What is yoga? Yoga in Sanskrit means to yoke or join, to unite body, mind and spirit – to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life, and spiritually, uniting the individual with the supreme.
Yoga is a practice of stretching and lengthening the physical body, and calming the emotional and mentally bodies through the poses or asanas, Asanas were practiced in India on order to be able to sit on meditation.
As yoga means to bring together, the Sutras, Sanskrit for thread, unite the various threads or strands of yoga theory and practice into one book called, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are 8 disciplines to yoga, called Ashtanga yoga, meaning eight-limbed yoga which we practice in order to perceive the true self- the ultimate goal of Yoga:
- Yama – Universal ethics: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint and non-acquisitiveness.
- Niyama – Principles of self conduct: purity, contentment, intense dedication or austerity, study of self and scriptures and self-surrender.
- Asana – practice of the postures.
- Pranayama – Breath control.
- Pratyahara – withdrawal and control of the senses.
- Dharana – concentration.
- Dhyana – meditation.
Samadhi – union with Divine.
The Aim of Yoga
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach “Kaivalya” (emancipation or ultimate freedom). This is the experience of one’s innermost being or “soul” (the Purusa). Then one becomes free of chains of cause and effect (Karma) which tie us to continual reincarnation. In Kaivalya one is said to exist in peace and tranquillity, having attained absolute knowledge of the difference between the spiritual which is timeless, unchanging and free of sorrows, and the material which is not.
This is considered desirable as life is analysed as ultimately full of sorrows and pain- even pleasure and joy leave pain and loss when they have gone as nothing in the material world is permanent.
Yoga is therefore a spiritual quest. However, along the path of yoga, the aspirant also gains health, happiness, tranquillity and knowledge which are indicators of progress and an encouragement to continue their practice. Buddhism and other Eastern spiritual traditions use many techniques derived from Yoga.
There are four paths of yoga: Karma yoga-path of selfless work, Bhakti yoga-path of devotion and divine love, Raja yoga-path of meditation and Jnana yoga-path of knowledge, (reality versus illusion) study of Vedanta, the philosophy based on the doctrine of the sacred scriptures of Upanishads, the last of the ancient texts known as the Vedas.