Yoga is getting more and more popular around the world but not many people know the real meaning behind this ancient practice that goes way beyond physical exercises, postures and breathing.
Many studies argue Yoga is the first science of human civilization, originating long before any written record. A science that studies the human being in all levels (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) and our relationship with the universe.
From the Sanskrit “Yuj”, Yoga means to unite, to integrate. But, here comes the question:
- “Unity” of what? And for what?
The main “unity” that Yoga brings is between the body, mind and soul, intending to achieve true self-awareness and then being able to access the supreme universal consciousness.
“SAMATVAM YOGA-UCHYATE”, Bhagavad Gita
Yoga is equanimity of body, mind and spirit
Yoga for the body
The focus of Yoga is far from the physical body, but nowadays these practices are the ones being highlighted. In a world where appearance is what matters most, Yoga classes are often given as simple exercises within fitness studios.
But actually, the famous “Asanas” (or body postures) are only a way to achieve concentration, contemplation and then enter meditative states.
As one of my masters, Master Santhosh Kumar from Yogadarshanam, says, “from the known to the unknown”, explaining that is easier to start the process of self-awareness from where we know better, that is, the physical field, so then we can explore deeper other planes of our being like our mind and emotions, subsequently, delving into the mystical realm of our soul and spirit.
Understanding the Mind
Our body and mind are directly connected, so to move our body consciously helps a lot in understanding and controlling our mental turbulence.
Knowing how to tame the mind is our biggest challenge as human beings. It is in the mind that we find the origin of most problems and illnesses, and it is also there the key to any success.
The main purpose of Yoga practice is to achieve meditation, a state of mental and emotional clarity reached after extreme concentration.
“YOGAH CHITTA-VRITTI-NIRODHAH”, Patanjali Maharsh
Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind
And how can we still the mind? Breathe!
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale… and slowly still the body, quiet the thoughts, calm the mind. A basic practice, which today is becoming increasingly difficult, both due to the constant rush and competition of the modern world and its external influences as well as the quality of the air and the environments in which we breathe.
So along with the practice of Asanas comes the Pranayamas, which are breathing exercises and the control of our vital energy (or Prana).
“Breathing is the bridge between the body and the mind”
Master Santhosh Kumar (Yogadarshanam)
Paths of Yoga
According to Indian roots, there are 4 main paths:
- Karma Yoga [the path of action, service and work]
- Bhakti Yoga [the path of devotion, love and surrender to the divine]
- Jnana Yoga [the path of wisdom, knowledge and philosophical analysis]
- Raja Yoga [the path of psychic control, following the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, also known as the “8 limbs of Yoga” or Ashtanga Yoga]
“YOGAH KARMASU KAUSALAM”, Lord Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)
Yoga is perfectly skilled action or behaviour
In general, it is common to see these 4 lines practised together, as the path of yoga integrates study, action, practice and devotion.
Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga defines Yoga in 8 parts: the Yamas (ethical principles and social behaviours); Niyamas (personal conduct); Asana (stable and comfortable body postures); Pranayama (expansion of Prana through breath control); Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses); Dharana (concentration); Dhyana (meditation); and Samadhi (pure ecstasy or enlightenment); These Patanjali principles are the main foundation for the creation of Tantra and Hatha Yoga that appeared a few centuries later.
The Hatha Yoga emerged as a system of asanas and purifications techniques to develop the body’s full potential in the journey for awareness and enlightenment. It is seen as the root of the “Yoga” that has become popular today, giving rise to many other styles that have been created and practised, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Yin Yoga, Swásthya Yoga, Chakra Yoga, Rocket Yoga, among many others.
More and more new schools and styles of Yoga are emerging, but some more traditional teachers say that these new methods have been “losing the true essence of the practice”, however, it is also a fact that Yoga is constantly evolving, like all sciences, and there are certainly many discoveries within this universe.
Yoga in the Modern World
Many Western sciences still treat the precepts of Yoga as if they were a religion because they are unable to prove its veracity according to their own criteria. But all methods of Yoga are experienced practices, where the practitioner can feel its effects, which goes far beyond any belief or faith.
But the more science advances in search of answers to the main question of human beings (where did we come from and where are we going?), the more we discover that energy and matter are essentially the same. Consequently, more and more the concepts of Yoga are understood and taken seriously.
Yoga is a lifestyle, an individual journey of self-discovery and a discipline that leads you to take responsibility for your actions and for the fruits of what you plant. Consequently, it makes you a more generous and committed person with yourself, with the beings that surround you and with the planet – a truly divine being.
“Yoga elevates a man from the level of the animal-man to the divine-man”
Due to the depth of the subject, it is also impossible to define Yoga in a simple Blog-post, so I am starting a series of articles on the subject, to slowly go deeper into the powerful universe of Yoga.
See you in the next posts! 🙂
* This article was based on my experiences, studies and personal practices, much of the content obtained in a Yoga Teacher Training given by Master Santhosh Kumar (Yogadarshanam, in Mysore, India), in the study of Integral Yoga by Sri Aurobindo, and Mark Stephens incredible book, “Teaching Yoga, Essential Foundations and Techniques”.
- This article was originally written in Portuguese by Marcelo Holistico and translated to English by Mariana Lourenço