What is Yoga

The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one's attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God. It thus means,' says Mahadev Desai in his introduction to the Gita according to Gandhi, 'the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God: it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that Yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.'

Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, 'co-ordinated and systematized by Patanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras, which consists of 185 terse aphorisms. In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma. or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma., and so secure liberation (moksa).

One who follows the path of Yoga is a yogi or yogin.

In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important authority on Yoga philosophy, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of Yoga as a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow. It is said:

'When his mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a Yukta,—one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfilment. Then he knows the joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp. He abides in this reality and moves not from there. He has found the treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this. Whoever has achieved it, shall not be moved by the greatest sorrow. This is the real meaning of Yoga—a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.'

As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavour to win inner peace and happiness.

The Bhagavad Gita also gives other explanations of the term yoga and lays stress upon Karma Yoga (Yoga by action). It is said; 'Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in
the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called Yoga.' Yoga has also been described as wisdom in work or skilful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation.
'Yoga is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who stands himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who stays awake. By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, Yoga
destroys all pain and sorrow.'

The Kathopanishad describes Yoga thus: 'When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains
it is free from delusion.'
In the second aphorism of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yoga as 'chitta vrtti nirodhah'. This may be translated as the restraint (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications. (vrtti)  or as suppression  (nirodhah)  of  the  fluctuations  (vrtti)  of consciousness (chitta). The word chitta denotes the mind in its total or collective sense as being composed of three categories;

(a) mind - manas, that is, the individual mind having the' power and faculty of attention, selection and rejection; it is the oscillating indecisive faculty of the mind):

(b) intelligence or reason - buddhi, that is, the decisive state which determines the distinction between things.

(c) ego (ahamkara, literally the I-maker, the state which ascertains that 'I know').

The word vrtti is derived from the Sanskrit root vrt meaning to turn, to revolve, to roll on. It thus means course of action, behaviour, mode of being, condition or mental state. Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels. As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; so also the mind, when controlled provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift.

The problem of controlling the mind is not capable of easy solution, as borne out by the following dialogue in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna asks Sri Krishna;

'Krishna, you have told me of Yoga as a communion with Brahman (the Universal Spirit), which is ever one. But how can this be permanent, since the mind is so restless and inconsistent? The mind is impetuous and stubborn, strong and wilful, as difficult to harness as the wind.' Sri Krishna replies: 'Undoubtedly, the mind is restless and hard to control. But it can be trained by constant practice (abhyasa) and by freedom from desire (vairagya). A man who cannot control his mind will find it difficult to attain this divine
communion: but the self-controlled man can attain it if he tries hard and directs his energy by the right means.'

Song of the Soul

I am neither ego nor reason, I am neither mind nor thought,
I cannot be heard nor cast into words, nor by smell nor sight ever caught:
In light and wind I am not found, nor yet in earth and sky—
Consciousness and joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I.
I have no name, I have no life, I breathe no vital air,
No elements have moulded me, no bodily sheath is my lair:
I have no speech, no hands and feet, nor means of evolution -
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss in dissolution.
I cast aside hatred and passion, I conquered delusion and greed;
No touch of pride caressed me, so envy never did breed:
Beyond all faiths, past reach of wealth, past freedom, past desire,
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is my attire.
Virtue and vice, or pleasure and pain are not my heritage,
Nor sacred texts, nor offerings, nor prayer, nor pilgrimage:
I am neither food, nor eating, nor yet the eater am I - 
Consciousness and joy incarnate. Bliss of the Blissful am I,
I have no misgiving of death, no chasms of race divide me,
No parent ever called me child, no bond of birth ever tied me:
I am neither disciple nor master, I have no kin, no friend - 
Consciousness and joy am I, and merging in Bliss is my end.
Neither knowable, knowledge, nor knower am I, formless is my form,
I dwell within the senses but they are not my home:
Ever serenely balanced, I am neither free nor bound -
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is where I am found.

Diferrent paths to the maker

There are different paths (margas) by which a man travels to his Maker. The active man finds realisation through Karma Marga, in which a man realises his own divinity through work and duty. The emotional man finds it through Bhakti Marga, where there is realisation through devotion to and love of a personal God. The intellectual man pursues Jnana Marga, where realisation comes through knowledge. The meditative or reflective man follows Yoga Marga, and realises his own divinity through control of the mind.

Happy is the man who knows how to distinguish the real from the unreal, the eternal from the transient and the good from the pleasant by his discrimination and wisdom. Twice blessed is he who knows true love and can love all God's creatures. He who works selflessly for the welfare of others with love in his heart is thrice blessed. But the man who combines within his mortal frame knowledge, love and selfless service is holy and becomes a place of pilgrimage, like the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Saraswati and Jamuna. Those who meet him become calm and purified.

Mind is the king of the senses. One who has conquered his mind, senses, passions, thought and reason is a king among men. He is fit for Raja Yoga, the royal union with the Universal Spirit. He has Inner Light.

He who has conquered his mind is a Raja Yogi. The word raja means a king. The expression Raja Yoga implies a complete mastery of the Self. Though Patanjali explains the ways to control the mind, he nowhere states in his aphorisms that this science is Raja Yoga, but calls it Astanga Yoga or the eight stages (limbs) of Yoga. As it implies complete mastery of the self one may call it the science of Raja Yoga.

Swatmarama, the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (hatha = force or determined effort) called the same path Hatha Yoga because it demanded rigorous discipline. It is generally believed that Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are entirely distinct, different and opposed to each other, that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deal with Spiritual discipline and that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatmarama deals solely with physical discipline. It is not so, for Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach towards Liberation. As a mountaineer needs ladders, ropes and crampons as well as physical fitness and discipline to climb the icy peaks of the Himalayas, so does the Yoga aspirant need the knowledge and discipline of the Hatha Yoga of Swatmarama to reach the heights of Raja Yoga dealt with by Patanjali.

This path of' Yoga is the fountain for the other three paths. It brings calmness and tranquillity and prepares the mind for absolute unqualified self-surrender to God, in which all these four paths merge into one.


Astanga Yoga - The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The right means are just as important as the end in view. Patanjali enumerates these means as the eight limbs or stages of Yoga for the quest of the soul. They are:

1. Yama  (universal  moral  commandments)
2. Niyama  (self purification by discipline)
3. Asana (posture)
4. Pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath)
5. Pratyahara- (withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (a state of super-consciousness brought about by pro-found meditation, in which the individual aspirant (sadhaka) becomes one with the object of his meditation—Paramatma or the Universal Spirit.)

 Yama and Niyama control the yogi's passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with his fellow men. Asanas keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature. Finally, the yogi becomes free of body consciousness. He conquers the body and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul. The first three stages are the outward quests (bahiranga sadhana).

The next two stages, Pranayama and Pratyahara, teach the aspirant to regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind. This helps to free the senses from the thraldom of the objects of desire. These two stages of Yoga are known as the inner quests (antaranga sadhana).

Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi take the yogi into the innermost recesses of his soul. The yogi does not look heavenward to find God. He knows that HE is within, being known as the Antaratma (the Inner Self). The last three stages keep him in harmony with himself
and his Maker. These stages are called antaratma sadhana, the quest of the soul.

By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge and the known become one. The seer, the sight and the seen have no separate existence from each other. It is like a great musician becoming one with his instrument and the music that comes from it. Then, the yogi stands in his own nature and realises his self (Atman), the part of the Supreme Soul within himself.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is divided into four chapters or pada. The first deals with samadhi, the second with the means (sadhana.) to achieve Yoga, the third enumerates the powers (vibhuti) that the yogi comes across in his quest, and the fourth deals with absolution (kaivalya).

Causes of the Modification of the Mind

Chitta Vrtii - Causes of the Modification of the Mind.
In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti which create pleasure and pain. These are:

1. Pramarna (a standard or ideal)  by which things or values are measured by the mind or known, which men accept upon (a) direct evidence such as perception (pratyaksa), (b) inference (anumana) and [c) testimony or the word of an acceptable authority when the source of knowledge has been checked as reliable and trustworthy (agama).

2. Viparyaya. (a mistaken view which is observed to be such after study). A faulty medical diagnosis based on wrong hypotheses, or the formerly held theory in astronomy that the Sun rotates round the Earth, are examples of viparyaya.

3. Vikalpa (fancy or imagination, resting merely on verbal expression without any factual basis). A beggar may feel happy when he imagines himself spending millions. A rich miser, on the other hand, may starve himself in the belief that he is poor.

4. Nidra (sleep), where there is the absence of ideas and experiences. When a man is sleeping soundly, he does not recall his name, family or status, his knowledge or wisdom, or even his own existence. When a man forgets himself in sleep, he wakes up refreshed. But, if a disturbing thought creeps into his mind when he is dropping off, he will not rest properly.

5. Smrti (memory, the holding fast of the impressions of objects that one has experienced). There are people who live in their past experiences, even though the past is beyond recall. Their sad or happy memories keep them chained to the past and they cannot break their fetters.

Patanjali enumerates five causes of chitta vrtti creating pain (klesa), These are:

1. Avidya (ignorance or nescience)
2. Asmita (the feeling of individuality which limits a person and distinguishes him from a group and which may be physical, mental, intellectual or emotional)
3. Raga (attachment or passion)
4. Dvesa (aversion or revulsion)
5. Abhinivesa (love of or thirst for life, the instinctive clinging to worldly life and bodily enjoyment and the fear that one may be cut off from all this by death).

These causes of pain remain submerged in the mind of the sadhaka (the aspirant or seeker). They are like icebergs barely showing their heads in the polar seas. So long as they are not studiously controlled and eradicated, there, can be no peace. The yogi learns to forget the past and takes no thought for the morrow. He lives in the eternal present.

As a breeze ruffles the surface of a lake and distorts the images reflected therein, so also the chitta vrtti disturb the peace of the mind. The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it. The yogi stills his mind by constant study and by freeing himself from desires. The eight stages of Yoga teach him the way.

Chitta Viksepa {Distractions and Obstacles)
The distractions and obstacles which hinder the aspirant's practice of Yoga are:
1. Vyadhi - sickness which disturbs the physical equilibrium.
2. Styana - languor or lack of mental disposition for work.
3. SamSaya - doubt or indecision
4. Pramada - indifference or insensibility
5. Alasya – laziness
6. Avirati - sensuality, the rousing of desire when sensory objects possess the mind.
7. Bhranti Darsana - false or invalid knowledge, or illusion.
8. Alabdha Bhumikatva. - failure to attain continuity of thought or concentration so that reality cannot be seen.
9. Anavasthitattva - instability in holding onto concentration which has been attained after long practice.

There are, however, four more distractions:
1. Duhkha - pain or misery
2. Daurmansya – despair.
3. Angamejayatva – unsteadiness of the body
4. Svasa-prabvisa - unsteady respiration.

To win a battle, a general surveys the terrain and the enemy and plans counter measures. In a similar way the Yogi plans the conquest of the SELF.

 To overcome the obstacles and to win unalloyed happiness, Patanjali offered several remedies.

The best of these is the fourfold remedy of

The deeper significance of the four-fold remedy of maitri, karuna, mudita., and upeksa cannot be felt by an unquiet mind. My experience has led me to conclude that for an ordinary man or woman in any community of the world, the way to achieve a quiet mind is to work with determination on two of the eight stages of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali, namely, asana and pranayama.

The mind (manas) and the breath (prana) are intimately connected and the activity or the cessation of activity of one affects the other. Hence Patanjali recommended pranayama (rhythmic breath control) for achieving mental equipoise and inner peace.


The very first obstacle that the Yogi will encounter is ill health or sickness. To the yogi his body is the prime instrument for the attainment of happiness.

If his vehicle breaks down, the traveller cannot go far. If the body is broken by ill health, the aspirant can achieve little. Physical health is important for mental development, as normally the mind functions through the nervous system. When the body is sick or the nervous system is affected, the mind becomes restless or dull and inert and concentration or meditation becomes impossible.


A person suffering from languor has no goal, no path to follow and no enthusiasm.

His mind and intellect become dull due to inactivity and their faculties rust. Constant flow keeps a mountain stream pure, but water in a ditch stagnates and nothing good can flourish in it. A listless person is like a living corpse for he can concentrate on nothing.


A person suffering from languor has no goal, no path to follow and no enthusiasm.

His mind and intellect become dull due to inactivity and their faculties rust. Constant flow keeps a mountain stream pure, but water in a ditch stagnates and nothing good can flourish in it. A listless person is like a living corpse for he can concentrate on nothing.


The unwise, the faithless and the doubter destroy themselves.

How can they enjoy this world or the next or have any happiness? The seeker should have faith in himself and his master. He should have faith that God is ever by his side and that no evil can touch him. As faith springs up in the heart it dries out lust, ill-will, mental sloth, spiritual pride and doubt, and the heart free from these hindrances becomes serene and untroubled. 


A person suffering from pramada is full of self-importance, lacks any humility and believes that he alone is wise.

No doubt he knows what is right or wrong, but he persists in his indifference to the right and chooses what is pleasant. To gratify his selfish passions and dreams of personal glory, he will deliberately and without scruple sacrifice every one who stands in his way. Such a person is blind to God's glory and deaf to His words. 


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