Since when and why is the Arhanta Yoga Ashram also located in the Netherlands?
We have started Arhanta Yoga Ashram in the Netherlands in March 2014. It is a branch of the Arhanta Yoga Ashram India. We have started it with the purpose to bring classical Yoga to the people in the Netherlands and whole Europe. At our Ashrams we want to provide people the opportunity to follow the 2000 year old traditional Indian system of Yoga training and to learn how to incorporate Yoga in their lifestyle.
We have seen that a lot of people want to experience yogic lifestyle but most of the ashrams in Europe are more like Yoga resorts providing luxurious settings so the students do not get the authentic yogic lifestyle experience. At our Yoga ashram in the Netherlands we aim to provide the exactly same experience as in our ashram in India. We want to keep the environment and the teachings authentic and traditional so people can experience authentic Yoga in an authentic ashram environment.
We have seen that living in an ashram even for a short period is an eye opener for most people. It helps them to realize their weaknesses and their strengths very clearly. It makes them aware of their sensory and emotional baggage they carry all the time. It also helps them to reflect on the reactions of the mind and their challenges in adjusting to the minimalistic and simple lifestyle of an ashram.
We specialize in residential Yoga teacher training courses. We give these courses in our ashram in India. We have given non-residential Yoga teacher trainings in Europe before but we missed the effect an ashram surroundings has on the students. Being in an ashram helps them to focus completely on their learning and practice of Yoga and meditation without getting distracted by the gadgets, internet and their daily life problems.
What is your background?
I was born in New Delhi, India in 1980 in a very spiritual Hindu Jain family. Yogic philosophy and spirituality has been part of my upbringing. I have been learning Yoga and yogic philosophy since the age of nine years. I have studied and trained with various reputed Yoga teachers in India. I have been teaching Classical Yoga, Yogic and Vedic philosophy since 1998. In last 15 years I have taught thousands of students from different parts of the world. I have also personally trained over 800 Yoga teachers from all over the world in the last 6 years.
What is the goal of Yoga?
According to yogic philosophy we human beings have different levels of basic nature. Everyone behaves, thinks and acts as per their basic nature. There are seven levels of natures described in Vedic philosophy, first being the highest and seven being the lowest. Human beings who have attained the higher natures are free from ego, attachment, anger, free from the pleasures of their five senses and they have a clear understanding of the laws of nature and possess a very high awareness level. The lower natures of human beings have very low level of awareness and animalistic behavior. They are for example extremely egoistic, greedy, over-indulge in sensory pleasure and are only concerned with their own benefit.
Yoga literally means “to unite” and the goal of yoga is to unite the lowest nature with the highest nature, so to bring the self from the lowest nature to the highest. You can also say that the ultimate goal of Yoga is to understand the self and to master the five senses, so to come away from the animalistic indulgences of the senses to control over the mind and detachment from worldly pleasures. This is also known as enlightment. There are different paths and techniques to reach this goal. There are four paths of Yoga described in the Vedas. The Bhagavad Gita also talks about these four paths towards liberation and freedom. These four paths are: Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga. Each of these paths or any combination of them can lead to englightment.
What is the goal of Asanas in relation to the goal of Yoga?
Asanas are part of the practice of Hatha Yoga and Hatha Yoga is a branch of Raja Yoga, the Yoga of control. In Raja yoga the practitioner follows various practices to gain control over the five senses, intellect, mind and the body. Having this control his awareness level elevates and he reaches enlightment.
According to the classical text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, following the first steps of Raja Yoga, the Yamas and Nyamas, are a very important part in attaining a higher spiritual level, they are codes of conduct and moral guidelines to master the five senses and therefore control the mind and become free of worldly attachments. According to Sage Pantajali, first the Yamas and Nyamas have to be practiced, and only then Asanas and Pranayama should be attempted.
Today however the spiritual awareness is generally low, people are materialistic and much absorbed in sensual indulgences therefore to control the mind through following these strict guidelines only becomes a barrier rather than a stepping stone in spiritual evolvement.
According to another ancient text Hatha Yoga Pratipika the Yamas and Nyamas can be secondary. The Sutras are designed to guide spiritual aspirants to control their mind through control of the body. Through mastering Yoga Asanas and Pranayama the mind gets in control and the Principles of Yama and Niyama are more easily integrate.
According to my personal experience and understanding it is essential to study and try to integrate the Yamas and Nyamas as much as possible in your lifestyle while you are working on control of mind through your body and breath. A spiritual aspirant should feel a certain level of commitment and devotion to the practice of Yama and Niyama before attempting a serious Yoga Asana practice. It is also essential to understand the goal of Yoga, otherwise all the Asanas however fancy or skillful they are, are mere gymnastics.
In teaching and practicing Yoga the real goals of Asanas should be understood:
Many thousand years ago in India the practice of Asanas was originally designed by monks following a rigorous spiritual practice, involving many hours of meditation per day. Because of the many hours of complete stillness of the body and lack of physical activity during meditation, internal organs were not functioning properly anymore and they were catching diseases. Physical exercises was not suitable as they lead to hunger and thirst and monks ate and drank only once a day in very limited amount. Therefore they developed asanas which stimulated the internal organs without creating hunger. Asana were practiced to balance and stimulate endocrine glands which help for proper functioning of the internal organs like heart, kidneys, liver etc. When the basic body systems are working well the body gets free from disease. On energy level, the asanas help to balance solar and lunar energies in the body which lead to clarity and emotional balance. Physical, emotional and mental health is essential for the practice of meditation and for pursuing spiritual evolvement.
So keeping the physical body, the mental and emotional body healthy and in balance is the real purpose of Yoga Asanas, so not merely toning and stretching of muscles. The changes in bodily appearance through regular practice of Hatha Yoga asanas are a side effect and should not be mistaken for the goal. And secondly, as already mentioned, Asanas are a way of controlling the body and with the right focus and dedication gaining more control of the mind.
What is the goal of Arhanta Yoga?
These days Yoga is considered to be just a physical exercise or at best a way to feel more relaxed in one’s life. The real purpose and the right way of doing yoga has been lost in the transitions. I often see that due to lack of proper training and lack of authentic sources of knowledge what most of the teachers are teaching these days is not Yoga but some other exercises in the name of Yoga.
At Arhanta Yoga we want to spread the understanding of Classical Yoga, the traditional way to do Yoga and the real purpose of Yoga. We want to spread the ancient knowledge without being orthodox or sectarian. We aim to help people to get the true experience of Yoga and its real benefits which go far beyond the physical level.
What do you want to achieve in the Netherlands?
I want to help people finding clarity in their lives and show them how the practice of Yoga can be very helpful in it. I want to help people to bring awareness about the purpose of their life and living their lives accordingly. I want to be open and available to my students as my teachers have been to me.
These are the traits which one should develop in his character. Classical texts describe 10 yamas, but Sage Patanjali chose only five yamas as the important ones:
1. Ahimsa (Non violence): There are four kinds of violence which one can do to himself or to others; Physical, verbal, mental and intentional (not actually committing any violence (yet) but having the intention of doing so). Ahimsa means to not apply any of these forms of violence on anyone or yourself.
2. Satya (Truthfulness): This practice includes seeking, believing, following and speaking the universal truth. It is also explained that personal truth is not necessarily the real truth, so one needs to seek the universal truth or truth which is always true in every condition and all the time.
3. Asteya (Non stealing): This practice involves not only not stealing but also not taking or accepting anything which one has not actually earned. The receipt of gifts which are given with a motive are also considered stealing.
4. Brahmacharya (Divine conduct): This practice includes non indulgence in the lower nature or animalistic activities, which are collection due to insecurity, over stimulation or indulgence in sexual pleasures, overeating or eating for taste or pleasure.
5. Aparigraha (Non collection): this practice includes not collecting or accumulating more than one truly needs, e.g. not buying 10 pairs of shoes if one actually needs only two. Now one must be following Satya in order to honestly decide what he really needs and how much he needs. Aparigraha is not only about materialistic things but also for emotional collection.
These are the practices which one should make part of his daily routine. Classical texts describe 10 niyamas but Sage Patanjali chose only five as the most important ones:
1. Shaucha (Purity): This practice includes keeping the physical body, verbal words, mental thoughts and intentions pure, clean and healthy.
2. Santosh (Contentment): This practice includes being satisfied and grateful for what you have while working towards what you want.
3. Tapas (Austerity): This is the practice of mastering the five senses through discipline and thinning out the indulgence of the five senses.
4. Swadhyaya (Self study): This practice includes improving ones awareness by self study of scriptures of true knowledge and self reflection.
5. Ishwarparinidhana (Surrender to divine): Ishwar means one’s idea of god. This practice includes the surrender of ego and all the activities to your idea of God. Doing all activities as aservice to God, without expecting credit or reward for it.