Yoga is an ancient Indian knowledge that involves mind and body practices for attaining the state of meditation, relaxation, as well as complete mental and physical fitness.
Yoga has been practiced from times immemorial.
In fact, Yoga has a history of at least 5000 years old.
Yoga is much more than just physical exercises involving complex ways of breathing, stretching, twisting, and turning.
As such, Yoga aims to unfold the infinite potential of human body, mind, and soul. Yoga offers emotional integration and spiritual elevation beyond all imagination.
Yoga is the complete essence of the Way of Life.
In this presentation, we take a look at what is Yoga and Types of Yoga.
Table of Contents
What is Yoga? Definition of Yoga
Yoga has been derived from the Sanskrit word yuj meaning “union.” It is the union of the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit.
It essentially means, “That which brings you to reality.”
It is believed that the ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation).
In fact, Yoga has been interpreted in many ways.
However, it essentially means a method of discipline.
Moreover, there are five principal meanings of Yoga:
- It is described as a disciplined method for attaining a goal.
- It is the techniques for controlling the body and the mind.
- It is one of the systems of philosophy (Darshan Shastra).
- It is the techniques with a connection to “hatha, mantra, and laya.
- Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice.
So, the Yogic principles and practices were employed to overcome sufferings.
Yoga was being used as a method for achieving inner peace and salvation.
It was practiced to experience ultimate reality and Universal Consciousness together with physical and mental well-being.
History of Yoga
Yoga originated in India some 10000 years ago.
However, there is no specific inventor of Yoga.
Yoga was practiced long before any written record of it came into existence.
Yoga involves a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that aims to bring complete well being of an individual on physical, mental, as well as spiritual planes.
It is speculated that Yogic practices began in the pre-Vedic era; it is mentioned in the Rig Veda.
However, Yoga came into prominence around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.
The earliest known records of yoga practices are found in Hindu Upanishads.
However, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written in the first half of the millennium CE, is recognized as the oldest texts about Yogic science.
The earliest mention of Yoga is found in Rig Veda in the Nasadiya Sukta. It belongs to the Indus-Saraswati civilization.
In fact, the Pashupati seal belonging to this civilization shows a figure seated in a yogic posture. This itself goes on to exhibit the widespread recognition of Yoga in those ancient times.
The earliest mention of yogic practices is found in the oldest Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka. The practice of “Pranayama” is mentioned in one of its hymns and “Pratyahara” is mentioned in Chandogya Upanishad.
The mention of the word “Yoga” as we know today is cited for the first time in Kato Upanishad. Here, Yoga has been described as a process of the inner journey or as the ascent of human consciousness.
There are also famous dialogues between Sage Yajnavalkya and the learned Brahmvadin Gargi (found in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) that go on to mention asanas and various breathing exercises for cleansing the body as well as for meditation.
In Chandogya Upanishad, there are instances when Gargi has spoken about Yogic asanas.
The Atharva Veda has mentioned a group of ascetics (Vratya) who have emphasized on bodily postures. Even Samhitas have mentioned various seers who practiced tough, physical deportments for doing meditation.
The concept and principles of Yoga evolved in the Vedic period. We get elaborate mentions of Yoga in Hindu religious texts such as Bhagavad Gita and also in Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.
Even the Yoga Vasishtha (which predates Mahabharata and Bhagwad Gita) defines Yoga as the method for the union of mind with the Universal Consciousness.
However, the most important Hindu text that goes on to provide elaborate descriptions about Yoga is Patanjali “Yogasutra.”
It is a 2000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy by sage Patanjali. In fact, Patanjali Yogasutra provides the framework on which the modern yogic principles are based. It is one of the oldest texts on Yoga.
Patanjali has defined Yoga as:
योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:
(Yoga Sutras 1.2)
His writings became the basis of Ashtanga Yoga.
It is important to reiterate that yogic postures were not the dominant component of Yoga traditions in India. Physical fitness was not the chief aim of Yoga practices.
Yoga central aim was the overall development of human consciousness to experience the Supreme Reality.
It was in the 20th century that postural yoga gained prominence (it was during the 1920s and 1930s), first in India and then in the western countries.
In ancient times, Yoga was often referred regarding a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruits.
In fact, six branches of Yoga emerged, each with unique characteristics, and representing a specific approach to life.
The six branches of Yoga are:
Hatha Yoga – It involves the practice of asanas and pranayama to charge the body and mind. It is the physical and mental branch of Yoga.
Raja Yoga – It involves meditation and requires strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga.”
Karma Yoga – It is the path of service caused by our actions. It teaches the right way to actions and endeavors to create a future free from negativity.
Bhakti Yoga – It is the path of devotion. It endeavors to channelize our emotions to create acceptance and tolerance in us.
Gyana Yoga – The path of wisdom and intellect through study.
Tantra Yoga – the pathway of the consummation of a relationship.
The “eight limbs of Yoga.”
The practice of Raja Yoga requires the adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga” often known as Ashtanga Yoga. These are as follows:
1. Yama: These are ethical standards and sense of integrity. It is cultivated by following: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (continence), Asteya (non-stealing), and Aparigraha (non-covetousness).
2. Niyama: Self-discipline, meditation practices, spiritual observances. These are saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (spiritual austerity), svadhyaya (study involving sacred scriptures and of oneself), and eshwar pranidhana (surrender to God).
3. Asana: Physical activity for controlling mind and body.
4. Pranayama: Regulating breathing leading to the integration of mind and body.
5. Pratyahara: Indifference to outside stimuli, withdrawal of the senses of perception.
6. Dharana: Concentration, focusing the mind
7. Dhyana: Meditation
8. Samadhi: The blissful state of awareness.
The yogis and mystics have experienced the power of “chakras” in their journey towards spiritual enlightenment. The word “Chakra” means spinning wheel.
In fact, there are seven major chakras in the human body. They are experienced as one progress on the path of yogic discipline.
According to yogic philosophy, chakras are defined as the convergence of energy, thoughts, and feelings in the physical body.
However, you cannot find chakras when you dissect a human body. They can only be experienced as one takes on the path of Yoga.
The chakras determine our emotional reactions, our level of confidence or fear, our desires or aversions. They even portray the manifestation of physical symptoms.
When energy is blocked in a chakra, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest as anxiety, fear, anger, lethargy, or poor digestion.
Yogic asanas and practices are used to balance and harmonize the chakras so that one may realize the full potential of physical, mental, and spiritual power.
Here, we briefly describe the seven chakras that have been cited by yogic practitioners.
They are as follows:
Sahasrara: This chakra is located at the crown of the head. It is called as “thousand petaled” or “crown chakra.”
It represents the state of pure consciousness and is identified by the color white or violet. It involves matters of inner wisdom and death of the body.
Ajna: It is also known as the “third-eye chakra” or “command chakra.” The Ajna chakra represents the meeting point between two important energetic streams in the body.
Ajna is signified by the color violet, indigo, or deep blue. However, it is traditionally described as white. It is usually associated with the pituitary gland, growth, and development.
Vishuddha: It is also known as the “throat chakra” or the “especially pure.” This chakra is regarded as the home of speech and hearing. It is signified by the color red or blue.
Anahata: It is known as the “heart chakra.” It is signified by the color green or pink. The Anahata chakra is associated with complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, well-being, equilibrium, and rejection.
Manipura: It is also known as the “naval chakra.” It is signified by the color yellow. Yogic practitioners associate this chakra with the digestive system, along with fear, anxiety, personal power, and introversion.
Svadhishthana: It is known as the “pelvic chakra.” It is regarded as the home of the reproductive organs, the adrenals, and the genitourinary system.
Muladhara: It is also known as the “root chakra.” It is located at the base of the spine. It is associated with our instinctual urges around food, sex, sleep, and survival. It is also the home of our avoidance and fears.
Types of Yoga
There are many styles of yoga.
However, no style is more superior or authentic than another.
In fact, each type of yoga endeavors to boost our physical and mental well-being. They involve various exercises focusing on strength, flexibility, and breathing techniques.
The key is to select a class that is appropriate to our fitness level.
Here, we mention the most popular types of yoga.
Let’s have a look:
The very principles of Ashtanga Yoga have been described in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. In fact, Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga encompasses the techniques of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyan, and Samadhi which have been systematically described by Patanjali in his Sanskrit Sutras (verses).
- Yama (Principles)
- Niyama (Personal Discipline)
- Asana (Yogic Postures)
- Pranayama (Yogic Breathing)
- Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses)
- Dharana (Concentration on Object)
- Dhyan (Meditation)
- Samadhi (Salvation)
Jnana Yoga describes the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. It has been described as a means of obtaining the highest meditative state and inner knowledge.
Jnana Yoga is the discovery of human dharma viz a viz nature and the universe.
Jnana literally means “knowledge.”
However, concerning Yoga, it is the process of attaining meditative awareness. Jnana Yoga does not endeavor to find rational answers to eternal questions.
Rather it defines the process of meditation so that we may attain self-realization and self-awareness.
The main components of Jnana Yoga are as follows:
- It emphasizes on self-realization rather than believing.
- Experiencing knowledge
- Developing intuitive wisdom.
- The realization of true personal nature.
- Experiencing inner unity.
Hatha Yoga essentially encompasses the practice of yogic postures (asanas). The syllable “Ha” in Hatha Yoga signifies pranic (vital) force that governs the physical body and “tha” signifies the mental (chitta) force.
So, Hatha Yoga is practiced to awaken these two energies that govern our lives.
In fact, the Hatha Yoga techniques are used to purify and harmonize the body systems and focus the mind on undertaking chakra and Kundalini practices.
It includes asana and six shatkarmas (physical and mental detox techniques), mudras, pranayama, and bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques).
Hatha Yoga aims to improve and fine-tune different aspects of human personality leading to higher states of awareness and meditation.
Bhakti Yoga emphasizes on complete devotion in the God or Supreme Consciousness in any form. It may be Krishna, Lord Ram, Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Mohammed. It can also be a Guru or his disciples.
The most important thing in the practice of Bhakti Yoga is that the person following this path should have a strong emotional bond with the object of faith.
The flow of emotional energy is then easily channelized to this object.
Most of us suppress our emotions.
It then reflects in the form of mental and physical disorders.
The following of Bhakti Yoga helps to release those suppressed emotions thereby bringing the purification of inner self.
Continuous meditation on God or object of faith reduces ego and distractions of the practitioner. Further, following Bhakti Yoga induces strong bond of love. Slowly the practitioner loses self-identity and attains self-realization.
Mantra Yoga or Japa Yoga illustrates the effects of mantras in our quest for the ultimate realization. It describes the methods of chanting mantras, how to practice mantra Sadhna, and rules of mantra chanting.
Mantra Yoga derives its origin in Vedic Sciences.
In fact, all the verses in Vedas are called as Mantras.
It is believed that anybody who can sing or chant the Vedas can achieve ultimate union with the Supreme Consciousness just by chanting the mantras alone.
It is the main aim of Mantra Yoga.
The Kundalini Yoga focuses on the awakening of the psychic centers known as chakras. These psychic centers are present in every individual.
In fact, the human mind is made of different subtle layers.
Each of these layers is connected with the higher levels of consciousness. They are associated with different psychic centers that are located throughout the psychic body.
When these chakras are awakened, they connect the practitioner with sublime heights of consciousness.
Basically, Kundalini Yoga requires the practitioner to involve in deep concentration on these chakras thereby forcing their arousal.
Asanas, pranayama, mantra Sadhna, mudras, and bandhas are also used to stimulate their awakening.
Swara Yoga is the science that emphasizes on the realization of cosmic consciousness by controlling and manipulating breath. It describes the techniques of controlling and manipulating the breath or Swara.
You will find an association of breath about the activities of the sun, moon, various seasons, and also concerning physical and mental conditions of individuals. It describes various practices related to breathing.
Karma Yoga shows the path of devotion to work so that the very work becomes an act of worship to the God. In Karma Yoga, the practitioner learns to do selfless work.
Generally, one is attached to the reward or incentive that follows from doing the work.
However, by practicing Karma Yoga, one can become the perfect instrument in the hands of Super Consciousness and does not remain attached to the fruits of his efforts.
The practitioner becomes a Karma Yogi. He attains stability of mind in all conditions. He does not get disturbed or excited under any circumstances. He believes that his actions represent God’s will.
Raja Yoga describes yogic principles as stated by sage Patanjali in his ancient text of Yoga Sutras.
It is a comprehensive yoga system that aims to refine human personality and behavior by practicing asanas, pranayama, yamas, Niyama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Note: Here, it is important to state that there are many other types of yoga systems apart from the ones that we have mentioned above. We have included the most popular types of yoga systems that are widely followed in India and the west.
With this, we have come to the end of this presentation on what is Yoga and Types of Yoga.
Here, we have provided information about Yoga (definition of Yoga) as well as types of Yoga.
We hope that you would have found this presentation immensely valuable and rich in information.
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