What Is Yoga ?

Yoga is an invitation from the cosmic consciousness to celebrate our inner blissful state. The invitation is presented to us, when we’re ready to accept it. This celebration party is always on, and we can show up just the way we are, wherever we are, whenever we want!

As Bhagvad Gita and many Upanishadas guide us, we can take different routes to arrive at this party. Emotional people may walk the path of Bhakti Yoga embracing love, surrender, and devotion to the divine. For action-oriented people, the path is Karma Yoga, embracing service to the society. For intellectuals, the journey is via Jnaana yoga, studying scriptures and self, embracing knowledge.

People of strong willpower may enjoy Raaj Yoga - Ashtanga Yoga, embracing the 8 limbs of Yoga as described by Maharshi Patanjali in his yoga sutra - 1) Yama (Don’ts / restraints when dealing with the external world - Ahinsaa /non-violence, Satya / truth, Asteya / non-stealing, Brahmacharya /self-control, and Aparigraha (non-attachment), 2) Niyama (Do’s / personal observances - Shaucha / cleanliness of mind - body - physical surroundings, SantoSha (contentment), Tap (austerities), Svaadhyaay (self-study), Ishwar PraNidhaana (Surrendering the fruit of one’s action to whatever higher power one believes in), 3) Asana (physical practice to keep the body fit for this journey), 4) PraaNaayaama (slowing down and elongation of breath to slow down the expenditure of the vital energy), 5) Pratyaahaara (withdrawal of senses, turning the awareness inward), 6) DhaaraNaa (focusing on a single object / shape / idea / sound / deity), 7) Dhyaana (meditation - effortless flow of single-pointedness), and 8) Samaadhi (ultimate renunciation of the personal ego / identity and merging with the cosmic consciousness)!

There are also the paths of Japa Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Naada Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Kriya Yoga, that one can avail of as per one’s personality / nature / Svabhaava. While we can take this journey together, everybody’s journey will be different, the length of the journey will be different - it may be completed in this lifetime, or it may take many more lifetimes, as we continue evolving on this journey.

On this inward journey, the body is our vehicle, PraaNa (vital energy force, not just oxygen that we take in) is our fuel, Aatman is the traveller! Destination is the ultimate union of the individual consciousness (Jeevaatmaa) with the universal consciousness (Paramaatmaa). There are many who have completed this journey before, and shared their guidance. Yoga is an empirical science, embodied philosophy, which can be taught to, practiced by, and experienced by any human being. It is not merely a belief system or pure logic for the sake of arguing. That’s why Yoga has survived, thrived, grown as a live teacher - disciple / Guru-ShiShya Paramparaa / tradition for at least 10,000 years in all corners of the world, without anybody actively owning it / patenting it / forcing it on others through conversion or violence.

Most of the modern diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer are stress-related, life-style related. Yoga is a front-line defense against all such psycho-somatic diseases arising out of constantly chattering hyper-active minds, and dull bodies. Yoga teaches us to listen to our body, to train it to stabilize at ease for a long time. This helps us open up the energy pathways (NaaDiis), through which PraaNa can flow freely, so that we’re not distracted by bodily discomforts or energy deficit, and work on taming the mind, as mentioned in Yoga VasiShTha - manah prashamanopayah yoga ityabhidhiyate (मन: प्रशमनोपाय योग इत्यभिधीयते ||)

Patanjali says YogashschittaVrutti Nirodhaha (योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः) - Yoga is mastery over the circular thought patterns.

Bhagavad Gita says samatvam Yog Uchyate (समत्वं योग उच्यते||) - equanimity amidst polarities of rise and fall, life and death, happiness and sorrow, light and darkness is yoga.

- Vidya Nahar, ERYT-500,

vyayam.com , chairyoga.org