What is yoga?


Yoga is a science as well an art of healthy living physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. Yoga is not a religion; It is a philosophy of life based on certain psychological facts and it aims at the development of a perfect balance between the body and the mind that permits union with the divine i.e. perfect harmony between the individual and the cosmos. Yoga is a scientific system of physical and mental practices that originated in India more than three thousand years ago. Its purpose is to help each one of us achieve our highest potential and to experience enduring health and happiness. With Yoga, we can extend our healthy, productive years far beyond the accepted norm and, at the same time, improve the quality of our lives.

Paramhansa Yogananda: "Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures. But yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline,

Yoga is an art as well as a science. It is a science, because it offers practical methods for controlling body and mind, thereby making deep meditation possible. And it is an art, for unless it is practiced intuitively and sensitively it will yield only superficial results. Yoga is not a system of beliefs. It takes into account the influence on each other of body and mind, and brings them into mutual harmony. So often, for instance, the mind cannot concentrate simply because of tension or illness in the body, which prevent the energy from flowing to the brain. So often, too, the energy in the body is weakened because the will is dispirited, or paralyzed by harmful emotions. Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control. Prana means also 'breath.' Yoga teaches how, through breath-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. Yoga is a very ancient science; it is thousands of years old. The perceptions derived from its practice form the backbone of the greatness of India, which for centuries has been legendary. The truths espoused in the yoga teachings, however, are not limited to India, nor to those who consciously practice yoga techniques. Many saints of other religions also, including many Christian saints, have discovered aspects of the spiritual path that are intrinsic to the teachings of yoga.

"The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.

Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 5000 years ago. The word "Yoga" came from the Sanskrit word "yuj" which means "to unite or integrate." Yoga then is about the union of a person's own consciousness and the universal consciousness.

Ancient Yogis had a belief that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit. For these three to be integrated, emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance. The Yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance and it is done through exercise, breathing, and Meditation - the three main Yoga structures.

In Yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary instrument in man's work and growth. Yoga Exercises improve circulation, stimulate the abdominal organs, and put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health.

Breathing techniques were developed based on the concept that breath is the source of life. In Yoga, students gain breathing control as they slowly increase their breathing. By focusing on their breathing, they prepare their minds for the next step - Meditation.

There is a general misconception that in Meditation, your mind has to go blank. It doesn't have to be so. In Meditation, students bring the activities of the mind into focus resulting in a 'quiet' mind. By designing physical poses and Breathing Techniques that develop awareness of our body, Yoga helps us focus and relieves us from our everyday stress.

Six Branches of Yoga

  • Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures
    Hatha Yoga is perhaps the path of Yoga you are most familiar with since this is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West. This branch of Yoga uses physical poses or Asana, Breathing Techniques or Pranayama, and Meditation to achieve better health, as well as spirituality. There are many styles within this path - Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu, and Jiva Mukti to name a few.

    If what you want is a peaceful mind and a healthy body to go along with it, Hatha Yoga may just be the path for you.

  • Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of Devotion
    Bhakti Yoga is the path most followed in India. This is the path of the heart and devotion. Yogis who practice this branch sees the "One" or the Divine in everyone and everything. Bhakti Yoga teaches a person to have devotion to the "One" or to Brahma by developing a person's love and acceptance for all things.

  • Raja Yoga or Yoga of Self-Control
    Raja means "royal". This path is considered to be the King of Yoga and this may be due to the fact that most of its practitioners are members of religious and spiritual orders. Raja Yoga is based on the teachings of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga sutras.

    A Raja Yogi sees the self as central, and as such, respect to oneself and for all creation are vital to this path. They achieve self-respect by first learning to be masters of themselves.

    If you wish to learn discipline, then Raja Yoga would perfectly suit that need.

  • Jnana Yoga or Yoga of the Mind
    Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that basically deals with the mind, and as such, it focuses on man's intelligence. Jnana Yogis consider wisdom and intellect as important and they aim to unify the two to surpass limitations. Since they wish to gain knowledge, they are open to other philosophies and religion for they believe that an open and rational mind is crucial in knowing the spirit.

  • Karma Yoga or Yoga of Service
    Karma Yoga is the path of service for in this path, it is believed that your present situation is based on your past actions. So by doing selfless service now, you are choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness. Karma Yogis change their attitude towards the good and in the process, change their souls, which leads to a change in their destiny.

  • Tantra Yoga or Yoga of Rituals
    Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the paths, Tantra Yoga is about using rituals to experience what is sacred. Although sex is a part of it, sex is not the whole of it since this path aims to find what is sacred in everything we do. Tantra Yogis must possess certain qualities like purity, humility, devotion, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love, and truthfulness among other things.

    There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims.

    Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.
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    According to Isha Foundation:

    Yogic science not only provides knowledge about the underlying basis of metaphysical principles and ethical values, but it also provides the necessary tools to completely transform human nature. Its aim is to bring about perspectives beyond intellectual understanding, and to foster experiences that bring life into a new dimension of perception.

    The emphasis of yoga therefore is not on the external and perceivable areas of endeavor, which lead to bondage and limitation, but on the inner and intangible fields, which lead to freedom and perfection. It involves the transformation of a limited being into an unbounded one.

    Yoga is both a philosophy and a science. The philosophy and the science of yoga are not only intertwined and inseparable, they also reinforce each other. The philosophy emphasizes the existence of the Self within. The science is the method that verifies this doctrine by setting out certain kinds of discipline, certain techniques and practices that enable the emergence of the true being within us.

    Yoga is the path towards the union of our bounded self with our ultimate nature. This union results in self-realization - Mukti or Nirvana. Through perfect yoga this freedom is attained. Yoga is not something one does; it is the medium of one becoming the crucible of self-transformation. It is not a practice, but a certain way to be.

    Yoga deepens, broadens and strengthens the visionary power of the mind. It opens the door of that realm of sensing beyond the five senses


    Meditation - the gift of Inner Peace  To know this fact watch this flash presentation - CLICK HERE


    According to Sivananda, the following are the 4 important yogas: (reference: their site on yoga)

    1. Jnana Yoga, The Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom

    This is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta the Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.

    2. The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

    Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. These 8 limbs are:

      1. Yamas - The Yamas or restraints (Don'ts) are divided into five moral injuctions, aimed at destroying the lower nature. They should all be practiced and developped by the letter but also more importantly in the spirit. They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed.
        • Ahimsa or non-violence
        • Satyam or truthfulness
        • Brahmacharya or moderation in all things (control of all senses). Also refers to celibacy
        • Asteya or non-stealing
        • Aparigraha or non-covetousness
      2. Niyamas - The Niyamas or observances (Do's) are also divided into five and complete the ethical precepts started with the Yama.. These qualities are:
        • Saucha or purity - this internal and external cleanliness.
        • Santosha or contentment
        • Tapas or austerity
        • Swadhyaya or study of the sacred texts
        • Ishwara Pranidhana which is constantly living with an awareness of the divine Presence (surrender to God's Will)
      3. Asanas - Postures
      4. Pranayama - regulation or control of the breath. Asanas and Pranayama form the sub-division of Raja Yoga known as Hatha-Yoga
      5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind.
      6. Dharana - concentration. The last 3 steps constitute the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step:
      7. Dhyana - meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step:
      8. Samadhi - the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness where body and mind have been transcended and the Yogi is one with the Self or God.

        3. Bhakti Yoga, The Path of Devotion or Divine Love

        This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. The Bhakti Yogi is motivated chiefly by the power of love and sees God as the embodiment of love. Through prayer, worship and ritual he surrenders himself to God, channelling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.

        4. Principles of Karma Yoga

        This page is part of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center Web site. Karma Yoga is one of the four paths of Yoga. In this page are the key components that determine that any action will qualify as being Karma Yoga

        "Karma Yoga is the selfless devotion of all inner as well as the outer activities as a Sacrifice to the Lord of all works, offered to the eternal as Master of all the soul�s energies and austerities."
        Bhagavad Gita

        Right Attitude

        It�s not what you do that counts, it�s the attitude while doing it that determines if a job is a karma yoga job, i.e. a liberating job, or a binding job. Work is worship. Swami Sivananda advises us to "give your hands to work, and keep your mind fixed at the lotus feet of the Lord."

        Right Motive

        Same as attitude. It is not what you do that counts but your real motive behind it. Your motive must be pure. Swami Sivananda says: "Man generally plans to get the fruits of his works before he starts any kind of work. The mind is so framed that it cannot think of any kind of work without remuneration or reward. A selfish man cannot do any service. He will weigh the work and the money in a balance. Selfless Service is unknown to him."

        Do Your Duty

        Often "duty" is referred to as "righteousness". You will incur demerit if you shun your duty. Your duty is towards God, or Self, or the Inner Teacher who teaches you through all the specific circumstances of your life as they appear.

        Do Your Best

        Whatever you have to do, do your best. If you know of a better way to serve, you must use it. Do not hold back because of fear of effort or because of fear of criticism. Do not work in a sloppy manner just because no one is watching or because you feel the work is not for you. Give your best. Try to do such actions that can bring maximum good and minimum evil. Do Karma Yoga increasingly.

        Give up Results

        God is the doer. You are not the doer. You are only the instrument. You do not know God�s intentions or God�s plans. God is the actor. The Self never acts, changes. It is only the "Gunas", the three qualities, which are playing. The way to realize this truth is to constantly work for work�s sake and let go of the results, good or bad. It is the desire for action that binds the individual. It is the detachment from action that will dissolve the karmic seeds. Detachment from results also means detachment from the type of job itself. There is no job that is inferior or superior to a different job. Don�t be attached to your job. Be ready to give up your job if necessary.

        Serve God or the Self in All

        Do to others what you would like to be done to yourself. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Adapt, adjust, accommodate. Bear insult, bear injury. Unity in Diversity. We are parts of the same body. Practice humility in action. Beware of power, fame, name, praise, censure.

        Follow the Discipline of the Job

        Each job is a teacher of some sort. You can learn different skills by doing different jobs. Each job has different requirements in terms of time, degree of concentration, skills or experience, emotional input, physical energy, will. Try to do whatever job you are doing, well.


        From focalpointyoga :-

        Yoga can be any or all of the following, depending on WHY you want to take it and HOW you incorporate Yoga into your life:

        1)     a great physical fitness program, involving stretching, strengthening, and elongating the spine for proper alignment of the vertebrae

        2)     breathing techniques and relaxation, lowering blood pressure, increasing cardio-vascular health, increasing lung capacity, releasing tension and stress, and learning to relax and enjoy life

        3)     Meditation - to calm the mind, bring emotional balance, mental clarity, focus and concentration

        4)     the learning of a philosophy, by experiencing emotional tension release from your own body, increasing awareness of what is happening in your own body and mind (many yogis and yoginis notice and feel their heartbeat, circulation flowing through their body, can increase of decrease blood pressure at will, a heightened awareness of what is going on in your body, then you have a heightened awareness of what is going on with your mind).  So yoga is EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING - you don't accept dogma as it is told to you - you question everything, until you feel beliefs yourself and understand what is right for you.

        5)     a philosophy of life - following several basic principles (non-harming, truthfulness, discipline - see my web site under Yoga Information/Yoga Philosophy/Yamas and Niyamas).  It is to awaken the "witness consciousness" - the part of you that can step back and observe what your brain is doing, what is happening for you - dispassionately, so you can better understand yourself. 

        6)     A Spiritual Practice - Spiritual fulfillment - as you learn to awaken the witness consciousness, meditate, and increase your awareness, at some point, you realize that you are MORE than this Body, this Mind, this shell - that you are a drop of beautiful energy in a spiritual ocean (to use the cliché, you are one with everything - Spirit/Life Energy/God/Power of the Universe is in you) and this is a truly fulfilling experience when you realize this for yourself.  Someone can TELL you about this all they want, but you really need to feel it and experience it for yourself - awakening the divine energy in you.


        Take what you need from Yoga.  For some people, it is simply a class to take where they get a good stretch and a nice balanced work out.  For others, it is a way of life - we talk about being on the Yogic Path, our own hearts leading us where we need to go.  Yoga is about Union - the unity of YOURSELF with the LIVING WORLD around you - you are part of the divine dance.  It is about releasing tension in the body and the mind, relaxing, and bringing the mind to stillness so you can listen to your heart, so you can learn and grow.


        If you are feeling empty right now, you need to think about whether it is a spiritual emptiness you feel.  Yoga is NOT a religion, but it does encourage you to connect with your inner spirit and follow its guidance.  It is a spiritual practice IF you want it to be.  It may help you.