What is Yoga?
Yoga is a practical science of self-cognition, which first appeared in ancient India. For centuries its methods were developed by thousands of sages. In the beginning of our era Yoga was expounded by Patanjali in his work Yoga sutra. We can distinguish various stages in the development of Yoga, as well as many of its incarnations, but all of them are based on the principles stated in this text. Later on, many commentaries were written, which formed the corps of the yogic philosophy. The earliest of them and that of a great importance is that of Vyasa.
The main idea of Yoga consists in the realization of a conscious control over the dense and the subtle aspects of the human being. The absolute alertness is the direction, that all the yoga practices are oriented to. The final result is attaining clear and differentiated vision of the world and the Self, deprived by mental stratifications (in Yoga they are called samskaras) and grief. It seems in our common life apparently all these factors manipulate our real Self, as the latter is transformed in a sort of puppet. However, according to Yoga, that is only ostensibly, because for the Self (as well as called purusha or Atman) is inherent initial and boundless freedom. In the process of evolution (viewed as a game of three constituents, called gunas – the pure principle sattva, the active principle rajas, and the inert principle tamas) we lose the idea of that freedom and begin to identify with the various products of the evolution, namely various all kinds of physical, psychic and mental phenomena.
And that in the end leads only suffering and cyclic existing. Besides, the toughest identifications in question are visible even with an "unarmed" eye. For example – name, sex, profession, sporting partiality. Yoga does not want from us to give up all of them, but it calls on us to realize their position in the overall picture of things.
The word "yoga" itself is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning "to yoke", "to control". What is subject to restricting are the modifications (vritti) of the dependent mind (chitta) that similar to the muddiness in the water, obstruct the self-revealing of the bottom or the real Self.
The definition that Patandjali gives for Yoga is "the restraint ot mental modifications" (I. 2). Two are the cardinal expedients for that deterrence and they are the mutually complements abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa is the practice, the incessant attempt, for maintaining the reached degree of consciousness, while vairagya is disciplining detached and fair-minded attitude. Only in that way the consciousness can be cleared "unhypnotized", so that it could transcendent samskaras.
It can be said that the method and at the same time the final goal of Yoga is the meditation. That is our most natural state at rest that however remains only as potential possibility, due to the presence of dissolving the attention factors and the above all the unceasing mental dialogue that is led in our minds. By the help of abhyasa and vairagya it is suspended and what is above it, is self-revealing. We settle then in the condition of complete isolation - kaivalya. It is qualified with clear discrimination between a inherent freedom of mind and everything else that is conceived in the common life as its limit.
Of course, Yoga is above all issue of personal experience, and not of philosophical speculations and discussions. According to Yoga and Vedanta, the true, absolute essence of the world and the Self, is orally inexpressibly, it is over all consistent structures. The spotlight can show on the screen everything, except itself. But to realize that there is a spotlight at all, we need to stop watching movie after movie, identifying and suffering with the heroes, and turn our gaze back. The entire teaching of Yoga is intended to help us overcome our awkwardness at all levels, in order to manage the implement this reversal. It must not be forgotten therefore that the philosophy and the psychology in Yoga fulfill only a part that is adjuvant for the practice. Yoga is practical science. It is a question of self-growing by means of discipline of body, mind, intellect, emotions and will.
According to Patanjali the path of Yoga can be spread like a succession of eight limbs (angas), because of which its system is frequently called Ashtanga Yoga (eight-limbed yoga). They are not executed strictly in turn and it can be said that they are components more than stages, but each of them is in some manners an absolute postulate for those which follow. In reality for none of the angas can be said that it is fully mastered, before the final one is achieved, which shows that the reverse is true as well. The eight angas are:
- Yama – moral principles. The first degree of Yoga gives directions regarding yogin's place in human's community. Following the cleanliness in the relations with humans is the strong base, only where yoga practice can be build. Yama consists of ahimsa (non-violence), satya, (following the truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (absence of greed).
- Niyama – discipline. That degree outlines the necessity of disciplined treatment to the person himself. It consists of shaucha (purity of body and mind), santosha (complacency and positivism), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (self-study and study of spiritual scriptures) and Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to the divinity).
- Asana – steady and comfortable pose. The body firmness is a condition for meditation happening that can not be disregarded. Control of the mind is possible, only if we have responsible attitude to the body. There is a close relationship between body and mind. The human is an integrity. It can be said that the physical body is just the roughest part of mind, and the mind is the most delicate body part. The asanas are constructed so that to wield impact on the different brawn groups, organs and glands. Many of them have a therapeutic effect as well. The health is on itself a noble goal for each human, but it must not be forgotten that in Yoga the practices are made with another directivity, and namely the self-knowledge.
- Pranayama – control on the vital energy. The word prana means vital energy that is everywhere in us and around us. The entire universe can be viewed as a peculiar power producing labyrinth. According to Yoga breathing is the main and most visible prana regulator in the human's organism. It is known that the respiratory cadence sensitively changes its model depending on the emotional state that we are in. On the other hand, we all have noticed that the realized, slow and deep breathing, calm us and brings a sense of harmony with itself. The mind and the respiratory cycle are related with a thin, but strong thread and this certain circumstance was used in the different respiratory practices.
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects. This is the moment when that the senses tear apart from the outer objects and the yogin begins the real trip to himself. The future stages are explicitly noticed by Patanjali as "more internal" and for them the overall term samyama is introduced.
- Dharana – concentration. Here the mind concentrates on one point. Depending on the technique used, this can be a body part, a graphic symbol, a mantra, or whatever object. According to Vyasa the states of mind are five - kshipta (wandering), vikshipta (gathering) , mudha (ignorant), ekagrata (one-pointed) and nirodha (restrained, suspended). The commentator states that only the final two can be considered as yogic.
– meditation. The concentration naturally goes in
continuous stream of the thought in one direction and
that already is the seventh degree of Yoga. Here the space
of mind can be compared with an electricity conductor,
where the electrons being disordered, attain directivity
(and that for example can also be used for supplying of
different appliances). There isn't a clear restriction
between dharana and dhyana, and the moment when the latter
goes in samadhi cannot be showed as well. In the territory
of samyama the experiences (or more precisely their discontinuance)
are not issue of technique, but of occurence. To outline
the importance of samyama Patanjali gives almost the entire
third pada from Yoga sutra on the description
of diversified marvellous capabilities that can appear
at concentration on some or other phenomena. However,
those capabilities (siddhi) appear to be distractive
factors for the yogin according to him. From yoga viewpoint
their role is concluded in gaining confidence about the
truthfulness of the path and its methods. Therefore siddhis
are not to exercise and even less to be showed in front
- Samadhi – the highest levels of meditation. That is a state beyond any consistent and verbal structures, it can only be hinted with formulations like supreme happiness, tranquillity, pure existence and love, and also by the great art models as well. In samadhi each dualism, including that of the subject and the object absorbs in the clean consciousness that is viewed in Advaita vedanta like the paramount Absolute - the first and the last real essence of the Self, and of the universe as well.