Yoga, basically means union, the unanimous harmony of mind, body, and spirit. For instance, if you look down a lake without any tides or dirt, you will be able to see deeper. In fact, if the lake is very clear without any ripples or dirt, you may even see till the bottom. However, if the lake is dirty or has high ripples, you cannot see much deep. In this case, you can assume the depth as your spirit (your true self) and the ripple/tide or the dirt as the distortions of your mind. Which means, a disturbed or a messed up mind doesn’t let you see your true self, your spirit/soul. Hence, yoga is the tool that liberates you from your mental distortions, your false notions, the illusions; it calms your mind from those distortions and hence unites you with your highest self. In simpler terms, Yoga unites the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness.
Today, Yoga is more popular than ever, either understood as a form of physical exercise or as asanas (physical postures), everyone follows it to have a better control of mind and body and to enhance their well-being. In 5,000 years of its history, the term “yoga” has gone through a massive change in its culture, exchanging the loincloth for a leotard and leggings. In this article, you can understand what is Yoga, its history, types, the changing culture, Yoga Sutras, and benefits.
- History of Yoga
- What is Patanjali Yoga Sutras?
- The Yoga Culture and its Progression
- In Conclusion
History of Yoga
Yoga has its roots up to the ancient times of civilization. From the Vedas to modern practices in the gyms, it has come a long way. Believed to be originated more than 5000 years ago in ‘the spiritual capital of the world’, India. Historians state that the practice of yoga even dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation (3000-1800 BCE), and the Quetta, Harappan, and Mohenjo Daro civilizations. Excavations carried out in these areas brought to light the Pashupati Seal, that shows a figure sitting in a yogic posture. Thus, explaining how yoga was already known and practiced even then.
Primarily, the earliest mention of the powerful techniques is known to be found in the oldest known literature, the Rig Veda. However, the earliest mention of the philosophy that later became a part of yoga is found in the oldest Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka. One of the most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad Gita, composed around 500 B.C.E. Here, yoga as a concept slowly emerged and has an elaborate mention of its philosophy. However, there is Yoga Vasishtha and more than 20 Upanishads. where Yoga is stated to be the union of mind with the Supreme Consciousness. Interestingly, it even predates Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita.
Regardless, yoga is perhaps most systematically elaborated and presented in the ancient philosophy, The Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
What is Patanjali Yoga Sutras?
Sutras (in Sanskrit) literally means a thread or string that holds things together and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are completely dedicated to the knowledge of Yoga which still is the strongest influencer of most modern forms of yoga. It is an ancient philosophy that enlightens one in the knowledge of yoga, its origin, and the ultimate purpose. Its purpose is to make the principles and practices of the Yoga formulae more understandable and accessible for all. In the Yoga Sutras, practical and easy suggestions are presented through which one can experience the ultimate benefits of a yogic lifestyle.
Guided by a single thread, a kite can glide and soar to amazing heights. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are life’s threads, each one rich with knowledge, tools, and techniques. These sutras guide not only the mind but also one’s very being to its full potential. Basically, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer a systematic form of wisdom for attaining self-realization/enlightenment.
The Origin of Patanjali Yoga Sutras
The creator of the sutras (formulae/threads of knowledge) is Maharishi Patanjali, who is also considered as ‘the father of Yoga’. Although people know very little about Patanjali himself, many believe he’s thought to have lived between 200 and 500 B.C. At the time when the Ayurveda was the greatest wisdom, people had to cure their illness. Patanjali brought forward this powerful knowledge, which came to be known as ‘Yoga Sutras’.
Since, being sick it is not just sickness in the body, but also the sickness in the mind and emotions. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali projects the knowledge that doesn’t just cure the body but also purify the mind, emotions and the complete existence itself, all through Yoga. Patanjali Yoga Sutras with a total of 196 Sutras is divided into 4 chapters.
The Four Chapters of Patanjali Yoga Sutras
i. Samadhi Pada – 51 Sutras
Samadhi refers to a blissful state of existence that is believed to be even beyond mind and meditation. It is believed to be so beautiful that you slip into a transcendental state where even the feeling of ‘I’ (the ego) is absent. In a meditation, memory is still awake but one becomes free from the clutches of memory if you practice Samadhi. Thus, Samadhi is a primary technique the yogis learn by which they dive into the depths of the self to achieve Kaivalya.
Thus in this chapter, the author describes yoga and then our true nature and then he instructs the means to attain Samadhi. Patanjali begins this chapter with a definition of yoga as the state that arises when fluctuations in the mind are stilled. He tells us that a balance of effort and letting go are the ways to attain mental silence. Patanjali lists the obstacles we may encounter to attaining mental silence. But, having overcome such obstacles, he explains what it is like when we have achieved mental silence as well.
ii. Sadhana Pada – 55 Sutras
Sadhana in Sanskrit means ‘practice’ and Sadhana Pada simply means, ‘the path of practice’. Here, in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains the two paths or the two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eight-limbed Yoga).
He begins with a definition of Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, which consists of deliberate effort, a study of the self and traditional texts, and devotion. The purpose of Kriya Yoga is to alleviate the causes of suffering and to attain Samadhi. Kriya Yoga has three parts:
- Tapas – Endurance and Acceptance.
- Swadhyaaya – Self-awareness, and self-study.
- Ishwara Pranidhaana – Devotion to and love for the divine.
Ashtanga Yoga (Eight Limbs Of Yoga)
Patanjali in his book ‘Yoga Sutras’ talks about the ‘Eight Limbs Of Yoga’ called the Ashtanga Yoga explained briefly in the following text.
Yama is the first of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the yoga sutras. Yama is also sometimes called “the five restraints” because it describes what one should avoid to rise on the spiritual path. Yamas are ethical and moral rules and the Five Yamas listed by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutra are,
Ahimsa: Non-violence or not harming other beings
Brahmacharya: Moving into Bigness; Chastity
Aparigraha: Non-accumulation, Non-possessiveness
Niyama is the second limb of the spiritual path as outlined by the ancient sage Patanjali in his yoga sutras. It lists five things you should do to make spiritual progress. They are,
Saucha: Cleanliness or purity of the body
Santosha: Happiness and Contentment
Tapas – Endurance and Acceptance
Swadhyaaya – Self-awareness, and self-study
Ishwara Pranidhaana – Devotion to and love for the divine
Asana is the physical practice of yoga, which is also commonly known as the yoga postures. Yet, asana is not just a simple exercise. It is a physical medium through which we can keep the mind calm and balanced. There is this very beautiful quote on asana by Patanjali, “Sthira sukham asanam“, which means, “That which is steady and which is comfortable is asana”. In a deeper scenario, Asana extends our comfort level by shifting even our uncomfortable zone into a pleasant one.
Life is full of possibilities where anything can happen and smaller your comfort zone, there is more that you are uncomfortable with. Thus, life being vast, yet one being comfortable only in a limited sphere brings more misery. The university exists in duality due to which there are always ups and downs in life. Asana is that which enables us to maintain the equanimity. Asana is a practice to find comfort and stability in any kind of posture. In a way, it is the medium to train the mind to be stable or balanced through body postures.
Prana is the life force, the vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, for us to survive. It is said that life force energy flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called the ‘Nadis’ (energy channels) and energy centers (junctions of those Nadis) called ‘Chakras’. It is very important that a good quantity and quality of prana flows through the Nadis and chakras as it determines one’s state of mind. Similar to a vehicle, where having a good flow and quality of gas gives a better performance. Having a continuous, smooth, steady flow and high level of prana keeps the mind calm, positive and enthusiastic.
However, just like how a vehicle’s performance deteriorates with its continuous usage, time and other conditions, so does our mind. Ensuing, even our mind needs some sort of servicing just like a vehicle to keep it in its best form. As it is the prana or life force in us that nourishes the mind and keeps the body alive, Pranayam is one of the best ways to service our mind.
‘Prana’ refers to the universal life force and ‘Ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Pranayam is a yogic way of breathing to increase our prana. Thus, with the help of breath, the process or practice increases and enhance the quantity and quality of prana and clearing the blockages in Nadis and chakras. As a result making one more energetic, enthusiastic, positive and have a good state of mind.
Pratyahara is the aware full interiorization of one’s senses. The nature of our senses is to flow outwards. For instance, everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is something happening outside of us. As a result, even our energy that goes into the senses goes outwards. Thus, Pratyahara is the conscious process of turning our attention and thoughts inwards by withdrawing our energy from the senses.
Dharana means stillness of thought in the mind. In a simpler term it can be said as having an introspective focus, concentration or one-pointedness thought of mind. Usually, our mind is bombarded with various thoughts, emotions, and ideas. It usually swings like a pendulum in the past and the future. Dharana is when our mind is focused in the present moment. This step is imperative for the next limb, ‘Meditation’, as without Dharana, meditation is not possible.
Dhyana is the practice of meditation, which is the art of doing nothing. The state of meditation is beautiful and amazing where we are both in deep rest and awareness at the same time. More so, the rest in meditation is said to be deeper than the deepest sleep. A calm mind, good concentration, clarity of perception, improvement in communication, inner strength, and relaxation are all natural results of meditating regularly.
In today’s world where stress catches on faster than the eye can see or the mind can perceive, meditation is no more a luxury. It is a necessity. Meditation is a gift for the humankind holds the power to unconditional happiness and peace of mind.
Samadhi the blissful state of existence that is even believed to be beyond mind, ‘Dharana’ and meditation. It is believed to be so beautiful that you slip into a transcendental state where the feeling of ‘I’ (the ego) is absent. In a meditation, memory is still awake but in the state of samadhi, we become free from the clutches of memory. Thus, Samadhi is the main technique that the yogis learn to dive deeper into the self.
Samadhi is the state of oneness, where there is no distinction, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind dissolves the sense of its own identity into the higher identity. The thinker, the thought process and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness in samadhi, which happens through sustained practice of meditation.
The eight limbs of yoga support one another, but their progression isn’t meant to be rigid. For example, someone might begin the practice of an asana before they have mastered Niyama, still, they must follow the overall elements of the 8 limbs to have a wholesome growth.
iii. Vibhuti Pada – 56 Sutras
The third chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is about the results, power, and manifestation once the union is achieved. It is said, yogis achieve mystical powers (siddhi) due to the regular practice of yoga. However, this chapter notifies yogis that these very same powers can become a hindrance in their path to liberation. Furthermore, it warns against the temptations of the eight siddhis or supernatural powers that a yogi can achieve in the higher levels of spiritual development.
The 56 sutras in this chapters dive deeper into the last three limbs of yoga, which are collectively known as Samyama. Patanjali explains how Samyama is used as the finer tool to remove the subtler veils of ignorance, in this chapter.
iv. Kaivalya Pada – 34 Sutras
The fourth and the final chapter of the Yoga Sutras from Patanjali is entitled as Kaivalya Pada, which is the chapter on moksha, liberation or enlightenment. The 34 sutras in this chapter explain how the mind is constructed and envelops the inner light of the self. It describes how the yogi deals with the overall process and after-effects of enlightenment. Patanjali outlines his theory of consciousness, how it is constructed and what happens to it when the mind is liberated and the fundamental confusion between the isolated self and a Universal Self.
Kaivalya means “aloneness” but it does not refer to isolation from people but it rather refers to the deepest realization, where there is no division between self and other. We live in an illusion that we are all separate or divided and the very fall of that illusion upon the experiential realization of the oneness is Kaivalya.
Together, these four chapters from the Patanjali Yoga Sutras focus on a person’s overall evolution as a Yogi. Through the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has provided the highest knowledge to reach the ultimate. Thus, the Yoga Sutras from Patanjali stand tall as one of the best and the most practiced philosophy in the realm of a spiritual journey for yogis.
The Yoga Culture and its Progression
Change is inevitable and it is true in with practices and the culture of yoga. Yoga has come a long way and with the changing time, there are many practices of Yoga that has progressed as well.
Most Famous Forms of Yoga Practice
- Hatha Yoga
- Raja Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Bikram Yoga
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Restorative Yoga
- Hot Yoga
- Power Yoga
In the past few decades, we have seen the Yoga culture going through various transformations. From being frowned upon to being hailed as one of the best natural therapies out there, it has come a long way. The barriers of caste, creed and social status have been uprooted from yoga to bring it to every home. Rewardingly, the benefits of yoga have not gone unnoticed in the international community. Thus, the United Nations has passed a resolution to celebrate yoga by announcing June 21st as the International Yoga Day.