You may wonder…what is yoga? The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate.” Traditionally, yoga is a method of practice that aims to unite the individual consciousness or soul, with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit.
In today’s modern world, many people think of yoga as just physical exercises – the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades. – Yet yoga is far greater than acrobatics. Yoga is a holistic approach to uniting the body, mind and spirit. It’s a way of life; a state of being that brings one to Truth and harmony 24/7!
Yoga – bringing us within.
Most of us are accustomed to looking outside of ourselves for fulfilment. We are living in a world that conditions us to believe that outer attainments can give us what we want. Yet again and again our experiences show us that nothing external can completely fulfil the deep longing within for “something more.”
Yoga is a simple process of reversing the outward flow of energy and consciousness so that the mind becomes a dynamic centre of direct perception no longer dependent upon the fallible senses but capable of actually experiencing Truth.
The many paths of yoga
Yoga has many paths, and while it’s natural to emphasize the practices that one resonates with most, it’s important to integrate the different branches of Yoga to harmonize and evolve the whole personality. These are just some of the paths of Yoga available to us today:
Hatha Yoga – a system of physical postures which aims to purify and then balance the body and mind in preparation for more advanced practices. The word Ha means sun and represents the solar, active, physical energy. Tha means moon and signifies the mental, emotional, intuitive aspect of being. The purpose of Hatha yoga is to balance the physical and mental aspects of our being. Before we can attain this balance, a process of purification is necessary. The different practices of Hatha Yoga include asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), shatkarmas (cleansing practices) mudras (psychic gestures) and bandhas (energy locks).
Karma Yoga – meditation in action. In our physical existence, action is inevitable. Thought, speech and movement are all a part of everyday life. By performing these actions with awareness but without attachment to the result, one can unite with the Higher Self, Universal Consciousness. Karma yoga is a process of self-exploration. As Karma yoga provides an opportunity to observe the thoughts and reactions and over time, it can transform the mind and emotions. Karma yoga assists in the development of an attitude of detachment which allows us to become unaffected by the response of others and the outcome of events. It also helps us move away from likes and dislikes, and to focus the mind on the task at hand.
Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion. The word ‘bhakti’ comes from the root bhaja which means to ‘adore, serve, love, to be devoted.’ The practices of bhakti yoga aim to direct the emotions and feelings towards a greater, sublime experience. Many people give this path a religious bent, however it does not matter whether one is atheist or agnostic. Bhakti Yoga works on intent, love and compassion. It’s about channelling one’s focus and energies to a higher purpose, regardless of religious beliefs.
Jnana Yoga – is a process of sincere self-enquiry using the intellect to attain true wisdom and, eventually, realization. Witnessing and reflecting on one’s actions and thoughts promotes deeper self-understanding. The “SWAN” technique was developed by Swami Niranjanananda as a practical means for individuals to practice Jnana Yoga. SWAN is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs. Through self-analysis one gradually unravels the layers of ignorance, until the true ‘Self’ is revealed.
Raja Yoga – is the path to enlightenment through meditation. This system of yoga was compiled by the Sage Patanjali and described in the ancient text, the Yoga Sutras. It encompasses eight systematic stages to refine human behaviour and personality to the development of spiritual awareness and awakening. The first two stages are the ethical guidelines of yamas (self-restraints) and niyamas (inner disciplines) and they form the basis for the remaining six stages of Raja Yoga: Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), Dharana (concentration or one-pointedness) and Dhyana (meditation). The ultimate aim is Samadhi (absorption, self-realization) – merging with universal consciousness.