What is Yoga?

Ultimately yoga is a practice of awareness. According to yoga, what might begin as an internal physical practice extends out to the world as an awareness that all things are interwoven, all beings are interconnected, and all life is exquisitely interpenetrating.

In India, Yoga is considered one of the six branches of classical philosophy and is referred to throughout the Vedas – ancient Indian scriptures and amongst the oldest texts in existence.The Upanishads are also broadly philosophical treatises which postdate the Vedas and deal with the nature of the “soul” and universe.

However, the origins of yoga are believed to be much older than that, stemming from the oral traditions of Yogis, where knowledge of Yoga was handed down from Guru (spiritual teacher) to Sisya (spiritual student) all the way back to the originators of Yoga, “the Rishis,” who first began investigation into the nature of reality and man’s inner world. Legend has it that knowledge of Yoga was first passed by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and from there into the lives of men.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning to yoke, join or unite. This implies joining or integrating all aspects of the individual – body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life, and spiritually, uniting the individual with the supreme.

The body, the mind, the heart are not separate, the physical, mental, and even cosmic, are woven together as part of the whole.If we were only interested in the physical, we could practice yoga exercises to strengthen where weakness resides and lengthen where tightness holds us back thereby becoming strong efficient physical bodies. However, yoga does offer a deeper awareness wherein our thoughts, our actions, and our character can be shaped to find alignment with a bigger mind, less effort and more flow. Once again, and this time with our hearts and minds, we strengthen where we are weak, lengthen where we are tight and let go where we hold on.

The Aim of Yoga

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach “Kaivalya” (emancipation or ultimate freedom). This is the experience of one’s innermost being or “soul” (the Purusa). Then one becomes free of chains of cause and effect (Karma) which tie us to continual reincaation. In Kaivalya one is said to exist in peace and tranquillity, having attained absolute knowledge of the difference between the spiritual which is timeless, unchanging and free of sorrows, and the material which is not. This is considered desirable as life is analysed as ultimately full of sorrows and pain- even pleasure and joy leave pain and loss when they have gone as nothing in the material world is permanent.
Yoga is therefore a spiritual quest. However, along the path of yoga, the aspirant also gains health, happiness, tranquillity and knowledge which are indicators of progress and an encouragement to continue their practice. Buddhism and other Easte spiritual traditions use many techniques derived from Yoga.

The Paths of Yoga

There are said to be 4 main paths (Margas), according to the Bhagavad Gita, by which to reach the ultimate goal of Yoga – “Kaivalya.” There is the path of Knowledge (Jnana Marga) in which one leas to discriminate between what is real and what is illusory, the path of selfless work (Karma marga), the path of devotion (Bhakti Marga) and the path of control of the mind (Yoga Marga) where all the activities of the mind and consciousness are studied and brought under control. From these have come the various paths of yoga which can be followed.

Raja yoga involves mastery of the mind and senses in Samadhi; essentially the advanced aspects of Patanjali’s astanga yoga.

Hatha yoga is the yoga of the will which involves cultivating ones energy to arouse Kundalini primarily by means of asana and pranayama.

Mantra yoga involves reciting sacred syllables to reach perfection.

Laya yoga involves absorption in god to experience ultimate bliss.

Bhakti yoga requires absolute devotion to god to achieve the ultimate goal.

Karma yoga achieves this through selfless work without thought of personal reward.

Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge cultivating the discrimination between spiritual reality and the illusion of the material world.

It must be realised that there are no clear cut boundaries between these various paths and all draw on the practices and philosophy of the others; effectively all paths have the same goal and “tread the same terrain.” They are different views of the same topic.

The practice of Hatha Yoga can help you recognize your hidden physical and mental potentials. Through the continued performance of Asanas, you will gain flexibility and strength, and learn to be more relaxed under otherwise stressful situations. Hatha Yoga’s Relaxation Exercises will open the energy channels, which in turn allows spiritual energy to flow freely. Some Hatha yoga poses also massage and tone your internal organs, helping to prevent diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension. They also bring balance to internal and glandular functions

Hatha Yoga can also help you cope with stress, relieve tension, and deal with anxiety and depression. More importantly, it will help you put your mind in a focused state to prepare for Meditation and, eventually, the search for enlightenment.

Yogic Concept of Illnesses

The root cause of Stress induced ailments is the amplified likes and dislikes at the manomaya kosa which results in distressful emotional surges called ‘Aadhi’. The life style gets disturbed because of long standing uncontrolled surges of stressful reactions like intense desire, (Kama), anger (Krodha), fear (Bhaya), jealousy (Matsarya), etc. These agitations cause violent fluctuations in the flow of prana in the ‘naadis’ which are said to be the channels distributed all over the body through their branching system. Each and every cell in the body, requires the right quota of its pranic energy to carry on its biochemical processes in an efficient way. The example is that of uninterrupted power supply necessary for every electrical gadget in right quantities. Just as these equipments would fail if there is any irregularity in the power supply, human organ systems fail to function if they do not get the right quantum of prana. Thus the disturbances in the Manomaya kosa percolate into physical body (Annamaya Kosa) through disturbed prana flows. Hence the management of these stress induced ailments should correct imbalances at all these levels. Yoga techniques are offered to correct the imbalances through a set of yoga practices which we have termed as Integrated approach of yoga therapy (IAYT). These are practised to correct the problem at various levels:

  • Annamaya Kosa: Physical Kriyas (Traditional voluntary internal cleansing techniques), Yogasanas (body postures) and Shavasana (Relaxation posture).
  • Pranamaya Kosa: Five types of systematic regulated slow deep breathing practices with or without breath holding, called Pranayama.
  • Manomaya Kosa: Meditation (Dharana and Dhyana) and devotional session (Bhakti yoga).
  • Vijnanamaya Kosa: Understanding the nature of ones problems in the light of Indian thinking through self analysis (Jnana yoga).
  • Anandamaya Kosa: Practice joy under all circumstances (Karma yoga). Try to touch the inner core of one’s self in solitude and establish in the experience that Ananda is the basic fabric of this universe including the self.