Yoga, meaning union or yoking in Sanskrit, is the primary focus of Hinduism's diverse religious activities. YOGA is a science of the body, the mind, the consciousness and the soul. Yoga is a teaching of wisdom and knowledge which has been transmitted to mankind from the great Yogis and Rishis of ancient times, though its geographical origin lies in India, it is universal, all-valid, eternal knowledge.
There are several forms and paths of yoga that include meditation (Raja Yoga), devotional prayer (Bhakti Yoga), selfless service to others (Karma Yoga), practices for discrimination of truth and reality (Jnana Yoga), and even meditational forms of exercise and bodily upkeep (Hatha Yoga, a part of Raja Yoga). Yoga, as condified by Patanjali, is also one of the six major schools of Hindu philosophy and as such specifically refers to Raja Yoga, the royal path of divine meditation on the one Brahman.
Yoga is indicative of a broad range of practices that aim to, through physical, mental and spiritual activities, focus the individual on the true essence of reality, to achieve moksha or samadhi, liberation and enlightenment. A man who has taken up successful practice of Yoga is called a Yogi (also spelled Yogin), a woman Yogini.
The Bhagavad Gita is the archetype of Yoga scripture. Capturing the essence and at the same time going into detail about the various Yogas and their philosophies, it was the groundstone to Yogic thought, and constantly refers to itself as such, the "Scripture of Yoga" (see the final verses of each chapter).
It is spoken in the format of Lord Krishna, self-identified as a manifestation of Brahman (the impersonal, supreme force of the cosmos, the Divine Ground), to Arjuna, a warrior and friend who is loathe to go to battle that would involve his killing his own gurus (teachers) and family members. The book is contained within the Mahabharata, and is thought to have been written some time between the 5th and the 2nd century BC.
Krishna summarizes the Yogas through eighteen chapters. Yoga can fundamentally be said to comprise four main streams: Raja Yoga (psycho-physical meditation), Bhakti Yoga (devotion and love), Karma Yoga (selfless action), and Jnana (pronounced gyaan in the Northern states and jnyaana in the South of India) Yoga (self-transcending knowledge). Other forms that exist today sprang up long after the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras (to be discussed below) and are all essentially forms of Raja Yoga.
While each path differs, their fundamental goal is one and the same: to realize Brahman (the Divine Ground), as being the only truth, that the body is temporal, but the soul (Atman) is infinite and one with Brahman. Yoga's aim (nirvana, Moksha) is essentially to escape from the cycle of reincarnation through realization of oneness with the ultimate reality.
Here are some quotations from Lord Krishna that make up history's first real yoga text and give comprehensive definitions of the four principal Yogas:
On all Yoga in general
- "When the mind comes to rest, restrained by the practice of yoga, and when beholding the Self, by the self, he is content in the Self." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verse 20) " He who finds his happiness within, his delight within, and his light within, this yogi attains the bliss of Brahman, becoming Brahman."
On Raja Yoga
- " Establishing a firm seat for himself in a clean place... having directed his mind to a single object, with his thought and the activity of the senses controlled, he should practice yoga for the purpose of self-realization. Holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his own nose and not looking in any direction, with quieted mind, banishing fear, established in the brahmacharin vow of celibacy, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me, he should sit, concentrated, devoted to Me. Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogin whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me." (B.G., Chapter 6, Verses 11-15)
On Bhakti Yoga
- ".... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship me... of those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in me hereafter." (B.G., Chapter 12, Verses 6-8) " And he who serves me with the yoga of unswerving devotion, transcending these qualities [binary opposites, like good and evil, pain and pleasure] is ready for absorption in Brahman." (B.G. Chapter 14, Verse 26)
On Karma Yoga
- " With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the yogins perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace..." (B.G. Chapter 5, Verses 11-12)
On Jnana Yoga
- " When he perceives the various states of being as resting in the One, and from That alone spreading out, then he attains Brahman. / They who know, through the eye of knowledge, the distinction between the field and the knower of the field, as well as the liberation of beings from material nature, go to the Supreme." (B.G. Chapter 15, Verse 31 / Verse 35)
Raja Yoga is, in general, stilling of the mind and body through meditative techniques, geared at realizing one's true nature. Bhakti Yoga is simply love and devotion, epitomized today in such practices as worship of various Hindu deities, finding salvation in love of Christ, etc. Karma Yoga is essentially acting, or doing one's duties in life, without desire or expectation of reward, a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It includes, but is not limited to, dedication to one's chosen profession and its perfection to God and all sorts of community service, since they are inherently done without thought of personal gain. Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not eternal.
Cappeller's Sanskrit-English Dictionary defines Yoga as: m. collection or concentration of the mind, meditation, contemplation ()
One of the six darshanas (schools) of Vedic/Hindu philosophy, and as such specifically refers to Raja Yoga, the royal path of divine meditation on the one Brahman. A man who has taken up successful practice of Yoga is called a Yogi (also spelled Yogin), a woman Yogini. Several other forms of yoga exist within Hinduism including those of selfless action (Karma Yoga), selfless love (Bhakti Yoga), and discriminatory contemplation (Jnana Yoga).
Yogic philosophy is primarily Upanishadic with roots in Samkhya, and some scholars see some influence by Buddhism. It is a universal philosophy that enjoins the practitioner to pursue his or her own path to enlightenment, depending on personality and inclination. It is very much in line with its Vedic roots and the traditional pluralism of Hinduism. For this reason, it is easy for a "Christian", for example, to see Jesus the Christ as his or her own ishwar-devata. "Christ the Yogi" is not an uncommon concept in the world of Yoga today. Most religions, when viewed through their ethical and spiritual standpoints without the trappings of dogma, are easily reconcilable with Yoga philosophy in general because of its transcendental message.
While the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras and Hatha Yoga Pradipika are clearly founded on Upanishadic and Brahmanical thought, much of Yoga has been influenced by and expanded into Tantra. Tantra is more ritual based, having its roots in the first millennium CE, and incorporates much more of a deist base. Almost entirely founded on Shiva and Shakti worship, Tantra visualizes the ultimate Brahman as Param Shiva, manifested through Shiva (the passive, masculine force of Lord Shiva) and Shakti (the active, creative feminine force of his consort, variously known as Ma Kali, Durga, Shakti, Parvati and others). It focuses on the kundalini, a three and a half-coiled 'snake' of spiritual energy at the base of the spine that rises through the chakras until union between Shiva and Shakti (also known as samadhi) is achieved.
It views the body as means, rather than as obstruction, to understanding, and as such incorporates mantra (Sanskrit prayers, often to gods, that are repeated), yantra (complex symbols representing Shakti in her various forms through intricate geometric figures) and rituals that range from simple murti (statue representations of deities) or image worship to meditation on a corpse! While much tantra certainly, through its many texts (see kaularvatantra, mahanirvana tantra) and teachers (e.g. Abhinava Gupta, Ramakrishna [a saint who practiced Kali bhakti, Advaita Vedanta and tantra, etc.) seems odd and highly arcane at times, it is transparent as being completely yogic. Also, injunctions are made that most people are not suitable for Tantra, especially those of pashu-bhava (animal disposition). This implies that anyone who has not observed celibacy, honesty, respect of elders, bodily cleansing, ritual cleansing through prayer, and various other processes for up to twelve years at a time, and still retains base desires, greed, sexual motivations, etc. one is not fit to practice Tantra. For this reason, even more stringently than other Yogas, Tantra, both Hindu and Buddhist, remains a strictly Guru-initiated system that as yet finds few true adepts outside of India.
The Yoga Sutra and its followers
While meditative practices like asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) existed long before Patanjali, his brilliant eight-limbed system was what became the standard for almost all yoga schools that followed. Raja Yoga, being difficult to achieve (one must be focused on the Supreme), several Guru (teacher) lines came to make firm methodologies of realizing it.
- A side note on the Guru: Emphasized by all schools of yoga as indispensable, the Guru takes on quasi-divine proportions. Acknowledged as a siddha (adept) who has attained the eight siddhis (powers) afforded by yoga (they range from transportation of the mind to anywhere into the universe to the only truly desirable power, samadhi), the Guru guides the shisya (student) through yogic discipline from the beginning. When doing yoga, the student is urged to look long and hard for a sadguru (True Teacher) and then devote himself from imbibing that Guru's learning.
The most famous of the traditional Hindu schools of yoga, and the basis for nearly all modern systems, is Hatha Yoga. It is representative of all non-Bhakti-Karma-Jnana Yoga that has become so popular in the west today.
Beginning with the arrival of Swami Vivekananda in 1893, there has been a steady flow of learned teachers that have brought the transcendental message of Yoga to the West. While the influence of these Yogins is deeply inscribed into the surface of the modern yogic ethos, both in India and America, a proliferation of 'yoga clinics' and non-spiritual yoga systems has been seen in the West, especially in the United States. While many Americans view it as an exercise system that simply enhances one's health, a much greater number in India (and a minority in America) still see it as it has been for over 5,000 years, whether in the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the writings of the Dalai Lama, or the "Yoga Boom" of the twentieth century, a system of spirituality universal in its application.
The Great Modern Yogins
First brought into America as early as the 1890s by the great yogin and disciple of Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu representative in the Chicago Parliament of World Religions, Yoga has also been transported in the arms of many other great yogins and formed into stratified schools seeking to propagate Yoga in its great spiritual context. But these teachers have made their imprint in both India and America, and continue to serve as modern embodiments of Yoga.
Swami Rama Tirtha, who came from a deep yoga tradition in the Himalayas of India, was the founding spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute. He was the first yogin to come to America and be subjected to the scrutiny of modern science. Among other things, he stunned doctors by stopping the beat of his heart completely for several minutes.
Many modern schools of Hatha Yoga derive from the school of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught in Mysore, India from 1931 until his death in 1993. Among his students prominent in popularizing Yoga in the West were Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T.K.V. Desikachar. Desikachar founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Madras (now Chennai), with the aim of making available the heritage of yoga as taught by Krishnamacharya.
Other great yogins are Paramahansa Yogananda, practitioner of Kriya Yoga who arrived in America as a powerful example of the universality of Yoga. Sporting a cross, he came to the U.S. with the Hindu Bhagavad Gita in one hand and the Christian New Testament in the other, speaking to his disciples in pluralist ideology with Yoga as the binding force.
Sri Aurobindo, referred to as Aurobindo Ghosh by those who consider him as merely a philosopher rather than an Avatar, was not simply an intellectual genius born in West Bengal and educated in the best university in England. His masterful translations and interpretations of Hindu and Yogic scriptures are mystic and esoteric, and often are the opposite of what you will find in Max Muller's and other purely intellectual translations of the sacred Sanskrit texts, among which his translations/commentaries on the Hindu texts of the Upanishads and Gita are mystic in nature, and his epic Hindu/Yoga poem Savitri is a treasure of Hindu Yogic literature, formally being the longest poem ever written in English. Beyond this, his personal life is a fascinating testimony of the life of a true yogin. After the goddess Sri entered his being, he became Sri Aurobindo. Besides his influence and scholarly writing on Yoga, he also founded Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, that continues to propagate the practice of Integral Yoga, which is a Tantric synthesis of the four main Yogas (Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Raja).
Gopi Krishna was a Kashmiri office worker and spiritual seeker who was born in 1903, and wrote autobiographical accounts of his spiritual experiences with Yoga. His most famous one is "Kundalini": Path to Higher Consciousness." Gopi Krishna's graphic accounts of his experiences stand out as among the clearest journals documenting a spiritual transformation. They are highly recommended as reading for anyone interested in Yogic phenomena.
Swami Sivananda (born in Pattamadai, Tamil Nadu, India in 1887), one of the greatest yoga masters of 20th century has authored over 200 highly inspiring books on yoga. Sivananda has also established Sivananda ashram of Rishikesh, India and is the founder of Divine Life Society. His disciple, Swami Satyananda (born in Almorah, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1923), has established International Yoga Fellowship movement, Bihar School of Yoga and Bihar Yoga Bharati, world's first university on yoga. The university is now headed by his disciple, Swami Niranjananda.
Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda (Swamiji) comes from Rajasthan, India, and has been living in Vienna, Austria since 1972. Swamiji is the author of the scientific master-system Yoga in Daily Life and founder of the International Sri Deep Madhavananda Ashram Fellowship and Yoga in Daily Life ashrams and centres worldwide. He dedicated his whole life to help humanity through yoga and to evoke the ancient spiritual heritage of Sat Sanatana Dharma (the True Eternal Faith, sanatana dharma being another name for Hinduism).
Some modern styles of Yoga popular in America, Australia, Europe, India:
- Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - the style taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
- Iyengar Yoga - pioneered by B.K.S. Iyengar
- Kriya Yoga - yoga of internal movement
- Nada Yoga - yoga of sound
- Indra Devi
- Paramahansa Yogananda
- Yoga Nidra - yoga of divine sleep (a la Vishnu)
- Sahaja Yoga
- Yoga in Daily Life - The system
History of Yoga
Pre-Vedic (ca. 6000 - 3000 BCE [?])
The history of yoga may go back anywhere from five to eight thousand years ago, depending on the perspective of the historian. It evolved wholly in the land of India, and while it is supposed by some scholars that yogic practices were originally the domain of the indigenous, non-Aryan (and pre-Vedic) peoples, it was first clearly expounded in the great Vedic shastras (religious texts).
Pre-Vedic findings are taken, by some commentators, to show that "yoga" existed in some form well before the establishment of Aryan culture in the north Indian subcontinent.
- A triangular amulet seal uncovered at the Mohenjo-daro archeological excavation site depicts a male, seated on a low platform in a cross legged position, with arms outstretched. His head is crowned with the horns of a water-buffalo. He is surrounded by animals (a fish, an alligator, and a snake) and diverse symbols. The likeness on the seal and understandings of the surrounding culture have led to its widely accepted identification as "Pashupati", Lord of the Beasts, a prototype and predecessor of the modern day Hindu god Shiva. The pose is a very familiar one to yogins, representing Shiva much as he is seen today, the meditating ascetic contemplating divine truth in "yoga-posture."
- (Ref. 1, 2)
Vedic (ca. 2000-1500 BCE)
David Frawley, a Vedic scholar, writes: "Yoga can be traced back to the Rig Veda itself, the oldest Hindu text which speaks about yoking our mind and insight to the Sun of Truth. Great teachers of early Yoga include the names of many famous Vedic sages like Vasishta, Yajnavalkya, and Jaigishavya."
Ideas of uniting mind, body and soul in the cosmic one, however, do not find real yogic explication until the most important mystic texts of Hinduism, the Upanishads or Vedanta, commentaries on the Vedas.
Upanishadic (ca. 800-100 BCE)
Explicit examples of the concept and terminology of yoga appear in the Upanishads (primarily thirteen principal texts of the Vedanta, or the "End of the Vedas," that are the culmination of all Vedic philosophy)
While protracted discussions of the ultimate, infinite Self, or Atman, and realization of Brahman, are the true legacy of the Upanishads, the first principal Yoga text was the Bhagavad Gita ("The Lord's Song"), also known as Gitopanishad.
In the Maitrayaniya Upanishad (200-300 BCE) yoga surfaces as:
- "Shadanga-Yoga - The uniting discipline of the six limbs (shad-anga), as expounded in the Maitrayaniya-Upanishad: (1) breath control (pranayama), (2) sensory inhibition (pratyahara), (3) meditation (dhyana), (4) concentration (dharana), (5) examination (tarka), and (6) ecstasy (samadhi)."
- Reference: http://www.orientalia.org/term3923.html
In the Katha Upanishad yoga surfaces as:
- "When the five instruments of knowledge stand still, together with the mind and when the intellect does not move, that is called the Supreme State. - III.10
- This, the firm Control of the senses, is what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both beneficial and injurious. - III.11"
- "Having received this wisdom taught by the King of Death and the entire process of yoga, Nachiketa became free from impurities and death and attained Brahman. Thus it will be also with any other who knows, in this manner, the inmost Self. - III.18"
"In the Kathopanishad there is a hint given to us as to how we can practice Yoga. There are one or two verses in the Kathopanishad which give the sum and substance of the practice of Yoga, which is also the same Yoga explained in greater detail in the system of Patanjali. The Kathopanishad says, in these verses, that the subtle essences of objects are superior to the sensory powers, they are higher in their degree and in quality. Higher than these essences of objects is the mind; higher than the mind is the intellect; higher than the intellect is the cosmic intellect called Mahat. It is also called Hiranyagarbha. Higher than that is the peaceful undifferentiated causal state called Avyakta. Higher than that is supreme Absolute, Purusha. The same Upanishad mentions the system of practice in another verse. The senses have to be rooted in the mind. The mind has to be centered in the intellect. The intellect has to be fixed in the Cosmic Intellect, and the Cosmic Intellect has to be united with the Peaceful Being. Sometimes this Peaceful Being, Shanta-Atman, is identified with the Isvara of the Vedanta. This is how we have to control the mind."
- Reference The Essence of The Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads by Swami Krishnananda The Divine Life Society Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, India 
- See also: Wikisources - Aitareya Upanishad, Wikisource - Taittiriya Upanishad
Classical (ca. 200 CE)
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
After the Bhagavad Gita, the next seminal work on Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are a compilation of Yogic thought that is largely Raja Yogic in nature, it was codified some time between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century by Patanjali, and prescribes adherence to "eight limbs" (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga") to quiet one's mind and merge with the infinite. These eight limbs not only systematized conventional moral principles espoused by the Gita, but elucidated the practice of Raja Yoga in a more detailed manner. Indeed, his "eight-limbed" path has formed the foundation for Raja Yoga and much of Tantra Yoga (a Hindu deific, Shiva-Shakti yoga system) and Vajrayana Buddhism (Buddhist Tantra Yoga) that came after. It goes as follows:
- Yama (moral codes)
- Niyama (self-purification and study)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (sense control)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption)
Patanjali, whose own life is virtually unknown, had the impact of further spreading in compact form the essence of Raja Yoga. Some legends speak of his being Adinaga, the first snake, the lower half of his body being that of a snake, upon which the great Hindu God Vishnu reclines. Many say that he was the same Patanjali who wrote commentaries on Panini's singular masterwork on Sanskrit grammar. Others speak of the legends of his birth. A few even dispute his existence and attribute the Yoga Sutras to many authors, but this is highly unlikely due to the structural, linguistic and stylistic uniformity of the short work. His base is Hindu Samkhya philosophy and shows itself to have been highly influenced by the Upanishads.
His Yoga Sutras espouse a threefold system for attainment of samadhi through tapas (austerities; discipline; literally "heat"), swadhyaya (self-study) and ishwar-pranidhana (contemplation of God).
While Patanjali accepts the idea of what he terms "ishta-devata" (worship of deities as manifestations of the single Brahman), his overall "ishwar" is not a conventional God with personal form and speaks more to a universal, attributeless Brahman, an impersonal, unknowable, infinite force that is all and transcends all.
Together, the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical base of all yoga. However, as far as Raja Yoga (meditation yoga) goes, it is most precisely captured by Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras.
450 - 850 CE
The Yoga-bhasya, Veda Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali could have been written as early as 450 CE. Professor J. H. Woods, places the date of the Yoga-bhasya between 650 CE to 850 CE. Trevor Leggett places the date closer to 600 CE based on a commentary to the Yoga-bhasya published in Sanskrit in 1952 in the Madras Government Oriental Series #94 by Polakam Sri Rama Sastri and S. R. Krishnamurti Sastri. Evidence strongly suggests that this sub-commentary was written by Sankara who lived about 700 CE.
Vacaspati Mishra's Tattva Vaisharadi, a commentary on the Yoga-bhasya was written in ca. 850 CE. An authoritative translation of this work can be found in "The Yoga System of Patanjali" by Professor James Haughton Woods.
- Reference: "Sankara on the Yoga Sutras" Trevor Leggett, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, ISBN: 81-208-1028-7
- Reference: "The Yoga System of Patanjali" James Haughton Woods, Harvard Oriental Series, 1914, (out of print) ISBN:81-208-0577-1 (reprint: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi)
1350 - 1400 CE
Hatha Yoga Pradipika In the West, outside of Hindu culture, "yoga" is usually understood to refer to "hatha yoga." Hatha Yoga is, however, a particular system propagated by Swami Swatamarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India.
After the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras, the most fundamental text of Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatamarama, that in great detail lists all the main asanas, pranayama, mudra and bandha that are familiar to today's yoga student. It runs in the line of Hindu yoga (to distinguish from Buddhist and Jain yoga) and is dedicated to Lord Adinath, a name for Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction), who is alleged to have imparted the secret of Hatha Yoga to his divine consort Parvati. It is common for yogins and tantriks of several disciplines to dedicate their practices to a deity under the Hindu ishta-devata concept (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) while always striving to achieve beyond that: Brahman. Hindu philosophy in the Vedanta and Yoga streams, as the reader will remember, views only one thing as being ultimately real: Satchidananda Atman, the Existence-Consciousness-Blissful Self. Very Upanishadic in its notions, worship of Gods is a secondary means of focus on the higher being, a conduit to realization of the Divine Ground. Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in any one religion.
Hatha is a Sanskrit word meaning 'sun' (ha) and 'moon' (tha), representing opposing energies: hot and cold, male and female, positive and negative, similar but not completely analogous to yin and yang. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical exercises, or "asanas", controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance & strength and were originally (and still) practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. "Asana" means "immovable", i.e. static, and often confused with the dynamic 108 natya karanas described in Natya Shastra and, along with the elements of Bhakti Yoga, is embodied in the contemporary form of Bharatanatyam.
By balancing two streams, often known as ida (mental) and pingala (bodily) currents, the sushumna nadi (current of the Self) is said to rise, opening various chakras (cosmic power points within the body, starting from the base of the spine and ending right above the head) until samadhi is attained. Ida and pingala are represented in the dynamism of natya yoga by lasya (female) and tandava (male) aspects, and bear direct reference to the Taoist dualism.
By forging a powerful depth of concentration and mastery of the body and mind, Hatha Yoga practices seek to still the mental waters and allow for apprehension of oneself as that which one always was, Brahman. Hatha Yoga is essentially a manual for scientifically taking one's body through stages of control to a point at which one-pointed focus on the unmanifested Brahman is possible: it is said to take its practicioner to the peaks of Raja Yoga.
In the West, hatha yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose, and thus, devoid of its original efficacy. Currently, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans practice hatha yoga. But in the Indian subcontinent the traditional practice is still to be found. The guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship that exists without need for sanction from non-religious institutions, and which gave rise to all the great yogins who made way into international consciousness in the 20th century, has been maintained in Indian, Nepalese, and some Tibetan circles.
In India, whose Hindu population combines to a staggering 800 million, Yoga is a daily part of life. It is common to see people performing Surya Namaskar (a yogic set of asanas and pranayam dedicated to Surya, the Hindu God of the Sun) in the morning or speaking about food diets and body therapy entirely based on Yoga or the Hindu healing system of Ayurveda. The age-old tradition of Yoga has continued uninterrupted by the its popularity in the west (although more established schools like the Bihar School of Yoga work from within India to produce Yoga texts to send abroad).
In addition, hundreds and thousands sanyasins (renunciates) and sadhus (Hindu monks) wander in and out of city temples, village country sides and are to be found smattered all across the foothills of the Himalayas and the Vindhya Range of central India. For India's holy-men, Yoga is as fundamental as lifeblood. To see a man meditating at the steps of a temple, or even wondering contemplatively on the roadside, is not uncommon even to the more Westernized crowds. It is the same in Tibet, where the Buddhist establishment's lifestyle is permeated with the Yoga or yogic practices, which is ultimately not a once-a-day routine, but a constant immersion in self-discovery.
- See also: Wikisource - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Western development of yoga has taken less of a spiritual approach and focused more on the mind/body connection. While Yoga is a religion to many, most practitioners in the west separate yoga from their spiritual beliefs, causing yoga to strictly stay within the containment of an exercise class or just within the "keeping healthy" aspect of life.
Crowley on Yoga
“Yoga means Union.” - Aleister Crowley, Eight Lectures on Yoga.
While Liber O gives the essentials of magick practice, giving Golden Dawn techniques of working with the subtle levels of energy and magick light, in Liber E we find a series of basic techniques for training the mind and body in the practice of yogic disciplines. Taken together, these two manuals form the foundations of practice to establish the solid base of a pyramid of magick and yoga that will, with persistence, discipline and integrity, eventually lead one to the heights of attainment.
The basic outline of yogic practices given in Liber E are further elaborated upon in Crowley’s Book 4 Part I, as well as his smaller work Eight Lectures on Yoga. In discussing the teachings of the “Great Men” of the past, Crowley writes in Book 4:
“The methods advised by all these people have a startling resemblance to one another. They recommend "virtue" (of various kinds), solitude, absence of excitement, moderation in diet, and finally a practice which some call prayer and some call meditation. (The former four may turn out on examination to be merely conditions favourable to the last.)”
“It is by freeing the mind from external influences, whether casual or emotional, that it obtains power to see somewhat of the truth of things.”
Even more succinct, in Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley informs us of the “whole of the technique of Yoga”:
“Sit Still. Stop thinking. Shut up. Get out!”
The brilliance of Crowley’s adaptation of yoga is the disposal of countless unnecessary superstitions, cultural trappings, and misinformation to reveal the pristine glory of systematic set of physical and mental exercises which will aid the magician in concentration, control of force, and increased vitality and health.
The Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali, first outlined the path of ashtanga or “eight limbed yoga” as a set of guidelines on how to live one’s life, with attention to diet, self-discipline, and ethical and moral considerations.
The first limb is yama, a set of five ethical standards to be followed: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (speaking the truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-attachment). Crowley redefined yama to reflect the changes in consciousness and responsibility which humanity has progressed to, by saying “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. That is Yama.”
The second limb is niyama, traditionally interpreted as five observances of self-discipline and witnessing of the sacred in one’s life. These are saucha (cleanliness); samtosa (contentment); tapas (spiritual austerities); svadhyaya (introspection); and Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God). In Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley interprets this limb generally as “virtue,” expanding them from five to seven virtues which correspond to seven sacred planets of the ancients. Saturn represents the virtue of discipline and endurance, as well as embracing the Trance of Sorrow; Jupiter the “vital, creative, genial element of the cosmos” as the selflessness of universal love, and the Trance of Joy; Mars stands for the virtue of energy, the ability to conquer the obstacles on the path, in particular the physical obstacles, as well as courage and passion; unto the Sun is ascribed the virtue of harmony, the “centralization of the faculties, their control, their motivation;” to Venus is given the “ecstatic acceptance of all possible experience and the transcendental assumption of all particular experience into the one experience;” Mercury represents the virtue of adaptability and indifference, the adroitness and flexibility that is requisite in both the mind and body of the yogin to master the path; while finally, the Moon is the purity of aspiration, as well as the many siddhis or magick powers which will arise. Crowley also adds two further planetary associations, for Uranus and Neptune. The niyama for Uranus is “the discovery of the True Will,” further stating that this niyama “is the most important of the tasks of the Yogi, because, until he has achieved it, he can have no idea who he is or where he is going.” For Neptune, he attributes spiritual intuition, the “imaginative faculty, the shadowing forth of the nature of the illimitable light,” as well as a strong dose of humour. Finally, for Pluto we are told that he is “the utmost sentinel of all; of him it is not wise to speak,” after which he explains that this is because “nothing at all is known about him.” Perhaps it is for some future yogin to discover the niyama of this distant chunk of ice!
The third and fourth limbs of ashtanga are asana, the various postures necessary for meditation, and pranayama, the control of breath. Whereas traditional yoga utilizes several sets of asanas for practice and mastery, Crowley recommended selecting one position and mastering it. “The real object of Asana is control of the muscular system, conscious and unconscious, so that no messages from the body can reach the mind.” Crowley points out the many health benefits of asana, including
“The conquest of Asana makes for endurance. If you keep in constant practice, you ought to find that about ten minutes in the posture will rest you as much as a good night's sleep.”
Crowley defined pranayama as “control of force,” again cutting through profuse amounts of mystic obfuscation in the traditional literature by describing the process thus:
“This simply means that you get a stop watch, and choose a cycle of breathing out and breathing in. Both operations should be made as complete as possible. The muscular system must be taxed to its utmost to assist the expansion and contraction of the lungs.”
He also describes the classic results of pranayama practice: perspiration, automatic rigidity, buchari-siddhi (“jumping about like a frog”), and levitation.
The fifth and sixth limbs are pratyahara, the withdrawal of senses, and dharana, concentration. The former is described in Eight Lectures as “introspection, but it also means a certain type of psychological experience,” citing the direct experience of feeling that you do not have a nose as an example. Going into much more detail in Book 4, he describes the process of simply watching the mind think. With dharana, we move into concentration proper. Here Liber E gives several practices for training the mind to concentrate one-pointedly, such as visualizing the elemental tattvas for a minute or more, and eventually working up to more complex images. Other practices given in Eight Lectures for concentration include Liber Astarte, Liber III vel Jugorum, and the practice “useful when walking in a christian city” of saying Apo Pantaos Kakodaimonos, with an “outward and downward sweep of the arm,” anytime one passes a person in “religious garb.”
Dyana and Samadhi, the seventh and eigth limbs of yoga, are traditionally associated with “meditation” proper, and ecstasy, respectively. One necessarily leads to the other, and samadhi is the crown of the system, the chrism of the yogin. In dyana is a development of the introspection of pratyahara and the concentration of dharana, resulting in the single minded force of dhyana. This process, taken to conclusion, results in the ecstasy of Samadhi. In The Soldier and the Hunchback (Liber 148), Crowley writes of this experience:
“Not what Christians call faith, be sure! But what (possibly) the forgers of the Epistles – those eminent mystics! – meant by faith. What I call Samadhi!”
“Ah, say the adepts, Samadhi is not the end, but the beginning. You must regard Samadhi as the normal state of mind which enables you to begin your researches, just as waking is the state from which you rise to Samadhi, sleep the state from which you rose to waking. And only from Sammasamadhi – continuous trance of the right kind – can you rise up as it were on tiptoe and peer through the clouds unto the mountains.”
- Yoga Research and Education Center
- International Yoga Dictionary
- 3ho.org: Kundalini Yoga
- 'Sacred Space' Kundalini Meditation
- Sahaja Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga in Bharatanatyam
- Collection of streaming videos illustrating Natya Yoga
- Religiousbook.net article on Hatha Yoga
- Wikipedia. (2004). Yoga. Retrieved Sept. 22, 2004.
- This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.