Sources: lifepositive.com; swamiJ.com; paramarth.com; theosociety.org; vedanet.com;
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.
Our ancient sages acquired a clear understanding of the meaning and goal of human life after a deep enquiry. The enlightened thoughts arising out of their perceptions of life are called darshanas or systems of philosophy which mean a vision of the Self.
All such systems of philosophy came to the conclusion that in spite of the best efforts put in by man, his life is weighed down more with misery than bliss. Hence finding out the means to escape from the shackles of grief and despair of human existence, once and for all, became the main goal of their endeavors. Each philosopher tried to develop his own insight in this respect and offered solutions according to his perception. These illuminating thoughts of the seers came to be popularly known as Shad-Darshanas or six systems of Indian Philosophy. These are as under:
The main subjects dealt with by them are:
1. Existence and nature of Brahman
2. Nature of the jiva - the individual soul
3. Creation of the jagat – the phenomenal universe and
4. Moksha or liberation and the means to achieve it.
The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ is derived from the root "yuj". This is the ancestor of the English word ‘yoke’. It means to connect, join or balance implying ‘union’. Hence it comes to mean a method of spiritual union. Yoga is one of the many methods by which an individual may become united with Godhead, the Reality which underlies this apparent ephemeral universe. Yoga system of philosophy is thus a powerful means to an end - the ultimate end of all human pursuits being "Moksha.". One who practices yoga is a yogi. Moksha is freedom from all bondage; freedom from insecurities; freedom from the clutches of desires; freedom from the sense of limitations and inadequacy; freedom from all that thwarts us on our journey towards the divine in this life itself.
This is possible with a steady, sincere and prolonged practice of Yoga. It activates a process of cleansing and purification of mind, which in turn, prepares us for the dawning of Self-knowledge. Yoga is this connection, this knowledge that removes the impurities and the veil of ignorance that keeps us strangers to ourselves. Yoga is an effort to bring out that wisdom which helps a union between the non-Atman (the limited self) and the Atman (the Reality). Strictly speaking it is not exactly a union with anything for we are already united. It only helps us to realize our identity with the Divine Self, to make us aware and tune ourselves with our own intrinsic nature.
The common misconception about yoga is that it is all about some physical postures. Yoga should never be mistaken for any mode of exercise, which is operational only at a physical level. Yoga is a way of life; it is not removed from it. Yoga, in fact, is the means to overcome all the problems arising out of our frustrations, disappointments and other limitations in life.
Patanjali’s Yoga system is a practical structure which attempts to understand the nature of the ubiquitous element within us called 'mind'. It analyses all the aspects of human mind such as its states of being, impediments to its growth, its afflictions and the methods of harnessing it for the achievement of the ultimate goal of self realization.
There are many definitions of Yoga, which apply to all levels of existence and awareness. At the physical level, we need to harmonize the functions of different organs, muscles and nerves so that they do not hamper or oppose each other. Disharmony in various body parts and systems brings about inefficiency and lethargy which manifests in diseases. In this context we can define Yoga as a means to physical harmony, mental balance and peace.
The Bhagavad Gita, itself being a Yoga Shastra, elucidates various concepts of Yoga some of which are as under:
Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras define Yoga as, "complete control over patterns or modifications of the mind." This definition implies a state of mind where thoughts and feelings are suspended or held in check. It prescribes a meticulous meditative system, which focuses on the analysis and control of the field of human awareness. The Yoga Sutras offer a comprehensive method for controlling the thought waves arising in the human mind by channelizing them into a source of spiritual energy.
The word sutra means a concise statement with a minimum of letters but expressing a vast amount of knowledge. Sutra also refers to the ‘thread’ in a garland upon which the gems of vast knowledge are strung together like beautiful flowers in a garland.
Various Yoga schools
The Sutras which are called aphorisms are very concise in their nature and hence invite a host of commentaries and annotations for their appropriate comprehension by an average learner. A number of basic commentaries, therefore, exist on these Yoga Sutras. Although the ultimate goal of yoga philosophy is one and the same, there are differences on emphasis on specific methods to achieve the goal. Such variations in weightage have given rise to various yoga schools named differently according to the respective yogi's objective of self-transformation and the instruments chosen by him for such anticipated end result.
The different types of Yoga Schools are Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, Sri Aurobindo's Purna or Integral Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.
Hatha Yoga devotes itself to the discipline of the body and the balance of the mental, physical and subtle forces of the body through the practice of asana and pranayama. Kundalini Yoga concentrates on psychic centers or chakras in the body in order to generate a spiritual power, which is known as kundalini energy. Mantra Yoga refers to the repetition of mantras (words or sounds) during various meditation techniques helping the mind to achieve a single thought flow until it attains the state of samadhi. Tantra Yoga is linked with the worship of Shakti, the primordial female energy.