Wondering what is yoga about or what is yoga, benefits or pitfalls of this technique? Curious about why some yoga practitioners profess meditation while others advocate physical exercises? The soaring popularity of yoga and its benefits have brought about a lot of questions.
In this article, we will answer all of them and tell you everything from what is yoga to what is benefits of yoga practices. Also, we shall delve deeper into the types of yoga and the new variants you hear of such as aerial yoga, hot yoga, and so on.
For the past couple of decades, yoga has aroused the curiosity of many. So, if you have recently gained interest in this ancient science, then you ought to start from the very beginning. With so much commercialization going on, you must understand the actual types of yogas that emanate from the holy texts. This will clear the fog and help you sail towards your goal, whether that is physical fitness, spiritual awareness, or both. Let us start with what is yoga about and why people are so attracted to this form of fitness.
What is Yoga About?
Yoga is a spiritual practice that finds its mention in the sacred Hindu texts and has been practiced for thousands of years. It involves meditation, physical exercises known as yoga asanas, or a combination of both. The origin of Yoga has been associated with Lord Shiva, the supreme Lord of Hinduism. According to Hindu scriptures, Lord Shiva is regarded as the Destroyer of all that is evil and negative. No wonder the science of Yoga is associated with him. After all, Yoga helps destroy all that is negative, such as stress, bad thoughts, and illnesses.
Lord Shiva is also associated with infinite love, innocence, and positivity. One of Lord Shiva’s divine gifts to mankind is the knowledge and practice of Yoga. Experts in Hinduism believe that the Lord was the first to practice yoga and is therefore also referred to as ‘Adi Yogi’ or ‘The First Yogi’.
The Origin of Yoga can be traced back to the Hindu holy scriptures, the Vedas. These Vedas were written by the divine seers known as “Rishis”. These divine seers or “Rishis” are believed to have obtained this knowledge from the Supreme Being, Lord Shiva.
Some researchers, who found yoga asanas or yoga poses engraved on the stones have traced the origin of Yoga to the Old Stone Age period. Hindu scriptures are much older than that and the discovery of the pillars submerged in the seas have proven that. So, when the rest of the world was hunting for food, India was a developed and progressive nation with sound architectural monuments.
Further for the modern-day reader, doesn’t the concept of the divine origin of yoga make more sense? How on earth could anybody else get a clue that breathing in a certain way, or forming certain physical postures or yoga poses could cure certain inner physical and psychological ailments? Moreover, no seer or any person from the old stone age could have cooked up these yogic postures, breathing exercises and stated their physical and psychological benefits without modern-day technology.
Types of Yogas | A Primer on Different Types of Yoga
There are basically two different types of yoga — Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga — and everything else is a variation of these two primary forms. The Raja Yoga refers to meditation techniques while the Hatha Yoga refers to physical exercises. All other secondary forms of yoga are based on it. We shall now discuss both primary and secondary types of yoga.
Raja Yoga | What is Raja Yoga?
Raja yoga is the most beneficial type of yoga and focuses mainly on controlling the body through the mastery and absolute control over the mind. The word ‘Raja’ means ‘Kingly’, this is because the prime focus of Raja yoga is on the mind, and it refers to the mind as the king of the body. So, Raja Yoga is the process of realizing the supremacy of the mind over the body.
Raja Yoga is said to have been practiced by the ancient Hindu seers and rishis who aimed at merging with God – The Supreme King. Several thousands of years ago, these seers recorded their scientific practices in writing. These ancient texts and records form the basis of Yogic meditation.
However, 2000 years ago these written materials on Raja Yoga were put together and compiled by another well-known Seer by the name Pathanjali in his ‘Yoga Sutras’ and came to be known as ‘Pathanjali Yoga’. Although Pathanjali yoga is a derivative of Raja Yoga, it only focuses on the last two steps of the 8 steps of Raja Yoga. So, what are the eight steps of Raja Yoga? Let’s find out.
The 8 Yoga Limbs or steps of Raja Yoga
1.’Yama’ meaning a moral code of ethics or restraint.
2.’Niyama’ meaning a moral code of discipline.
3.’Asana’ meaning the postures.
4.’Pranayama’ meaning breathing practices.
5.’Pratyahara’ meaning withdrawal of senses.
6.’Dharana’ meaning concentration
7.’Dhyana’ meaning meditation practices
8.’Samadhi’ meaning ecstasy.
However, Pathanjali Yoga concentrates mainly on ‘Dhyana’ and ‘Samadhi’ – the last 2 steps of Raja Yoga.
What is Yoga Hatha?
A lot of new-age yoga practitioners ask what is Yoga Hatha but the correct question would be what is Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yoga is the genesis of all types of asanas in yoga. The word ‘Hatha’ means ‘stubbornness’, which refers to the perseverance through which the various types of asanas of yoga can be formed.
In the simplest words, Hatha Yoga is that part of yoga which involves forcing your body to do something. This ‘something’ is usually forming a Yoga Asana or ‘Posture’ along with certain breathing techniques. This may include holding a particular Yoga asana or yoga pose, or by shifting through a series of yoga postures.
The secret knowledge of Hatha yoga is said to have been delivered to Goddess Parvathi by Lord Shiva on a lonely island. At this time, a fish (‘Matsya’ in Sanskrit) overheard this in absolute stillness and was later pardoned and transformed into a ‘Siddha’ (Seer) named ‘Matsyendranaatha’.
‘Matsyendranatha’ is said to have dispersed the knowledge of Hatha yoga to several others. ‘Matsyendranatha’ and several other seers such as Adi Natha and Gorakshanath have been mentioned in ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’, a renown text on Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga and its Six Limbs
- ‘Dhyana’ meaning meditation practices.
- ‘Dharana’ meaning concentration.
- ‘Samadhi’ meaning ecstasy.
- ‘Pranayama’ meaning breathing practices.
- ‘Asana’ meaning postures.
- ‘Pratyahara’ meaning withdrawal of senses.
Texts on Hatha Yoga
‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ is a comprehensive manual on hatha yoga. It was written by Svatmarama, in 1350 A.D. and contains 15 yoga asanas.
‘Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati’ by Gorakhnath, a student of Sage Matsyendranatha.
‘Gherand Samhita’ by Gheranda.
‘Yoga Taravali’ by Adi Shankaracharya and many more.
The Vinyasa yoga is one of the popular types of yoga and is in fact, a sub-set of ‘Hatha Yoga’ which involves physical movements. However, in this type of yoga, the focus is on breathing and transitioning between the various types of asanas. In yoga, this has a special place and is professed by many.
After all, ‘Vinyasa’ means a particular set of movements combined with the appropriate breathing techniques. Therefore, according to Experts, Vinyasa yoga is the most appropriate type of yoga for weight loss. Vinyasa yoga is also the root of various yoga styles, and some of the styles that have evolved from it include the following.
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga (not to be confused with Hatha Yoga)
Ashtanga yoga is a form of Vinyasa Yoga, which is yet another type of yoga. It was Late K.Pattabhi Jois who popularized this type of yoga. Jois was a student of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.
Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was also the teacher of B.N.S.Iyengar, a renown ashtanga vinyasa yoga guru credited with the Iyengar yoga fame.
Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga
Bikram Yoga often dubbed as ‘Hot Yoga’, is yet another form of yoga that has evolved over time. This controversial type of yoga does not find a mention in any vedic texts and is performed in an artificial atmosphere (around 105 F), hence we do not recommend it. This form includes a series of 26 Yoga Asanas or Yoga Poses, done for a period of 90 minutes.
Yoga is all about nature and connecting with it, so performing it in a pre-heated room with a temperature of 105 F does not appeal to us. We do not recommend this form of Yoga.
Bikram Yoga Poses again evolve from the ancient texts on Yoga with some modification. However, we find it annoying that this form of yoga is performed in a heated room. So, we do not recommend this form of Yoga and it is for you to decide.
As a matter of fact, traditionally Yoga comes from the Hindu scriptures and there is no mention of alteration in the room temperature. In fact, it is possible to generate enough heat from within the body by following certain Yoga Practices. In fact, this is how the Hindu Seers meditated in the snow-laden Himalayas.
Before learning any form of exercise, make sure to learn from a trained professional who does not force you into difficult asanas. Know that types of asanas of yoga are to be learnt gradually, without hurting yourself.
We have discussed what is yoga about, the types of yoga, and the benefits of doing yoga. However, if you wish to know more about each of these topics, you can navigate to them. If there is something else you want to know about yoga, drop us a line and we will try to cover it.