Yoga has a long history and development on its way to the western world.
Yoga is an ancient practice with no confirmed date of origins, but stone seals found dating to 3000 B.C.E. depict yoga poses (asanas). The ancient sacred scriptures of Brahmanism – The Vedas are loosely dated as being written between 3000-1500 B.C.E. The Vedas contained mantras, rituals, spells, incantations, sacrifices and offerings to the gods in constructed teachings of how to transcend the limitations of the mind to connect with Ultimate reality. Yoga is one of the six branches of philosophy mentioned in the Vedas.
Later around 800-500 B.C.E. the texts of the Upanishads are an expansion of the Vedas teaching a more philosophical and mystical approach to liberation, focusing on an inner journey and universal consciousness.
The term Upanishads derives from upa “near”, ni “down” shad “sit” and refers to the aspiring student to be taught one on one with a guru. The sacrifice turned from outward actions to inner release of the ego. The Upanishads teach the yogic path of universality through oneness (union) with Divinity (Brahman) and the soul of the self. The connection of the body and mind through the breath and mantras, meditation, renunciation and concentration developed later into the eightfold path. The cycle of Karma still applies in the Upanishads with inner changes affecting the karmic cycle.
Bhagavad Gita is said to be dated to around 500 B.C.E. and is the most famous text of yoga. It speaks of the eternality of the soul and explains transcendence of ego, detachment to materialism, self discipline through actions and devotion, meditation and knowledge. The Gita expresses a unification of three yogic paths – Bhakti yoga (loving devotion), Karma yoga (service), and Jnana yoga (knowledge, wisdom, contemplation). Through the story of Krishna ’s teachings to Arjuna in the Gita, we learn of detachment to outcomes, thus living in the moment, an important aspect of yoga practice.
The Yoga Sutra is a series of compiled aphorisms by Patanjali dated between 200 B.C.E. – 400 C.E. and is considered to be the first organized layout of yogic practice. He developed the basis for Raja yoga / Ashtanga yoga, the eight-limbed path of liberation combining Karma yoga (hard work) and Jnana yoga (meditation, knowledge). His eight-limbed path is a focal path of many modern yoga schools of practice; however, his dualistic perception of reality has not largely been accepted over non-dualistic reality.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit work Yuj “yoke” or “unite”. It is a Divine Science in a system of union of the self, body, mind and soul encompassing a diverse range of methods of working on our subtle energies, heightening consciousness, realizing the self and elevating our spiritual self while developing our faculties of perception. Yoga improves health, balances the energetic system, fosters body wisdom, control of psychic energy and ultimately leads to liberation, transcendence and enlightenment, realization of oneness, and unity with the Divine.
In Yoga we learn to feel the moment, to be present. The most common association of yoga in the western practice is in the use of asana’s. In the practice of postures it is not about how far one can stretch or how long one can hold a pose; it’s about being present, aware, and experiencing consciousness. To compare oneself to another’s abilities in yoga is to be falling into the ego self and thus is not union at all but denotes separation.
In Yoga one lifts the veil that separates our consciousness from the self allowing for realization and awareness of the inner self, the flowing life force energy and the presence of Divinity. Attention to the experience of the present moment in time becomes noticed, detaching oneself from extraneous thoughts, clearing thinking, focusing the willpower, and stabilizing the minds attention span.
Postures are an integral part of yoga and affect patterns of thinking. Consider ones posture when depressed, shy or self conscious. The head is usually down with shoulders hunched forward, low energy, lack of will and motivation. This reflects an external manifestation of the internal. When one is joyous, feels connected, grounded and open, the posture is upright, eyes looking outward, projecting a higher energy level and motivation. This is the power of yoga to change the energy levels of the body, mind, and emotional state. By placing the body into postures, we reverse the process and the experience of energy levels change on many levels. Learning, growth and realization of the self unfold, and spiritual, metaphysical energies change.
When we are unaware, living unconsciously; stress, anxiety, and negative patterns of thinking shows up in our body, our personality, and in our spiritual lives. We feel disconnected, breathing may be short, hindering the flow of life force energy, reflected in our low energy, sore neck and shoulders, tight muscles, as the tension of the mind unconsciously controls the body.
The system of yoga is an inner discipline of self transformation, self knowledge and awareness of the Absolute. It turns the attention inward merging with the soul energy awareness, and realization of all aspects of the universal Prakti “matter” and Purusha “spirit”. Yoga leads a journey of Kaivalya “freedom” from karma of cause and effect.
Summaries of the more common types of yogic practices in the west
There are numerous practices of Yoga. In the west, the mainstream media displays a limited view and a very narrow margin of what yoga is, mainly focusing on the act of Asana’s only. The mainstream view point by those unaware of the actual practice of yogic practice largely interpret yoga as a form of exercise for physical health in the form of strength, endurance and stretching with an overall result of well being after a session. Below is some insight into the diversity of yoga practices.
Kundalini Yoga: The dormant pranic life force at the base of the spine which can be awakened through practice. Focus is mainly on the psychic centres of the body through the sushumna (psychic channel) from root to crown. The three main channels running along the spine are ida, pingala and the sushumna.
Hatha Yoga: Balancing of positive and negative energy forces in the body through focus on physical form, asanas and breathing. Ha (hakaram) means sun and Tha (thakaram) means moon, pointing ones macrocosmic and microcosmic nature. Sun salutations are the common starting point of this yogic practice. Often perceived as preparation for higher experience. Hatha is a form of Raja yoga. Hatha yoga has offshoots including Bikram and Iyengar.
Bhakti Yoga: Devotional yoga, immersing ones self in the emotional heart and loving devotional pathway to Divinity. From the Sanskrit root bhaj meaning “attachment to The Divine.” Bhakti is unselfish, pure, sacred Divine Love which focuses on the single minded attention to the growth of supreme love for Divinity with the acceptance of attainment of Divine Grace.
Ashtanga Yoga: Often referred to as eight-limb yoga, is an active, vigorous form of flowing movements also known as power yoga. Focusing much on physicality a manifestation of Raja, asanas and pranayama are practiced with strength, flexibility and agility being primary components. Internal heat causes sweating, detoxification and increased circulation, results in a clearer, purified body and mind.
Pranayama Yoga: Control of breathing – Prana (life force), Yama (control) is usually combined with asana’s but is also practiced alone through a system of various breathing techniques. It is the fourth limb of the eight-limbs of Raja yoga. It is used to clear the body and mind, prepare for meditation, focus, and enhance the life force and vitality of the body.
Tantra Yoga: Connection with Absolute through channeling the force of creative energy. Cosmic energy in Tantra relates to awakening the spiritual self as in raising Kundalini energy. The focus is on balancing and harmonizing the male and female energetic aspects within to attain spiritual awakening.
Mantra Yoga: Ritual repetition of words and sounds during meditation, allows for single pointed thinking to attain Samadhi. Mantras – from the Sanskrit “mantrana” means advice or suggestion. The mantras are vibrations to awaken the inner forces used to focus the mind from distractions, heal the body, alter the states of consciousness, and bring one closer with The Divine. Mala beads are often used to keep track of the repetitions.
Yantra Yoga: Meditations on the drawings of symbolism, often intricate, divinely inspired images with much meaning and revelation representing aspects of the Divine. A yantra is used as a focal point for concentration and attainment of higher consciousness through geometric patterns that allow one to tune into the higher realities of the universe.
Purna Yoga / Integral Yoga: Sometimes called supramental yoga, it works towards surrender to higher consciousness through transformation of the entire being in relation to inner and outer self. Integral Yoga combines yogic practices of Hatha, Raja, Bhakti, Karma (actions of cause and effect), Jnana (attainment through study and knowledge of scripture), and Japa (repetitive mantra meditation practices).
Bikram Yoga: Composed of two breathing (pranayama) techniques and twenty-six poses in a hot, humid room. The heat encourages detoxification of the body in a 100-105 degree atmosphere. Developed by Bikram Choudhury as a form of hatha yoga.
Kriya Yoga: Is meditative pranayama energy yoga that revolves around cosmology, with spinal energy centers relating to the zodiac designed to quickly develop ones spiritual evolution.
Kripalu: Is a flowing yoga working with prana and is a form of kundalini yoga in working with the life force energy. In practice, spontaneous movement through poses is in the act of being connected with and feeling awareness of the energy with freedom.
8 disciplines (limbs) of yoga
1. Yama – ethics, non violence, truthfulness, non stealing, social restraints
2. Niyama – self conduct, study of self, surrender, purity, tolerance
3. Asana – postures, physical exercises
4, Pranayama – Breath Control, regulation
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal and control of the senses
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – higher consciousness