Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that has its origins in ancient India. The word Yoga first appeared in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda and is derived from the Sanskrit root “Yuj” which means to join or unite.
According to the Yogic scriptures, the practice of Yoga leads an individual to the union of consciousness with that of universal Consciousness. It eventually leads to a great harmony between the human mind and body, man & nature. The prime objective of Yoga is Self-realization, to overcome all types of sufferings prompting ‘the state of salvation’ (Moksha) or ‘freedom’ (Kaivalya).
Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita:
The Bhagavad Gita (‘Song of the Lord’) is part of the Mahabharata and contains extensive teachings on the discipline of yoga. In addition to an entire chapter (chapter. 6) dedicated to traditional yoga practice, including meditation, it introduces three prominent types of yoga:
Karma yoga: The yoga of action.
Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion.
Jnana yoga: The yoga of knowledge.
The Gita consists of 18 chapters and 700 shlokas (verses), with each chapter named as a different yoga, thus delineating eighteen different yogas. Some scholars divide the Gita into three sections: the first six chapters with 280 shlokas dealing with Karma yoga, the middle six containing 209 shlokas with Bhakti yoga, and the last six chapters with 211 shlokas as Jnana yoga; however, this is rough because elements of karma, bhakti and jnana are found in all the chapters.
Branches of Yoga:
Raja Yoga: Raja yoga is also known as ‘Classical Yoga’ and this approach is closely linked to Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path of Yoga. Raja refers to ‘royal’, ‘chief’ or ‘king’, and alludes to being the best or highest form of yoga. The focal point of this branch is meditation, aiming to ‘control’ the intellect and thoughts through meditation. A connection with ‘God’ or ‘consciousness’ is worked towards by un-identifying with the ego-based self and identifying with the universal true Self.
Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga (Religion of Love), also known as the ‘yoga of action’ is based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Karma Yoga is an intrinsic part of many types of yoga. The word ‘Karma’ is derived from the sanskrit Kri, meaning ‘to do’. Karma yoga suggests that we relinquish attachment to the consequences of our actions and instead focus on the moment in action. Awareness of each thought, word and deed and mindfulness are an important part of Karma yoga, which allows the practitioner to truly experience that moment-in-action. Karma yoga is based upon selfless service and acting without any expectation of benefitting from the service. It occupies a large part of Indian thought and through this practice, union with ‘the divine’ is achieved through making any action an offering to God.
Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga is also known as ‘the yoga of force’. Many teachers equate Ha to mean ‘Sun’ and Tha to the moon, and reason that the physical yoga practice is intended to ‘balance’ the Sun and Moon energies within us. Whilst the physical yoga practice is intended to bring about a state of equilibrium within the human organism, the real meaning and essence of Hatha yoga is to change the physical body and mind by way of experimentation, movement and physical ‘force’. Hatha yoga is anything that uses the physical body. First mentioned and practised around 1100AD, it is the most ‘modern’ branch of yoga.
Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti yoga is also known as the ‘yoga of devotion’ and describes the path of devotion. The word Bhakti comes from the word ‘Bhaj’, of which the essence is ‘to share’. This form of yoga is based upon the heart, love and devotion towards a chosen deity. Much like Karma yoga, dedicating all actions towards a deity or ‘God’ is an intrinsic part of Bhakti yoga. Seeing the divine in all of creation, bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel the emotions. The path of bhakti provides us with an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone we come into contact with. Bhakti yogis express the devotional nature of their path in their every thought, word, and deed.
Jnana Yoga: Jnana yoga, also known as the ‘yoga of knowledge’ is the yoga of the mind, of wisdom, the path of the sage or scholar. This is the yoga of ‘knowing’, of realizing the truth of oneself. This path requires development of the intellect through the study of the scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition. The jnana yoga approach is considered the most difficult and at the same time the most direct. It involves serious study and will appeal to those who are more intellectually inclined.
Mantra Yoga: Mantra yoga is the yoga of sound. Considered sacred utterances, mantras are syllables, words, or phrases representing a particular attribute of the Divine. Mantra yoga is the practice of becoming centered through the repetition of mantras.
Yoga as a Physical Practice:
Yoga as an exercise is a physical activity consisting of asanas, often connected by flowing sequences called vinyasas, sometimes accompanied by the breathing exercises of pranayama, and usually ending with a period of relaxation or meditation. Yoga as exercise was created in what has been called the Modern Yoga Renaissance by the blending of Western styles of gymnastics with postures from Haṭha yoga in India in the 20th century, pioneered by Shri Yogendra and Swami Kuvalayananda.
Today, yoga has developed into a worldwide multi-billion dollar business, involving classes, certification of teachers, clothing, books, videos, equipment, and holidays. In 2015, The United Nations General Assembly established 21 June as “International Day of Yoga” and celebrated annually. On 1 December 2016, UNESCO listed yoga as an intangible cultural heritage.
Benefits of Yoga:
Building muscle strength
Promoting better breathing
Supporting heart health
Helping with treatment for addiction
Reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
Enhancing overall well-being and quality of life
Yoga is the medicine for nearly every problem. As you practice yoga, it does not only help you to improve your physical body but also helps in maintaining your inner peace and relaxing your mind. Yoga is not just a one-day practice; it’s a lifelong commitment.