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Introduction To The Different Branches Of Yoga

Yoga has been around for nearly two millenniums and has evolved gradually into various forms. It is considered one of the best forms of physical and mental exercise. People practice different kinds of yoga according to their needs. The main aim of yoga is to bring about a balance between the mind and body of an individual. Meditation is a part of all forms of yoga.

At its most basic, yoga is a set of spiritual practices originating in ancient India. While most people in the Western world think of yoga as a form of physical exercise, it actually encompasses much more. Even when only the physical branch of yoga is considered, many different styles exist today, from the traditional to the trademarked Bikram style.

The Bhagavad Gita, a text dating from the first few centuries BCE and considered the definitive source of Hindu philosophy, mentions four branches of yoga. Karma yoga refers to one's action in the world, Jnana yoga is the development of knowledge and the mind, Bhakti yoga is the worship of a deity, and Raja yoga is meditation. The style of yoga most familiar to those in the Western world, consisting of the practice of asanas or poses in order to reach a meditative state, is a medieval development of Raja yoga known as Hatha yoga.

Today, Hatha yoga is practised the world over for both its aid in meditation and its physical health benefits. There are many styles of Hatha yoga for the practitioner to choose from. A few of the most popular are discussed below.

The basic form of yoga is the Hatha Yoga that enhances the physical aspect of an individual and is also recommended by the doctors as physical therapy. It consists of postures which are also known as asanas accompanied with breathing techniques known as pranayamas. The combination of asanas and pranayamas has been found very effective in treating and controlling a number of diseases.

Hot Yoga [ like Bikram yoga] is a series of 26 postures conducted over 90 minutes in a heated room heated to 105°F (40.5°C). The Hot Yoga class starts with a breathing exercise to warm-up, then goes through 24 asanas (or postures) finishing with a toxin-eliminating breathing posture. The sequence of postures has been programmed to systematically work through each muscle group throughout the entire body with each posture in the series warming and preparing the body for the next posture.

Karma Yoga is a practical application of yoga where the emphasis is on the deeds of an individual. The concept is that whatever an individual does in the present has a direct bearing on the future just as the present is the direct result of past deeds. The people who practice this form of yoga are conscious of leading a selfless life and are inclined to helping others as much as they can. This should be practiced on a daily basis whether at home or at work. This is a goal oriented yoga which makes a person introspect and meditate on life after death. Peace Corps, NGOs are examples of people who perform karma yoga at a conscious level.

Jnana Yoga can be cited as the most difficult form of yoga as it is directly related to the intellectual aspect of an individual. It involves the development of intelligence and wisdom through the study of the ancient texts and scriptures. This can be undertaken by scholars who have the interest and can devote their time patiently to unraveling the mysteries from the past.

Bhakti yoga is a term within Hinduism which denotes the spiritual practice of fostering of loving devotion to God, called bhakti. Traditionally there are nine forms of bhakti-yoga. Bhakti yoga is generally considered the easiest of the four general paths to liberation, or moksha and especially so within the current age of Kali yuga (according to the Hindu cycle of time). In scriptures such as the Bhagavata Purana, bhakti is described as a perfectional stage in itself which surpasses even moksha as a level of spiritual realisation. Hindu movements in which bhakti yoga is the main practice are called bhakti movements.

Raja Yoga is another form of yoga that is closely linked with the Hatha Yoga. Once an individual becomes acquainted with it and has gained some proficiency in performing the asanas and pranayamas, this acts like a prerequisite to move to a higher level, that is, the Raja Yoga which is a more classical form of yoga which enables an individual to prepare himself for meditation for a longer duration of time. Certain religious groups follow this branch of yoga to attain more focus and concentration during meditation, for example, the Brahmakumaris. This is undertaken by people who have a more philosophical bent of mind and believe in asceticism and leading a life of deep meditation.

Birkam Yoga can be cited as the most difficult form of yoga as it is directly related to the intellectual aspect of an individual. It involves the development of intelligence and wisdom through the study of the ancient texts and scriptures. This can be undertaken by scholars who have the interest and can devote their time patiently to unraveling the mysteries from the past.

Vinyasa yoga links breath to movement and consists of a flowing series of poses using the practitioner's natural breath as a guide. Movement is continuous and the focus is on aligning movement with breath rather than on perfecting each posture. The sun salutation is one well known vinyasa series.

Ashtanga yoga is a fast-paced, physically challenging form of yoga. Like vinyasa, it is performed in a flowing style, with attention given as much to transitioning gracefully between poses as to the poses themselves. This style is also sometimes called power yoga.

Kudalini yoga is practiced with the goal of awakening energy stored in the pelvic area. While asanas are involved in kundalini yoga, the focus is more on breath and chanting. When kundalini energy is released, it is said to flow upward along the spine through energy centers called chakras.

Iyengar yoga is named after its creator, B. K. S. Iyengar. The focus of this style of yoga is proper physical alignment, and poses are often held for long periods of time in order to perfect one's posture. Props, such as straps or yoga bricks, are common in this style, as they can be used to help the practitioner reach and maintain correct alignment.

Tantra yoga. This branch is often misunderstood – it is the branch of rituals, which includes consecrated sexuality. Tantric yoga focuses on experiencing holiness in everything we do, and making every action – including those of a sexual nature – into something sacred. Ironically, although tantra yoga has become associated with sexual rituals, most tantric schools recommend and practice celibate lifestyles.

Bikram yoga is also named after its pioneer, Bikram Choudhury. This style of yoga is practiced in a heated room in order to allow the body to stretch and relax more. Bikram yoga uses a series of 26 asanas, always performed in the same order and intended to open the body up gradually throughout the practice. Hot yoga is also practiced in a heated room, but the postures may vary from the Bikram method.

Each branch of yoga is like a single facet of a diamond. Each plays a part in the overall luster and brilliance of the whole.

There are several classical branches on the tree of yoga. All branches of yoga are part of a complete system of self-development and Self-realization, which forms a powerful path to higher consciousness.

The branches of yoga are wonderfully diverse paths that ultimately lead to the same result ~ union with the Self and with life.

Each branch of yoga comes from the same source, and each shares a common aim, the enlightenment of the human mind and the self-creation of happiness, self-knowledge and ultimate fulfilment through Self-realization.

The main branches of yoga include hatha yoga, mantra yoga, laya yoga, raja yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, tantra yoga, yantra yoga, kundalini yoga, kriya yoga.

There are also other lesser-known branches such as guru yoga (connection to higher consciousness as guru), anna yoga (the yoga of food).

Each type of yoga is suited to different personalities, temperaments and body types. Not everyone wants to do yoga postures (asana). So it is important to find and to follow the branch of yoga that best suits us. This allows our inner growth to unfold naturally and spontaneously.

As this process unfolds we may become naturally attracted to study other branches and styles of yoga in order to add to our skill and knowledge base. As we master one branch of yoga it becomes easier to explore others.


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Yoga Book The serpent Power Kundalini ShaktiNEW Yoga Book -
" The Serpent Power - Kundalini Shakti"..
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The Glasgow Yoga Centre

Book contains information on
Yoga Asanas (postures)
Pranayama ( breathing) for health.
Gnana Yoga and Kundalini Shakti for experiencing Higher Self.

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