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Yoga (Sanskrit योग, "union") is a family of spiritual practices that originated in India, where it is seen primarily as a means to enlightenment (or bodhi). Traditionally, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are considered the four main yogas. In the West, yoga has become associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga, which are popular as fitness exercises. Yoga as a means to enlightenment is central to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Goals of yoga
The ultimate goal of yoga is the attainment of liberation (moksha) from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (samsara). Yoga entails mastery over the body, mind, and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. It is said to lead gradually to knowledge of the true nature of reality. The yogi reaches a state called kaivalya or nirvana, where there is a cessation of thought, and an experience of blissful union. This union may be of the individual soul (atman) with the supreme Reality (brahman), as in Vedanta philosophy; or with a specific god or goddess, as in theistic forms of Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism. Proponents of yoga see daily practice as beneficial in itself, leading to improved health, emotional well-being, and mental clarity. Some skeptics question these claims.

Diversity of yoga
Over the long history of yoga, different schools have emerged, and there are numerous examples of subdivisions and synthesis. It is common to speak of each form of yoga as a "path" to enlightenment. Thus, yoga may include love and devotion (as in Bhakti Yoga), selfless work (as in Karma Yoga), knowledge and discernment (as in Jnana Yoga), or an eight-limbed system of disciplines emphasizing meditation (as in Raja Yoga). These practices occupy a continuum from the religious to the scientific. They need not be mutually exclusive. (A person who follows the path of selfless work might also cultivate some knowledge and devotion.) Some people (particularly in western cultures) pursue yoga as exercise divorced from spiritual practice.

The word "yoga"
The word "yoga"--from the Sanskrit root yuj ("to yoke")--is generally translated as "union" or "integration." This may be understood as union with the Divine, or integration of body, mind, and spirit. One who practices yoga is called a yogi or in Sanskrit, a yogin (masculine) or yogini (feminine). These designations are sometimes reserved for advanced practitioners.
The word yoga may also be written יוגה, योग, Joga, Ioga, Jooga, zh:瑜伽, ja:ヨーガ or Yôga.

Yoga and religion
In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, the spiritual goals of yoga are seen as inseparable from the religions of which yoga forms a part. Some yogis make a subtle distinction between religion and yoga, seeing religion as more concerned with culture, values, beliefs and rituals; and yoga as more concerned with self-realization, i.e., direct perception of the ultimate truth. In this sense, religion and yoga are complementary. Sri Ramakrishna likened religion to the husk, and direct experience to the kernel. Both are needed, "but if one wants to get at the kernel itself, he must remove the husk of the grain."
Some forms of yoga come replete with a rich iconography, while others are more austere and minimalist. Hindu practitioners of yoga are proud of their religious traditions, while non-Hindu practitioners claim that yoga may be practiced sincerely by those who have not accepted the Hindu religion.
While the yoga tradition remains rooted in the Indian subcontinent, the fact that some modern yogis like Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda came to the West suggests that they saw hope the yoga tradition could also flourish there. Critics of yoga as practiced in the West charge that it is sometimes watered down, corrupted, or cut off from its spiritual roots (e.g. the popular view that yoga is primarily physical exercises).

Common themes
Part of the series onHinduism

History · Deities


Beliefs and practices

Reincarnation · Moksha

Karma · Puja · Maya

Nirvana · Dharma

Yoga · Ayurveda

Yuga · Vegetarianism

Bhakti · Artha


Shruti : Upanishads

Vedas · Brahmana

Smriti : Bhagavad Gita

Sutras · Itihasa

Related topics

Hinduism by country

Leaders · Mandir ·

Caste system · Mantra

Hindu festivals · Murti

Common to most forms of yoga is the practice of concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Dharana, according to Patanjali's definition, is the "binding of consciousness to a single point." The awareness is concentrated on a fine point of sensation (such as that of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils). Sustained single-pointed concentration gradually leads to meditation (dhyana), in which the inner faculties are able to expand and merge with something vast. Meditators sometimes report feelings of peace, joy, and oneness.
The focus of meditation may differ from school to school, e.g. meditation on one of the chakras, such as the heart center (anahata) or the third eye (ajna); or meditation on a particular deity, such as Krishna; or on a quality like peace. Non-dualist schools such as Advaita Vedanta may stress meditation on the Supreme with no form or qualities (nirguna brahman). This resembles Buddhist meditation on the Void.
Another common element is the spiritual teacher (guru in Sanskrit; lama in Tibetan). While emphasized to varying degrees by all schools of yoga, in some the guru is seen as an embodiment of the Divine. The guru guides the student (shishya or chela) through yogic discipline from the beginning. Thus, the novice yoga student is to find and devote himself to a satguru (true teacher). Traditionally, knowledge of yoga--as well as permission to practice it or teach it--has been passed down through initiatory chains of gurus and their students. This is called guruparampara.
The yoga tradition is one of practical experience, but also incorporates texts which explain the techniques and philosophy of yoga. Many gurus write on the subject, either providing modern translations and elucidations of classical texts, or explaining how their particular teachings should be followed. A guru may also found an ashram or order of monks; these comprise the institutions of yoga. The yoga tradition has also been a fertile source of inspiration for poetry, music, dance, and art.
When students associate with a particular teacher, school, ashram or order, this naturally creates yoga communities where there are shared practices. Chanting of mantras such as Aum, singing of spiritual songs, and studying sacred texts are all common themes. The importance of any one element may differ from school to school, or student to student. Differences do not always reflect disagreement, but rather a multitude of approaches meant to serve students of differing needs, background and temperament.
The yogi is sometimes portrayed as going beyond rules-based morality. This does not mean that a yogi will act in an immoral fashion, but rather that he or she will act with direct knowledge of the supreme Reality. In some legends, a yogi--having amassed merit through spiritual practice--may then cause mischief even to the gods. Some yogis in history have been naked ascetics--such as Swami Trailanga, who greatly vexed the occupying British in 19th century Benares by wandering about in a state of innocence.


This statue of a yogini goddess was created in Kaveripakkam in Tamil Nadu during the 10th century. There were 64 such yoginis worshipped in a practice later incorporated into Hinduism.
Main article: History of Yoga
Images of a meditating yogi from the Indus Valley Civilization are thought to be 6 to 7 thousand years old. The earliest written accounts of yoga appear in the Rig Veda, which began to be codified between 1500 and 1200 BC. It is difficult to establish the date of yoga from this as the Rig Veda was orally transmitted for at least a millenia. The first Yoga text dates to around the 2nd century BC by Patanjali, and prescribes adherence to "eight limbs" (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga") to quiet one's mind and merge with the infinite.
The first full description of the principles and goals of yoga are found in the Upanisads, thought to have been composed between the eighth and fourth centuries BC. The Upanisads are also called Vedanta since they constitute the end or conclusion of the Vedas (the traditional body of spiritual wisdom). In the Upanisads, the older practises of offering sacrifices and ceremonies to appease external gods gives way instead to a new understanding that man can, by means of an inner sacrifice, become one with the Supreme Being (referred to as Brāhman or Māhātman) -- through moral culture, restraint and training of the mind.

Hindu yoga

The Bhagavad-Gita famously distinguishes several types of "yoga", corresponding to the duties of different classes of people. Capturing the essence and at the same time going into detail about the various Yogas and their philosophies, it constantly refers to itself as such, the "Scripture of Yoga" (see the final verses of each chapter). The book is thought to have been written some time between the 5th and the 2nd century BC. In it Krishna describes the following yogas:
(1) Karma yoga, the yoga of "action" in the world
(2) Jnana yoga, the yoga of meditation or intellectual endeavor
(3) Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to a deity (for example, to Krishna)

Main articles: Patanjali, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Perhaps the classic description of yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which form the basis not only of the darshana called "yoga"--one of six such "orthodox" (i.e. Veda-accepting) schools of Hindu philosophy--but also of the practice of yoga in most ashrams (to the extent these can be distinguished). The school (dharshana) of Indian philosophy known as "yoga" is primarily Upanishadic with roots in Samkhya, and some scholars see some influence from Buddhism.
Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras presents the goal of yoga as 'the cessation of mental fluctuations' (cittavrtti nirodha), an achievement which gives rise to the possibility of stable meditation and thus deeper states of absorption (dhyana or samadhi). This requires considerable restraint (yama) and self-discipline (niyama; see below for Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga)). Patanjali's yoga is sometimes called Raja Yoga (Skt: "Royal yoga") or "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"), in order to distinguish it from Hatha yoga. It is held as authoritative by all schools.
Patanjali's text sets forth eight "limbs" of yoga practice. Interestingly, only one of them involves physical postures (and these mainly involve seated positions). The eight are:
(1) Yama (The five "abstentions"): violence, lying, theft, sex, and possessions)
(2) Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to God
(3) Asana This term literally means "seat," and originally referred mainly to seated positions. With the rise of Hatha yoga, it came to be used of these yoga "postures" as well.
(4) Pranayama (Control of prana or vital breath)
(5) Pratyahara ("Abstraction") "is that by which the senses do not come into contact with their objects and, as it were, follow the nature of the mind." - Vyasa
(6) Dharana ("Concentration") - Fixing the attention on a single object
(7) Dhyana ("Meditation")
(8) Samadhi - Super-conscious state or trance

Hatha yoga
Over the last century the term yoga has come to be especially associated with the postures (Sanskrit āsanas) of hatha yoga ("Forced Yoga"). Hatha yoga has gained wide popularity outside of India and traditional yoga-practicing religions, and the postures are sometimes presented as entirely secular or non-spiritual in nature.
Traditional Hatha Yoga is a complete yogic path, including moral disciplines, physical exercises (e.g., postures and breath control), and meditation, and encompasses far more than the yoga of postures and exercises practiced in the West as physical culture. The seminal work on Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Svatmarama.
Hatha Yoga was invented to provide a form of physical purification and training that would prepare aspirants for the higher training that is called Raja Yoga (see above). This is still true today. Despite this, many in the West practice 'Hatha yoga' solely for the perceived health benefits it provides, and not as a path to enlightenment.

Natya yoga
The guide to Natya Yoga was written by Bharata Muni. Sage Narada along with Gandharvas were the first to practise Natya Yoga, which comprise all the four main yoga's. Natya Yoga was practised by the medieval devadasis, and is currently taught in a few orthodox schools of Bharatanatyam and Odissi.

Buddhist yoga
Within the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism yoga likewise holds a central place, though not in the form presented by Patanjali or the Gita. (For example, physical postures are rarely practiced.) An example would be "guru yoga," the veneration of the spiritual teacher which must be done at the beginning of the spiritual path and regularly throughout. In the tantric traditions a number of practices are classified with the name "yoga", for example, the two of the four general classification of tantras--"Yoga Tantra" and "Highest Yoga Tantra".
Yogacara ("Yoga Adepts"), which is also known as Cittamatra ("Consciousness Only") is an important philosophical school within Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Yoga and tantra
Main article: Tantra
Yoga is often mentioned in company with Tantra. While the two have deep similarities, most traditions distinguish them from one another.
They are similar in that both amount to families of spiritual texts, practices, and lineages with origins in the Indian subcontinent. (Coincidentally, both have been popularized to some extent in the West, with perhaps a shallower understanding of their nature.) It should be noted however that for the most part, we are speaking of different families of texts, lineages, etc.
Their differences are variously expressed. Some Hindu commentators see yoga as a process whereby body consciousness is seen as the root cause of bondage, while tantra views the body as a means to understanding, rather than as an obstruction. It must be said that in India, tantra often carries quite negative connotations involving sexual misbehavior and black magic. Nevertheless, most forms of tantra follow more mainstream social mores. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is generally classified as a Hindu tantric scripture.
Tantra has roots in the first millennium CE, and incorporates much more of a theistic basis. Almost entirely founded on Shiva and Shakti worship, Hindu tantra visualizes the ultimate Brahman as Param Shiva, manifested through Shiva (the passive, masculine force of Lord Shiva) and Shakti (the active, creative feminine force of his consort, variously known as Ma Kali, Durga, Shakti, Parvati and others). It focuses on the kundalini, a three and a half-coiled 'snake' of spiritual energy at the base of the spine that rises through the chakras until union between Shiva and Shakti (also known as samadhi) is achieved. (Some Hindu yoga teachers, however, have adopted these concepts.)
Tantra emphasises mantra (Sanskrit prayers, often to gods, that are repeated), yantra (complex symbols representing gods in various forms through intricate geometric figures), and rituals that range from simple murti (statue representations of deities) or image worship to meditation on a corpse! While tantric texts (see kaularvatantra, mahanirvana tantra) and teachers (e.g. Abhinava Gupta) may seem odd and highly arcane from the point of view of classical yoga, that these incorporate yoga concepts seems clear.
In Tibetan Buddhism, which embraces both, yoga is seen as a synonym for "spiritual practice," while "tantra" refers to a specific category of texts and practices, etc that are roughly analogous to the Hindu ones described above. (The fact that Hindu "yoga" has these things as well may have escaped the attention of classical Tibetan commentators.) In that spirit other Buddhist traditions, such as Theravada, practice a form of "yoga" but reject "tantra."

Main articles: Yogi, List of yoga schools

Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886)
History is replete with Yogis that have inspired people for many generations. Yogini Meera from the Bhakti tradition, Shankaracharya from the Jnana Yoga tradition, Patanjali, who formalized the system of Raja Yoga, are just a few examples.
Among modern Yogis, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a Bhakti Yogi, stands tall. A devotee of Mother Kali and a teacher of Advaita Vedanta, he preached that "all religions lead to the same goal." His student, Swami Vivekananda, a follower of Advaita philosophy as well, is known for revitalizing Hinduism and introducing the transcendental message of Yoga to the west.
Sri Aurobindo, focusing on the goddess Srii, worked on translations and interpretations of Yogic scriptures, such as the Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita. His epic poem Savitri is a treasure of Hindu Yogic literature, formally being the longest poem ever written in English. He also founded Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, that continues to propagate the practice of Integral Yoga, which is Aurobindo's synthesis of the four main Yogas (Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Raja).
Sri Chinmoy (born 1931), influenced by the Sri Aurobindo ashram, brought a similar synthesis of elements to the West emphasizing love for God, meditation on the heart, and religious tolerance rooted in modern Vedantic principles.
Swami Rama Tirtha, the founding spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, was the first yogi to be subjected to the scrutiny of modern science. He allegedly stunned doctors by stopping the beating of his heart completely for several minutes.
Swami Sivananda (born 1887) authored over 300 books on yoga and spirituality and attained Mahasamadhi in Rishikesh. He founded Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh, and a society dedicated to Yoga. Swami Sivananda had many disciples who went on in their own right to be yoga gurus, including Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Satyananda Yoga.
Many modern schools of Hatha Yoga derive from the school of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing Yoga in the West were Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T.K.V. Desikachar.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada popularised Bhakti for Krishna in many countries through his movement, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, (popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement) which he founded in 1966.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), a practitioner of Kriya Yoga, moved to America purporting a pluralist ideology with Yoga as the binding force, specificaly trying to reconcile Hinduism and Christianity. Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, in 1925.
Gopi Krishna (1903-1984) was a Kashmiri office worker and spiritual seeker. He wrote autobiographical accounts of his spiritual experiences with Yoga.
Swami Ramdevji Maharaj is a modern Indian yogi who follows the tradition of astanga yoga discovered by Maharshi Patanjali. He emphasised the practice of pranayama and claims to have used it to cure various diseases.
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, India, 1921-1990 incorporated within Raja Yoga, advanced meditation techniques from the tantras. He is the founder of Ananda Marga.
Swami Maitreyananda of Uruguay is the president of the International Yoga Federation. He united international, continental, national and regional yoga association, masters, ashrams, schools, and linages all over the world for the first time in history of the world wide yoga community. Swami Maitreya teaches Integral Yoga and Maha Yoga
Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda is the author of the scientific master-system Yoga in Daily Life and founder of the International Sri Deep Madhavananda Ashram Fellowship. He has been living in Vienna, Austria since 1972.

See also
Hindu Philosophy
Raja Yoga

Anahata Yoga
Bikram Yoga
Naked yoga
Sahaja Yoga
Surat Shabda Yoga
Tsa lung Trul khor

List of Hatha Yoga Postures
Seven stages
Yoga (alternative medicine)
Yoga as exercise

External links
Aspects of Yoga — articles on meditation, japa, and other facets of Inner Life
The Philosophy of Yoga - An Aesthetic Appraisal by Sri Nitin Kumar.
More information about yoga and practising methods


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