The “Yoga” path to freedom, consciousness, and happiness.

The Yoga Path

“Yoga means union. It shows us how to unite all our life-forces by directing them inward. The goal is happiness and happiness lies within”. – Swami Vishnudevananda

So many people on this planet suffer from unhappiness, stress, anger, fear, tension, frustration, hate, jealousy, superiority, or inferiority complex. These emotions rot in them like bad apples, slowly taking over their minds, bodies, and souls. In short, negative emotions can impact the very core of their being.

People who fall under the influence of negative thoughts become prisoners of their pessimistic thoughts, emotions, images, and attitudes. Every day, they identify themselves with the thoughts, emotions, and memories of their past they can’t forget themselves for. Such people tend to be bound by external impressions on their minds and bodies. They seek joy, trying to avoid pain. However, their mental/physical peace and happiness are short-lived and followed by more pain. This makes them ask themselves, is there a way out of this vicious cycle?

Sam Harris, the American philosopher, and neuroscientist ask the same questions: Is there a type of happiness beyond this repetition of pleasure and avoidance of pain? Can we be happy even before anything happens, before our desires are fulfilled, despite challenges, pains, and other life’s difficulties? I could positively confirm that there is.

As famous Indian yoga teacher Sadhguru points out: ‘If you really want to know spirituality, don’t look for anything. Don’t lookout for a way out of suffering. There is only one way and that is in. The very core of our experience is within us, but our perception is entirely outward-bound.’ This tells us that our habitual identification with our thoughts and failure to recognize them as appearances in consciousness is the primary source of our suffering. The practice of yoga is a method of breaking this spell of thoughts. It is a technique for waking up!

What is Yoga?

‘Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental, and spiritual well-being of man as a whole.’ B. K. S. Iyengar

At its core, yoga is a spiritual discipline founded on a subtle science that focuses on bringing harmony between body and mind. It is the science and the art of healthy living. The main goal of practicing yoga is to discover methods and techniques of using our minds to decrease pain and suffering and to discover and create more happiness, contentment, and peace.

The word ‘Yoga’ derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj,’ which means ‘to join’ or ‘to unite.’ As Yogic scriptures tell us, the practice of yoga leads to the union of our individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness, allowing us to achieve perfect harmony between our bodies, minds, and nature. It is said that one who experiences the oneness of existence is in yoga. He has attained a state of freedom referred to as moksha, mukti, or nirvana.

The History of Yoga

The earliest saved yoga scriptures have been written on palm leaves. The evolution of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, however, some researchers think that yoga is over 10,000 years old. The Indus-Sarasvati civilization first mentioned the term ‘Yoga’ over 5,000 years ago in their oldest sacred texts – the Rig Veda. The Vedas are a collection of sacred texts containing rituals, mantras, and songs used by the Vedic priests.

Over time, yoga has been slowly refined by the Brahmans (the Vedic priests) and Rishis, who were mystic seers, who documented their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads, a huge body of work containing over 200 sacred texts. The Upanishads are teachings of the Rishis, made to directly pass on knowledge from sages to students. You probably know that the most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad Gîtâ, a 700-verse scripture that is part of the Mahabharata, written around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads used the idea of the ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the importance of the sacrifice of the ego through wisdom, self-knowledge, and action.

The classical period of yoga is defined by Patañjali and his Yoga Sutras, which are the first systematic presentations of yoga. Written in the second century, Yoga Sutras describe the path of Raja Yoga, also called ‘classical yoga.’ Patañjali, a Hindu teacher, philosopher, and mystic, arranged his sutras in four volumes: Psychic Power, Practice of Yoga, Samadhi (the state of profound contemplation of the absolute), and Kaivalya (separateness).

Patañjali organized the practice of yoga by dividing it into eight steps (also known as an ‘eight limbed path’), comprising the eight stages of obtaining Samadhi, or enlightenment. Patañjali is known as the father of Yoga, and to this day, his Yoga Sutras strongly influence most styles of yoga.

Eight-Limbed Path Explained

According to Patañjali, an eight-limbed path leads to liberation, known as Ashtanga Yoga System (‘ashta’ means ‘eight,’ ‘anga’ means ‘limb’). As previously explained, the goal of yoga is to connect to our true Self, also known as the divine self or ‘atman.’ However, yoga can also mean separation, where we separate from whatever stops us from feeling free (‘moksha,’ the attainment of freedom). So, how can we attain this freedom through yoga? By following the Ashtanga Yoga System. 

1. Yama – restraints and moral disciplines. The first limb of Yoga is Yama, and it refers to vows, disciplines, or practices that are mainly concerned with the world around us and our relationship with it. Increasing physical strength and flexibility through yoga is important, but what’s the point if you are still weak, rigid, and stressed out in your daily life? There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed). Yama teaches us that it’s not enough just to strengthen our bodies but also to be truthful, kind, and constructively use our energy.

2. Niyama – positive duties or observances. Niyama refers to duties towards ourselves as well as our actions towards the outside world. There are five Niyamas: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline, burning of desire), Svadhyaya (Self-reflection and study of spirit), and Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power). Niyama is typically practiced by those who want to study the Yogic path further and aim to build character.

3. Asana – posture. The third stage on the path to freedom is the physical aspect of Yoga. The word ‘asana’ means ‘seat,’ and it refers to the seat we take for the practice of meditation. It is a position every practitioner should hold with ease and motionlessness. The idea is to sit without distractions from the pains of our bodies.

4. Pranayama – breathing techniques, breath control. The term ‘Prana’ means ‘energy’ or ‘life force.’ It describes the energy in the universe around us and the very essence that keeps us alive. It refers to the breath and how we can affect our minds in a real way if we work with the way we breathe. Working with our breath can alter the mind in myriad ways, from calming practices to more stimulating techniques.

5. Pratyahara – the sense of withdrawal. The word ‘Pratya’ means ‘to withdraw, and ‘ahara’ refers to anything we perceive by ourselves, such as sights, sounds, and smells our senses constantly take in. This limb teaches us the ability to switch off our senses through deep concentration, so much so that the things outside of ourselves can’t bother us, allowing us to meditate without distractions.

6. Dharana – focused concentration. Closely related to the previous two yoga limbs, Dharana and Pratyahara are vital parts of the same aspect. If we want to focus on something, our senses must withdraw so that all attention is put on the concentration point, and to do so, we must concentrate and focus with intent.

7. Dhyana – meditative absorption. This limb explains the moment when we become absorbed in the focus of our meditation.

8. Samadhi – enlightenment or bliss. This is the final step of the Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, explaining the moment of reaching enlightenment after we have re-organized our relationships both with the outside world and our inner world. Reaching this state is not about escapism, it is about realizing the very life we have, without our thoughts, likes and dislikes, emotions, pleasure, and pain governing it.

Once our minds are clear and pure and we experience Samadhi, can we attain moksha – a permanent state of freedom.

Why Yoga is More Relevant Than Ever Today

“By practicing yoga, we can promote values that inspire a peaceful, environmental stewardship for the betterment of society and the earth.” – Amina Mohammed

For any avid practitioner, yoga is a de-stressor, a way to relieve oneself from negative emotions like sadness, anger, grief, or agony. Due to the onset of COVID-19, these past couple of years were particularly hard on people. Some lost their loved ones, while others lost their health, peace of mind, job security, and financial flexibility. The pandemic has managed to attack not only our physical health but also our mental health.

Practicing yoga allows us to cure our physical and mental ailments. Yoga is an ancient practice and a lifestyle. It teaches us how to live a better, happier, and more fulfilling life. Here is why yoga is now more relevant than ever:

1. Breath control – Breath is our life force and an essential part of every yoga pose. It is said, ‘If you are consciously breathing, you are doing yoga,‘ which cant be more accurate. Every form of yoga focuses on the breathing pattern, teaching us when to exhale and inhale. Yoga also boosts our immune system. Including Pranayama in our daily lives can be vital to our health since it strengthens our respiratory system. Nowadays, with the global pandemic that directly attacks our lungs, this is more important than ever.

2. It improves our mental health – Yoga is beneficial for everyone, especially those who struggle with depression, anxiety, high levels of stress, and other mental health issues. Yoga can help us change our habits, actions, and personalities for the better, making us calmer, more relaxed, and kinder people.

By practicing yoga, we can build our mental resilience and increase our emotional strength. Yoga also helps us increase mind and body awareness which further helps in achieving mindfulness.

3. It is an immunity booster – Yoga can help us reduce the stress hormone that weakens our immune system. By practicing yoga regularly, we can release toxins and negativity, which helps us reduce stress. Yoga poses reduce physical stress, while meditation, which naturally follows yoga, helps us calm the mind. When we practice yoga, we increase our vitality and positive energy, further boosting our immune system

Read part 2 of the Series – Yoga from a multidimensional perspective

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