What Is Yoga?

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Yoga literally means “Union”, and it is used in the context of “Union with God”. First let us clear the misconception about God. It doesn’t mean an entity sitting somewhere, watching over you and deciding what to do with your life.


God is the substratum on which the world exists. If our Universe can be compared to a painting, God is like the canvas on which the painting is present. God is like the silence which enables the sounds to exist. God is like the empty space which enables the things to be. We can use less misused words like “being” and “Self” to represent the infinite.


We are always one with God. Like how waves on an ocean are always part of the ocean, but we lose the awareness of the oneness. When we are completely lost in thoughts and emotions, we feel lonely, deprived, agitated and suffer.


The search for freedom from suffering started millennia ago. Dependence on food, sex, money to go beyond the dissatisfied state works temporarily, so people started searching for real answers. Some people awakened and developed techniques to help others awaken. India is famous for many spiritual teachers and techniques. The tradition of Yoga is a set of such techniques.


Today the word Yoga is synonymous with stretching exercises that are being practiced all over the world. However, that is only a small part of Yoga. Yes, keeping the body healthy is generally required to venture into the calmness of the mind. Although it’s not compulsory. What is essential is the openness to listen and not allow your conditionings and concepts in mind halt your understanding.


The word, “Ego” as used in the spiritual traditions means an unconscious identification with the mind. It is an illusion that thoughts and emotions are who you are. And one is not aware of what is beyond the mind.


Yoga is meant to remove this illusion, albeit temporarily. When the Yoga techniques are practiced regularly, one’s realization of the reality strengthens. As a result, one will be able to experience a longer duration of inner freedom.

The techniques are categorised in four types, let’s look into them:


1. Karma Yoga

Did you ever experience an activity where you were so involved, that you forgot about yourself and were completely engrossed in the moment? And there was no question of worries, complaints, past and future? This is Karma Yoga.


Karma literally means activity. Karma Yoga is to be present with every movement of the activity in that you don’t have a separate identity. You are one with the activity. Being present in the moment means your complete attention is in the present moment. When your mind is not concerned with the past or the future. Many people tend to think they need to do a particular type work or something that makes a large amount of money to enjoy the activity, but the joy is already in us.


Joy comes out when the mind quietens. When we do every action for the sake of itself, not as means to an end. Of course we choose careers that give us the most joy. That is perfectly fine, but we are capable of enjoying any activity when the present moment matters more than the end result.


2. Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti means Devotion. Devotion means you accept that the ultimate control is not in your hands. It is in the hands of a higher authority. Though we are part of that higher authority, what some call God or Life, we are not aware of the fact when we are lost in our mind. To silence our mind it is helpful if a seeker surrenders to that higher authority.


It is like a sugar crystal giving up its resistance to dissolve in water. It surrenders to the greatness of the water and then becomes one with it. There is no separate identity of the sugar crystal left, similarly ego dissolves when we surrender to an entity.

Doesn’t really matter if you imagine that higher authority to be called God, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha etc. It is not that someone is going to decide whether you feel the joy of devotion. It is only the degree of your surrender that opens the locks of Joy. Chanting, singing, dancing in devotion can also dissolve the illusion of separateness.


3. Jnana Yoga

Jnana (pronounced as Gyana) means Knowledge. Reading works of enlightened teachers can help you strengthen your realisation of Oneness. Pick a book of Eckhart Tolle, Ramana Maharshi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Anthony De Mello etc. They have the power to influence you immediately.

The sentences made by the teachers are charged with the power of their realisation, so they positively affect our mind.

Ultimately Jnana Yoga means going beyond book knowledge, explanations, sayings etc. And experience the oneness and thus gain the knowledge of the Self.


The Indian sage Ramana Maharshi explained that the ultimate knowledge is gained by asking the question “Who am I?”. Initially the temporary aspects like Name, Age, Gender, Nationality, Profession come to the mind, but the reality of the “Self” eventually dawns.


4. Raja Yoga

Raja means Royal. It is a combination of physical and mental techniques aimed at controlling the mind. It includes:

  1. Disciplinary measures in terms of food, thoughts, speech, actions.
  2. Different body postures to strengthen the body.
  3. Using the breath to control the life force called Prana.
  4. Meditation techniques

Some don’t consider this to be an exclusive type of Yoga. As seekers following the other three Yoga paths almost always practice the self-discipline, breath exercises and meditation techniques.

Raja Yoga also includes Kriya Yoga, which are a combination of Physical movements and breathing exercises, which should only be learned from a trained practitioner.


The type of Yoga best suited for you depends on your temperament. And also they are not mutually exclusive. You can do Yoga stretches, sing hymns with devotion, enjoy washing dishes etc. Also the practices from other religions can be categorised in one of the above types of Yoga. So Yoga is not an exclusive Indian tradition, it is just a way of categorising. Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi, it means “Let Peace Prevail” in Sanskrit(the ancient Indian Language).Visit Our site for more