INTRODUCTION TO YOGA
The word ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” meaning to yoke, or unite and also can be translated as ‘harmony’. This implies harmonizing all aspects of the individual – body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a happy, balanced and fulfilling life, and at the advanced stages of Yoga, a yogi can realize the universal consciousness, uniting the ‘self’ with the ‘supreme’.
Many people in the West know yoga as a form physical exercise, but in India, the country of its origin, yoga is a scientific system covering the vast arrays of philosophy, psychology, mysticism, religion, music, literature, dance and other forms of art.
The Roots of Yoga
Yoga is also one of the six classical Indian philosophies and is referred to throughout the Vedas – the oldest historical writings dated back to 5000 BC. The earliest archeological evidence of yoga was found in the stone seals, depicting the yoga poses, during the excavations of the Indus valley civilization dating back to 3000 BC. Legend has it that knowledge of Yoga was first passed by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and from there to the rest of human kind.
The Aim of Yoga
The ultimate aim of Yoga is to experience the Truth, by realizing the true nature of our ‘Self’ and the Universe. Then one can become free from the chain of cause and effect (Karma) which brings us to earthly life again and again. In that highest state of yogic realization, one can regain one’s real nature – Eternal Existence, Supreme Wisdom, Absolute Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda). According to Yoga, the ‘self’ (soul) is timeless, unchanging and free of sorrows. Yoga is therefore a spiritual quest. However, along the path of yoga, the yogi also gains health, happiness, tranquility and wisdom, which are indicators of progress and an encouragement to continue the practice.
The Paths of Yoga
The beauty of yogic teachings is that a yogi is free to think, to rationalize, to feel and then to choose a path according to his choice. In modern day India, there are 33 million Indian gods, millions of techniques and thousands of schools – all of them aiming for the same goal and existing side by side. Even now, one hears about new styles of yoga being invented every other day, but of course, they are mostly from the West. However, all of them can be classified under the following broad categories:
- Jnana Yoga: Yoga of Wisdom – the path of intellectual philosophy and non-dualism.
- Bhakti Yoga: Yoga of Love – the path of devotion to a divine personality and non-dualism.
- Karma Yoga: Yoga of Action – the path to spiritualize our day to day life with selflessness.
- Raja Yoga: Yoga of Meditation – the path of mastering the mind and mystical experiences.
It must be realized that there are no clear cut boundaries between these various paths and one is free to blend the practices and philosophies of the others, as all these paths have the same goal. The yogi is free to practice or experiment with any number of paths at one time.
Misconceptions about Yoga
There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims.
Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that, then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body, since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.
Is Yoga for me?
Definitely, yes! Yoga is for anyone who is willing to learn its philosophy and ideas. It does not require any special equipment or clothing. What it requires is your will to have a healthier, stress-free life.
You may first approach Yoga as a way to achieve a great body or to keep fit and that is perfectly alright. After the purification of the body, you will eventually start reflecting on yourself and desire to find your inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you’re on your way to a more fulfilling life.