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Yoga Systems

Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga Pranayama Yoga Raja Yoga (external) Raja Yoga (internal)
Dhyana Yoga Karma Yoga Bhakti Yoga Ajapa-Japa Yoga Mantra Yoga
Likhita Yoga Jnana Yoga Kundalini Yoga  Tantra Yoga Yantra Yoga
Laya Yoga Hollywood Yoga Harvard Yoga Yoga Therapy Personality Yoga
Nada Yoga        

Below is a brief description of some of the different yoga practices that are available to work with. Different people, depending on their backgrounds will find themselves attracted to at least two systems to work with. Usually Hatha Yoga being one of them and is recommended to practice alongside any other chosen system. I have studied and practiced most of these that are  mentioned, the few that I have not practiced, I had little contact with them. There are other systems that I have not mentioned even in brief, and those are the ones that I have not practiced but just know little about, e.g., Siddha Yoga, Sahaj Yoga. And then there are certain ones that I did not mention because I do not have permission from my own teacher to do so.
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Inner and Outer Limbs of Yoga

Yoga is complete only when the  physical practices of Yoga go hand in hand with the development of the higher or inner phases. So that all of the practices and processes of Yoga, limiting within themselves, become an integrated activity uniting body systems, energy systems, emotions and mental systems, intellectual and intuitive systems with the Higher Nature or absolute volition or bliss..

The scope of Yoga covers a broad spectrum. Appealing to the intellectual mind, giving full play to reason, with rational explanations for the theory and practice in its aphorisms and instructions. It is scientific, as it approaches man’s needs with a balanced mind and teaches practical application of concentration and meditation to daily life. To the spiritual as it develops one's volition. Yoga allows for creative use of the emotions, as well as effective emotions curbing particularly those which are distractive, disruptive and destructive in the human nature. Friendliness, compassion, empathy, unitive feelings and love are all described as qualities of the higher path of Yoga.

The practical side of Yoga deals with Kriyas ( activity of movement  which causes an increase of circulation of the blood, lymph, or nerve energy, accomplished by a particular action or movement, while in a firm Asana, or posture) and Prakriyas, the practices and techniques dealing with the government and regulation of the body, the emotions and the lower mind by the “one within”, the conscious mind. Because of this control, Yoga practice is often referred to as “mind over matter”. The conscious mind must be used to educe “four-fold awareness”. The first stage of this “four-fold-awareness” is apparent in the Hatha Yoga Asanas, Kriyas and Mudras and the Pranayamas with appropriate Bandhas (locks) and Kumbhakas (retentions). Only because the physical body is the first aspect that we see or come into contact with. Asana and Pranayama are the third and fourth stages of the Ashtanga, or Raja Yoga. These practices bring the awareness of the body, its function and purpose in personal evolution. The by-product is vibrant good health.

To list the the four stages:1.  Yama (restraints), 2. Niyama (observances), 3. Asana (postures) and 4. Pranayama (breath control) represent the Bahiranga, or the outer limbs of Yoga practice. These outer limbs are the foundation upon which the higher practices; the Antaranga (inner limbs) are firmly based. Otherwise, one’s life is falsely based upon the shifting sands of ill health and emotional and mental confusion, so often the downfall of the spiritual aspirant.
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The inner phases of Yoga, the Antaranga (inner limbs), are Pratyahara (sense awareness), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi. Each produces its own special form of spiritual sensitivity. Some call these phases “above the brow” activities of Yoga and tend to concentrate upon them exclusively, maintaining that these are the essence of Raja Yoga. More accurately, based on the authority of the ancient Rishis (seers), that there can be no Raja Yoga without the Hatha Yoga. In this case,  Raja Yoga means the higher Antaranga (inner limbs), and the Hatha Yoga means the foundation built upon the Bahiranga (outer limbs). A spiritual or religious life without a moral and ethical basis, without a sound body, cannot produce an evolutionary state.
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Ashtanga Yoga (the eight fold path) is the combination of the external limbs (which technically is Hatha Yoga),  and the internal limbs (Raja Yoga).

Bahiranga (external limbs) Hatha Yoga

four limbs

Ahimsa - Non-Violence
Satyam- Truthfulness
Asteya-non stealing
Aparigraha-non hoarding
Santosha- contentment
Shaucha - cleanliness
Tapas - austerities
Swadhyaya - Self study
Ishwara Pranidhana - surrender
Asanas Postures
Pranayama Breath control
Antaranga (internal limbs) Raja Yoga

four limbs


Pratyahara: sense awareness and withdrawal
Dharana: concentration and contemplation
Dhyana: meditation
Samadhi: cosmic awareness, absolute volition

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Based on Physics, the velocity of one body in motion can only be measured relative to another that is unmoving. If it is measured against another moving object then we say the velocity with respect to the other object. Then we would not know the velocity of the first object itself. With this in mind one can certainly accept, that to understand what is happening in the energy system,  the body has to become absolutely still and then when the energy system is stable then we can know what is happening to mind and eventually the spirit, but the idea is that we have to bring about absolute stillness for this to happen. All the great tradition talks about this stillness.

Pratyahara is sensory awareness and control, culminating in withdrawal of the senses from the object of their attachment. Sense withdrawal produces a unique awareness of the senses and how they (the senses) use the body which may cause postural distortions, as well as the emotions, and how they feed upon the sensate experience of that same body. Indeed, in most cases one becomes aware of how the senses have “misused” the body. Unique forms of Kriyas pull the senses gently away from the world to which they are so naturally attracted, but is able to return to the these same worldly objects and use them masterfully. Restraining the senses non-violently, the Yogi can transfer his mental attention to the  inner faculty of mind activity (known as Antarakarana), so that Dharana or concentration is achieved. This stage of awareness is how the mind can control both emotions and senses and transcend itself into a higher mind state.
Patanjali the codifier of Yoga defines Yoga thus “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha: Yoga is the cessation of the disturbances of the mind.” Until one becomes aware of the traitorous activity of the lower mind, he is subservient to its whims and unreasoned activity. Reduced to responses perpetuated by reactions to other's actions. This also happens because of ignorance.

The one-pointedness of concentration or Dharana raises the Yogi into the higher stages of mind, where the Buddhi, or Intellect, is available as an instrument of the Cosmic Mind. What appears to be a technique of “lifting oneself by one’s own boot straps” is indeed a case of the “mind lifting the mind.” A case in which the journey is of the Self, to the Self, through the Self.  Sri Krishna states in Srimad Bhagavad Gita that “ The Self is used to lift the self.”  When free-flow concentration is achieved, and the mind is at a focal point, it is known as Dhyana, or meditation. Meditation is not “thinking”, as so many mistake it to be. Cerebration, mentation, mentalization, rumination, contemplation etc., are all forms of mind-brain activity and belong at the barely-conscious state, where if there is awareness, it is “awareness of awareness itself”, a state beyond the mind. The word meditation itself comes from two Latin words "medi" meaning "middle" and the word "tare" which carries as a meaning "to stay", "ground", hence meditare to stay in the center, and the noun meditation.

Samadhi is Cosmic Consciousness or Universal Awareness, it is essence a trancendent state. Like other aspects of life it has many facets and stages, ranging from those which are instantaneous and of short duration, to those which are natural and unlimited.  The early stages are referred to as Savikalpa Samadhi, while the higher or deeper phases are known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When the Nirbikalpa state is perfectly established, it is referred to as Samadhi. The entity experiencing this state is known as a Jeevan Mukta, a free-soul, a realized one.

Some of the major schools of Yoga have developed into full-fledge schools, like Hatha Yoga, Pranayama Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga. There are approximately forty-four major schools of Yoga and many others which also lay claim to being Yogic. A brief explanation of some of these would be in order.
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Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a system of preventive and therapeutic Asanas, Kriyas and Mudras. An Asana is a firm body position. A Kriya is a movement leading to circulation of blood or nerve energy, while a Mudra is a neuro-muscular stimulator creating glandular secretions from the major endocrine glands of the body. Each postures or pose has its specific purpose and should not be treated as an exercise, but rather as a technique for the control of the body and the mind. There are eighty-four classical positions mentioned in the old Sanskrit texts, although in the Shiva Samhita Lord Shiva Himself states there are eighty-four crore postures (a Crore is ten million).  Some are very easy postures, others, extremely difficult yet again some of these are physical, some mental and some spiritual. Included in the Hatha Yoga system are the Mala Shodhanas, 104 techniques and processes for cleansing and purging all body parts and organs. This includes the traditional Shat Karmas, the six acts or major cleansing. The concepts of diet, Hygiene and mental health also plays a part in Hatha Yoga.
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Pranayama Yoga

Some Pranayama or Breath Controls are included in the Hatha Yoga practices. These are of a general nature to correct breathing difficulties, as with the Hathenas, or to facilitate an easy moving of the body while doing the posture. There is an entire school of Yoga built around the control of Prana or life’s vital force. There are about 99 Kriyas and Prakriyas which are roughly divided into three parts: the first group involves techniques which are more like physical breathing exercises for the control and regulation of health in the body and the development of good lungs for stamina and mental well being. It is only when the the lungs has the stamina that you are able slow down the breath and enter the deeper aspects of the mind . Another group is called meditative breaths and deal with the Samyama of the higher phases of sense withdrawal, concentration and meditation, while the third group deals with arousal and the control of the vital force within the body called Kundalini Shakti. The Kundalini is a force lying dormant in the Kanda, the Conus Medullaris of the spine.
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Jnana Yoga

Jnana is sometimes spelled “Gnana”. It means wisdom and a Jnani is a wise man. This phase of Yoga involves study of Inner Life or Adhyatmic subjects and the practice of certain relaxations, contemplative and meditative Kriyas. The main object is to develop an understanding mind to be able to pierce through the subtler aspects of the mind, which can then contemplate the universe both inner and outer. Its end or goal is Bhrama Nirvana, or absorption in God.  Brahma Vidya, Knowledge of the Absolute, is a by-product of the Unified State suggested by JnanaYoga. It gives Videha, Moksha, Liberation from earth-bound, body tendencies at death, or Jivana Mukti, the state of being liberated while still in the body.
It is said in the Isopanishad (one of the spiritual texts of Yoga) that practice alone leads the individual into darkness of ignorance, and knowledge alone leads the individual into a deeper darkness still. This is because the individual goes around thinking that he knows and not having any practice becomes dangerous to himself and perhaps to others. Therefore one need both knowledge and practice to transcend.
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Karma Yoga

Karma means “action”, but Karma Yoga means a life of selfless actions, or actions done without the desire for the reward of actions. Seva Yoga or the Yoga of selfless service is often grouped with the Karma Yoga. But Seva Yoga may mean the giving of professional time and services to the needy and the destitute or serving the down-trodded as and act of serving God. We are always hearing of organizations asking help with community services.
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Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti means devotion and it has many phases of practice. Guna Bhakti is to worship according to your nature. Yoga teaches that we have three natures: Tamasik, Rajasik, and Sattwik. In Bhakti, or worship, these are translated as crude, pretentious and refined. The crude form would be that of someone who believes in human sacrifice and severe penances however contrived, to show their love and their fear of their God. Pretentious would mean religious ceremonies filled with rites and rituals, some of the rituals have no basis other than traditionally handed down and which were born out of necessary adaptations. While refined would indicate those who worship or have devotion at the higher level. The highest form of Bhakti is Parambhakti, where the Self within worships the self of the Universal Nature. Bhakti yoga is this type. The yogi is disciplined in his or her approach to the inner life, rather than wholly devotional. The combination of the two is the most excellent form of true Bhakti Yoga. A devotee is called Bhakta.
Bhakti Yoga is not limited to any one culture or religious denomination.
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Japa means “repetition”. To do Japa of a short Mantra or a seed Mantra called Bija is considered the best form of Yoga for the Kali Yuga (the present era). One  Japa exercise is use the sound AUM is to repeat it over and over again on the out-going breath as a sound Mantra, and on an incoming breath to imagine the sound in the mind. This is also called Ajapa-Japa when done in this manner. Any prayer that is repeated over and over becomes Japa
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Ajapa-Japa Yoga

Ajapa means to make repetitions in the mind of a Mantram or a Bijam. It is silent Mantra. The silent repetition in the mind of a Mantra or a Bija is much more powerful than the external sound. Both Japa and Ajapa are used for mental purification. At some point in the practice the mantram repeats itself in the subtle mind like a soft background sound.
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Mantra Yoga

Mantras are articulate sounds, which unite the sub-conscious, consciousness and superconsciousness. A Mantra must be specifically constructed and not just any sound. Mantris are Mantra-makers. Hermetic philosophy and the ancient Arcana used vocal sounds called runes to evoke certain psychic forces, both high and low. Although some of the Mantras are said to be associated with the gods, they eventually unite functions of the five bodies, the Pancha koshas. The most profound, yet simple of the mantrams is AUM or OM. It is called “the name of God in sound”.
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The mantra AUM, made up three and a half syllables.

The syllable 'A'

The first aspect is the waking state, vaiswaanara. In this state, consciousness is turned to the external.  With its seven instrument and nineteen channnels, it experiences the gross phenomenal world.

The Syllable 'U'

The second aspect is the dreaming state, taijasa. In this state consciousness is turned inward. It also has seven instrument and nineteen channels, which experiences the subtle mental impressions.

The Syllable 'M'

The third aspect is deep sleep, prajna. In this state, there is neither desire nor dream. In deep sleep all experiences merge into the unity of undifferentiated consciousness. The sleeper is filled with bliss and experiences bliss and can find the way to knowledge of the two preceding states.

The Silent Syllable 'a'

The experiencer of all these states of consciousness is the Lord of all. This one is all-knowing; this one directs everything from within. This one is the womb of all. All things originate from and dissolves into this. Turiya is the fourth state. In this state, consciousness is not turned inwards nor outwards not both. It is undifferentiated; it is beyond the spheres of cognition and non-cognition. This state cannot experienced through the senses or known by comparison or inference; it is incomprehensible, unthinkable and indescribable. This is Pure Consciousness . This is the real Self. It is the cessation of all phenomena; it is tranquil, all-blissful, and one without a second. This real self is to be realized.

More about the AUM in the book Enlightenment Without God by Swami Rama. Himalayan Publishers
Please visit also the
Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust
Himalayan Institute International of Yoga Science and Philosophy.

Nada Yoga
Nada Yoga as far as my practice of this tells me that this path teaches the student techniques to changes the the resonant vibratory patterns and speeds of vibrations of the body-mind-spirit connection. Example the beta brain waves, the alpha brain waves, the delta brain waves and beyond. Now some may conclude that there cannot be anything beyond delta (0 to 4 cycles per second), but according to ancient texts the concept of '0' represents infinity...which means that there is no amount that can be taken out or put in to affect it. 'Zero' potential in physics also represents infinity. In Nada Yoga one learns to go beyond delta into infinity. I cannot imagine anything as of this moment that can cause repair to the entire person than to be able to go into delta and beyond. Nada is also related to Mantra Yoga
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Likhita Yoga

Likhita means to write, and in Yoga/Meditation practice, writing  Mantras or Bijams. In this form the student usually practice Mauna or silence and concentrates inwardly on the meaning of the Mantra while writing the Mantra. AUM writing is an excellent from of this particular Sadhana. The AUM is written in a particular form in Sanskrit but one need not circle it or make into a “sunburst” unless one wishes to meditate upon the effulgence of the “Sound of All Sounds”.
Likhita Japa practice is an especially wonderful technique for those who are kinesthetically inclined and has to do something with their body. People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) will find great benefit from this practice, since it engages the senses into the present moment without any great deal of discipline and effort.
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Dhyana Yoga

Dhyana Yoga is an introspective Yoga, using the various forms of meditation. It is sometimes also called Samyama Yoga or Antaranga Yoga and belongs within the Raja Yoga School, although there are many techniques of meditation taught outside of the strict rules of Raja Yoga. One thing to look out for in meditation is stillness and to be able to 'watch' the stillness without interfering with it. It has been said that the ultimate practice of meditation is simply... "watching". Using the power of light and sound with the breath as the vehicle to pierce through and go beyond the  mind.
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Kundalini Yoga

The arousal of a powerful psychic force known as Shakti is the end result of Kundalini Yoga. The kundalini Shakti must be brought carefully under control of the mind by higher Yoga disciplines. These higher disciplines include advanced Pranayama (breath control), Dharana (Concentration) and Dhyana, (introspective meditation). As the subtler energies begin to flow the body must be without impurities and be an excellent shock absorber. The techniques must be learned form a qualified Guru. Sometimes these practices are also known as Agni Yoga, Atman Yoga or Shakti Yoga. Lots of preparation is needed before the student can get into Kundalini, perhaps one in every five hundred thousand becomes a candidate for practicing Kundalini Yoga.
In recent times there have been teachers who have used the name Kundalini Yoga as a handle for some aspect of Hatha Yoga that have been isolated and taught as if it were Kundalini Yoga. Be careful!
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Laya Yoga

Laya means to “re-absorb” "fusion" "dissolution" and as a Yoga system means to re-absorb all of the energies and forces normally dissipated in daily living. The student must have profound knowledge of Raja Yoga, Sankhya and Tantra philosophy. It involves the arousal of Kundalini Shakti, its control and conversion into higher forces and powers. Tejas and Ojas (higher forces) are produces through these practices and the highest of all emotional-mental ecstasies are created by these techniques. Like all the higher aspects of Yoga, these practices must be undertaken with a competent Guru who has the personal experience of the arousal and the control of such shakti.

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Yantra Yoga

Yantra Yoga is a Yoga where the understanding of basic geometrical forms produces an appreciation of what is called “spiritual mathematics.” The idea is to lead the mind by use of these geometrical forms across its own labyrinths through to the Volitional. Mudra Yoga, a language of Mudras or postures of hands, feet, body, eyes and mind is a part of the Yantric study. A legitimate part of Raja Yoga is the Mandala Drishti or geometric form gazing. Concentrating upon the appropriate symbol for the Chakra involved.
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Tantra Yoga

Tantra (the path of the primal force)  is  control of the power that is common to both the microcosm and the macrocosm and deals with the use of all the forces in the five bodies of man (microcosm) and also the powerful forces of nature (macrocosm). There are two basic forms called Vama Marga Tantra (left hand path) which some misunderstand and consider to be a degenerate form, and Dakshina Marga Tantra (right hand path) which due to the same misunderstanding considered to be the more evolutionary. In some aspects, Tantra and Yoga disagree, but where they agree they are powerful companions. The practice of Tantra is most dangerous and should not be undertaken without the guidance of a qualified realized Guru.
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Personality Yoga

There are many other forms of Yoga, some that have created independent thought on the practice of Yoga. Yielding modern innovations like 
Tibetan Yoga”, I don't know what this entails, nor  “Caucasian Yoga”. nor  “Christian Yoga” (although I have studied Christian mysticism nor  “Buddhist Yoga” nor "Egyptian Yoga". As far as Egyptian Yoga goes, I have only seen this ad one time in which the person claims that Yoga was developed in Egypt.  

Some Yogis have invented their own systems, or systems are known after their style.  “Integral Yoga” or “Purna Yoga” is attributed to Sri Aurobindu. The Rishikesh series is known as “Sivananda Yoga”. Some forms of Yoga are named after the style of the teachers, like “Yogendra Pranayama” of Sri Yogendra of the Yoga institute of Bombay.  The popular Ati Yoga (vigorous yoga) of B.K.S. Iyengar of Poona, has become somewhat of a set standard and perhaps extols itself the only Hatha Yoga system. This also known as Iyengar Yoga at least in the USA as far as I know. One of my teachers who comes from Poona who knows B.K.S. Iyengar in Poona, say that Iyengar was a physical education teacher and used the yoga postures, being in the right place and the right time in the US this phy. ed series become as standard unto itself. 

 Kripalu Yoga was also created this century a very popular system claims of transition yoga postures. The person who created Kripalu Yoga had been forced not to used the name Kripalu Yoga and so went on to invent another system of yoga named after himself and calls it Amrit Yoga. 

Bikram Yoga was named after Bikram Chaudhari who basically claims that the room has to be heated to 105 degress Fahrenheit so that the muscles are warmed up before you can perform postures. He claims that he was unable to perform postures in the colder United States and found that by heating the room he was able to do the postures as he was able to in his previous home country.  As a therapist I have met many who have been hurt by this system since it fakes the individual body into thinking that is more flexible than it is. The system has caught on because of the sweating aspect of it that many exercise enthusiasts prefer and want. So much that Bikram has put in place a franchise label to yoga.

Some original teaching has been given new approaches and has become a new brand of yoga. for example, the Practice of Ashtanga Yoga has now been re-invented. The problem this has caused is that many who do study and know Asthanga get confused on hearing of this new Ashtanga. This is a corruption. There are places that I have been to that advertises Ashtanga Yoga and the furthest they get to Ashtanga yoga is the mere mention of it on the first day and after that it becomes a class of only postures.

Many new Yoga systems have been born in the United States within this century some having Sanskrit and made to sound authentic. They are rather selected techniques that have been isolated and given a name. The list is exhaustive and can go on and on, hopefully the point is made.

More recently there is Hollywood Yoga being popularized in the United States...use your imagination.

As of today 9th January 2007 307 styles of yoga are listed with the Yoga Alliance.

The ancient teachers warned us against the problems of the personality cult, stating quite clearly that such deviations destroy the real Universal Nature of Yoga and lead man away from the Divine. Sometimes Yogis or spiritual leaders are not themselves aware of the destructive trend that will be taken by their followers who may misunderstand their own teachers. Today, Yoga is torn apart by personality cults. Perhaps this is not intentional, but the Karma is there and always active. There is a section in the "Ramayana" of TulsiDas where Kak Bushundi was giving a discourse on "The diseases of the mind" and at the end of the discourse he proclaims that the diseases of the mind affects even the minds of the greatest sages let alone for such poor folks as you and I.

Anyone taking to the study of yoga should remember and keep in mind that the purpose of yoga is to transcend the ego which prevent the goal of yoga. When I hear the question, "what style of yoga do your teach". I know the question is coming from someone who does not know Yoga and usually I say, "Yoga" although that kind of yoga does not draw a crowd.
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Harvard Yoga

The Yoga of the Biofeedback machines, attaching electrodes to the body and monitoring on audio-visual system the different kinds of brain waves and recording then on computers, then using the mind to interact with the computers via the wires, thus by producing thoughts of the exercise gives incredible results. Now there are machines that would measure the body's galvanic response which is calibrated to read certain pathological conditions, the operator of the machine in turn sends back a signal that counters the condition by changing the frequency of the body in order to promote health.
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Ref. on AUM
Enlightenment Without God by Dr. Swami Rama

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