The Spiritual Side of Yoga

What does spirituality mean to you? Like yoga itself, spirituality is personal yet universal. Many people practice yoga as a means to a toned body and an hour of peace away from the office. But for others looking for their path through life, yoga goes deeper. For many people, spirituality is the answer to the question “what makes yoga special?”

The Spiritual Stretch
Yoga is physical, for sure. Regularly practicing yoga develops your stamina, your strength, and your rockstar abs. Postures challenge the body. However, yoga is also a mental practice where you work through emotional stress and psychological challenges – you may even meditate.

If you sign up for yoga classes because you want a thin body or the ability to master a handstand then you are skimming the surface of the practice. If you enjoy yoga for the health benefits then you will certainly feel better with regular sessions. But without the spiritual side, yoga is simply a stretch class, a gym session, or a space for relaxation. Go deeper, and you’ll find so much more.

Cultivating Awareness
When committing to yoga practice on a regular basis, yogis seek to experience and become aware of the spirit, or the energy, within and without. We’re not talking about ghostly spirits here, or some supernatural being – spirit is higher consciousness; a driving force, a motivation, a reason behind everything we think and everything we do. Being aware of this energy is something spiritual. Therefore, awareness is critical to yoga as a spiritual practice.

Think of the expression “the mat is your mirror.” When you turn up to the mat you bring yourself – only yourself and all of yourself. If you practice yoga with an awareness of yourself you come to learn about the different ways you act, how you react, and what you are like – in creating awareness of yourself you can transform your mind, which in turn affects how you live your life and how you interact with others.

Relinquishing Control
Watch out – awareness doesn’t always lead to the place you want to go. Yoga as a spiritual practice is not about changing your life so you can earn more money, be a “better” person, or score a job you love. Yoga is not about getting rid of the negative by controlling your mind and your environment.

Rather, practicing yoga reminds you there is no “sweet spot” – there will always be a barking dog, a car that runs out of gas, a bad-tempered boss or an inattentive lover. There will always be something you could do without, or improve. Developing a spiritual side with yoga is about holding your pose regardless of the circumstances through an awareness of yourself and your experience.

A Quiet Mind
Most of the time, we are busy analyzing our actions and focusing on our physical performance instead of simply being. How can you develop awareness without taking the time and space to connect deeper within yourself?

Yoga gives you the space to do just that. Many teachers will talk of the importance of the quiet mind – push yourself through the highly physical postures in order to be exhausted enough to let go into your quiet mind or sacred inner space. Just be. Don’t expect positivity, peacefulness or happiness, but if it does come, be aware of it.

Be aware of what you experience, and be grateful. Taking this attitude of gratitude and surrender into your everyday life away from the mat makes yoga a spiritual practice.

Yoga Is Not a Religion
You can be of any faith or have no faith to practice yoga – yoga is not a religious practice, and the spiritual side of yoga is not linked to any organized form of worship. The word yoga means to join or unite, and yogis view this unison in different ways – the unison of body, mind and spirit, uniting all the aspects of yourself, or uniting with a higher power or spiritual force.

You can believe in a God or gods, or nothing at all. Sometimes working through asanas can be like a prayer – moving quietly, reverently, focused on the breath. But equally your prayer could come the next day, when you feel a jolt of recognition and completion, and are taken back to how you felt when you were truly in the moment, on the mat.

Perhaps yoga is a way of cultivating wholeness, remembering wholeness, and recognizing this wholeness everywhere – for many yogis, that is the spiritual side of the practice.

10 Different Types of Yoga: What’s Your Favorite?

Yoga is a catch-all term for various physical, spiritual and self-mastery disciplines that have their origins in India.

The word yoga (in Sanskrit) means “to unite” or “to join.” Most scholars agree that the term refers to the unity of body and soul, or the mind and the body.

Some variations of yoga focus on developing discipline of the mind, others focus on developing physical strength, flexibility and health and others focus on purity of the mind and body. It is central to Buddhism and its terminology has roots in ancient Sanskrit Vedic teachings. Many people use yoga as a spiritual tool, but many (particularly in the West) use yoga as part of an exercise program and for its health benefits.

Yoga is also considered a type of moving meditation that requires present-focus, concentration and self-discipline.

Many types of yoga are practiced worldwide: the following gives a brief description of the ten most commonly practiced variations and the intended purpose of each style.

1. Hatha Yoga: the foundation of all yoga styles, Hatha Yoga is easy to learn, beginner-friendly and can be used for physical, mental and spiritual purposes. It combines controlled breathing with asanas (poses) and meditation. It is very popular for stress reduction and a great way for non-meditators to experience the benefits of meditation. While it is great exercise, it is much gentler and inward-focused than some other forms of yoga. Hatha yoga lends itself perfectly to both spiritual and secular intentions.

2. Ashtanga (or Astanga) Yoga: Ashtanga Yoga is a very physically demanding style of yoga. It involves a continuously flowing series of poses, focused breathing and results in a detoxification of the organs and muscles. It is a yoga often practiced for health and fitness benefits since it improves circulation, builds great strength, stamina, flexibility. Its mental benefits are self-control, calm and focus. This type of yoga is not recommended for beginners or pregnant women due to its strenuous nature and advanced poses.

3. Bikram Yoga: also known as “hot yoga,” Bikram Yoga is a new form of yoga that originated in the 1960s. It is named after Bikram Chowdry, a 1963 Olympic weightlifter. Its hallmark is that this type of yoga is practiced in a heated environment with temperatures hovering between 95 and 105 degrees F. This heated environment aids in flexibility and detoxification. It is focused on developing physical strength, endurance and flexibility. While great for beginners, pregnant women should avoid Bikram yoga.

4. Anusara Yoga: a very new style of yoga dating from the late 1990s, Anusara is far less “serious” than other styles. It incorporates all of the principles of traditional asanas (very strict alignment of the body combined with regulated breathing) but with a more playful manner intent on opening the heart chakra and experiencing a joyful divine connection.

5. Ananda Yoga: this very gentle style of yoga is intended to prepare the individual for meditation. Proper alignment, stretching and controlled breathing are used to promote the flexibility needed to sit in the Lotus position; and the asanas move energy with the intent of relaxing and focusing the mind. This type of yoga is excellent for anyone looking to increase flexibility and range of motion, or anyone wanting to learn to meditate.

6. Kundalini Yoga: the focus here is awakening the kundalini energy at the base of the spine, and drawing it upward through the chakras. Chanting is sometimes used along with regulated breathing, asanas and meditation. This is a very spiritual type of yoga less focused on development of the body as it is on freeing blocked energy and promoting its flow.

7. Power Yoga: This American style of yoga is an offshoot of Ashtanga Yoga (pure Ashtanga Yoga is not power yoga, although it is commonly mistaken for it). The asanas include non-traditional yoga poses like push-ups and handstands – and there is little or no pause between the asanas. This very dynamic, intensive flow from one asana to another produces purifying sweat, and builds power, endurance, flexibility and gives more aerobic benefits than any other style of Yoga. Its intent is mainly physical development, and this physically demanding style should be avoided by beginners, pregnant women and the elderly.

8. Kripalu Yoga is also known as the “Yoga of Consciousness.” It is very gentle and introspective. The poses are held for extended periods, allowing the practitioner to engage in self-awareness in order to release emotional and spiritual blockages. The precision alignment of other styles is not present in Kripalu – what’s more important is the use of movement and stillness to move energy within the body. Kripalu is an excellent choice for beginners, pregnant women and the elderly.

9. Vinyasa Yoga is another very active, physically demanding style of yoga that focuses on the coordination of breath and movement. This becomes a very meditative practice since the difficulty of the poses is combined with specific breathing patterns – making for a very quiet mind and present-awareness.

10. Iyengar Yoga practitioners use asanas that are held even longer than in other styles. The pace is very slow and poses are held for a minute or longer. The practice encourages less-flexible practitioners to gently ease into the practice with the use of cushions, straps and blocks. It’s a great practice for beginners (especially those who have been sedentary) the elderly and for pregnant women. It is one of the most popular styles of yoga taught today and has been widely used as physical therapy and recovery from injury.

Which style you choose depends on several factors: your intention; your level of physical fitness and flexibility; and whether you resonate with the teacher or the studio.

Living The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga teaches us ancient principles that we can use on and off the Yoga mat. Living and incorporating these principles have transformed my life- in the way I look, how I feel and how I live each day. Living these principles will lead you to a life of true success—a life of beautiful evolution, spiritual growth, and transformation. Here are some tips on how to incorporate each law into your daily life.

1. Sunday – The Law of Pure Potentiality
The Law of Pure Potentiality is about understanding our Spiritual Essence. We practice the Law of Pure Potentiality by quieting the mind and being present either through mantra meditation or breathe awareness. We have a deeper connection of spirit when we let go of judgments of people, places, or things—including ourselves. Spending time in nature also awakens us to our spiritual essence. Connecting with nature’s intelligence awakens us to the Divine presence that is everywhere and which shines through our eyes. Each day take time to be in nature—whether you take a walk around the block, on the beach, through a forest, or in a city park. It’s also important to Just take time to be—whether it is a relaxing bubble bath, gazing at a sunset, or relaxing on your couch. No TV, no books—just take time to be silent each day. This will allow you to connect with your beautiful spirit which is loving, kind, compassionate, and light hearted.

2. Monday – The Law of Giving and Receiving
The Law of Giving and Receiving helps us to keep energy flowing freely and keep abundance, affluence, and all good things flowing to us. A great example of Giving and Receiving is witnessing the breathe moving in and out of the body. If you hold your breath in you will notice how uncomfortable it becomes. Even holding the breath out without inhaling becomes uncomfortable too. If you stop the flow of either giving or receiving you interfere with the natural flow of life. To implement this into our daily life, you want to give every person you come in contact with a gift. Every time you meet someone silently wish them love, happiness, joy, and laugher. You will notice an incredible shift in your awareness, it’s amazing. You can silently wish the grocery store clerk peace and happiness or you can silently say Namaste and gaze into the eyes of someone walking by. And of course, a material present is fine too. Make a commitment to keep wealth circulating in your life by giving and receiving life’s most precious gifts of all, that of love, caring, affection, appreciation, and time. It is important to remember that receiving is the same thing as giving; they are just different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe. Accept any gift with open arms and gratitude. Look at nature and receive all the gifts that surround you. Look at the beautiful sunset, a snow storm, the sound of wind blowing, the rain, or even the birds singing. There are gifts all around us. Be present and notice the beauty that surrounds you.

3. Tuesday – The Law of Karma or Cause and Effect
The Law of Karma says that out of infinity of choices there is the one perfect choice that will create happiness for yourself and all of those around you. Your body is like an antenna which will send you feelings of comfort and discomfort. For some it comes from the solar plexus and others will feel it in the heart. I always felt the best question to ask when making a decision- whether it be something you are about to eat, an event you are going to, a new relationship which you might begin, a decision in your job, or even leaving or taking on a new job- the simple question is “Will this choice nourish me?” If you just pause and ask yourself that question, you will be guided to the answer either by a feeling in your body, your inner voice, or a symbolic object that is right in front of you. When we practice being present and noticing the different choices we are faced with throughout the day, it becomes easy for us to be aware of our inner guidance. When it is a big decision such as “Do I marry this person?” , “Do I take on this new job?”, or “Do I move to another state or country?” and so many other situations. To be alert of the signs along the way will help you to make the right decision. This will then create happiness for yourself. And when you are happy, all of those around you will be happy.

4. Wednesday – The Law of Least Effort
The Law of Least Effort can be thought of as the principle of allowing. No more struggling against the situation or circumstances that we find ourselves in. When we have total acceptance of the moment we can then come up with a creative response on what to do. Give up your need to struggle against the whole universe by struggling against this moment. In each situation good or bad, there is a seed of opportunity. It is important to see and accept this. For example, losing your wallet may lead you into a different route then you had planned that day. It may also help us to be more organized and present. Even being stuck in traffic can teach us patience. And on a bigger scale, the ending of a relationship will always lead us to a new and more fulfilling relationship and help us learn more about ourselves. The principle of Least Effort allows us accept our current situation as it is, so you will have more energy for things that are important and worthwhile.

5. Thursday – The Law of Intention and Desire
The Law of Intention and Desire brings us to the awareness that we are here to manifest our deepest dreams and desires and to know that what we want is there we just have to be open to all the people and situations that are guiding us. Practicing present moment awareness take practice. The best way to be present is through the practice of meditation two times a day which calms and clears our mind. It is important to remember the things we desire should be for the highest good of ourselves and others. The best way to manifest that which we desire is to make a list. I carry mine around with me in my wallet and look at it every day- in the morning and at night. My list starts out with things I want for myself- physically, emotionally, spiritually, and materially. At the top of my list is “ I am Strong”, “I am Healthy”, “I am Happy”… my list goes on both sides of the paper – front and back. What you think, you create and what you think, you become. You can have all that you desire. Enjoy the journey of manifestation. You are supported by everyone and everything in the universe. Things will come to you under grace, in perfect ways as long as you know this.

6. Friday – The Law of Detachment
The Law of Detachment is also known as the principle of Freedom. It is very freeing to know that you don’t have to be rigidly attached to how you are supposed to be. There is so much power in allowing people around you to be natural as they are and to find what is most natural for you. When you are being natural, you are very attractive. If you find yourself studying to be an accountant because that is what you thought you had to be yet your true calling is that of a teacher, things will become rigid. It is important to notice what lights you up. Begin one step at a time by finding what feels natural for you. There is a lot of power in the words “I am free to be me.” Not only is the principle of Detachment about Freedom. It is understanding and accepting uncertainty. We can definitely have goals and ideas of how we want our future to be yet it is important to be open to the infinite possibilities that are out there. And know that when things don’t seem to go our way (we all have examples of this) there is something much bigger and better awaiting us. Your life will be full of adventure, magic and mystery.

7. Saturday – The Law of Dharma or Purpose in Life
The seventh Spiritual Law is the Law of Dharma. This Law says that we are here to fulfill a purpose. We all have a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. We all have a unique way of expressing ourselves while in our dharma. There are a couple of ways to discover and to be guided to your Dharma. One is to write down a list of all the things you love and enjoy doing. Then ask yourself the question: If I can do anything in the world for my job and money is no object- what would that be? See if you can combine that one thing, or two things with the things you love to do. And then finally ask the questions,” How can I help, How can I serve?” I believe it is important to be aware that many people may be in their Dharma and they just don’t know it. Begin to understand and honor your unique way of performing the particular job you are in. You may then realize how important your part is that you are performing. When you honor your uniqueness and realize your importance, this can give you a whole new meaning of your purpose.

Why Yoga Is A Spiritual Practice

If you come to the practice of yoga looking only for pleasure, yoga will eventually disappoint you. Sooner or later, you’ll get bored with the practice or you will experience pain or discomfort in a posture you previously found fun. The basic lesson of this centuries-old science of self-exploration is that if you heed the call of pleasure and pain, you will always be a slave to the sensory experience.
If you instead learn to train the mind to be present, focused and equanimous regardless of the inevitable vicissitudes of life, then you will gain your freedom and ultimately experience your limitless, powerful higher self.

Sincere spiritual investigation is a journey to your center. Along the road, all of your attachments and aversions will be challenged. Everything you know yourself to be will be questioned. It’s not for everyone.

There are traditionally three qualifications that constitute a firm ground for the practice:

1. You have to commit to the practice for a long time, perhaps for your entire life, before you can expect to see measurable results.

This framework removes the ego’s attachment to getting anywhere fast in the practice.

2. Second, you should practice with continuity and regularity both on and off the mat.

As much as you are willing to put in the effort the practice will give back to you. But if you waver in your commitment to practice and to allow the practice to transform your whole life then you will waver in your journey. Only you can unroll your mat and practice. And only you can commit your whole life’s journey to the spiritual side of the practice.

3. Your intention and sincerity matter.

If you come to the yoga practice with the assumption that it’s just about getting a thin yoga body and a solid handstand, then it will only take you to the most superficial level of the practice. If you do your practice merely for health benefits, you will certainly feel better and have more energy, but even this is not the true depth available within the context of yoga.

In order to really get the deepest benefit from the practice, you have to set your intention on the spiritual journey of yoga. If you know that your reason for doing the practice is to be a more peaceful, happy, and joyful person, then all the necessary lessons that lead to that result will become evident through the vehicle of the practice.

You might say that’s a lot to ask of a simple Downward Facing Dog, and you’re right. Except it’s not only a lot to ask of the posture, it’s a lot to ask of you, if you choose to practice yoga. Most social conditioning is built around the principle that it is possible to live in a pain-free, quality controlled, optimized temperature environment.

Think about the ultimate customer service experience that we each look for as consumers. Everything about this “modern” style of consumption seeks to keep the consumer in a perfect bubble where the customer is always right.

We are taught how to hold on to pleasure and attempt eradicate sources of pain in a failed effort to keep the world at our ideal sweet spot. The reality of life is that no matter how much we try this “reality” is never ideal. There is almost always something that you would rather do without, like a traffic jam, a bill in the mailbox, dirty laundry or a squeaking noise from the fan.

Yoga is not about getting rid of all these things and controlling your environment. Yoga is about keeping your peace of mind regardless of whether you experience ease and flow or stuckness and difficulty. Changing external situations is a losing battle, but gaining control of your own nervous system is something that you can truly master.

14 Styles Of Yoga Explained Simply

If you’re like me, you’ve been slightly confused by all the different styles of yoga out there! There are many styles so don’t feel bad. Or dumb. That’s not how yoga should make you feel!
I did my research and put this list together of what I think are the top 14 types of yoga styles out there. Hopefully this makes it easier for you on your road to yoga bliss.

Anusara
Anusara is often described as Iyengar (a purist form of yoga) with a sense of humor. Created by the aptly named John Friend, Anusara is meant to be heartfelt and accepting. Instead of trying to fit everyone into standard cookie-cutter positions, students are guided to express themselves through the poses to their fullest ability.

Ashtanga
Six established and strenuous pose sequences — the primary series, second series, third series, and so on — practiced sequentially as progress is made. Ashtangis move rapidly, flowing from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale. Each series of poses linked by the breath this way is called a vinyasa.

Bikram
This is probably my favorite. I’m a hot yoga kind of girl, and Bikram features yoga poses in a sauna-like room. The heat is cranked up to nearly 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity in official Bikram classes. If it’s called “Bikram” (for inventor Bikram Choudhury), it will be a series of 26 basic yoga postures, each performed twice.

Hatha
By definition, hatha is a physical yoga practice, which is pretty much all yoga you’ll find in this hemisphere. One of the six original branches of yoga, “hatha” encompasses nearly all types of modern yoga. In other words, hatha is the ice cream if styles like ashtanga and Bikram are vanilla and chocolate chip. Today, classes described as “hatha” on studio schedules are typically a basic and classical approach to yogic breathing exercises and postures.

Iyengar
This is a purist yoga named after founder B.K.S. Iyengar. Props like blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards are used to get you more perfectly into positions and have earned the style its nickname, “furniture yoga.” Appropriate for all ages and abilities, Iyengar yoga is all about precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Don’t take that to mean easy.

Jivamukti
A physical, limit-pushing practice that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scripture. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates as “liberation while living.”

Kripalu
Kripalu is a three-part practice that teaches you to get to know, accept, and learn from your body. It starts with figuring out how your body works in different poses, then moves toward postures held for an extended time and meditation. It then taps deep into your being to find spontaneous flow in asanas, letting your body be the teacher.

Kundalini
The practice of kundalini yoga features constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy in your body. Weren’t aware you had any? Well, just think of it as an energy supply, coiled like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, waiting to be tapped; the practice aims to do just that — awaken and pulse the stuff upward through the body.

Prenatal
Yoga postures carefully adapted for expectant mothers. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help women in all stages of pregnancy, even those getting back in shape post-birth. When you keep your muscles strong through your term, they will still have the strength and energy to return to normal.

Restorative
Less work, more relaxation. You’ll spend as many as 20 minutes each in just four or five simple poses (often they’re modifications of standard asanas) using strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, and soothing lavender eye pillows to help you sink into deep relaxation. There’s also psychic cleansing: the mind goes to mush and you feel brand new. It’s something like group nap time for grownups. It’s better not to fall asleep, though.

Sivananda
An unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same 12 basic asanas or variations thereof every time, bookended by sun salutations and savasana (corpse pose). The system is based on a five-point philosophy that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle

Viniyoga
A highly individualized practice in which yogis learn to adapt poses and goals to their own needs and abilities. Vini actually means differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. Instead of focusing on stretching to get strong and flexible, viniyoga uses the principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF simply means warming up and contracting a muscle before stretching it. This decreases your chance of injury.

Vinyasa / Power
An active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s to appeal to aerobic-crazed Westerners. After having studied with Pattabhi Jois, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest simultaneously pioneered this westernized ashtanga on the East and West coasts, respectively. Power yoga doesn’t stick to the same sequence of poses each time like ashtanga does, so the style varies depending on the teacher. Classes called “vinyasa” or “flow” in your gym or studio can be vastly different but in general stem from this movement and from ashtanga as well.

Yin
A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga—your muscle-forming Anusara, ashtanga, Iyengar, or what have you. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. And they’re long — you’ll practice patience here too.

The 7 Spiritual Laws of Yoga

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga integrate 5,000-year-old Vedic wisdom with modern yogic interpretations, creating a daily yoga practice to help you unite body, mind, and spirit.

When you learn yoga postures in Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga classes, the seven principles are woven into your practice and movements. Even as students learn traditional yoga postures, the attention and intention they give to these principles improves the quality of all aspects of their lives.

The 7 Principles

Law of Pure Potentiality: Your essential nature is pure consciousness, the infinite source of everything that exists in the physical world. Since you are an inextricable part of the field of consciousness, you are also infinitely creative, unbounded, and eternal.

Law of Giving and Receiving: Giving and receiving are different expressions of the same flow of energy in the universe. Since the universe is in constant and dynamic exchange, you need to both give and receive to keep abundance, love, and anything else you want circulating in your life.

Law of Karma (Cause and Effect): Every action generates a force of energy that returns to you in kind. When you choose actions that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of your karma is happiness and success.

Law of Least Effort: You can most easily fulfill your desires when your actions are motivated by love, and when you expend the least effort by offering no resistance. In this way, you tap into the infinite organizing power of the universe to do less and accomplish everything.

Law of Intention and Desire: Inherent in every intention and desire are the mechanics for its fulfillment. When you become quiet and introduce your intentions into the field of pure potentiality, you harness the universe’s infinite organizing power, which can manifest your desires with effortless ease.

Law of Detachment: At the spirit level, everything is always unfolding perfectly. You don’t have to struggle or force situations to go your way. Instead, you can intend for everything to work out as it should, take action, and then allow opportunities to spontaneously emerge.

Law of Dharma: Everyone has a Dharma or purpose in life. By expressing your unique talents and using them to serve others, you will experience unlimited love, abundance, and true fulfillment in your life.