What is Yoga?
The word Yoga means “to unite” or “yoke”. Yoga is based on traditional ancient Indian thought that originated in India at least 10,000 years ago. Yoga is a system of mental and physical disciplines that traditionally sought to unite the mind and body with the spirit and then the individual spirit with the collective spirit. According to Hindu philosophy, yoga focuses the mind on the true essence of reality and ultimately moksha or “liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth” can be had. Moksha is liberation from the pain and suffering of the material world. The Great Rishis that developed yoga discovered that the physical and mental benefits they received by practicing yoga postures and mental exercises created balanced, integrated and content individuals. So much so that the goal of unity of body, mind and spirit and ultimately Moksha was more easily met. Today’s model of wholistic health is much the same. Finding health and balance physically, mentally and spiritually creates a fully realized individual.
Yoga is practiced today for its healing and healthful benefits. The physical, mental and meditative practices originating from this ancient philosophy are practiced today around the world for relief from worldly stresses and our modern day busy, tension-filled lifestyles. Because of the stresses of modern life, yoga has become an extremely popular activity used for physical and mental well being. Yoga can balance and accelerate one’s life.
Yoga is an ancient way to take care of body, mind and spirit. The physical practices of yoga are the yoga postures called asanas. Many Americans and Europeans practice mainly the yoga postures while leaving out the vast mental and meditative practices. However, the more esoteric practices of yoga become more and more mainstream every day. Yoga asanas have medically proven physical benefits such as less muscle and joint pain, improved circulation and digestion, better sleep, lower blood pressure and increased energy. Due to the mental concentration on the body and the breath, the practitioner also receives the mental benefits such as elevated mood, decrease in mental tension and longer and deeper concentration.
A typical yoga class today will include breathing exercises, possibly chanting the sound of Om, a balanced flow of yoga postures and end in a few minutes of reflection or meditation. This type of class is a profound experience in itself. But your typical yoga class is the tip of the iceberg in the healing methods yoga has to offer. You can deepen your understanding through books, classes, yoga-related workshops and courses with yoga masters around the world. Most anyone from the frail to the athlete will benefit from a yoga class. The yoga practitioner will want to participate in the yoga class that is in line with their physical abilities.
Today more and more people are delving into the deeper philosophical teachings that yoga has to offer. This is certainly no quick or easy task. Because yoga is thousands of years old, it has an extremely long history. It has been added to by many cultures, has many schools of thought that stem from its very beginning to present day, has hundreds of ancient texts that still exist today and hundreds of modern day books have been written. Along with this, yoga has many practices such as many, many yoga postures, breathing exercises, mental exercises, chanting, mantras, yantras, mudras, energy centers and meditation practices. Putting the history and philosophy of yoga all together will take years of dedicated study. The key is knowing where to start and being very patient. Everything you learn about yoga has a positive cumulative affect on you. Take your time. This web site will continue to offer articles and lessons on the many yoga practices.
The most recently popularized paths (genres) of yoga are:
- Raja Yoga or The Royal Path, also called Ashtanga Yoga, because it has "eight steps" found in Patajali’s Yoga Sutras
- Jnana Yoga, the Path of Transcendental Knowledge
- Karma Yoga, the Path of Selfless Action
- Bhakti Yoga, the Path of Devotion
- Mantra Yoga, the Path of Sound
- Hatha Yoga, the path best known and perhaps by most practitioners least understood
- Kundalini Yoga, the Path of Enlightenment, Kundalini yoga is where we find the chakra system. The chakra system is widely used and studied to balance the body, mind and spirit. What is a chakra? (see article)
- Tantra Yoga, spiritual attainment through physical sensation
- Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action
- Laya Yoga, also contains Kundalini and chakra systems
The first mention of Yoga is in the Vedas, a large body of text originating in India and written in Sanskrit. The word Veda means “knowledge” or “to know”. The Vedas are among the oldest existing texts in the world. They were originated during the Vedic period dating from 1500 BCE. The following web site contains a list of the sacred Hindu texts that you can also read at the same site: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm . The Bhagavad Gita is the most popular of all Hindu scriptures. It is a philosophical dialog between the god Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. The Gita discusses selflessness, duty, devotion, and meditation, integrating many different threads of Hindu philosophy. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the most popularly studied yoga texts in the U.S. today.
Another avenue to the study and understanding of yoga philosophy are the six darshanas (schools) or the Shat Darshans (see article). The Shat Darshans include the Sankhya philosophy, Yoga Philosophy, Purva Mimamsa Philosophy, Vedant Philosophy, Vaishesika and the Nyaya Philosophy.