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What is Yoga

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word "Yuj" meaning to yoke, join or unite. This implies joining or integrating all aspects of the individual - body with mind and mind with soul - to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life, and spiritually, uniting the individual with the supreme.

In India, Yoga is considered one of the six branches of classical philosophy and is referred to throughout the Vedas - ancient Indian scriptures and amongst the oldest texts in existence.The Upanishads are also broadly philosophical treatises which postdate the Vedas and deal with the nature of the "soul" and universe.

However, the origins of yoga are believed to be much older than that, stemming from the oral traditions of Yogis, where knowledge of Yoga was handed down from Guru (spiritual teacher) to Sisya (spiritual student) all the way back to the originators of Yoga, "the Rishis," who first began investigation into the nature of reality and man's inner world.

Legend has it that knowledge of Yoga was first passed by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and from there into the lives of men.

The Aim of Yoga

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach "Kaivalya" (emancipation or ultimate freedom). This is the experience of one's innermost being or "soul" (the Purusa). Then one becomes free of chains of cause and effect (Karma) which tie us to continual reincarnation. In Kaivalya one is said to exist in peace and tranquillity, having attained absolute knowledge of the difference between the spiritual which is timeless, unchanging and free of sorrows, and the material which is not.

This is considered desirable as life is analysed as ultimately full of sorrows and pain- even pleasure and joy leave pain and loss when they have gone as nothing in the material world is permanent.

Yoga is therefore a spiritual quest. However, along the path of yoga, the aspirant also gains health, happiness, tranquillity and knowledge which are indicators of progress and an encouragement to continue their practice. Buddhism and other Eastern spiritual traditions use many techniques derived from Yoga.

The Paths of Yoga

There are said to be 4 main paths (Margas), according to the Bhagavad Gita, by which to reach the ultimate goal of Yoga - "Kaivalya." There is the path of Knowledge (Jnana Marga) in which one learns to discriminate between what is real and what is illusory, the path of selfless work (Karma marga), the path of devotion (Bhakti Marga) and the path of control of the mind (Yoga Marga) where all the activities of the mind and consciousness are studied and brought under control. From these have come the various paths of yoga which can be followed.

  • Raja yoga involves mastery of the mind and senses in Samadhi; essentially the advanced aspects of Patanjali's astanga yoga.
  • Hatha yoga is the yoga of the will which involves cultivating ones energy to arouse Kundalini primarily by means of asana and pranayama.
  • Mantra yoga involves reciting sacred syllables to reach perfection.
  • Laya yoga involves absorption in god to experience ultimate bliss.
  • Bhakti yoga requires absolute devotion to god to achieve the ultimate goal.
  • Karma yoga achieves this through selfless work without thought of personal reward.
  • Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge cultivating the discrimination between spiritual reality and the illusion of the material world.
  • It must be realised that there are no clear cut boundaries between these various paths and all draw on the practices and philosophy of the others; effectively all paths have the same goal and "tread the same terrain." They are different views of the same topic.

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