Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that originated in ancient India. There is a broad variety of yoga schools and practices propagated by many learned teachers. As Yoga is a philosophy, everyone has created their own version of it. It is upto you to learn and adopt the style that suits you best. In the western world the term “Yoga” often denotes a modern form of Hatha Yoga or yoga as an exercise, meant for physical fitness and relaxation.
History of Yoga
The practice of yoga dates back to pre Vedic Indian times, possibly in the Indus valley civilisation around 3000 BC. It has been mentioned in the Rigveda and Upanishads, one of the oldest texts in the world. Because the chronology of earliest texts describing yoga practices is unclear, it has been varyingly credited to the Upanishads.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the 2nd century BC. They gained prominence in the 20th century, after being introduced by Swami Vivekananda. Whereas Hatha Yoga texts began to emerge between the 9th and 11th century, with origins in tantra.
Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West, following the success of Swami Vivekananda. However outside India, it developed into a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique. The main reason for this was, easy adaptability of Yoga asanas and breathing techniques. But Yoga in Indian traditions is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core.
Light on Patanjali Yoga Sutras
Many Yoga schools and teachers follow the 8 fold path created by Patanjali, also known as Ashtanga Yoga. Patanjali is a renowned scholar on Yoga Philosophy and he has been credited for writing treatises on grammar, medicine and yoga.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a collection of theory and practice of yoga. There are 196 chapters which show the path to Moksha (eternal peace). As per yoga tradition in India Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga.
The Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two traditions, namely eight limb yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) and action yoga (Kriya Yoga)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters as follows:
It refers to a state of direct and reliable perception, where the yogis self-identity is absorbed into pure consciousness. This is the main technique learnt by yogis to dive into the depths of the mind, to achieve liberation.
This chapter contains the famous verse, “Yogas citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ“, which means Yoga for stopping mind chatter.
Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for practice or discipline. This chapter outlines two systems of Yoga, Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga, described below:
- Kriya Yoga is the practice of three virtues:
- Tapas – Austerity
- Svadhyaya – Self study of the scriptures
- Isvara pranidhana – Devotion to god or pure consciousness
- Ashtanga Yoga is the practice of eight limbs:
- Yama – Restraints or ethics in behaviour
- Niyama – Observances
- Asana – Physical postures
- Pranayama – Control of the breath
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Absorption
Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for power or manifestation. This chapter shows how a yogi can acquire super natural powers by practicing yoga. To achieve these powers a yogi must practice Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, explained above. However these texts all warn that these powers can become an obstacle for a yogi who seeks liberation (Moksha).
Kaivalya literally means isolation, but here it stands for liberation. This chapter describes the process of liberation and the reality of our transcendental ego.
The path to Liberation
Samkhya school suggests that knowledge is a sufficient means to liberation. However Patanjali suggests, that a systematic practice, combined with Samkhya’s approach to knowledge is the path to liberation.
Patanjali says that ignorance is the main cause of suffering. To reach liberation, removal of ignorance is utmost important. And this can be achieved through knowledge and self-awareness, which are attained through Samadhi. Samadhi is the state where ecstatic awareness develops and the yogi starts becoming aware of his true Self (Purusa).
Philosophy of Yoga in India
Patanjali was not the first to write about yoga. Much about yoga is written in the Moksadharma section of the epic Mahabharata – Bhagavad Gita. The members of the Jain and Buddhist faith had their own, different literature on yoga before, much before Patanjali.
Some of the major commentaries on the Yoga Sutras were written between the ninth and sixteenth century, but were lost somewhere in the 12th century.
Popular interest arose in the 19th century, when the practice of yoga was promoted by Swami Vivekananda. He said, “Yoga is the supreme contemplative path to self-realisation”.
Western interest in Yoga
According to David Gordon White, the popularity of the Yoga Sutras is recent, “miraculously rehabilitated” by Swami Vivekananda after having been ignored for seven centuries. It has become a celebrated text in the West, because of “Big Yoga – the corporate yoga subculture”.
Yoga is a practice that can be followed by anybody. No matter their physical or mental capabilities, yoga has techniques created for all. It restores physical fitness, brings discipline to the mind and helps in reaching the ultimate bliss – Moksha.
Start with easy practices in yoga to ease yourself in the Yogic culture and gradually build up for postures and asanas that would test your physical and mental strength. And do remember, yoga is not about physical fitness alone, it is a philosophy to gain more control over your senses, mind and life.
Enjoy the journey and immerse yourself in the pure nectar of Yoga.