WHAT IS YOGA?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah 
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam


'Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field
Then the seer rests in its true nature'

 

[Yoga Sutra 1.2]

The Sanskrit word Yoga means 'union' or 'to unite'

Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It became popular in the West in the 20th century. The Sanskrit word Yoga means 'union' or 'to unite'. Yoga is the practice that aims to join the mind, body and spirit. The ultimate goal of Yoga is to achieve liberation. It has been practiced for thousands of years and, over the years, many different interpretations have developed about what Yoga means. Each different type of Yoga has its own emphasis and practices.

HISTORY OF YOGA

Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.

 

Pre-Classical Yoga

The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).

Classical Yoga

In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written some time in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called "classical yoga". Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an "eight limbed path" containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.

 

Post-Classical Yoga

A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.

 

Modern Period

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world. The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.

 

SCHOOLS OF YOGA

There are Four Paths of Yoga: Karma Yoga (the yoga of action); Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion or divine love); Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge or wisdom); and Raja Yoga (the science of physical and mental control)

 

Raja Yoga, often called the "royal road" offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It includes methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind; when body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally. Asanas and Pranayama form the sub-division of Raja Yoga known as Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yogi uses relaxation and other practices such as Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Mudras, Bandhas, Pranayama, Kriyas etc to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called Prana. Most forms of yoga can be classified as Hatha Yoga. Meaning Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa etc classes are all Hatha Yoga. The word “Hatha” can be translated two ways: as “willful” or “forceful,” or the yoga of activity, and as “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha), the yoga of balance. Hatha practices are designed to align and calm your body, mind, and spirit in preparation for meditation. 
 

ASHTANGA - THE EIGHT LIMBS OF RAJA YOGA

Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. These 8 limbs are:

Yamas - The Yamas or restraints (Don'ts) are divided into five moral injuctions, aimed at destroying the lower nature. They should all be practiced and developped by the letter but also more importantly in the spirit. They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed

  • Ahimsa or non-violence

  • Satyam or truthfulness

  • Brahmacharya or moderation in all things (control of all senses). Also refers to celibacy

  • Asteya or non-stealing

  • Aparigraha or non-covetousness

Niyamas - The Niyamas or observances (Do's) are also divided into five and complete the ethical precepts started with the Yama. These qualities are:

  • Saucha or purity - this internal and external cleanliness

  • Santosha or contentment

  • Tapas or austerity

  • Swadhyaya or study of the sacred texts

  • Ishwara Pranidhana which is constantly living with an awareness of the divine Presence (surrender to God's Will)

​Asanas - postures. The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine's flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen. The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones)

Pranayama - regulation or control of the breath

Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind

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Dharana - concentration. The last 3 steps constitute the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step:

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Dhyana - meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step:

Samadhi - the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness where body and mind have been transcended and the Yogi is one with the Self or God

 

** do not confuse Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga with Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga; is a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. The Sanskrit word "Ashtanga" or "eight limbs" is representative of the eight-fold path of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Pattabhi Jois would encourage the practice of all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga with special emphasis on the first 4 limbs - Yamas and Niyamas, asana and pranayama

THE YOGA SUTRAS

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE by Sage Patanjali. Today the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy

 

Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters (in Sanskrit pada):

 

  • Samadhi Pada (51 sutras) Samadhi refers to a state of direct and reliable perception where the yogi's self-identity is absorbed into the object meditated upon, collapsing the categories of witness, witnessing, and witnessed 

 

  • Sadhana Pada (55 sutras) Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline. Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriyā Yoga and Ashtānga Yoga:

 

- Kriyā Yoga (‘kri’ meaning action or effort and ‘ya’ meaning self or soul) In the Yoga Sūtras it emphasises the practice of three of the Niyamas of Ashtānga Yoga: tapas, svādhyaya, and iśvara pranidhana – austerity, self-study, and devotion to god

 

- Ashtānga Yoga ('astau' meaning eight and 'anga' meaning limbs) is the yoga of eight limbs: Yama, Niyama, Āsana, Prānāyāma, Pratyahara, Dhārana, Dhyāna, and Samādhi

 

  • Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras) Vibhuti Pada is the chapter about progressing. It refers to the last three limbs of the eight limbs of yoga, dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi 

 

  • Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras) Kaivalya literally translates to "isolation", but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation or liberation. The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego

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