Yoga, A Way of Life!
Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Yoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge. Though many think of yoga only as a physical exercise where people twist, turn, stretch, and breathe in the most complex ways, these are actually only the most superficial aspect of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul.
The science of Yoga imbibe itself the complete essence of the Way of Life, including – Gyan Yoga or philosophy, Bhakti Yoga or path of devotional bliss, Karma Yoga or path of blissful action, and Raja Yoga or path of mind control. Raja Yoga is further divided into eight parts. At the heart of the Raja Yoga system, balancing and unifying these various approaches, is the practice of Yoga Asana.
The Eightfold Path of Yoga
The Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yoga, the timeless science behind all true religions, consists of systematic and definite steps to realization of the soul’s oneness with Spirit.
The Bhagavad Gita, which is a sacred dialogue between the divine teacher Krishna and his disciple Arjuna, is India’s most beloved scripture of yoga, God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita – Royal Science of God-Realization.
The essence of the yoga path was set forth in systematic form by the ancient sage Patanjali in his short but masterly work, the Yoga Sutras. Paramahansa Yogananda has written:
‘Patanjali’s date is unknown, though many scholars assign him to the second century B.C. His renowned Yoga Sutras presents, in a series of brief aphorisms, the condensed essence of the exceedingly vast and intricate science of God-union – setting forth the method of uniting the soul with the undifferentiated Spirit in such a beautiful, clear, and concise way that generations of scholars have acknowledged the Yoga Sutras as the foremost ancient work on yoga.’
The yoga system of Patanjali is known as the Eightfold Path, which leads to the final goal of God-realization.
Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga
- Yama (moral conduct): noninjury to others, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence, and noncovetousness
- Niyama (religious observances): purity of body and mind, contentment in all circumstances, self-discipline, self-study (contemplation), and devotion to God and guru
- Asana: right posture
- Pranayama: control of prana, the subtle life currents in the body
- Pratyahara: interiorization through withdrawal of the senses from external objects
- Dharana: focused concentration; holding the mind to one thought or object
- Dhyana: meditation, absorption in the vast perception of God in one of His infinite aspects – Bliss, Peace, Cosmic Light, Cosmic Sound, Love, Wisdom, etc. – all-pervading throughout the whole universe
- Samadhi: superconscious experience of the oneness of the individualized soul with Cosmic Spirit
Origin Of Yoga
The origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, is mentioned in the Rigveda, but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India’s ascetic and sramana movements.The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist Pali Canon, probably of third century BCE or later. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the first half of the 1st millennium CE, but only gained prominence in the West in the 20th century. Hatha yoga texts emerged around the 11th century with origins in tantra.
Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.
Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart disease. The results of these studies have been mixed and inconclusive, with cancer studies suggesting none to unclear effectiveness, and others suggesting yoga may reduce risk factors and aid in a patient’s psychological healing process.
Goal of Yoga
The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.
Yoga has five principal meanings:
- Yoga, as a disciplined method for attaining a goal
- Yoga, as techniques of controlling the body and the mind
- Yoga, as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darSana)
- Yoga, in connection with other words, such as ‘hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,’ referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga
- Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice
From the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of ‘yoga’ were more or less in place, and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time:
Yoga, as an analysis of perception and cognition; illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Yogasutras, as well as a number of Buddhist Mahayana works;
Yoga, as the rising and expansion of consciousness; these are discussed in sources such as Hinduism Epic Mahabharata, Jainism Prasamaratiprakarana;
Yoga, as a path to omniscience; examples are found in Hinduism Nyaya and Vaisesika school texts as well as Buddhism Madhyamaka texts, but in different ways;
Yoga, as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Samannaphalasutta;
White clarifies that the last principle relates to legendary goals of ‘yogi practice’, different from practical goals of ‘yoga practice,’ as they are viewed in South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, in the various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools.