Introduction to Yoga
Yoga is a time tested, powerful tool to help you blossom and reach your full human potential. The seeds are all within you, Yoga is the water, the sunlight, the nutrients and the love they need in order to make your life vibrant, beautiful and full of sweet fragrance. It is not a religion, it is really a science with which to develop your body, mind and spirit. The ultimate goal of Yoga, which literally means, Union, is to reunite you with the Universal Source. You may call this Universal Source by any name you wish, God, Brahman, Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness, Allah, etc, Yoga is a pathway to bring you to the realization that you and this Universal Source are inseparably One.
There are many branches of Yoga, such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga, Nada Yoga, Karma Yoga, Kundalini Yoga to name a few. These all have the same one goal, unification with the Universal Source, but each follow a different path to get there. Depending on your personality one or the other path may suit you better.
Here is a description of some of the major branches of Yoga:
- Bhakti Yoga: Emphasizes love as the pathway to liberation and Union. This branch attracts those who are emotional in nature and have a strong longing to be reunited with their beloved creator.
- Jnana Yoga: Emphasizes the intellectual and philosophical approach to penetrate the illusion of dualistic reality. The practitioners of Jnana Yoga generally have a sharp mind and swift intellect. They use the powers of discrimination and detached awareness to make progress.
- Karma Yoga: Emphasizes right action and selfless service as the path to moksha (liberation). This school is for those who have a strong desire to help others and have a capacity for work and action.
- Kundalini Yoga: Emphasizes the activation of Kundalini Shakti for enlightenment. This is probably the most powerful form of Yoga. It is for those with a strong will and a passion for the Supreme and mystical.
- Raja Yoga: Considered the Scientific approach, this branch emphasizes Sage Patanjali’s 8 step path to Self-Realization. Raja Yoga is for those who have a holistic approach to life.
- Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga and Nada Yoga: These forms of Yoga use the powerful science of Sound Vibrations to dissolve obstacles and empower the Yogi. They are often a part of some of the Yoga systems listed above and suit those with a devotional attitude.
In this article I will expand on Raja Yoga as that is one of the most popular and prevalent Yoga system in use today.
As indicated above Raja Yoga employs Sage Patanjali’s 8 step path to achieve Union with the Supreme, also called the 8 limbs of Yoga (ashtanga) thus also the name Asthanga Yoga. This 8 step system compromises of the following parts. Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and finally Samadhi. This 8 step path is designed to bring about physical, emotion and mental harmony; and in the advanced practices of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi lead to the cessation of thoughts allowing the mind to realize that Reality is indeed Singular, Whole and indivisible.
Here is a description of the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga:
- Yamas: Yamas are self-restraints. They are non-violence, truth, control of sexual energy, non-stealing and non-covetousness (non-greed).
- Niyamas: Niyamas are self-observances. There are 5 niyamas. These are contentment, self-study, austerity, purity and devotion to the Lord.
- Asanas: Physical poses and steady postures.
- Pranayama: Control of the Vital Energy (prana) with the use of breathing exercises.
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses and disassociation of the consciousness from the outside environment.
- Dharana: Concentration.
- Dhyana: Meditation.
- Samadhi: Union and identification with the Supreme Consciousness.
The sincere, regular practice of Raja Yoga promotes health, happiness and insight. Although the ultimate goal of Yoga is Union with the Supreme, many material benefits are also obtained by its practice. Today, many diseases and ailments are treated via the use of Yoga asanas and pranayamas, and the stress reducing benefits of Yoga meditation are becoming more and more valuable to us given our hectic and frantic lifestyles. Furthermore, the principles of truth, humility and other high values that Yoga promotes, are helping to offset some of the excessive materialism and greed that is eroding the spirit, joy and peace of our society today.
The most important aspect of Yoga Philosophy is that it is based on Self-Realization. In other words, you are given the tools required, and using them you bring about the necessary transformations in yourself to reach your highest potential in life. It is now often said, that the next great Yoga and Meditation teachers will arise from the West. This is because generally the West has an empirical approach to things, as opposed to superstition and blind faith. If something works it is embraced and utilized, if something does not prove to work, it is discarded as junk. This is probably the reason why Yoga has grown in such popularity here in the West – because it works. So dive in and reap the benefits.