“Science of life from ancient Hindu Civilization”.
Section 1 – Main Reading
In previous lessons (of Dharma Bee 2020), we have learned that Hindu Dharma is ‘way of life’ – i.e. how to live a happy peaceful life as an individual and in harmony with the bigger society. But it is very hard to follow dharma (duty and good values), do good karma, respect Guru, listen to elders, make healthier food choices, maintain physical fitness, be kind, etc. That requires a lot of training for our body and mind. Fortunately, our ancient Rishis figured that out for us in the form of Yoga.
Yoga means “union.” Yoga has many meanings. Yoga is derived from the root word “YUJ” which means connection or union. One definition is the union of mind, body, and spirit. At the practical level, it is being aware of who we are. Mastery of self. By practicing Yoga consistently, we can achieve a healthy body and mind and will be able to unleash the full potential of us. We can slowly become mastery of self to achieve anything and become a role model in the school and people around. We can understand the deeper meaning of goals laid out by Hindu Dharma. We can easily overcome all the problems we see in daily life and follow the Dharma always.
Yoga is from Sanathan Dharma. Our Rishis in ancient times not only came up with concepts of Sanathan Dharma but also practiced, followed and lived that way for centuries. Early texts of Upanishads said to have mentions of some of these practices. Later, around 200 BCE, Sage Patanjali compiled all these practices into what is known as ‘Yoga Sutras’. It is considered as the ancient science that stood the test of time and is still widely in practice around the world.
Yoga is asanas (postures). A healthy, flexible and strong body is essential and is possible by practicing asanas. All the asanas we do in shakha, including Surya Namaskars are part of Yoga practice. Many of these asanas are inspired by nature.
Yoga is meditation. Just like Surya Namaskar is an exercise for the body, meditation is an exercise to the mind. It helps bring calm, focus, and relaxation to mind. Meditation is also like any other skill; it needs consistent practice and patience. One simple way to meditate is by sitting in a relaxed position in a quiet place listening to the breath as we inhale and exhale and observing the thoughts.
Yoga is breath. Practicing yoga helps to breathe more deeply with awareness in a controlled fashion. There are many techniques to gain different benefits but in general, controlled breathing can rejuvenate the nervous system, infuses the body with oxygen and reduces stress and anxiety.
Yoga is a way of life.
Yoga is not just on yoga mat. Yoga shall be practiced in everyday life. Yoga is about being kindness, honesty, gratitude, passion, and self-esteem everywhere we go whether it is in classrooms, while playing, in shop, etc.
Yoga is pathway to happiness. Yoga is a proven pathway to happiness – ways to interact with ourselves, ways to interact with others, physical postures, breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation, healthy body & mind and ultimately offers a spiritual journey. This ancient way of living called yoga is a practice.
There are four MAJOR paths of Yoga:
1. Karma Yoga – the yoga of action and selfless service
This resonates most with those who are community-based and of an outgoing nature. Karma yoga purifies the heart and burns away selfish tendencies (Mala) by encouraging a detachment from the fruits of actions. In this way, there is no expectation of personal gain or recognition. All actions are done with a focus on Oneness, therefore establishing a connection with the Atman or True Self. Swami Vivekananda is an example of a well-known karma yogi.
2. Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of devotion
According to this path, a lack of faith in the divine or sacred essence has caused us to lose connection to our Divine Self. The solution, therefore, is love, surrender, and devotion to the Divine qualities in everything. Bhakti Yoga asks us to purify and transform our egotistic self-love by focusing the mind on sacred thoughts and transferring all our love and emotions into the Divine essence that permeates all. Examples of Bhakti Yoga are chanting, puja, and devotional rituals. This path resonates most with those of an emotional nature.
3. Raja Yoga – the yoga of meditation
The restlessness of the mind (Vikshepa) has caused our attention to become carried away in stories and disconnected from our true essence, according to this path. The solution, then, is to calm the mind through meditation in order to reveal the Oneness that we are in our truest essence. Sage Patanjali outlines ashtanga (8 limbs) system in the Raja Yoga Sutras. This path is most suited for those with a nature that resonates with method-based practice. More details about Sage Patanjali in the following paragraphs.
Jñāna Yoga – the yoga of knowledge/wisdom
This path asserts that our ego-based ignorance keeps us from knowing our true nature. Using the techniques of logic and reason, the yogi uses the mind to inquire into its own nature. This removes the veils of ignorance and forgetfulness through knowledge and reveals the Truth that is unchanging in our hearts.
It is very important to know that, although listed individually, like everything that exists, the paths are actually intertwined and co-exist together. Usually, there is one particular path that resonates most, according to a person’s nature, but there are elements of each path within all the others. As all the paths point the way in the direction of Oneness, the paths themselves blend together and it is impossible to tread only one path exclusively. As we travel the yogic path, it is fun to see which of these paths seem sweeter than others at different phases of the journey, all the while knowing that they lead to the same destination, which is essentially woven into the journey itself.
Following diagram describes the four paths of yoga and yoga-sutra compiled by Sage Patanjali:
As shown in the above diagram, Raja Yoga is also known as Ashtanga Yoga (Eight limbs of Yoga), because it is organized in eight parts:
- Yama – Self-control.
- Niyama- Discipline.
- Asana – Physical exercises.
- Pranayama – Breath exercises.
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses from external objects.
- Dharana – Concentration.
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Liberation or merging into the infinite
While, yoga is so much, people mistakenly think yoga is limited to just asanas and pranayama.
Section 2 – Additional Reading
Additional Reading #1
Sage Patanjali is known as the father of modern Yoga. He did NOT invent it, but he assimilated all aspects of Yoga into a specific format called—Yoga Sutra. Sutra literally means a thread, but in modern language, it is like a formula. It has tremendous science behind it. Not only Yoga Sutra, but Patanjali also author of two more brilliant works. One was on Sanskrit grammar; the second was a work on ancient Indian medicine, Ayurveda.
Whenever we study the Yoga Sutra or practice yoga, we begin with an invocation to Sage Patanjali. In this invocation, he is credited with three areas of knowledge – science of Ayurveda to purify the body, the commentary on Sanskrit grammar to purify the speech and the science of Yoga to purify the mind.
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां । मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन ॥
योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां । पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ||
yogena cittasya padena vācāṃ | malaṃ śarīrasya ca vaidyakena ||
yo’pākarottaṃ pravaraṃ munīnāṃ | patañjaliṃ prāñjalirānato’smi ||
“I respectfully bow down with folded hands and offer my salutations to Sage Patanjali, the highest among the sages, who has presented the remedies for removing the impurities of the body through his treatise on Ayurveda, of language through his treatise on grammar and the impurities of the Chitta (mind field) through his treatise on Yoga”
Additional Reading #2
More on Ashtanga Yoga (Courtesy: yogajournal.com)
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The five yamas are:
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or saying mantra before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
The five niyamas are:
Tapas: heat, spiritual austerities
Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
Explore some asanas here: https://sites.google.com/site/yogahss/home/yogamodules
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, “life force extension,” yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
Explore some pranayamas here: https://sites.google.com/site/yogahss/home/yogamodules
These first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don’t give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the “picture perfect” pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the “peace that passeth all understanding”; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, “holier than thou” kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.
Additional Reading #3
Few other aspects of practicing Yoga
Use of Mudras in Yoga
Mudras or hand gestures have been used for centuries in yogic tradition to promote overall well-being, it works on the same principle of acupressure and acupuncture.
Our physical body is made up of five elements (Fire, Air, Earth, Space and Water): These are manifested in our hands and feet, which mirrors the entire body. Imbalances of these 5 elements disrupts the normal health
Stimulating pressure using fingers and connecting them in various patterns brings about immense and immediate benefits and treats the conditions via reflexology.
Typically used in meditation practices, mudras can also be done at any time of the day, any place, while walking, sitting and standing and with one or both the hands too. Mudras should be performed for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
Here are few examples of mudras:
Chin mudra – Mudra of knowledge – Connect tips of thumb and forefinger; other fingers are straight but relaxed. This mudra stimulates pituitary glands, increases memory and sharpens the brain. It enhances focus. When practiced regularly, it brings peace, calm, relieves anger, and depression.
Prana Mudra – Mudra of life – bend ring finger and little finger, touch the tip of thumb with their tips, keeping other two stretched. This mudra activates the dormant energy in the body, relieves fatigue, strengthens immune system and is good for the health of eyes.
Anjali Mudra – Namaskar Mudra – is the gesture of greeting, prayer and adoration. Balances the hemispheres of brain, promotes respect for oneself and others.
Additional Reading #4
More on the 4 Yogas
Read ‘Yoga – Paths to Moksha’ – https://www.hafsite.org/resources/hinduism101/big-questions/how#Yoga
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