“Quiet your mind. Free your body.”
‘Yoga’ may have originated in ancient India, but today it is practiced all over the world. Modern society is drawn to ‘Yoga’ to find happiness and health, while associating it closely with physical exercise and postures, designed to strengthen and stretch the body. Unfortunately, as the popularity of Yoga has increased, the relative position of the postures has been elevated, so as to lead people to believe that the word “Yoga” refers to physical postures or Asanas, and that the goal of these is physical fitness. In my opinion,‘Yoga’ is one of the many great original ideas of the ancient Indian civilization and ‘Yoga' is much more than physical fitness alone! We must understand the concept of ‘Yoga' as a whole to maximise it’s benefits.
Let us learn about ‘Yoga’ and understand why it is called the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
A brief history of Yoga:
— The origins of ‘Yoga’ dates back to pre-Vedic Indian tradition. It is said that lord Shiva was the first Yogi and the Guru and he passed the knowledge to his seven disciples known as Saptarishis.
Oldest scriptures on ‘Yoga’ are Upanishads (500 BCE). Of the 108 Upanishads available today, 20 of them are yoga Upanishads.
— The Buddhist book of Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra or ‘Discourse on the Stages of Yogic Practice’ was composed in the Sanskrit language in India between 300 and 350 CE. Later it was translated in many languages including Chinese and Tibetan.
— In ‘Bhagavad Gita’ (about 4th century BCE), the term ‘Yoga’ refers to the skill of union with the ultimate reality or the Absolute.
Lord Krishna offers a successive approach in which Karma yoga leads to Bhakti yoga, which in turn leads to Gyaana yoga.
At this point of time Yoga was a way of life, a code of conduct and an endeavour to be practised by the seeker of redemption.
— ‘Raja Yoga’— Later movements within Hinduism added Raja Yoga as the fourth spiritual path which incorporated the Bhakti, Gyaana and Karma Yoga. Raja Yoga offers a detailed set of physical and meditative practices to attain self liberation. The central text of this Yoga school of Hindu philosophy — ‘ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ was written by sage Patanjali around 400 CE.
It was ‘Raja Yoga’ as a group of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines which was practiced by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain ascetics and masters of ancient India.
— ‘Hatha Yoga’— Almost one thousand years after Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutra’, three classic texts of ‘Hatha Yoga’ namely Shiva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika emerged in India during 15th to 17th century CE.
These popular texts for the first time, described various mudras, asanas, prana, mantra, tantra and awakening of Kundalini chakras for the common man, rather than an ascetic or Sanyasi. As a result, Yoga became very popular through out India. Though these texts did mention the benefits of Yoga for health and prolonging life, the central thought remained the same, proclaiming ‘Yoga’ to be the highest path to attain Self liberation.
Tantra yoga — Believed to have originated in eastern India towards the end of 5th century. Tantra can be considered as an offshoot to the cult of ‘Mother Goddess — Shaktism’, which assumed significant place in Indian religious life during that period.
Tantra Yoga is thought to be a method of conquering transcendent powers and realizing oneness with the highest principle by channelizing the divine energy through Yogic and ritual means. Tantra yoga seeks to use — not renounce — the human body and instincts in an attempt to reach enlightenment and emphasizes the use of elaborate rituals and Yantras to achieve this.
‘Yoga’ in the west:
On 11th September 1893 a young Indian in flaming ochre robes stood up to address the Parliament of religions in Chicago and his powerful oration immediately won him the adoration of the Americans. For the next four years, this great Indian Yogi — Swami Vivekananda toured entire US to spread awareness on the essence of the Hindu concepts of Vedanta and ‘Yoga’. The decades that followed Swami Vivekananda’s mission in the West are rightly termed as India’s “Yoga renaissance.”
Another milestone in the journey of ‘Yoga’ in the west is the groundbreaking book ‘Le Yoga: Immortalité et Liberté (1954)’, the Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade recorded his understanding of yoga asanas as depicted in the Indian treatise — ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’. With its popular English and German translations, soon this volume became one of the most cited comprehensive sources on yoga in the West.
But, it was Sri Krishnamacharya - the grandfather of American yoga whose students B.K.S. Iyenger, Pattabhi Jois, and T.K.V. Desikachar were instrumental in popularizing Yoga in the western parts of the world.
Today, Yoga gurus like Baba Ramdev, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Sri-Sri Ravi Shankar continue to spread the popularity of the concept of ‘Yoga’ all across the globe.
— By now, we know that there is more to ‘Yoga’ than mere physical exercise! The true concept of ‘Yoga’ is not a physical workout, it is that and much more! In fact, this primary focus on the body would surprise Patanjali and the original Yogis who prioritized mental over physical exercise.
— What is Yoga?
“yogash chitta vritti nirodhah”
This is Sage Patanjali’s definition of ‘Yoga’. It means that ‘Yoga’ is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind.
Edwin Bryant elaborates, the term ‘Yoga’ means controlling the thought waves in the mind, to prevent the mind from its wanderings.
According to ‘Yoga Sutras’ ‘Yoga’ consists of meditative practices (including life style changes and physical exercises) pursued to attain a state of consciousness which is free of all types of active or wandering thoughts.
‘Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of absolute tranquility!’
— Why is ‘Yoga’ required?
The concept in brief…
- The mind seems to be intelligent and conscious. But Yoga philosophy teaches that it is not. It has only a borrowed intelligence. The soul is intelligence itself; pure consciousness! The mind merely reflects that consciousness and so appears to be conscious.
- The soul remains beyond the power of the thought waves. It is eternally pure, enlightened, and free — the only true, unchanging happiness.
Knowledge and perception is merely a thought wave in the mind; our mental responses to the stimuli we receive from the universe around us. The ego sense of our mind, identifies itself with these waves. If the ripples of thought are pleasant we say we are happy i.e. the ego sense feels ‘I am happy’ or vice versa. This false identification of the ego sense with the self is the cause of all our miseries.
- To attain the state of pure happiness, it is necessary to know our real selves, who we really are! And ‘Yoga’ is the vehicle to travel in that direction. It works!
- It works because through Yoga, we can unlearn the false identification of the thought waves with the ego sense.
The Yoga system of Patanjali lays down elaborate prescriptions for gradually gaining physical and mental control and mastery over both body and mind, until one’s consciousness has intensified enough to allow for the awareness of one’s “real Self”.
There are scattered minds, flabby minds, restless minds, passionate minds which are unable to concentrate on constructive thought. But every mind, irrespective of its present nature, can ultimately be disciplined and transformed to become one-pointed through ‘Yoga’.
— How to perform ‘Yoga’?
According to Bhagvad Gita…
‘Bhakti yoga’ is described as a devotee’s loving devotion to a personal god as the path for spirituality.
— ‘Gyaana yoga/Jnana Yoga’ is the path of wisdom where one pursues knowledge and practice introspective self-understanding.
— ‘karma yoga’ is path of performing virtuous action (good karma) while neither expecting a reward nor consequences for doing it.
Like every other Hindu philosophy, ‘Yoga’ has been unnecessarily mystified and complicated by innumerable versions and interpretations. However, if we take a closure look than there are only three main sets of ‘Yoga’ worth considering when it comes to use it as an addition of energy, strength and beauty to body, mind and soul.” And even these three sets are interconnected by a singular core idea.
1. Raja Yoga —
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’...
YAMA — Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows:
Non-violence -Non-lying -Non-stealing -Non-sensuality or Brahmacharya -Non-greed or No attachment
NIYAMA — Positive duties or observances: Cleanliness -Contentment -Austerity -Self-study or Introspection -Devotion
ASANA — Posture: To master the body to achieve higher perceptions, so subtle that they blossom only in a perfectly quiet body and mind.
PRANAYAMA — Breathing techniques to control and channelize the energy flow in our bodies.
PRATYAHARA — Sense withdrawal: The interiorization of the mind.
DHARANA — Focused concentration: Contemplation, or fixed inner awareness.
DHYANA — Meditation: To loose ego identification, and to let the mind merge in the great ocean of consciousness of which it is a part.
SAMADHI — Bliss or enlightenment: To become one with the infinite ( As Christ said, “I and my Father are one.”)
2. ‘Hatha Yoga’ —
This simpler version of Yoga was meant to be practiced by the common man with a goal to attain perfection of an individual’s body, mind and soul through a multi step lifelong and continuous self-development. Retaining the original concept of Non duality, it incorporates tantra, mantra, asanas, meditation and awakening of Kundalini through meditation in ‘Yoga’. The postures and the Yoga programmes popular in the west usually comprise of Hatha Yoga.
Different texts mention thirty two asanas and even more in detail for building body strength but the texts also enumerate twenty five mudras to perfect body steadiness, five means to calm the mind and lessons on proper nutrition and lifestyle, ten types of Pranayama-breathing exercises, three stages of Dhyana -meditation. And it should be remembered that Hatha Yoga only prepares the individual’s mind body and soul to be able to practice the next stage — the “Raja Yoga leading to Samadhi.
3. Tantra Yoga —
It is a relatively modern concept of the ‘Yoga’ which is rooted in Hatha Yoga. Sometimes mistakenly associated with sexual union and amorousness. The Tantra yogis developed and revamped the Hatha yoga postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) that are commonly used today in the Yoga popular in the west. Again the asanas and breathing exercises constitute a small part of the process only.
— In conclusion, I want to emphasize that the asana is just one of the eight limbs / stages through which a Yogi must traverse before attaining the real goal of ‘Yoga’. So, let us correct our perception and practice ‘Yoga’ as a whole and not just one small physical part of it. Let us start with Moral discipline (Yama) and self introspection and observances (Niyama)first before embarking on the Physical postures and beyond! Rest will follow! The Postures (Asanas)constitute a small part of the ‘Yoga’ philosophy and if we practice ‘Yoga’ merely as a physical fitness programme, then we are only scratching the surface of the great Yoga tradition! Let us be a true Karma Yogi and not worry about the results of Yoga. The journey of the eternal soul is long and it may even take more than a single lifetime to attain Samadhi or the final goal of Yoga — self realization.
Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyenger explains,
Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefitting every aspect of life, not just the 60 minutes spent on a rubber mat; if we can learn to be kind, truthful and use our energy in a worthwhile way, we will not only benefit ourselves with our practice, but everything and everyone around us too.
Yoga is a philosophy, a way of life, a vehicle to take one towards the ultimate goal of the eternal bliss and self liberation. The health benefits are the side effects of Yoga!
‘Yoga’ is the whole of which Hath Yoga/ Karma Yoga/Bhakti Yoga/Jnana Yoga/kundalini Yoga/ this yoga/ that Yoga is just a part!
Come, let us practice ‘Yoga’ as a whole and feel the bliss it brings in our lives!