There’s a common misconception that Yoga is just physical exercise. So in this article, I attempt to clarify what is Yoga and what it is not. I hope I do justice to Yoga and the readers alike.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga, in reality, means the path of self-realization. i.e. as per Hindu scriptures, every human being has a soul, which is part of the Supreme Soul. The path of self-realization is to know who we truly are, experience it, and live with this understanding.
Relation Between The Senses, The Mind And The Intellect
We know there are five senses, namely touch, eyesight, hearing, smelling and tasting. As humans, we often focus on the body and engage ourselves in sense pleasures, so to say. However, as per Hindu Scriptures, the mind is superior to the senses. Let’s understand this with an example. For years, we may be eating something unhealthy, say a junk food such as a burger. And one day, we realize that it’s not good for our health, may be through some article or some person. This realization is a thought which gets sown in the mind. So next time, when we have a craving for the same unhealthy food, we can still resist. The sense object (tongue) in this case wants to have more of junk food to please itself, but by proper regulation from the mind, we can control the desire. Though we may still give up on certain occasions!
Emotions are characteristics of the mind. We may have experienced various emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, love, desire, lust, attachment, etc. in our lives. However, the intellect is superior to the mind. To understand this, let’s take another example. There is a lot of research showing that anger is bad for your physical health and for your social life. One of the hardest things about anger is that it often causes us to lose our composure and we say or do things which can damage relationships with other people. We may even end up hurting the other person and not just ourselves. But this wisdom that anger is harmful for ourselves and our relations is a function of the intellect. And when we realize this, next time when we get angry, we may want to take a step back. A self-talk automatically triggers, with the intellect constantly reminding the mind to control. Haven’t we experienced this?
Yoga And The Soul
Next, the soul is superior to the intellect. An example of this is intuition. As mentioned earlier, the soul is a part of the Supreme Soul and it is this universal consciousness which is always helping us as intuition. Some people have very good intuition while others don’t, but we understand it originates from some invisible force or energy which is guiding us. We are often excited to work with new people, especially if it is a new business deal. The intellect says to proceed, as it is an extremely profitable deal. However, the intuition may say otherwise, that something isn’t right with the person or the deal.
Now intuition works extremely well for some, while others may not even experience it. And this is where we have the concept of Yoga. For most of us, ignorance clouds the soul, and it differs from person to person based on the level of consciousness and wisdom. For some, the senses, the mind and the intellect may be so dominant that they don’t feel connected with the Soul (Supreme Consciousness) and, for them, the intuition doesn’t work at all. However, for others, the senses, mind, and intellect may be less dominant, so intuition works really well for them.
All systems of Yoga teach us to clear this cloud of ignorance (belief that senses, mind and intellect are superior) and lead us on the path of knowledge about our true nature, i.e. we are the Soul. And this is the path of self realization.
Types Of Yoga
There are four types and they are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless actions; purifying the mind by selfless work. In this path, a seeker does all work without the desire to enjoy the fruits of our actions.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of love, wherein the seeker experiences divine love for the supreme. A by-product of this is, since the soul exists in all human beings alike, a person on the path of Bhakti yoga feels the same love for all human beings. The person sees divinity in all. It embodies the guiding principle of endless compassion and love—a fundamental property of the Soul.
Raja Yoga is the path, wherein the seeker follows certain practices like pranayama, concentration and meditation for self-realization. Pranayama is controlling the vital life force energy and meditation helps to gain control over the mind. The seeker masters the mind through the practice of mediation. Through this, he can reach a state of blissful joy and lasting peace, which are qualities of the Soul.
Jnana Yoga is the path to gaining wisdom and the realization that the Soul is the only reality. By gaining such knowledge, one never goes astray and does everything for the welfare of others. The seeker has immense self-control over himself.
Asanas And Their Relation To Yoga
We looked at Raja Yoga, wherein a seeker follows pranayama, concentration and meditation for self realization. Patanjali, a sage of India who lived between the 4th and 5th CE, wrote 8 sutras, which are commonly known as ‘The Yoga sutras of Patanjali’. They are-
Yama: Ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life
Niyama: Self-discipline and spiritual observances
Asanas: They are Yoga postures. Since the body is a temple of spirit, we need to take care of it for our spiritual growth. The person builds flexibility and agility in his body, which helps him to advance.
Pranayama: Regulation of the breath and the vital life force ‘prana’
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of senses and the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world
Dharana: Developing concentration, which helps in the next step- Meditation
Dhyana: Practicing Meditation to gain absolute control over the mind
Samadhi or Nirvana: The state of ecstasy and complete bliss
As seen, asana (yoga posture) is the physical practice of Yoga and relates to the body. Today, asana is synonymous with Yoga, but in reality, it is only one subset. When we speak of asanas, we call them the physical practice of yoga. Most beginners start practising yoga by doing yoga postures. But yoga postures are not entirely yoga.
Whereas, Yoga is the path of self-realization.