Many years ago Ed lived at the renowned Bihar School of Yoga in India where he became a Swami, a yogic monk. He spent time in silence and trained in many various aspects of yoga. He soon realized that yoga is far more than just a series of postures or mental exercises but is a system that guides every aspect of life, from the way we walk and talk to a state of inner freedom.
In other words, yoga is not just learning how to stand on our head but is, as Swami Satchidananda taught, actually learning how to stand on our feet. What was most profound was seeing how, without love, yoga is dry; that unless we have an open heart and compassion then there is no true yoga. We can know and read all the teachings, the sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, but that is not enough to fully awaken.
When we complete the journey to our own heart, we will find ourselves in the hearts of everyone else —Father Thomas Keating, in Be The Change.
Last year we considered writing a book called Can Yoga Save The World? But when we discussed it with other people many were quite puzzled and asked: how can physical postures save the world? Which made us realize that modern-day yoga has, to a large extent, lost touch with the magnificence and breadth of its original teachings. As a fellow Yogi said, “Unfortunately in the West it does seem that yoga is forgetting its roots and becoming just another cool new exercise.”
Isaac, the manager at our local 24 Hour Fitness told us that people think yoga is just sitting in a room and humming and, more importantly, that men won’t go to a class as they think it is a woman’s thing. This reminded Deb of when we were teaching in India and the participants were all men. They were very surprised to find a woman teaching the class, as in India there are far more men who practice.
There are various forms of yoga, just as there are different aspects to our nature, with a wealth of teachings for each form. Here we describe the five main branches of yoga, as well as Tantra yoga, which little is known about and is the most misunderstood. The purpose of all the forms is to enable the practitioner to develop a balanced life through a healthy body and mind, deep inner peace and, ultimately, to realize their true nature. For instance, through Bhakti yoga we awaken universal love and compassion; Karma yoga is the path of selfless action, where we surrender our own needs to the joy of service; and Jnana yoga is the path of philosophy and reflection, where we use the intellect in order to transcend the intellect.