The term “yoga” is applied to a variety 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.
Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, which are the oldest known written compilation on yoga, include Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbs that must be practiced to attain Samadhi). The ultimate goal of yoga practice is to attain Samadhi or oneness of the individual self with the Supreme Being. Patanjali states that this supreme union can be achieved by eliminating the ‘vruttis’ or the different modifications of the mind. The mind, in turn, can be controlled by the correct discipline and training of the body. The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali is composed of:
- Yama: Social restrictions or ethical values to live by. They include: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy, fidelity to one’s partner), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
- Niyama – Includes the personal observances of – Sauca (clarity of mind, speech and body), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (perseverance). Svadhyaya (study of the self, self-reflection, study of the Vedas) and Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of God/Supreme Self/True Self)
- Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in the Sutras of Patanjali it refers to the sitting position used for meditation.
- pranayama-pranabreathing, “ayama”, restrict or stop, i.e. regulation of breathing
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of sense in preparation for meditation.
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation.
- Samadhi – Liberate one’s body to achieve ecstasy.
Furthermore, Patanjali has identified some basic obstacles that prevent the mind from practicing yoga. He has divided them into 2 classes:
- Antarayas (intruders on the path of yoga)
- Viksepasahabhuvah (coexistence with mental distraction)
There are 9 Antrayas:
- Vyadhi (physical illness) – If a body suffers from any illness, it needs to be healed and restored to a healthy state. The disease causes mental disorder 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 must be employed to do away with this ailment.
- Samshaya (doubt) – Faith is the only cure to dispel all doubts that arise.
- Pramada (careless) – If one forgets to cultivate virtues, one cannot practice Yoga.
- Alasya (physical laziness): Participating in healthy activities helps to overcome this laziness.
- Avirati (Detachment) – The mind needs to be detached from material objects to attain Yoga
- Bhrantidarsana (false perception) – Leads to conceit and should 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 (moving away from achieved yogic states)
There are 4 Viksepasahabhuwah
- Dukha: pain and suffering inflicted by the human mind.
- Daurmanasya – disappointment due to lack of fulfillment of desires and ambition.
- Angamejayatva – restlessness of the extremities due to mental agitation.
- Shvasa and prashvasa – forced inhalation and exhalation. Controlled breathing or a balance in breathing exerts a calming influence on the mind.
Patanjali states that these impediments can be removed through meditation and devotion to God; that will pave the way for self-realization.
Yoga Vashishta is supposed to have been revealed by the Vedic sage Vashishta to his royal disciple, Lord Rama, who is said to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Yoga Vashishta composed of 32,000 shlokas. In this scripture, the sage Vashishta explains the teachings of Vedanta in the form of stories to Lord Rama. He teaches her about the deceitful nature of the world, teaches her the best means to attain wisdom and happiness, thus showing her the path that leads 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 the 17th century. Kundalini yoga is the yoga of awareness. Kundalini is the primary energy or Shakti, which lies dormant and coils at the base of the spine like a snake. It is the energy of consciousness and consciousness in any human form. Kundalini yoga is supposed to awaken the sleeping Kundalini Shakti from its coiled position at the base of the spine through a series of 6 chakras and penetrate the 7th chakra, or the crown. The purpose of this form of yoga through the daily practice of kriyas and meditation in sadhana is said to be a practical technology of human consciousness to achieve its fullest creative potential. Practicing this Kundalini Yoga regularly leads one to free oneself from one’s Karma and realize one’s 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). ‘Nothing’ resonates with the sound of ‘Om’, which is the primitive form of energy. Nada yoga practices forms of exercise that invoke 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 their attention on the ‘anahata’ nada or inner sound. The focus should be primarily on the sound that is produced within the human body and not on external vibrations. The aspirant experiences a sense of stillness, which instills the ability to reconnect with the soul or the ‘atman’. Nada yoga helps us tune in to all sounds, finally immersing ourselves in the cosmic sound, ‘Om’. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that the mantra ‘Om’ is “the sound that expresses the Supreme Being, which must be chanted repeatedly while at the same time absorbing its meaning”.
Jnana (wisdom or knowledge) is the most difficult path to attain in Yoga and requires great will power and intellect. The main goal of this form of yoga is to free oneself from the deceptive world of maya (thoughts and perceptions) and to achieve the union of the inner Self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman). This is achieved by continually practicing the mental techniques of self-questioning, contemplation and conscious illumination established in the chatushtaya (Four Pillars of Knowledge) sadhana. These Four Pillars are the steps towards achieving liberation. Continuous practice of these steps would cultivate spiritual insight, understanding, and reduce suffering and dissatisfaction in life. The 4 steps are:
- Viveka (insight, discrimination): deliberate intellectual effort to differentiate between the permanent and the temporary and the Self and the not-Self.
- Vairagya (detachment) – The mind needs to be detached from material objects to attain Yoga
- Shatsampat (six virtues): six mental practices of calm, moderation, renunciation, resistance, trust and concentration to stabilize the mind and emotions.
- Mumukshutva (longing) – 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 enlightenment. This form of yoga strives to unite the bhakta (aspirant) with the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is said to be the easiest and most direct method of experiencing the oneness of mind, body and spirit. Bhakti Yoga requires only an open and loving heart, while Hatha Yoga requires a strong and flexible body, Raja Yoga requires a disciplined and focused mind, and Jnana Yoga requires a sharp intellect. Bhakti Yoga complements other yoga paths 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 (active, hot, sun) and feminine (receptive, cold, moon) aspects within all of us. Create a path to balance and union of opposing forces. It strives to achieve union of mind and body through a series of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) as described in ancient Hindu texts. These practices help to activate the Kundalini energy and purify the body of negative thoughts. It is a very popular form of Yoga in the Western world today.
By practicing Hatha Yoga, we develop a balance of strength and flexibility physically. In addition, we learn to control our mind by balancing our physical efforts and giving ourselves over to the pose. Hatha yoga is a powerful means of achieving self-transformation. We learn the science of controlling our breath, which in turn allows us to control the wanderings of our mind.