This page provides some topics about yoga:
Note: Sanskrit words are written in italic . They don't have plural, unless when they are imported to our languages. So you we'll see for example darshana and not "darshanas".
It is said that many centuries ago a civilization was moving across the Middle East. Their origin was the actual region of Iran / Iraq; they moved across Asia to the region now known as the North of India. They are known as the "Aryans".
This people had a very reach culture. Along the centuries, there had been several inspired wise men who left a legacy of beautiful poems and texts about life, human existence and the divine.
As they moved down to the South of India, they met another culturally very rich civilization: the Dravidian people.
The Vedas, were the result of the melting of these two cultures and the combination of their knowledge. The original language of the Vedas is Sanskrit, 'the perfect language". Indeed, today it is difficult to translate many of the concepts conveyed by Sanskrit words. Many of them are about spiritual concepts, states of the mind, etc.
This problem arises with our actual languages, but understanding the Vedas is as difficult today as it was many centuries ago,... in the West or in India.
In order to help solving this problem, groups of wise men, along the centuries, formed what we could call "schools of thought", a poor translation for the Sanskrit word "darshana". It is also translated by " point of view" once its root means "to see" or "sight". The darshana help us to see or understand the Vedas.
There are six classic darshana. Each of them is attributed to a master. Things in ancient India were very different from what they are now in the world. They didn't feel the need to claim the authorship of a text, or a philosophical idea. So we don't even know if some of these masters really existed.
These darshana can be grouped in pairs and they are the following:
The first two are respectively a system of logic and a cosmogony. Mimânsâ and Vedânta are the base of Hinduism.
Sâmkhya is a system that also explains the cosmos. It explains how nature develops and the steps (tattva) it takes. Yoga (whose great master is Patanjali, the "author" of Yoga-Sûtra) is the way of experiencing what Sâmkhya exposes.
Patanjali is one of the masters who could be a legend. It is said that he was sent to our plan of existence to help mankind. By then people had some serious problems of communication and so he made a grammar of Sanskrit (Panini's grammar). Also people were sick and so he left them a treatise on Ayurveda. And at last, people were confused and they didn't understand life and so he gave them Yoga-Sûtra.
Yoga-Sûtra is a wonderful master piece; it is composed by four chapters, each of them presenting different aspects of Yoga. It is said that he had four disciples and each chapter was dedicated to each of the disciples. In general, Yoga-Sûtra explains what Yoga is and the different states of the mind before the highest state is achieved, it explains what to do to get there, what can happen in the way and the last chapter reveals some details and compares Yoga to other systems.
Patanjali defines Yoga as the interruption of the turbulence of the mind. Our mind generally is busy all the time, switching from one subject to another without our control. Even when we focus, sooner or later our mind will be wondering around with something else. When in the state of Yoga, a state of complete peace and clarity, we can finally understand who we really are and what is around us, what life is about.
We hear about jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, kriyâ yoga, râjâ yoga, hatha yoga... and many others. Why? Professor Krishnamacharya was asked this question. He slowly looked up to the sky and said: "There are so many stars in the sky..."
Yoga-Sûtra offers many possibilities to follow the path of yoga, that is clearing the mind from all the things that distract us, not allowing us to focus. Some of these paths will be more suitable for some people and others for other people.
So, for example, jnana yoga is a path based on knowledge. Not technological knowledge but the knowledge of who we are and how we "function". This knowledge may be given from the exterior, but it is inside of us. Meditation helps us finding it.
Bhakti yoga is a path based on devotion. Patanjali doesn't specify any religion. He speaks of an extraordinary entity, who is timeless, is the source of all the knowledge, is omnipotent and omnipresent. Each one is free of recognizing this entity in his/her own culture. He tells us that a close and respectful relation with this entity helps us solve all our problems.
Karma yoga: karma means action. This concept is very well developed in a Hindu text called Bhagavad Gîtâ. It also appears in Yoga-Sûtra, but not so clearly. Our actions cause consequences. As the human being cannot live without acting, we are always producing consequences that we will have to experience, sooner or later. The only way to escape this circle is to act in an uninterested way, that is without expecting results, or in other words, being detached from the results. We should do whatever we do the best way we can and detached from the results. Difficult,... not impossible though.
Kriyâ yoga is described at the beginning of the second chapter of Yoga-Sûtra. We may say that it includes all kinds of yoga. Patanjali describes it as being composed by three parts: tapas, the effort to purify the body and the mind, removing blockages and tensions; svâdhyâya, knowledge of one's self: and Îshvarapranidhânâ, understanding that we cannot control everything, that there is something greater than us, devotion... The practice of âsana and prânâyâma are part of tapas. According to Patanjali, kriyâ yoga will reduce the causes of our unhappiness and suffering and will lead us to the perfect clearness and to bliss. Later Patanjali exposes the ashtanga yoga which will clarify and detail the procedure.
Râjâ yoga also includes all forms of yoga that lead to the "king" (râjâ =king). This king is God, or if you don't accept this concept, let's say that this path will lead you to the most sacred in you.
Hatha yoga is the yoga that will lead you to the unification of ha (feminine energy) and tha (masculine energy). Energy flows in our body through conduits (called nâdî) in the same way blood flows inside vessels. In fact some of the nâdî coincide with blood vessels but others are more subtle. There are many thousands of nâdî in the human body, but some are more important than others. The most important are idâ nâdî, pingalâ nâdî and sushumnâ nâdî. These three nâdî are connected with the spine; they all start at the bottom of the coccyx. Idâ nâdi goes up in a kind of zigzag along the spine until it reaches the left nostril; Cold, feminine or lunar energy (ha) flows in it. Pingalâ nâdî has the same origin and goes up also in zigzag, crossing idâ nâdî along the spine until it reaches the right nostril. This nâdî carries warm, masculine or solar energy (tha). Sushumnâ nâdî runs inside the spine, crossing the two previous in the points were they cross each other. These are very important energetic points; they are known as cakra (pronounced "chakra" and often brought to our languages as "chakras"). Energy would circulate freely through sushumnâ nâdî if there were not the blockages of ignorance (avidyâ). The destruction of ignorance allows prâna (energy) to flow in the central conduit (sushumnâ nâdî) and that corresponds to illumination. The idea of unifying ha and tha corresponds to this: unifying the two energies in the central conduit.
In the second chapter of Yoga-Sûtra, Patanjali explains why we are not always happy. Patanjali says that if we knew our real nature, if we knew who we really are, then we would be always joyful. The problem is that we do not know the answer to that question. This ignorance is called avidyâ. It is the root of all our other problems:
Because we don't know who we really are we tend to identify with things around us: our thoughts, our body... this may go far: clothes, studies, car, house, job! If something happens to one of these things, we feel threatened, we feel it as a personal attack, we get angry or we feel sad. Brief: we are not happy! We think we are important, we are better than the others, we are right... This is the (sick) ego!
Next, we try to surround ourselves with things or have experiences that (we think) give us pleasure. And of course if we don't get the pleasure we want, we don't feel happy. Many times things change and a pleasant situation becomes unpleasant... And anyway, pleasant situations don't last forever...
The same way, we try to avoid what we don't like. The feeling is bad and if we cannot do anything to avoid it, we are not... happy!
To complete the list, there is fear! Fear of losing what we have: job, car, house, friends... and the worst of all: fear of death (losing the body)!
It seems we cannot escape these problems, but fortunately there is a way out: to find out who we are! That is what yoga is all about !
We are not talking about an intellectual knowledge, but truly experiencing our reality, our being. The only thing that makes this difficult is our mind because of its tendency to be restless or other times sleepy. Our mind acts like a filter between our deep essence and what is around (close or distant). Only when it is calm and alert it is clear enough to allow us to have some understanding.