Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, focusing on meditation as a path to self-knowledge and liberation. In India, Yoga is seen as a means to both physiological and spiritual mastery. Outside India, Yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga (see Yoga as exercise) which is also sometimes used as a form of alternative medicine. A committed practitioner of yoga is referred to as a yogi, yogin (masculine), or yogini (feminine).
Yoga as a means of spiritual attainment is central to the dharmic religions family and has influenced other religious and spiritual practices throughout the world. Hindu texts establishing the basis for yoga include the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and many others.
Yoga as a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation has been practiced for over 5,000 years.
Since the Bhagavad Gita was written, the main branches of Yoga have been classified as: Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.
History of Yoga
A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization, showing a figure in meditation posture.5,000 year old carvings from the Indus Valley Civilization depict a figure that archaeologists believe represents a yogi sitting in meditation posture. The figure is shown sitting in a traditional cross-legged yoga pose with its hands resting on its knees. The discoverer of the seal, archaeologist Sir John Marshall, named the figure Shiva Pashupati.
The first known written reference to yoga is in the Rig Veda, estimated to be 3,500 years old. The Upanishads, (800-100 BCE), Bhagavad Gita (400-100 BCE), and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 BCE-300 CE) also discuss the concepts and teachings of yoga.
Sanskrit yoga is a derivation of Proto-Indo-European yugam, from a root yeug- (Sanskrit yuj-) meaning "to join" or "unite"; cognate to Latin iugum and modern English yoke.
The term is attested since the Rigveda in the sense of "act of yoking, joining, attaching, harnessing" but also "undertaking, business, performance". A mental sense of "exertion, zeal, diligence" is attested since the Mahabharata, and the spiritual or mystical sense of "abstract contemplation, meditation" likewise appears in the Mahabharata as well as in the Upanishads.
The Bhagavad Gita ('Song of the Lord'), thought to have been written some time between 400 and 100 BCE, talks of four branches of yoga:
Karma yoga: The yoga of action in the world
Jnana yoga: The yoga of Wisdom and intellectual endeavour
Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion to God
Dhyana yoga: The yoga of meditation
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Statue of Lord Shiva meditating.The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a book of 196 aphorisms compiled by the sage Patanjali at some time between 200 BCE and 300 CE.
In reference to the Bhagavad Gita classifications, Patanjali's yoga is a form of Raja yoga, as it seeks meditation as the path towards the ultimate goal. Patanjali himself referred to it as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"), from the eight steps he set out as the practical path towards attainment of enlightenment. This eight-limbed concept became an authoritative feature of Raja yoga from that point forward, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. Patanjali's Eight Limbs of yoga practice are:
(1) Yama (The five "abstentions"): violence, lying, theft, (illicit) sex, and possessions
(2) Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to god
(3) Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to seated positions used for meditation. Later, with the rise of Hatha yoga, asana came to refer to all the "postures"
(4) Pranayama ("Life Force Control"): Control of prāna, life force, or vital energy
(5) Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Reversal of the sense organs
(6) Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object
(7) Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the true nature of reality
(8) Samadhi ("Liberation"): Super-conscious state of enlightenment
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
A practitioner of hatha yoga performing a sun salute.Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India, and compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Hatha Yoga is a development of — but also differs substantially from — the Raja Yoga of Patanjali, in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical as leading to the purification of the mind (ha) and prana, or vital energy (tha). In contrast, the Raja Yoga posited by Patanjali begins with a purification of the mind (yamas) and spirit (niyamas), then comes to the body via asana (body postures) and pranayama (breath). Hatha yoga contains substantial tantric influence, and marks the first point at which chakras and kundalini were introduced into the yogic canon. Compared to the seated asanas of Patanjali's Raja yoga which were seen largely as a means of preparing for meditation, it also marks the development of asanas as full body 'postures' in the modern sense.
Hatha Yoga in its many modern variations is the style that most people actually associate with the word "Yoga" today. Because its emphasis is on the body through asana and pranayama practice, many western students are satisfied with the physical health and vitality it develops and are not interested in the other six limbs of the complete Hatha yoga teaching, or with the even older Raja Yoga tradition it is based on.
In all branches of yoga, the ultimate goal is the attainment of an eternal state of perfect consciousness. Within the monist schools of Advaita Vedanta and Shaivism this perfection takes the form of Moksha, which is a liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara) at which point there is a cessation of thought and an experience of blissful union with the Supreme Brahman. For the dualistic bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, bhakti itself is the ultimate goal of the yoga process, wherein perfection culminates in an eternal relationship with Vishnu or one of his associated avatars such as Krishna or Rama.
Common to most forms of yoga is the practice of concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Dharana, according to Patanjali's definition, is the "binding of consciousness to a single point." The awareness is concentrated on a fine point of sensation (such as that of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils). Sustained single-pointed concentration gradually leads to meditation (dhyana), in which the inner faculties are able to expand and merge with something vast. Meditators sometimes report feelings of peace, joy, and oneness.
The focus of meditation may differ from school to school, e.g. meditation on one of the chakras, such as the heart center (anahata) or the 'third eye' (ajna); or meditation on a particular deity, such as Krishna; or on a quality like peace. Non-dualist schools such as Advaita Vedanta may stress meditation on the Supreme with no form or qualities (Nirguna Brahman). This is in many ways analogous to Buddhist meditation on Emptiness.
Yoga in other traditions
The goals of yoga are expressed differently in different traditions. In Hinduism, with its variegated viewpoints and sects, Self-Realization and God-Realization are used interchangeably, with the underlying belief that the true nature of self (truth, consciousness, and bliss), revealed through the practice of yoga, has the same nature as the universal self, which may or may not be identified with a 'creator God' depending on the philosophical standpoint of the practitioner. In Buddhism, which does not postulate a creator-type god, yoga may help people deepen their wisdom, compassion, and insight. In Western nations, where there is a strong emphasis on individualism, yoga practice may be an extension of the search for meaning in self, and integration of the different aspects of being.
A sculpture of a Hindu yogi in the Birla Mandir, DelhiFor the average person still far from enlightenment, yoga can be a way of increasing one's spiritual awareness, or cultivating compassion and insight. While the history of yoga strongly connects it with Hinduism, some proponents claim that yoga is not a religion itself, but contains practical steps which can be found in the esoteric spiritual practices of all religions, as well as those who do not consider themselves religious.
1) Basic course on
yoga 1 week
2) Basic course on yoga 2 weeks
3) Advance Course on Yoga 1 month
4) Yoga therapy 2 months