what is yoga

Yoga is a spiritual practice foremost and the term means to yoke, or bring together. It describes the unification of the body, mind and spirit into a complete and functional whole and the practices used to attain this state. Yoga is also the description of the state of endless bliss ultimately attained from the practices. In Patanjali’s sutra yoga is described as being the quieting of the activity of the mind so that our true nature (bliss, god awareness, Christ consciousness, etc.) may be revealed and experienced in our everyday life .

In the absence of the state of yoga or true awareness, the ability to understand the truth of life is replaced by the mind’s interpretation of its experience (YS 1.2-1.4). The practice of yoga can take any form and can be applied to every aspect of living as long as it has the effect of moving us toward unification of the body, mind and spirit. The body is essentially a vehicle for our experiences of life. The mind is the interpreter of our experiences and the guide for our actions. The spirit is our true and unlimited nature of being. Our experiences and actions can be guided by the truth of spirit or the misconceptions of the mind. One leads to bliss and the other to degrees of suffering. The body and the mind both die but the spirit is timeless bliss. In yoga the body and mind become gentle servants the awareness of spirit and a state of blissful existence eventually results, degrees of which are experienced along the path. When the mind becomes the ruler, only degrees of suffering and miscomprehension result. The practices of yoga attempt to free us from the domination of the mind and its tendency for misconception in our lives and bring us to awareness of divine guidance and peace.

As the practice of yoga can take many forms, many varied approaches to yoga can be undertaken. Karma yoga (selfless service), Bhakti yoga (devotion to god, love transformation), Jnana yoga (knowledge of truth), Mantra yoga (transformative sound), Kriya yoga (combined asceticism, self study, god devotion), Samyasa yoga (renunciation from worldly things), Raja yoga (royal yoga – mastery of the dominant mind), Hatha yoga (physical discipline for the body to serve the spirit) are all approaches to yoga with the same end goal in mind – liberation. Interestingly, they all have similar moral and ethical foundations that the practices are based upon.

Yoga in the west is mostly recognised as Hatha yoga – the practice of physical postures and breathing to bring about harmony to the body and focus to the mind. These of course are useful to the purpose of yoga. Other hatha yoga practices not so familiar in the west are the dietary and cleansing principles used to bring the body into vibrant health to create a more ready vehicle for spiritual awareness.

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