Today, the world is observing International Day of Yoga 2022 to raise awareness about the health and well-being advantages of yoga. The International Yoga Day also educates about Yoga, which started thousands of years ago in India. It is a collection of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that have become popular as a way of life in the modern day. When we hear the word “yoga,” we think of exercises that help us stretch or keep our bodies flexible. This western-inspired, transmogrified and neo form of yoga has made us forget our ancient roots in it.
The word “yoga” originates from the Sanskrit root verb “yuj”, which means “to unite with”. Yoga is the process through which we unite with Parabraḥma and discover the reality of our true self. Thus, it is said that Yoga is the path from jīva (individual) to Śiva (Parabraḥma). To achieve this unification with the higher reality, Guru Patanjali says one must be “Ishvara pranidhāna va”, i.e., the practitioner of yoga must have steadfast devotion towards the gods. Bhagwan Shiva is believed to be the first Adi Yogi, or Yogi. It was passed down to his seven disciples, and they spread it throughout the whole world. But we don’t have any records for it as in the ancient period it was written on palm leaves, which we gradually lost over centuries and millennials.
Thus, the actual meaning of yoga is to unite us with nature and the people around us. It helps us remove negative energy from our bodies and, most importantly, from our minds. It gives us more power to concentrate on our work and gives us a lot of positive energy and eternal peace, which helps in improving our physical strength.
The Origins of Yoga
The evidence of Yoga starts from the Bhagavad Gita, in which Bhagwan Krishna explains to Arjun the importance of it “Samatvam Yoga Uchyate,” i.e. Yoga is a balanced state. Yoga strives for oneness between man and nature. It balances us and takes us back to our joyous state.
There are three more prime Yog’s mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita:
1) Bhakti Yog: As per Gita 15th Chapter, Bhakti Yog leads to Purushottam Bhagwan. The world is described as inverted indestructible Pipal tree whose root is Bhagwan Krishna and branches are Bhagwan Brahma.
Whoever knows the elements of the tree right up to its root understands the meaning of it. The branches are the attachments and they need to be cut through the weapon of Vairagya or Detachment. Then one has to search for Parmeshwar where once a person goes, he never returns. As per 10th Chapter, those who realise Parmatma’s Yog Shakti and Vibhuti, he is totally in Bhakti Yog.
2) Sankhya Yog: As per 2nd Chapter on Arjun’s query as to wisdom and actions of wise men, Krishna tells that a knowledgeable person drowns his mind in meditation and totally becomes aloof to sensory vices. He becomes Stithpragya. His detachment is his main armament as he has no desire. Therefore, understanding your true self makes one let go of ego. This philosophy of Gyan is Sankhya Yog.
3) Karma Yog: As per 2nd chapter philosophy of Karma, Yog is of doing what is right without thinking of the consequences. Emphasis should not be in accruing Karma but should liberate themselves from the consequences of their Karma. Selfless actions or Karma Yog leads you towards the right path of self-realisation.
We can see Yoga words in many ancient Indian scriptures, which are Vedas and Upanishads, like Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Katha Upanishad, etc, from which some are given below:
Katha Upanishad 2.3.11
तां योगमिति मन्यन्ते स्थिरामिन्द्रियधारणाम् ।
अप्रमत्तस्तदा भवति योगो हि प्रभवाप्ययौ ॥ ११॥
This, the firm control of the senses, is what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both beneficial and injurious.
Pātanjali yogasutra 1.2
योग: , चित्त , वृत्ति , निरोधः ॥
Meaning Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).
Pātanjala yogasutra 11.29
यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि ॥ २.२९॥
Meaning: Yama (control), Niyama (discipline), Sana (postures), Pryama (controlling breath), Pratyhra (withdrawal of senses), Dharan (meditation), Dhyna (identification with the true self), and Samadhi (experiencing the true self, united with the Parabrama) are the eight parts of Yoga.
We can also see some evidence from the Indus Valley civilization. We have also found seals which depict the practice of Yoga in that period. It is way back from 2700 BCE, in which we can see people doing Sadhana.
In his Yoga Sutras, known as Raja Yoga, the Father of Yoga, Maharishi Patanjali, explained Yoga to all and its purpose.
Modern Yoga and the Post-Classical Period
The Classical period lasted till 1700 CE, in which many Yogis like Shri Acharaya Trayas, Shri Adi Shankaracharya, Shri Madhvacharya, Shri Ramanujacharya, Meera Bai, and Purandara Dasa played an important role in the development of Yoga and its culture throughout the world. Shri Adi Shankaracharya devoted his time to practising Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga and empathised in meditation, which helps in removing negative thoughts.
Hatha Yoga, which is still practiced in the current period, was practiced by Tulsidas and Purandara Dasa, who worked on the science of Yoga and introduced physical postures and breathing techniques that were later known as Hatha Yoga.
In the late 18th century, Swami Vivekanand ji spread yoga to the world. In 1893, Swami Vivekanand ji, when he visited Chicago, gave a lecture on Yoga, which gave inspiration to all to follow it and practise it.
Hatha Yoga became more popular after the 1920s. As time passes away, many people have forgotten the true meaning of yoga, which was practiced in ancient times. The main aim of Yoga was to focus on breathing techniques and free the body, spirit, and mind. Our ancestors knew about the importance of mental hygiene, for which they used to do yoga, so that all unnecessary pollutants from body and soul could be cleaned up. The true meaning of Yoga has been left behind by predecessors as time passes away and no one bothers to know about the real meaning of it.
Most important people and yogis in the current era have forgotten the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which were created to help us understand what yoga was all about.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
1. Yamas teach us how to treat nature and others around us.
a. Ahimsa implies that we should treat everyone equally and without discrimination.
b. Satya means what we have learnt, what we hear, what we see, and what we assume should be expressed in the same way without any manipulation.
c. Asteya means we should not take anything without permission from Swami, never ask someone to do it, and we should never think about it.
d. Brahmacharya means that we should control our minds and senses, which will help us control our physical strength, and that we should read scriptures and share them with others.
e. Aparigraha means we should control our greedy thoughts, which is the mother of all evils, and never think about it.
2. Niyamas help us practice self-discipline
a. Shudhi, which means self-cleanliness, is of two types. One is Brahma Shudhi, which teaches us to keep our bodies, clothes, utensils, places clean. Another is Aantrik Shudhi, which teaches us to clean our thoughts by reading scriptures, doing satsang.
b. Santosh means that we should be content with what we have and not demand more.
c. Taap, while doing all these things, we should not think about anything else, like hot or cold, hunger or thirsty, gain or loss, respect or disrespect. We should overcome all this.
d. Svadhyaya means we should read scriptures, which lead to Moksha and reside in ‘Om’ Mantra and all other Mantras and practice meditation.
e. Ishvarapranidhana means we should dedicate all our body, knowledge, senses, power towards Bhagwan so that we get Moksha and not use it for other purposes.
3. Asana means how we should practice our yoga. We should keep our bodies steady while meditating, just like Padmasana.
4. Pranayam means when we sit in a steady position and control our senses and start doing breathing exercises, which is like inhaling for 1 second, holding your breath for 4 seconds, and then exhaling for 2 seconds, is called Pranayam.
5. Pratyahara means sense withdrawal. It teaches us ultimate peacefulness. When we cut our senses off from the external world, we can dive within ourselves to discover the vast universe that lies inside.
6. Dharna means that while meditating, we should focus solely on one thing and allow nothing else to enter our minds. This will help us concentrate on a single goal and keep us from distraction.
7. Dhyan means meditation. It’s a process in which we should only think about Bhagwan and nothing else. And try to speak the mantras. We should not think about anything else. We can improve our chances of experiencing meditation by sitting in a quiet space and using pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana in unison.
8. Samadhi means enlightenment. When we complete all the above steps and get to know about the real power inside us and forget about everything else, we can attain Samadhi.
This is all about yoga, which we should all practice because it is based on meaningful lessons for the betterment of life and not just for entertainment or a fit body. It’s all about how to attain enlightenment, or Samadhi, guiding us on how to connect with people around us, how to connect with Ishvar, and how to attain Moksha.
In current times, we have witnessed many benefits of Yoga. In the Covid-19 pandemic, people started doing more yoga than anything else and started believing in more Santana Dharma and the importance of it in our lives. But we should not forget the real power and meaning of it, for which it was started by our Gurus. We should try to do all the points of Yoga and have enlightenment in our lives and all those around us.
Yuvraj Pokharna is an independent journalist and columnist. Ankur Aggarwal is an entrepreneur and blogger with Finding Temples. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication