The common understanding about yoga is that is a set of physical postures. It is also propogated as such these days. But in reality the physical posture of yoga, which is called as hathayoga to distinguish it from other forms of yoga, was a later development.
It is believed that many of the independent ancient texts about yoga have been lost. However some survived, maybe, due to their inclusion in Vedas or other epics. Scholars consider twenty such Vedanta texts as yoga related Upanishads. A few independent texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Hathayoga Pradipika are still available. I have gone through four of such texts and I will give a brief note about each of them. Going thorough these gives one the necessary understanding of yoga and its various dimensions.
If you have read Bhagavad Gita you must have noticed that each chapter of the Gita is named as XXX yoga. The first chapter is named as Arjuna Vishada Yoga, the second chapter as Jnana Yoga and so on.
The contents of the Gita are actually part of the Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata and no such naming is noticed in the Mahabharata Text. Perhaps, this naming convention was developed later on when Bhagavad Gita became a popular separate text.
However during his advice to Arjuna, Lord Krishna makes frequent references to yoga. Since each of the eighteen chapters is named as some kind of yoga, it gives the impression as if Lord Krishna is talking about eighteen types of yoga in Bhagavad Gita. But he makes it clear that he is primarily talking about two types of yoga. This is clear from the following stanza:
श्री भगवानुवाच लोकेऽस्मिन्द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ। ज्ञानयोगेन सांख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम्।।3.3।। sri bhagavaan uvaacha loke'smin dwividha nishthaa puraa proktaa mayaanagha jnaanayogena saankhyaanaam karmayogena yoginaam // 3.3 // Sri Bhagavan said: Earlier I said about two kinds of commitment which is followed in this world, O Sinless One. Sankhyas are committed to Jnanayoga and yogis are committed to Karmayoga.
If any other type of yoga can be inferred from the Gita it would come under any of these two broad categories. Of course Lord Krishan makes brief references to body postures, pranayama and meditation but gives no detailed guidelines regarding these. Maybe, the war field was not an appropriate place to give Arjuna a practical demo of yoga and pranayama. Most probably Arjuna was taught all these as part of his school curriculum. Moreover, being an impeccable archer, he must have been a regular practitioner of yogic postures, pranayama and meditation.
Nor does Lord Krishna bother to define yoga. By all accounts, in Bhagavad Gita yoga is used in the sense of the ways and the means to achieve higher consciousness. Some achieve it by sharpness of intellect (jnana yoga). Some by various physical activities including doing their ordained duty without attachment (karma yoga). Of course these are not strict dichotomies. The karma yogi has to know the basics of jnana yoga and vice versa.
Bhagavad Gita can be taken as a text of higher yogic science. It is sometimes referred as containing the essence of all the Upanishads. Only those who are already familiar with various philosophical concepts prevalent in those days can understand it without any assistance.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is not a text about body postures. However, Patanjali does define yoga. Patanjali makes a dissertation of human Psyche and how to deal with it.
Yogaschittabritti nirodhah – yoga is control of the tendencies of the mind. That is how Patanjali defines yoga. Chittta, in a broader sense includes the emotions. Perhaps there is no other ancient text that approaches the inner faculties of human beings in such a scientific way.
As the name suggests this is the book about body postures. It is a compilation yogic practices of the Natha Sampradaya. It is one of the few surviving texts on hatha yoga.
In ancient times, yogic practices were transmitted through guru- sishya parampara and at a later time some of them were compiled. However, even today there are many yogic practices that you would not find in any book.
Higher yogic practices should be done under the guidance of a Master. No doubt today it has become difficult to find a proper Guru. But if one is interested to gain any depth one must take pain to find one. In fact if one is genuinely interested in spirituality (and not the associated hyped up power trips and other worldly benefits) one will find one’s master. As they say in the Zen traditions: when the student is ready, the master appears.
Sara means summary. As the name suggests it gives a summary of yoga. It is one of the shortest treatise on yoga – only thirteen sutras.
I first came across it from a talk of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reference to God is made only once and that too as an alternative method to attain Samadhi. If you do not believe in God, it is fine. You can use other methods. Patanjali does not compel you to believe in God or any of the concepts related to it. He says, “Come and do these things. Have the experience and know what it means to be a yogi.”
I don’t think even a hardcore atheist will find anything objectionable in it.
PS : This is the alphabet Y post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.
All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.