Understanding Yoga

Yoga is a commonly known generic term for physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines which originated in ancient India. Specifically, yoga is one of the six astika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Pre–philosophical speculations and diverse ascetic practices of first millennium BCE were systematized into a formal philosophy in early centuries CE by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. By the turn of the first millennium, Hatha yoga emerged as a prominent tradition of yoga distinct from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While the Yoga Sutras focus on the discipline of the mind, Hatha yoga concentrates on the health and purity of the body.

Hindu monks, beginning with Swami Vivekananda, brought yoga to the West in the late 19th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a physical system of health exercises across the Western world. Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart patients. In a national survey, long-term yoga practitioners in the United States reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements.

Yoga Purpose

Generally put, yoga is a disciplined method utilized for attaining a goal. In this sense, the purpose of yoga depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated. Bhakti schools of Vaishnavism combine yoga with devotion enjoying an eternal presence of Vishnu. In Shaiva theology, yoga is used to unite kundalini with Shiva. Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of Brahman or Atman pervading all things.] In the specific sense of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the purpose of yoga is defined as Citta-v?tti-nirodha? (the cessation of the transformation of awareness). In contemporary times, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress, and make the spine supple. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine.

Yoga as Exercise or Alternative Medicine

Yoga (Devanagari:????) is a term for a range of traditional systems of physical exercise and meditation in Hinduism.

Modified versions of the physical exercises in hatha yoga have become popular as a kind of low-impact physical exercise, and are used for therapeutic purposes. “Yoga” in this sense and in common parlance refers primarily to the asanas but less commonly to pranayama. Aspects of meditation are sometimes included.

Both the meditative and the exercise components of yoga show promise for non-specific health benefits. According to an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the system of hatha yoga believes that prana, or healing “life energy” is absorbed into the body through the breath, and can treat a wide variety of illnesses and complaints.

Yoga has been studied as an intervention for many conditions, including back pain, stress, and depression.

Yoga Positive Psychology

One of the most recent trends in the practice of and research about yoga as alternative therapy is how it relates to the field of positive psychology.[citation needed] Positive psychology is the study of that which contributes to the overall well-being of and supports the optimal functioning of individuals. As more research is released in support of yoga contributing to a better state of being, yoga becomes more in line with positive psychology’s focus on developing alternate strategies for healing and bettering individuals’ lives. Positive psychology refutes the concept of dualism and scientists in this field believe that the body and mind cannot be separated. This logic indicates that all physical benefits resulting from the practice of yoga are coupled with mental benefits such as development of inner consciousness, positivity, awareness, and appreciation of nature, combining to offer a whole-body therapy. Drawing from recent research on the mental and physical benefits of practicing yoga, positive psychologists have begun to look deeper into the possibilities of utilizing yoga as a positive psychology therapy.

Yoga and Religion

The most historically rooted perspective taken on yoga is that of considering yoga’s spiritual linkages and implications. The foundational text for yoga is a Hindu scripture named Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra is a compilation of sutras, or concise, instructional writings. There remains controversy over when the writings were published. The Yoga Sutra is built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy. The physical practices detailed in the Yoga Sutras are the manifestation of theory offered in the Samkhya philosophies. The sutras are divided into four parts, including:

Samadhi Pada: translated: “On being absorbed in spirit.” This section focuses on the “emergence of the spiritual man from the veils and meshes of the psychic nature.”

Sadhana Pada “On being immersed in spirit.”

Vibhuti Pada “On supernatural abilities and gifts.”

Kaivalya Pada “On absolute freedom.” This final section discusses the “mechanism of salvation,” referring to “the ideally simple working of cosmic law which brings the spiritual man to birth, growth and fullness of power, and prepares him for the splendid, toilsome further stages of his great journey home.”

Albert Mohler is a critic of yoga, saying ‘the embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion.’

Yoga Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been a fundamental aspect of yoga since its early documentation in the Yoga Sutra.

Mindfulness is defined as “attending to relevant aspects of experience in a nonjudgmental manner”. Mindfulness is attained through the practice of yoga in that one is able to maintain awareness of the present, releasing control and attachment of beliefs, thoughts and emotions. By letting go of one’s thoughts and mind, allowing the mind to be calm and at peace, one is able to attain a greater sense of emotional well-being and balance. Researchers have recently begun to take interest in the healing benefits of mindfulness through yoga. Research has indicated that there are health benefits of applying mindfulness-based approaches to pain management, physical functioning, and ability to cope with stresses in everyday life.

Physical aspects of yoga

Yoga has been highly westernized in recent years, and a majority of the result of this westernization and modernization is the heightened profile of the physical aspect yoga has to offer.

This physically exerting practice is typically hatha yoga, which combines asanas that exert the participant’s physical self.

The therapeutic healing benefits of yoga were recently discussed by van der Kolk, who posited that regulation of physical movement is a fundamental priority of the nervous system. For this reason, focusing on and developing an awareness of physical movement allows for the mind and body to connect and be in sync. This is beneficial for humans, especially those suffering from psychological conditions such as depression and PTSD (the focus of van der Kolk’s work) because the connectedness of mind and body allow for feelings of control and understanding of their “inner sensations” and state of being.

The physical benefits of yoga are linked to the release of ß-endorphins and the shift caused in neurotransmitter levels linked to emotions such as dopamine and serotonin. These benefits are most likely in high-intensity practices of yoga. Lower-intensity yoga practices, which includes a majority of yoga, typically spark the “relaxation response” as defined by Dr. Herbert Benson. This response is typified by a “physiological de-activation” of tenseness and control over one’s body. Benson related this release of control to the implicit dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Yoga Styles and Schools

Modern Hinduism and Neo-Hindu revival

The term “Yoga” has been used for various philosophies and concepts in the context of Hindu revivalism and Neo-Hindu religious and philosophical movements.

1906: Yoga – Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya
1920: Agni Yoga – Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena Roerich (theosophy)
1921: Integral Yoga – Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga
1946: Kriya Yoga – Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
1948: Yoga of Synthesis – Swami Sivananda
1950s: Satyananda Yoga – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
1964: Bihar School of Yoga
1994: Bihar Yoga Bharati
1955: Ananda Marga – Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
1960s: Transcendental Meditation – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
1970: Bikram Yoga – Bikram Choudhury
1971: Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy – Swami Rama
1970s: Siddha Yoga – Swami Muktananda
1970s: Surat Shabd Yoga – Sant Mat movement, Kirpal Singh
1970s: Sahaja Yoga, a new religious movement founded by Nirmala Srivastava
1981: Art of Living – Ravi Shankar
1992: Isha Foundation – Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
1997: Ananda yoga – Swami Kriyananda

Read Other Articles