Those of you who know me recognize that yoga is a big part of my life. Many people think yoga is associated with a certain type(s) of religion, but that’s not the case. I wrote this article to demystify the practice of yoga and to provide some background on the yoga’s science and systems.
by Terry A. Rondberg, DC
Yoga is an age-old science, meaning to ‘yug’ or to merge the soul with universal wisdom. But most of us cannot define our soul and universal wisdom is beyond our comprehension. Universal intelligence is identified differently by different nationalities. It is referred to as Brahman, Paramatma, Consciousness, Universe, Life, Sat Nam, the Word, God; The Absolute etc.
Some consider yoga a science. Dogmatic rituals are not supported by yoga and yoga encourages continuous religious practice. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is against rules because it can enslave the mind. The purpose of yoga is to erase the ego and bring the inner peace.
As human beings, we all want love, joy and peace, which yoga defines as the experience of truth. One path would uphold for everyone since our levels of intelligence and personal experiences vary.
Each person has their unique philosophy, which creates diversity and is quite beneficial, allowing individuals to discover their unique path. But we are all more alike than we are different. For example, every human being is made of the same five elements, consciousness and energy and the desire to be happy, joyous and free.
The yoga systems (sadhanas), are designed to transcend the mind, so we may become more aware. Yoga’s four categories offer something different for every person but all four types can be practiced together. Typically, we prefer one type which may be the primary focus of our yoga practice.
The four Yogas are Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga (Hatha Yoga), Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Most yoga practices fall in one of these categories.
Jnana means wisdom which translates to worldly knowledge and self-knowledge. Jnana Yoga is the latter. Many of us often wonder, who we are and where we came from instead of asking, in which direction are we headed?
Jnana Yoga disregards abstract ideas and beliefs. Jnana Yoga teaches a student to sit quietly, close the eyes and ask, what do I know? One must be completely honest and question previous notions. Honestly answer, who am I? Are you certain you are living up to you given name?
Jnana Yoga is a path of inquiry. Some of the great Jnani Yogis were, Buddha, Gandhi, Maharishi, Nishagahata Maharaj, and Socrates.
The goal of modern-day Jnana Yogi is to continuously ask who is successful, who has failed, who is happy, who is sad, who is altruistic and who is egotistical?
Bhakti Yoga centers around unconditional love for all and is said to be the path to God’s glory. Bhakti is utter selfless love focusing on sacrifice and acts of service. Bhakti Yogis practice the oneness of mankind and do not discriminate against race, gender and religion.
Bhakti Yoga has three stages: being a servant of God; a child of God and God and His servant become one. These are the three philosophies: Dwaita (duality – us and God), Vishistadwaita (non-qualified duality – we are one), and Adwaita (non-dualism – all is one without separation).
The first order under Bhakti Yoga is to establish one’s level of experience and act accordingly. One should not live a belief system if he has not experienced it.
If our experience does not involve God, then Bhakti Yoga would encourage us to dedicate and selflessly work for God. This helps the disciple erase the ego and connect more with God.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says God has a higher and lower nature. God’s higher nature, Purusha or consciousness, resembles the reflection of sunlight on water. It remains unaffected from this nether world.
God’s lower nature involves the mind, the intellect and the ego, which are referred to as Prakriti or nature. Nature’s three qualities, inertia, activity, harmony (tamas, ragas and sattva), are considered responsible for all that takes place in our world.
Vedanta philosophy states that truth or untruth (mithya) does not exist. Like the scene on a movie projector, the truth is not influenced by the scene (energy or nature) on the projector.
One way to see our universe is to comprehend that energy or light combines with consciousness. Though consciousness and light are often referred to as two different things, realistically, they are one.
Raja Yoga (king) aims at mastering the mind and is referred to as the king of methods.
However, practitioners differ on which method is most useful. For example, Bhakti Yogis claims it is the ultimate path, offering happiness. Raja Yoga is a disciplined path, involving hours of practice in asana, pranayama and meditation.
Hatha Yoga is said to be a preliminary of Raja Yoga. Ashtanga (eight limbs) Yoga is for more advanced practioners. In Patanali’s Yoga Sutras Patanali starts by saying, “Atta Yoganushasanam,” meaning ‘now, the practice of Yoga begins,’ emphasizing that preparation is necessary before you begin practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
There are no rituals in Hatha Yoga but in Ashtanga Yoga, universal and individual codes of conduct lead to more advanced techniques. Without a clear mind, asana, pranayama, and mediation are useless for spiritual growth.
Karma Yoga is the path of action and suits 99% of the people. However, the ability to sit with a still mind is difficult. For those who tend to be more spiritual, Karma Yoga is the act of submission to God. Karma Yoga involves actively using our senses. Observing the mind’s reactions is also part of Karma Yoga.
With Karma Yoga you:
Eat when you eat,
Work when you work,
Play when you play,
Sleep when you sleep.
It is paramount to act completely selfless and disregard any potential rewards from your actions. Yoga’s purpose is to still the mind and connect better with God. If we are only concerned with fulfilling our desires, we may get what we wish for and probably crave more. Some call this greed. If we don’t get our way, we may get angry. Neither greed nor anger still the mind.
“Motivated action i.e., action performed with an eye on the fruits thereof, is far inferior to desireless action; seek thou refuge in equanimity; wretched are the result seekers”. Bhagavad-Gita
It is evident the various yoga methods offer some benefit for every unique individual.