There are so many names, styles, classifications and forms of yoga that and this is why it is very easy to fall into a deep confusion. Some are traditional ways to reach a state of integration or inner peace, which is the ultimate goal of yoga; others are systems or traditions of yoga that have systemized how to reach to the state of yoga; others are yoga practices that are implemented in the classical schools and meet both the elements of the paths of yoga and different traditions; and others are styles of physical yoga which are those most known outside India. The latter are different versions of hatha yoga.
The paths of yoga are four as;
- Devotional love (bhakti yoga)
- Yoga of action (karma yoga)
- Yoga of knowledge (jnana yoga)
- Yoga of mind control (raja yoga)
When we talk about it, yoga has developed as a consolidated philosophical system that comes from the Upanishads. The contemplative attitude, delivery, detachment and love towards the Absolute are essential in these scriptures. The four paths of yoga today are practiced mainly by traditional schools. The style of traditional yogic life meets these four ways, so the ashrams or spiritual centers integrate them into everyday life, along with other yoga practices derived from various texts and teachings.
The traditions of yoga are offshoots of yoga which developed as a particular system based on certain spiritual texts of India, yoga philosophy and the encounter with other traditions, science and doctrines of thought. Some of these traditions are Raja Yoga (influenced by Samkhya philosophy and Vedic traditions) who described eight elements of yoga and defined it as ‘the restriction of the fluctuations of the mind’. Hatha Yoga is also a tradition, which is a part of Raja Yoga while Tantra has great influence on it. Hatha yoga heals, purifies, strengthens and balances the body with its all the subtle aspects. It is a way to reach higher levels of consciousness, though its popularity is in the West due to its various physical and mental benefits.
What we call yoga schools are those which are faithful to the traditions of yoga and spiritual texts of India, for example, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, Hatha yoga Pradipika and Yoga Vashishta. The difference between one school and another is simply the character that will print to tradition and who follow the teachings and methods of a guru or tutor. Some place more emphasis on practices than others, but retain the spiritual essence of yoga, its wisdom and its foundations. Yoga schools follow one or more traditions of yoga.
There are many great centers to study yoga in India and I suggest you to join it in India since yoga strong roots in this country.
Yoga Sutras were considered central part of yogic literature in which Patanjali describes eight steps related to yoga. This set is also called Ashtanga Yoga and serves as the basis for the series of asanas that constitute Ashtanga Yoga today. The eight steps are as follows;
- Yama (moral restraints such as non-violence, truth in word, deed and thought, not stealing, moderation and non-possessiveness)
- Niyamas (purity, contentment, austerity, study of sacred texts, and continuing awareness of divinity)
- Asanas (postures)
- Pranayama (proper breathing)
- Pratyahara (the recollection of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration for meditation)
- Dhyana (meditation and contemplation)
- Samadhi (super-consciousness)
The asanas are the foundation of Hatha Yoga. Asanas are postures that should be comfortable and stable, so that a position is won when you get to it without hesitation and it is easy to maintain. The positions have a medicinal purpose, for healing and maintain optimal performance in internal organs and metabolism, and also strengthen the body, make you more slender, flexible and healthy. They are a way to work the physical body to reach the mind and spirit. The asanas are the best-known yoga method.
Pranayama means ‘control of prana’ in Sanskrit and it is the yogic science of breath to raise and direct the vital energy in our subtle bodies and our physical being. With proper breathing, we oxygenate our cells, eliminate waste, and we are filled with energy. In addition, breathing is connected with mind, so when we control the breath, the mind also subsides. Breathing is central to yoga, and much more in some techniques like Kriya.
Meditation has many techniques such as Hatha Yoga. There are some who use mantras (sounds or sentences that are repeated to calm the mind), others use objects of attention and some focus on breathing. Some traditions, like Zen, consider the tea ceremony or gardening as meditative practices. The main goal of meditation is the dissolution of ego and that lives only the present moment. This is done primarily through reduction, elimination or no identification of mental activity, because mind is the main obstacle that prevents us from returning to this connection with the absolute that is our true nature.
Yoga has a Philosophy.
According to this tradition related to Hinduism, we live in an illusory reality, called Maya, and we identify with the ego (the “I”, our mind, our individuality and body we have as vehicles to act and live in the world), which is the cause of suffering and distress. Yoga leads us to experience the break with this false reality and understand that everything is Brahman, pure consciousness, or God. This is what is known as the lighting, which is nothing to reunite with our essence.