“When you listen to yourself, everything comes naturally. It comes from inside, like a kind of will to do something. Try to be sensitive. That is yoga.'' ― Petri Räisänen
Yoga is much more than just physical exercise. It is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual, self-leading us to focus on our thoughts and awareness of our inner energy flow. We know many Yoga styles that combine body poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation.
In the past few years, yoga has been known as a physical exercise based on yoga poses that improve our physical and mental being.
Yoga is more than a thousand-year-old branch of Indian philosophy. In the Sanskrit language, the word yoga itself has several meanings (to unite, harness in yoke) relating to integration - both body and spirit and soul with a universal body or the Absolute.
Yoga is intertwined with other traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism, and tantra, but it is less religious in its form and a more practical set of ethical and moral guidances that helps us live a more balanced and healthy life.
There are many texts available that inspire, advise, and guide the student of yoga. Most of the basic yoga texts we know as ''Vedanta'' were written in an ancient Indian language, Sanskrit. Some are written as aphorisms, some as dialogues, and others as epic poetry and they all, in their own way, highlight the practice of yoga.
The most important works include:
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 B.C. - 200 A.D.)
Goraksha Paddhati (12th - 13th century A.D.)
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (14th century)
Gheranda Samhita (17th century)
Bhagavadgita (a part of Mahabharata from the 6th century B.C.)
Upanishads (3000 B.C. - 20th century A.D.)
Paths of Yoga
There are many ''paths'' in Yoga that lead to the same goal, to self-knowledge and enlightenment. Although these paths are sometimes quite different and, in some cases, even contradictory, they are still based on the same assumption; the unification of Man and Absolute is possible through our action. This self-knowledge, or enlightenment, is the fusion of the personal and the universal self, man's true self, or soul (atman), with the Absolute (brahman), or nature, visible creation (Prakriti) with the spirit (Purusha).
Jnana Yoga- the most important parts are study and mediation through which the seeker seeks wisdom and knowledge. It is best suited to people who are, in their nature, more rational and seeking through knowledge - ignorance is seen as an obstacle to the path of enlightenment.
Bhakti Yoga- worship and devotion to God or guru is a way to achieve enlightenment. It is best suited to people who like to pray, and its principle is that devotion and worship lead us to become what we worship.
Karma Yoga- is the path of selfless action where the importance lies at the core of this action. If we do something out of pure love, we do karma yoga.
Mantra Yoga- is the way in which self-recognition is achieved by the silent repetition of sacred syllables, words, or sentences, or mantras. Yogis eliminate everything else and focus only on the mantra.
Rāja Yoga- consists of eight levels leading to enlightenment. Rāja, meaning ''royal'', uses physical positions, controlled breathing, meditation, and focus of the mind.
Hatha Yoga- mastering the body which we consider to be a preparation for Rāja Yoga. What Westerners know as "yoga", is actually Hatha Yoga. The word Hatha means ''fierce'' and is composed of two syllables, ''ha'' meaning the sun, and ''tha'' meaning the moon, which suggests a union of two opposites. This is also its main purpose, balancing opposing forces; hot/cold, male/female, soft/hard…
Tantra Yoga - It's a journey of the ritual, ceremony, or consummation of a relationship.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ― The Bhagavad Gita
Eight Limbs of Yoga
Eight Limbs of Yoga derives from the text of Yoga Sutra written by Patanjali between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. In a text that consists of 195 short proverbs, it explains in detail the articles for Rāja yoga in the form of wisdom interpreted by the teacher (guru). The sutras (meaning a thread) set philosophical principles that set the way for self-realization. The meaning of the sutras is a matter of interpretation, offering the opportunity to discuss it with the teacher. Sutras are divided into four chapters, and the second chapter explains in detail the eight limbs that the students need to understand in order to develop intelligence and the clarity of perception which are necessary for the attainment of enlightenment.
Yama (self-control) includes non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), avoidance of theft (asteya), total sexual abstinence and purity (brahmacharya), and the absence of greed (aparigraha).
Niyama (duty) defines purity (saucha), internal satisfaction (santosha), self-discipline (tapas), the study of holy scriptures (svādhyāya), and devotion to God (Ishvara pranidhana).
Asana, practicing yoga positions.
Pranayama, yoga breathing exercises.
Pratyahara guides us into ourselves; silencing the senses created by the outside social and physical world to our inner, mental, intellectual, and spiritual world.
Samadhi, bliss or enlightenment that leads us to the goal of yoga, self-realization. This is a state of intense concentration that derives from dhyāna, where the mind focuses so strongly on one single point that, in ecstasy, we experience a complete union with an object that we focus on or with absolute reality. This blessed state does not last long at first, but it can be maintained, developed, and entered on its own with regular exercise.
Prana and the Subtle Body
Prana, energy or life force, that drives our material bodies, permeates everything that surrounds us. Prana is difficult to explain, so there are different descriptions within different yoga schools.
Prana descriptions can also be found in the beliefs of other cultures. The Chinese call it ''chi'' and it flows through energy channels called meridians. The Japanese call it ''ki'' and claim that it lives in the stomach.
Prana is present in our bodies and in the environment surrounding us because it pervades all life forms and elements, water, air, earth, and fire. We receive prana into our bodies with food, drink, breathing, as well as from sunlight, wind, and rain.
''Life is prana, prana is life. As long as there is prana in the body, there is also life " - the Kaushitaki Upanishad text
According to Yoga's theory, the human being is divided into a material body and a subtle body. The subtle body consist of four interlinked layers:
Prana body (prānāyāma kosha), a network of channels, nadis, through which the prana flows.
Mental body (manomaya kosha) is our subconsciousness.
Rational body (vijnanamaya kosha) works with a conscious, controlling mind and ego.
Spiritual body (anandmaya kosha), the seed of the true self (bindu) which is at the core of the being.
In yoga, all these bodies are considered as ''temporary'' and can be discarded as worn-out clothes when used. So, the self reincarnates many times until it completes the circle with enlightenment.
The current of prana in the material and subtle body directly affects our health. When our body doesn’t receive a sufficient amount of energy, it is weak and thus prone to various diseases. Many things can affect the balance and flow of prana, including our mood, past actions, and the currently dominant content of our consciousness. And, of course, food, drink, unhealthy habits, movement, sleep, and breathing also affect the balance and flow of prana.
”Yoga is not just repetition of few postures, it is more about the exploration and discovery of the subtle energies of life” ― Amit Ray
If we ensure the smooth flow of prana, we strengthen and improve our health. By following the principles of “Yama“ and “Niyama“ (eight limbs of yoga) in everyday life, we eliminate the blockages in our subtle body and we achieve positive changes. Yoga dictates the cleaning of nadis and regulation of the flow of prana on a physical level:
Asana (body positions)
Pranayama (controlled breathing)
Kriya (purifying exercises)
In the “West", when we hear the word yoga, we usually refer to Hatha Yoga, for which there are several different schools, each with their own style of teaching, introduced by different teachers. Although they are similar in the positions they teach, they highlight different aspects of yoga. Some give more importance to the dynamics of implementation, others to the sequence of implementation, some add singing and spiritual lessons to the implementation.
Iyengar School of Yoga- it has gotten the name after B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the greatest still living yogis from Western India. It is based on the exact alignment of the body in each pose. Teachers of this kind of yoga have excellent knowledge of anatomy, and they successfully cure injuries and eliminate physical problems with its practice.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga- Ashtanga meaning eight-limbs, is based on eight-degree yoga. And Vinyasa means connected. This yoga teaches the integration of body poses into a soft running sequence. It is a vibrant and physically demanding style that also gives great importance to deep breathing. As students move, they experience meditation, so it is suitable for people who don't like the traditional sitting meditation. In the courses, mantras are also being sung. The style was developed by Pattabhi Jois from Southern India.
Bikram School of Yoga - here, students learn the sequence of 26 poses practiced in a space warmer than 38°C, mimicking the Indian climate. This promotes sweating which is supposed to accelerate the performance of poses and increase flexibility. The founder of this style is Bikram Choudury who works in Los Angeles.
Viniyoga- is a mild yoga style that includes breathing, practicing body poses, and spiritual and philosophical teachings. It is taught in small groups, allowing individual attention and adaptation for people with injuries. The style was developed by T.K.V. Desikachar by the teachings of his father, Sri Krishnamachar, where B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois have also studied.
Sivananda Yoga - is a popular yoga style that includes 12 basic poses and variants of sequences based on them, as well as breathing exercises and singing. The style was developed by Swami Sivananda.
Bihar School of Yoga - the founder of Swami Satyananda Sarasvati school, was Swami Sivananda's student who traveled through the West for many years. He wrote more than 80 books with his students, and many of them became classic yoga discussions. Bihar School teachers are thoroughly educated in all aspects of yoga. The practice is similar to Sivananda Yoga, less demanding, and some teachers are particularly dedicated to singing or philosophical influences of body poses called yoga therapy.
Kundalini Yoga - kundalini meaning ''twisted like a snake''. It is a system of meditations designed to liberate blocked energy. Typically, exercise begins with singing and mantras followed by certain asanas, pranayama, and meditation adapted for a specific outcome.
Yin - quiet meditative yoga practice, also called Taoist Yoga. Yin Yoga involves relaxing tensions in certain joints (ankles, knees, hips, back, neck, and shoulders).
New Age Yoga Practices
Due to the positive effects of yoga, its use has been popularized in recent years and its elements can be seen in use within a number of segments of human activity. Athletes use yoga to upgrade their flexibility, players so relieve tension, lecturers to clear their thoughts, and it is even used for cosmetic purposes. Certain practices combined the elements of yoga with their elements and thus combined yoga practices were created. Some of these practices are:
Shakti Yoga- a combination of dance, Kundalini Yoga, and Hatha Yoga.
Acro Yoga- a combination of yoga, acrobatic, and Thai massage.
Facial Yoga- exercises to strengthen the facial muscles.
Restorative Yoga- combines the knowledge of rejuvenation and life extension.
Therapeutic Yoga- combines breathing exercises and mindfulness in order to soothe the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
There are many more new-age practices. In fact, the emergence of new styles is a dynamic process as more and more people have become aware of the positive effects of yoga techniques that are intertwined with modern exercises and practices. Since people like to share good practices, the new yoga settles, gets its name, its qualities, and its followers.
Yoga As a Lifestyle
In today's spiritually impoverished world, many seek answers to the bigger questions about the meaning of life because the answers offered by modern science or religions are simply not enough. Yoga provides us with a secular activity that also satisfies our spiritual needs.
“Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion, but an extremely valuable legacy of the present. It is a necessity of today and a culture of the future."- Swami Satyananda Sarasvati
Westerners like Hatha Yoga which is set to begin with the basics of our experience of existence, our body, and it works within. We don't use our bodies enough, or we abuse them with our lifestyle, which burdens our body and often manifests as back pain, joint pain, or other pain.
Yoga brings both physical, emotional, as well as spiritual benefits. More flexibility and serenity can be observed shortly after exercise, and later emerges also a greater awareness of our body and mind. Yoga improves the sense of balance, posture, agility, and elegance, while at the same time purifies and strengthens organs and promotes physical processes such as digestion. We internalize the breathing techniques we do in yoga, and therefore improve our breathing even when we don't do yoga. A good breath clears and calms our mind which improves concentration. Over time, we can also notice a slight emotional tension and mood swings.
But most importantly, yoga is an individual path of every individual and on this path, we get to learn about its unique and special meaning.
”Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are” ― Jason Crandell
Fraser, Joga (2001)