Yoga’s literal meaning is “to yoke” or “unity.” Yoga is more than just a set of physical exercises; it is the union of the personal self or consciousness and the limitless universal consciousness or spirit. Yoga is a method of exploring the nature of the mind that places a strong emphasis on practise and first-hand knowledge.
Though many people only associate yoga with physical exercises, particularly the asanas or postures that have become increasingly popular in recent years, in reality, these are merely the most surface features of this profound science that aims to unfurl the limitless potentials of the human mind and soul.
Most of us are used to seeking fulfilment from sources other than ourselves. Our current environment has conditioned us to think that our external accomplishments may fulfil our desires. Our experiences have repeatedly showed to us that nothing outside of ourselves can fully satisfy our deep internal yearning for ‘something more’.
But most of the time, we find ourselves aiming after something that always seems to be just out of our grasp. We are preoccupied with doing rather than being, with awareness rather than action. It is difficult for us to imagine a condition of total tranquilly and repose in which thoughts and emotions stop dancing incessantly. However, it is only in such a peaceful state that we can reach a degree of happiness and comprehension that is normally impossible to do.
Normally, our attention and energy are focused outward on the objects of this world that we can only see with the help of our five senses. Human reason must rely on the incomplete, frequently misleading information provided by the physical senses, so if we want to understand the mysteries of life, such as ‘Who am I?’, we must learn to access deeper and more delicate levels of awareness.
Yoga is a straightforward technique of turning around the typical outward flow of energy and consciousness so that the mind develops into a dynamic centre of direct perception that is independent of the sense’s limitations and capable of genuinely encountering Truth.
We get to realise our oneness with the Infinite Intelligence, Power, and Joy that gives life to all and which is the essence of our own Self by practising the step-by-step procedures of yoga and not taking anything for granted based on emotion or via blind trust.
Because of mankind’s limited understanding of the forces that govern the universe, many of the higher practises of yoga were not well understood or performed in earlier ages. But today, scientific research is drastically altering how we see the world and ourselves. The finding that matter and energy are fundamentally one has destroyed the traditional materialistic view of existence. Every substance in the universe may be reduced to an energy pattern or shape, which interacts and links with other energy patterns. The most well-known physicists of today take it a step further and declare awareness to be the source of all being. Thus, contemporary science is supporting the tenets of yoga, which assert that the cosmos is unified.
The Aim Of Yoga
To link with the universal mind in order to feel joy, freedom, and the quiet of complete consciousness is the ‘aim’ of yoga. Alignment is a term used to describe how the many components of our bodies and minds are connected and integrated. The world is what we imagine of it to be. It is a projection of what we believe it to be based on prior experiences and conditioning, making it subjective. Like a mirror that only reflects what is inside, what we perceive in others is a reflection of what we have inside.
By employing conscious intentions, thoughts, and words, we have the power to co-create the life we desire, go past our constraints and fears, surrender and open, choose the kind of person we want to be, flow with divine grace, and recognise the beauty inside and around us.
We Are Spiritual Beings
Yoga is based on the notion that we are everlasting spiritual beings, or ‘atman’, passing through this physical/emotional body as its vessel. The human body is regarded as the temple of the soul, a means by which we can reach our inner divinity, or true selves, and to unite with, connect with, and serve the knowledge of the divine.
We have the potential to awaken to our true nature of ‘sit chit ananda’ – being awareness happy – through the primary disciplines of asana, pranayama, meditation, and chanting as expressions of the highest divine consciousness in the material cosmos. The physical poses or exercises that are now associated with yoga, or yoga asana, are really just the most basic facet of this profound science.
The Four Paths Of Yoga Philosophy
The major four yoga paths are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. Each path is a specialised branch of a complete system that leads to the ultimate aim of oneness. Each one aids people with various temperaments and life styles using their unique set of tactics. And each way ultimately leads to unity with Brahman, God, Oneness, or the Universe, and if true wisdom is to be reached, the learning from each path must be combined. It is frequently advised that we practise a balanced, integrated yoga that incorporates techniques from all 4 directions.
Raja Yoga: The Way Of Self-Control
The sage Patanjali formalised the ‘royal’ or highest way of yoga, which is a thorough technique for managing the waves of thinking by transforming our mental and bodily energy into spiritual energy. Self-discipline, including Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and Meditation, is the main practise.
Bhakti Yoga: The Way of Self-Surrender
The path of devotion entails offering and submitting to the divine through a devotion that recognises the divinity in all living things. A type of Bhakti is mantra meditation.
Jnana Yoga: Path of Self-Awareness
The way of wisdom involves reflecting on and growing in understanding of one’s own experience of ‘being’ in order to achieve spiritual emancipation. The main practises of Jnana Yoga are meditation and self-inquiry, or Atma Vicharya, which is an investigation into the origin of the “I” idea.
Karma Yoga: The Way of Selfless Action
The fundamental law of cause and effect is karma. Every action has repercussions. Karma Yoga is the body of knowledge that explains how to balance these forces by acting fully conscious while letting go of the result or results. Seva is a form of karma yoga, which is giving, expecting nothing in return.
It is a way to sublimate the ego by forgoing attachment to the results of your activities and giving them to the divine. By mindfully attempting to balance the three Gunas, one can live in the joy of the present while overcoming the countless challenges brought on by the pull of karma.
Ashtanga Yoga According To Patanjali’s School Of Yoga
The path of enlightenment known as Ashtanga Yoga (Ashta – 8, Anga – Limb) provides principles for living a tranquil, meaningful, and purposeful life. Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga’s first four levels are dedicated to enhancing our personalities, acquiring control over our bodies, and creating an energy awareness of ourselves. They serve as training for the following four limbs.
The senses, the mind, and achieving a higher state of consciousness are all topics covered in the second half of the voyage. The Yamas and Niyamas can be applied alone or collectively as a system leading to realization.
Norms of conduct based on the Golden Rule, which states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are five yamas:
The second limb, niyama, is concerned with self-control and religious observances. Niyamas in action include things like regularly going to temple or church services, saying grace before meals, creating your own personal meditation routines, and making it a habit to go for solitary, reflective walks. There are five niyamas:
Svadhyaya: The study of one’s self and the holy texts
Isvara pranidhana: God-centered surrender
The third limb comprises yoga poses, or asanas. According to the yogic perspective, taking care of our physical bodies is an essential part of developing spiritually. We cultivate the disciplined habit of practise and the capacity for concentration required for meditation via the practise of asana.
This fourth stage, which is usually translated as ‘breath control’, comprises methods for mastering breathing while acknowledging the link between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
Yoga practitioners believe that pranayama not only rejuvenates the body but also truly extends life itself, as suggested by the literal translation of the term ‘life force extension’. You can either incorporate pranayama into your regular Hatha yoga regimen or practise it as an independent technique while sitting still and engaging in a variety of breathing exercises.
The fifth limb, or pratyahara, is also known as sensory transcendence or sense withdrawal. In this phase, we deliberately work to turn our attention away from the outer world and external stimuli. We focus our attention inward while remaining acutely aware of but detached from our senses.
Pratyahara offers us the chance to take a step back and examine our own behaviour. Withdrawal enables us to logically examine our urges, which are likely to be unhealthy habits that obstruct our personal development.
Pratyahara practise sets the stage for dharana, or concentration, just as each step prepares us for the next. We can now cope with internal distractions after freeing ourselves of external distractions. A tough task!
Prior to meditation, we learn how to slow down our thinking by focusing on a single mental object, such as a particular energetic point on our bodies, an image of a deity, or the silent repeating of a sound. Of course, in the previous three steps of posture, breath control, and sensation withdrawal, we have already started to hone our attention skills.
Although we pay attention to our actions during asana and pranayama, our focus wanders. As we perfect the numerous details of any specific posture or breathing method, our attention is always shifting. In pratyahara, we learn to be self-aware; in dharana, we concentrate our attention on just one thing. Meditation naturally results from sustained concentration.
The unbroken flow of attention occurs during dhyana or meditation, the seventh stage of the ashtanga yoga system. Although dharana, or concentration, and dhyana, or meditation, may seem to be the same thing at first, there is a subtle difference between the two. In contrast to the practise of one-pointed attention known as dharana, dhyana is ultimately a condition of acute awareness without focus.
The mind is calm and produces few thoughts while it remains still. It takes a lot of strength and endurance to achieve this level of stillness. Even though it might feel like an impossible undertaking, we have to keep in mind that yoga is a process. Even though we might not achieve the ideal stance or state of consciousness, we gain from our growth at every stage.
The eighth and last level, samadhi, is referred to by Sage Patanjali as an ecstatic condition. In this stage, the meditator transcends the Self completely and merges with the object of their attention. A profound connection to the Divine and a connection to all living things become profoundly apparent to the meditator. The ‘peace’ beyond all comprehension, a state of happiness and unity with the universe, comes with this insight.
This may appear to be a lofty, ‘holier than thou’ kind of aim at first. But wouldn’t joy, satisfaction, and freedom somehow make it onto our list of hopes, wants, and aspirations if we took the time to reflect on what we actually want from life? Peace is what all people aspire to, and what Patanjali characterised as the culmination of the yogic path. We should also consider the fact that enlightenment, the pinnacle of yoga, cannot be gained or owned. It can only be felt, and doing so costs the aspirant their unwavering devotion.
A Brief Mention Of ‘Koshas’: Subtle Energy Bodies
The yogic tradition holds that our bodies comprise more than just skin, muscles, and bones. Ultimately, there are 3 ‘bodies’ – causal, subtle, and gross, that correspond to the three layers of the world – heaven, air, and earth. All of these are contained inside us and 5 Koshas, sheaths or layers, that can express either the density/heaviness or lightness/clarity that we embody.
Every kosha is composed of maya, which is frequently described as illusion or the material reality that enables us to function in the outside world. The brightness of the transcendent of maya, the deepest luminous self, is dimmed as each layer, functioning as a sheath over the one underneath it, increases. These layers can be made more transparent by yoga exercises and mantras, allowing our inner light to show through. The layers that make up our being – body, mind, and spirit, are known as the koshas or sheaths. These five sheaths categorise our existence into several levels so that we might achieve perfect health and happiness.
It provides a framework for comprehending how wellbeing and disease can affect not just the physical body’s systems and organs, but also its associated energies, emotions, and mental states. For instance, when we practise yoga asanas, we move our physical bodies, breathe more deeply, are calm to receive intuitive thought, and catch glimpses of our most authentic selves.
While various yogic and non-yogic practises will have an impact on various koshas, any changes made at one level will have a subtle impact on the other levels. The four outer koshas are impacted when we have a condition like cancer. The stress and worry of battling the illness may cause the body to hurt, the energies to suffer, the mind and emotions to be in disarray, and we may be less in touch with our actual nature. However, the effects of sickness only impact the innermost sheath. The Atman, the centre of who we truly are, is unharmed and untarnished by any illness or damage; it is whole and perfect and is constantly present.
Anamaya Kosha: Physical Body
The physical body, which consists of the muscles, bones, skin, hair, blood vessels, and organs, is the outermost covering. We spend most of our time focused on the sensations emanating from the body, and here is where we usually first recognise illness and injury in the body. Literally, you are what you eat; the food you eat determines how dense and heavy this layer will be; the cleaner and lighter the food, the more transparent this layer will be.
The food we consume has a significant impact on how our bodies move us around; the body is a dynamic feedback mechanism and provides us with valuable information about the type of fuel it prefers and functions best on. Lightness of the body corresponds to ease of being in the body. Activities that nourish are eating nutritious, wholesome foods, practising asanas, and engaging in various forms of exercise.
Pranamaya Kosha: Energy Body
The second outermost sheath is the energetic or pranic body, which comprises our nervous system, internal battery, aura, and prana within our cells. All the internal organs and systems of our body, including the blood, lymph, nervous, breath, and endocrine systems, are fed and propelled by prana, the life energy that flows through the various energetic channels.
When we feel extremely energised or worn out, we typically become conscious of our pranic body. The prana becomes less trapped as we become more flexible and elastic within our bodies. Static energy causes illness, chronic pain, and damage. Yoga addresses this with asana, pranayama, and chanting, which open energetic channels and allow prana to flow freely through us. Clearing the nadis, pranayama, getting enough sleep, exposure to sunlight, and breathing fresh air are practises that nourish.
Manomaya Kosha: Mental/Emotional Body
The mental/emotional body, which includes all of our ideas and feelings, fears, views, judgments, likes, dislikes, memories, and reactions, is the next innermost sheath. The five senses feed onto this layer, which houses the ahamkara, the ‘ego’.
All psychiatric problems have a direct impact on this kosha, since we spend much of our time caught up in the maelstrom of our thoughts and emotions. Selfishness is the biggest barrier in this layer, but it may be overcome by doing good deeds, interacting with others and spirit, chanting, and stepping beyond of our comfort zones.
Pratyahara, Yoga Nidra, mindfulness techniques, meditation, peaceful settings, stimulating work environments, enjoyable and supportive relationships, unselfish deeds, interacting with people, are some practises that nourish.
Vijnanamaya Kosha: Wisdom Body, Intuition, and Greater Knowing
The wisdom body, which consists of our intrinsic intelligence and intuitive understanding, is the next innermost sheath. Our wisdom derives from what we intuitively know to be true, not from what we have studied over the course of our existence. This is yoga’s unexpected advantage!
Our physical body provides comfort and harmony, our energy body is cleared of obstructions, and our mental body – which includes all the activities of the higher mind, such as conscience and will, heals and lets go of its anxieties. Your capacity to communicate with inner guidance is strengthened as your meditation practise develops over months and years. You start to view the events in your life calmly and objectively, even the painful ones.
Your vijnanamaya kosha becomes stronger and more balanced as a result of your yogic lifestyle, reflection, and meditation, which also increases your willpower, clarity of judgement, and intuitive insight.
Anandamaya Kosha: Bliss Body
The bliss body, also known as the deepest sheath, is what is closest to the heart of who we are. It is the part of ourselves that is eternal and pure and is unaffected by the bodily sensations, energetic shifts, mental or emotional turmoil, or intuitive obstacles. In general, only saints, sages, and true mystics have done the inner work necessary to make ananda a living part of their daily experience, and most people are hardly even aware that this level of consciousness exists within themselves.
The subtlest body is experienced as ananda (spiritual bliss). Because it aids in the manifestation of the rest of our existence, it is also known as the causal body. When we act, make decisions, and make choices at the soul level, we bring our most joyful selves into the world.