Philosophy of Yoga

Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with moral, physical, mental, psychological and spiritual aspects of human beings as a whole.

To understand the full potential of yoga as a path of spiritual realization, we should know about the six classical schools of Indian philosophy or systems of Indian philosophy, of which yoga is one. By understanding yoga in this context, it is possible to delve deeper into yoga to know it as a practice for self-realization and enlightenment, rather than the emphasis on mere physical fitness program that it has come to be known as.

The main division of Indian philosophy among different schools is to accept the authority of Vedas or not. There are three schools which do not accept the authority of Vedas are called heterodox schools as –

  • Charvak- also known as lokayata, charvak is materialistic, sceptical and atheistic school of thought. Its main philosophy is “eat, drink and be merry”.
  • Buddhism– is non-theistic system of belief based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama,who was an Indian prince and later came to be known as the Buddha, in the 5th century B.C.
  • Jainism– this school was founded by Rishabhdev but central tenets of Jain philosophy were established by Mahavira, who was 24th master of this school in the 6th century B.C.

There are six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy which believe in the authority of Vedas are –

  • Samkhya– is the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems, and it propounds duality of existence, which believes that everything in reality stems out of Purusha(self or soul or mind) and Prakriti(matter, creative agency, energy,). However, dualism of Samkhya is different from western dualist philosophy which creates difference in mind and body. According to Samkhya, liberation occurs with the realization of the difference in the soul and dispositions of matter (steadiness, activity and dullness).The existence of god is not accepted in this school.
  • Yoga– accepts the samkhya psychology and metaphysics but is more theistic with the addition of a divine entity to samkhya’s twenty-five elements of reality.
  • Nyaya – school is based on nyaya sutras written by Aksapada Gautama in the 2nd century B.C. Its methodology is based on a system of logic that has been adopted by the majority of the Indian schools, in much the same way as Aristotelian logic has influenced the western philosophy.
  • Vaisheshika– school was founded by Kanada in the six century B.C. and it is atomist and pluralist in nature. The basis of this school’s philosophy is that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms, and Brahman is regarded as the fundamental force that causes consciousness in these atoms.
  • Purva Mimamsa– the main objective of the Purva Mimamsa School is to interpret and establish the authority of the Vedas. They insist that salvation can only be attained by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of Vedas which includes the regular performance of the Vedic fire sacrifices to sustain all the activity of the universe.
  • Vedanta– the Vedanta or Uttara Mimamsa School concentrates on the philosophical teachings of Upanishads (mystic and spiritual contemplations within the Vedas). It believes in the principle of mono theism and self-realization. The Vedanta focus on meditation, self-discipline and spiritual connectivity, more than traditional ritualism.

Thus, as described above, Yoga is one of the six systems of the Indian philosophy. The word yoga derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” that means to bind, join, attach or yoke. It also means union or communion of individual human spirit (jivatma or soul) with supreme universal spirit (parmatma or god). In Hindukush region, Yoga is being practiced for more than 5000 years, but it took shape as a formal school in Indian philosophy around 3rd or 4th century B.C when sage Patanjali compiled the yoga practices in 196 aphorism or sutras in his book “Yogasutras”.

The four main branches or paths of Yoga are:

  • KarmaYoga– is the yoga of action, the path of selfless service. This path advocates dedication of all work (Karma) as an offering to God, without expecting any personal reward. A karma yogi tries to see God, residing in all living beings. By not thinking of our own personal needs and desires;renouncing the fruits of one’s action, and by trying to help everybody around us, our actions become unselfish.
  • Bhakti Yoga– is the yoga of devotion and self-surrender. Bhakti is the devotional approach of yoga, the approach of pure love. Prayer, chanting, japa (repeating a mantra or name of God), hearing or telling stories of God and saints, pujas, ceremonies and rituals are the basic techniques of bhakti. A mystical relationship with God (who may be seen as a friend, a child, a mother or teacher) is sought and developed. Through Bhakti Yoga, the aspirant can get rid of emotions and egocentricity by developing humility, self-surrender and the feeling of being a tool in the hands of God.
  • Jnana Yoga– is the yoga of knowledge, the philosophical approach. This is the most direct of the four paths. It is the intellectual approach to spiritual evolution. Through right inquiry (vichara) and constant self-analysis (viveka– discrimination), the mind is used to examine its own nature. Jnana yoga is said to be the most difficult path, not because it is superior, but because one must be firmly grounded in the other disciplines before attempting it. A sharp, keen intellect, unclouded by emotions, is necessary.
  • Raja Yoga– the scientific approach to channelize the energy which controls the mind. The techniques of asanas, pranayama and meditation are applied to bring the mind under control and to achieve higher states of consciousness. Raja Yoga expounded in the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Maharishi, deals directly with the mind. By controlling the mind one also gains control of the pranaor the life force.

Among the above four paths of Yoga, Raj Yoga includes the popular Hatha Yoga.Raja yoga is also known as ‘Ashtanga’ yoga, because its practices can be divided into eight limbs. Apart from Hatha Yoga, the other yoga methods included in Raja Yoga are:

  • Kundalini yoga: The nadis (pranic channels) and chakras (energy centres) are purified and the kundalini is awakened. Kundalini yoga describes the psychic system, and develops numerous techniques for gaining mastery of prana in order to control the mind.
  • Hatha Yoga:In hatha yoga, kriyas, asanas, pranayama, mudras and bandhas are emphasised. By using these techniques to gain control over the prana, one also gains control of the mind.
  • Mantra Yoga: focuses on the use of root sounds to control the mind.
  • Yantra Yoga: uses geometrical forms for meditation.
  • Nada Yoga: uses deep practice of music to achieve meditative state.
  • Laya Yoga: the aspirant concentrates on inner (anahata) sounds and light and tunes the mind with the rhythm of the universe.

The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

Let us briefly look at the eight limbs of Raja Yoga:

  1. Yama- Restraints
  1. Ahimsa- nonviolence, non-injury
  2. Satya- truthfulness; non-telling of lies
  3. Brahmacharya-chastity, sublimation of the sexual energy
  4. Asteya–non-stealing, non-accepting of gifts or bribes.
  5. Aparigraha- non-covjketing ornot being greedy
  • Niyama-Observances
  1. Saucha- purity(external and internal)
  2. Santosha- contentment
  3. Tapas- austerity
  4. Swadhyaya- study of religious scripture
  5. Ishwara-pranidhana- worship of the Lord, surrender of the ego.
  • Asana- Steady Pose

For spiritual practice, as for any other pursuit in life, a healthy and strong body and mind is essential. By practicing asanas one trains his mind through body. There are more than thousand asanas being practiced by people, but it is not possible to do all. Based on Patanjali’s exposition, there are 12 basic asanaswhich can be practiced daily to attain a steady mind.These are headstand, shoulder stand, fish pose, bridge pose, forward bend, cobra, locust pose, bow pose, half spinal twist, crow pose, standing forward bend, triangle pose, not necessarily in that order. There are opposite poses of above asanas which are included in it and the whole combination is to be done in a pre-defined sequence.

  • Pranayama- Control of the Vital Energy

Pranayama is combination of three words, “pra” (metaphysical), “anu” (atoms) and ayam (to stretch) means the action which stretches the “prana” (metaphysical atom) and breathing is closest to prana so the breathing exercises are called pranayama. Through pranayama one trains his mind through mind because breathing controls the activity of mind. The way you breathe is the way you think. This is pure scientific action and should be done with supervision. The physical nerves as well as the astral energy tubes are cleaned through this action.

  • Pratayhara- Withdrawal of senses from the objects

In yoganidra all five senses like hearing, seeing, smell, taste and touch are turned inwards in order to relax body and mind for the next step towards meditation.

  • Dharana- Concentration

When pratyahara is practiced and one is able to concentrate the mind upon either an external object or an internal idea for some time then dharana occurs and this process is beginning of falling into meditation.

7. Dhyana-Meditation

When pratyahara and dharana is practiced with ease for longer duration, one falls into meditation. Meditation alone is nothing. It is a combination of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. By practicing meditation one is able to have unbroken thought towards god.

8. Samadhi- Super Conscious State

Samadhi is beyond description, beyond the mind to grasp. Samadhi transcends all ordinary, sensory experience as well as time, space and causation. Samadhi is not about discussing it or writing about it but can only be experienced. Like the taste of sugar can be known only through eating sugar (action)and not just by discussing the taste with someone who has never eaten sugar.