What Is Yoga Truly? By Latha Ramanan
(My Teacher, Stephan Shiva Trefzer performing Ekapada Galavasana)
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo & Julliet (II ii 1-2)
Now-a-days there are different styles, names and trademarks for Yoga. It has become like another commodity which you need to peruse and buy according to your need and what fits your pocket. These varieties of yoga styles can leave you confused about what will suit you. This write-up is not intended to criticise what yoga teachers are doing in the name of yoga. What I wish to is to highlight is the meaning of real yoga and what human souls intend to gain through yoga.
What is actually Yoga? Yoga is a system that was developed 5,000 years ago to reach the ultimate state of perfection or silence. What is seen at present is the old wine in new bottles and labels. All the new names given to Yoga are similar to patenting a drop from the ocean and calling it as an individual property. Real Yoga is considered as a systematic process that unites the individual self (Jivatma) to the Self (Paramatma). Swami Vivekananda says, “It is a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few months or even a few hours of one’s bodily existence.” So yoga as a system has the capacity to reduce the time-span required to realise one’s self.
Apart from the Hatha Yoga (physical postures and breathing exercises), there are different stages/limbs of yoga. Patanjali, the Father of yoga, mentioned in his ‘Yoga Sutras’ that yoga has eight parts or limbs so it can be called Ashtanga Yoga (not to be confused with the popular style of Hatha yoga by this name). The eight parts are the yama(the personal observances), niyama(the social observances), asana(the hatha yoga postures), pranayama(control of breath), pratyahara(restraint of senses from their objects of enjoyment), dharana(focussing of mind), dhayana (deconcentration) and Samadhi (super consciousness or the merging of the self with the Self).
Depending on an individual’s nature one gets drawn into one of the four streams/branches of Yoga, namely Karma Yoga (path of selfless work), Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion), Jnana Yoga (path of knowledge) or Raja Yoga (path of culturing the mind). Sometimes one might engage in all the four paths of Yoga and eventually settles in one’s predominant path.
People initially take up Hatha Yoga or any other branch of Yoga for some peripheral reasons such as losing weight, curing some illness or a strong inclination etc. We have to understand there is always a deeper goal we are trying to fulfill. Every human soul takes birth with an ultimate goal of realising oneself. If we miss the goal, several births may be needed to achieve it.
So enjoy any style of Yoga you are attracted to, the name is irrelevant as long as it aids you to achieve this ultimate goal of realising oneself.
Once you realise yourself, it is said that you have to leave that practice; just like a ladder needs to be abandoned once it’s use is over. Then there is no need for a practice; you remain in that state of silence or the indescribable merger with God!