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What is Yoga?

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 Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy (the ṣaḍ darśana). This school of thought was systematised by the sage Patañjali. Patañjali compiled the principles of yoga in the Yoga Sūtra, a collection of 185 aphorisms.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj. Yuj has many meanings, the relevant ones here being ‘ to yoke’, ‘to join’, ‘to bind’, ‘to unite’, ‘to harness’. In the Mahābhārata, one of the meanings of yuj is ‘to direct the thoughts to’. ‘yujyate anena iti yogaḥ’, or, that which unites is yoga.

The basic ancient texts on yoga are:

  • Yoga Sūtra, a collection of 185 aphorisms, author, systematiser – Patañjali;
  • Yoga Vāsiṣṭha, author Vālmīki;
  • Bhagavad Gīta, one of the three basic texts of Vēdānta, author Vyāsa;
  • Upaniṣads, the latest part of Vēdic texts, which revalued the message of Vēdas from ritualism and injunctions to the wisdom and understanding of the Absolute.

According to Patañjali’s ‘Yoga Sūtra’, Yogaḥ chittavṛitti nirodhaḥ. Yoga is the cessation or inhibition of the fluctuations of the mind 

According to Upanishadic tradition, yoga is that higher state of consciousness in which the sense organs and the mind desist from their fluctuations, and the intellect (buddhi) remains calm/fixed/unwavering. It is the conscious process of gaining mastery over one’s mind.

There are two aspects to mastery over the mind. One is, the more common, ability to concentrate on a chosen object. The other is the ability to remain calm under any circumstance. Yoga lays emphasis on the second aspect.

Yoga Vāsiṣṭha, a renowned text on yoga, says manah praśamanopāyaḥ yoga ityabhidhīyate. Upāya means a subtle way or stratagem. The subtle way, or trick, to calm the mind is yoga. Yoga is performing action with the intellect unaffected by the result of the action one is performing. It takes certain skill, or dexterity to accomplish this. This dexterity can also mean being able to maintain relaxation and awareness in action. The process of relaxed action has efficiency as its outcome.

In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gīta, Krishna tells Arjuna that ‘ just as a lamp doesn’t flicker in a place where wind does not blow, so too a yogi finds eternal joy by stilling the restlessness of the mind, intellect and the self (ahaṅkāra).

According to Śri Aurobindo, yoga is the conscious, methodical effort of an individual to develop his latent potentialities. He emphasises an all round development of the physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects.

Yogaḥ aprāptasya prāpanam Yoga is attaining the unattainable.

The mind wields much power over our actions, and therefore, our life. The mind is restless, wilful, and hard to harness. The mind can be trained through constant practise (abhyāsa) and by freedom from desire (vairāgya). Pain is caused by the non-attainment of one’s desires. Once the mind is free from desire of any kind, one’s life becomes free from pain. One is set free. This is the ultimate reward of yoga.

In today’s world, yoga has become a fad. It is seen as a safe way to promote and preserve health. While this is not true, it must be understood that mere contortions is not yoga. Asanas are only a part of yoga. Many asanas are prescribed as therapy in specific disease conditions, of both body and mind.

Many unusual feats are achieved, through practice and skill. This does not make one a yogi, a practitioner of yoga. A true yogi is one who has gained the ability to remain steadfast, calm, neutral and quiet in whichever circumstance he may find himself. A yogi is one who performs action, because he sees the need for the action, without being attached to the outcome of it. He is one who is truly at peace with himself and the world, realising that the world and the individual are one, and that both are part of Brahman, the Supreme. Anything less than this total integration of oneself with Brahman is not yoga.

Hypatia Anasuya Chaitanya

Ayurvedic doctor,

Central Hospital in Gudalur

First time this text was published by our friends Gundega Baltic School of Yoga on their webpage