Popularity of Yoga is increasing with every passing day and with due reasons. For some Yoga is a form of exercise and for some it is much more. In this article let us understand what yoga is.
What is Yoga?
It is a scientifc system of practices that is a culmination of physical and mental practices that originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. It is a set of practices that works towards holistic health. It aims at achieving health, happiness, poductivity and longevity. It concentrates not only on physical fitness but mental fitness too. It is closely associated with meditative practices in Hindusim and Budhism.
There are a number of meanings that are associated with the word Yoga. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the sanskrit word meaning ‘to control’, ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. It can also be said to originate from the word ’yujir samadhu’ meaning ‘contemplation’. Going by the meanings of the word, it can be said to be a set of principles that aims at uniting the soul with the ‘parmatma’ (the eternal spirit) – God. The aim of Yoga is to achieve unison with the eternal spirit with the help of physical and mental excercises.
Yoga has been discussed in ancient Hindu texts. It finds mention in the the Upnashids, the Bhagvad Gita and even the Shiva Samhita. The Hindu sage Patanjali is credited as the founder of Yoga. He systemazied the various practices in his work known as Yoga Sutra. According to him the aim of of yoga is acquiring knowledge about self and unison with the almighty. He gives eight steps that can help achieve this aim. These are:
- Yamas: These are the eternal vows. These are in the nature of abstenations. According to yogic principles, one should abstain from violence, lying, covetousness, sensuality, and possessiveness;
- Niyamas: A follower of yoga is expected to observe and practice purity, austerity, contentment, study, and complete surrender to the almighty;
- Yogasanas (Yoga asanas): According to Patanjali, it means to be seated. It is the position to be taken for meditation;
- Pranayama: The breath is the life force and Pranayama is all about learning to control the breath. It is central to achieving physical, mental and emotional control;
- Pratyahara involves withdrawing of the senses from the external world;
- Dharana: It means concentartion and one of the aims of Yoga to fix an point of concentartion;
- Dhyana: This involves contemplating on the object of concentration;
- Samadhi or the ultimate stage of yogic meditation: This is the ultimate aim of Yoga to achieve oneness with the object of concentartion.
There are a number of branches of Yoga. The major ones being Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. The Bhagvad Gita is the source of these forms of yoga. The Rāja Yoga form of yoga was propounded by Guru Patanjali and Hatha Yoga was described by Yogi Swatmarama.
It was Swami Vivekananda who first introduced Yoga to the west and that was more than a hundred years ago. Since then the popularity of these practices has increased manifold. It is mainly Hatha Yoga that is popular in the west and the modern practitioners see it more as a form of exercise than meditation.