Yoga is often seen as a way to get physically fit through postures and breathing exercises. However, there’s much more to Yoga than asanas or breathing exercises.
Yoga is one of the 6 philosophical schools of Hinduism. These include Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. The practice of yoga has been thought to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions; possibly in the Indus valley civilization around 3000 BCE.
Yoga as a holistic practice – Control on Vital energies, senses, and the mind
To understand and practice Yoga, it is important to understand the philosophy of Yoga. The founders of Yoga and its original text in Vedas & Upanishads were not merely concerned with the physical fitness aspects of Yoga. The practice of Yoga has been a holistic practice, which meant physical, mental, and spiritual perfection. It means to control not just the body, but also the vital energies, senses, and the mind.
Yoga and Self-Realization
Yoga when literally translated means – “to join”, “to unite”. It is derived from the word Yuja, which means union or to join. It is often mistaken as the union of the mind and the body.
Yoga however means union, but not of the mind and the body, but of the union of the self with the reality of self. When put simply, it means self-realization.
What is the state of Self-Realization?
Self-realization is the state when you become free from the illusions of the sensory world, the illusions of the material world, and understand the true identity of your existence.
In other words, when you find the answer to the question of “Who as I?” you have realized your true self.
You are NOT your personality, name, or any other identity you associate with yourself.
Yoga allows you to experience your soul and become aware of your true self. This requires mastery over your body, senses, and mind (and becoming free from ego).
Ego is created through our senses, which subsequently give information to our mind, which processes it through its colors. Ego filters all our perceptions.
Bhagavad Gita explains that when you achieve the state of Yoga, your mind stops wandering around searching for pleasures, and identifies instead with the everlasting and blissful self.
A person is said to have achieved yoga, union with Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind achieved freedom from all desires and becomes focused only on the Self alone”Bhagvad Gita
When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, that is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitized state, never to become separate again from reality. He who attains this is free from delusion (Maya)Katha Upanishad
Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
The founder of Yoga as we know in the present context for all practical purposes is the great sage Patanjali. Patanjali describes Yoga (in Yoga Sutras) as the cessation of all mental activation i.e. taking the mind to a non-active state. In the scripture it is referred to as as Chitta, Vritti, nirodaha i.e. stopping (nirodaha) the movements (vritti) of the mind (Chitta).
Yoga ceases the movements of the mindYoga Sutras
Also read :
The Four Paths To The Goal of Self-Realization
The scriptures offer four paths to the goal of self-realization.
1. Raja Yoga
The path of control. In this practice, you bring body, mind, and breath under control to let go of ego and realize the self. Hatha Yoga, including the practice of asanas, is a part of Raja Yoga.
To accomplish the goal of Yoga, the means prescribed by patanjali is to still the states of mind, thoughts (vrittis) through meditation (keeping the mind fixed on any particular object of choice without distraction). You may be wondering of how all of this is working.
It works in 3 stages.
Mind to attain an inactive stage: Through sheer power of concentration, the mind can attain an inactive state where all thoughts are non-active. In this inactive state, the mind is not cognizant of anything. It does not mean unconsciousness.
Consciousness to have no choice: When there are no more thoughts or no awareness, the consciousness has no choice but to become aware of itself. It’s like a beam of light reflecting back from a mirror. The light has no choice but to become aware of itself.
Self-realization: Awareness can now only be aware of itself. This is the point of self-realization or the ultimate state of awareness, which is the final goal of Yoga.
Raja Yoga Chapter 01 – Raja Yoga – Introduction
Raja Yoga Chapter 02 – Concentration
Raja Yoga Chapter 03 – Knowledge and Perfect Bliss
Raja Yoga Chapter 04 – Concentrating the mind internally
Raja Yoga Chapter 05 – First Steps To Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga Chapter 06 – Kundalini Basics
Raja Yoga Chapter 07 – Pranayama & the rising of Kundalini
Raja Yoga Chapter 08 – Pratyahara Basics
Raja Yoga Chapter 09 – Dharana Basics
Raja Yoga Chapter 10 – Dhyana and Samadhi Basics
Raja Yoga Chapter 11 – Concentration: Its spiritual uses
Raja Yoga Chapter 12 – Concentration: Its Practice
Raja Yoga Chapter 13 – Mystic Powers of The Yogi
Raja Yoga Chapter 14 – Independence
2. Jnana Yoga
Jnana Yoga (Also read as Gyana Yoga) is the path of knowledge. In this practice, you surrender the ego through acquiring knowledge, which removes ignorance and illusion, and leads to understanding the reality of the Self.
3. Bhakti Yoga
The path of devotion to the Divine is Bhakti Yoga. This is the path of surrendering your ego to whatever is your perception on divinity. Through complete surrender, you start to realize the reality of self.
Also read – What is Bhakti Yoga?
4. Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless duty. When you follow this path, you do your duty to the best of your abilities, without attachment to results or rewards. This helps you let go of your ego and leads to self-realization.