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What is Yoga: Definition and the Four Streams of Yoga
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What is Yoga: Definition and the Four Streams of Yoga

Yoga is a complete science of life that originated in India many thousands of years ago. It is the oldest system of personal development in the world encompassing the entire body, mind and spirit. It is the union between a person's own consciousness and the universal consciousness. The Ancient Yogis had a profound understanding of man's essential nature and of what he needs to live in harmony with himself and his environment. They perceived the physical body as a vehicle, with the mind as driver, the soul as man's true identity, and action, emotion and intelligence as the three forces, which pull the body-vehicle. In order for these to be integrated, these three forces must be in balance. Taking into account the interrelationship between body and mind, the Yogis formulated a unique method for maintaining this balance - a method that combines all the movements needed for physical health with the Breathing and Meditation techniques that ensure peace of mind.

The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise, which has since spread throughout the world. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together”, and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.

Yoga is a method of learning that aims to attain the unity of mind, body, and spirit through these three main Yoga structures:

  • Exercise (Asana),
  • Breathing (Pranayama), and
  • Meditation (Dhyana).

The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, a Yoga student; therefore, treats it with great care and respect.

The Breathing Techniques are based on the concept - breath is the source of life in the body. Yoga students gently increase their breath control to improve the health and the function of both body and mind.

These two systems prepare the body and mind for meditation, making it easier for students to achieve a quiet mind and be free from everyday stress. Regular daily practice of all three parts of this structure of Yoga produces a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.

Four Streams of Yoga

Swami Vivekananda has proscribed four streams of Yoga:

  1. Karma Yoga (Perfection through Action)
  2. Bhakti Yoga (Perfection through Love)
  3. Raja Yoga (Perfection through Meditation)
  4. Jnana Yoga (Perfection through Knowledge)

But some experts treat Hath Yoga, Kundlini Yoga as other branches of Yoga philosophy.

Karma Yoga

In Karma Yoga he believes that a person’s present situation is based on his/her past actions. Karma Yoga is the path of service; it refers to the energy of action. This path requires a person to be selfless. Performing a selfless service is the essence of Karma Yoga or consciously choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness knowing that the life is a consequence of the past actions. Karma Yoga practices try to change the action towards the good - good words, good thoughts, good deeds, in order to change the soul. By being selfless, one can change the consciousness, which leads to a change in the destiny.

This yoga emphasizes selfless action and service, such as that practiced by Mahatma Gandhi.

The message of Karma Yoga is: when we work in harmony with the Power that runs the universe, we are not egotistically motivated, and we no longer maintain compulsive desires relative to the future. With the eradication of compulsive desire, we are able to live in the present, while planning for the future, without being bound to the future. Every reasonable desire carries within itself the motive force for its fulfillment. That is, if an experience is possible to have in this natural world, and we desire it, we are subconsciously pushed toward it or attract it to ourselves.

Yogic philosophy does not ask us to give up intelligent planning. It says to renounce egotistic desire. We are then able to be open to inner guidance and to flow in the stream of grace. The Intelligence-Power that sustains the universe has a plan and a purpose. When we are in harmony with it we are free, even while involved. As we work with a cheerful attitude, doing what we are best suited to do; we feel harmony and an inner peace within us. But the person, who strives and struggles within himself, can never know.

The yoga of action (Karma yoga) is perfectly right in affirming action as the essence of human reality and as an essential condition of salvation. But integral yoga points out that action is not merely a means to self-purification resulting in salvation.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is the path of heart and devotion or the Yoga of devotion. Yogi, who practices Bhakti Yoga, sees the Divine in everyone and everything he encounters. This leads him to develop love, acceptance and tolerance for all. Bhakti Yoga teaches a person to have a devotion to God and all things through devotion to life and love.

Bhakti Yoga is the system in which love and devotion are emphasized. There are Bhakti Yoga traditions that do not teach asana, pranayama, mudra or meditation - main practices of traditional yoga. Instead, love of God, love of God in man, and surrender to God's will is stressed in the Bhakti Yoga approach. Some people are naturally inclined by temperament to be devotional and to love God and God-as-the-world. Balance is recommended: devotion balanced with reason, love balanced with understanding.

There are no set ways to perform Bhakti yoga. Some people find that external aids can contribute to a devotional attitude: an altar used during prayer and meditation; pictures of saints to serve as inspiration; chanting or singing; use of mantra or even a simple devotional ceremony to aid in creating a mood as preparation for meditation. Whatever a person's approach, if that approach is useful in the long run, it is perfectly in order for him, even though it may not appeal to another.

Singing the names of God aloud can elevate consciousness, clear the mind and even charge the environment with pure energy. For persons who find it difficult to concentrate during meditation and for whom the approach of calm discernment is too subtle, prayer and chanting can be of value.

It is in our day-to-day life that Bhakti Yoga is truly practiced. Are we loving, compassionate and fair in our dealings with others? St. Francis is one of the Christian traditions that exemplified the Yoga of love and devotion. Jesus stated the ideal of Bhakti Yoga when he taught, “As you have loved me, love one another.” When true love reigns, there can be no barrier and then, the harmony and fulfillment rule.

Direct prayer is the most effective - just talking with God, and then being still. The teaching is that we can open ourselves to the Reality of God by devotion and receptivity and attract God's consciousness into our own. Love and devotion also purify human nature and cleanse the mind and the emotional field. There can be no hate, dislike, jealousy, envy, fear or prejudice in the loving heart. Truly blessed are the pure in heart, for they can perceive the Reality of God.

Raja Yoga

Raja means "royal". Raja Yoga is the path of Yoga that focuses on meditation and contemplation. It is based on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which was discussed in the Yoga Sutra. This Yoga path teaches deep self-respect through self-mastery. The self here is honored. Raja Yoga believes that the universe exists for the self, giving the self an illusion of centrality which results to self respect and respect for all creatures. Raja Yoga is also referred to as the King of Yogas, majority of its practitioners live in spiritual or religious orders.

Raja means “royal”, and the meditation route to Self-Realization is considered to be just this. It is direct and affords the opportunity of experience in different levels of awareness, beginning from where we start to where we are able to conclude after our meditation practice. Raja Yoga starts with the mind; its goal is a complete stillness of the mind, so that the light of the indwelling spirit may shine out. It makes use of asana and pranayama. Some people consider it merely another name for Ashtanga Yoga.

Raja Yoga meditation is the process whereby the practitioner concentrates upon one point in order to integrate discontinuous, diffused attention, thus holding attention steady. All distractions are thus effectively closed out, and meditation proceeds. Daydreaming, floating with thoughts or allowing impulses to dominate is obviously not concentration, and, without concentration, meditation is impossible to experience.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that deals with wisdom and knowledge or the Yoga of the mind. Jnana Yogis pays tribute on man's intelligence. They try to surpass the limitations by unifying intellect and wisdom. Jnana Yoga tries to obtain existence beyond doctrine and ideological controversies by accepting all other philosophies and religion. It also uses an open, rational and curious mind in studying the spirit.

Jnana Yoga stresses the use of the mind to transcend the mind; it works with that part of the human mind, which strives incessantly to know and understand. It trains discrimination; it is eight-limbed. These limbs are detachment, self-discipline, longing for freedom, hearing the truth, reflection upon that truth, meditation, consolidation and transcendence.

The tradition of Jnana Yoga teaches, “Liberation is attained, not by works or ceremony, but by knowledge alone.” Knowledge in this context is not belief or collected data: it is comprehension as a result of discernment and experience. The Way of Knowledge is for the special few who are prepared for steady examination and clear perception of the nature of Consciousness.

One who chooses this path studies the conclusions of the seers by reading the great scriptures and commentaries, then examining them in the light of his own intelligence and coming to his own realization. In deep meditation, he contemplates the characteristics of Consciousness in manifestation and, by doing so, gains insight and perfect realization.

The yoga of knowledge (Jnana yoga) is perfectly right in affirming knowledge as the fulfillment of life and an essential ingredient of salvation. But integral yoga points out that knowledge is inseparable from love and action. Knowledge in its essence is comprehensive awareness of the nature of existence.

Hatha yoga (“the yoga of vitality”) - The Foundation

Hatha Yoga is the path of Physical Yoga or Yoga of Postures. It is the most popular branch of Yoga. Hatha Yoga considers the body as the vehicle for the soul. It uses physical poses or asana, Breathing Techniques or Pranayama, Meditation in order to bring the body in perfect health and for the more subtle spiritual elements of the mind to emerge freely. The practice of Hatha Yoga will result to the union of the body and the soul, it aims to make the body perfect and fill it with life force.

Hath Yoga is an easy-to-learn basic form of yoga. Hatha Yoga is the foundation of all Yoga systems. Hatha Yoga is the preparation for higher Yogas.

Ha means “sun” and tha means “moon”. Thus, Hatha Yoga refers to positive (sun) and to negative (moon) currents in the system. These currents are to be balanced and mastered so that vital force, prana, can be regulated, the mind cleared and superconscious states experienced.

The ideal way to practice the Hatha Yoga poses (asanas) is to approach the practice session in a calm, meditative mood. Sit quietly for a few moments, and then begin the series, slowly, with control and grace, being inwardly aware as the body performs the various poses selected for the practice session. Do not overdo the asanas or try to compete with others. Take it easy and enjoy.

Kundalini (Tantra) Yoga

Kundalini Yoga has Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga, and Purna (Integral) Yoga as its part.

Mantra Yoga

Mantra yoga means “union by voice or sound”. This form includes the rhythmic repetitions of specific sounds, chants, or mantras. The practitioner repeats the syllable, word or phrase continually, sometimes for weeks, months or years on end. Certain syllables are believed to posses healing potential for specific purposes, for example Transcendental meditation where a mantra is assigned for individual use.

Laya, Tantra or Kundalini Yoga

Tantra Yoga is the path of ritual and perhaps the most misunderstood path. This is also known as Laya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga. Some may think of Tantra Yoga as sorcery, witchcraft, magic spell or some mysterious formula. Most people perceive Tantra Yoga as sexual. All of these perceptions are far from truth.

Tantra is the knowledge concerning Tattva (Truth or Brahman) and Mantra (mystic syllables). It utilizes rituals to respectfully experience the sacred in everything we do, not just sex though sex is a part of it. It aims to expand our awareness in all states - whether awake or asleep.

A celibate approach to spiritual growth is quite common in many of the world's religious traditions. Many yoga practices suggest that sexual involvement is a detriment to a greater development of self and hence should be avoided if possible. However, tantric yoga suggests that sexuality can be a very powerful force that can be harnessed for increased self-awareness. Thus, tantric yoga is unusual, in that it not only allows sexual feelings and contact, but uses sexual experience as a means to enlightenment.

The Tantrics maintain that there is an enormous energy locked into sexuality, which, if released from the lower end of the spine, can flow up the spinal column to bring divine illumination to the brain. They believe that within the interior of the spine, in a hollow region called the canalis centralis, there is an energy conduit called “sushumna”. Along this conduit, from the base of the perineum to the top of the head, flows the most powerful of all psychic energies, Kundalini energy. On the other side of the canal are two additional energy channels, one called “Ida” corresponding to the male, and the other the “Pingala” corresponding to the female. Ida is at the right of the base of the spine and the pingala begins at the left.

These two psychic currents are said to coil upward around the spine and the sushumna like snakes, crossing the chakras (energy wheel of center of conscious). Kundalini yogi's lifelong task is to evolve through the various chakra qualities and challenges, thereby bringing the focus of the Kundalini energy upward from the base of his spine to the top of his head.

Once the yogi has achieved mastery of self by relaxing body tension, silencing mental chatter, and releasing energy blocks, he is ready to join with a partner whose energies and spirit complement his own in such a way that together they form a “whole”. The partners must first achieve a highly developed awareness within their being, a process that might take a lifetime, before ready to engage in tantric embrace. In the tantric lovemaking experience, known as “maithuna”, the lovers undergo a variety of meditations and rituals before they actually make physical contact. They maintain the spiritual link or bond throughout the lovemaking process. They visualize the flow of pranic currents between them. In tantric yoga, the lovers do not try to achieve orgasm. In fact, they work hard not to have one. They are attempting to draw the forces of Kundalini energy upward through their body-minds, thus releasing the power of the various chakras. This force transforms the yogi psychologically, changing his personality as the Kundalini rises to each succeeding chakra. The emphasis is not on the sexual release as an end in and of itself, but rather on sex as a channel through which the evolution of self may proceed. The goal of Tantra is the union of dynamic and static aspects of personality. It is quite different from practices that dwell on renunciation and desirelessness.

Tantra Yoga practitioners must have purity, humility, devotion, courage, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love, faithfulness, contentment, dispassion, non-covetousness, and truthfulness.

Integral (Purna) Yoga

Integral yoga is a modern version of the traditional yoga systems of India. Many contemporary philosophers felt that traditional yoga gives too much importance to the attainment of the salvation and too much emphasis to the next life that the present life is neglected. This yoga teaches that what you do everyday (karma) is important Although traditional yoga always had karma or yoga of work as part of the arsenal all the time. It is the emphasis or importance on attaining the consciousness. Integral yoga gives yoga an affirmative and dynamic form. It places the spiritual ideal of life on the foundation of an integrated world-view that takes into account the evolutionary and historical perspective of life.

Integral Yoga evokes three levels of integration: the integration of the inner environment (or harmonization of the human personality), the integration of the human psyche with its external environment, and the integration of the psyche with its ultimate spiritual ground, or the Divine. It is a world-affirmative and body-positive spirituality that skillfully combines self-transcendence with love, compassion, and reverence for all life. For integral yoga the ultimate goal of life is complete self-integration. Action, love, wisdom and peace are equally important elements in such self-integration. The yoga of love or devotion (Bhakti yoga) is perfectly right in affirming love as the fulfillment of life and as an essential ingredient of salvation. But integral yoga points out that love is inseparable from wisdom and selfless action. Love in its spiritual essence is an attribute of wisdom. It is active interest in the progress and betterment of society. Love is undivided loyalty to life's higher values.

The aspect of Yoga that most people are aware of is "Hatha Yoga" or the Yoga of Postures. Developing a strong, healthy and flexible body is but one aspect of this ancient science. Yogis revere the body. However, they do this because they realize that a weak and tired body is a hindrance towards spiritual progress. By being mindful of their breathing while they practice the various postures, they train themselves to discipline their minds. By disciplining their minds, they are able to abide by the principles which Yoga stands for. First amongst these principles is "Ahimsa", or peacefulness in thought, deed, and action not only to other human beings, but also to all living creatures, and most importantly to our own selves. Remember this when you tend to push yourself into a forward bend! You will be able to do it over a period of time, just be easy on yourself.

Anyone can practice Yoga. You don't need any special equipment, clothing, or lessons; all you need is the will to pursue a healthier and happier lifestyle. The Yoga Postures and Asanas exercise every part of your body. The stretching involved helps in toning your muscles and joints, including your spine and your entire Skeletal System. Yoga not only facilitates in improving your body but also aids in keeping your Glands, Nerves and your other internal organs in radiant health. By releasing physical and mental tension, you will liberate vast resources of energy. The Yogic Breathing Exercises known as Pranayama revitalize the body and help control the mind, leaving you calm and refreshed; combine this with the practice of positive thinking and Meditation, and the result will be increased clarity, mental power and concentration.

Yoga in Your Life

Many people are first drawn to Yoga as a way to keep their bodies fit and supple. Others come seeking relief or help for a specific ailment like tension or backache. Whatever the reason is, Yoga can be a tool in giving one both what you came for, and more.

To understand what Yoga is all about, you need to experience it for yourself. At first glance it may seem to be just a series of strange physical postures, which keep the body lean and flexible. But as time passes, anyone who continues with regular practice becomes aware of a subtle change in his or her approach in life. Yoga helps in discovering the true nature, a state of inner peace, through the practice of toning and relaxing the body and relaxing the mind. Yoga helps in realizing one's self, in finding what one seeks - consciously or unconsciously. Controlling the mind will give the ability to do a lot of things. It will set a person free from the illusions and preconceptions that prevents from fulfilling oneself.

The yoga of knowledge (Jnana yoga) is perfectly right in affirming knowledge as the fulfillment of life and an essential ingredient of salvation. But integral yoga points out that knowledge is inseparable from love and action. Knowledge in its essence is comprehensive awareness of the nature of existence.

The yoga of action (Karma yoga) is perfectly right in affirming action as the essence of human reality and as an essential condition of salvation. But integral yoga points out that action is not merely a means to self-purification resulting in salvation.

An unbridgeable gulf is believed to exist between nature and spirit, between body and soul. All forms of self-torture and mortification of the flesh are invented in order to help in the triumph of the spirit. According to integral yoga, freedom is not emancipation from Nature, but emancipation in Nature. The balanced growth of personality - complete self - integration or integral self-realization-is the ideal for those practicing this yoga.

According to integral yoga, the values designated spiritual are no less an essential part of the spirit of Nature than the values designated material. The spirit may be defined as the higher mode of fulfillment of the creativity of Nature. And Nature may be regarded as the self-expressive energy and evolutionary dynamism of the spirit. So, both nature and spirit are equally important.

The dualism of matter and mind, nature and spirit, is inherent in the same evolutionary flux. Spiritual values emerge naturally and dualistically out of the organized and intelligent fulfillment of material values. When man intelligently co-operates with Nature, he gets rewarded with the treasures of the spirit. Integration of personality lays the foundation for an integrated outlook on life.

In integral self-realization, the growth of personality is as important as the vision of the super-personal. It implies organized fulfillment of normal human desires. The growth of personality brings power and love. It represents a vision of new values and the hidden possibilities of life. Integral yoga aims at the unity of personality growth and spiritual intuition. It affirms the ideal of integrated personality as a creative center of expression of the external.

There are three essential ingredients in the realization of complete self-integration: psychic integration, cosmic integration, and existential integration. Integral yoga is the art of harmonious and creative living on the basis of the integral experience of Being. It aims at opening the springs of creative inspiration hidden in the human psyche. It aims at that serenity of self poise which preserves the light of the eternal amidst the storm and stress of social living.



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