In present days, the word “Yoga” has become especially quotidian among all of us. Yoga festivals, International Yoga Days, Yoga championships, Yoga retreat programmes and numerous activities related to Yoga are held and organised by public and private organisations around the world. And majority of the people contemplate Yoga as an ascetic discipline which involves performing simple meditation and breathe control exercises and adoption of specific bodily postures for the purpose of Health revitalisation and curing physical ailments of body. This is however, a very minuscule aspect of Yoga – literally known as “Hatha Yoga”.
According to Patanjali Yoga Sutras written by the sage Patanjali five thousand years ago, the word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’. Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thoughts; it is an extremely subtle science which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body and nurtures healthy living. Putting in simple words, anything and everything which connects a being to the “Ultimate” is Yoga.
As per the ancient Indian tradition and custom, Yoga is divided into 4 paths – Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana/Gyan Yoga. Such division leads to utter confusion and creation of wrong understanding of Yoga in the minds of Western people, they remain unfamiliar with the real meaning of Yoga and thus, mistakenly observe Yoga as a form of strenuous exercises performed on drugget or mat. Therefore, it is important to know “What is Yoga” and “What is not Yoga”.
Lets grab the understanding of Yoga from its source of “Origin” and move five thousand years back to ancient India, when Sanskrit was the primary language of oral and written communication. Patanjali, who is also known as “Father of Yoga”, structured the discipline of Yoga in a scientific manner for enabling transformation and enlightenment of human beings in centuries to come. The sage Patanjali practiced Yoga for his own transformation and became “Enlightened Master” through observing the path of Yoga. He professed that anyone who is desirous of transformation and enlightenment should follow the path of Yoga, it can be practiced easily by all as it is a systematic and scientific discipline and universally applicable if observed step by step. In present context, the path of Yoga called “Raja Yoga” can be followed by individuals, though its has vast dimensions and require strict discipline on the part of follower.
The very first path of Yoga is called “Bhakti Yoga”. Bhakti Yoga is primarily a path of devotion and therefore, people relate Bhakti Yoga to mere worship or worshipping of idols and hence consider it as a very easy method of Yoga. However, the truth is that it is one of the toughest path of Yoga for the people of contemporary world. The reason being very simple that the path of devotion, i.e. Bhakti Yoga calls for complete surrender – the complete surrender of ego, the complete surrender of mind but the basic instinct of mind is that it doesn’t wants to surrender to anyone as the mind thinks that surrendering means death of self esteem/worth and it leads to ego clash.
In ancient times, Bhakti Yoga was faithfully practiced by disciples as they used to bow down their head in the feet of their Master and offered complete surrender of ego in the feet of Master. But times and people both changed drastically and they gained wrong understanding that touching the feet of God’s statue in a temple implies Bhakti Yoga. The mere touching of God’s feet in temple or visit to Church or Mosque or Gurudwara doesn’t lead anyone to the path of Bhakti Yoga due to the very absence of basic condition i.e. complete surrender of mind and ego in the path of devotion. This is the reason why people do not experience any change in and around themselves, despite visiting temples, churches, mosques, etc for many many years. Meera, Chatanya Mahaprabhu, Rabiya are few of the perfect examples of Bhakti Yoga as they had complete devotion and surrender to their master due to which they could explore the unknowns. It is always advised to those who want to choose Bhakti Yoga as their path to first prepare themselves for the complete surrender of mind and its manipulations, else there will be discontentment and wastage of time and efforts.
The second path is called Karma Yoga. Lord Krishna explained Karma Yoga to Arjuna, the Warrior during the epic war of Mahabharata when Arjuna was completely perplexed and did not know what to do. One of the very popular Karma Yoga Sutra as derived from Bhagwat Geeta is “Yoga Karmasu Kaushalam’’ meaning “Excellence in Action is Yoga”. Lord Krishna made Arjuna understand the different paths available to him and made him choose his own path and Arjuna finally selected his real path of Karma. It is often misunderstood by people that Karma Yoga means performance of duties. It may be noted that duties can be forcefully imposed on people and they are source of burden for them; such duties are performed out of interest or greed attached to its performance or fear of punishment levied due to its non performance. In simple words, the performance of duty is dependent on the results arising out of it. And we humans perform any task or duty keeping in mind its results – positive or negative. Such a performance of duty is not the path of Karma Yoga.
In Bhagwat Geeta, Lord Krishna mentioned that a true Karma Yogi is the one who performs his duty without any desire of fruits or results arising out if it; he does his Karma (actions) with Totality i.e. by dropping the self and all sorts of fears and considering the act as an over flow of energy. In simple words, doing anything with totality and without expectations of results is Karma Yoga whether it is praying, gardening, teaching, cooking, exercising or anything but with full awareness.
The third path is called Raja Yoga which is also popularly known as Classical Yoga, Astanga Yoga or Patanjali Yoga. The main essence of Raja Yoga is to “become One with the Universe” or “attain Samadhi”. The sage Patanjali divided Raja Yoga into Eight limbs or parts and they are known as “Ashtanga Yoga”. Patanjali mentioned that the eight limbs are interconnected with each other and cannot be skipped or jumped over. The limbs should not be assumed as steps as it is possible to skip a particular step, but the limbs of Raja Yoga cannot be skipped. The eight limbs of Raja /Ashtanga Yoga are:
- Yama (Self Restraint)
- Niyama (The Law )
- Asana (Meditative Posture)
- Pranayama (Regulation of Breath)
- Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (One pointness)
- Dhyana (Meditation)
- Samadhi (Awakened state)
It is to noted that that “Yama” and “Niyama” are the most important steps of Ashtanga Yoga and should be throughly practiced before commencing the journey of yoga as they help to make harmony with outer world and inner self, the prerequisite in the long expedition of Raja/Ashtanga Yoga.
The very first step “Yama” entails creation of Harmony of subject with outer world which is essentially needed while commencing the journey of “Sanyaas” or renunciation of world. It is usually seen that people go to mountains or Himalayas to take Sanyaas leaving behind their home, family, luxuries, duties and responsibilities. And despite all efforts, they feel disharmony within themselves as they did not close their emotional, mental or psychological accounts with outer world i.e. “Yama” was not followed by them. Once the harmony with outer world is made, the second step “Niyama” is observed which involves ‘creation of harmony with own self’.
Once the harmony with self is established, it is possible to move to third step i.e Asana. Maharishi Patanjali mentioned the Yog Sutra “Sthira Sukham Asanam” which means that the posture while practicing yoga should be steady and very comfortable. Most of the times it is being observed that people practice physical postures of Yoga (asanas) with discomfort and unease, they think they are doing Yoga but they are actually giving trouble to their body. “Asana” means a complete state of relaxation of physical posture and meditation of the Ultimate.
The fourth step is called “Pranayama” which means regulation of breath. Pranayama is being observed after “Asana” as breath is considered to be the bridge between the mind and body, therefore breath should be perfectly healthy (calm and tranquil) and in right rhythm.
The fifth step is called “Pratyahara” which means withdrawal of the senses or returning back of the senses. There are different kinds of vices present in human beings like anger, greed, lust, insanity, etc which leads to leakage of energy outside the person. Once this realisation is made, it is possible to turn the flow of energy from outside to within and create disconnection between the impulses created by senses and mind in order to proceed to the sixth step i.e. “Dharana”.
The sixth step is called “Dharna” which means to concentrate on only one object and drop all the other objects. Dharna is a pure concentration on one object and once it is done, that concentration is also dropped to move on next step i.e. Dhyana.
The seventh step is called “Dhyana” which means complete absence of any object and the subject reaches in a state of awareness and all the energies are moving in a circle within his body without any leakage outside or suppression. In state of “Dhyana”, energy is uplifted from Root Chakra and flows upwards to activate Kundalini Shakti (i.e. expanded state of Consciousness). Once the energy flows to top most Chakra i.e. Crown Chakra or Sahasrara Chakra, the subject reaches the final step of Ashtanga Yoga i.e. “Samadhi”.
Dhyana is the purest form of awareness as concentration on object is dropped and subject becomes fully aware. Ego is completely dropped and he covers the journey from ‘I am’ (ego) to just ‘am-ness’(existence). In Sanskrit language, the word ‘ego’ is connoted by two expressions – Ahankaar (as I am) and Asmita (as am-ness). And till the seed or sprout of ego remains present in the subject, he cannot move to the last step i.e. “Samadhi”.
Therefore, when the ‘am-ness’ also disappears, the subject is said to be in “Samadhi”, the state of ultimate ecstasy. The state when you become Buddha. In India, the enlightened person is called Buddha, the God.
The fourth path of Yoga is Jñāna Yoga which is also called Gyan Yoga. It is narrowly defined by many preachers as the possession of knowledge which can be done by reading Vedas, Upanishads, books, etc but Jñāna Yoga is far beyond the mere possession of knowledge. It is possible to have tremendous amount of knowledge of ancient literature but the ‘knowledge to experience the knowledge’ is the real essence of Jñāna Yoga i.e self realisation by own experimental experiences. The one who is curious enough to know his own self through his own experiences and willing to fall freely in the “Abyss” to know the ‘Unknown’ or the ‘Ultimate’ follows the path of Jñāna yoga. Gautam Buddha and Mahavir are the perfect examples of Jñāna Yoga.
It is to be understood that Yoga is the only medium or bridge to connect the self with “Ultimate”. Yoga is a complete science, full of objectivity and precision. To understand Yoga, a person should have complete understanding and faith in the principles and fundamentals of Classical Patanjali Yoga. The half baked knowledge received through TV, newspapers, social media, unlearned preachers tends to create wrong understanding and poor results. Therefore, the true distinction between “What is Yoga” and “What is not Yoga” has been done for the benefit of people belonging to modern world.