One contemporary approach to unifying the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of yoga is called Purna Yoga.
Practicing yoga by going to a weekly yoga fitness class, without changing any other aspect of your lifestyle, is like being a weightlifter but only doing bicep curls. Asanas and bicep curls are both healthy, but without a more diversified routine, the benefits are limited at best, unbalancing at worst.
There are many ways of practicing yoga more holistically. Many yogis are familiar with the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga yoga and another one that they call Purna Yoga.
The name is a good fit. Roughly translated, yoga means unity and purna means complete. Purna Yoga aims to expand yoga from being the equivalent of a bicep curl to being a full-body workout. Purna Yoga can help yogis unify their daily life and their practice of yoga.
Background of Purna Yoga
Purna Yoga is a yoga school and yoga system. It was created by married, world-renowned yoga masters Aadil Palkivala and Savitri (a mononym). They cofounded the Alive and Shine Center in Bellevue, Washington and the Purna Yoga College.
Palkivala grew up in India and began studying with giants of yoga B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri Aurobindo. He is a polymath, with degrees and certifications in physics, math, law, shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapy, hypnotherapty, and more. He is one of the world’s most respected teachers of yoga teacher training, which has been his passion for forty years.
Savitri is a Meditation Master who spent her early years in Bombay. After a few years in the United States, beginning at age eleven, she experienced a series of tragic and traumatic events. These included a serious head injury, the death of her parents, sister, and best friend, and life-threatening illnesses. This series of events led her to develop a meditation form called Heartfull Meditation.
As their mission statement explains, Purna Yoga is, “an authentic Yoga Style and Yoga College from a genuine Indian lineage bringing awareness as to what Yoga truly means into modern society.”
Basic principles of Purna Yoga
Many American yogis fall into two camps. First are people who see yoga classes purely as a fitness strategy. They dislike any introduction of spirituality, breathwork, or anything else that distracts from burning calories. The second group believe they have a more holistic mindset. That they believe that yoga classes are so powerful they can cure any ailment, physical or spiritual that may arise in the other twenty-three hours of the day, irrespective of how unhealthy their overall lifestyle may be.
Purna Yoga challenges these narrow understandings of how yoga works. It honors the guidance of Sri Aurobindo, who said “All life is yoga.”
The Four Petals
Ashtanga yoga has its Eight Limbs. Purna Yoga, likewise, is organized using the metaphor of Four Petals. These are:
· Asanas and Pranayama
· Heartfull Meditation
· Applied Philosophy
Asanas and Pranayama
In Purna Yoga, the asanas include sustained poses, flow, and individualized therapeutic practice. Pranayama, mudras, badhas, chanting, and mantras are part of the practice.
Transformative spirituality, in this model, includes the practice of Heartfelt Meditation. As Palkhivala describes it, this form of meditation helps the student “learn how to move the mental energy down into the heart chakra and the emotional/pelvic energy up into the heart chakra.”
Living yoga, or applied yoga philosophy, is a key element of the practice as well. This includes consideration of dharma (life purpose), relationships, and ethical and spiritual matters. These include nonviolence, honesty, and humility, for example.
Nutrition and general health are the last of the Four Petals. Specifically, the goal is to develop an individualized diet that matches a person’s health needs and temperament. It includes traditional Chinese nutritional philosophy, modern Western nutritional research, and Ayurveda.
Purna Yoga is broader than these brief descriptions of the Four Petals might suggest. For example, students of Purna Yoga also study Vastu, which concerns alignment and is related to feng shui, as well as Ayurveda, the “science of life.” Ayurveda allows instructors to tailor the poses they give a particular student to that student’s particular needs and abilities. Purna Yoga seeks to integrate this information to help you find the true path.
The Final Word on Purna Yoga
In their teacher trainings and at the Alive and Shine Center, Aadil Palkhivala and Savitri are expanding American yogis’ understanding of what a yoga practice is and what it can do. Studying this more holistic approach to yoga may help you expand yoga’s role in your daily routine from being a fitness class to being a way of life.