Yoga as an Ancient Practise
There are many forms of Yoga that have developed over the thousands of years that have passed since its origins in India. It is now believed that through the science of carbon dating, astronomy and satellite photography which has unearthed and dated the civilisation in the Indus Valley that wrote the Rig Veda, one of the earliest books known to man, that it dates back to 3,000 BC. Until very recently it was thought to have dated to 1,500 B.C so it truly is one of the oldest physical spiritual practises in the world, aside from perhaps dancing to attain trance and altered states of consciousness.
Different Yoga paths to Union
There are two major meanings for Yoga in Hindu spirituality. The first designates the specific darshana described by Patanjali, while the second has a broader sense, implying any effort undertaken in order to attain liberation, independently of its meaning. Therefore, any spiritual discipline aimed at liberating the self can be called Yoga.
Mantra Yoga is the method that consists of sounding mantras in order to attain liberation (as in Transcendental Meditation). Kundalini Yoga follows a Tantric view, stressing the awakening of kundalini and its final reunion with Shiva. Jnana Yoga follows a Vedantic view, aiming to find liberation through one's effort to achieve a monastic view of reality, while Karma Yoga refers to one's actual conduct in life, such that there is no physical or emotional attachment to a given action or outcome. Meanwhile Bhakti Yoga is the name given to the large variety of devotional practices of Hindu theism, aimed at pleasing a god.
In the last ten years though there has been an explosion of interest in Yoga partly through the commitment and devotion of teachers and in part through Celebrity Culture. It seems that anyone who is 'cool' does Yoga. Some of these more contemporary forms emphasise a dynamic movement sequence connecting the postures, as in Astanga Yoga popularised by K. Pattabhi Jois from the mid 40's. Others prescribe heat as a prerequisite for practise as in the popular Bikram Yoga which incorporates a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (40.5°C) with a humidity of 40%. Also familiar to many is Iyengar Yoga which emphasizes meticulous and precise alignment of the body in the postures and uses props to facilitate the pose - the practise developed by B.K. S. Iyengar that has helped shape Yoga's popularity her in the West.
The Yoga practises that I chose to learn and study are Hatha Yoga and Tantra Yoga. I have familiarised myself with many of the forms above and each has taught me something profound about myself and my relationship to life. Hatha Yoga is what most people in the West associate with the word Yoga and is practised increasingly in gyms and health centres for mental and physical health throughout the West. Yoga means to yoke, or to join two things together, hence hatha yoga is meant to join together sun (masculine, active) "ha" energy with the moon (feminine, receptive) "tha" energy, thus producing balance and greater power in an individual. Traditionally Hatha Yoga is a holistic yoga path including moral disciplines and observance, physical postures (asana) purification procedures (shatkriya), poses (mudra), yogic breathing (pranayama) and meditation.
Similarly Tantra Yoga by means of physical and ritual cleaning, breathing exercises (pranayama), contemplation, visualization, repetition of a mantra (mantra japa), helps to relinquish human conditioning to reveal our divine nature - that which is constant and present in everything.
The practise that I teach and feel is most powerful, integrates both Tantra knowledge, Kriya Yoga (Yoga of the breath) and is fundamentally rooted in Hatha Yoga. It encourages the practitioner to bring awareness to the flexibility and strength of the physical body through asanas or postures, while paying attention to the quality of thought and feeling that is present. In addition though, the practitioner is encouraged to travel deeper into bodily awareness to sense, activate and direct the energy flow through the body. Like the map of meridians in Chinese Medicine, Yoga determines there is a complex flow of life energy or prana through channels throughout the body, called nadis. These nadis or energy channels feed energy to the Chakras, the major energy centres of the body that influence every aspect of perception of life.
What are the Chakras?
Chakra Yoga then simply introduces specific asanas from Hatha Yoga in sequence to activate and balance the body's energy system, the Chakras. The Chakras are the body's unseen batteries and reserves of life force and energy and we can visualise their life enhancing qualities and colours to bring our bodies alive and into balance.
Each chakra is associated with particular functions within the body and with specific life issues and the way we handle them, both inside ourselves and in our interactions with the world. As centres of force, chakras can be thought of as sites where we receive, absorb, and distribute life energies. Through external situations and internal habits, such as long-held physical tension and limiting self-concepts and beliefs, a chakra can become either deficient or excessive—and therefore imbalanced. For example if a chakra is excessive, it is too overloaded to operate in a healthy way and becomes a dominating force in a person's life. Someone with an excessive fifth (throat) chakra, for example, might be an excessive talker, unable to communicate their thoughts clearly and succinctly. Not only that, but they will more than likely be very poor listeners and again drown conversations and sabotage a real sense of connection that is so valuable. If the chakra were deficient, she might feel unable to express herself appropriately, feeling nervous and inhibited and have great difficulty finding the right words when communicating with others.
We now know through quantum physics that everything that exists in the universe is movement of pure energy and the Chakras are the conduits through which the universal energy flows into and out of the human body. The Chakras can be seen as spinning vortexes of subtle energy and they are located along the spine forming the central channel, Sushumna nadi. Through the channelling of cosmic and telluric (earth) energy in the postures, and harmonising the feminine and masculine forces within the body, you not only strengthen the physical body, but the mental and spiritual bodies too. To create a life that is joyful and complete one must call upon and balance the ability to manifest what you want with the desire to be free and the chakra system empowers us to do just that.
Each Yoga session is therefore designed to activate and balance the energy centres leaving the client feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, confident and radiant. Clients notice a profound shift in the way they feel on all levels after only just one session of Chakra Yoga.
" I find Esther's yoga calms body, mind and soul in a unique way - a way that helps me deal with the stresses of today's world. " Nick - writer and journalist
" What would I do without yoga! It has such a calming effect on me and has taught me so much about myself and how to get in touch with my inner resources. Esther's teaching is particularly inspiring and beautiful. " Amanda Savage - financial analyst
During and following the set of asanas for each chakra you will have the opportunity to meditate on the specific qualities of the energy centre, which is both relaxing and life affirming. The practise is designed to activate, balance and integrate all systems within the body, while teaching mind and body awareness. We then complete the session with deep relaxation. You will learn something new in each session and whatever the length of program you choose, you will leave equipped with a full and diverse range of postures.
I am passionate about yoga and having practised it myself for 19 years know what an amazing support and inspiration it has been in my life. I am therefore committed that as my client you will be confident about developing a personal practise which will keep you supple and energised for the rest of your life. We will look at how to set up your weekly routine, what you need and how to create an appropriate ambience. You will also have the opportunity to address issues such as time, boundaries and other things that may be getting in the way of what you truly want for yourself and your yoga practise.
"Esther's yoga practice has enabled me to reconnect with myself, giving me the space, calmness, energy and focus to re-evaluate my priorities and bring more balance into my life" Paul Harper - media consultant
* Bhakti Yoga - Union by love and devotion
" Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. " Author Unknown