As we know, yoga is enjoying an immense renaissance across the world – we know about Bikram’s Hot Yoga, Lotus Pose, general physical pretzelling and oh so much about where to buy yoga clothes, yoga mats, even yoga gear for our pets! However, the history of yoga is rich and long standing and deserves some mention. So without further ado, let us begin near the beginning.
Between 200BC and 300AD an Indian philosopher known as Patanjali gave the world the Yoga Sutras – a series of aphorisms that set out the practice of the eight limbs of classical yoga. Though we know very little about the sage himself, Patanjali’s great work is considered the cornerstone of the knowledge of yoga practice, from asana practice to the deeper internal journey of meditation and self- realization. The work is set out into four chapters known as The Samadhi Pada, the Sadhana Pada, the Vibhuti Pada and the Kaivayla Pada. Yoga means union, sutra is the Sanskrit word for thread, and pada is the Sanksrit word for book. These 196 short phrases remain the foremost body of work on the philosophy of yoga. From the commentary and analysis of yogis, sages, translators and philosophers over waves upon waves of time we have accumulated the wisdom of yoga as it is practiced today – a combination of asanas, meditation and body/spirit care that has proven to be of timeless benefit to all who engage in this practice.
This is the style most familiar to most of us. Hatha Yoga is also known as the forceful yoga; the name Hatha comes from a combination of two Sanskrit words Ha (sun) and Tha (moon). The western practice of Hatha Yoga focuses mostly on the asana practice, which is designed to keep the body flexible and to cool the mind in preparation for meditation. This form of yoga also aids in creating a harmony between our dual natures (masculine/feminine, hot/cold, will/surrender) and brings us closer to a deeper practice of yoga.
Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion and chanting. Predating Hatha yoga, Bhakti yoga is approx. 4000 years old making it one of the oldest forms of yoga in the world! North Americans most commonly come to yoga as a form of exercise, whereas Indian culture approaches asana practice as a way to calm the mind before meditation and worship. Kirtan is the practice of singing the name of God in all his/her divine aspects; translated from Sanskrit it means ‘I surrender to the Lord’. Traditionally, kirtan is performed in a call and response style. The kirtan leader sings a line or verse of a mantra or prayer, and the kirtan group responds as accurately as possible. Kirtan is a community, a dialogue between the call leader, the kirtan group and the energy of the Divine. In the eight limb system of classical yoga, kirtan is considered to be pratyahara (focusing the mind inward) and is a bridge between our inner and outer selves. Bhakti yoga is the divine melody and rhythm of the human spirit, expressed in chanting and song.
Karma yoga is selfless service to others. This yoga asks that the yogi make his/her actions in this world expressions of devotion and offerings to God, without considering personal gain. If you do community work, volunteer work, or just do something very nice for someone for no reason at all, you are performing acts of karma yoga. Gandhi’s years of selfless service to South Africa and India are famous examples of the work of Karma yoga.
Dream yoga is about listening attentively to what your dreams are telling you. This knowledge is used to better your waking life by helping you pay more attention to your daily realities, dreamed or shared.
Jnana yoga is the study of the philosophy of yoga; Jnana is the Sanskrit word for knowledge . The practice of this yoga involves deep meditation practice, study of the self, the True Self and the Transcendental Self. The yogi is challenged to examine the real and the illusory. In order to do so the yogi must use his/her mind to retrain the mind to separate the real from the unreal and thus discover and liberate the True Self. Jnana yoga uses meditation, introspection and contemplation techniques to attain wisdom and enlightenment.
This is primarily the yoga of sound. The word mantra comes from a combination of the Sanskrit words man ‘to think’ and tra ‘instrumentality’ . Mantra is intention expressed as sound, unlike Bhakti yoga , which is strictly the yoga of song and chanting; for instance when you chant ‘OM’ you are combining mantra yoga and bhakti yoga. Mantras have been chanted for thousands of years (some continuously for thousands of years!) to guide the mind into meditation and to establish an intention to create states of consciousness or ask for divine guidance.
Raj is the Sanskrit word for king and Raja yoga is known as the Royal Yoga because it brings out the king/queen in all of us; the noble inner self that is so infrequently acknowledged in our every day lives. Raja yoga provides an opportunity to focus on the quality of our daily thoughts and deeds, being careful to reveal the goodness that the workings of the mind often conceal or disregard. Most closely associated with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is most commonly expressed in the eight limbs of Classical Yoga.