Diving into Yoga Philosophy
Today, most of people associate 'Yoga' with crazy forward bends, torturing twist and all kind of other funky postures, also called Hatha Yoga. Clearly, that is a part of Yoga but it is just a part. There are many different 'paths' of Yoga. In the modern Yoga world, it is understood that nobody has to choose one path, but instead, enjoy the Yoga of synthesis as teached by Swami Sivananda and his disciples. The combination of the four main paths make it a complete tool to experience peace or the truth or to simply live life happily. These are the main paths of Yoga:
Karma Yoga - Yoga of Action or selfless service
Bhakti Yoga - Yoga of Devotion
Raja Yoga - Science of Body & Mind
Jnana Yoga - Yoga of Knowledge, philosophical approach
But where does Hatha Yoga fit in? It is a physical approach and therefore a branch of Raja Yoga. So let's look a little deeper into Raja Yoga. It is the scientific, step-by-step approach to Yoga; systematic analyses and control of the mind. The foundation of it are the eight limbs of Raja Yoga also called the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (not to confuse with the identical named style of Hatha Yoga). And here is the full list, including Sanskrit names as from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjaly:
1. Yamas - RESTRAINTS
Ahimsa - Non-violence or non-injury - not causing pain physically, mentally & on the level of speech.
Satya - Truthfulness; non-lying
Brahmacharya - Chastity or for us non-monks and family people, moderation & balance
Asteya - Non-stealing
Aparigraha - Non-greed
2. Niyamas - OBSERVANCES
Saucha - Purity (external & internal)
Santosha - Contentment
Tapas - Austerities - accepting pain as help for purification
Swadhaya - Study of spiritual books - read something uplifting and your mind will be uplifted. Try it next time when you are very sad or angry!
Ishvara-pranidhana - Worship of god or surrender of the ego
Together, the Yamas & Niyamas form the laws of the universe. High moral character and ethical manners or conduct are the foundation of a Yoga practitioner. Keeping true with these points uplift and purify the mind for deep meditation.
3. Asanas - STEADY POSTURE - Asanas vitalize & strengthen the whole body, remove toxins and impurities and help to overcome dualities.
4. Pranayama - BREATH CONTROL OR CONTROL OF THE VITAL ENERGY - With certain breathing techniques that are used in Yoga, we clean the respiratory system, provide oxygen to the blood and purify the nerves and the ‘nadis’ (the channels where the energy flows). Furthermore, with pranayama, the veil over the inner light is destroyed.
5. Pratyahara - WITHDRAWAL OF THE SENSES FROM OBJECTS - heal yourself from addictions
6. Dharana - CONCENTRATION on a single object or idea, excluding all other thoughts
7. Dhyana - MEDITATION is defined as uninterrupted flow of divine energy
8. Samadhi - SUPER-CONSCIOUS STATE - In a way the highest form of mediation. This one is very hard to explain since it is beyond our intellect to understand or comprehend. According to Yoga tradition it represents the goal of all existence. It’s what all living beings are moving towards.
These 8 limbs are extremely powerful when practiced. They are different ideas about Yoga practice and are strongly interlinked. I hope this list can help anyone that is interested in more than just the physical aspect of Yoga. A good way to start practicing is to take any Yama, e.g. Ahimsa (non-violance) or Satya (truthfulness) and analyise this in your daily life. When you eat, speak, drive car, sit in the office, etc. etc. Make a note each time you cause pain or not tell the truth and learn from it for future experiences and gradually (or some of us more radically) realise the changes in life that you feel are necessary for you to evolve.