What is Yoga


Yoga is a spiritual discipline that is based on science that concentrates on bringing harmony between mind, body, and soul. Yoga is a science and art of healthy and sound living. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, signifying ‘to join’ or ‘to combine’ or ‘to unite’. Both Yoga and Ayurveda are historically closely related and have developed in tandem with each other since ancient times. According to Yogic sacred writings, the act of Yoga prompts the union of individual consciousness with that of Universal Consciousness, showing an ideal congruity between the mind and body, Man and Nature. Yoga is believed to balance the three doshas Vata, Pitta, & Kapha.

As indicated by modern scientists, everything in the universe is only an appearance of a similar quantum atmosphere. One who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be in yoga and is named a yogi, having achieved a state of Mukti, Nirvana, or Moksha. The prime objective of Yoga is Self-realization, to overcome all types of suffering prompting ‘the state of salvation (Moksha) or ‘freedom’ (Kaivalya). Yoga, being generally considered as an ‘Immortal cultural outcome’ of Indus Saraswati Valley civilization – going back to 2700 B.C., has substantiated itself by taking into account both material and spiritual upliftment of humanity.

History of Yoga: –

The science of Yoga has its origin some thousands of years ago long before any religion and belief systems were born. Yoga is believed to have started at the very dawn of civilization. Shiva is viewed as the Yogi or Adiyogi, and the principal Guru or Adi Guru.

A few thousand years back, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi poured his significant knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages took this effective yogic science to various parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America. Interestingly, present-day researchers have noted and wondered about the nearby parallels found between ancient societies over the globe. However, it was in India that the yogic framework discovered its complete expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who traveled across the Indian subcontinent, made this culture around a core yogic lifestyle.

This was the time when Yoga was being practiced under the immediate direction of the Guru and its spiritual esteem was given supreme importance. It was a part of Upasana and yoga sadhana was inbuilt into their ceremonies. Sun was given the most noteworthy significance during the Vedic period. The act of Surya namaskar may have been invented later because of this impact. Pranayama was a part of daily ritual and offered the oblation. Even though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematized and classified the then existing practices of Yoga, its significance, and its related information through his Yoga Sutras. After Patanjali, numerous Sages and Yoga Masters contributed incredibly to the preservation and development of the field through their well-documented practices and Literature.

During the pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.), the historical evidence of the existence of Yoga was seen, and thereafter till Patanjali’s period. Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis,teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, Epics, Puranas, etc. are the main sources from which we get information about yoga practices and the related literature during this period.

Likely, the period 500 BC – 800 A.D. is considered the Classical time frame which is additionally considered the most fertile and conspicuous period in the history and advancement of Yoga. Amid this period, commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagavadgita, etc. came into existence.This period can be principally devoted to two incredible religious instructors of India – Mahavir and Buddha. The idea of five incredible pledges – Pancha Mahavrata-by Mahavir and Ashta Magga or the eightfold path by Buddha – can be very well considered as early nature of Yoga sadhana. We come across its more unequivocal clarification in Bhagavadgita which has intricately displayed the idea of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Karma Yoga. These three types of yoga are still the most noteworthy case of human intelligence and even to this day, people discover peace by following the techniques shown in Gita. Patanjali’s yoga sutra other than containing different parts of yoga is primarily related to the eightfold path of Yoga. The very important commentary on the Yoga sutra by Vyasa was likewise composed. Amid this very period, the aspect of mind was given significance and it was unmistakably brought out through Yoga sadhana, Mind and body both can be conveyed under control to encounter equanimity.The period between 800 A.D. –and 1700 A.D. has been perceived as the Post Classical period wherein the lessons of great Acharyatrayas-Adi Shankracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya-were great contributors to this period. The Natha Yogis of Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranatha, Gorkshanatha, Cauranginatha, Swatmaram Suri, Gheranda, Shrinivasa Bhatt are some of the considerable identitieswho popularized the Hatha Yoga practices during this period.

The period 1700 – 1900 A.D. is considered a Modern period in which the amazing Yogacharyas-Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, and Vivekananda, etc. have contributed to the development of Raja Yoga. This was the period when Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, Nathayoga, or Hatha-yoga prospered. The Shadanga-yoga of Gorakshashatakam, Chaturanga-yoga of Hathayogapradipika, and Saptanga-yoga of Gheranda Samhita were the principal tenants of Hatha-yoga.

Presently in contemporary circumstances, everyone has a conviction about yoga practices towards the preservation, maintenance, and promotion of health. Yoga has spread everywhere throughout the world through the lessons of incredible identities like Swami Shivananda, Shri T.Krishnamacharya, Swami Kuvalayananda, Shri Yogendra, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajanish, Pattabhi Jois, BKS. Iyengar, Swami Satyananda Sarasvati and so forth.

Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into main periods of innovation, practice, and development.

  • Pre-Classical Yoga
  • Classical Yoga
  • Post-Classical Yoga
  • Modern Period

Pre-classical Yoga: –

The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India more than 5,000 years back. The word yoga was initially mentioned in the old sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of writings containing songs, mantras, and rituals to be utilized by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was gradually refined and enhanced by the Brahmans and Rishis (spiritualist diviners) who archived their practices and convictions in the Upanishads, an immense work containing more than 200 sacred scriptures. The most famous of the Yogic sacred texts is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (Karma Yoga), and wisdom (Jnanayoga).

Classical Yoga: –

In this era, Yoga was a combination of various ideas, beliefs, and techniques that contradicted and conflicted with each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. This text narrates the way of Raj Yoga, which was documented sometime in the second century and is often called “classical yoga”. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight-limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is known as the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.

Post-ClassicalYoga: –

A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They dismissed the lessons of the old Vedas and held onto the physical body as the way to achieve enlightenment. They created Tantra Yoga, with radical methods to purify the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. The exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body-focused practices prompted the formation of what we fundamentally consider yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.

Modern Period: –

To attract attention and followers, Yoga masters began to travel to the West in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago when Swami Vivekananda impressed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga School in Mysore in 1924 and 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy river of Ganges.

Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.The importation of yoga to the West continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers.Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.

Types of Yoga: –

Hatha Yoga: –

This is one of the oldest forms of yoga which includes the practice of asanas (Postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) which brings peace to mind and body and helps prepare the body for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation.

Ashtanga Yoga: –

Ashtanga is a system of yoga that was brought to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This form of yoga includes six series and each series is a set sequence of asanas, always in the same order. It is typically fast-paced, vigorous, and physically challenging.

Iyengar Yoga: –

Poses are held much longer in this form of yoga to pay closer attention to the precise musculoskeletal alignment within each asana. Another trademark of Iyengar is the use of props, such as blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs, and blankets, which are used to accommodate injuries, tightness, or structural imbalances, as well as teach the student how to move properly into a posture.

Jivamukti Yoga: –

This style of yoga was created in 1984. Chanting, meditation, readings, and affirmations are done in this style of yoga.

Anusara Yoga: –

The Anusara style is a new system of Hatha that teaches a set of Universal Principles of Alignment that underlie all yoga postures while encouraging flowing with grace and following your heart. It is broadly categorized into three parts known as the three A’s and they include attitude, alignment, and action.

Sivananda Yoga: –

It typically begins with Savasana (relaxation pose), kapalabhati, and anuloma viloma, followed by a few rounds of Surya namaskar. Then it moves through Sivananda’s twelve asanas, which together are designed to increase the strength and flexibility of the spine. Chanting and meditation can also be a part of it.

Vinyasa Yoga: –

An active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s. It essentially means movement synchronized with breath and is a vigorous style based on the rapid flow through a sun salutation. It also refers to the continuous flow from one posture to another.

Power Yoga: –

Power yoga is described as vigorous, vinyasa-style yoga. Power yoga’s popularity has spread across the globe and is now taught everywhere. Because the style can vary, it is recommended that you consult the individual instructor before performing it.

Bikram Yoga: –

It consists of twenty-six postures and two breathing techniques. This style of yoga helps flush toxins, manage weight and allow performers to move more deeply into postures.

ViniYoga: –

Viniyoga refers to an approach to yoga that adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of the individual. This style of yoga helps in self-discovery and personal transformation.

Kundalini Yoga: –

Kundalini incorporates multiple movements or exercises, dynamic breathing practices, chanting, meditation, and mantras. Each specific kundalini exercise, referred to as a kriya, is a movement that is often repeated and is synchronized with the breath. The practice is designed to awaken the energy at the base of the spine to draw it upward through each of the seven chakras.

Yin Yoga: –

Yin yoga is a slow-paced style in which poses are held for five minutes or longer. Even though it is passive, yin yoga can be quite challenging due to the long duration holds, particularly if your body is not used to it. The purpose is to apply moderate stress to the connective tissue – the tendons, fascia, and ligaments – to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility.

Yoga works on the level of one’s body, mind, emotion, and energy. This has given rise to four broad classifications of Yoga: karma yoga, where we use the body; bhakti yoga, where we use the emotions; gyana yoga, where we use the mind and intellect; and kriya yoga, where we use the energy. All the ancient commentaries on Yoga focus on performing Yoga under the direction of a Guru. The reason is that only a Guru can mix the appropriate combination of the four fundamental paths, as is necessary for each seeker.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras provide the traditional foundation of yoga, in which he outlines an eightfold path of the practice. Known as the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga,’ this path offers a guide to individuals who are dedicated to creating a union between body, mind, and spirit.

Each of the Eight Limbs offers a means of living with more integrity, self-discipline, respect for nature, and connection with the spiritual aspects of life. These eight practices are intended to be carried out in a holistic and integrative manner: –

Yamas: – 

Five universal, ethical, and moral observances to live by (nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness).

Niyamas: – 

Five spiritual and self-discipline observances (cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerities, study of scriptures, and surrender to God).

Asana: –

physical posture, originally intended only for seated meditation, but more recently adapted to encompass all physical yoga practices.

Pranayama: –

Breathing exercises to control the flow of prana (vital life force)

Pratyahara: – Withdrawal of the senses

Dharana: – Single pointed concentration

Dhyana: – Meditation

Samadhi: – Liberation or blissful union with the Divine

The four traditional paths of yoga are: –

  • Bhakti (devotion)
  • Karma (action/selfless service)
  • Jnana (knowledge/self-study)
  • Raja (self-discipline/practice)

Although modern schools of yoga such as Jivamukti, Bikram, and Sivananda offer alternative interpretations, most are rooted in the same philosophical concepts and practices as Patanjali’s Eight Limbs.

Yoga is also used as a therapeutic tool for many physical and mental conditions, and mind-body research is now demonstrating its effectiveness as a treatment for chronic pain, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, to name but a few.

Namaste, Wishing You a Happy & Healthy Life