What is yoga?

The word Yoga means bind and union. Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit of which the individual human spirit is a part. The system of yoga teaches the means by which the individual spirit can be united the Supreme Universal Spirit.


1. Yama (universal moral commandments) 2. Niyama (self purification by discipline) 3. Asana (posture) 4. Pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath) 5. Pratyahara (emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses) 6. Dharana (concentration) 7. Dhyana (meditation) 8. Samadhi (a state of super-consciousness, in which a person becomes one with the Universal Spirit) The first three stages are the outward quests. The next two stages are the inner quests. The last three stages keep him in harmony with himself and his Maker.

There are different paths (margas) by which a man travels to his Maker. In Karma Marga, a man realizes his own divinity through work and duty. In Bhakti Marga, there is realization through devotion to and love of a personal God. In Jnana Marga, realization comes through knowledge. In Yoga Marga, a man realizes his own divinity through control of the mind.

Mind is the king of the senses. One who conquered his mind, senses, passions, thought, and reason is a king among men. He is fit for Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga deals with physical discipline. Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach towards Liberation.

This path of Yoga is the fountain for the other three paths. It brings calmness and tranquility and prepares the mind for absolute unqualified self-surrender to God, in which all these four paths merge into one.

Chitta Vrtti (Causes for the Modification of the Mind)

There are five classes of chitta vrtti which create pleasure and pain.

1) Pramana (a standard or ideal)
Things or values are measured by the mind or known, which men accept upon (a) direct evidence such as perception, (b) inference, (c) testimony or the word of an acceptable authority.
2) Viparyaya (a mistaken view which is observed to be such after study)
3) Vikalpa (fancy or imagination, resting on verbal expression without any factual basis)
4) Nirda (sleep, where there is the absence of ideas and experiences.)
5) Smrti (memory, the holding fast of the impressions of objects that one has experienced.)

There are five causes of chitta vrtti creating pain.
1) Avidya (ignorance or nescience)
2) Asmita (the feeling of individuality which limits a person and distinguishes him from a group.)
3) Raga (attachment or passion)
4) Dvesa (aversion or revulsion)
5) Abhinivesa (love of thirst for life, the instinctive clinging to worldly life and bodily)

Chitta vrtti disturb the peace of the mind. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it.

Chitta Viksepa (Distractions and Obstacles)

1) Vyadhi (sickness)
If the body is broken by ill-health, the aspirant can achieve little. Physical health is important for mental development.
2) Styana (languor)
A person suffering from languor has no goal, no path to follow and no enthusiasm.
3) Samsaya (doubt)
The seeker should have faith in himself and his master. He should have faith that God is ever by his side and that no evil can touch him.
4) Pramada (indifference)
A person suffering from indifference is full of self-importance, lacks any humility and believes that he alone is wise. Such a person is blind to God's glory and deaf to His words.
5) Alasya (laziness)
To remove the obstacle of laziness, unflagging enthusiasm is needed.
6) Avirati (sensuality, the rousing of desire when sensory objects possess the mind)
Without being attached to the objects of sense, the yogi learns to enjoy them with the aid of the senses which are completely under his control.
7) Bhranti Darsana (false or invalid knowledge)
He has a powerful intellect but lacks humility and makes a show of wisdom. By remaining in the company of great souls and through their guidance he sets his foot firmly on the right path.
8) Alabdha Bhumikatva (failure to attain continuity of thought or concentration)
He might have had glimpses of reality but he can not see clearly.
9) Anavasthitattva (instability in holding on to concentration)
Even at this last stage continuous endeavour is essential.

There are four more distractions.
1) Duhkha (pain or misery)
2) Daurmansya (despair)
3) Angamejayatva (unsteadiness of the body)
4) Svasa-Prasvasa (unsteady respiration)

To overcome the obstacles and to win unalloyed happiness, there is fourfold remedy below.
1) Maitri
This is not merely friendliness, but also a feeling of oneness with the object of friendliness. For example, a mother feels intense happiness at the success of her children.
2) Karuna
This is not merely showing pity or compassion and shedding tears of despair at the misery of others. It is compassion coupled with devoted action to relieve the misery of the afflicted. The yogi shares his strength with the weak until they become strong.
3) Mudita
This is a feeling of delight at the good work done by another, even though he may be a rival.
4) Upeksa
This is not merely a feeling of disdain or contempt for the person who has fallen into vice or one of indifference or superiority towards him. It is an examination to see how far one is responsible for the state into which the unfortunate one has fallen and the attempt thereafter to put him on the right path.

Sisya and Guru (A Pupil and a Master)

Pupils are divided into four classes.
1) feeble seeker
The Guru guides such seekers in the path of Mantra Yoga only. Mantra means a sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with full understanding of its meaning.
2) average seeker
The Guru teaches a person Laya Yoga, which gives liberation.
3) superior seeker
The Guru instructs a person in Hatha Yoga.
4) supreme seeker
A person fits for all forms of Yoga.

The syllable gu means darkness and ru means light. The person alone is a Guru who removes darkness and brings enlightenment. He is not an ordinary guide. He is a spiritual teacher who teaches a way of life.

The relationship between a Guru and a pupil is a very special one.
A Guru devotedly leads his pupil towards the ultimate goal without any attraction for fame or gain. He shows the path of God and watches the progress of his disciple, guiding him along that path. He inspires confidence, devotion, discipline, deep understanding and illumination through love.
A pupil should possess the necessary qualifications of higher realization and development. He must have confidence, devotion and love for his Guru.

Sadhana (A Key to Freedom)

The senses are more powerful than the objects of desire. Greater than the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the reason and superior to reason is He-the Spirit in all.
The yogi renounces all that takes him away from the Lord. He renounces his own desires, knowing that all inspiration and right action come from the Lord. He cuts the bonds that tie himself to his actions by dedicating their fruits either to the Lord or to humanity.

Astanga Yoga (The Eight Limbs of Yoga)

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is divided into four chapters. The first deals with samadhi, the second with the means to achieve Yoga, the third enumerates the powers that the yogi comes across in his quest, and the fourth deals with absolution.

1. Yama (ethical disciplines)

1) Ahimsa (nonviolence)
Men take to violence to protect their own interests-their own bodies, their loved ones, their property or dignity. A man must rely upon God, who is the source of all strength.
The yogi believes that he is born to help others and he looks upon creation with eyes of love. He believes that for a wrong done by himself, there should be justice, while for that done by another there should be forgiveness.
Along with ashimsa go abhaya (freedom from fear) and akrodha (freedom from anger).

2) Satya (truth)
Satya or truth is the highest rule of conduct or morality. The man firmly established in truth gets the fruit of his actions without apparently doing anything.

3) Asteya (non-stealing)
The desire to possess and enjoy what another has, drives a person to do evil deeds. The yogi reduces his physical needs to the minimum, believing that if he gathers things he does not really need, he is a thief.

4) Brahmacharya (continence)
Brahmacharya means the life of celibacy, religious study and self-restraint. Brahmacharya has little to do with whether one is a bachelor or married and living the life of a householder. Without experiencing human love and happiness, it is not possible to know divine love. Almost all the yogis and sages of old in India were married men with families of their own.

5) Apparigraha (non-coveting)
One should not take things one does not really need, so one should not hoard or collect things one does not require immediately. By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything.

2. Niyama

Niyama are the rules of conduct that apply to individual discipline.

1) Saucha (purity)
Purity of body is essential for well-being. While good habits like bathing purity the body externally, asana and pranayama cleanse it internally. The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities caused by over-indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves. Besides purity of body, thought and word, pure food is also necessary. Food, the supporting yet consuming substance of all life, is regarded as a phase of Brahman. In course of time, the practitioner of yoga has to adopt a vegetarian diet. Humans are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather than eat to live.

2) Santosa (contentment)
Contentment and tranquillity are states of mind.

3) Tapas (ardour or austerity)
It means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. Without tapas, the mind cannot reach up to the Lord.

4) Svadhyaya (study of the Self)
Education is the drawing out of the best that is within a person. Svadhyaya is the education of the self.

5) Isvara pranidhana (dedication to the Lord)
Dedication to the Lord of one's actions and will is Isvara pranidhana. In bhakti or true love there is no place for 'I' and 'mine'. When the mind has been emptied of desires of personal gratification, it should be filled with thoughts of the Lord. Actions mirror a man's personality better than his words.

3. Asana

Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and grand in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind. The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit.
The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he knows that He is within, being known as the Antaratma (the Inner Self). He feels the kingdom of God within and without and finds that heaven lies in himself.
Whilst performing asanas the yogi's body assumes many forms resembling a variety of creatures. His mind is trained not to despise any creature, for he knows that throughout the whole gamut of creation, from the lowest insect to the most perfect sage, there breathes the same Universal Spirit, which assumes innumerable forms. He finds unity in universality. True asana is that in which the thought of Brahman flows effortlessly and incessantly through the mind of the sadhaka (a seeker, an aspirant).

4. Pranayama

Pranayama connotes extension of breath and its control. Kumbhaka is the interval or intermediate time between full inhalation and exhalation or between full exhalation and inhalation. Prana in the body of the individual is part of the cosmic breath of the Universal Spirit. An attempt is made to harmonize the individual breath with the cosmic breath through the practice of pranayama.
The yogi first learns pranayama to master the breath. This will enable him to control the senses and so reach the stage of pratyahara. The mind is said to be twofold-pure impure. It is pure when it is completely free from desires and impure when it is in union with desires.

5. Pratyahara

If a man's reason succumbs to the pull of his senses he is lost. On the other hand, if there is rhythmic control of breath, the senses instead of running after external objects of desire turn inwards, and man is set free from their tyranny. There is bondage when the mind craves, grieves or is unhappy over something. The mind becomes pure when all desires and fears are annihilated.

According to Hindu philosophy, consciousness manifests in three different qualities.
1) Sattva, which leads to clarity and mental serenity.
2) Rajas, which makes a person active and energetic, tense and willful.
3) Tamas, which obstructs and counteracts the tendency of rajas to work and of sattva to reveal.

6. Dharana

When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka reaches the sixth stage called dharana.

Mental states are classified in five groups.
1) Ksipta state
The mental forces are scattered, being in disarray and in a state of neglect.
2) Viksipta state
The mind is agitated and distracted.
3) Mudha state
The mind is foolish, dull and stupid.
4) Ekagra state
The mind is closely attentive and the mental faculties are concentrated on a single object or focussed on one point only, with the sattva-guna prevailing.
5) Niruddha
The mind, intellect and ego are all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service.

7. Dhyana

As water takes the shape of its container, the mind when it contemplates an object is transformed into the shape of that object. The mind which thinks of the all-pervading divinity which it worships, is ultimately through long-continued devotion transformed into the likeness of that divinity.

8. Samadhi

Samadhi is the end of the sadhaka's quest. At the peak of his meditation, he passes into the state of samadhi, where his body and senses are at rest as if he is asleep, his faculties of mind and reason are alert as if he is awake, yet he has gone beyond consciousness. The person in a state of samadhi is fully conscious and alert. The state can only be expressed by profound silence. The yogi has departed from the material world and is merged in the Eternal. There is then no duality between the knower and the known for they are merged like camphor and the flame.


Hints and Cautions for the Practice of Asanas

1) Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics.
2) Before starting to practice asanas, the bladder should be emptied and the bowels evacuated.
3) Asanas should preferably be done on an empty stomach.
4) Asanas come easier after taking a bath.
5) The best time to practice is either early in the morning or late in the evening. In the morning asanas do not come easily as the body is stiff. However the mind is still fresh. In the evening, the body moves more freely than in the mornings, and the asanas come better and with greater ease.
6) Do asanas on a folded blanket laid on a level floor.
7) In the beginning, keep the eyes open. You can keep your eyes closed only when you are perfect in a particular asana.
8) It is the body alone which should be active while the brain should remain passive, watchful and alert.
9) The breathing should be done through the nostrils only and not through the mouth.
10) Do not restrain the breath while in the process of the asana or while staying in it.
11) After completing the practice of asanas always lie down in Savasana (corpse posture) for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
12) If early in the morning, pranayama may be done first for 15 to 30 minutes: then a few minutes of Savasana, and after allowing some time to elapse, during which one may be engaged in normal activities, practice asanas. If these are done in the evening, allow at least half an hour to elapse before sitting for pranayama.


BKS IYENGAR, "Light on Yoga", HarperCollins