By: Prapanna Lahiri
To the layman the word Yoga means a regimen of slow, gentle stretching and breathing exercises. But Yoga, the ancient Hindu ascetic discipline that was first written about in the Rig-Veda encompasses much more than just physical exercise. The word ‘yoga’ originated in the ancient Sanskrit root word ‘yuj’ which means ‘to unite’. It is the process of consciously unifying the body, mind, emotions, and spirit making them work together in harmony aiming at living an enlightened life in higher consciousness. The ultimate goal of the Yogi (yoga practitioner), in Hindu philosophy, is eternal liberation from ‘Samsara’, the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth to achieve ‘Moksha’, a state of complete union with God. The union here means a commonality of purpose and identification of the Atman’s (soul) spiritual nature with Paramatman’s (God).
In the profound Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, Yogeshwara Krishna, the Supreme Lord of Yoga, speaks of four types of yoga – Bhakti-yoga – (devotional service), Jnana-yoga – spiritual knowledge, Raja (astanga) yoga – meditation, karma-yoga – selfless action.
- Bhakti-yoga: Bhakti means ‘devotion’ (self surrender): This path consists of various practices to unite the bhakta (devotee) with the Divine (Brahman). Bhakti Yoga is considered the easiest and the most direct method to experience the unity of mind, body and spirit. It is considered the simplest path because it does not ask to do anything but give up all control.
- Jnana-yoga: Jnana meanswisdom, or discernment. It is the path of acquiring sublime spiritual knowledge withdrawing all thoughts and feelings from the world and say “neti, neti,” “not this, not this.” It is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect because the pursuit of wisdom and realisation is not merely an academic exercise and much emphasis is placed on attaining freedom from sensual desires that delude the soul. The realisation finally manifests by experiencing unity with God by dissolving veils of ignorance which makes one perceive the delusion that the space inside and outside of a glass are different.
- Raja(Astanga) yoga: Raja means ‘royal or kingly.’ It is the path of meditation. The effort is to balance the will, the mind and the emotions. It focuses on controlling the mind and bringing it into stillness, directing the life force towards an object generally at the ‘Ajna’ centre, lying behind the centre of the forehead.
- Karma-yoga: Karma means ‘to do.’ It is the path of surrendering all one’s actions, thoughts, words and feelings to God, considering oneself as an instrument of God’s will. There is the unique concept of “Action in Inaction and Inaction in Action. An action performed without attachment to the fruits of action, always content, is ‘Inaction in Action.’ An action performed in transcendental service of the Supreme (God), giving up all other actions in material pursuits, is ‘Action in Inaction.’
Many thinkers believe that all paths are equally valid and effective and that the choice depends on individual inclination as Yoga is an individual journey requiring lifelong dedication and devotion to God.