An Introduction to Yoga

 

Yoga is the most ancient system for physical, mental and spiritual well-being in the world. The Sanskrit meaning of the word is union of the individual self with the Supreme Self (Original Cause) in a loving, harmonious relationship. The aim of the different yoga processes or schools is to ultimately help the individual achieve complete harmony. The different systems of yoga have techniques and practices ranging from physical postures (asanas), to the deepest stages of meditation, all aimed toward helping a person achieve optimum physical, mental and spiritual well-being. A brief introduction to some of the main yoga systems follows:

Hatha Yoga

Is a preliminary physical system of exercises, beginning with postures or asanas, that aims to bring about harmony between the physical body and the breath. Asanas and pranayama clear the subtle energy channels enabling the practitioner to increasingly experience the life force within their body. It is the most well-known of all the yoga systems in the west.

Astanga Yoga

(Raja Yoga) A yoga system practised in past ages consisting of eight parts, including sitting postures, breathing exercises, silent meditation and ethical guidelines of Yama and Niyama.

Jnana Yoga

Is the cultivation of transcendental knowledge. The aim of jnana yoga is to bring about realisation of one’s spiritual essence, and therefore harmony (through understanding) between the individual atma and his mind, body, and the world. It is also meant to help the atma realise that he is part and parcel of the Supreme Atma and therefore needs to wed himself to, or get in harmony with the Supreme Atma.

Karma Yoga

Is yoga in action – work done in a spirit of selfless loving service. It is the path of real happiness and freedom. Karma yoga means serving the Whole rather than just living for oneself. Living a life of karma yoga means to see oneself as a servant, not master; as a caretaker of others and our environment, not an exploiter. It is meant to purify one’s heart so that one’s natural spiritual love for the Supreme Atma will blossom.

Bhakti Yoga

The apex of yoga and the ultimate goal of life is to achieve pure bhakti, or spiritual love. Such love for the Supreme Soul results in a state of harmony between the individual atma and the Supreme Atma. The process of yoga can be seen as a ladder, with the starting rung of the ladder being yoga asanas and postures and the top of the ladder being karma and bhakti yoga. Although yoga’s physical exercises and breathing techniques are not essential to the yoga way of life, they are extremely valuable in helping achieve optimum physical, mental and spiritual well-being. An individual can simultaneously apply all of these processes in their life in a holistic, integrated fashion. The aim of all these yoga practices is meant to help an individual achieve a life of harmony.