The word ‘Yoga’ etymologically came from the word ‘Yuj’. ‘Yuj’ is a Sanskrit word. It means ‘Union’, ‘To Unite’, or ‘To Join’. The word itself is very significant and powerful and can be understood from different perspectives. It is the union between body and mind, the union between outer world and inner world, the relation between self and mother Earth, and the relation between self and the universe. It can also be interpreted as the relation of self with the larger community or society, it helps to turn outward sense organs to the inner consciousness for self-enlightenment through self-development, to find self as the part of one truth, to discover oneself as inseparable from cosmic events.
Commonly, we understand Yoga as a set of guided exercises (‘Asana’), which further extends to breathing practices, meditation, etc. Surprisingly, the ancient text ‘Patanjali Yoga Sutra’, considered as the oldest structured text of Yoga, does not refer to any particular Asana, except a small definition of Asana, and few references to breathing exercises (‘Pranayama’). Later, Hatha Yoga Pradipika described various Asanas in detail. From a timeline perspective, the Yoga journey can be traced back to around 6000 to 5000 BC. Patanjali Yoga Sutra defines the start of the classical or practical Yoga period around 2000 BC, while Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written around 1400 CE. This essentially means that our ancestors realized the benefit of Yoga around 5000 years ago! Interestingly, in almost a similar timeframe when people of this ancient Indian culture were thinking about the philosophical aspect of life and how present life can be enlightened, the people of the Egyptian civilization were fascinated about the afterlife.
Nowadays, mostly because of a narrow outlook, Yoga is attached to a specific religion. If we look back at the history of Yoga and its originating timeline, it would be understood that at that point in time, there were no such concepts of religion. Religion evolved much later to fulfill the specific interests of people. So, it will be wise not to tag Yoga to any specific religion. Also, many of us think that as Sanskrit verses are chanted often while Yoga is practiced, and as Sanskrit is again casually tagged as the language of a specific religion, Yoga is part of that religious culture. Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages. It was never the case that only people of any particular religion used to speak in Sanskrit. Sanskrit was a popular language at that time and was used by many religions such as Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Many of the practices and poses of Yoga are in some way or another being practiced by people of various religions.
Yoga is not only Asanas (exercises), meditation, breathing practices, not the ritual of any particular religion, and does not belong to any particular race of people. Then, the obvious question is what is ‘Yoga’ then? Yoga is a philosophy (‘Darshan’). Yoga is a science. Yoga is a way of life. Yoga is the culture of human beings. Yoga is a way of uplifting our own life. Yoga is a method of exploring our inner capability, and it helps to invoke the true potential to be used for the well-being of self and society. Yoga is the way of integrated development of a human being. At the very beginning of his famous Yoga Sutras, Patanjali talked about ‘Yama’ and Niyama. Yama is social restraint or moral discipline, whereas Niyama is personal duties or observances. So, it shows the way of how to be good to ourselves, and how to be good for others as well. Yoga helps us to know and realize ourselves better. If we are able to realize ourselves, only then is it possible to understand others. If we realize ourselves, we understand what impacts us, what is good for us, and
what is not. When we have that realization, then we can extend that experience to others. If we cannot determine what we really want in our life, what we will do after accruing all materialistic happiness, and what will happen with all the wealth we gathered at the cost of the pain of others (directly or indirectly), this stealing of resources will continue. And this will in one way or another impact others in society. Essentially Yoga philosophy helps us to learn how to live with minimum things and with real happiness, which originates inside, how to embrace all, and how to express our gratitude for being a small but essential part of the whole. So, Yoga is not asana or meditation only, Yoga should be practiced at every action, thought, and opportunity of life. Yoga is the lifestyle. If we do not think about ourselves, and our own family; if we do not admire our office colleagues, if we do not help our neighbors and society where we live; if we do not protect the environment, Mother Earth, and this universe; how much every morning we do Yoga and read texts, we are actually making ourselves oblivious. This tradition will definitely percolate to the next generation to come and we all be living in a world of lies.
Broadly there are four paths of Yoga, in their order of difficulty of practicing and realizing its true potential – Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Janna Yoga, and Raj Yoga. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion and surrendering to the Divine, and may start with surrendering to the Guru (master), friend, or family where we have a strong emotional bond. Janna yoga is the path of wisdom or enlightenment for the ultimate truth by being able to discriminate between real and non-real. Raj Yoga is said to be the most difficult path where the person can act as the King of his own mind, through the prolonged practice of meditation and bringing control over the mind.
Now, the most popular and widespread Yoga path is Karma Yoga for the common people like me. ‘Karma’ means action, what we do. It is selfless karma without any purposeful attachment to the outcome, it is the service to others (Seva) without discriminating against anyone by any means, it is the service to others treating them as divine entities where personal benefit does not influence the action. It is important to understand Karma Yoga properly as it is different from than other three paths of Yoga, and more so as this is the Yoga which gives more importance to others than self. The people who follow Karma Yoga should be extremely passionate about life, but without being passionate about their own interests and outcome of action. He/she should be honest, cheerful, positive, compassionate, believe in equality, and respect others through his/her own actions and words. Karma Yoga practitioners do not differentiate between different types of works and believe every such action in its own way leads to the betterment of this society. He/she is the warrior to establish the truths, which are good for society. So, the teacher (Lord Krishna) teaches his student (Arjuna) at the very beginning of his journey for the battle of truth, about his own duty as a warrior as part of Karma Yoga followed by the philosophy of life and death (Sankhya Darshan).
Karma is not about giving up everything when it is said to be detachment from the outcome. We can understand this more with some examples of what comes as the result of any action. The outcome of any action broadly can be classified into five aspects:
We should consider the first three with equanimity, meaning that we should accept good & bad both equally and will not attach ourselves too much to either. The fourth one is very important as it is something that is our very own, to be internalized. The fifth one should be given up, which means any benefit/loss that resulted from this action is not ours. We should neither be proud nor be depressed by this outcome as it is in no way our own. We should work with all honest intentions and that will affect us positively.
Many texts talk about Moksha as the ultimate goal of life. Some of the prominent religious philosophies believe that our life is the result of curses and misery, and we should work to break this bond of birth-death-re-birth cycle and liberate ourselves so that we can stop this journey of coming back. Personally, I believe that this is the blissful opportunity to experience this beautiful creation and to be able to contribute to this creation which has been glorified by many great people/creatures. Without this birth, we would have not been able to realize this beautiful nature, its people, creatures, and cultures. Given the chance, I would love to come back as many times as it may be possible. So, Moksha (freedom from the death-birth cycle, or sorrows) is a very personal aim. By achieving Moksha, it does not help any person other than the one who achieved it. Not everyone can practice ultimate Moksha and it is not needed either. If that is the case, this world will not run, it will lose the rhythm of life. One prescription may not be suitable for all. When we practice Yoga, we try to get a different type of ‘Moksha’ – we become free from our own ego. The practice of Yoga should be adopted based on individual condition and choice. Yoga is for self-realization, understanding our own core strengths and weaknesses for ourselves as well as for the whole. There is no existence of self without the whole. Yoga is for the betterment of the individual, for the betterment of mankind, and for a better world of tomorrow. So, Yoga is not about 84 lakhs of Asanas, Yoga is life-long learning. Yoga should become our lifestyle, not part-time.