What is yoga?
Yoga is more than the physical asanas (one of the hatha yoga poses) that we came to know and love in yoga class. The real meaning of yoga is to connect with something divine.
If you asked 10 yogis, “What is yoga?”, you would probably get 10 different answers.
They may also have 10 different styles of yoga practice, as they label, brand, and value yoga in a myriad of ways for the products and services of the people associated with it.
To determine the true meaning of yoga, it is best to start with the etymology of the word itself.
What does yoga really mean?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word “yug” which literally means yoke or union.
This connection does not involve touching your toes or bringing your nose to your knees. It also does not involve the union of mind and body, although this is commonly done in the yogic community.
The connection that the word yoga implies is the union of individual consciousness with divine consciousness (the essence of truth as perceived when we quiet the five senses and connect with the Supreme Self).
Yogic philosophy is one of the six branches of the Vedas, which are considered one of the world’s oldest scriptures.
The first branch, called Vedanta, explains that all knowledge and experience come from one basic consciousness, or reality.
The second branch is Sankhya, describing how one consciousness has differentiated and manifested many things.
The third part, which is the philosophy of yoga, describes the processes required to realize our oneness with the One Consciousness in order to be freed from our stress.
All yogic practices serve to develop the infinite potential of both the human mind and the eternal Self.
Through ultimate union with God Himself, we experience lasting bliss, or Bhoga, and liberation from suffering.
1. Hatha Yoga
Most people in the West are most familiar with the first branch, hatha yoga, because it includes the physical practice of the very popular yoga asanas.
In addition to asana practice, there are other ways to control energy. For example, through breathing and cleansing rituals, a way to purify and strengthen the physical body, which allows us to control both our inner and outer state.
2. Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is the second way of practice. To truly practice Karma Yogi, the Yogi performs all actions with the spirit as the doer of all. This requires inner renunciation and liberation of the ego, believing that it is the initiator of action.
3. Mantra Yoga
The third way is mantra yoga. It is the concentration of consciousness through the repetition of Sanskrit bija mantras that represent a certain aspect of the soul.
For example, Soham will be, that is, I am he. It is an affirmation of the unity of the individual self with the universal self.
4. Bhakti yoga
The fourth path is bhakti yoga, the practice of devotional love. Through bhakti yoga, we fully protect ourselves and strive to perceive the inherent unity of all beings and thus maintain unceasing worship.
Like Jesus, who instructed his disciples to “pray without ceasing,” bhakti yoga is a path of pure immersion in love.
5. Jnana Yoga
And finally, the fifth and most difficult path of practice is Jnana Yoga. This is the path of wisdom and it emphasizes discriminating intelligence for spiritual liberation.
6. Royal road
Raja Yoga is a practice described in the Bhagavad Gita and systematized by the Indian sage Sri Patanjali. It is the merging of all of the above into one final and perfect “royal path”.
An ancient text known as the Yoga Sutras is attributed to Patanjali, in which he outlines the eight limbs of yoga.
This internal and external practice leads to a scientific method of meditation that allows us to perceive our oneness with the ever-present, ever-aware, blissful soul.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
For an overview of the classic eight-limbed yogic path, we begin with the yams, the moral qualities we need to cultivate in order to return to our true unified nature.
- ahimsa (non-violence)
- satya (truth)
- asteya (does not steal)
- brahmacharya (self control)
- Aparigraha (unstable)
The second limb includes niyama, or rituals that help us integrate our inner and outer experiences, helping us to live a more harmonious life.
- saucha (purification)
- santosha (satisfaction)
- Tapas (right effort)
- Swadhyaha (self-reflection)
- Ishwara Pranidhana (Devotion)
As described in hatha yoga, asana is the third limb. The practice of correct posture is to create a stable physical body.
The fourth limb is pranayama – managing life energy through breath, environment and visualization.
Pratyahara is the practice of letting go of the fifth limb and the sensory attraction of the material world in order to experience inner peace.
After internalization, the sixth limb is Dharana or one-pointed concentration. Dharana is an opportunity to focus on our breath, chant a mantra, visualize a deity, or any other technique used to calm the mind.
The seventh limb is dhyana, a state of calmness where individual consciousness merges with universal consciousness.
The eighth limb is samadhi, the complete and final yogic union that endures for all time, the ever-awakening bliss of pure consciousness.
While these different purposes of practice may sound complicated, they all point to the true meaning of yoga, which is connection.
The illusion of separation from our true nature is great, but the fact is, every aspect of yoga benefits us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually when we practice it.
Yoga as a philosophy recognizing the one source of all consciousness and all creation can be used by people of any creed and creed.
It is an embodied practice with instructions for producing harmony for our daily lives.
At the heart of this is the stillness of meditation, where we provide peace and again open to a unified consciousness.