Yoga is a gift from God to the mankind to realize their own true nature and connection with the Universe.
Yoga is one of the oldest systems in the world, which deals with personal development, emphasizing union of the body, mind and soul. The word yoga comes from Sanskrit and it means union. Practicing yoga deepens the understanding between the self and nature. It creates lightness and gentleness of the whole being.
Yoga has originated in India and went through a long history. Today still new and new yoga techniques are being developed by various yogis/yoginis from the whole world. Today we know four major paths of yoga:
Karma Yoga (path of selfless service and clear awareness of our action)
Jnana Yoga (path of intellect dealing with wisdom and knowledge)
Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion)
Raja Yoga (the "royal" path, focuses on controlling the mind)
Ha - sun Tha - moon
Hatha Yoga is considered to be the continuation of Raja Yoga. It means the union of two opposite energies - solar and lunar. Hatha also means a force or determined effort and Yoga means union.
Yoga may be practiced by all regardless age, sex and race. Regular daily practice of all four major paths of this structure of yoga produces a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.
Yoga is a method of learning that aims to attain the unity of mind, body, and spirit.To achieve this there are many different techniques. In Raja Yoga the most important techniques are asanas, pranayama and meditation.
Asanas are much more than aesthetic experience. By practicing them regularly, we improve our breathing, stimulate the nervous system and improve circulation in our bodies. By exercising the muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments we increase our flexibility. On a deeper level we sharpen the mind, rejuvenate the whole system and effect the astral body.
Prana is the vital, life-sustaining force of all beings and it is the essence of everything in the whole universe. Yama means "control", so Pranayama is control of prana. Pranayama consist of series of breathing exercises along with bandhas (contraction of certain organs in the body) and mudras (special position of the fingers). All diseases, whether emotional or physical, can be destroyed by controlling and regulating Prana.
In Meditation, the meditator is not aware of the act of meditation. He is only aware of that he exists as a pure consciousness of being. To meditate is not easy. Before attempting meditating, one must undergo a long practice ofAsanas and Pranayama to make his body strong, his emotions stable and his mind focused. Regular meditation will help to achieve balanced mind and improve the ability to concentrate without any disturbance.
Other techniques of yoga include the shatkarmas used in Hatha Yoga.These techniques are designed to clean the body internally. Shed Kriyasinclude neti, dhauti, basti, kapalabhati, trataka, and nauli. The practice of Bhakti Yoga is characterized by performing japa ritual, where yogi/devotee repeats a mantra ("divine syllable" or poem, usually in Sanskrit language) with the help of a garland of beads. The repetition can be aloud or silent.
According to Indian Mythology, the founder of Yoga is god Shiva.
Pre - Vedic Yoga
Older findings such as triangular amulet seal uncovered at the Mohenjo-daro show us that yoga existed in some form well before the establishment of vedas in the Indian subcontinent. Different images of men doing headstand and sitting in cross - legged position have been found around the river Indus about 3000 BCE during the times of Harappan civilization (where is now Pakistan and Northern India). Since the language of Harappan culture remains indecipherable, the function of yoga from those times stays unexplained.
Vedic Culture and Yoga
The function of yoga was first mentioned in the ancient texts known as theVedas. The Vedas are collections of different texts which praise higher powers. Rig Veda, considered to be the oldest of the four main chapters of the Vedas, contains the oldest recorded Yogic Teachings and is considered divine revelation. Ideas of uniting mind, body and soul in the cosmic one are here presented as the ideas from which the oldest yogic practices originated.
More than 1000 BCE, ancient texts called Upanishads have appeared. In theUpanishades, yoga was explained as a path taken to achieve freedom from suffering. The Upanishads further expound and reinterpret the Vedas. The Karma doctrine is believed to have originated with the Upanishads as well. the first principal Yoga text is the Bhagavad Gita ("The Lord's Song"), also known as Gitopanishad, written about 500 BCE. The Bhagavad Gita elaborates in detail on Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga.
After the Bhagavad Gita, the next seminal work on Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written in the second century CE. The Sutras consist of 195 aphorisms divided in 4 chapters. They prescribe to follow the path of "eight limbs" to quiet one's mind and to free one from suffering. Patanjali's work forms and defines Raja Yoga as well as much of Tantra yoga.
Post Classical Era of Yoga
Post Classical Era of Yoga is characterized by the appearance of Tantra and Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita - all these texts deal with Hatha Yoga. Spreading the teachings of yoga to the west can be attributed to many Indian gurus. Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, came to the US in the late 1800's to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago of 1893 to spread the teachings of Yoga. Another popular guru was Swami Paramashansa Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and wrote Autobiography of a Yogi. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a bkakti yogi,who popularized Transcendental Meditation (TM). Modern Yoga, as we know it today, consists of complex system of asanas and physical exercises. The credit for creating and developing a big repertoire of asanas, pranayama techniques, mudras and bandhas take three Indian swamis, who presented it not only to men, but to women as well. They were Swami Kuvalayananda, Swami Sivananda a Sri Krishnamacharya. Sri Krishnamacharya's three students became very popular and influential in the yoga community. Indra Devi, who originally came from Latvia became known as the "First Lady of Yoga". Pattabhi Jois perfected the system of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and nowdays his family still teach this style in Mysore, India. B.K.S Iyengar, well known author of the book "Light on Yoga" has created his own unique style of yoga by focusing his attention on right body alignment and even offering props to his less flexible, older clients.
Practicing yoga is a lifelong task and its challenges are not easy. Sadhana, literally "the means of achieving a particular goal" must be practiced constantly.
"As by learning the alphabet one can, through practice, master all the sciences, so by thoroughly practising first physical training one acquires the knowledge of Truth, that is the real nature of the human soul as being identical with the Supreme Spirit pervading the Universe." (Gheranda Samhita, chapter I, verse 5)
There are two forms of existence - purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (matter). Purusa is eternal and unchanging. Prakriti is in constant motion, but without consciousness. It is composed of the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva.
The ultimate goal of yoga is the attainment of liberation (Moksha) from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara). Yoga entails mastery over the body, mind, and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. It is said to lead gradually to knowledge of the true nature of Absolute Reality.