A one-word meaning for yoga would be "identification;" identification with divinity being "realization." The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "yuj," to link, (sometimes used for sexual intercourse) to which is added the suffix "ghan," indicating completion. The English word "yoke" is from the same root. Yoga is the means by which one becomes united or re-integrated with the ultimate, supreme or divine reality of the universe.
Philosophers in general, Hindu included, assert that knowledge is based upon experience; but the Hindu differs from the others in further asserting that only outward knowledge is not enough-- to know a thing completely, both outwardly and inwardly, one has to become united with it, in effect to be absorbed into it. It is for this purpose that yoga is used.
Hindus speak of the world around us as Maya because its inner reality is hidden from us by changing forms. Intellectual knowledge is also limited by form and therefore can be only an approximation. No matter how deep our knowledge of a thing is, as long as we stay distinct from it, we can never know it completely. This is why intellectual and metaphysical revelation is called an Upanishad, or Nearest Approach.(Sit down next to)
When Hindus refer to Consciousness, they are referring to that part of us that perceives. It is important that this faculty be distinguished from the sense organs, which merely collect reflections. Sense organs are like the eye of a corpse of the reflection on water, while the Consciousness is the faculty behind them, to which they transmit their messages.
The Hindus have carried out this idea of distinction of Consciousness from sensory apparatus to its logical and, to them, desirable conclusion of freeing the Consciousness from the senses and thus letting it perceive directly and completely. This is the concept of the angel or soul, free from the envelope of life and therefore unrestricted in its knowledge. The Hindus desire to attain this Angelic state while still alive, and the path to this attainment is yoga. Thus it can be seen that yoga is a summation of the Hindu religious thought and provides as well the means for achieving the ultimate religious goal, i.e. Nirvana. The word "yoga" is synonymous with the word "religion."
The history of yoga is really the history of Brahmanism.(Classical Hinduism) It is one of its earliest offshoots and is older than any of the philosophical systems of Hinduism. All of the Vedic (Pre-Brahamism) scriptures are considered to have arisen from the knowledge gained by practicing yoga. Hence "Yoga is the guardian of Eternal Law, yoga is the guardian of knowledge."
Although yoga is older than the philosophical systems, it became attached to the Sankhya system around 200 B.C. when Patanjali systematized it in the Yoga Sutras. The Sankhya system was dualistic and held that the universe is made up of eternal universal matter and eternal universal souls. The world as we know it is a conjunction of these, for they seem to attract each other as magnets attract metal. The misery of life is that the soul confounds itself with its empirical self and is deluded into believing that it is actually composed of this matter. The Sankhya system maintained that Moksha is only achieved by philosophical insight and is thus intellectualistic. An interesting point of the union of these two systems indicates the rising tide of theism in India during Patangali's time. This is shown by the fact that the Sankhya system is atheistic, but Patangali illogically included in the Yoga Sutras an otiose, personal god who did not create anything, required no worshipping and gave no salvation, nor was salvation union with them. He was simply a spirit above good and evil, egoism, love, hate, attachment to life and any cause-and-effect relationship.
Although we traditionally think of India when yoga is mentioned, it is not unique to the Indians (except in the extensiveness with which they developed it) but is found in some of the philosophical outlooks of other countries. It has now been shown that in China, several hundred years before Indian Yoga was introduced, practices of meditation and yoga had developed. Karl Reichelt quotes Chuang-Tzu, who around 300 B.C. spoke of people who practiced intense breathing exercises to gain insight, holiness and longevity: "These people climb trees like bears in order to get fresh air." Also Dr. Friedrich Heiler's investigations show the psychological element of yoga is found not only in Hindu religion but in the "inner prayers" of medieval Christian mystics.
Yoga has only one aim, to wear the yoke of reality. But the Hindus realized that people differ from each other and that no one path could be formulated to lead all to the goal. Because of this, Hindu analysis recognizes four general kinds of persons: those who are basically reflective, those who are primarily emotional, those who are active and those who are empirical. To these four types of person correspond the many types of yoga, so that each person may follow his own path but that all may reach the same goal. But all of the pathways do have the same base of moral preliminaries. No matter which path one chooses, he must begin by such practices as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline and a compelling desire to reach the goal. As you may have realized, these basic moral rules for yoga are also basic to the later heresies of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism (even though each may interpret them differently or placer more emphasis here or there), and thus you can see the influence of the philosophy of yoga on at least four of the world's major religions.
Now, as to the various paths of yoga. We have already met Jana Yoga, the path of knowledge, in the Upanishads. Even though "Upanishad" means "Nearest Approach," it can be used to gain the ultimate, for "When the knot of ignorance breaks in their hearts, all doubts vanish, and witnessing Him, all their actions from beginningless time are dissolved." And from the Bhaqavad-Gita we met Karma Yoga, or re-integration through action. "Worshipping Him with his proper actions, a man attains realization." The secret of union through action is to perform the action for its own sake, not caring about any immediate or apparent results. "Thus shalt thou be released from the bonds of actions, fair or foul of fruits, and liberated by means of the method of re-integration which is renunciation of action, thou shalt attain Me." Also from the Gita was Bhakti Yoga, or re-integration through love. "He who exists beyond the created world, beyond the reach of the mind is gained through devotion."
Combined with these are the other principle forms of yoga, including:
Mantra Yoga, or re-integration through hermetic formula.
Here by concentrating on rhymetic repetition of the divine names, (the Mantra) or by use of rosary, a man can calm his mind and find Brahman. He would say, for instance, AUM and also SOHAM, meaning He is I, and HANSAH, I am He.
Laya Yoga, re-integration through mergence.
Laya Yoga is based on the concept that all manifestations are based on a fundamental dualism, a male principle known as the Person, and a female principle called Nature, which is coiled as in sleep around the Root Center at the base of the spine. Here the desire is to awaken the Nature energy and to bring it up to merge with the Person. This will bring peace and realization of the non-dual essence of Brahman. (In trantic Hinduism sexual union is sometimes practiced.)
Shiva Yoga, the King of Kings way to re-integration.
Although the higher goal of all the pathways is the same, i.e. absorption into Brahman, if this is taken separately from the stages of achieving it, it is called Shiva Yoga and associated with Shiva, the Lord of Sleep. "Just as the larva which associates with the bee, itself in the end becomes a bee, so the man who realizes unity with Shiva through Shiva Yoga, himself becomes one with Shiva."
Raja Yoga, the Royal Way to re-integration.
This is freedom from the movements of the mind which are the cause of man's bondage. When the mind is still, union is achieved; but before this highest of all yoga can be achieved, the physical body must be brought under control. For this purpose Hatha Yoga was developed. Hatha Yoga is spoken of as the ladder to Raja Yoga: "For the sake of Raja Yoga alone is Hatha Yoga taught." Incidentally, some exceptional people have been able to enter immediately into the meditations of Raja Yoga without first using Hatha Yoga, but these people are very rare-- most people before attempting Raja Yoga have to climb the ladder of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga, or re-integration through strength. (Hatha is sometimes translated “breath.” Hatha Yoga is the most common type of Yoga practiced in America)
This is the technical practices and disciplines by which the body and vital energies can be brought under control. The syllable "Ha" represents the moon, and the conjunction of Hatha represents the gross and subtle bodies. There are eight progressive steps grouped in the Outer and Inner stages. The Outer stages consist of the abstinences, non-violence, truth, non-stealing, chastity and non-possession; the observances, purity, contentment austerity, self-development and constant thought of duty; and the postures. The Inner stages are the withdrawal of the mind from external objects, concentration, contemplation and identification. The means by which the Outer leads to the Inner is the gateway of breath control. After the physical body has been controlled by the Outer stages, by controlling the breath the mind is brought under control; and the higher or Inner stages leading ultimately to Raja Yoga are achieved. "The Lord of yoga, through breath control, gains the eight superhuman powers. He crosses beyond the ocean of sin and virtue and freely wanders in the three worlds." It is important to remember that Hatha Yoga is used strictly as a bridge to Raja Yoga; and any practicing of it just for its physical nature, as the fakirs do in India (who, for instance, allow themselves to be buried for days to show how well they control their bodies), is by Hindu standards meaningless and in fact harmful, for it distracts from the true purpose.
By now you should be aware that if Nirvana is the goal of your life, then one of these yoga pathways is your means of attaining it. Right now you are missing your pathway because of your ignorance, so your goal should be to conquer this ignorance and to establish yourself in your particular yoga. For as Radhakrishnan put it, "Ignorance is in the center of the soul, has become co-natural to it and must be burned in the fire of knowledge and annihilated. Annihilation is the condition of abundance, death of life."
The stages of the Hatha Yoga
1. Yama (yoga practice and discipline while still living in society)
2. Nivama (going through the stage of Pabbajja, i.e., leaving all things
that tie one to earthly existence: becoming sannyasin)
3. Asana (posture practice and control)
4. Prana-yama (breathing exercises)
5. Pratyahara (the withdrawal of the senses from the world)
6. the Kasina discipline (concentration, Dharana, on the notion of the
earth as a perfect disk, absorbing the temporal earth into the timeless)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (the achievement of complete absorption, liberation,
fulfillment. The attainment of the first stage of the Raja Yoga)
to know that one has achieved samadhi is not to know it, or to have it, since I in knowing am not yet free from the knowledge that it is I who know; hence I am as yet not one with Brahman.
samadhi is possible in this life, although this life is no longer known or valued as such.
the person who has attained samadhi is called "jivanmukta" from "mukta," meaning saved or redeemed, and "jiva," living.