Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Classical yoga: The path of blissful union

When you think of yoga, do you picture people twisting and stretching their bodies into challenging poses? Even if you practice hatha yoga yourself, what you may not know is that such “poses” are just one component of the traditional path of classical yoga, which includes breath control and meditation.

The practitioner of classical yoga aims to withdraw from the material world, which is considered illusory, and merge with the formless but ultimate reality of consciousness. After preparing the body with asanas (the familiar hathayoga poses), cultivating refined energy states through various breathing practices, and excluding all external distractions, the yogi focuses on an intermediate object, such as a mantra (repetition of a meaningful word or phrase) or a sacred symbol, and then on consciousness itself. Finally, the yogi arrives at a state known as samadhi, where all traces of separation dissolve and the yogi blissfully unites with consciousness.

Compiled and codified by Patanjali (a sage of the second century A.D.), the philosophy and practices of classical yoga gave rise to numerous and, at times, competing schools over the centuries. Most of the yogis and swamis who have taught in the West trace their lineage to classical yoga.

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