The term “yoga” is applied to an assortment of practices and methods that also include Hindu, Jain and Buddhist practices. In Hinduism these practices include Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Laya Yoga and Hatha Yoga.
Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, which are the oldest known written compilation about yoga, include the Raja Yoga or the Ashtanga Yoga, (the eight limbs to be practiced to attain Samadhi). The ultimate aim of the yoga practice is to obtain Samadhi or unity of the individual self with the Supreme Being. Patanjali states that one can achieve this supreme union by elimination the ‘vruttis’ or the different modifications of the mind. The mind can in turn be controlled by right discipline and training of the body. The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali comprise of:
- Yama: Social restraints or ethical values for living. They include: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (truthfulness) Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy, fidelity to one’s partner) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
- Niyama – They include the personal observances of – Sauca (clarity of mind, speech and body), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (perseverance). Svadhyaya (study of self, self-reflection, study of Vedas), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of God/Supreme Being/True Self)
- Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
- Pranayama –Prana, breath, “ayama”, to restrain or stop i.e., regulation of breath
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the sense in preparation to meditation.
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation.
- Samadhi – Liberating one’s body to attain ecstasy.
Moreover, Patanjali has identified some basic obstacles that do not allow the mind from practicing yoga. He has divided them into 2 classes:
- Antarayas (intruders in the path of yoga)
- Viksepasahabhuvah (co-existing with mental distraction)
There are 9 Antarayas:
- Vyadhi (physical illness) – If a body is suffering from some disease, it needs to be cured and restored to a healthy state. Disease causes disorder of the mind and makes it difficult to practice yoga or any other form of physical discipline
- Styana (mental laziness) – The human desire to reap the fruits of action without any effort is not conducive to mental health. Strong will power needs to be employed to do away with this ailment.
- Samshaya (doubt) – Faith is the only cure to dispel all arising doubts.
- Pramada (heedlessness) – If one is oblivious to cultivate virtues, Yoga cannot be practiced.
- Alasya (physical laziness) – Involving in healthy activities helps overcome this laziness
- Avirati (detachment) – The mind needs to be detached from material objects to attain Yoga
- Bhrantidarsana (false perception) – leads to self-conceit and needs to be kept away.
- Alabdha- bhumikatva (non-attainment of yogic states) – Recognizing the evil traits in our personality and banishing them would help in the long run
- Anavasthitatva (falling away from yogic states attained)
There are 4 Viksepasahabhuvah
- Dukha – sorrow and suffering inflicting the human mind.
- Daurmanasya – disappointment due to non-fulfillment of desires and ambition.
- Angamejayatva – restlessness of the limbs due to mental agitation.
- Shvasa and prashvasa – forced inhalation and exhalation. Controlled breathing or a balance in breathing exerts a calming influence in the mind.
Patanjali states that these impediments can be removed through meditation and devotion to God; which will pave the way for self-realization.
Yoga Vashishta is supposed to have been disclosed by the Vedic sage, Vashishta to his royal disciple Lord Rama, who is said to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Yoga Vashishta comprises of 32000 shlokas. In this scripture, sage Vashishta explains the teachings of Vedanta in form of stories to Lord Rama. He teaches him about the deceptive nature of the world, teaches him the best means to attain wisdom and happiness thus showing him the path leading to the supreme spirit.
Kundalini Yoga (Laya Yoga):
This form of yoga was first introduced in The Yoga- Kundalini Upanishad in the first half of 17th century. Kundalini yoga is the yoga of consciousness. Kundalini is primal energy or Shakti, which lies dormant and is coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent. It is the energy of consciousness and awareness in any human form. Kundalini yoga is supposed to awaken the sleeping Kundalini Shakti from its coiled position at the spinal base through a series of 6 chakras, and penetrate the 7th chakra, or the crown. The purpose of this form of yoga through daily practice of kriyas and meditation in sadhana is said to be a practical technology of human consciousness to achieve their ultimate creative potential. Practicing this Kundalini Yoga regularly, leads one to be liberated from one’s Karma and to realize their purpose in life (Dharma).
The basic theory behind Nada Yoga is that the entire universe and all its inhabitants consist of sound vibrations or nadas (Sanskrit, ‘nad’ means sound). ‘Nada’ resonates to the sound of ‘Om’, which is the primitive form of energy. Nada yoga practices forms of exercise summoning the union of the self with God, through sound or music. The N?da yoga system divides sound or music into two categories: internal sound, anahata, and external sound, ahata. In Nada yoga, the person focuses his attention on the ‘anahata’ nada or the inner sound. The focus is to be primarily on the sound that is produced within the human body and not on any external vibrations. The aspirant experiences a feeling of stillness, which infuses a capacity to reconnect with the soul or the ‘atman’. Nada yoga assists in tuning ourselves to all the sounds, ultimately immersing oneself with the cosmic sound, ‘Om’. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states that, the mantra ‘Om’ is “the sound that expresses the Supreme Being, which should be repeatedly chanted while at the same time absorbing its meaning.”
Jnana (wisdom or knowledge) is the most difficult path to achieve in Yoga and requires great strength of will and intellect. The primary goal of this form of yoga is to become liberated from the deceptive world of maya (thoughts and perceptions) and to achieve union of the inner Self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman). This is achieved by continuously practicing the mental techniques of self-questioning, contemplation and conscious illumination stated in the sadhana chatushtaya (Four Pillars of Knowledge). These Four Pillars are the steps toward achieving liberation. Continuous practice of these steps would cultivate spiritual insight, understanding and reduce suffering and dissatisfaction in life. The 4 steps are:
- Viveka (discernment, discrimination) – deliberate intellectual effort to differentiate between the permanent and the temporary and Self and not-Self
- Vairagya (detachment) – The mind needs to be detached from material objects to attain Yoga
- Shatsampat (six virtues) – six mental practices of calmness, restraint, renunciation, endurance, trust and focus to stabilize the mind and emotions
- Mumukshutva (yearning) – passionate desire for liberation from suffering.
It is equally important to practice humility and compassion on the path of self-realization.
Bhakti (devotion or love) Yoga is one of the four main paths to attain enlightenment. This form of yoga endeavors to unite the bhakta (aspirant) with the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is said to be the easiest and the most direct method to experience the unity of mind, body and spirit. Bhakti Yoga requires only an open, loving heart, whereas Hatha Yoga requires a strong and flexible body, Raja Yoga requires a disciplined and concentrated mind, and Jnana Yoga requires a keen intellect. Bhakti Yoga complements other paths of yoga well, and it is said that jnana (knowledge or wisdom) will emerge when you immerse yourself in the devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga.
Hatha (Ha-sun; tha- moon) yoga refers to balancing the masculine aspects-active, hot, sun-and feminine aspects-receptive, cool, moon-within all of us. It creates a path toward balance and uniting the opposite forces. It strives to attain the union of mind and body by a series of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) as described in ancient Hindu texts. These practices help activate the Kundalini energy and purify the body of negative thoughts. It is very popular form of Yoga in the Western world currently.
By practicing Hatha Yoga, we develop a balance of strength and flexibility physically. Additionally, we learn to control our mind by balancing our physical efforts and giving ourselves to the pose. Hatha yoga is a strong means to achieve for self-transformation. We learn the science of controlling our breath which in turn allows us to control the wanderings of our mind.