- This began as a summary prepared by students of Psychology
307, F 2000 at Sonoma State University based on Haridas
Chaudhari's Integral Yoga. I think his book is the best
concise, readable introduction to the yogas that I know of,
informed by Chaudhari's excellent education in Western philosophy
as well as Indian traditions. Chaudhari, a student of Sri
Aurobindo, was the founder of the California Institute of Integral
Studies. As such, there is a section at the end on "Integral
Yoga," which was Aurobindo's own attempt to synthesize essential
elements from the various yogic traditions.
- As I typed the summaries, even after rereading Chaudhari, for
clarity it appeared useful to add a few introductory comments and
a number of explanatory remarks and commentaries at various
points. As you read it here, therefore, in order to provide
maximum clarity, it has ended up as a combination of Chaudhari's
work, my students' distillation of that, and my own additions and
interpretations. If you want the untouched Chaudhari, I highly
recommend his book, published by Quest. --victor daniels
- Introductory comment:
- Yoga was developed by yogis, who had no necessary inherent
connection with any particular religions tradition in India. In
fact, some were active rebels against institutionalized religion
(primarily Hindu) at certain points in Indian history.) It has at
least as much in common with psychology, which did not exist in
ancient India, scholarship, and disciplines of excercise than with
any religion per se. The follower of any religion can productively
practice one or more of the yogas, and some yogas are implicitly
involved in a variety of religions (Taking just example, Bhakti is
part of numerous very different religions.) To think that yoga is
incompatible with any particular religion, or identical with
Hinduism, is to misunderstand it.
- Places its emphasis on the body/physical side of existence. It
emphasizes the close interrelationship between body and mind.
- Hatha is derived from the roots:
- Ha (sun) and tha (moon)
- HATHA is the equalization and stabilization of the "sun
breath" (breath which flows through the right5 nostril) and the
"moon breath" (breath which flows through left nostril
- Hatha also means violence, force, power. In that sense it can
be seen as the mind taking power over the body, in ways that in
turn react back on the mind.
- Principal Steps in Hatha Yoga:
- Asana: Bodily postures that stimulate the glands, body,
and nervous systems.
- Pranayama: Breath regulation that aims at mastery over
the vital forces of the mind and body.
- "Kundalini" is a fundamental psycho-physical energy attained
through control of breath and mobilization of vital forces.
- One who acquires success in hathayoga gains such powers as
vibrant health, youthfulness, and longevity and, if he or she does
not become heavily ego-involved in the "look how cool I am to be
able to do these things," has a head start toward attaining
spiritual liberation and emotional bliss.
- Benefits from the path of Hatha Yoga: It
stimulates the brain, increases blood flow to areas of the body
that normally receive little of it, and focuses the mind and
provides self-confidence and control of the body. The life-force
energy is stimulated. Oxygen intake is increased and the emotions
- Problems with the path of Hatha Yoga: The body
may become an object of excessive preoccupation. There is the
potential problem of becoming egocentric, vain, and too attached
to displaying one's attainments. It is non-intellectual, and can
be introverted and sisolated from the community.
- Points to remember in Hatha Yoga:
- Just "going through the motions" of doing the postures is not
enough. Moment-by-moment awareness of present experience,
including breathing, is essential, even when you are not
explicitly practicing pranayama.
- Rajayoga ("Royal Yoga" is aimed at focusing and
disciplining the mind. Most centrally it is the yoga of
Raja yoga involves control over the body posture and breathing.
It goes on to concentration, which is the focusing of all mental
energies on one object, one central idea, or one relevant truth,
and then watching noticing when the attention drifts away and
bringing it back. Through this, we reduce our tendency to "monkey
mind," with our attention darting here and there and everywhere,
and develop the ability to direct and focus our attention, and
indeed, to know where our attention is.
- One objective is to develop the capacity to be aware of your
thoughts, actions, and emotions as you are thinking, doing, and
feeling them. This is sometimes called cultivating the "witness,"
a point of awareness within you from which you perceive all things
as you do them. It is also sometimes referred to as "two pointed
attention," in which one point of your attention is involved in
your activity and the other points notices that this is what you
are and what you are doing. Gurdjieff used this same concept in
his practice called "self-remembering;" it is also related to the
"awareness continuum" of Gestalt Therapy. The physical position
helps to center, provide mental calmness, balance, and
- Raja yoga includes the ethical disciplines of nonviolence,
truthfulness, simple living, austerity and endurance of hardship,
self-purification, and the devoted study of spiritually enobling
books (although a strong focus on the latter would be considered
Jnana yoga. Part of the austerity and practice is
self-withdrawal--the act of transcending our involvement in
society. Chaurhari compares this to "bracketing"--the process of
phenomenological reduction in which we "bracket the world" in
order to question which aspects of it are real and which are
illusory, without judgment.
- Pratyahara is the disengagement of the self from unthinking
attachment to the not-self. This requires, of course, noticing
what our essential self is and what is extra, unnecessary, the
appendages of our society and surroundings that we carry with us.
- Savikalpa samadhi is the existential self-awareness (to be
distinguished from the quite different phenomenon of
"self-consciousness") that takes place at the level of mental
functioning. Nirvakalpa samadhi is a phenomenon at which all
mental functioning is said to come to a stop, in which a person is
directly in touch with his or her innermost reality. This is said
to be a state of abiding bliss.
- Benefits from the path of Raja Yoga: Stronger
powers of concentration, mental focus, calmness, balance, will
power, and detachment from sources of unhappiness related to
wanting or having status or material goods that may be difficult
to attain or destructive of relations with others and the
- Problems with the path of Raja Yoga: Nirvakalpa
samadhi is a very difficult state to attain, so most people who
strive for it end up being attached to the goal of reaching a
state that they never actually reach. This can be somewhat
frustrating. Intuitively, it seems wiser to seek an attainment
that a substantial proportion of the seekers can actually realize.
Also, the goal of Nirvakalpa samadhi carries with it the danger of
"life-negation," a loss of engagement with the world in which the
person is not doing much of value to anyone.
- Bhakti has two central dimensions. It is the yoga of love and
devotion, of identification of your wpiritual connection and
dedicating oneself to a particular god or guru or teacher and
cultivating loving-kindness in one's heart. It is also a yoga of
practices, such as chanting or dancing, that are designed to lead
to states of ecstatic bliss.
- Dyasa is to experience a perfect feeling of security
and happiness in the service of the Divine. Mystics long for the
Divine Child to be born in their inner consciousness. The yoga of
love seeks to turn this spirit of service and self-sacrifice to
God, who is the ultimate protector and provider for all living
creatures, or to the service of God's incarnation in one the form
of a particular God or Goddess.
- A goal of Bhakti yogas as taught and practiced in India is to
see God in everything and everyone. In the West, where a
conception of God as transcendent but not immanent is widespread,
loving devotion to, for example, Jesus and Mary, or in Mexico to
the Virgin Guadalupe, would be a form of Bhakti yoga. The key is
that, once that loving devotion is experienced, the person makes
it a part of his or her own being and expresses that attitude in
his or her actions, thoughts, and feelings toward others. The yoga
of love involves spiritual transformation of the erotic impulse.
Counting on God or the Divine Being or Spirit, however you
conceive of him or her, as one's eternal friend, philosopher, and
guide is called sakya.
- In India the divine is thought of as having masculine and
feminine qualities equally. The yoga of love involves spiritual
transformation of the erotic impulse.
- Benefits from the path of Bhakti Yoga: A true
Bhakti tends to have a sunny disposition and a strong sense that
the world is good and all is as it should be. The states of
bliss-consciousness which are a result of the ecstatic practices
tend to be highly enjoyable. The practice of Bhakti tends to lead
toward an attitude of humility and forgiveness and letting go of
the feeling of egotistical self-importance. Helps make life
- Problems with the path of Bhakti Yoga:
Insufficient realization of the Bhakti path, while
committed to it in principle, too often leads to intolerance of
ways different from one's own, to sectarian bigotry, and to
self-righteousness in which self-examination is absent and
followers project their own shortcomings onto others. The
characteristic attitude of submission can lead to a blind worship
of one's guru which makes one unable to see the guru's weaknesses,
and to an authoritarian attitude.
- Karma yoga is the yoga of action. It is dedicated to carrying
out actions and projects that will improve the lives of others and
help them on their paths toward liberation and enlightenment. It
strives to avoid all actions that will cause unnecessary
suffering, or harm to others or other living beings.
- Action is the essence of life. No one can ever stop acting.
Even a person who shuts himself or herself off from the world is
still acting. The doctrine of Karma, perhaps articulated most
eloquently by the Jains, says, "What goes around comes around."
Each of our actions has consequences, on others and on us
ourselves. The karma yogi tries to make these actions as positive
as possible. Karma yoga is sometimes associated with the
monkey-god Hanuman, who was dedicated to "selfless service."
- The yoga of action may be understood in three different ways.
The first is performance of appropriate religious rites and
ceremonies; The second is selfless action in the best interests of
others and society, (such as feeding the hungry, nursing the sick,
etc.), performed out of genuine love. The third is selfless
dedication to the welfare of others on the basis of one's free
self-development, in a way that is true to one's own inclinations
and abilities. In this view, the foremost duty of each individual
is to develop his or her own latent possibilities, so that these
will be available to both self and other. At its best, it is
selfless dedication to the welfare of other people and beings on
the basis of one's own self-development.
- True Karma Yoga involves an attitude of fundamental equality
between me and those whom I am helping. We meet as one person to
another, on the same ground. In some way I happen to have been
more fortunate in one or another of life's aspects, and therefore
am in a position to help others.
- Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King are examples of
well-known Karma Yogis. They combined good work with a spiritual
- Benefits from the path of Karma Yoga. Especially
useful for those of active habits. It can involve learning to do
the best possible in a spirit of nonattachment. (I do all I can,
and then what happens happens, and so be it.) It can involve
integrating accomplishment for the benefit of others with the
discipline of spiritual development.
- Problems with the path of Karma Yoga It can be
done with an attitude of false charity: "Here, ultracool I will
help these poor undeserving wretches. . . " It can be restricted
by attachment to and inability to see beyond the conceptual
constraints of one's own class and social status. This can lead to
denying one's individual talents, in order to meet conventional
expectations, or toward perceiving Karmic action as advancing the
interests of one's own class or group (whether the aristocracy or
the proletariat) at the expense of others. It can be done with an
attitude of self-congratulation, in which case it reinforces
egotism. And it can be done with an attitude of
self-righteousness, with drives a wedge between oneself and those
perceived as less worthy.
Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge and wisdom, has much in common
with ancient Greek philosophy, which attempted to discover truth
largely through the power of reason. Jnana yoga is scholarly and
conceptual, attempting to find paths to self-knowledge and spiritual
realization through the power of the intellect.
Jnana Yoga is not purely scholarly, however, for it applies
intellectual disciplines to the cultivation of personal qualities.
This side of it might reasonably likened to contemplative meditation,
and indeed shares some qualities with Raja yoga.
Essential steps are:
- Discrimination: understanding which can tell the real from the
unreal. This involves detachment from the ephemeral values of life
and cultivation of the eternal values.
- Detachment: Using the intellect to break away from attachment
to the material world
- Self-Discipline: Using the intellect to cultivate calmness,
restraint, renunciation, forbearance, self-settledness, and faith;
- Longing for Freedom: The desire for liberation leads to
self-discipline which breaks attachments to our conditioned ideas
of who we are and what we need. Blind conformity to social norms
and customs is abandoned.
- Systematic Reflection: Reason and logic are used to work
through doubts, eliminate distractions, and affirm one's total and
- Meditation. Meditation can transform intellectual
understanding and philosophic knowledge into non-dualistic
realization and spiritual wisdom.
- Benefits of the path of Jnana Yoga: Leads to
great depth of spiritual insight. Facilitates communicating
insights & understandings to others.
- Problems with the path of Jnana Yoga:
Overemphasizes intellectual attainment and the monastic
ideal and underemphasizes emotional and volitional aspects of
human life. Can lead to one-upmanship in which the one who knows
most thinks himself or herself better than those who know less.
Can lead to aloofness from and indifference toward the affairs of
the world and problems of material and social existence.
- Also known as Kundalini Yoga, Tantra Yoga has been influenced
by Tibetan thought and is connected with worship of the divine as
the Sumpreme Mother. It includes the archetypal masculine (Shiva)
and the archetypal feminine (Shakti). Sees no antagonism between
nature and spirit, but views all movements and acts as flowing
from the universal creative spirit. Some Tantric Yogis emphasize
moving the Kundalini energy up through all the Chakras, while some
specialize in the development of a particular Chakra. Tantra is
widely thought of in the West as specialization in the second
Tantra does not emphasize asceticism and austerities, but views
these as undermining healthy and balanced development. Instead, we
learn to follow the spirit of nature and learn to appreciate the
profound wisdom in nature. All natural desires are viewed as
manifesting the creative spirit of nature. Personal development
involves coming to know ourselves so we can follow the bent of our
own nature. If we do, base impulses and desires gradually yield to
higher and nobler ones.
Kundalini energy (compare to Freud's libido, Perls' excitement,
Reich's orgone energy, etc.) is represented as a serpent. As it
uncoils it stretches through each chakra and ultimately releases the
poweful energy of the seventh or "crown" chakra, cosmic
Tantric practitioners identify the obstacles and opportunities of
each of the traditional seven chakras, and use a variety of
techniques, including awareness and expression, guidance from within,
meditative disciplines, chanting and other bhakti techniques, and
"desireful prayer and worship" to achieve maximum fulfillment of your
The chakras are in brief,
base of spine
forehead (third eye)
Full development of the Kundalini energy without adequate
preparation or supervision is said to unleash more energy than some
people can handle and even drive them crazy. But when the energy of
each chakra is systematically developed, as the kundalini energy
uncoils its energy brings balance and the guidance of infinite
patience and love. The person becomes secure, capable and appropriate
in sexual expression, strong, loving, able to speak his or her truth,
intuitively perceptive, and ultimately blissful and dedicated to the
well-being of all those with whom he or she comes in contact. And at
all these levels we receive guidance and support from the divine
Practice leading to the ultimate goal of Tantra: spiritual effort
is the union of the dynamic (changing, moving) and static (quiet,
peaceful) aspects of personality.
Benefits of the path of Tantra Yoga: On the whole
(some individual gurus and disciples excepted), Tantra tends to be
very openminded and minimally dogmatic. It encourages
self-determination and thorough and systematic psychological,
physical, and social development as part of the path to liberation.
Prescribes methods and attitudes for great sex.
Problems with the path of Tantra Yoga: Can be
interpreted in a way that leads to great self-indulgence and lack of
attributing sufficient value to self-discipline.
AUROBINDO'S PURNA (INTEGRAL) YOGA
- This is a modern synthesis of the traditional yoga systems of
india. It is not one of the traditional yogas, but was described
by the great twentieth-century Indian spiritual teacher Sri
Aurobindo. Although he has passed on, his ashram in Pondicherry,
in Southeast India, continues his work. The ashram's work includes
remarkable restoration of what was previously a total
environmental disaster area.
- Active participation is life needs to accompany mental
serenity and self-purification. The inward processes of
concentration and meditation are, in Chaudhari's words, "pursued
in a spirit of self-offering to the Divine."
- Chaudhari writes, "The great Indian poet Tagore stressed the
concept of finding freedom amid the bonds of human relationship
and society.The modern renaissance of Indian philosophy began with
an affirmative and dynamic attitude toward life and an optimistic
gospel of social reconstruction, political freedom, and cultural
- Integral yoga exposes the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the
traditional systems, writes Chaudhari, and gives yoga an
affirmative and dynamic form, taking into account evolutionary and
- Action, love, wisdom, and peace are equally important elements
in self-integration. Love in its full flowering is seen as
inseparable from wisdom and selfless action. "Love in its
spiritual essence is an attribute of wisdom. It flows from the
vision of the interdependence of all life and the oneness of all
existence. It is active interest in the progress and betterment of
society. It is the joyful expression of the soul emancipated from
the onds of selflessness. . . .Freedom is not liberation
from society but liberation in society. . . . Nature is
no enemy of the spirit. On the contrary, she conceals the spirit
in her bosom."
- The basic spirit of Purna yoga does not sound too radically
different from that of Tantra yoga (says Victor, while admitting
that I met Haridas Chaudhari only once, and I have not, at this
point, closely studied the works of Aurobindo himself, which are
rather difficult, nor have I yet visited the ashram at
Pondicherry. It is possible that Aurobindo and Chaudhari would
disagree with my appraisal.) Integral yoga does, however,
emphasize some elements of karma, jnana, and raja yoga that
receive less emphasis in Tantra, and many Integral yogis are Hatha
yoga practitioners. What Aurobindo has tried to do is to include
the elements and ideas from each of the traditional yogas that he
found useful and true, and leave the others by the wayside. In
this, his approach was similar to that of Fritz Perls as he
developed Gestalt therapy out of Gestalt psychology,
psychoanalysis, existential philosophy, theatre, and other
sources. To the best of my knowledge Aurobindo did not bring the
same kinds of innovation in technique and practice to yoga that
Perls brought to therapy, but on the other hand, he provided a
profound conceptual innovation in response to systems which
encompassed dogmas that were (and to a considerable extent, still
are) far more deeply entrenched than those of any