Yoga pertains to the principal direction of Indian philosophy, throwing back to the Vedas, the primordial texts of Indian culture.
What is Yoga
Yoga pertains to the principal direction of Indian philosophy, throwing back to the Vedas, the primordial texts of Indian culture. As a separate direction is was systematized by the great Indian sage Patañjali in his treatise Yoga Sūtras. There are different opinions as to the text date, from 2 century B.C. till 5 century A.D., some researches state that Patañjali lived 5 thousand years ago. Although a range of other written sources came down to these days, Yoga Sūtras is considered to be classical and the most authoritative work on yoga. According to a famous yogi, healer and philosopher, pioneer of the modern yoga, Sri Krishnamacharya, in order to understand Yoga Sūtras, one should dedicate the whole life to its learning. Yoga Sūtras is written in a form of aphorisms (sutras), and a lot of authors commented on their meaning, thus, there are rather different interpretations, depending on traditions and yoga schools the commentator belongs to.
However the principal determination is behind the meaning of YOGA word itself and it is the UNITY, CONTROL AND BALANCE.
According to Yoga Sūtras, yoga is "Chitta-vritti-nirodha" (Sanskrit), one of translation variant of which is "nonproduction of modifications in consciousness". Accordingly, the SUBJECT of yoga is CONSCIOUSNESS or MIND (determination of differences between these two notions is outside the present text range), and TARGET of yoga is overcoming the duality of mind, release from kleshas (sufferings) of conception thinking and appropriation of happiness and unity, being identical for a yogi. There are eight stages, according to Patañjali, in yoga practice and further we'll settle upon a detailed description thereof. PHYSICAL PRACTICE (body practice) is one of yoga stages. In a nutshell, by means of asana (static positions) and vinyasa (dynamic combinations) practice in a certain sequence we have an effect on our mind, and the result of such practices is the STATE of our consciousness. The pleasant bonus and effect of yoga practice is improvement of physical body parameters, HEALTH QUALITIES, abolition of ailments. These also may stand out as the primary objective of the practice, especially in respect to yoga therapy. Desire to take up yoga with a view to improve physical and, consequently, mental health is a great impetus and motivator, since we start from the level we are at the moment, the rest comes over naturally. It's important just not to forget about one of the basic yoga postulates: all we do is to be done CONSCIOUSLY and CAREFULLY.
According to Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali there are eight limbs of yoga:
social code and ethical standards
personal code and self-discipline
pose, physical exercise
state of ecstasy, merging with a point of focus
The first five limbs are considered exoteric (external), and the last three limbs are esoteric (internal) practices of yoga. External practices traditionally are referred to Hatha Yoga, and internal – Raja Yoga. In Svāmī Svātmārām`s "The Hatha Yoga Prapidika" it is said that "Hatha yoga is stairs for those who aspires to reach Raja yoga". However the difference between Hatha and Raja yoga is relative, whereas the object of study is MIND, and aim is MIND control and appropriation of MENTAL alertness, in the first case through body experience, and in the second – meditative practices.
Lappa Andrey V. points out in his book "Yoga: tradition of unity" that conscious state and moral principles of the one practicing determine his lifestyle, and the lifestyle, in its turn, determines the state of his body, sensations and mind. Qualities of body, sensations and mind are the main factors, restraining the practice.
That is precisely why yoga practice is traditionally proposed to be started with cathartical exercises and moral development as a foundation for complex transformations. One may ignore it and practice only power aspects of yoga (yogi's gymnastics), but discrepancy between the level of consciousness and practice power may lead to different problems.
Desikachar T.K.V. also tells that we can start doing yoga from any starting point, but if our aim is achievement of harmony, we should gradually, step by step, combine all aspects of our personality. Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtras places high emphasis on all aspects of human being, including relations with others, behavior, health, breath and meditation ways.
Sources used: lectures of Lappa A.V. within the frameworks of Universal Yoga Workshop, Lappa A.V. "Yoga: tradition of unity", Desikachar T.K.V. "The Heart of Yoga", Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali with comments of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā with comments of Swami Satyananda Saraswati