Many paths..exploring the Six Yogas of Naropa

There are many types of yoga practice that you can explore. These include hatha, raja, jnana, bhakti, kriya, karma, mantra and laya. One day I’ll set out an exploration of these different paths. They all have a place in one’s practice. I have found that they seem to be ideal for different types of people too – so the key is to find a practice that works for you. You might find that walking in nature is, infact, your yoga practice. So don’t think that “yoga” is yoga….yoga is simply a vehicle for integration and self-realisation (that’s the simple version anyway).

Recently, I have been revisiting the Six Yogas of Naropa. These are especially significant in Tibetan Yoga and Buddhism. Naropa’s yogas received extensive commentary from the legendary Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) and his commentary informs most of what we know. The practices are often called “heart yoga”. They have been written about extensively. They are called “heart yoga” because they make your heart and body strong and healthy, but they are also a powerful adjunct to the compassion practices that we can explore. They are powerful practices on the path to englightenment. Two contemporary authors who have chronicled them are Glenn Mullin who is a profound and internationally renowned translator and practitioner, and Geshe Michael Roach, who achieved recognition for his book, The Diamond Cutter which is a modern exploration of the Diamond Sutra. There are many interpretations of the six yogas and in this article I will cover these two author’s interpretations.

The practices are preceded with the practice known as nine purification breathing. Then the following preliminary – warm up movements are practiced, and the names are wonderfully evocative.

  1. Filling like a Vase – a breathing technique using alternate nostril breathing
  2. Circling like a Wheel – rolling the solar plexus clockwise and anticlockwise, three times each way
  3. Hooking like a Hook – drawing the arms to the side, and snapping the elbow into the chest
  4. Showing the Mudrā of Vajra Binding – moving the mudrā from the crown downwards
  5. Straightening like an Arrow – hands and knees on the floor with the spine straight; heaving like a dog
  6. Shaking the Head and Entire Body – pulling the fingers, followed by massaging the two hands

While practicing these physical exercises one should retain the breath and control one’s energies. The best time for trying them is when the stomach is empty (before eating), or some time after eating. If you are not sure how to do these, and want to – get one of the books I mention below, or check out with someone who knows how to do them. I am contactable via my contact details if you wish to find out more but I am a student of these movements.

The six yogas – or as they are called “dharmas” of Naropa are typically as follows:

  • tummo -the yoga of inner heat (or mystic heat)
  • gyulü – the yoga of the illusory body
  • ösel – the yoga of the clear light or radiant light
  • milam – the yoga of the dream state
  • bardo – the yoga of the intermediate state.
  • phowa – the yoga of the transference of consciousness to a pure Buddhafield

I would recommend “The Six Yogas of Naropa” by Glenn H Mullin, published by Snow Lion publications for a detailed explanation and exploration of the practices. There is much more to this than just the physical preliminary practices. Geshe Michael Roach provides a more accessible and wonderful little book called “The Tibetan Book of Yoga” published by Doubleday. It is a sweet introduction and very easy to read and follow. Although it is not perfect, Wikipedia has a great introduction here:

My conclusion ? I am a very low level dharma bum. I practice other practices which work for me, however. Did these work for me in any way? Nine point purification breathing always does – it is a great calming and centering practice. It readies me well for anything. Tummo and the yoga of the illusory body are both strong and powerful practices. We see in the Wim Hof Method an exploration of Tummo like practices and these work for many people. Be in no doubt that these can help you on the path.

Any movements and exploration of breath are worth exploring – with care and sensitivity. However, I stick to Yantra yoga and self-liberation practice through contemplation as understood in the dzogchen tradition. This is my ground.

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