consider yoga essential to their physical and spiritual health and well being.
You might very well be one of them. Or, you might not have done a single yoga
pose in your life and are now wondering what yoga's really all about and where
it came from in the first place. If so, we invite you to read on. For specific
tips on yoga, we invite you to catch up on our Yoga Tips found in the "Green
Tips" section of this site.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice. Cessation of thought and union with the divine principle is sought through the yoga process, which primarily includes mental and spiritual processes. Although more devoutly practiced in this regard in the country of its origin - India - yoga is nonetheless rooted in spirituality and has influenced all of the dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) and schools of spirituality.
Of the eight branches of yoga according to the ancient text, Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, only one deals with physical poses and postures. It is called Asana in Sanskrit, and is the branch practiced the most in the Western world - where yoga is becoming a more mainstream, popular "activity". No longer limited to private schools or esoteric books, yoga is now amongst the standard fare of classes offered at private gyms. While some yoga classes can be more focused on just the physical benefits (limberness, weight loss, purification), the spiritual benefits of yoga are inherent. The other seven schools focus on specific attainment, including (1) moral behavior toward others, (2) moral behavior toward oneself, (3) breathing, (4) withdrawal of the senses, (5) concentration, (6) meditation, and (7) bliss, which can be thought of as transcendence through meditation.
As a means of expanding the spiritual experience, yoga incorporates principles of meditation and physicality. In other words, yoga optimizes the use of the body as a vehicle in obtaining a heightened spiritual experience. Consider this - If our bodies are but a vehicle for the expression and evolution of the Soul, having a body free of tension and possessing a heightened body awareness can only help but to facilitate our Soul's expression and to receive spiritual impressions through the body. This doesn't mean that the more tense you are, the less enlightened you will become. However, it does mean that your spiritual experiences can be enhanced through the practice of yoga. Some of us need it more than others. The bottom line is that yoga offers nothing but positive contributions to health and well being.
There are several forms of yoga, including Bhakti, Karma, Jnana, Raja, Hatha, Kundalini, Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar. As mentioned, yoga has largely influenced the Vedic religions (those of the subcontinent India) and can be traced back to the 8th Century BC. Discussed in both the Vedas - which is the oldest Sanskrit literature and most sacred texts of Hinduism - as well as the Upanishads - which are considered the mystical, philosophical and meditative core of the Vedas - it is easy to see why yoga has had time to branch off in as many forms as it has. Depending on the interpretation given to the Vedas, forms of yoga vary. Buddhism and Jainism, both of which started as Indian philosophies, do not accept the authority of the Vedas and so evolved into non-Vedic (non-orthodox) religions.
As a spiritual practice, yoga is primarily discussed at length in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord), which is dated back to 1490. Although some differences in interpretation exist, the Bhagavad Gita is largely thought to be divided into eighteen chapters, with the first third of the book covering Karma Yoga, the second third covering Bhakti and the final third covering Jnana Yoga.
Karma Yoga literally translates into the path of union through action. It is the yoga of action based on principles of reincarnation and individual karma. Through right action, thinking, and willing (two paths of the eight-fold path in Buddhism) in accordance with one's karmic duty, union with the One Being is obtained. Karma Yoga is directly mentioned by Krishna in the first section of the Bhagavad Gita.
Bhakti Yoga translates into the yoga of devotion. Using meditation solely focused on offering and loving devotion to God, Bhakti yoga is widely thought to be the easiest path to liberation. There are several bhakti movements associated with various Hindu movements, while nine different forms of Bhakti yoga are known to be perpetuated. The Bhagavad Gita clearly states (in the words of Krishna) that a Bhakta use love and pure intentions on the spiritual path to liberation.
Jnana Yoga literally translates into the yoga of knowledge, as Jnana means knowledge. The Bhagavad Gita states that acquiring jnana comes by understanding the kshetra, which translates into the field of activity, or, the body. Krishna puts importance on knowing the difference between this and the Soul (kshetra-jna). In Jnana yoga, there are four paths to salvation, One is discrimination between what is eternal and temporal, dispassion from the temporal, longing for liberation from the temporal world, and a cultivation of the six virtues, Tranquility, Endurance, Faith, Perfect Concentration, Control of the Senses and Renunciation of non-duties.
In addition to having a strong presence in Hindu traditions, yoga is at the core of several branches of Buddhism, including Tibetan Buddhism, Zen and Yogacara Buddhism, which uses yoga as a means of becoming a bodhisattva. The Zen Buddhist school of meditation has its roots in yoga, while Tibetan Buddhism incorporates many different yoga poses and tantric practices. Tantrism, which is thought of as a path to salvation in the Hindu tradition, helps to link the dharmic practices of social renunciation and detachment, and is a practice used in several meditation techniques - most notably chakra meditation. Tantrism can also be thought to be present in the chakra awakening techniques of Kundalini yoga, which focuses on the fusion of breath with posture and physical movement.
Kundalini yoga is one of the more popular forms of asana yoga practiced today. The others are Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram and Iyengar. Although all these versions use many of the same yoga poses, they put a different emphasis on certain components.
Hatha yoga focuses on the purification of one's body, in turn, leading to the purification of one's mind and spirit (the opposite order of Raja yoga). Hatha also has tantric influences and incorporates the use of chakras.
Vinyasa yoga incorporates vigorous movements in sync with the breath. This is the family of yoga in which Sun Salutations make up.
Ashtanga yoga forms the basis of "power yoga" and is very physically demanding and fast-paced.
Bikram yoga is known as hot yoga for it is a series of poses performed in temperatures ranging from 95 to 100 degrees, aimed at loosening muscles and simulating perspiration for purification purposes.
Iyengar yoga helps to build muscle and increase posture for it is primarily focused on correct body alignment and holding correct poses for longer periods of time in order to reap the full benefits of the pose.
Want to read up more on yoga and learn some new poses? Check out our Yoga Articles immediately below. We also know of some great yoga equipment and supplies, ranging from yoga supplements to eco friendly yoga mats.