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Katrina Repka

ISHTA yoga

The ISHTA lineage

Kavi Yogi Swarananda Mani Finger and his son, Alan Finger, created ISHTA Yoga in the late 1960’s in South Africa. Mani was first initiated into Kriya Yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda in Los Angeles, and later as a Kavi yogi by Sivananda in India. Mani subsequently went back to South Africa where he transformed his home into an ashram.

Over many years, Mani and Alan hosted many gurus at their house including Swami Venkatesananda (friend of T. Krishnamacharya and Sivananda’s ‘jewel student’), Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Nishraisananda, and Tantric master Shuddhand Bharati, who initiated both Alan and Mani into Tantra. Seeking to integrate and celebrate the different teachings and lineages that passed through their ashram, Mani and Alan created ISHTA Yoga. Alan Finger and his wife Sarah Platt-Finger currently head up ISHTA from their lovely studio in downtown New York. You can visit them here: www.ishtayoga.com

ISHTA Yoga is the science of self-transformation.

ISHTA stands for the “Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda” and combines elements of these three ancient eastern disciplines to produce a modern yoga system that trains, instructs, and develops the body, mind, and spirit. The word ISHTA is also derived from the Sanskrit word “ishta,” and is interpreted as “that which resonates with the individual spirit,” which is also ISHTA’s mission: to provide a personal yoga system that is neither rigid nor dogmatic, and which allows the individual student, guided by the teacher, to create the practice best suited to his or her physical, mental, and spiritual needs.

Three elements form the nucleus of ISHTA Yoga:

Hatha is a system of purification and transformation often associated with the physical practice (the sequence of poses) in yoga known as asana. In Sanskrit, “Ha” means solar energy and “Tha” means lunar energy; conjoined, they represent the balance of opposing forces in our bodies (e.g., strength and flexibility, masculinity and femininity), which can be achieved through diligent practice.

Hatha Yoga is more than a physical discipline, however; exercising the body is only the first step towards exercising control of the mind. With ISHTA, asana is accompanied by pranayama (breath control) and kriya (purification practice), which acts to soothe the fluctuations of the mind (vrtti); then the student can begin meditation. Through meditation comes the self-realisation that leads to enlightenment (known as Samadhi, the state of bliss or oneness). In order to yoke together the vital, contrary energies of the Sun and the Moon—the Ha and the Tha—an ideal yoga practice must embrace the body, mind, and spirit. That is why ISHTA Yoga emphasises meditation and makes it a crucial element of class work.

Tantra is a spiritual movement whose origins date back as far as medieval India. Tantra has taken multiple forms and been interpreted in numerous ways over the centuries; in general terms, Tantra says that the Divine is everywhere around us, that we are a part of it, and that we can connect with it, if only we can liberate ourselves from the illusion (maya) of daily life and recognise the truth. According to tantric lore, the universe was created out of two contrary but attracting forces: the god Shiva, who brings the masculine forms of intelligence and wisdom, and the goddess Shakti, who represents the creative, nurturing energy of the feminine. The objective in ISHTA yoga is to unite Shiva with Shakti through the physical body and thereby return to wholeness and perfection.

The word Tantra comprises the Sanskrit words “tanoti” (to expand), and “trayati” (to liberate); ISHTA uses tantric techniques to elevate the mind and liberate the consciousness through asana and meditation, to explore the subtler aspects of being, and to channel energy for personal transformation.

Ayurveda is the traditional Indian system of medicine whose origins date back at least two thousand years. The objective of Ayurveda—the name comes from the Sanskrit words “ayu” (life) and “veda” (knowledge)—is to help the student live a long, healthy life by establishing a balance between her constitution and her lifestyle (with the emphasis on prevention rather than cure). ISHTA uses the elements of Ayurvedic theory to arrive at the most suitable style of yoga for each student. Once the student has an understanding of her prakriti (constitution), the teacher can assist in creating a physical and spiritual practice that will address any imbalance, correct it, and ensure that the student’s prakriti will be congruent with her vikriti (life circumstances) in the future. This may mean avoiding certain poses or cultivating a deeper and slower practice that includes more meditation. (On the other hand, it might mean speeding up the student’s sequence and working harder.) Everyone is unique, and every student’s ISHTA practice will reflect that.