ANANDA YOGA – WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
What is the practice of Ananda Yoga like? What type of exercises does it include? Is it spiritual in nature? Are there required positions to practice Ananda Yoga?
Ananda Yoga brings yoga back to its original spiritual essence. Exercise and stress relief are only the beginning; the higher purpose of Ananda Yoga practice is to uplift your consciousness. To accomplish that, you’ll work not only with your body, but also with your prana (subtle energy) and the inner faculties of your mind and heart.
Ananda Yoga includes: (1) Asana (yoga postures); (2) Pranayama (breathing and energy-control techniques); (3) Yogic meditation techniques; and (4) Applied yoga philosophy.
Ananda Yoga brings the science of hatha yoga back to its original purpose: transcending the limitations of the physical body in order to enter into a higher awareness as it brings the body, mind and spirit into mutual harmony.
We find that the whole system of hatha yoga is a very important tool for reminding us of our inner nature, and for strengthening that nature. Through increased awareness, we gradually become aware of the body on a spiritual level. Eventually we become aware of spirit without the body.
Yoga is an art as well as a science. It is a science, because it offers practical methods for controlling body and mind, therefore making deep meditation possible. And it is an art, for unless it is practiced intuitively and sensitively it will yield only superficial results.
Yoga posture practice in Ananda Yoga is gentle for beginning students, becoming more challenging with experience. It is an inwardly directed practice, and is never aggressive or aerobic.
The primary emphases are:
- Safety and correct alignment
- Being relaxed at all times, even during the midst of effort
- Working directly with the body’s subtle energy via the yoga postures
- Using the postures to raise your consciousness
- Adaptation – modifying each yoga posture to fit the needs and abilities of the practitioner rather than trying to force the practitioner into some “ideal” position
The Energization Exercises are a series of 39 special energy-control techniques that Yogananda developed in order to help the practitioner increase, focus, and control the life-force.
Each yoga posture is paired with its own affirmation, which one practices silently while in the posture. The affirmation is designed to reinforce the posture’s natural effect on one’s state of consciousness, bringing the mind actively and directly into one’s practice.
Ananda Yoga is as concerned with mental attitude as with physical postures. Physical tension, stiffness, muscle tightness all come from corresponding mental states of stress, inflexibility and intolerance. Physical ailments are often caused by psychological stats as fear, anxiety, resentment and judgment.
In Ananda Yoga, mental affirmations are combined with each posture. The affirmation is repeated throughout the posture, like a mantra, enabling the thought-seed to penetrate deeply into the mind. The physical stretch is thus enhanced by an expansion of mental outlook. The result is a gradual change of mental attitude that makes the physical benefits of yoga more lasting. The body is thus used as an instrument through which we can directly and powerfully influence our mind and our mental habits.
Ananda Yoga, or Ananda Yoga for Higher Awareness is a system of Hatha Yoga established by Kriyananda, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, and is based on his Kriva Yoga teachings. Ananda Yoga emphasizes inner awareness; energy control; and the experience of each asana as a natural expression of a higher state of consciousness, which is enhanced by the use of affirmations.
Ananda Yoga was established from one of the oldest Hatha Yoga systems in the West. Its roots are the 1940s/1950s, when Kriyananda was asked by Yogananda, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), to demonstrate the postures for visiting guests, as well as for public events, such as the SRF “Lake Shrine Dedication.” Kriyananda also modeled for photos, for articles on the yoga postures in Yogananda’s “Self-Realization Magazine.” From 1965 he started to teach Ananda Yoga publicly in California. In 1972 his students developed a Yoga Teacher Training Program, which is now taught in America, in Europe, and in India. The director of Ananda Yoga, Gyandev Rich McCord, is a co-founder of Yoga Alliance and a member of its Board of Directors.
Ananda Yoga uses asana and pranayama to awaken, experience, and control the subtle energies (prana) within oneself, especially the energies of the chakras. Its object is to use those energies to harmonize the body, uplift the mind, and above all to attune oneself with higher levels of awareness. One unique feature of this system is the use of silent affirmations while in the asanas, as a means of working more consciously with the subtle energies to achieve this attunement. Ananda Yoga is a relatively inward experience, not an athletic practice. A main goal is to prepare for deep meditation, as Hatha Yoga is considered the physical branch of Raja Yoga. Ananda Yoga also includes Paramahansa Yogananda’s Energization Exercises, which direct cosmic life force (prana) through the medulla oblongata to all parts of the body.
The Hindu word for ‘breath,’ ‘life’ and ‘energy’ is the same: prana. Prana surrounds us in the air we breathe. We draw not only air into our body when we breathe, but also vitality, strength and courage. When we exhale, we through out of our system, not only carbon dioxide, but also mental and emotional impurities: discouragement, weakness, and despair. But inasmuch as these are mental and emotional tendencies, we must use mental ‘lungs’ to draw them into us or to expel them, even as we must use our physical lungs to inhale and exhale air. When a deliberate mental effort is made to absorb prana from the air that we breathe, then give us psycho-spiritual benefits as well.
Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy control. Yoga teaches how, through breathe-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness.
The “Energization Exercises”, a vital part of Ananda Yoga, are Yogananda’s contribution to the science of yoga. He first developed them in 1916, within his organization then called “Yogoda,” which he changed to Self-Realization Fellowship in the 1930s. He later expanded them into a set of 39 exercises. The goal is to tap into cosmic energy, recharging the whole body. Yogananda explains in his Autobiography of a Yogi: “Realizing that man’s body is like an electric battery, I reasoned that it could be recharged with energy through the direct agency of the human will…. I therefore taught the Ranchi students my simple “Yogoda” techniques by which the life force, centered in man’s medulla oblongata, can be consciously and instantly recharged from the unlimited supply of cosmic energy.”