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Yoga is a philosophical paradigm and lifestyle more than just an aerobic exercise. In the west, it is only associated with a sequence of poses, though it is worth revisiting what is behind the physical practice.
Yoga is an invitation to live a more disciplined life with the goal of alleviating suffering. Like other eastern philosophical frameworks, the ultimate purpose is to awaken to a divine essence, discerning or remembering who we really are and our purpose. Beyond any metaphysical claims, the basic argument is that the identification with body and mind creates a sense that there is a self at the center of the experience, which is ultimately the cause of suffering. From an eastern perspective, suffering is different from physical pain; rather, it’s emotional and spiritual turmoil.
Yoga means union. It invites us to reconnect through service, self-mastery, faithfulness, and wisdom to what is known as the source of our being. A non-dual reality where body, mind, breath, and environment reconnect to the larger unity of consciousness. A state of being where one has broken the illusion of separateness, resulting in the ego’s dissolution.
The original text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, can be traced to an Indian sage named Patanjali around 2000 years ago. He offered 196 “threads” of wisdom that could be argued were synthesized from former Hindu scripts— The Vedas, The Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita. Pantajali provided four chapters where he summarized different categorizations of Yoga, known as Ashtanga or “8 Limbs of Yoga.” Yoga Asanas referred to as the physical exercise of the practice, form just one limb of Patanjali’s scheme.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
- Samadhi Pada (Chapter on Enlightenment)
- Sadhana Pada (Chapter on Practice)
- Vibhuti Pada (Chapter on Powers or Manifestations)
- Kaivalyam Pada (Chapter on Liberation)
The 8 Limbs of Yoga: Moving from outside to inside, from the outer sphere of the body to the inner sphere of the spirit.
1. Yama (abstinences): Correct behavior toward others.
2. Niyama (observances): The principles by which you should live your own life.
- Asana (posture practice).
- Pranayama (control breathing).
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal): Turning the senses inward to explore the inner universe.
6. Dharana (concentration): Effortless focused attention.
7. Dhyana (meditation): A continuous flow of attention
8. Samadhi: Lost or found in the Divine; unity.
The most important line of tradition probably comes from Krishnamacharya, who is considered the “Father of Modern Yoga” for his wide influence as a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic healer, and scholar. His four most famous disciples—Jois, Iyengar, Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar—played a huge role in popularizing yoga in the West throughout the 20th century.
The philosophical framework of yoga offers four different paths to enlightenment:
- Karma Yoga (path of service)
- Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion)
- Rāja Yoga (path of mind/body mastery)
- Jñāna Yoga (path of knowledge)
The different schools of yoga all require daily rituals and practices. They all provide a path of self-study (Svadhyaya), a reduction of mind fluctuations (Chitta Vritti), identification of mental patterns (samskaras), and a heartfelt desire, a solemn vow or an authentic intention to achieve awakening (Sankalpa).
Four Paths of Yoga
Jñāna is using knowledge to have an insight into the nature of reality. Investigating the nature of non-duality, emptiness, and non-self are the ingredients to the breakout of the matrix. Waking up to the illusion that we are separate beings and that our experience is more important than the other 8 billion people and other living species.
Rāja encompasses the training of the body and minds through asanas (physical poses), pranayama (breath work), and dhyana (meditation). This one is a path of effort. It considers the body as a temple that is meant to be taken care of while at the same time using it as a vehicle to tame the mind to create stillness and a sense of being grounded. Using standing poses, forward folds, backbends, twists, and inversions create a deeper self-knowledge of the body’s capabilities. In true asana practice, there is no destination, no pose to achieve.
Bhakti is devotion toward a higher unity beyond one’s ego. Spirituality shall not be paired as the opposite of materialism but rather as the opposite of egocentrism. Finding enlightenment through devotion means not putting our own interests above the complex system of the universe and its other individuals. It recognizes that consciousness is the background that creates our common humanity with all other beings. It means acknowledging that we are very fragile and that if anything went wrong within our interdependent network, it would be our end. It is a reminder that we are not in control.
Karma is the path of action and the heart. It uses empathy and compassion as a resource to leave another being and place in better shape than we found. Finding enlightenment through service scratches the deeper need to feel useful in our tribes. It is argued that living in the service of ameliorating others suffering is the predicament for one’s own liberation from suffering.
With all love,
Santiago Barragan Noguera
Coach & Educator — Artistic Polymath
Copyright © 2023 Santiago Barragan Noguera. All rights reserved.