Yoga is a powerful tool to help you blossom and reach your full human potential. The seeds are all within you, yoga is the water, the sunlight, the nutrients and the love they need in order to make your life vibrant, beautiful and full of sweet fragrance. It is not a religion, it is really a science with which to develop your body, mind and spirit. The ultimate goal of Yoga, which literally means, Union, is to reunite you with the Universal Source. You may call this Universal Source by any name you wish, God, Brahman, Allah, Christ Consciousness, Buddha Nature etc, Yoga is a pathway to bring you to the realization that you and this Universal Source are inseparably One.
There are many branches of Yoga, such as Bhakti Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Laya Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Kundalini Yoga to name a few. These all have the same one goal, unification with the Universal Source, but each follow a different path to get there. Depending on your personality one or the other path may suit you better.
Here is a description of some of the major branches of Yoga:
* Bhakti Yoga: Emphasizes love as the pathway to liberation and Union.
* Jnana Yoga: Emphasizes the intellectual and philosophical approach to penetrate the illusion of dualistic reality.
* Karma Yoga: Emphasizes right action and selfless service as the path to moksha (liberation).
* Kundalini Yoga: Emphasizes the activation of Kundalini Shakti for enlightenment.
* Raja Yoga: Considered the Scientific approach, this branch emphasizes Sage Pantanjali’s 8 step path to Self-Realization.
In this article I will expand on Raja Yoga as that is perhaps the most prevalent and popular Yoga system in use today.
As indicated above Raja Yoga employs Sage Pantanjali’s 8 step path to achieve Union with the Supreme. This 8 step system (ashtanga) compromises of the following parts. Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and finally Samadhi. This 8 step path is designed to bring about physical, emotion and mental harmony; and in the advanced practices of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi lead to the cessation of thoughts allowing the mind to realize that Reality is indeed Singular, Whole and indivisible.
Here is a description of the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga:
1. Yamas: Yamas are abstensions. They are truth, nonviolence, control of sexual energy, nonstealing and noncovetousness.
2. Niyams: Niyams are observances. They are austerities, purity, contentment, study and egolessness.
3. Asanas: Steady postures and poses.
4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of the vital energy.
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the Senses.
6. Dharana: Concentration of the mind.
7. Dhyana: Meditation.
8. Samadhi: Union with the Supreme Consciousness.
The regular practice of Raja Yoga promotes health, happiness and insight. Although the ultimate goal of Yoga is Union with the Supreme, many material benefits are also obtained by its practice. Today, many ailments are treated via the use of Yoga asanas and pranayamas, and the stress reducing benefits of Yoga meditation are becoming more and more valuable to us given our hectic and frantic lifestyles. Furthermore, the principles of humility, truth and other high values that Yoga promotes are helping to offset some of the excessive materialism and greed that is eroding the peace and spirit of our society today.
The most important aspect of Yoga is that it is based on Self-Realization. In other words, you are given the tools required, and using them you bring about the necessary transformations in yourself to reach your true potential in life. It is now often said, that the next great teachers will arise from the West. This is because the West has an empirical approach to things, as opposed to superstition and blind faith. If something works it is embraced and utilized, if something does not prove to work, it is discarded as junk. This is probably the reason why Yoga has grown in such popularity here in the West, because it works. So dive in and reap the benefits.