Yoga is a Sanskrit word when translated to English means union. Yoga is the union between individual consciousness and the Infinite consciousness or God. Yoga is both spiritual and physical, which teaches that people should attempt to unite the individual spirit to God, to atman – the individual soul or essence of a person – and to Brahman.
Importance of Yoga is numerous. Yoga recharges the body with cosmic energy and helps in:
- Attaining of perfect equilibrium and harmony.
- Removing negative blocks from the mind and toxins from the body.
- Promoting self-healing.
- Enhancing personal power.
- Increasing self-awareness.
- Improving attention, focus and concentration.
- Reducing stress and tension in the physical body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system
What is essential to all yoga is meditation. Yoga and Meditation go along each other. Meditation is valuable insofar as it enables its practitioners to find release from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The early practices concentrated on restraining the senses. Later Yoga was seen as a metaphor for uniting to the divine.
There are four kinds of yoga, and it is the combination of the four disciplines that leads us from release to rebirth. Since there are different types of people, different spiritual personality types, Hindu religion recognizes a different path for each. Every human being possesses a talent or attribute that could be emphasized in approaching God. As a consequence, there are several forms of yoga, each having different features.
Before a person can even begin on any of the paths, they must undertake some moral preliminaries. This means giving up bad habits and acquiring good ones, including nonviolence, truthfulness, self-discipline, cleanliness, contentment, and a genuine desire to reach the goal.
The Four Paths of Yoga
Raja Yoga (Mental and Spiritual Development)
According to the Yoga Sutras, there are eight steps a person must take to achieve the superconscious mental level in raja yoga. This is a sitting yoga, which focuses on breathing. As one observes the breath, one develops ways of concentrating the mind and eventually controlling it. The following eight steps achieve the goal of Raja yoga – a trance state:
- Before you can progress, you must take certain vows of restraint (Yama). These vows include not harming living creatures, and chastity.
- At this stage, you attempt to achieve internal control, calmness, and equanimity (Niyama).
- In the third stage, you learn and practice certain bodily postures (asana) designed to help achieve the aims of yoga.
- Once the postures have been mastered, you work on breath control (Prayanama).
- The fifth stage is control of the senses (pratyahara), in which you seek to shut out the outside world.
- The sixth stage is extreme concentration on a single object (Dharana).
- Then one seeks to achieve meditation (dhyana).
- Finally, you seek a trance (samadhi), in which you become one with the Brahman.
Jnana Yoga (The Way to God Through Knowledge)
Jnana Yoga is the way to gaining knowledge to unite between the highest realization, or Brahman and the individual self. Jnana knowledge is not factual information or book knowledge; it has more to do with discernment, reflection, and intuition. The intuitive knowledge in question transforms the knower into the likeness of what one knows, self-knowledge is most important, and the realization of this comes after three stages.
The first stage is hearing. You listen to sages and scriptures and you come to realize that your essential nature is being itself.
The second stage is thinking. It is by prolonged, intensive introspection that you can become hyper aware of your own thought processes and language and how they may lead you away.
The third stage is self-identification. After the two stages, almost everything about physical self has changed over time, there is some enduring part that is unchanging. This enduring part, as opposed to self, comes closer to fuller self, the self that is identical with Brahman.
Bhakti Yoga (The Path to God Through Love)
Bhakti yoga is the repetition of the divine name and worship to surrender to God. This also has three activities which are the method to reach the God, or Brahman.
The first activity is japam, or repetition of the divine name. The very repetition of God’s name with full trust can penetrate the subconscious mind and fill it with holiness.
The second activity is ringing the changes on love. It is to encourage all to behold the vast differences in the kinds of love in our lives. If we spread the love of God, it takes many forms and returns us with good deeds. As a consequence, the varieties of love will increase and so the love of God.
The third activity is worshiping God in the form of his chosen ideal or ishta devata. Ishta devata is an invaluable concept in Hindu religion that suits each person’s inclinations and way of life. Worshiping can be done in various forms like performing puja, yagya, etc.
Karma Yoga (The Way to God Through Work)
The last way of approaching God is through work. If you work not only to survive but also because you enjoy your work, you can find God. Karma refers to the law of action. The actions or karmas of people in their current births shape their lives in their next births.
Interesting fact about Yoga
People today are tempted to think it originated from some recent guru. Yoga is actually about 3,000 years old. Ancient Hindu Statues and seals depicting persons in various yogic postures have been found in remains dating back to the third millennium BCE. But the earliest form of yoga is probably originated as Jain yoga (600 BCE – 900 BCE). Jain yoga involved severe sensual denial and restraint. To free the soul from birth and rebirth, Jains felt it was necessary to restrain the senses completely to be beyond both love and hate. In reality, this means to be in control of all positive or negative emotions.
As early as 600 BCE – 900 BCE, the Jain monks, and Tirthankaras (perfected beings) would train themselves to ignore the pains and longings of the body completely. Nearly 3,000 years later, the details of such practices are lost to us. Jain yoga today has evolved; it is now focused more on restraining oneself to prevent injury to any living being.
The sage Patanjali, who lived in second century BCE, regulated the current philosophy of yoga through Yoga Sutras. Yoga Sutras are the most important text of hatha yoga, or “posture yoga” tradition. Yoga Sutras contain 193 sutras divided into four books.
- Book I (The Yoga Sutras on Concentration)
- Book II (The Yoga Sutras on Reaching the Highest Goals)
- Book III (The Yoga Sutras on Powers)
- Book IV (The Yoga Sutras on Independence)
The first book starts with the definition: “Yoga is the practice of ceasing the false identification with the fluctuations of the mind.” This means to restrain the natural turbulence and agitation of our thoughts. Without slowing down the mind’s agitation, we cannot see our true nature. The control of mind comes about by practice and non-attachment to objects. This book defines methods for overcoming the mental distractions through concentration.
The second book teaches us to realize the cause of pain or pleasure and ignorance of this has led to our misery. We can get hold of the upheavals of the mind and permanently attain to the separation of self from the body by conquering our ignorance. To overcome this is to achieve freedom. Achieving freedom is reaching the highest goals. This can be done by work, worship, psychic control, philosophy, or some combination of them.
The third book details the powers gained in the practice of yoga and the fourth book describes various aspects of the nature of things, especially the nature of the liberated state.