at the end of every day to reflect on your practice and daily activities. Observe the transformative effects of the Yoga practice taking place in the body and mind. It can be a great help to maintain a spiritual diary or journal.
Adopting a pure, sattvic yogic diet will greatly enhance the benefits of the Yoga practice. Sri Gurudev always recommended a pure vegetarian diet for Yoga practitioners.
These simple practices incorporated into daily life will lead one to a life of health and happiness.
Satya Greenstone has been a student of Sri Swami Satchidananda for over 40 years. Throughout this time she has shared the teachings of Integral Yoga in many diverse settings with students of all ages and backgrounds. In 1978, she and her husband started the Yogaville Vidyalayam- Temple of Learning, an elementary school for the ashram community children. For 17 years they taught the children, developing a full academic curriculum based on the principles and teachings of Yoga. Since 1999 she has been a primary teacher for the Integral Yoga Basic Teacher Training course. She combines a natural, practical, down to earth approach to yoga with a gentle humor. She is a yogini first and foremost, and her teaching is an extension of the experience of her yoga practice.
(by Satya Greenstone, from the IYTA Newsletter, Feb. 2011)