Akhanda Yoga®: A holistic teaching approach
In Sanskrit, Akhanda means whole, or indivisible. We think of the yoga system as being a vast, whole tradition that evolved into many different streams, like Vedanta, Tantra, and Samkhya; different paths, like Bhakti, Karma and Jnana; and aspects of practice like asana, pranayama and mantra. In a holistic class we use themes to weave various aspect of yoga theory and practice together into a tapestry that offers students a powerful experience, and an experiential toolkit for their journey.
Akhanda Yoga® is:
- A class that balances all of the directional movements of the spine (flexion, extension, lateral flexion, rotation, grounding and levitating);
- In all of the stations (standing, crouching, sitting, laying on the belly, laying on the back, arm balances and inversions);
- A balance between yang and yin – effort and allowing, in postures, meditation, and life;
- A teaching that offers studies in the diverse toolkit of yoga techniques: asana, pranayama, mantra, visualization, relaxation and meditation;
- A teaching that uses themes to bring the philosophies of the wider yoga tradition into classes as a thread that also helps guide the sequencing and dialogue for that class;
- A balance between cueing checkpoints for safety and allowing for inner inquiry. Some element of body mechanics is needed for safety and increased body awareness; however, if we over mechanise the postures, we limit the students’ freedom to explore the micro-movements they can make within the normal range, as well as to explore the subtle prana, and their own inner experience in any given moment.
Akhanda (holistic) Yoga® Class Description
Akhanda is a holistic yoga teaching approach. In this class you will explore:
- A balance of yin/yang postures, and other diverse aspects of yoga such as pranayama, mantra, relaxation, visualization and meditation;
- A theme which ties yogic wisdom in to the sequence of the day and/or to the progression towards a peak pose. For example, open hips – open heart; or forward bends and releasing outmoded ways of being.
- A balance between structural cues and inner inquiry, so that participants can explore their own breath, body and experience within that range of safe movement.
Akhanda 1: Introduction to the synchronicity of breath and movement, alignment and relaxation along with yogic contemplations and mindfulness tools.
Akhanda 2: inspires intermediate students to explore the mind/body connection through more complex balancing, strengthening and inverted postures, as well as additional pranayama techniques (such as anuloma viloma and kapalabhati) and slightly longer meditations.
Akhanda 3: Deepening awareness through Akhanda Flow, Hatha Raja or Classical Kundalini (see below).
Note: We would be pleased if Akhanda Yoga® teachers would use the descriptions on this page to describe their Akhanda Yoga® classes with variations as necessary. Teachers may also call Akhanda Yoga® by the description Akhanda Hatha Yoga in order not to suggest that this class is distinct from Hatha Yoga, but that it also draws from a broader yoga tradition. It is a teaching approach that focuses on wholism, balance, diverse aspects of yoga practice and contemplations, experiential learning and using themes to tie it all together.
Akhanda Yoga® – A Further Exploration of this Teaching Approach
Akhanda, similar to the word yoga in Sanskrit, means indivisible, unbroken tradition, entire, and whole. Akhanda is the first word of a very inspiring Vedic mantra, Akhanda mandala karam – This Cosmos and the manifest universe is one indivisible entity. Akhanda Yoga® is the name we have chosen to identify the teachings and approach to yoga spearheaded by Yogrishi Vishvketu (Vishva-ji) and Chétana Panwar through their organization, World Conscious Yoga Family. Their intention for Akhanda Yoga® is to offer holistic, integrated Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) programs and yoga classes with an emphasis on the balanced sequencing of asana, pranayama, relaxation, mantra and meditation as well as discussions and readings on the yogic lifestyle and yoga philosophy. This integral approach to yoga classes is intended to give students access to more of the diverse teachings and techniques that the yoga system has to offer. When practiced and understood holistically, yoga becomes even more beneficial and helpful for humanity in bringing harmony and balance to our lives, families and to society.
They also would like to emphasize their commitment to the balance between checkpoints for body mechanics, and guidelines for inner inquiry. Checkpoints, or the method of approaching a physical posture from a safety point of view, are important as foundational touchstones. As yoga is fundamentally an experiential, inner inquiry, students are encouraged both to be aware of checkpoints, and to explore how the posture feels and manifests in their body during any given yoga experience. It is this student-centered journey which is at the heart of the Gnostic (experiential) yoga tradition, and which should not be overshadowed by technical instructions.
In particular, Yogrishi Vishvketu’s teaching is identifiable in its joyful and compassionate nature. During challenging postures, students are encouraged to smile or to find the inner smile, thus making non-competition and contentment true aspects of the practice. He impresses upon teachers in training the importance of introducing students to the diverse aspects of the yoga tradition, as well as offering a balanced class. The concept of the balanced class not only includes the balancing all of the directional movements of the spine in every class, but the balance of effort and allowing, of yin and yang. The seamless flow created avoids any extraneous movements, and prevents disbalanced flexibility and disbalance or loss in the Pranic energy system.
World Conscious Yoga Family’s YTT programs in holistic and Akhanda Yoga® include a balance of teaching, discussion and practice of traditional paths:
- Hatha Yoga (techniques in kriya, asana, bandha, pranayama, mudra and meditation)
- Jnana Yoga (Vedanta philosophy and the concept of Oneness as the essential reality of the universe)
- Raja/Ashtanga Yoga (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: mindfulness, meditation, and the eight-fold path)
- Mantra Yoga (the use of Vedic mantras for clarity and peace)
- Bhakti Yoga (kiirtan chanting, contemplation of devotional aphorisms and the attitude of surrender)
- Karma Yoga (discernment of right action, and responsive versus reactive action)
Through the Akhanda Yoga® approach, Vishva-ji and Chétana hope in part to revive the whole message of Hatha yoga – a Tantric code word for the route to enlightenment through the manipulation of energy pathways in the Pranic body. Ha-Tha refers to the union of sun and moon, or Ida and Pingala nadis: Through the balance of right and left energy channels, the union of prana and apana, through the proper use of breath retention and bandhas, one can channel vital energy up the shushumna nadi and attain expanded consciousness, or realization. That said, they acknowledge that Hatha Yoga does not denote a class-style or pedagogic approach, but is a heritage path of yoga informing us on the techniques and physical and subtle workings of: satkarma, asana, pranayama, mudra, pratyahara, dhyana, samadhi. They feel their use of the name Akhanda Yoga® is a clear expression of their pedagogic approach to teaching, drawing from all of the above aspects of the yoga tradition for a modern class context.
As part of Akhanda Yoga®, Vishva offers three class styles: Akhanda 1, Akhanda 2 and Akhanda 3 (Akhanda Flow, Hatha-Raja; and Classical Kundalini). Akhanda Yoga™ can be practiced on five different levels according to the Koshas (sheaths) as one’s awareness deepens and expands: physical, pranic, mental/emotional, intuitive, and the level of pure awareness. Akhanda Yoga® teachers design and present a class to draw awareness to one or more of the koshas (sheaths), and aim to guide students to experience their practice on all five levels for different purposes.
Akhanda 1 – Basic Principles of Breath, Movement & Relaxation
Akhanda 1 is intended to teach basic principles of breath, movement, alignment and relaxation to beginning students. This class presents the most common postures that can be practiced by anyone in the standard or modified form. Students also learn three-part yogic breathing, ocean-sounding breath and some practical concentration and meditation techniques. In this level, students become aware of tightness they carry in the body, and into the asana practice, and begin to breathe and move from a state of relaxation. They are guided to move with the breath and let the breath initiate movement. This level aims to balance flexibility and strength, cleanse the body and help the practitioner attain a natural state of health. Through the physical practice, students also learn to listen to the messages of the body that may manifest in stiffness (rigidity in the body mirrors rigidity in the mind), symptoms in a particular organ etc.
Akhanda 1 evokes the physical and energetic levels of awareness.
Akhanda 2 – Intermediate Study: A Journey into the Mind/Body Connection
Akhanda 2 is intended to inspire intermediate students to journey further into their exploration of the mind/body connection through more complex balancing, strengthening and inverted postures, as well as additional pranayama techniques (such as anuloma viloma and kapalabhati) and slightly longer meditations. In this level, we direct breath and prana into different parts of the body according to the focus of the posture or breathing technique. Students are guided to become aware of the expansion and stimulation of the chakras that are brought about through the techniques. This practice aims to expand the Pranic body evenly, and to heighten the practitioners’ awareness of the flow of prana. In this level students are also encouraged to witness how mantra, asana and pranayama help to release any blockages, and to cleanse the mind of negative or compulsive thought patters, or thoughts/emotions which are no longer needed.
Akhanda 2 evokes the energetic and mental/emotional levels of awareness.
Akhanda 3 – Deeper Awareness: Dynamic and Meditative
Akhanda 3 comprises three classes: Akhanda Flow, Hatha-Raja and Classical Kundalini. Akhanda Flow is intended to inspire those who are flexible and/or enjoy a dynamic and physically challenging class to use their bodies to their full potential through poorna (full) variations of standard poses, and/or holding postures, as well as exploring the Pranic and Mental/Emotional levels of awareness. This class may use the sun salutation and variations as a thread through the middle portion of the class. Remembering that the hallmark of our approach is balance, the intensity of strong uplifting asanas toward the beginning of the program will match the intensity of the surrendering postures in the resolution of the class. This gives what is often called a yang/yin effect. In this level, students will explore further the bandhas and breath retention for the direction and expansion of prana and to aid concentration.
The Hatha Raja and Classical Kundalini classes focus less on alignment, and checkpoints as it is assumed that the student already knows how to perform the postures safely, and attends other Akhanda Yoga® or holistic classes to explore shifts, micro-movements and sensations in the physical body among other things. The Hatha-Raja and Kundalini classes work from the Pranic level inward, as the students explores the subtle shifts in the breath and energy systems, (Kundalini), and the sound and energy (Hatha-Raja).
The Classical Kundalini class integrates postures, oscillating movements, Tantric Bija mantras, visualization of the chakras, and pranayama techniques to clear the subtle energy passageways (nadis) and their junction points (chakras) promoting clarity, vitality and peace.
The Hatha-Raja class is a sequence of moderate postures practiced in a slow and mindful way in conjunction with the sonorous Brahmaree Pranayama (honey bee breath). The intention in this class is to lengthen the breath in the postures with sound. It emphasizes postures that influence the pineal and pituitary glands of the brain helping to bring the mind to a calm and uplifted state. The class concludes with 20 minutes of meditation. It is excellent for anyone wishing to release stress and increase pranic awareness through sound, movement and meditation.
The assumption here is not that the class is more advanced if it is more physically demanding, but rather that in terms of asanas, the classes can be practiced at different levels of physical intensity from moderate to dynamic. A practice becomes advanced as the practitioner experiences it on deeper levels of awareness.