Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Yuj' which means to yoke or join. In this context, the join or the union is with the Universe or the Divine. Yoga can also be described as the union of a single conciousness with the consciousness of the Supreme.
It is a science of the mind. It cultivates mind, body and spirit balance and the balance of the chakras or energy centers of the body. Important components of yoga are proper breathing, movement and posture.
Hatha Yoga is a 5,000 year old set of exercises developed in India. The primary text of yoga is called the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Sutra is the Sanskrit word for thread and here each thread signifies the basic knowledge that the teacher can expand thereby adding to his or her own threads of experience and practice.
It is thought to be one of the first attempts to compile the tradition and spiritual beliefs that had been passed on verbally in previous millenia. As the parctitioner moves through the steps or levels of Hatha yoga they are said to move ever closer to the ultimate goal of realizing their divine natures.
There are about 200 sutras divided into 4 sections:-
• Samadhi Pada is the portion on contemplation or samadhi which constitute the most advanced stages of the practice. This section is presented first to also to serve as inspiration.
• Sadhna Pada is the step in the sutras that are related to practice. The first 5 steps of the 8 limbs or Ashthanga are explained along with their benefits, obstacles and ways to overcome these obstacles.
• Vibhuti Pada
• Kaivalya Pada
Asanas or postures are only a single step in the eight-step path (Astanga yoga) of Patanjali as outlined in the yoga sutras. Patanjali points out that asanas are to be used as a stepping stone for the higher paths, since just working on the beauty and welfare of an impermanent object (the body) is a waste of time and effort.
Astanga yoga is also sometimes referred to as Raja yoga. Raja means king and Raja yoga translates as the king of yogas. However, Asthanga yoga is more of a philosophy like basic research while Raja yoga usually refers to specific techniques which are based on not only Asthanga yoga but also on various Upanishads. The Upanishads are ancient texts that form the basis of ancient Indian vedic philosophy. Besides Asanas or postures, other components of Yoga includes mantra or chanting as well as pranayama or breathing.
The yoga paths can be broadly classified into :-
• Bhakti yoga : Path of Devotion in which union with God is achieved through love and devotion
• Karma yoga : Path of Selfless Action in which union with God is achieved through right action and through service
• Gyana yoga : Path of Knowledge
• Jnana yoga : Path of Transcendental Knowledge and introspection
• Asthanga yoga : Path of Patanjali (eight-step path)
There are many different types and styles of Yoga. Some are more traditional while others do not have a strict derivation from Patanjali's yoga sutras.
Some of these styles are :-
• Surat Shabad Yoga is the yoga of light and sound, incorporates the teachings of Sant Ajaib Singh, Sant Kirpal Singh and Sant Rajinder Singh.
• Kundalini Yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan and incorporates dynamic meditations, postures and chanting.
• Kriya Yoga was introduced in the west by Swami Parmahansa Yogananda.
• Sahaj Yoga is a simple yet effective yoga technique. Sahaj means "spontaneous". This yoga awakens the kundalini energy spontaneously and easily with the aid of an enlightened guru. In the year 1970, Shri Mata Nirmala Devi introduced for the first time a simple, yet powerful method of spiritual ascent, whereby one's natural balance and integration can be easily achieved.
• Jnana Yoga is the yoga of the philosopher and thinker who wants to go beyond the visible,
material reality. The Jnana Yogi finds God through introspection.
• Agni Yoga is a synthesis of all yogas, especially Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga. Agni is the Sanskrit word for Fire, the Creative Fire of the Cosmos - the Fire that is found in varying degrees at the foundation of all Yogas.
• Sivananda Yoga was brought to the west by Swami Vishnu Devananda.
• Iyengar Yoga
• Bikram Yoga
• Yantra Yoga is the path of union with God thorough geometric visualization. A yantra is a geometric design. They are highly effiecient tools for contemplation, concentration, and meditation. The Sri Yantra is a very popular yantra for peace, progress and happiness.
• Integral Yoga was found by Sri Aurobindo (Govindachari Raghunath)
• Siddha Yoga Practitioners of Siddha Yoga meditation are taught by an enlightened master or Siddha Guru. A Siddha Guru has the power to awaken the spiritual energy of seekers and guide them on the path to Self-realization.
• Arhatic Yoga is called the "Yoga of Synthesis." It deals with the activation of the chakras, and the awakening of the kundalini through a systematic and safe method.
Satya Sai Baba. Satya Sai Baba is a spiritual leader and world teacher, whose life and message are inspiring millions of people throughout the world to turn Godward and to lead more purposeful and moral lives. This yoga teaches a synthesis of different Yoga Paths.
• Yoga in Daily Life is a holistic system for regaining the physical, mental, social and spiritual health. It was founded by Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda.
• Sapta Yoga is based on the ancient Yogic text, the "Gheranda Samhita." It is both a spiritual practice and a therapeutic art, successful in removing the causes of numerous diseases highly resistant to orthodox Western healing methods. It is taught by Yogacharya Dr. Sushil
Bhattacharya, director of the Patanjali Yoga Center in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The 3 main components of Yoga are proper posture or asana, proper breathing or pranayama and movemement. Chanting of mantras or divine vibrational sounds, is also a key component to a yogic practice.
A typical yoga class lasts anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half. Each teacher has their own style of teaching according to the style of yoga they are involved with. A typical class begins with some warm-up poses and breathing exercises and then continues with the postures. Resting or relaxing at the end of class is quite common in most styles of yoga.
Although some of the postures in yoga require practice and flexibility, the purpose of the postures is to increase awareness of practitioner. The awareness extends beyond one's physical body and prepares the practitioner for deeper meditative states.
Benefits of Yoga
• Flexibility of the body and spine
• Improved circulation and breathing
• Better metabolism and reduction of cholesterol
• Normal bowel movement
• People who practice yoga regularly experience lowered levels of stress and increased feeling of well being.
• Yoga enhances physical fitness and helps relieve symptoms of pain and anxiety.
It is important to note that yoga requires regular practice to be effective. Some postures in hatha yoga like head stand may be stressful for some people especially beginners, so proper guidance and precaution is critical.