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What is yoga?

 The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. Panini (4th century BC) grammarian, derives the word yoga from two roots, yujir or yuj.  Vyasa Bhasya on Yoga Sutras states that yoga means Samadhi (yuj samadhau)

The most popular definition of yoga is union, the union of the individual self (Atman) with that of the Universal Self (Paramatman), indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man & Nature. In this sense the aim of yoga is to help us realize our identity with the Real/Universal self, to make us know and tune into our intrinsic nature. Bhagvat Gita gives us other definitions of yoga



योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते



yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṁ yoga uchyate


बुद्धियुक्तो जहातीह उभे सुकृतदुष्कृते |
तस्माद्योगाय युज्यस्व योग: कर्मसु कौशलम्

buddhi-yukto jahātīha ubhe sukṛita-duṣhkṛite
tasmād yogāya yujyasva yogaḥ karmasu kauśhalam

Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog.

 Endowed with the wisdom of equanimity, casting off in this life both good and bad deeds, thus dedicate yourself to yoga.  Skill in action is yoga.

In Yoga, Sutra Patanjali  has described yoga as : -

योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:

Yogaha Chitta-vritti nirodaha

Yoga is a stoppage of fluctuations of mind or cessation of modifications of the mind. When the mind is in a calm state, a state of equanimity, one is in a state of yoga. Hence, Yoga is a complete stoppage of mental modifications so that the seer is established in its own self or his true nature.

The path of Vedanta, also known as Jnana Yoga Marga or Yoga of self-inquiry, defines the final state of Yoga as a state where the seer (self)  is established as an observer in his true state through knowledge of Braham and sees himself as one with Braham and everything around him.  Mahavakya " Aham Brhamasmi " establishes the knowledge to be realized.

We can clearly see the parallel here in these different definitions. Whichever path one takes, one has to reach the same goal. That is equanimity of mind. In my view, Yoga can also be defined as calm equanimity of mind leading to total absorption in one's true nature. In the end its a practice in self-realization, about knowing who we really are. 

Thus the aim of Yoga is Self-realization, to overcome all kinds of sufferings leading to the state of liberation' (Moksha) or ‘freedom’ (Kaivalya). Living with freedom in all walks of life, health and harmony shall be the main objectives of Yoga practice

Types of Yoga

Yoga is a spiritual practice leading to complete absorption of consciousness in its true nature. Over thousands of years, many different systems of yoga were developed by the Sages and teachers. These are different paths leading to the same goal. If we look at the aim of yoga in a practical way, it appears that all practices of yoga were evolved to alleviate pain, suffering, and misery of mankind. We realize that most human suffering happens due to ignorance about the reality of the self, identification of self with mind-body complex and extrovert nature of senses, and the mind. All these yoga practices involve the inward movement of mind and self-realization. All yoga practices involve transcending or blocking the activity of the mind field. Following are different types of yoga practices known to us:

Gyan Yoga or Yoga of knowledge 

The path of Vedanta, also known  as Jnana Yoga Marga or Yoga of self-inquiry, defines the final state of Yoga as a state where,

The seer (self)  is established as an observer in his true state through knowledge of

Brahman and sees himself as one with Brahman and everything around him.

 Mahavakya " Aham Brhamasmi " establishes the knowledge to be realized. This path has evolved out of Vedic literature, especially from Upanishads, which form the knowledge part of Vedas. Some of the concepts from Vedanta are given below:

  • Concept of Brahman and Atman: Atman refers to individual soul or consciousness and Brahman as universal consciousness. Brahman is the source of all manifested world and Atman is the inner self of man. The Upanishads reached the peak of human thinking when they asserted that Atman and Brahman are essentially the same. Brahman as universal consciousness pervades everything. The essential qualities of Brahman are " Sat Chit Ananda " meaning eternal bliss & consciousness. This is also the basic nature of man which he is not able to see due to ignorance or illusion.

  • Upanishads taught that Reality is one and it is Brahman with attributes of Sat Chit Ananda. Everything else is unreal. According to idealism, there is nothing in the universe which, is not pure consciousness.

  • Concepts of Maya and Avidya: Maya is the inscrutable power of Brahman through which the world of name and forms comes into being. It is Maya which makes the one Brahman appear as many. On part of human beings, it is Avidya which does not allow us to see the reality of one and instead, we see the multitudinous world of names and forms. Therefore, Maya and Avidya are considered two sides of the same coin.

  • Bhutas or Fundamental Elements: The Upanishads recognize five fundamental elements Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These are gross elements. This classification is connected with the fivefold character of sensory organs whose features are Odor, Flavor, Form, touch, and Sound respectively. These are subtle elements. Out of subtle are made the gross ones.

  • The theory of Panch Koshas: This theory finds expression in Taithiriya Upanishad. The human personality is made up of five layers or sheaths which cover the reality of the human being. These five layers from the grossest to the subtlest are 1. Annamaya kosha (food Body) 2. Pranamaya Kosha (Energy Body) 3. Manomaya Kosha (Mental Body) 4. Vijnanmaya Kosha (Intellect Body) 5. Anandmaya Kosha (Bliss Body). Personality or Spiritual development takes place on the path of moving inwards along the Koshas.

  • Para and Apara Vidya: All knowledge is classified into two types 1. Higher (para vidya) 2. Lower ( apara vidya ), which are knowledge of Brahman ( transcendental knowledge) and Empirical knowledge respectively. There is no conflict between the two.

  • Samsara: The constant stream of births and deaths until Moksha is attained is known as Samsara or transmigration. The law that governs the type of birth Jiva gets every time it dies is known as the law of Karma.

  • Self Realization: Miseries and sufferings of humans are due to Avidya or ignorance about the true nature of Reality. They can be removed only through the right knowledge. Training for the right knowledge is 3 fold.

  1. Shravana: Listening, stands for the study of Upanishads under a proper Guru. Personal contact with the living embodiment is of great help.

  2. Manana: Constant contemplation upon the knowledge gained from guru to derive intellectual conviction.

  3. Nidhidhyasana: refers to the practice and experiencing the knowledge of the truth, through meditation. Through intense practice, one realizes the truth about the unity underlying the multiplicity of the universe.

Karma Yoga Yoga of Action

Karma Yoga is a path of selfless action. To a karma yogi, his work is worship. Action performed with 100 % focus and attention is meditation. When one works in this manner without consideration for success or failure or fruits of action, with a mind established in equanimity, one is freed from afflictions of the mind. There is no concept of doer ship in karma yoga. The action is performed as an act of worship with the results dedicated to the lord. Lord Krishna in Bhagwat Geeta talks at length about the merits of Karma Yoga. 

The word “Karma” signifies action or deed in three forms: thought, word, and deed. Thoughts are the primary and driving force of karma. It is the seed of karma, motive behind the action. Karma is the law of cause and effect in nature. One cannot change the past karma but one can deposit the good deeds for the future karma when the seed sprouts in the right environment. Karma is the sum total of our actions, both in our present life and in preceding ones. Karma not only means action but also the result of the action. Wherever there is a cause, an effect must be produced. The cause is found in the effect and the effect is found in the cause.

Law of Action and Reaction

If there is action, there must be a reaction. The reaction will be of equal force and of a similar nature. Every thought, desire, imagination, and sentiment causes a reaction. Virtue brings its own rewards while vice brings its own punishment. It is your own karma that brings you rewards and/or punishments. No one is to be blamed. 

Law of Compensation

The law of compensation keeps the balance and establishes equilibrium and harmony in nature. If you take an individual life as an isolated event that begins with the birth of a physical body and terminates with its death, you can not find any correct explanation or solution for the affairs of life. So you have to go deep into the affairs of the eternal soul-life. Life does not end with the disintegration of a physical body. There is a reincarnation.

Law of Retribution

Each wrong action brings its punishment according to the law of retribution. He who hurts others hurts himself. He who cheats others cheats himself first. Things do not happen by accident or chance in a disorderly matter. There is a certain connection between what is being done by you now and what will happen in the future.

Three Types of Karma

1. Sanchita karma: Accumulated karma of the past lives. We are born with this karmic account. It affects our attitude, aptitude, tendencies, and characteristics, etc. 

2. Prarabdha Karma: Past karma manifested in the present life. We can not avoid or change it. We can exhaust it only by experiencing it and enjoying the fruit of our past actions.

3. Agami Karma: Present karma which will bring fruits in the future. What we do today will bring fruits in the future. We have full control over this part of karma. Therefore be good, do good.

Quiver, in which arrows are kept, represents our Sanchita Karmas, the arrow that is ready for discharging represents our Agami Karmas,  and the arrow which has already left the bow, which cannot return, which must hit the target, represents the Prarabdha Karmas.

Yoga of Devotion Bhakti Yoga

Unconditional and intense love for God is Bhakti or devotion. This is a path of devotion. Bhakt opens up the heart to divine love. Devotee aims for a union with God. All theistic religions of the world are essentially based on this path, where devotee hopes for a union with God during his lifetime or, thereafter. Unconditional love and surrender, with total faith in God, is the essence of this path. This devotion often manifests into singing bhajans or holy songs or chanting praises of the divinity. Sometimes ecstatic dancing & singing of the names of the Lord in gatherings called kirtans. Bhakti yoga does not tell you where to direct attention, the deity and method are of devotee`s choice. Bhakti path is good for people who have emotional temperament. Bhakti is driven through the power of love, God is seen as an embodiment of love.

Navavidha or 9 forms of Bhakti are mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam and a devotee can choose any, that suits his nature. These are 


Hearing or listening to the divine glories of God about his form, qualities, divine plays, his spoken words like in The Bhagavad Gita.


Singing’ the praises of God’s infinite powers with intense devotion. Chanting God’s name brings relief to the devotee’s mind.


Remembering God constantly. Feeling his presence all the time, in all places, in all the tasks.

Paada Sevanam

Serving God’s feet or surrender of oneself to God. In honoring the feet of God, the devotee surrenders himself completely at the lotus feet of God. The ego is completely eliminated in this form of devotion. 


Worshiping the Lord  In this form of devotion the devotee and the lord become one. Complete offerings in the form of ritualistic worship, chanting mantra, bhajan, and aarati, food,  flowers, and clothes to God. Love expresses in giving and as the love of  God.


Saluting the Lord. Bowing before God, touching the feet of God. This leads to devotee seeing the beloved form of his God everywhere, all the time. 


Being a Servant of the Lord. Considering oneself a slave of God leads to total subjugation of the ego. In time, the devotee sees himself also as a servant of the other devotees of God.  There is no ego but there is no sense of inferiority too. 


Considering God as a friend. In this form of devotion, the devotee adopts the role of a friend of God.

Aatma Nivedanam

Total surrender of oneself to the Lord. The smallest trace of ego is eliminated in this kind of bhakti. Heart full of devotion to God, the devotee gains the knowledge of his true self.

History of Hatha yoga 

Earlier yoga practices after the classic period of yoga were heavily driven towards meditation with little or no emphasis on preparatory practices for body, breath, and mind. The advent of Buddhism also played a part in this. There are many hatha yoga texts available today to understand the reasons for the advent of hatha yoga in the history of yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama is a very well- known one. Another by Yogi Gorakhnath is known as the Goraksha Samhita. A third text is Gherand Samhita by the great sage Gherand. Besides these, there is a fourth major text known as Hatharatnavali which was written later by Srinivasabhatta Mahayogindra. All these texts are considered to have been written between the 6th and 15th centuries A.D. There are minor references to hatha yoga in ancient Upanishads and Puranas. This indicates that hatha yoga was practiced in ancient times for preparation for higher states of consciousness. Hatha yoga practices as we know today have evolved out of Raja Yoga, and Tantra practices over a period of time. Hatha yogis totally removed Yama and Niyama of Raja Yoga from the practice. Many useful practices from tantra were taken and the most ritualistic part of tantra was done away with. We can see from our own experience that in order to practice Yama and Niyama, discipline and self-control, a certain quality of mind is needed. Often we observe that when we try to practice self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality. 

 Swatmarama in Hatha Yoga Pradipika does not worry at all about self-control and self-discipline in the form of Yama and Niyama. The order here is very different. He begins by saying that you should first purify the whole body – the stomach, intestines, nervous system, and other systems. Therefore, Shatkarma comes first, i.e. Neti, Dhauti, Basti, Kapalbhati, Trataka, and Nauli. Discipline and self-control start with the body as it is easier, hatha yoga is also known as the science of purification. Asanas come next in practice and then pranayama, these are disciplines. Breath retention is self-control. After these, one should go to the practice of Mudras.

These practices purify the gross body, pranic body, and mental body. These practices induce Pratyahara and lead one into practices of Dharana, Dhyana & Samadhi. To purify the mind the body has to be purified of six different types of impurities through six cleansing techniques. When the body is purified of these impurities, the body functions at its maximum potential, energy blocks are removed and higher Yoga practices of raja Yoga become easy to practice. The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind, and energy.

Four main limbs of Hatha Yoga are :

  1. Shatkarma

  2. Asana :

  3. Pranayama :

  4. Mudras :

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