Over many decades we have heard about yoga and yoga gurus. They teach it as a form of exercise consisting mainly of different poses and breathing techniques. This is said to keep us healthy. But what really is yoga?
Yoga originated during the Vedic age in India. It is a Sanskrit word which means “to concentrate”. It has been used in many Vedic scriptures such as Katha Upanishad and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. At that time, the aim of yoga was to connect oneself to God. However, some people used yoga as a way of performing austerities to please a particular God or Goddess to gain a boon from them.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructs his devotee Arjun on the different types of yoga. There’s Karma yoga which is the performance of one’s duty, not for selfish motives but as an offering of oneself to God. Next He described Sankhya yoga. This consists of different meditative practices such as Astanga yoga which culminates in a state known as Samadhi. This is the final stage at which union with the divine is reached, whether it is before or at death. In the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, Verses 11 – 15, He has described the way a yogi should meditate on God. Finally He described Bhakti yoga, the practice of pure devotional service to God and is said to be superior to all other types of yoga.
Yoga practices continued flourishing to other groups such as the Buddhists and Jainas. They also believed the aim of performing yoga is to attain release from the material world and ultimately, reunite with God. The best known description of yoga was found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali vividly described Ashtanga yoga or the eight-limbed yoga which consists of eight stages
- Yama (the five abstentions) namely non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy or loyal to the spouse and non-possessiveness.
- Niyama (the five observances) which consists of purity (of mind and body), contentment, austerity, study of Vedas and contemplation of God.
- Asana which refers to the seated position used for meditation.
- Pranayama which are breathing exercises.
- Pratyahara which is the withdrawal of the senses from the external environment.
- Dharana which is the concentration on God.
- Dhyana which is the intense contemplation of the nature of God.
- Samadhi, the final stage in which the consciousness reunites with God.
Swami Vivekananda traveled extensively to the west and was the first guru to teach yoga in 1895 at New York. Later Tirumalai Krishnamacharya combined and taught different types of asanas in Hatha yoga from 1924 to 1989. His method had emphasis on physical exercise rather than on the spiritual aim. Since then many yoga gurus have emerged travelling to the different parts of India and the world to spread this type of yoga.
Together with the practice of yoga poses, it was also recommended to have a strict diet even during the Vedic era in India. One was expected not to eat too much or too little.
We must remember that though yoga helps us to remain healthy but its main aim is to concentrate on God. Sitting in the recommended posture and pulling all your senses inward is to link yourself to your inner being. Without outside disturbance, the mind becomes peaceful. In the modern time, we have seen how stressful and worrying life can be. But if one practices yoga, we become healthy not only materially but also spiritually.
Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.