In these tough economic times, some of the best resources in yoga and meditation to help with stress happen to be free, online. There is an enormous treasure of knowledge online that is not found on store book shelves. Here are seven websites that cover the philosophy and practice of yoga, pranayama breathing and meditation tracks (including Yoga Nidras), Buddhist philosophy and practice of vipassana or insight meditation, Sufi teachings and practices, and the resources of an Ivy League college. They cost nothing as they are priceless.
1. The Divine Life Society was founded by Swami Sivanananda of Rishikesh in 1936. It is one of the most respected and honored traditional yoga ashram. Three of Swami Sivananda’s disciples went on to start major yoga organizations of their own with collectively enormous global influence–Swami Vishnudevananda founded Sivananda Yoga, Swami Satchitananda founded Integral Yoga, and Swami Satyananda founded The Bihar School of Yoga. Divine Life Society must be the least commercial or monetized yoga ashram and it is hard to imagine how they continue to operate giving away so much for free. On its website, www.dlshq.org, there are numerous free online yoga books by Swami Sivananda and other senior sannyasins. The information, straight from the great guru himself, covers all aspects of yoga. It does not get more authentic than this. The website is a virtual, well-organized encyclopedia.
2. I discovered this website many years ago through my yoga friend Kathryn. Swami Jnaneshvara (SwamiJ) was initiated into the Himalayan order of Swami Rama by Swami Rama (founder of The Himalayan Institute). The breadth and depth of knowledge is extensive as you can see very quickly from SwamiJ’s website. From the experience of my own website, I know the countless hours that go into www.swamij.org. The site is somewhat overwhelming but a little patience will be amply rewarded. The reader will find a passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced yogi. This website is also almost an encyclopedia. I have not met, or had any contact, with SwamiJ.
3. What can I say about my own website? Unlike the above two reference sites, www.mahasriyoga.com is a pragmatic attempt to make the practice (more than theory) of yoga meditation freely available by offering 20 online audio tracks. They are on introductory pranayama breathing and meditation. Four pranayama tracks are in Gujarati (an Indian language). Two tracks are for children. Check them out for stress, anxiety, pain management, clarity in thinking, focus, and spirituality. In addition, there are objective and in-depth book reviews that I have yet to see in the yoga media. There are stories, articles, and recipes (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low carb) as well. More content is constantly added. A great effort is made to retain the purity and integrity of the teachings. We are told by readers that the site is elegantly attractive and easy to use.
4. It is not always easy to get online practices for insight meditation. So this is a wonderful discovery. Go to http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mindfulness-meditation-homework/and read or download transcripts and audio tracks of lessons for beginners. There are numerous lectures and articles that can also be read online. The language is clear and the instructions are easy to follow. Especially for those who may be housebound during the winter, the world can easily come to your home. You can meditate with some of the best teachers around and not settle for mediocre teaching.
5. As meditation is such an enormous and growing business, readers will be heartened this holiday season to know about www.dhamma.org. It is the website that gives out information regarding Buddhist vipassana meditation, or insight meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka. The organization is run by volunteers. They conduct 10-day retreats of silence and meditation, providing the attendants free basic accommodation, food, and teachings. Attendants donate whatever they wish at the end. Friends and family who have attended these retreats in India, US, and Switzerland, have only good things to say.
6. I do not think most of us appreciate the rich fullness of Sufi meditation even though we relish the poems written by Sufis. The breathing practices have so much in common with yoga meditation and Buddhist practices. They add tremendously to our experience of meditation and are as universal, free of religious beliefs, as the yoga and Buddhist practices. In fact, readers may find it hard to distinguish the origin of all the techniques found on the websites listed here, if they were all jumbled up. It is like the peace poetry games we had earlier. I found a wealth of information and practices (theory will not give us the experience of meditation!) on http://sufiorder.org/Prayer_and-Elements.html. Check out the link and discover the breaths on the five elements. There is no religion involved in these breaths. Again, the writing is clear, simple, and instructions are easy to follow.
7. Finally, we have enormous resources available through our outstanding colleges. This is one among many–http://plato.stanford.edu/. Through it readers can access the vast resources on philosophy at Stanford as well as some other universities. Philosophy is the theoretical half and meditation is the practical half.
This should keep everyone amply supplied for a year without any shopping.