What is Yoga?
There are several definitions, but if we look at the root of the word, yoga comes from the sanskrit word yuj that means to join, to yoke or to unite.
Ok but, what union are they talking about?
This union refers to a harmony between body, mind and soul. As the highest goal, this is a union between the individual conciousness and a higher reality / divine intelligence / God / universal conciousness.
So, what are other definitions? You said there are several...
For example, in the Vedas (the oldest scriptures of Hinduism), Yoga is Samadhi.
According to Maharishi Patanjali, compilator of the Yoga Sutras (one of the most famous texts in Traditional Yoga) yoga is “yogah citta vrtti nirodhah” (yoga is the complete restraint of the modifications of the mind/ personality complex).
Vyasa, one of the most respected commentators, in his work on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, wrote “Yuj Samadhao” (Yoga is Samadhi).
In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita we find two main deffinitions: Yoga is Samatvam (balance, equanimity) and Yoga is Excellence in Work.
Excuse me...What is Samadhi?
The yogis who have experienced the highest states of Samadhi describe it like a blissfuss state where the individual consciousness is merged with the universal consciousness/God.
So, is Yoga a religion?
Ishvara (concept of God) is present in the philosophy of Yoga but no specific doctrine, creed or faith is prescribed. Of course, as it was born in India, you can find many references to Yoga in the Hindu scriptures.
But Yoga is not a religion even though it can help religious people of any creed to experience a healthier body, a more balanced mind, personal development, etc.
God in Yoga helps evolve and grow by concentrating on an entity that is all powerful and free of negative tendencies.
Then, is Yoga meditation?
Another of the misconceptions about Yoga. Meditation is one important yogic technique but we shouldn't mistake the part with the whole.
I thought yoga is mostly poses and breathing techniques...
The most spread misconception about Yoga, especially in the West. Yoga is not acrobatics nor just physical exercise. Yoga comprehends philosophy, study of the human mind, and a broad set of tools and techniques to overcome the limitations of the human mind, improve clarity of perception, enhance energy and cultivate greater self- awareness.
In Yoga, asanas and pranayamas (poses and breath control) are just a part of the full picture. As an example, from the 195 sutras (verses) compiled by Patanjali, only 3 are on asanas and 5 on pranayamas.
Is Yoga a therapy?
Yoga is a way of life and it helps to prevent diseases by moving towards a balanced state of mind and healthy habits and routines but Yoga is not a therapy nor a replacement of Medicine.
But I have heard incredible stories about yogis... Is Yoga about supernormal powers?
According to tradition yogis could do things that most of the common people would consider imposible. Human mind power is still unknown and nowadays we can see incredible examples like Wim Hof, the “Iceman”; but beyond what is possible and what is not, the goal of Yoga is not performing incredible tricks or having special habilities.
Patanjali speaks about them in the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras in order to warn practitioners that those powers can become distractions in the path of personal growth.
Do we know who was the first yogi?
There are no historical records of the first man to practise Yoga. According to the Hindu Vedic tradition, the first yogi or adi yogi was Lord Shiva. He is considered also the first guru being his wife Parvati the first student.
So... How old is Yoga?
Yoga is practiced since very ancient times. The oldest evidence known till the date is one of the Mohenjo – Daro seals that depict a man in a yoga meditative posture. This seal belongs to the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization and is dated around 2350 – 2000 B.C.E.
What are the main paths of Yoga?
Swami Vivekananda, one of the key personages introducing the Indian philosophies to the Western World in the 19th century, spoke of 4 paths of Yoga:
- Jnana Yoga, the Knowledge or Wisdom Path: Based in the renunciation to the illusory world of appearance and discriminative knowledge to reach the identification of the soul with the Ultimate Reality. It is a spiritual discipline of a philosophical nature. It is considered the most difficult path.
- Raja Yoga, The Royal Path or The Scientific Path: It is based in the complete control of the mind. It is the path compiled in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, including its Eight Fold Path (Asthanga Yoga). Hatha Yoga is also a stairway for Raja Yoga.
Karma Yoga / Kriya Yoga, The Action Path:
Karma Yoga is based in the selfless action (Bhagavad Gita). That means full focus, concentration and awareness in the duty. Giving 100% in the work while detaching from the results. The actions are surrendered to God/Higher Reality that will bring the best outcome for our development.
Kriya Yoga stands for the spiritual action (Patanjali Yoga Sutras). It is based in Tapas, Swadhaya and Ishvarapranidha (Austerities, Self Knowledge and Surrender to a God/Higher Reality).
Bhakti Yoga, The Devotional Path: God is seen in everything. All the actions and emotions are chanalized towards a higher reality. It is the path of love to God.
Many people speak about sattvic food...What is sattvic? What is the Triguna Theory?
According to Samkhya philosophy all the things in our Universe are made of three different qualities or threads called gunas. These gunas are combined or interlaced in different proportions in everything and everyone. Her names are sattva, rajas and tamas. When sattva is the predominant guna in something, then we can say it is sattvic. The equivalent for the other two qualities would be rajasic and tamasic.
Then, what are the characteristics of each guna: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas?
- Sattva is the quality of intelligence, peace, balance, purity. It's the quality that allows the things to be known (knowability). Speaking about personality or mind it refers also to clarity of mind, calmness, positivity and virtue. Sattvic food, generally speaking is the kind of food that help us to maintain this sattvic state of mind.
- Rajas is responsible of change, action and movement. The more rajas something contains, the faster it changes. In terms of personality is associated with passion, dynamism but also with hyperactivity, distracted action and search for appreciation.
- Tamas is the thread of inertia, stillness, dullness, retention, rigidness, lethargy. It is also responsible of memory. Regarding behaviors, it is also associated to inactivity, apathy, laziness, sadness, negativity and ignorance.
What is Samkhya Philosophy?
It is one of the Six Indian Philosophies (Shad Darsanas). It was compiled by Maharishi Kapila and it is quite logical and rational. It is agnostic and is usually paired with Yoga Philosophy.
The sanskrit word Samkhya means Numbering. It lists the break down of the Individual and the Universe in 2 principles and 23 evolutes. Those are:
Principle of Purusha or Pure Counciousness (a concept similar to the Soul in the West).
Principle of Prkrti or Matter. The matter is bounded to the Trigunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas).
When Sattvas gets dominant in the Prkrti over the other two gunas, the matter evolves to the Buddhi or Intellect.
From the Buddhi, and again being Sattvas dominant, the Ahamkara or Ego (Identity) is formed.
Out of Ahamkara, and being Sattvas dominant we get 11 more evolutes:
- The Manas or mind.
- The 5 Jnanendriyas or 5 organs of perception:
- The 5 Karmendriyas or 5 organs of action:
Back to the Ego or Ahamkara, when Tamas is dominant, we get the 5 Tanmatras or subtle qualities of the matter.
Rupa or Form
Gandha or Smell
Rasa or Taste
Shabda or Sound
Sparsha or Touch
From the 5 Tanmatras, when Tamas is dominant, we get the Pancha Mahabutas or 5 gross qualities of the matter. Those are:
Agni or Fire
Vayu or Air
Akasha or Eter/Space
Prithvi/Kshiti or Earth
Jala or Water
Yoga is based in Samkhya Philosophy and adds the concept of Ishvara or Universal Counciusness (God). This is also relevant in a practical approach. Accepting that humans cannot control everything that happen in their lives helps to manage the anxiety of the mind and improve its balance.
So, what are the main Indian Philosophies?
We can distinguish between two groups. Ones don't follow the Hindu Scriptures (Vedas), and they are called Nastika Philosophies. The others do accept the authorithy of the Vedas, and they are called Astika Philosophies.
Nastika Philosophies. The most important are:
Buddhism: Agnostic. It was originated by Buddha and broke with the Vedic Hindu tradition. Teaches to live with ecuanimity and how to “Walk the middle path”.
Charvaka Philosophy: Atheist, the only method to get right knowledge is direct preception. Follow the hedonistic motto of “eat, drink and be merry”. Encourages to be totally in the present while keeping a balanced state of mind.
Jainism: Emphasizes Ahimsa (non violence) and Tapas (austerities). It is atheistic in the sense that doesn't believe in God but in an Eternal Universe instead. Encourages the practise of the 5 Yamas (ethical rules). Mahavir was one of its most relevant leaders.
Astika Philosophies. It comprehends the Six Systems of Philosophies (Shad Darshanas), usually paired in three couples:
Nyaya – Vaisheshika:
From the sanskrit word Justice (Nyana), logic plays an importan role in this school. Its method is based in listening to spiritual instructions and counciusly reflecting on them in a first step. After that, meditation is used to access further knowledge.
Vaisheshika uses also meditation to gain knowledge. It comes from the sanskrit word Vishesha (specific or subtle). It explains that everything is made of more and more subtle things (atomism). The foundations of this school are writen in the Vaisheshika Sutras of Kanada.
Purva Mimamsa – Uttara Mimamsa (also known as Vedanta):
Purva Mimamsa is focused in the interpretation of the first two periods of the Vedas: The Samhitas and the Brahmanas; while Uttara Mimamsa tries to explain the last two periods (Aranyakas and Upanishads)
Samkhya – Yoga:
As explained before, Yoga shares most of its philosophical ground with Shamkya but the concept of Ishvara (God) is introduced. One of the most important texts on Yoga Philosophy is the Yoga Sutras compiled by Maharishi Patanjali.