General term for various spiritual disciplines in Hinduism.
The word yoga implies yoking (as with oxen to the ox-cart)
or union, expressing the linking of man with divine reality.
This union is a transcendental experience beyond the plane of
words and ideas and has to be achieved by release from the limiting
fields of physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual experience.
This requires purification at all levels and according
to Hindu belief might take many lifetimes, but sincere exertions
in one birth should bear fruit in the next.
Yogas widespread introduction to the West is thought to
have begun with Swami Vivekanandas yoga presentation at the
Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893. Influential twentieth
century yogis since then have included Ramana Maharshi,
Indra Devi, Selvarajan Yesudian, Swami Sivananda, Sri Yogendra,
and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, of the Transcendental Meditation
movement. In the 1960s and 1970s, Richard Hittleman
and Lilias Folan (of Lilias, Yoga, and You) brought yoga to the
American mainstream through television. Yogas popularity is
also due to endorsements from celebrities such as Sting and
Madonna. Yogas allure as a stress reliever has also helped the
practice to gain popularity with Americans who try to regain
control over their hectic lifestyles. It is estimated that more
than two million people throughout the world practice some
discipline of yoga.
The existence of many spiritual disciplines and practices in
India allowed for a multitude of forms and beliefs. Most religious
systems are aligned to one or more forms of yoga, though
most commonly they will emphasize one of the traditional spiritual
paths. Some would judge the adoption of a particular spiritual
path to be linked to age, occupation, personality, or a particular
interest in life.
The six principle branches of yoga are
Bhakti yoga is the path of love and devotion. An individual
with an emotional temperament can transform those emotions,
to be absorbed in spiritual service instead of being attached to
physical or sensory gratification. Love can be centered on a familiar
form of God, a great saint, or some great task in life. In
bhakti yoga, the whole universe, whether animate or inanimate,
is seen as permeated by divinity. Bhakti (meaning loving
devotion) is the practice of self-surrender for the purpose of
identifying with the source of love, the higher self.
The Hare Krishna, which became notable in the West in the
last generation, follow a form of Hinduism that emphasizes this
type of yoga.
Hatha yoga is known as the path of inner power. It is the science
of physical exercises most familiar to Westerners. In hatha
yoga the mind, body, and spirit are linked, and the purification
of the body is intended to enhance mental and spiritual development,
balance, and harmony. Good physical health, however,
is an essential prerequisite to the strenuous disciplines of
this yoga system.
Hatha yoga consists of a number of asanas, or physical postures,
that develop flexibility in associated muscle groups
throughout the body, and favorably affect the tone of veins and
arteries. They are also believed to improve the function of the
ductless glands through persistent gentle pressure. In Patanjalis
system, asana was chiefly directed to the achievement of
a firm cross-legged sitting position for meditation. Other yoga
authorities, however, have elaborated the stages of Patanjali
yoga to meet the requirements of different temperaments, so
that they may be harmonized.
The asanas differ from Western gymnastics in that they feature
static postures instead of active movements, though some
asanas are linked sequentially. There are theoretically some
8,400,000 asanas, of which 84 are said to be the best and 32 the
most useful for good health. These are named after animals,
geometic structures, mountains, or plants. An asana is considered
to be mastered when the yogi can maintain the position
without strain for three hours. Asanas may be supplemented by
special symbolic gestures and positions called mudras.
Various cleansing techniques, called kriyas, of the nasal passages,
throat, stomach, and bowels can be practiced in conjunction
with asanas. Pranayama, breathing exercises, are also employed
to arouse kundalini or vital energy. Some systems focus
upon the arousal of kundalini as the central spiritual discipline.
Y-Kim Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
Hatha yoga had largely died out in India but was revived in
the nineteenth century in Maharashtra, western India, from
whence it radiated out into the world during the twentieth century.
Jnana or Sankya Yoga
Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge, science, and wisdom.
This begins with fine distinctions that may be evolved from
careful observation; study and experiment; combining knowledge
with the ability to reflect, meditate, and develop intuition.
It is the way of transcendent knowledge, and is geared for those
prone to intellectual curiosity, reason, and analysis.
Karma yoga is the science of karma or selfless action. Karma
yoga teaches the student that all actions have inescapable consequences,
some producing immediate results, others delayed
results, and some bearing fruit in future lives. Emphasis is
placed on altruistic actions that purify the individual soul and
release it from petty desires. In karma yoga, actions are spiritualized
by dedicating them to selfless service and divine will.
Karma yoga calls for union with God through right action, and
service for service sake, without regard for accomplishment or
glory or attribution.
Mantra yoga is the path of sacred sound. It is the science of
sound vibration, prayer, and hermetic utterance. According to
Hindu mystical belief, the world evolved from the essence of
sound, through the diversity and intricacy of vibration and utterance.
One of the most sacred mantras is the three-syllabled OM
or AUM, origin of the universe, comparable with the Hebrew
Shemhamphorash and the creative Word of God in the Gospel
of John. The reading of Hindu scriptures is both begun and
ended with the sacred sound AUM.
Raja Yoga is the path of stillness, whose goal is to quiet the
mind through meditation to create a state of focused, unbroken
concentration. It is also known as the path of spiritual science,
particularly suitable for those of a more abstract or metaphysical
temperament. This path combines religious study with refinement
of all levels of the individual, culminating in transcendental
awareness. Raja yoga is the summation of all other
yogas. Ancient textbooks of hatha yoga emphasize that it
should only be practiced in conjunction with raja yoga.
Other yoga paths are usually derivatives of the principle six.
This is the yoga of non-contact. A form of jnana yoga, asparsha
seeks reintegration through non-touching, avoiding all
forms of contact with others.
Astanga yoga is often known as the path of Patanjali. The
sage Patanjali (ca. 200 B.C.E.) taught a comprehensive yoga system
that became a spiritual school unto itself. According to Patanjali,
in order to experience true reality one must transcend
the body and mind. In his Yoga Sutras he outlined the following
yama and niyamaethical restraints and moral observations.
pranayamabreathing exercises. This uses various cleansing
techniques of the nasal passages, throat, stomach, and bowels;
it is used to enhance the pranayama.
A branch of mantra yoga, japa (meaning recitation) yoga
emphasizes repetition of prayers, hymns and sacred syllables.
Utilizing hatha yoga and mantra yoga techniques to arouse
kundalini, or divine creative energy. This path focuses on the
arousal of kundalini as the central focus of spiritual exercise.
Whether kundalini rising occurs because of the exercises or on
its own accord remains a matter of debate.
Based on teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of
Autobiography of a Yogi. Kriya yoga stresses the path to Eternal
Tranquility, emphasizing the stillness of sensory input.
Laya yoga is the yoga of absorption. It underscores absorption
in meditation, merging the mind and breath in the divine.
In this practice the yogi immerses himself in the universe, becoming
a part of the universal body.
This path is based on the teachings of Swami Muktananda.
Siddha (meaning guru) yoga emphasizes the intervention and
guidance of a teacher to raise kundalini.
A derivative of karma and bhakti yogas, tantric yoga is associated
with arousal of sexual energy and its conversion into
kundalini, or creative energy. It is the human reflection of the
divine union between the male (shiva) and female (shakti) as aspects
of the divine. It is concerned with techniques and disciplines
intended to transform the sexual act into a kundaliniraising
Tantric yoga has often been implicated as an arena for sexual
abuses in the West. Less-than-enlightened yogis have been
entangled in clandestine affairs with students, later forced to
step down from the position of spiritual leader.
Yantra yoga is a form of jnana yoga, in which meditation is
accomplished through contemplation of a geometric figure.
No single pathway of yoga is regarded as an alternative to
another, and many of the paths intertwine and intersect, as a
means of purifying and harmonizing individual temperaments.
An intellectual person might profitably concentrate on bhakti
yoga or karma yoga; an emotional temperamented one might
benefit from jnana yoga and hatha yoga. Likewise, the practice
of hatha yoga without proper actions, devotion, and ethical
codes might be harmful or result simply in gymnastics without
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