What is Yoga?

Yoga is like a deep wide ocean. You can go for a paddle, a swim, or dive deep within it's vast interior, or skim over it's surface. Yoga can be a weekly stretch and relaxation for some and for others it is a complete way of living.

The word Yoga means to unite. On a simple level this is the uniting of mind and body in the present. Most of us spend our lives going over past events or planning the future. The past is gone and the future does not yet exist. We have been given a gift called the present that we rarely unwrap and look at with our full awareness. Uniting the mind and body in the present can bring peace and harmony.

We live lives based on material insecurity. Nothing is permanent. We change as we go through life as do the people around us, making all relationships shift and change. Possessions can break, burn, be taken away, Jobs change and end, people die, we get older, illness occurs in ourselves and others. All these events can shatter expectations and choices.

Yoga allows us to look within and become calm, balanced and strong. It gives us space to enable us to make choices that reflect what is within us, rather than, what is outside us.

You are a unique individual. Your body is unique and no-one else has had your experience of life. Through Yoga you will become more aware of your body and mind. Yoga is not a list of "do's and don'ts" it is an opportunity to get to know yourself and your needs as an individual.

There is always some resistance in the body and mind to new things -- if you acknowledge this and work with it and through it -- you will not be rejecting new experiences but opening up to a new awareness.

Please Remember:

  • Yoga is not competitive.
  • Yoga is about what is happening inside YOU
  • It is natural to glance around the class to reassure yourself that you are in step with the others -- but try to let this go as you become more confident and take your mind within
  • You work to your own level / capacity

There are many different aspects and styles of Yoga and many different names to describe these. The physical aspect of Yoga is called HATHA Yoga --- Ha = the sun and Tha = the moon these represent the opposing aspects of body and mind (e.g. warm - cool, positive-- negative) in Hatha yoga opposites are united to create a balance, this is the Yoga that I focus on.

Classes usually cover the following areas

  • Stretching ---- warming up
  • Asanas (postures)
  • The complete yoga breath
  • Pranayama (breath control)
  • Mantra (the use of sound)
  • Darana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Relaxation
  • Visualisation
  • Yoga Nidra (rotation of consciousness)
What is Mantra?

August 2000 - Carol Young

To the uninitiated, a group of people chanting a mantra could be described as people making a repetitive noise. While this would be correct there is much more to the concept of mantra.

A mantra is a grouping of sound vibrations which have an effect on the mental and psychic consciousness of man...................Meditations by Swami Satyananda Saraswati Chapter xiii.

From this definition it could be added that the sound vibration in mantra has an effect on the practitioner's mental state Deepak Chopra's description brings a physical dimension to the mantra's effect. ------- or mantra, whose sound vibrations gradually lead the mind out of it's normal thinking process and into the silence that underlies thought. As such, a mantra is a very specific message inserted into the nervous system.

What type of message could the energy of sound in a mantra carry?

Mantra: A quotation or verse from the Vedas, particularly from the Samhita or hymns; also a spiritual formula consisting of or containing a name of god...................Eknath Easwarn.

A Mantra is a word or group of words heard continuously with deep conscious attention, uncovering and amplifying an essential Vibration or Truth, which intentionally purifies the Cosmic Eye Centre and awakens us to Divine Experience............Muz Murray.

The popularised western view of a mantra is any word, or group of words that are repeated in any language, that has meaning for the individual. There appears to be some confusion with affirmations and mantra, e.g. I am balanced and strong, I know no fear etc. These are affirmations.

How does a mantra differ from an affirmation? Mantra is derived from man meaning ' thought' and tra, which stems from the word indicating 'protection'. Therefore mantra is a method of protecting yourself from, and taking yourself beyond, thought, which is the very thing that prevents you from experiencing the whole self. Mantra is often related to prayer but although, to a certain extent the two are comparable, prayer is expressed spontaneously and always bares some sort of message, whereas mantra is the message!........................................ Mind Magic by Betty Shine chapter 7.

The word mantra is derived from the root 'man', meaning to think. Mantra means sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with full understanding of it's meaning................................ Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, introduction.

Mantra itself can be considered as meaning 'thought-protection' or 'that which protects the thinker'. Conversely it can also mean 'that which protects us from our own thoughts' which makes its practice extremely beneficial for the overburdened intellect. The first syllable man - meaning 'thought principle' comes from the Sanskrit word manas - mind (although some maintain it is from amanana - to meditate) The second syllable tra, is considered to come from the root trai - to protect, or from trana - meaning 'protection or liberation from the phenomenal world'.

Other authorities state that tra indicates 'instrument' (of liberation) or 'to free' and thus a mantra is that which is instrumental in freeing one from the disturbing influences of worldly life and leading one to inner peace. A mantra is thus a specific remedy which protects us from the pollution of our own thought processes, which are often no more than a constant flow of mentally repetitive inanities, fears, apprehensions and negativities............... BWY Spectrum Archive Articles.

Mantra is therefore a mystical energy encased in a sound structure. A spiritual power revealed through the Sanskrit syllables..................Derek Thorne.

From the above descriptions we can now see that a mantra traditionally is a Sanskrit word(s) and it's purpose is protection against our babbling thoughts. Although any word repeated continuously will give us respite from the "chattering monkey " that is our mind, only a Sanskrit word carries a spiritually powerful message. But how do we receive a message in a language we don't understand?

The roof of the mouth has 84 meridian points, all along the upper palate.--------Each mantra was chosen by those ancient people because it encapsulated an uplifting vibration into a few choice words. When we recite them, we stimulate certain parts of our brain that actually change the chemical balance of the brain. This changed chemical composition allows a more relaxed and expanded state of consciousness to take over our minds.......................Gurmukh.

Affirmations can lift us emotionally and have some effect on our subconscious if said repeatedly and with total concentration. Affirmations are chosen for their meaning and relevance to the individual, by the individual. Mantras are chosen for their sound and vibration and do not always have a meaning. Mantras are traditionally chosen for the student by their guru.

Through these sounds mantra has an effect on the human psyche and body releasing spiritual energy in the chakras and establishes concentration on the divine.................... Derek Thorne.

Mantra come in three different categories; Bija are abstract mantra that have no meaning or translation. The chakra mantras come under this category: Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om. Narguna mantra have no literal translation but do have a broad meaning, e.g. SoHam this can be interpreted as "I am he" and linked to the sounds of inspiration and expiration, the representation of the oneness of the individual micro spirit and the universal macro spirit. Saguna mantra have definite meanings and translate as specific deities and aspects of God, e.g. Hari Krishna, Hari Rama.

\ \ \ \ The Significance of Om \ \ \ \ \

is described as "this cosmic vibration" in the Prashna Upanishad (verse 7). The name and form of God, the universal sound and vibration. So powerful that repetition of this small word can bring knowledge of the inner Self.

27)The word expressive of Isvara is the mystical sound\.
28)To repeat it with reflection upon it's meaning is an aid
29) From this practice all the obstacles disappear and simultaneously dawns knowledge of the inner Self
30) Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained --- these distractions of the mind -stuff are the obstacles.
31)Accompaniments to the mental distractions include distress, despair, trembling of the body, and disturbed breathing.
32)The practice of concentration on a single subject is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments............................................ Book one Yoga sutras Patanjali

\ is usually written in English to represent the three sounds which it contains i.e. A U M. The Mandukya Upanishad explains the different meaning of each sound;

Chapter 9) A stands for Vaishvanara. Those who know this, through mastery of the senses, obtain the fruit of their desires and attain greatness.
Chapter 10) U indicates Taijasa. those who know this, by mastering even their dreams, become established in wisdom. In their family everyone leads the spiritual life.
Chapter 11) M corresponds to Prajna. Those who know this, by stilling the mind, find their true stature and inspire everyone around them. Vaishvanara comes from vishva which means all and nara meaning man. Shankara interprets this as " he who leads all men to their enjoyments". Taijasa derives from tejas, a special term indicating the splendour of awareness. Prajna comes from pra, an intensifying prefix, and jna, "to know" meaning consciousness.

The glossary in Eknath Eswaran's translation of the Upanishads gives this discription:
Om : The unstuck sound which can be heard in meditation; the Holy Word which signifies Brahman

Personal experience of practising and teaching mantra

Personal Practice
In my experience few teachers include mantra in their lesson plans. I feel this is a missed opportunity as chanting mantra in a group can be a very spiritual experience. My experience of mantra was only widened when starting the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) Yoga Teaching Diploma course.

My favourite manta is \. The chanting of three "OMs" at the start and end of each class is, for me, enriching. I once had an wonderful experience that could only have lasted a few seconds, but its impact was incredible. The class was sat in a large circle and we had just been taken through twenty minutes of pranayama by the teacher, Philip Jones. This is what I wrote the next day in a journal I kept at the time;

Last night in yoga, when chanting 3 oms at the end, I felt a connection with the whole of the universe, as though the universe was chanting om through me. The first om was incredible, the second om my ego opened an eye, the third om I became self conscious, and it was only me --- croaking.

Feb 6 1998
I am so grateful for the experience as it has made me aware of our vast potential as human beings, and that we are totally, unconditionally, loved in all we do. I also realised how important it is to experience things with awareness and to allow things to unfold naturally.

I personally practice silent mantra often during my day to day activities. Om, Om mane padme hum, repetition of prema, so ham ( this is effective combined with abdominal breathing).

Teaching Mantra
As I have only been teaching beginners yoga, my experience of teaching mantra is limited. I explain that stretching helps us rid the body of tension. Relaxation, visualisation, yoga nidra helps us to rid the mind of tension and making sounds helps to rid ourselves of emotional tension.

Beginners seem to be more secure when sound is linked to movement. I have found that most people will join in ah, oo, ee,,mm.

These are my instructions;
Breath in, look over your right shoulder.
As you bring your head back to the centre say ah on a long out breath.
Breath in look over your left shoulder.
As you bring your head back to the centre say oo on a long out breath.
Breath in look up say ee as you bring your head back to the centre on a long out breath.
Breath in look down.
As you bring your head back to the centre say mm on a long out breath.
Practising the above for 5 minutes continuously brings a calming energy into the class. Bibliography
Betty Shine Mind Magic (1995) Corgi
BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga ( 1991) Thorsons
BWY Spectrum Archive Articles INDEX Summer 1999
Internet Muz Murray Mantra Yoga (2000)
Internet Deepak Chopra Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993) Rider
Derek Thorne Class handouts Yogaliving
Eknath Easwaran and Diana Morrison The Upanishads (1988) Penguin
Arkana Gurmukh The Eight Human Talents (2000) Thorsons
Sri Swami Satchananda The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (1997) Integral Yoga
Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1992) Bhargava Bhushan Press, Varaniasi;
Bihar School of Yoga

\An Introduction to meditation \ (top)
Most people think of meditation as sitting crossed legged and emptying the mind. This is very difficult at the beginning if not impossible. The object of meditation is to create stillness, space. The space that you create becomes larger and longer the more you practice. You may find it useful to compare your mind to a young child. A baby is always moving and wandering unless asleep or occupied, just like the mind when you first start to meditate. If you try to wash and dress a baby of 18 monhs she constantly wants to wriggle and wiggle and do anything except stay still. J

Getting annoyed, being firm, giving the baby "a good talking to", or bashing it over the head does not bring the desired response, the baby cannot stay still because it is led by it's instincts and senses, much like the immature meditative mind. So, being tough with the mind is about as useful as getting tough with a baby. Kindness and patience seems to work far more effectively.

To fill the baby's senses you might make faces at the baby, sing , whistle, clap hands, give her something to hold, in short a suitable, harmless distraction, this slows down the babies movements and allows us to wash and dress her with minimal protest. When her attention wanders, we gently, softly bring it back to the harmless distraction without creating tension. As the child grows and matures she will need less and less distraction to keep her still.

We are always finding distractions for the mind. Reading, watching T.V., talking, working , many things all day long. Most things do not allow us to enter the meditative state, most activities take us further away from creating space within. Our senses are easily distracted and often wander from our purpose.

In order to slow down and create space we need to distract the mind with helpful activities that take us towards a meditative state of mind. Stretching is a good start, sighing and breathing deeply, this helps to rid the body of tension. Emotional tension can be released by making sounds out loud e.g. aaa, ooo, eee, mmm. then filling or shutting off the senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch (or the sensation of feeling the body) [

The eyes -------- by closing them or looking at an object e.g. a candle flame.
[ The nose --------by burning relaxing oils or incense, using aroma therapy
[ The mouth ------ by not eating or drinking, or focusing all the attention on eating
[ The ears -------- by listening to relaxing music, or being in a quiet place
[ The body --------by being comfortable, or focusing on sensation or movement in the body e.g. touching the hands, walking slowly, feeling the breath on the nostrils.

The mind is comforted by being stimulated but the stimulation is calculated to induce relaxation, quiet and calm. This in turn brings about a sense of balance and harmony. Spaces occur between the thoughts, they become longer and larger. Eventually you will arrive at the place of great peace and joy that will provide many answers but for now, enjoy the balance meditating will give you. (top)