YOGA as a Spiritual Path
Millions of people throughout the world today practice yoga for spiritual reasons. Through yoga they contact their higher consciousness and the Lord of their hearts.
Yoga means "joined together." The word comes from the ancient Sanskrit root word yug, which means "to unify." A yogi is one who consciously unifies body, mind, emotions, and spirit so that they work together very well. 1
The yogi strives to open the gift of life and discover his fullest possibilities. A yogi endeavors to discover the higher consciousness and how the body, mind, and emotional nature can be truly fulfilled through unifying their purposes — rather than living in constant interior civil war.
Yoga is Not a Religion
Yoga is not a religion. People of many different faiths — Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews — as well as agnostics and atheists, practice yoga because of its numerous benefits and life-enrichment. Many millions practice yoga for its asanas, its physical exercises, which are regularly acclaimed to be extraordinarily health-giving by many doctors around the world. And, too, many millions practice some form of yoga meditation in order to contact their higher consciousness, or commune deeply with the Lord. Many who practice yoga meditation are deeply religious, while many others who practice these meditations are agnostics seeking verifiable experience and personal transformation.
A yoga devotee strives to live in an ongoing and progressively more joyous state of harmony. Body, mind, and emotions are brought into attunement with one another and with one’s soul, or spiritual self. The devotee finds this ongoing state of harmony not only to be a wonderful way to live but an essential factor in becoming enlightened — living in higher consciousness.
But How Do Most People Live?
The average person lives in a mental hurricane, with a mind so turbulent that the usual concentration span is only six seconds! Most people live in a storm of ideas: constructive thoughts war against biases, superstitions, fantasies, unremitting memories, dreads, doubts, and occasional frustrating blankness. People become so accustomed to the hurricane they think it’s normal!
And, the emotions are storming within almost everyone, too. Anger, jealousy, grief, fear, and guilt create anxieties which often drown peace, joy, and love.
The Yoga Solution
Yogis discover and affirm life’s great possibilities by freeing the body of tension and the ravages of stress, and progressively releasing mental and emotional turbulence. The resulting well being is often considered miraculous; and the new unity which occurs between the individual and others is like the dawn of a new life.
If yoga appeals to you, you will need to find a good teacher who can help you practice correctly and thrive. No chapter or book on yoga can replace personal coaching, but hopefully your study of this chapter will give you a basic understanding of the great enrichment yoga studies will offer you when the opportunity arises.
There are eight main kinds of yoga, each having its own distinct form of meditation. Generally you practice yoga based on your distinct nature. If you seek to be a yoga meditator and use yoga as a means for the discovery of the higher consciousness, you must first examine your own qualities.
Are You Mainly Emotional, Mental, or Will-Centered?
In order to ultimately select the form of yoga which you will find easiest and most beneficial, you should first determine whether you are mainly:
Eight Kinds of Yoga
Yoga is designed to enable people to begin from their immediate, present state of consciousness and move forward, day by day, into a state of wholeness, well being, and enlightenment. Even the beginning student is able to shed much physical tension, mental/emotional turbulence, and prepare the way for a life of higher consciousness.
As you ponder the possibilities and methods of the eight types of yoga, bear your own nature in mind. Consider which form most appeals to you. In this way you may find some suggestions which will richly benefit you right now.
Bear in mind also that these brief comments on each of the main yoga paths are meant to give you insights into yoga and yourself. These short discussions are not thorough courses on any of the yogas. They are written for introductory or rudimentary understanding of your magnificent possibilities.
Bhakti yoga, or devotional yoga, is the most natural path for those who are dominantly seeking emotional fulfillment and well being. The "bhakta" usually practices meditation by visualizing, thinking and feeling that the Lord is sitting or standing before him. The bhakta pours out his heart’s love, adoration, and shares his deepest thoughts and concerns with the Lord until a continual flow of awareness moves between devotee and his or her beloved Lord.
This continuous flow of love and life force brings about a superconscious state of awareness which is generally called a mood, or bhava.
Generally, in this form of meditation — bhakti meditation — there is awareness of relationship, or twoness. The devotee is aware of the Lord and of his own being, and of the relationship between the Lord and the devotee. Sometimes, however, the devotee loses self-consciousness and is aware only of the Lord. Also, at times the bhakta experiences that the Lord’s spirit, or consciousness, moves into the devotee, infilling and indwelling him.
Both in the mood of twoness and in the experience of oneness you are transformed: your character is improved. And, periods of higher consciousness come more frequently. With even greater development, the aspirant who does bhakti meditation lives in a sense of permanent relationship with his divine Beloved! This permanent relationship is not a static thing. It develops into one exciting dimension of love after another. These relationships are ever-new and ever-refreshing and continue to delight the bhakti yogi throughout life.
The bhakta, also, because of the ease of the mood relationship, is given special ability to experience the deep samadhis and other high states of awareness which other yogis focus upon.
Karma means to do. Karma refers to the universal principle of cause and effect. For every effect there’s a cause, and the devotee realizes that he, in his present life situation, is experiencing the effects of a number of causes which he has entertained and enacted. He recognizes that for a finer, more fulfilling life he has to change his thoughts and feelings and so express himself through his actions that new causes supplant old habits and attitudes. Through establishing new causes, he is confident of more beneficial and successful effects occurring to him and his loved ones in life.
Karma yoga meditation is:
Jnana means wisdom or discernment. Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom and jnana meditation is many-faceted. The main purpose of jnana meditation is to withdraw the mind and emotions from perceiving life and oneself in a deluded way so that one may behold and live in attunement with Reality, or Spirit.
One principal way that the "jnani," the yogi of discernment, meditates is to patiently release or put aside all thoughts and feelings until the luminous glow of the soul dawns in the mind and heart and is allowed to do a work of transformation and enlightenment within the rapt meditator. One way this is accomplished is through the technique called neti-neti.
Neti-neti means "not this, not this." Whenever a thought or feeling which is not the goal of the meditation — that is, which is not the soul, the inner self — occurs to the mind, the meditator simply says, "Not this, not this," and dismisses the thought, image, concept, sound, or sense distraction. Any thought, any feeling, is discarded — patiently discarded — again and again if necessary, until the mind is clear and the soul is revealed. Remember never to meditate in a passive way. This state of consciousness is one of alertness, an amazing application of awareness.
When you get into the habit of "neti-neti," you can also discard worry, doubt, or fear, and become established in the light of your inner self. You can then look back at worries and fears with deep insight and handle them well.
Raja means royal or kingly. Raja yoga meditation is generally based on directing one’s life force to bring the mind and emotions so into balance that the attention may be easily focused on the object of meditation, or the Lord directly.
Generally, life force is directed to move up and down the spine until it is balanced and the mind and emotions are serenely content. Then awareness is generally directed to move forward into a point in the center of the lower forehead. This meditation point, which is about half an inch above where the eyebrows meet, is called ajna, or the third eye.
When the energy is balanced throughout the brain and body and easily moving forward in the area of the third eye, your mind becomes very calm. While your mind is not passive, it is free of meaningless thoughts, worries, and the bric-a-brac of the subconscious mind. This state usually gives you a very pleasant sense of well being and your mind seems filled with a velvety darkness.
As your consciousness continues to move in your third eye, pastel colors begin to appear in your forehead. Sumptuous, glorious pinks, yellows, whites, blues, indigos, greens, and purples take their turn or play in combination in your forehead. Then, you may think you are seeing fireflies, lightning, or moonlight as your life force becomes more concentrated and more actively prepares you to behold higher consciousness. This process is readying you to experience your true nature as pure consciousness, pure spirit, pure awareness.
And then the light in your forehead blazes brighter than the sun! But, you find it is soothing to look into the awesome light, soothing to behold it. This is the brilliance of your inner light, your essence, revealing itself to you.
Raja yoga, particularly, requires a teacher because it is easy to strain yourself, and it’s also easy to delude yourself into high level hallucinations rather than actual experiences of your higher consciousness.
However, the genuine raja yogi lives in bliss, with his, or her, will surrendered to God. A raja yogi realizes the profound truth of the Biblical passage: If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with light. 2
Mantras (or mantrams) are words, phrases, or syllables which are chanted thoughtfully and with growing attention. Mantra yoga meditation involves chanting a word or phrase until the mind and emotions are transcended and the superconscious is clearly revealed and experienced.
Since the mind wanders so much, the music of a mantra easily rescues the mind and brings it back to the object of one’s meditation. Both the rhythm of it and the meaning of it combine to guide the mind safely back to the point of meditation — the higher consciousness or the specific spiritual focus.
Typical mantrams are: Aum, meaning Spirit, the Word of God, which creates, preserves, and transforms; or the Tibetan Buddhist mantram Aum Mani Padme Hum which usually is translated as "Om the jewel is in the Lotus Hum;" 3 or the Hindu mantram Asato Ma Sat Gamayo which means "Lead me from the unreal to the Real." 4
There are thousands of mantrams which are mainly from the ancient Sanskrit language. Possibly, in time, mantrams will be in English as well as Sanskrit. What such a development would require is a number of great meditators of modern day to be so attuned to the Lord and so at ease within the realms of higher consciousness that these new mantrams can easily be revealed to them. All mantrams are the result of a revelation, usually to some deeply meditating adept.
Generally mantram meditation involves chanting out loud at first until the body is calm and the atmosphere around oneself is serene and pleasant for meditation. Then whisper meditation almost automatically occurs and the life force begins to withdraw inward from "out-loud" chanting to whisper chanting. In whisper chanting the prana, the life force in the body, is balanced and harmonized, preparing the way for a deeper state of serenity — and of the balance of mind and emotions.
Whisper chanting easily dissolves and the life force moves even deeper within as you enter mental chanting. Mental chanting is practiced as long as thoughts are occurring to the mind. Whenever the mind is distracted, the mantram is simply chanted in the same area of the mind that the distraction is occurring. The mantram always wins if given a chance.
As the mantram frees you from one thought, then another, and also helps to dissolve distractions, the mantram then begins to reach the border of superconsciousness. Chanting becomes effortless. No effort, nor warding off distractions, is needed. Chanting becomes a pleasure. Peace and gentle joy fill your mind.
At this point of effortless mental chanting the mantram can do two things:
The mantram may create an opportunity for old thoughts and feelings, old fears and guilts, to be released, or healed, or let go.
What happens next? If your mental chanting first becomes effortless and ventilates the subconscious pressures, it then moves into your superconscious self. Or, the effortless chanting bypasses the subconscious basement of your mind, going directly into sublime superconsciousness. Either way, you arrive in your ecstatic, heavenly nature. The words of the mantram fall apart and fall away. Only the energy surge of the mantram remains as your awareness becomes blissful and full of light.
In this ecstatic stage of continuous rapture, you feel that you have arrived home. You sense that this is your true nature — and your true estate, which has been ignored due to the dominance of the mind, the emotions, and the outer world.
You will likely have a very pleasant fifteen to twenty minutes in the delight and comfort of your superconscious self; and then the mantram will begin to come out. You will find your higher consciousness wants to come back to the outer world. It wants to express, to touch your life and loved ones. The words of the mantram re-emerge in the mind and you reverse the whole process, going gradually into whisper — and then out loud — chanting. Ultimately a mantram meditator lives in the ecstasy of the mantram, always aglow with the meaning and spiritual insight of the special syllables. In order to be sure a mantram is right for you, seek a mantram only from a Guru or Master who is qualified to teach and initiate you.
While you need a teacher to help you learn any form of meditation well, you particularly need the aid of a teacher to learn laya yoga meditation. There are five main energy centers in your spine and two in your head. The laya yoga meditator knows exactly how to locate these centers through the kind training of a teacher. When these centers are found, they function very much like doorways to different realms of higher consciousness.
Through laya yoga meditation, for example, you sense the heart center which is located inside the spine, directly back of the heart. From this point you can expand your awareness and enter into a realm of great, sky blue light (sometimes other colors as well) and discover how easily and readily you can love. Through laya yoga meditation in the heart center you overcome selfishness and self-centeredness. You become able to deal with your fears and worries because of the tremendous strength and insight you gain from the "heart expansion."
The five centers correspond roughly to the main areas of the spine.
One is located in the area of the tailbone. The second center is in the area of the sacrum. The third is located in the spinal cord, back of the navel. Then the heart center, which we have mentioned. The throat center is found inside the spine at the base of the neck, directly back of your collar button.
The first head center is the point half an inch above where your eyebrows meet in your forehead — it’s called the third eye. The second head center is at the crown of your head. Technically, this area is not a center at all, but is considered the main source of spiritual light and energy which is expressed throughout the body.
While it is beneficial to sense where your centers are, it is not wise to concentrate on these centers or meditate on any of them without the help of a teacher. Over-stimulation of a center could cause pain, confusion, or intense desires.
On the other hand, most people live on only three levels of consciousness — the material, sensual, and egoic — without ever opening the seven centers which bring higher consciousness. Laya yoga, with a qualified teacher, is an extremely worthwhile endeavor.
The word tantra literally means "expansion." A tantra yogi concentrates on expanding all levels of his or her consciousness to unveil and realize the Supreme Reality. Tantra focuses on the dynamic aspect of divinity called Shakti, or "the Cosmic Mother."
The tantric devotee strives to attune with the spiritual dynamic energy in order to transform personal limitations and release subconscious blockages.
True tantra yoga is a pure path, but it has been abused by some self-proclaimed adherents. Tantra yoga is not concerned with sexuality, but with the creative force and transmuting this energy into higher channels. Sometimes self-styled teachers have misconstrued the symbolism of tantra yoga into sex practices for men and women.
Rather, the goal of tantra yoga is to awaken and harmonize the male and female aspects within each person in order to spiritually awaken and realize the whole universe as an expression of the Cosmic Mother, the divine life force, or Spirit.
Tantra yoga meditation is often practiced this way: A tantra devotee sits calmly and purifies mind and heart of wayward thoughts and desires. The devotee then senses the life force within his or her being and gradually, through imagination and feeling, directs the life force to rise up the spine, from the tailbone into the neck and then into the forehead.
When considerable life force is gathered in the forehead, the tantra yogi, through practice, directs that the life force move out from the forehead and form a body of light and energy three to six feet before him or her. The body of light in front of the devotee is encouraged to become dense and expand until it is as large as a human form.
The tantric yogi then directs love and devotion toward the dynamic body of light which is a profound representation of his or her soul and essence. Usually, after fifteen to thirty minutes of this meditation, the yogi invites the light and energy to slowly return into his forehead and down through the body to the base of the spine.
Through practice, amazing renewal is felt through tantric meditation and spiritual awakening is accelerated. The tantric becomes aware that the life force and essence within each person is truly divine; it is from the Lord. The spirit in each one is from God.
Another interesting aspect of tantra yoga is its dedication to transmutation of negative habits or obsessions — smoking, drinking, and overeating, for example. Of course, the tantric would urge you give up any bad habits you can by simply dropping them. However, if you can’t give up a self-destructive behavior, no matter how hard you’ve tried, why not use a tantric approach to it?
The beginning tantric realizes he has failed in giving up his self-destructive habits because they were so strongly established over long periods of time. Often, before taking up tantra yoga, he tried to stop hurting himself through smoking, drinking, and overeating, but failed miserably after many struggles. Now, through tantra he tries to expand his consciousness as he transforms old habits.
If drinking is his problem, for example, he thinks of God as he drinks! Rather than ignoring God or feeling rebellious, he strives to sense God’s love, joy, and blessings. The tantric strives to feel God’s joy or love filling him, as well as the intoxication of the alcohol. In a short time, the tantric beginner does not need to drink. The thought of God fills him with joy instead.
Similarly, the smoker strives to sense God’s presence in the satisfaction of smoking. In time, provided deep love of God is cultivated, the cigarette or pipe is not needed in order to feel pleasure and contentment.
Overeaters use similar principles. Gradually, their satisfaction is in God — not food. Overeaters also do these tantric practices:
True tantric yogis think of God all their waking hours. In this devotion they are freed from destructive habits and enter enlightenment.
Hatha yoga, in current times, is mainly practiced for health and vitality. It’s a marvelous means of exercising, stretching, and freeing the body so it can be a healthy, long-lived, and vital instrument of the mind and soul. In addition, hatha yogis can become extremely clear-minded and can concentrate well. However, a few yogis do practice hatha yoga as their main method for spiritual realization. Their clear minds and pure, healthy bodies enable them to meditate easily.
In Sanskrit, ha means sun, tha means moon. Hatha yoga is the practice of harmonizing the body’s inner currents (principally the currents of Feeling, Thinking, Willing, and Acting) until they are in perfect balance.
Normally the hatha yogi with the calm mind focuses awareness at the ajna center half an inch above where the eyebrows join and directs awareness to move through that center into a super-conscious state. The individual life, the finite life, meets and fuses temporarily, at first, with the infinite life.
Hatha yoga meditation is not well-known today and the purity of life required in order to do hatha yoga meditation well requires more time and application than most people are willing to give. However, those few dedicated men and women who are true hatha yogis live in abundant well being and universal harmony.
Kundalini yoga is sometimes considered a distinct yoga although it generally involves a combination of: raja, hatha, tantra, laya and mantra yogas.
Its principal goal is the stimulation of the spiritual life force at the base of the spine (called Kundalini) so that it will rise easily from the lower centers of your being into the spiritual centers in your head where higher consciousness is perceived, experienced and, ultimately, lived in.
Classically, kriya yoga is a blend of raja, jnana, and bhakti practices. The word kriya means "to do, to make an effort," or "to transform."
One of the main ways that kriya is practiced is a daily program of self-discipline of mind and body, introspection, and devotion to God.
Another way that kriya yoga is practiced in the world today is in directing life force to move up and down the spine, transforming the meditator’s state of being until spiritual realization occurs. This technique is usually conveyed privately through initiation from a Guru or longtime practitioner of this method.
Both forms of kriya are deeply related and very ancient — well over five thousand years old and probably much older. Several million people practice both forms of kriya yoga throughout the world today.
The Spiritual Path and Its Stages
How do most yoga devotees begin their Paths? What unfoldments do they share in common with one another — and with seekers on other Paths throughout the world? Practice makes you perfect. Success on your quest is inevitable if you put aside fancies, cowardice, and laziness. However, success is impossible if, no matter how many hours and years you practice higher consciousness techniques, you do those techniques incorrectly or selfishly. Experience of higher consciousness comes sooner than expected to those that proceed with devotion, good will, faith and a balanced mind. Doing rather than fantisizing or talking about the techniques, is the key. As you proceed earnestly, you experience several unusual, utterly delightful levels of awareness.
The Crisis or Inspiration
A few yoga devotees trace the beginning of their spiritual quest to inspiration. Often these souls meet an inspired yogi and the main goal in life becomes very clear.
Haunted by new possibilities which they sense within themselves, they eagerly and faithfully move through the experiences which lead to enlightenment and well being.
Most yogis, however, find their way onto the spiritual path because of a personal crisis.
A painful, disappointing, or grief-causing shock forces a reevaluation and a redirection of life. These devotees realize they have been relying on the wrong people or unfulfilling goals. Such seekers find they have no choice but to turn the thrust of their lives and their hopes in another direction.
The Restlessness — The Call
Whether inspired or recoiling from a personal crisis, the devotee becomes restless for God — restless to know the truth, to find meaning. Night and day mind and heart reach toward the unknown and into the deepest recesses of the soul.
The Path is Chosen
Out of the yearning and restlessness, the seeker searches the world for a way to proceed, a way to satisfy the heart’s deepest hope. A way of spiritual practice and development is found. Sometimes it seems that the Path chooses the devotee because of its availability and wonderful satisfaction.
At the point when the Path is chosen, effort and dedication truly begin. The propelled devotee realizes which form of yoga is most appropriate and helpful. He dedicates himself to it — usually practicing an hour a day. He, or she, chooses that combination of yoga techniques and meditations which most rapidly enable contact with the Lord of one’s true self.
Those who are dominantly emotional choose bhakti yoga. Those who are dominantly intellectual choose jnana yoga. Those who seek to attune their will with the higher self, with their Creator, choose raja and karma yoga, for example.
At first the devotees practice the different yogas in order to gain specific benefits they hope for.
Then, as they develop in yoga, they begin to give more and more of themselves toward their ideals. They begin to do yoga not just because of what it will give them, but out of love.
They begin to practice, whatever their Path, self-giving. This self-giving is transformational. No longer living with selfish motive or self-obsession, they are ready to dedicate themselves to their values. Most commonly, they begin to live lives dedicated to Truth and/or Beauty and/or Goodness.
The devotee who gives himself or herself to Truth, Beauty, or Goodness finds great peace and wholeness. Body, mind, and spirit enter a deep, abiding state of harmony and well being. This state of equilibrium not only enables a sense of integrity and freedom but also opens the floodgates for a spiritual experience.
Bhavas and Samadhis
The dominantly emotional seekers enter into deep spiritual moods and become conscious of the presence and the glory of their divine Beloved, the Lord of their hearts and minds. They rejoice in an unfolding series of relationships with God.
Awe unfolds into loving service. Loving service unfolds into deep friendship. Friendship moves forward into greater intimacy. The devotee one day recognizes himself or herself to be a son or daughter of the Lord, who is the spiritual source of everything. These moods of love — bhavas — go on and on and are infinitely satisfying and intriguing. The devotees who have dominantly intellectual and will-centered natures experience amazing and transforming samadhis, spiritually exalted states in which they realize their true nature and behold the presence and spirit of God.
As a result of many bhavas and samadhis, devotees who persist and grow into a moment-by-moment, continuous superconscious state live as enlightened beings. Rather than visit the higher consciousness regularly, they come home and live their lives while abiding in higher consciousness. This state is called sahaj yoga, sahaj samadhi, or simply sahaj.
There is no limit! All devotees who live in higher consciousness move forward into never-ending, ever-new, wondrously satisfying spiritual lives. Almost all of them engage themselves in loving service of God and humanity. A once-forlorn seeker returns to mankind and shares what he has been given.
We have considered a number of ways that the yoga aspirant takes the help of meditation and other techniques to come home to his true nature and reside in higher consciousness.
In meditation you learn, through practice, to overcome the tendency to be self-deluded, or to live a self-destructive life. Freeing your body of tension and your mind and emotions of turbulence, you discover your true self and dwell in it. You make contact with the Lord of your heart and enter an ecstatic, eternal relationship.
You find more from life than you ever dared dream. These are the possibilities of your life through yoga.
1 Graham Ledgerwood, the author of this chapter and the book Keys To Higher Consciousness is a Guru and teacher of yoga, metaphysics, and mysticism.
2 Matthew 6:22 of the King James version of The Holy Bible.
3 According to W. Y. Evans-Wentz, in Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, Oxford University Press, London, 1958, page 125: "Aum is the symbol for the spiritual power of the Buddha;" and Hum is "the symbol of the embodiment of the life-force of Divine Beings…" and "is to be visualized as being the life-force of the Buddha Gautama."
4 Or, more fully, "Lead me from attachment to the unreal into the Real."
Return to Home Page
Copyright © 2000 Mystic World Fellowship. All rights reserved.