Yoga is an ancient discipline of spiritual practice which aims to bring the mind and body into harmony, ultimately leading to the union of one’s consciousness with the Universal Consciousness. This oneness is achieved by those they refer to as “Yogis”, having reached a state of liberation (moksha) from various forms of suffering and distraction.
Yoga can be practiced regardless of one’s faith or culture. Yoga was believed to have emerged during the beginning of civilization, before the creation of different religions and was constantly developed through generations of teachings from teachers (guru) to disciples (shishya).
Through the developments of Yoga, different schools with diverse philosophies, traditions and lineages have emerged. These schools vary from technique and focus, to understanding and concepts.
Modern yoga practices focus on physical and mental health improvement. This, however, has been rooted to Sage Maharshi Patanjali’s teachings that imbalances in health can become a hindrance to the harmony between mind and body.
What is Yoga
Yoga is a term derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke”, “to unite”, or “to join,” It is both an art and a science. Yoga is considered a science because of its methods for controlling both mind and body, and an art because through careful mastery of these methods, an individual achieves moksha.
The science of yoga includes initial stages which most students focus on: posture (asana), regulation of breathing (pranayama), and relaxation (pratyahara).
Forms of Yoga
The different forms of yoga show the variety of practice. Some forms range closer to the likeliness with religion.
This method of yoga was recorded by Sage Vamana Rishi. Ashtanga yoga literally translates to “eight-limbed yoga”, which was outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This form of yoga incorporates the use of gradual progression (vinyasa) and harmony of movement and breathing (tristhana).
This form of yoga is a preparatory process of yoga. Hatha comes from “ha” which means sun, and “ta” which means moon. Hatha yoga translates as “union through the discipline of force.” Its purpose is to prepare the body to reach above-body consciousness through its mastery.
Often referred to as Mental Yoga, or Yoga of the mind, Raja Yoga focuses more on the meditative stages of yoga. Its emphasis is more on the individual’s state of mind.
This path of yoga goes with all the other disciplines of yoga. It focuses on being selfless and unattached.
This form of yoga is the more devotional path and is often misconceptualized as a religion-based yoga. Bhakti Yoga is practiced through chants, poetry, rituals, pilgrimage, and other expressions often compared with practices of faith.
This form of yoga is sometimes referred to as the Yoga of Knowledge, in the sense of clarity and self-realization. It distinguishes the real and the unreal. Jnana Yoga utilizes self-analytical and meditative methods.
Tantra yoga is an expansion beyond yogic philosophies. Tantra translates as “to weave or expand.” It is commonly integrated in modern yoga classes and texts.
Mantra translates as “vehicle of the mind.” This approach utilizes mantric sounds for mental support and concentration.
This path aims to awaken the dormant spiritual energy (kundalini) in order to achieve an individual’s maximum. It focuses on directing the spinal axis.
This form of yoga is integrated with kundalini yoga through raising lower energies into higher ones. This was founded by Sage Gorakshnatha of Nepal. It is a method to prevent fluctuations of the mind.
This form of yoga is referred to as the Yoga of Sound Breath. It involves breathing techniques to control breath cycles through the left and right nostrils. It aims to create an equilibrium of energy for physical, mental, spiritual benefits.
Yoga and Philosophy
Yoga’s use for health enhancement and healing inducement comes from a comprehensive sense of systematized understanding of human life.
Patanjali’s writings convey the message that human beings are by nature in equilibrium. Imbalances posed by reality and sufferings are countered in order to regain the sense of inner balance through mind and body harmony. This is the goal of yoga.
Through its practice, an individual can regain oneness. Upon focusing the attention on levels of human experience: the body, breath and mind, the mind is liberated to acquire a better experience of concentration. Thus, bringing an individual closer to their Atman, or true self.
Is Yoga Connected to Religion?
As previously mentioned, yoga is a discipline practiced regardless of an individual’s religion or faith. Due to its Indian roots, it is often linked with Hinduism, as well as Jainism and Buddhism. The difference is that: although yoga seeks to reach mind and body harmony which is a form of peace within oneself, religion seeks beyond that. Religion has a broader scope than what is practiced in yoga.
Modern branches of yoga have disinherited ways that would make them connected to religion, yet it retains some of its roots in its practice.
Yoga is often related to certain religions, but it is not one itself. Although it has practices similar to that of faith, it does not concern beliefs as broad as those in religion.
Yoga and Hinduism
Yoga has a long history with Hinduism. It is featured in numerous Hindu scriptures and employs methods of yoga to bring an individual closer to their Atman. Hinduism teaches its followers that each individual is part of Brahman, the universal spirit encompassing everything. This is where the idea of oneness and the Universal consciousness of yoga comes from.
Yoga and Buddhism
Buddhism, on the other hand, is related to yoga because they share the practice of mindfulness. In order to achieve mind and body harmony, the individual must avoid distractions from the truth and inner peace.
Yoga and Christianity
It has been a misconception that practicing yoga attaches you to Hindu beliefs. These days, yoga in the West is almost entirely devoid of religion. It is practiced by aligning your mind and body to achieve harmony, without an outer or higher force to latch your beliefs onto.