Yoga is a set of practices aimed at uniting one’s mind, body and soul.
The word Yoga has been borrowed from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, which means to bind or unite. This is the reason why yoga is known as the discipline of unity, as it aimes at uniting one’s mind, body and soul. A male who performs yoga is known as a yogi, while a female performing yoga is known as a yogini.
Apparently, the practice of yoga dates back to thousands of years in history. No one precisely knows about who invented it or where it was invented, but an established fact about yoga is that it is sourced from the Yoga Sutra. Yoga Sutra is a collation of 195 verses that serve as a guide for performing yoga. The great Indian sage Patanjali is known to be the author of the Yoga Sutra. Rishi Patanjali also included in his work the eight limbs of yoga, which are: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
Yoga involves many sitting and standing exercises that have breath inhaling and exhaling activities as their focus. These exercises are called as Asanas. India’s great saint and philosopher, Swami Vivekananda is often credited for making yoga a part of western civilization, and eventually the rest of the world, when he disseminated this knowledge on his visit to the United States back in the year 1890. In present times, yoga’s multiple branches such as Vinayasa yoga, Hatha yoga, Prananyama, etc., are exclusively practiced by people aiming at their various individual goals achievable thereby. The various types of yoga keenly practiced these days are as follows:
Hatha yoga: Hatha yoga mostly deals with the body and the breathing exercises that help a student to become aware of his or her internal states. Hatha yoga exercises help to make the body of its practitioner into a healthy and strong resource.
Karma yoga: The name karma yoga means "the yoga of action." This path teaches us to do our own duties in life skillfully and selflessly, along with dedicating the results of our actions to humanity. Practicing this aspect of yoga helps one to live unselfishly and successfully in the world, without being burdened or distressed.
Jnana yoga: The word ‘Jnana’ means knowledge in Sanskrit, so jnana yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. This path involves intense mental discipline. Knowledge in jnana yoga teaches one to differentiate between the real and the unreal, between the temporary and the permanent, between the finite and the infinite. This path of yoga is not very easy and requires a tremendous amount of all the powers of the mind put together. However, the successful observance of this form of yoga grants in return the peak performing abilities of the mind.
Bhakti yoga: Bhakti means devotion, so bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion. This path is the way of love and affection towards God. It is the path of self-surrender, of devoting and dedicating all human resources to attaining the ultimate reality, which is understood to be the almighty.
Kundalini yoga: The kundalini form of yoga is a highly technical science. The guidance of a competent teacher is absolutely necessary to learn this type of yoga. The kundalini yoga essentially describes methods for awakening the serpent-like vital force that remains dormant and asleep in every human body. Regular practice of this form enables one to give rise to this latent energy and use it to its full extent.
Mantra yoga: Mantra yoga involves meditation and the use of certain sounds called "mantras," which are chanted by the practitioner, and are used as objects of concentration. Mantras help a practitioner in self-purification, concentration, and meditation. These mantras were discovered in deep meditation by highly advanced sages and teachers. The mantras are passed on from a generation to another, and are safeguarded from extinction by doing so as well.
Raja yoga: This form of yoga is one of the toughest to perform, as it requires an individual to give up all kinds of desires, emotions, thoughts, etc. Raja yoga is essential for an individual to overcome his inner turmoil and worries, anxieties, etc. It teaches one to rise above his weaknesses and realize the strength within. The aim of raja yoga is to enable a person to reach the state of Samadhi, where a person experiences a complete absorption of his individual consciousness.
Apart from the above practiced types of yoga, Rishi Patanjali prescribed basic premises of yoga, which have to be very well understood before going on to perform the many types of yoga. These are as follows:
- 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
Therefore, the practice of Yoga does not only guarantee peace of mind, but it also provides physical fitness and enrichment of one’s soul.
What is Yoga? : A brief summary