All About YOGA
What Yoga really is
21st June International Yoga Day
In Sanskrit, the primary definition of the term Yoga is the state of union with the Divine or the experience of oneness with the great Reality. Yoga, therefore, represents the experience of Truth, the consciousness of Reality, the union with the Divine. There are also secondary meanings of the term Yoga. Yoga is also a set of scientifically evolved and intelligently formulated practical techniques enabling man to shed himself of all the impurities imposed upon him by the nature of his body, mind and senses, and aiding him to concentrate his thoughts entirely upon the Supreme. Thus Yoga means anything that man may do to purify his lower nature, to restrain his senses, to direct his mind towards God, to come into a deep interior level of worship of the Divine and finally to realise his eternal oneness with the Divine Consciousness.
The application of yoga is universal. It may be applied within the religious framework. Yet it clearly transcends religion. It is supra-religious, far beyond any dogma or doctrine. The extent and duration of its applicability is commensurate with the whole of humanity for all time. Hear it’s an attempt to show you the significance that Yoga holds for everyone in this great and eventful twentieth century.
First and foremost, Yoga is not mere acrobatics. Some people suppose that Yoga is primarily concerned with the manipulation of the body into various queer positions, standing on the head, for instance, or twisting about the spine, or assuming any of the numerous odd poses which are demonstrated in the text-books on Yoga. These techniques are correctly employed in one distinct type of Yoga practice, but they do not form an integral part of the most essential type. Physical posture serve at best as an auxiliary, or a minor form of Yoga.
Secondly, Yoga is not the performance of magical feats. I mention this especially because among the many misconceptions that abound about Yoga, this one is due to certain pretensions which have been made by fake Yoginsâ pseudo-Yogins. Anything that is good is all too easily corrupted by perverted people. At all times in the history of the world this has happened. Behind the deliberate mystification of things pertaining to Yoga there lies a selfish motive. Unfortunately, the distortion of this true science is the consequence. It will not be out of place, therefore, for me to tell you frankly and clearly that not all that has been put across as Yoga is really Yoga. Yoga is certainly not magic, nor is it the performance of any extraordinary or unusual mystical feat.
Neither is Yoga ‘Fakirism’, the impression that is obtained by many tourists and travellers, especially by news-people who, with a strong preference for the sensational and the fantastic, have managed to create the fantastic idea that Yoga is some form of self-tortureâ lying on a bed of nails, burying oneself underground, chewing or swallowing pieces of glass, drinking acid, swallowing nails or piercing oneself with pins and needles. This has nothing to do with Yoga, and real Yogins have nothing to do with all this.
Neither is Yoga any weird ceremonial or peculiar rite. It is not hedonism. It is not paganism. It is not palmistry. It is not prophesying. It is not astrology. It is not thought-reading, nor is it the dispensing of charms to ward off evil spirits or ‘possessions’. None of these is Yoga. If people call themselves Yogins and then explain their Yoga by exhibiting any of these unusual feats, then they are misusing the term Yoga. Yoga is not auto-hypnotism or self-hypnosis. It is not doing of incantations or by the monotonous performance of gestures. Yoga is not experiences like those obtained by taking lysergic acid or mescalin or peyote (of Mexican origin) or divine mushrooms. These experiences are not Yoga, nor are they products of Yoga.
Neither is Yoga a religious cult. Certain Eastern concepts do lie behind it. This is true. But these concepts do not have anything to do with the evolution of the science Proper. Yoga is comprised of highly evolved and practical techniques which may be applied by persons of any race, nation, caste, creed, church or sect. As philosophical definitions were being formed and as religious concepts of the Hindus were being formulated, the science of Yoga was evolved. Certain metaphysical concepts are peculiarly Hindu and Eastern, but Yoga which is separable from its philosophical and metaphysical background, is a science of universal and practical value. Yoga is essentially a spiritual matter concerning spiritual methods. It is an intensely practical approach towards the realisation of the supreme Reality, the very Centre of all life as God. And it is the heritage of all humanity.
Worshipful Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to tell a beautiful parable regarding the importance and truth about Yoga: There was a big tree in a jungle. On the top of a branch there was a very big honey-comb. But the ascent to the top of the tree was difficult. One had to cut steps on the trunk of the tree and ascend; but that demanded great patience and intelligent work.
A slender creeper entwined that tree and reached up to a great part of the height. It appeared to be strong, though it perilously dangled in the air.
A greedy man, desirous of possessing honey, without much effort, began to ascend the tree with the sole help of the creeper. He was too lazy to cut steps on the trunk of the tree and thought that the creeper was strong enough to take him to the top. When he was a few feet above the ground, a violent wind broke the creeper and the man fell down and fractured his limbs.
Similar is the case with those who try to ascend the tree of Yoga (Divinity), in order to drink the honey of Moksha, with the help of the creeper of Kamya Karmas (actions with selfish motives and desires) through short-cut paths. The path of Yoga lies along the trunk of the tree of Divinity. You have to improvise steps on it, with some effort, which is Sadhana (spiritual practices). You have to ascend step by step, starting with Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and then reach the pinnacle of Samadhi. There is no short-cut to this. You cannot evade this responsibility. If, on the other hand, you climb with the help of Kamya-Karmas, though they, too, appear to be strong, they will not take you to the heights of Yoga. When the wind of selfish desires, greed for the things of this world and the pleasures of heaven, blows, this creeper of Karma will break and you will have a terrible fall.
O man! Selfish works will not lead you to the Goal of Yoga. Only unselfish works will help you. Sadhana means something much sterner. You have to ascend the top through the hard way. But once you reach the top, you will drink the nectar of Immortality and Eternal Bliss.
There are various systems of Yoga which I shall now briefly describe. The first is the intellectual system in which man employs his human faculties in a supreme exercise: the realisation of the Truth. This is known as Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Intellect. One listens to the expositions of the nature of God, acquires an understanding of the Reality, then by reflecting upon it again and again, ultimately, one penetrates into it through the power of reason in the depths of meditation.
The second system is known as Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion or Love. This is a very sweet path, one which is peculiarly suited and easily adapted to the emotional temperament. One grows into close relationship with the Supreme Being by constantly thinking about Him, praying to Him, worshipping Him, feeling Him close, so close that one naturally walks with Him, talks with Him, lives, moves and has one’s being in Him. A link is set up whereby pure love is directed to God. In this exercise, the human being becomes totally integrated.
In the third system, all phases of life’s activities are dedicated to God. On an unselfish basis, man’s duties are thus integrated. This is known as Karma Yoga or the Yoga of selfless service. The prime and crucial act in this system is the shedding of the ego. When the personal ego is completely abnegated, all creatures upon earth are clearly apprehended as visible manifestations of God, as moving temples in which the Divine is enshrined. The service of others then becomes natural and easy, and every act is performed not as a secular act, but as an act of worship. Engaged in the transmutation of dynamism into divine realisation, one may do his worship everywhere. The teacher in the school, the doctor in the hospital, the farmer in the field, the businessman in the stock-exchange, everyone engaged in professional activity, can transmute his dynamism into pure devotion by adopting a humble and worshipful inner attitude.
In the fourth system, man is employed in a very special process in which all thought is made to merge in God. One becomes more and more aware of God as the Centre of being. This is a very beautiful path also. It is known as Raja Yoga or the Yoga of Concentration and Meditation. Thought is movement of the mind-stuff. Movement of the mind-stuff is produced by motion of the vital-life, force within called Prana and by movement of the body. Thus, thought, Prana and the body are all interconnected. Total subdual and control of the body may be brought about by keeping it in a fixed and steady posture. Subdual and control of the inner psychic energy may be obtained by practising techniques of breath-control. And ultimately, all the scattered rays of the mind may be withdrawn from the multifarious universe and made to concentrate solely upon the one idea of God. In this culminating process, man is raised above the level of the mind, taken into a state of superconsciousness in which the experience of oneness with God is realised, and he is released forever from the bondage to the body and from death itself. There are many heartening signs that this Yoga is being considered by many seekers in the West to be the most suitable method for the solution of the perplexing problems of their civilisation.
About raja yoga
“The instrument is the mind itself”
The science of Raja Yoga proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching this truth.In acquiring knowledge we make use of generalizations, and generalization is based upon observation.We first observe facts,then generalize,and then draw conclusions or principles.The knowledge of the mind, of the internal nature of man,of thought, can never be had until we have first the power of observing the facts that are gong on within.
“No faith or belief is necessary”
Believe nothing until you find it out for yourself. This is what Raja-Yoga proposes to teach. The goal of all its teaching is how to concentrate the minds, then, how to discover the innermost recesses of our own minds,then, how to generalize their contents and form our own conclusions from them. We see that in the study of this Raja-Yoga faith or belief is not necessary.
Believe nothing until you find it out for yourself; that is what it teaches us. Truth requires no prop to make it stand.
“Each soul is potentially divine”
There is no limit to the power of the human mind.The more concentrated it is,the more power is brought to bear on one point; that is the secret.It is easy to concentrate the mind on external things, the mind naturally goes outwards; but not so in the case of religion, or psychology, or metaphysics, where the subject and the object, are one. The object is internal, the mind itself is the object, and it is necessary to study the mind itself–mind studying mind.
The powers of the mind should be concentrated and turned back upon itself, and as the darkest places reveal their secrets before the penetrating rays of the sun, so will this concentrated mind penetrate its own inner most secrets. Thus will we come to the basis of belief, the real genuine religion. We will perceive for ourselves whether we have souls, whether life is of five minutes or of eternity, whether there is a God in the universe or none. It will all be revealed to us. This is what Raja -Yoga proposes to teach.
What is Raja Yoga
Raja yoga means “royal union” and is one of the four main paths of yoga. Raja means “royal”, and yoga comes from the root yuj meaning “to join,” “to unite,” or “to attach.” Meditation is the focal point of this branch of yoga, and its approach involves strict adherence to the eight “limbs” of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras.
The yoga sutras is a collection of aphorisms describing principles and realistic/practical techniques in spiritual discipline that were compiled by Patanjali, a groovy Indian sage who lived in the 2nd century BCE. Although yoga shares many elements with Hinduism, please keep in mind that it is not merely a religious belief system. All of the different branches of yoga contain intricate methods that have been applied by many people for thousands of years (even before the arrival of famous Eastern religious figures).
Yogas Citta -Vritti -Nirodha
Those who are new to yoga may find its philosophical foundation a little bit confusing, but its main objective is really very simple: To help us reach the level of understanding needed to acquire knowledge of the true nature of our being and of reality.
According to Patanjali, the practice of yoga is citta-vritti-nirodha or “restraint of the modifications of the mind.”
Citta is the “mind.” It is the medium through which an individual being creates reality (the world or manifested Universe). This citta functions in two ways: 1) it allows the individual being to receive impressions from the external world through the senses, and 2) it allows the external world to be affected in turn by the individual being.
Vritti means “modification.” It refers to the various predispositions, tendencies, desires, and repulsions present within us, which are the result of past actions and experiences that have left their marks or imprints on the citta (mind). It is these modifications that cause differences in our behavior since they are the ones that give rise to all our actions, thoughts, emotions and feelings (whether these are good or bad).
Nirodha means “restraint or control.” Since we continuously receive impressions from the external world and we have all these vrittis (tendencies and desires) from our past experiences at the same time, we could say that the citta (mind) is in a profoundly chaotic state. Even if we are sleeping and not receiving impressions or “signals” from our environment, the mind still functions; hence, we experience dreams (mental representations of our vrittis).
Therefore, in essence, the practice of yoga is all about controlling and giving direction to all these contents of the mind (citta-vritti-nirodha) through willful and intentional effort so that, similar to seeing your reflection on a still pond, you can become reunited with your true being by seeing through the stillness of the citta or mind. All the exercises below are aimed at attaining just that. So without further ado, here are the Eight Limbs of Yoga as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Ashtanga Yoga Eight Limbs Of Yoga – All About Yoga
1. YAMA: The five abstentions
In Hinduism, Yama is the god of death. In the context of yoga, yama is a set of ethical disciplines that helps the student bring death to the EGO, which separates him/her from the true Self. The practice of yama consists of non-violence, absence of falsehood, non-stealing, sexual continence, and absence of avarice.
This is similar to the Buddhist system of sila or “virtue.” Christians are more familiar with these corresponding commandments: thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, and thou shalt not get fat. The real point of the yama (abstentions) is that breaking any of these would tend to excite your mind; you don’t want to have an excited mind while practicing meditation.
2. NIYAMA : The five observances
Niyama is a set of rules or laws for personal observance. These rules are purity, contentment, austerity, study of spiritual scriptures, and self-surrender. Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than a set of attitudes. The main objective in practicing yama and niyama is to live so that no emotion or passion can disturb your mind. They are also preparations for the advanced practices that you will see below.
3. ASANA : The yogic postures
A major challenge for every student of yoga comes from the body. It keeps on asserting its presence by making you want to stretch, scratch, sneeze, cough, fidget, twitch, or create a funky smelling emission from your, uhm, ok. These forms of distractions are so persistent that the Hindus (in their own scientific way) devised unique practices for quieting the body. These practices are called asanas.
4. PRANAYAMA : The breath control
Pranayama is particularly useful in quieting our emotions and appetites. It purifies both the body and the lower functions of the mind which is excellent from the standpoint of health. All the great sages and saints who graced the planet taught — usually secretly to a few followers — that there is to be found in air a substance or principle called prana from which all activity, vitality and life is derived. The many spiritual powers attributed to advanced students of yoga are due largely to their understanding of this fact and their intelligent use of this energy.
The yogis of various meditative traditions know that by certain forms of breathing, they establish certain relations with the supply of prana and they may draw on it the energy they require for their vehicles – the physical and subtle bodies. Not only does pranayama strengthen all parts of the body, but the brain itself may receive increased energy from prana, allowing us to develop latent faculties and psychic abilities.
5. PRATYAHARA : The withdrawl of senses
The previous practices, yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama are all disciplines for the body. Pratyahara and the remaining practices are purely mental.
If you examine the contents of your mind at any time, you will find that the images you see may be divided into three categories:
(1) Images from the outer world accepted by your sense-organs,
(2) Images from your memories, and
(3) Images of your expectations of future events.
The first category is the direct result of our contact with the outer world. The second and third are purely psychological, i.e. they don’t depend on any object outside your mind. The purpose of pratyahara is to eliminate the first category (the images from the outer world accepted by the sense-organs), leaving you with only the second and third categories, which you will work with in dharana and dhyana.
6. DHARANA : Fixing attention on a object
Dharana may be translated as “holding”, “holding steady”, “concentration”, or “single focus.” This is the first phase of Samyama Meditation and the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana.
Once you have relieved yourself of outside distractions, you can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. The practice involves fixing your attention on some object, either within your body or outside, and keeping it steady for a period of time without allowing any other thoughts to enter your mind. Like any kind of practice, you have to do this progressively and measure the rate of your success in holding your concentration.
7. DHAYANA : Concentrating on a point of focus
Dhyana is translated as meditation. It is perfect contemplation which involves concentrating on a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. This is where all the fun begins. After you have eliminated all the images from the outer world (as discussed in pratyahara) and your mind is focused on a single object, you then begin to meditate. Figuratively speaking, it’s like placing something under a microscope (you only look at what you are actually inspecting).
This is done because your awareness in dhyana is different from your everyday awareness just as a laser beam is different from a flashlight. A flashlight can illuminate a large area, but a laser, even a low powered one, can cut through solid objects. Hence, having awareness as sharp as a laser beam, you can penetrate into the deeper nature of any object both mental and physical.
8. SAMADHI: The liberation
Samadhi is broadly characterized as “liberation”, “meditative absorption” or “full meditation.” It signifies the deepening of dhyana until your chosen object of meditation stands alone and you are no longer aware of yourself as contemplating an object.
In other words, consciousness becomes one with the object. This is true because when you achieve perfect concentration, you will be able to transcend the limitations of the conscious state allowing you the vision of Truth or Illumination. And this vision, dear brothers and sisters, is not something that can be described by mere words. You have to experience it yourself.