What is Yoga? The simple definition of yoga is to “yoke”- joining as in a union. On a practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind, and emotions. Modern cultures primarily recognize the physical limb of yoga, hatha yoga. Yoga however, is much more complex than the modern interpretations of it. The physical exercises we commonly associate with yoga help align our body, mins and spirit to achieve a peaceful state of samadhi, complete absorption in our spiritual reality.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – The Bhagavad Gita
“Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodaha” ( Yoga is to still the movements of the mind) – Patanjali, Yoga Sutras 1.2 Historical Perspective
The word yoga means “unity” or “oneness” and is derived from the Sanskrit wors yuj, which means “to join” (yoke). This unity, or joining, is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, This is done through the practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, and meditation, and must be achieved before union can take place with the higher reality.
Scientific Perspective Yoga is the science of living and, as much, is intended to be incorporated in daily life. Yoga works on all aspects of the person; the physical, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual. The science of yoga begins to work on the outer most aspect of the personality, the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point. When imbalance is experienced at this level, the organs, muscles, and nerves no longer function in harmony, rather they act in opposition to each other, For instance the endocrine system might become irregular and the efficiency of the nervous system decrease to such an extent that a disease will manifest. Yoga aims to bring the different bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for the good of the whole body.
Personal Perspective From the physical body, yoga moves onto the mental and emotional levels. Many people suffer from phobias as a result of the stresses and interactions of everyday living. Yoga cannot provide a cure for everyday life, but it does present a proven method for coping with it. Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh explained yoga as an “. . . integration and harmony between thought, feeling and deed, or integration between head, heart and hand”. Through the practices of yoga, awareness develops of the interconnectedness between the emotional, mental and physical levels, and how a disturbance in any one of these affects the others. Gradually this awareness leads to an understanding of the more subtle areas of existence.
Philosophical Perspective There are many branches of yoga: raja, hatha, jnana, karma, bhakti, mantra, kundalini and laya,
to name but a few, and many texts explain them in detail. Each individual needs to find those yogas most suited to his or her particular personality and need. In the last half of the twentieth century, hatha yoga has become the most well-known and widely practiced of the systems. However, the concept of what constitutes yoga is broadening as more people take it up, and this knowledge is spreading. In the ancient texts, hatha yoga consists of the shatkarmas, cleansing practices only. Today, however, hatha yoga commonly embraces the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha as well.
Modern Perspective In recent decades modern yoga has seen many changes, largely by the inclusion of other forms of physical movement attaching a resemblance of asana to them, modification of asana and sequences, and the removal of philosophical perspectives and other limbs of Yoga, so much so to the point that some activities that are titled yoga barely resemble even the most basic principles of hatha yoga. While including facets of hatha yoga in other forms of Physical Culture can be seen as an honorary respect for the traditions of yoga, however, as a responsible and honest yoga teacher, one must continually practice self awareness and be mindful to know what to title yoga and what not to. This aspect is fundamentally important to the purpose of yoga. Yoga is probably needed more now in modern society than it ever was and it is now becoming an accepted part of modern life. By preserving the traditions and methods of yoga, many more people can reap the significantly important benefits and joys that it brings to individuals and the masses alike.