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Introduction to Vedic Yoga

By Yogi Baba Prem Yogacharya, Veda Visharada

   Vedic yoga is a relatively new term to western practitioners of yoga.  In fact, most yoga teachers in western society will not be familiar with Vedic Yoga; which beckons the question, "why do we need another yoga system, especially one that is not well known?" While this does seem like a legitimate question, in reality western spirituality is at a crisis point. 

     While yoga has been growing at a tremendous rate over the past 50 years in America, with practitioners numbering in the millions; the truth is that most yoga practitioners have been introduced to "watered down" versions of traditional yoga practice.  While this has come under heavy criticism in recent years, again one must recognize that this has been an important step in introducing yoga to western society.  The actual failure has been in bridging these simplified versions of yoga to more intermediate practices of yoga.  Part of the challenge is the time requirements, financial commitments, and other restrictions facing modern day practitioners of yoga.  Teachers have often been reluctant to challenge themselves or their own personal belief systems.  Often economic considerations are a major factor challenging teachers; as modern teachers are frequently, and understandably, concerned about the financial ramifications of challenging their students limiting attitudes and beliefs.  But the reality is that the teacher is seldom challenged in their own training.  It would be true, in an analysis of some traditional yoga teachings, that there does exist a gentleness with personal beliefs, it is also quite clear that the ancient texts and teachings do challenge ones beliefs and demand that practitioners expand beyond their current limiting attitudes and perceptions.  Otherwise, how can growth occur, unless one can leave behind the limiting patterns and beliefs inorder to embrace a greater realization or understanding of one’s true identity?  And while it would be correct to say that this cannot be forced upon students, it would equally be correct to say that each student should be exposed to concepts outside of their personal 'box' while being allowed to develop at their own pace and in ways that serve their needs best.  There must also be programs available to help students transition from a fundamental yoga practice into a more serious, disciplined, and rewarding spiritual practice.

     Different yoga schools have attempted to introduce various programs that offer opportunities for more in-depth study of yoga and its related philosophies, resulting in weekend to month or multi-month long study programs.  Again this has been a significant development in the cultivation of serious study and practitioners of yoga within our society.  Again it has frequently fallen short when attempting to deal with the masses or helping larger numbers in transitioning to more serious levels of study.  The result has been the development of a smaller number of highly skilled and trained teachers that challenge their students and provide more detailed study over a longer period of time frequently spanning year to decades.  It would be correct to say that this model does not fit with the traditional models of spiritual development, but does appeal to the current training of yoga instructors aiming to bypass formal and in-depth education. 

     Universal Yoga has been a leader in this type of in-depth training and education, but it is not alone.  There exists a small minority of schools have taken this more in-depth approach and are currently working with groups of highly dedicated students. 

     Vedic yoga is another step in this important process of teaching eastern spirituality to western students.  Before we can begin to practice Vedic Yoga to any serious degree it is important to understand its relationship with other forms of yoga. 

 

VEDIC YOGAS RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER YOGA SYSTEMS.

     It would be difficult to argue that the most well known traditional yoga is Hatha.  With numerous variations on tradition Hatha teachings being marketed under personality names.  Again there is nothing wrong with this.  Less known but growing in popularity is Kundalini yoga, followed by Raja and a host of other systems.  For the purposes of this article we will focus on the relationship between Vedic Yoga and Hatha/kundalini systems.  Frequently students of yoga feel that they will only study one system of yoga and never move beyond that particular system, which is a legitimate view due to the depth and complexity of each yoga system.  Within the traditional systems there was more of synergistic blend between several related systems and often yoga traditions incorporated health systems such as Ayurveda and even Vedic astrology within their system, both of these coming from the Vedic tradition.  Vedic yoga begins to introduce students to this synergistic blend more completely than most other yoga systems.

     While it is true that Vedic Yoga does not have postures to any great degree as experienced within the hatha and kundalini systems, this is merely due to the fact that the posture portion was recorded in these systems and considered a prerequisite to study in the Vedic tradition.  The Vedic system per se' recorded different information.  We will explore this concept later in this article.  So the actual view of the Vedic system is not that the other systems are something separate, as is frequently taught, but rather the Vedic system view the physical systems of yoga as an important preparatory practice for Vedic Yoga and that there is a great deal of overlap between systems.

     Within Vedic Yoga proper, we find complex breathing exercises (pranayama), mudras (hand positions), and foremost mantra, visualization, and meditation.    But to be proficient with these, the practice of physical yoga (postures-yogic breathing exercises etc,) are of critical importance from a preparatory viewpoint.    So Vedic Yoga is not separate from the more common yogas taught in our society, but rather the traditional yogas serve as an important preparation for the practice of Vedic Yoga. 

 What is the basis for Vedic Yoga.

     As with all yoga systems, the fundamental goal is spiritual development and ultimately realization or moksha.  This is true of even systems such as Hatha yoga and other common yoga systems.  Though this view is not popular with some yoga teachers of Hatha. 

     It cannot be argued that any spiritual tradition has a more extensive library or series of writings than the Vedic Yoga tradition.  And certainly no spiritual tradition contains unbroken lineages of enlightened teachers as we have seen within the Vedic/Indian traditions.  The yogic texts and Vedic texts make up the most extensive library of spiritual teachings currently known and still practiced in the world. 

     The primary texts for Vedic Yoga are commonly known as the Vedas.  The word 'veda' means knowledge.  So the Vedas are considered books of knowledge or wisdom.  More importantly they are considered revelation or shrutti.  This was not revelation in the Biblical sense, rather the Rishi’s heard the mantras while in deep meditation.  There are four primary texts that comprise the Vedas.  These are:

 

1.  Rg Veda (considered the oldest)

2. Yajur Veda

3. Sama Veda

4. Atharva Veda

     Together they provide over 10,000 mantras for practitioners.  Of course this number is too many for most practitioners of Vedic yoga, and fortunately success in Vedic Yoga does not require mastery of all these mantras. 

     The age of these sacred texts are a hotly debated issue, with western scholars frequently dating the Vedas to around 1500 BCE. These dates suggested by western scholars are highly speculative and are considered incorrect by  Vedacharyas, teachers of the Vedas. A growing number of scholars are beginning to consider these dates as incorrect and the actual dates of the Rg Veda are being pushed back to earlier points in human history.  Even many western scholars are starting to debate these dates. 

     What is known is that the Vedas are or at least portions are considerably older than 1500 BCE.  The Vedas were not written at one particular time in history, but rather were complied and preserved by families over a much larger period of time.  Within the Vedas, we do find astrological references dating back to 6500 BCE.  Making portions of the Vedas over 8500 years old, and making the Rig Veda the oldest spiritual book still commonly used today!

     Each Veda book, mentioned above, has an additional text known as a Brahmana.  These were additional writings attempting to preserve to the knowledge contained within the Vedas and information about rituals.

There are additional texts known as the Upanishads.  These number into the hundreds, but the traditional number of 108 is commonly used as their number.  Of these, the most focus is given to 12-15 primary Upanishads, though there is some disagreement as two which ones make up these primary Upanishads. 

  There is another group of books known as the Puranas, though not considered Vedic by many systems, they do contain some information from the Vedic era.  There are a total of 36 volumes that make up the puranic library, with 18 considered major and 18 considered minor puranas. 

   There are additional Vedic works known as upavedas and vedangas.  Upavedas are called 'secondary vedas' books and encompass areas such as 'Ayurveda" or knowledge of life, comprising the Vedic health system.  Vedangas or 'limbs of the Vedas' encompass areas such as "jyotish" or Vedic astrology.  There are numerous additional upavedas and vedangas comprised of many volumes of work. 

     There are also copious numbers of yoga books, 64 tantric books, and additional texts such as the Maha Bharata which contains the very popular Bhagavad Gita.  This is just a sampling of the depth contained within the eastern tradition and directly or indirectly linked to Vedic Yoga.  Again it is not feasible for most students to master all of the books or the wisdom contained within them.  For most students, focusing on a few key mantras, developing solid understanding of the Vedic principles is an important foundation, and/or study of a few books serve as an important transition into greater health and spiritual awareness.  Study of the fundamentals can allow students to experience a spiritual depth that is frequently lacking in our modern age.  For students that wish to move into much greater depth in their spiritual study, the Vedic approach offers a refreshing and detailed understanding of spirituality that is unrivaled by most spiritual systems.  This does not mean that Vedic yoga considers itself better than other traditions, but it has done an exceptional job of preserving the depth of the world's spiritual traditions better than any know system in the world.  Vedic yoga has always understood that there are numerous spiritual traditions and way to approach divinity. 

 

Why Vedic Yoga

     Vedic yoga provides a practical approach to the previously inaccessible world of mysticism.  Access to this knowledge was reserved for an 'elite' few and was commonly reserved for renunciants, and those that had dedicated their lives exclusively to spiritual pursuit.  While mysticism has been commonly viewed as not for the masses, it is commonly accessible to larger numbers of people than at any other time in recorded history.  This is an extremely unique time in human history, where humanity, en masse, has access to information and spiritual practice that would have been difficult to access in the past.  Additionally, this ancient system provides an essential stepping stone to bridge the basic or fundamental yoga systems with the more advanced mystical system of eastern thought. 

     Vedic yoga provides tools and philosophies for:

 

1.  Personal healing.

2.  Planetary healing.

3.  Personal transformation.

4.  Planetary transformation.

5.  Enhanced relaxation.

6.  Enhanced wellness.

7.  Spiritual development.

8.  Spiritual evolution.

9.  Cultivation of a sense of peace.

10. Improved meditation.

11. Practical tools to use in 'real-world' situations.

12. Improved interpersonal relationships.

13. Improved relationships with nature.

14. Improved skills in the work environment.

15. and much more.

     In fact, it would be difficult to find any area of one’s life that would not be touched or affected by ones practice of Vedic yoga.  Even the practice of Vedic yoga in the home will, overtime, affect all inhabitants of the house, providing important benefits for spouse, children, and even pets.  So our Vedic yoga practice is not just a gift we give to ourselves each day, it is a precious gift that we give to all of those around through our personal practice.

 

Practical Guidelines

     Probably the most important need for the practice of Vedic Yoga is a qualified teacher.  The teachers should be trained and formally recognized by some traditional system from India, if possible.  These could include:

 

1. Sadguru's

2. Vedcharya's

3. Yogacharya's. (If trained in the Vedic tradition)

4. Pandits

5. Brahmins

6. Veda Visharada's

7. Vedakovids's

8. Some Sanskrit Scholars.

9. Those trained in traditional gurukual systems.

10. And of course Acharya’s. 

     Some Swami's focus on Vedic teachings, though often the focus of some swami systems could be on texts such as the Bhagavad Gita or if Vedantist, they would focus primarily on the Upanishads. 

     There are other systems and teachers that can offer beneficial instruction in various aspects of Vedic Yoga.  These groups would include Vedic astrologers and Ayurvedic practitioners, as they are focused on specialized areas of the greater field of Vedic knowledge. 

     Within Universal yoga our primary focus is on four primary areas:

 

1.  The Vedas themselves.

2.  Ayurveda.

3.  Vedic astrology.

4.  Sanskrit.

     Our reason for focusing on the Vedas is simply due to the fact that they are the foundation of this system of yoga.  They form the foundation that all other systems are built upon. 

     We focus on ayurveda as it is easier for spiritual pursuit when one is healthy and vibrant.  Though it is possible to grow and develop when one is ill or facing challenges with sickness. 

     We explore Vedic astrology to gain insight and understanding into our personal karmas.  As the Vedic astrology chart is a window into each individual’s karmas.  By gaining insight into our karmas, we are empowered to make better decisions and to develop yoga practice that will aid in resolving our karmas as quickly as we can capable of. 

     We learn basic Sanskrit as it is the language of the Vedas.  Mantras cannot be pronounced properly with a fundamental knowledge of Sanskrit.  As Sanskrit is a language of vibration it has a powerful effect in all other areas of Vedic yoga--the Vedas, ayurveda, and Vedic astrology. 

 

What are the aspects of Vedic Yoga.

     While Vedic yoga is an extremely expansive subject that has numerous facets beyond the scope of this article, we can limit our basic practice to several key areas:

 

1.  Mantra.

2.  Pranayama (breath expercises)

3.  Meditation (Dhyana)

4.  Visualization

5.  Mudra (hand positions)

6.  Asana (postures) is used to supplement and prepare the mind and body for the previous 5 aspects. 

     For the proper pronunciation of mantra, a familiarity with Sanskrit is highly recommended as mantric sound is produced in different areas of the mouth.  It is not required to learn Sanskrit, but it is very important to learn how to properly pronounce the mantras.  Therefore, learning basic Sanskrit is highly recommended.  Additionally, basic Sanskrit teaches proper phonetics and pronunciation as well as cultivating the ability for reading basic Sanskrit.  But it does not require that the student learn Sanskrit grammar or other complex areas of Sanskrit.  We recommend that most serious students learn study our "Introduction to Sanskrit" course.  This program will teach the fundamentals in a home study environment that will allow students to get the most from their Vedic yoga practice.

     A sold foundation of postures and some of the basic pranayamas can be learned in private sessions or through our book Universal Yoga: A Path to enlightenment.  This book provides several sets of raj-kundalini to practice at home.  Additionally, any type of yoga class can be beneficial as well, though it is important to get some practice with yogic breathing and this important aspect of yoga is appearing in more and more yoga classes.   

 

 Common questions.

By Shanti

 

Q. Do I need a teacher to practice Vedic yoga?

 

A.  Yes, due to the complexity of information and sound it is very important to have a Vedic teacher.   The Vedic system, as with most yoga systems, is a vast and complex array of teachings.  As we seek experts out for issues regarding our health, car, or even computer maintenance, it is important to not allow our spirituality to take a "back-seat" to the same criteria that use for other aspects of our life. 

 

But the purpose of the Vedic teacher is to only provide guidance and expertise.  It is then the responsibility of the student to explore the teachings, mantras, and meditations on the information provided by the teacher.  Students must take the wisdom and knowledge from their teachers and then have their own deep personal experience with the teachings.  It is at this point that the teachings become real to each student, allowing them to move beyond mere theory and book knowledge.  And after all this is the goal of spirituality.

 

Q.  How often must I study with my teacher?

 

A.  Currently the Vedic system is most frequently taught in the traditional 'gurukual' system  This means that it is taught in private sessions and in small workshops over a period of time.  The purpose of the workshops is to dispense information to a group and the private sessions are designed to "fine-tune" the information for the individual.  Private sessions also allow individuals to focus intensely on their specific areas of interest.  This process is usually measured over years rather than weeks or months.  This is due to the need of each student to have time to cultivate their own personal experiences and realizations with the techniques and teachings of Vedic Yoga.

 

Q.  Are their books that I can read on Vedic Yoga?

 

A.  Regrettably the traditional systems did not write in the way that westerners think, so books are not organized in one big book that answers all questions.  So usually the information is spread across numerous volumes of books.  These books usually come from India and go out of publication quickly at times.   We recommend reading "Yoga Secrets of the Vedas" by Yogi Baba Prem.  This book is available through Universal Yoga and in India as well.  The book was written with the explicit purpose of providing important fundamental and foundation information/knowledge on the Vedic system.  In fact, it provides a short program that anyone can use to get started in the practice of Vedic Yoga.    The program in the book can be used as 4 month system, saving the student money and creating a solid foundation for the practice of Vedic yoga.   Also taking our "Introduction to Sanskrit" home study course can provide powerful tools to use in one's home practice of Vedic Yoga.  This program is available at www.vedicpath.com  We also offer a nice comprehensive book on mantras called "Mantra: Inner transformation through the power of sound".  This is available online as well.  The introductory course and mantra book can be purchased together at a discount.  Several important ebooks are available with additional information: From Earth to Heaven: Secrets of Goddess, Yoga and Spiritually is now available as an ebook.  Patanjali & God examines Patanjali’s connection with Vedic Yoga.

 

All books are shipped directly to you or delivered via download in the case of ebooks.   If you have additional questions about material in the books, you can always contact us here at Universal Yoga. 

 

These programs are quite popular and have been purchased worldwide by students in Brazil, Columbia, Holland, and Australia to name just a few. 

 

Q.  How do I start?

 

A.  It is easiest to start with previously recommended book.  Then contact Universal yoga and set up a private session.  For those that live outside of the central Florida area, sessions can be done over the phone via Skype or other video conference options.  You can contact Universal Yoga at 407-278-5179.  For a faster response email us at universalygoga@cfl.rr.com

 

Of course one can get started immediately with our home study courses and books.  We do provide support via email for those that have occasional questions while taking our home study courses such as "An Introduction to Sanskrit'. 

 

Q.  What do I need to do for success in Vedic Yoga?

 

A.  All that is required is a desire to grow personally and spiritually.  The more time one invests in their spirituality, the quicker they will see results.  The less amount of time invested the longer it takes to see results.  But on average most students should try and invest 20 minutes per day into their practice of Vedic Yoga.  Many students invest 30-60 minutes per day into their Vedic yoga practice, while others follow a monthly and yearly cycle, practicing on particular days that are most beneficial for them and their particular goals.  Yogi Baba Prem recommends daily practice with extra emphasis on the monthly or yearly cycles.  But again this can vary due to expectations and goals of each individual. 

 

Copyright 2012,   All rights reserved.

 

Yogi Baba Prem

  • Yogi Baba Prem has two books published in India, and has written numerous other books published by Universal Yoga. 

 

  • His articles have appeared in several traditional magazines and a variety of e-magazines.