Rabu, 13 Februari 2013

What Is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

Developed in India, Yoga is a philosophical discipline with roots going back about 5,000 years. Today, most Yoga practices in the West focuses on the physical postures called "asanas," breathing exercises called "pranayama," and meditation. However, there's more to it than that, and the deeper you go the richer and more diverse the tradition becomes. The word "Yoga" means union. Linguistically, it is related to the Old English "yoke." Traditionally, the goal of Yoga is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman, the true self. These days the focus is often on the more down-to-earth benefits of Yoga, including improved physical fitness, mental clarity, greater self-understanding, stress control and general well-being. Spirituality, however, is a strong underlying theme to most practices. The beauty of Yoga is in its versatility, allowing practitioners to focus on the physical, psychological or spiritual, or a combination of all three.

Is Yoga a religion?

No... although there is a debate of it. It depends on how you define "religion" and how the Yoga practitioner approaches his or her practice. The physical and psychological benefits of Yoga are real and don't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, political persuasion or any other way people like (or dislike) to categorize themselves. Yoga has a strong philosophical base that provides a code of conduct for society. On the spiritual side, most mystical traditions -- East or West -- draw similar maps of the spiritual path. So in that respect, Yoga is mainstream. Like Shakespeare said, "A rose by any name would smell as sweet." For these reasons, many people feel they can practice Yoga without conflict with their religious beliefs. However, Yoga is connected to the Hindu tradition and draws on many Hindu beliefs -- karma, dharma, reincarnation, Atman, etc.


There are four paths of Yoga: 1)Jnana, the path of knowledge or wisdom; 2)Bhakti, the path of devotion; 3) Karma, the path of action; and 4) Raja, the path of self control. Hatha Yoga, which includes postures and breathing, and is the form most popular in the West, is actually part of Raja Yoga, the path of self control. The path most followed in India is thought to be Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Within Hatha Yoga there are many styles, such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Integral, Kripalu and Jiva Mukti, to name a few. These Yogas all share a common lineage back to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a text outlining the basic philosophy and practices of Classical Yoga. It was written sometime between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D.

Hatha Yoga

This is by far the most popular type of Yoga today. It comprises the third and fourth limbs of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga), i.e., the physical work of postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). Most, not all, Hatha Yoga classes will include other limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, such as sense withdrawal (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana). The physical postures/movement, breathing techniques, cleansing practices (Kriyas), locks (Bandhas), hand gestures (Mudras) as we know them today were only systematized by the Nath yogis in the 13th century, and later recorded in just a handful of manuals such as the Hathayogapradipika, the Gerandha Samhita, and the Siva Samhita. The many excellent Yoga publications and popular styles of Hatha Yoga practiced today are all based on these and just a few other manuals. Today there are about 84 classical postures of which many are rarely used. About 12 postures are more commonly used; many yogis use less in their regular practice. The original postures cannot be improved upon, but they may and, in fact, should be modified to suit a person's individual needs. The postures are so adaptable that the elderly and even persons with severe physical impairments may practice Hatha Yoga.

Bhakti Yoga

Practitioners of Bhakti Yoga seek realization through the celebration of love and devotion in a religious and philosophical sense using songs, dance and offerings. It is the Yoga of the heart widely practiced in India.

Jnana Yoga

This is the Yoga of knowledge. It needs to be supported by wisdom which we acquire from life experience, and the study of science and inspirational literature and, of course, meditation..

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. It is for people who like to live their lives energetically, without necessarily expecting a reward. Karma Yoga helps us to influence our lives positively. It is based on the premise that every action has a consequence, and what happens in our present and future lives is very much our own responsibility.

Raja Yoga

This is called the Royal Yoga and is the subject of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It deals with Samyama, the three more inner stages of Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Dharana, concentration, is the first step. In Dharana, the mind still wanders and has to be continually brought back to the object of concentration. This is followed by Dhyana, meditation. Dhyana manifests itself spontaneously through the regular practice of concentration and leads to Samadhi, enlightened consciousness. The knowledge gained in this state is stronger and more certain than that obtained through our senses. There are four stages in Samadhi; once these are traversed, one reaches the highest possible state of consciousness, which is the goal of Yoga.

Courtesy of Ming Lee, the Chairman of Yoga Society of Hong Kong,

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