What is Yoga
The word `Yoga' arises from the Sanskrit root, "yuj", which means to get a hold of, integrate, harmonize. It means getting a hold of our lives, integrating all aspects of life, harmonizing our bodies with our minds and our spirits and with society. Thus it comprises all aspects of our lives. To be a Yogi is to follow the Yogic way of life.
Patanjali is said to have written the `Yogasutra' sometime in the 5th century B.C. These were a set of aphorisms which laid down the basic principle governing Yoga. He considered Yoga to be a control of the mental processes - steering the mind away from false ideas towards the Universal Truth. Thus, the mind and attitude play an important role in the development of Yoga.
To achieve this, Yoga offers practical tips. These tips are tools that enable you to live a full life and to realise that there is a something more to living, than just staying alive and indulging the senses.
Some Yogis believed that the right tool was intellectual introspection or Gyan Yoga. Still others believed that devotion was enough for such realization - Bhakti Yoga. Others believed that discipline of the body helps in controlling the mind and they evolved Hatha Yoga, with its severe physical training. Tantra Yoga used special techniques like mantras, yantras and tantrik practices to develop the mind. Karma Yoga believed that proper actions in day-to-day life helped one in becoming a Yogi.
All these systems aimed at the same ideal - to help us realise the Higher Reality and move away from false delusions that seduce our senses. Each was a system that suited some people. Gyan Yoga suited the intellectual, Hatha Yoga suited the athelete, Tantra yoga suited the imaginative, Karma yoga suited the worker. Poets and musicians loved Bhakti Yoga. Each system of Yoga is different in its approach, but not in its ultimate aim of giving more meaning to life.
8 Steps of Yoga
Asthanga Yoga is the eight steps of Yoga that suits almost everyone, as it is a comprehensive step-by-step guide that takes into account all aspects of human life.
The following are the eight steps of Yoga as laid down by Patanjali:
There are certain things that must be avoided in order to to live in a fair society - namely non-violence ahimsa, stealing asteya, untruth satya, indulgence bramhacharya and avarice Aparigraha
There are some practices that help us to be better human beings, like
cleanliness saucha, being content santosha, being tough and able to withstand suffering tapas, studing ourselves by educating ourselves in the knowledge of the wise swadhyaya and acceptance of fate and placing ourselves in the hand of God Ishvar pranidhana.
ASANAS (Body Postures exercises)
A healthy body needs a proper mind, hence exercises - well co-ordinated and regular - are essential for a yogi.
PRANAYAMA (Control of Breathing)
Our lives depend on the bioenergy that flows through us and gives life to inanimate chemicals that make up our bodies. The best way to work on this energy is though breath control.
We are connected to the outer world through our senses. If we are to control our minds, we must move away from the external world and move into the inner world by switching off attention from the senses. This is achieved through this practice.
Once we are able to turn our attention to our inner selves, we can help in evolving our brains to realise the Higher Reality. We being with concentration.
Once our minds can focus, we begin to focus this concentration on our inner selves through meditation
The final stage is when one has reached the goal of Yoga, of controlling the mind and reaching a balanced state of intellect. Nothing disturbs the mind which is composed.
The first five deal with the external world and the next three deal with the inner self. Yama deals with man's role as a member of society, Niyama deals with one's obligation to oneself, Asanas and Pranayamas help in preparing the body for the more advanced stages of Yoga.
Pratyahara helps us move from the external world directed by the senses to the inner world of the mind. Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi are purely mental exercises that help in reaching the perfect balanced state.
It must be realized that Yoga is not a religion - it is a tool that helps one to become more religious. There is Buddhist Yoga and Jain Yoga. A Muslim understands Islam better through Yoga, just as Yoga helps a Christian be more true to his faith.
Yoga is definitely not walking on water or flying in air. That is the work of the magician. Thus, Yoga has nothing to do with orange robes and beads and doing headstands. It is a simple set of rules that helps us in evolving into better human beings.