In the West, yoga is exercise. In the East it’s something more
Although yoga has become a trendy lifestyle and wellness practice in North America, its roots are ancient, spiritual and deep. Originally developed in Hinduism, yoga offers a path to a higher state of consciousness and union with the divine.
Sanskrit word yoga literally translated as “in the yoke”, derived from the root of the word Yuj which means “join”, “integrate”, or “use”. The word “yoga” is first mentioned in one of the oldest texts known to mankind. Rig Veda. Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas – an ancient collection of sacred songs, mantras and rituals that occupy a central place in the Hindu religion. They are believed to have been composed between 1500 and 1200 BC.
The deity associated with yoga is Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rebirth. According to tradition, yogic knowledge was revealed as a divine gift from Shiva to rishis – sages or “people of vision” dedicated to the spiritual life, who during their meditations received visions or heard mantras and truths inaccessible to others. In India, rishis were held in the highest esteem, and their words were valued more than even the most regal leaders of society.
Yoga was perfected and developed by the Rishis, and they documented their yoga practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a vast work of over 200 scriptures believed to have been composed around 500 BC. Passed down by rishis through the ages guru shishya paramparaIn the guru-disciple tradition, these teachings were given to people to help them realize their inherent divine nature.
Bhagavad Gita is a revered Hindu text that is considered part of Mahabharata, an epic poem inspired by and based on the Vedas. Scientists date its composition between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC. As part of Bhagavad Gita, there are important references to yogic practices and principles. It says: “When the mind, restrained from material activities, is calmed by the practice of yoga, then the yogi can contemplate the soul through a purified mind and enjoy inner joy.”
Basic paths of yoga
There are four main paths through which yoga is expressed: karma yoga (yoga of action), bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion), jnana yoga (yoga of knowledge), and raja yoga (yoga of mind control).
Karma yoga emphasizes selfless service and the fulfillment of one’s duties of sublimating the ego, purifying the heart, and cultivating unity. Physical activities such as cooking, cleaning and studying are used. bhakti yoga engages the emotional aspect of the mind through devotion to the divine, developing humility and surrender. Methods include prayer, chanting, and participation in rituals. jnana yoga focuses on self-exploration through intellectual questioning, reflection, and reflection on the nature of truth. raja yoga uses techniques such as hatha yoga (described below), cleansing, breathing exercises, and meditation to control the body, mind, and senses. His emphasis on the physical body and the use of specific techniques to achieve specific results is based on an understanding of the physiology of the body and the impact of practices on the body and mind.
Hatha yoga: what in the West is called “yoga”
The Rishis understood that a weak body cannot sit still for a long period of time, so in order to prepare the body and mind for the practice of meditation (following the path of Raja Yoga), the Rishis developed a preparatory practice called hatha. yoga. This type of yoga is practiced by many North Americans as part of their fitness regimen.
The literal Sanskrit meaning of the word “hatha” is “strength” or “effort”. The popular Hindu interpretation of Hatha is that it refers to the union of the opposite sun (ha) and moon (tha) energies within the body, leading to balance and harmony. In this sense, hatha yoga can be seen as a practice that uses physical strength or effort to transform the body and mind, so the practice of hatha yoga requires focus and concentration. Yoga master Swami Satchidananda said, “Calming the mind is yoga. Don’t just stand on your head.”
When yoga was first introduced to the West by teachers such as Swami Rama Tirtha and Paramhansa Yogananda, they placed great emphasis on the spiritual aspects of the practice, teaching the complete system of yoga and its philosophy. But over time, hatha yoga began to dominate without much spiritual education. Physical practice alone is not complete. For the most effective practice of yoga, an understanding of its philosophy is key. Yoga philosophy addresses the relationship of the mind with spiritual growth.
Spiritual connection between yoga and Hinduism
The late Jay Lakhani, a Hindu writer and Hindu academy tutor, described what happens during yogic union:
“There is much more to us than meets the eye; we are more than material beings. Only through deep introspection can you rediscover your core identity. Not only the body, mind or intellect, but also the spirit that illuminates all of us. And to reunite with the spirit is the idea of yoga; reconnection with our true nature.”
Essentially, yoga is a spiritual practice designed to aid in the cleansing and preparation of the body and mind to first become self-aware. atman (“soul”) within and then unite it with Brahman or the divine. Hindu philosophy regards this attainment of union with the divine as the ultimate goal of human existence and it is called “moksha” or “Mukti.This achievement is considered liberation or liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara).
Atman in Sanskrit means “I” and “breath”. This refers to the Hindu concept of the soul, the universal self or eternal personality. The Atman either transmigrates into a new life or achieves liberation after death. The Atman is part of the universal Brahman – the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena – and can communicate with it or merge with it. According to Hindu philosophy, the Self or Atman is ultimately identical with the ultimate reality of Brahman. Achieving moksha means realizing this identity and merging with the divine. This state of oneness is characterized by a deep sense of peace, joy, and oneness with all of creation.
The Vedas emphasized ritual sacrifice to please the gods, but the rishis believed that true spiritual growth comes from inner sacrifice. This includes self-knowledge, the recognition that the true self is not the physical body or ego. Action involves doing selfless actions without attachment to results, while wisdom involves understanding reality through reflection and study. The Rishis believed that by sacrificing the ego and desires through these means, one can achieve spiritual growth and enlightenment and connect with the divine.
Yoga can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth and enlightenment when practiced with intent and mindfulness, bringing mind, body and spirit together. Like any spiritual journey, yoga is a deeply personal journey. An individual style and its benefits may differ from person to person, but understanding the philosophy behind this practice is key to reap the supposed benefits of this practice.
As stated in Bhagavad GitaChapter 6, Verse 3:
“For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best friend; but for the one who could not do this, his mind will remain the worst enemy. Yoga is a journey of oneself, through oneself, towards oneself.”
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