Moss garden at the Silver Pavilion, Kyoto
Tirtha Yoga offers lessons in integral yoga for small groups and individuals. Integral means that different techniques are practiced to complement and support each other. It depends on the adept whether the emphasis of the practice is on physical, energetic, cognitive or meditative aspect. The lessons are given by Ram Tirtha either in German or English at the Yogi Lodge in the western part of Stuttgart. His style has been shaped by the Sivananda and Satyananda tradition and his main themes are yoga for health, meditation and kundalini yoga, especially kriya yoga. Basic techniques are relaxation, postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama); also some aspects of Iyengar yoga are applied as well as spiral dynamic elements. The techniques are adjusted to each individual person so that everybody can practice. There are no prior requirements, but regular attendance is essential for progress. Yoga is not a religion so followers of all creeds as well as agnostics and atheists can practice it. There is mention made of Hindu and Buddhist yoga but that only means that some traditions of yoga developed in these cultural and religious contexts.
At the temple Kusum Sarovar near Vrindavan
Search for sponsors and supporters of a documentary film on self knowledge
"The world runs amok" said Ama Samy, a contemporary Zen master, about the current state of our world. Today's societal longings are above all based on promises of the economy and new technologies which are supposed to help us to live a more secure and comfortable life. This current materialism with its fixation on growth, competitive thinking, effectiveness and greed has become an end in itself without being questioned any more. The resulting traits in most people’s character and lifestyle lead to ecological destruction, social conflicts and mental disorders. The film documentary wants to show that change is possible through awareness, mental focus and self inquiry. In the film teachers from different traditions and scientists will reflect upon the subject. It is our aspiration to make these practices accessible to a broader audience. We would be pleased if you could support this project. We are happy to send you further information. Please contact Ram Tirtha.
Due to a yatra (a journey for pilgrimage and study), connected with project work on the documentary, no lessons will be offered until March 2019. Hopefully all adepts have a personally rewarding time and maintain their practice till then.
Street children practicing tatrak, Delhi
Yoga is a science based on experience for raising awareness and changing consciousness which has developed over thousands of years. Through awareness, change happens naturally. The darkness disappears with the light, we need not fight against it. This alone gives us a perspective to work with the severe social, ecological and psychological problems we face and are going to face.
Yoga begins with the insight that it is our own view of the world and our reactions to what happens that define us. The feeling of being a victim of adverse conditions subsides – it is our own mental structures and habits which hold us in dependencies and lead to conflicts. Pain and unhappiness grows out of that conditioning, but pain can also lead to a change of the perspective and the openness for something new. If practiced with awareness, the techniques of yoga help to transform and decondition the mental sphere.
Yoga understands health in a comprehensive way. Humans need to be understood as a whole; mental and physical health can not be separated from each other. Mental health in yoga means bodily, emotional and mental harmony; means a balance of extroversion and introversion, means freedom from dependencies and contradictions; means inner joy.
On a spiritual level, the yoga is connected with tantric, vedantic and Buddhist teachings and wisdom; with different perspectives, those traditions emphasize the wholeness, unity and fullness of life.
Adepts of Zen, Kamakura
Asanas offer an easily accessible start with yoga practice since the body is used as a concrete means of support. On a pure physical level the postures can be understood as a kind of self massage which reaches down to the inner organs. In this way, many parts of the body are supplied with fresh blood. Moreover, asanas treat wrong postures and tensions on a physical plane which come about through a sedentary lifestyle. Contrary to sport, the postures, if practiced slowly and with awareness, lower the metabolism and the frequency of breathing. After the practice, the feeling is of increased energy and wakefullness. But the effects of asanas go even deeper:
On an electrochemical level the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems become balanced. Because of that, the digestion gets improved and the blood pressure decreases, what has - apart from one‘s mental attitude - a major effect on health. With the nervous system, the endocrinal system gets also harmonised, what brings about positive changes to the shape of the body, the metabolism, the emotions and the habits. Blockages are loosened, the energy can flow more freely and work with more harmony. When experiencing tension, which has become normal in our culture, the human potential of energy can be used only to a small degree. With regular yoga practice, empowerment happens naturally. In conclusion, we can say that healing happens in all aspects of the personality.
Lake Hertha, a place for pagan worship at Rügen
The breathing practices are very important key techniques of yoga. They build the bridge between body and mind. With our breathing, our thinking is affected immediately. Also there is a close interdependence between breathing and emotions. Rapid breathing is connected with restlessness, unease and bad health whereas slow breathing is connected with peace, relaxation and happiness. Oftentimes life is as fast and superficial as our breathing.
On a physical level, deep and slow breathing optimizes the intake of oxygen. Additionally, breathing is a gate to the vegetative nervous system and also influences the bio energy (prana). Therefore, through harmony in breathing, a positive effect on our health occurs directly. On the mental level, our perception becomes more subtle and intuition develops. Our mind becomes less distracted and therefore clearer, more peaceful and less agitated.
Close to Radha Kund
Often times our thinking and mental attitudes lead to an lingering tension. Other people as well as ourselves have expectations on us and our environment which the reality of life cannot fulfill. Instead of accepting this we develop negative thoughts and emotions. This leads to mental tension as well as continually stimulated and tense muscles, what in turn puts stress on the internal organs and weakens our body and the immune system. Sickness is unavoidable. For some, even sleeping offers no relaxation since also in the night negative thinking and conflicts prevail. Distraction or even drugs do not promote relaxation; on the contrary, they impede awareness and relaxation.
How then does relaxation work? Our mind is told to focus perception on our motionless body, away from thoughts and emotions. The muscles are not stimulated any more and can relax, the body can recover, the mind becomes more clear and free. At first, the effect will last after practice for a very limited time. With regular practice, supported by positive thinking, slowly a more relaxed attitude towards life can be developed. Then life is again more enjoyable, less sleep is needed, social contacts become more comfortable and concentration becomes easier.
Buddha at Jokhang, Lhasa
In yoga the intellect has only a relative value. Thinking is not always helpful; in many cases it is an obstacle. Therefore, it is important to understand the possibilities and limits of thinking. Instead of becoming carried away by self-centeredness, the power of thoughts should be used constructively: Firstly, conviction about positive values and qualities is developed on a rational level. Then with the help of different yoga techniques these mental attitudes are regularly called into consciousness and get internalized. The most important mental attitudes are acceptance, openness along with neutral observation and feeling of the current moment which also play a major role with meditative techniques.
Transformation and change is only possible with complete acceptance of the current situation, without the feeling of guilt or reproach – which have destructive effects. Openness decreases preconceptions, distrust and conflicts and makes change possible. The present moment is the only moment we can experience directly; brooding over the past and fantasizing about the future is more often part of the problem than part of the solution and distracts from the essential. Mental clarity develops through cultivation of an attitude of observation to reduce identification with the body, the emotions and the thoughts. Our perspective broadens so that the roles we play in life are not about the core of our being. Especially in critical situations one should observe one‘s own reactions. Step by step, mental patterns can be broken and blind reaction can be replaced with appropriate action.
Meditative techniques turn the mind towards the experience of the current moment without following the thoughts and emotions. With that focus, a space can open which is not influenced by outer or inner forms which as a rule imprison our awareness. From this space a new view of the world opens up. One feels connected with the essence and the root of being, which brings about joy, equanimity and mental stability.
With these cognitive and meditative techniques, a consciousness can develop that leads to understanding and compassion.
At the entrance to Karla caves near Lonavala
Traditionally the different forms of yoga had been classified as follows:
Bhakti yoga, the yoga of purification of emotions goes sometimes also under the name „yoga of surrender“. This means surrendering to something fundamental or divine that transcends our personal existence. The purification can only take place when we are able to forget our limited personal perspective and open up. For that rituals play a major role. All other traditional paths of yoga will inevitably lead to the state of Bhakti, since all have the same aim as Bhakti yoga, namely liberation from the bondage of ignorance caused by self-centeredness. It is said that Bhakti yoga is the easiest yoga since it leads immediately and without much effort to the goal. Unfortunately, few of us are capable of this simplicity. On the contrary, in the way yoga is mostly practiced today, the state of Bhakti is rather unattainable.
Karma yoga, the yoga of renunciation of desires, is also known as the yoga of selfless service. While acting we serve the whole as good as we can. The results are then taken as they are, with equanimity, whether they are in line with our wishes and expectations or not. Through this attitude we gain fulfilment, not through the results. In theory we could incorporate this yoga in our daily life. But this is rather difficult for us, since we have the habit to measure our actions by the results. Moreover, we still have a lot of selfish desires; we are not mature enough that we can let them go. One needs to be careful: suppression of desires has detrimental effects.
Jnana yoga, the yoga of (self-)knowledge, works mainly with meditative techniques and also with reflection and cognition - like inquiries, e.g. the famous „Who am I?“ by Ramana Maharshi or the koans of Rinzai-Zen. Some schools like Vedanta or Tibetan Buddhist yoga work extensively with scriptures; others like Zen have a non-intellectual approach. It is said that, at least for most of us, this is the most difficult yoga since as a rule it requires a great amount of determination.
Raja yoga, the yoga of mind control, was codified by the sage Patanjali. It was influenced by Buddhist yoga. It advocates eight branches which eventually lead to liberation: yamas & niyamas (ethics), asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense control), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (liberation). The first five limbs are a kind of preparation for the last three which can be regarded as a type of jnana yoga.
Androgyn form of Shiva at Elephanta island near Mumbai
The tantric yoga can be best understood with some background from the tantric philosophy. Reality from a tantric perspective has a strong dynamic aspect. While the classical paths of yoga emphasize the static principle of reality, tantric yoga also appreciates the dynamic principle. In non-dual tantra they are considered as two equally important aspects of one reality which do not oppose each other. This is the reason for the richness of tantric practices. They can be rather sophisticated, radical and unconventional; but they are very practical and have a positive view toward life, body and the world. Enjoyment of life, senses and our bodies need not lead to bondage. The mundane aspect of life can be a means of liberation if used without attachment and indulging in pleasures. The other main underlying principle is the connectedness of the physical, energetic, mental and psychic realms. When working in the energetic „sheath“ of the body, all other realms of one’s whole being are transformed.
Hatha yoga, the yoga of „force“, consists of five components: balanced nutrition, relaxation, postures, breathing and mental techniques (positive thinking and meditation). The main practice of hatha yoga is to work with the body, which is supposed to prepare one for higher forms of yoga, especially kundalini yoga. Historically, hatha yoga came about through a degeneration of values and life in the Indian culture during the middle ages. Because of that decline the traditional yogas could not be practiced any more as in the past. In our times, hatha yoga is practiced mainly out of therapeutic reasons, especially in the West. It helps, if not overcome then at least minimize the sicknesses of modern life.
Kundalini yoga, the yoga of energy, can be regarded as a natural extension of hatha yoga. Here the main means are mantras („nada“, sound), yantras (geometrical diagrams) and foremost the work on the human energy system with its nadis (channels) and chakras (knots). Different cultures developed different forms of this path: the white tantric traditions of India, Tibetan Buddhist yoga, the esoteric Taoism in China and the tantric Japanese Zen.
Integral yoga advocates the promotion of all classical forms of yoga as well as tantric yoga. They support each other. Every practitioner should choose one main path to which he or she is inclined and support it with the practices of other forms of yoga.
Red gate to Toko-ji, Hagi
Varanasi, at the Ganges
The word „tirtha“ comes from Sanskrit and means „crossing over“. The ancient meaning of the word is „fort“, the place or the town at a river where it can be crossed over. Many of the great Indian places of pilgrimage are situated on the banks of rivers and many routes of pilgrimage go along the great rivers.
„Tirtha“ also means a place of spiritual power, a place where energies merge. „Fort“ is then understood in the spiritual sense as a metaphor for the crossing of the unreliable, ever-changing mundane reality to reach the other shore, the aim of the spiritual quest. At a tirtha the mind can be more easily transcended since a deeper dimension of being manifests itself there for humans, clearer and more palpable than at other places.
Ram Tirtha, Seyfferstr. 51, 70197 Stuttgart
Ram Tirtha was initiated in the year 1990 by Yogi Ram Prakash Sharma at Khajuraho and was thereafter lucky to encounter many other teachers from different tantric, vedantic and Buddhist traditions. In the year 2010, he did a formal yoga teacher training course within the Sivananda tradition. It is a joy for him to share his knowledge and experience with those interested.
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