Why is yoga necessary? There are different answers to this question. On the physical level, it optimizes the body's abilities and functions, and that's another workshop. On a deeper, more spiritual level, we learned that without a consistent asana practice, meditation and in-depth study are next to impossible. Thousands of years ago, people noticed that when they sat down to meditate, they could not concentrate--their bodies were jittery. Hatha yoga was created to "still the body," preparing it for meditation. This is a moving meditation, and it is the beginning of the mastering of one's body. It is the external work, meaning it's observable, and repeatable. So it is scientific. Then the work turns internal when the yogi turns his attention inward to connect to his bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. Succinctly, this is mindfulness. This internal work is also observable, especially to an expert, but the intricacies are more subtle, so the novice may not notice them. With time and practice, however, all things sensory occur to the practitioner. Meanwhile, alternating from external movement to inward noticing, a yogi is present with himself. If both is done at the same time, the experience is profound.
Yoga is far beyond just flexing your body in a fancy studio. Yoga is a way of life that leads to liberation (nirvana or mukthi). In a broad way, there are 4 main types of Yoga - each path being a unique approach to achieving liberation.
· Gyana Yoga - achieving liberation through the development of the mind by accumulating knowledge and sharpening wisdom. This deals with the philosophical & scientific aspects of universe.
· Karma Yoga - achieving liberation by doing your duties and following your passion the best way possible. The key to karma, is to follow the passion to do the good stuff (from starting your business to running your country to just being a good worker) without expecting the result. Because, according to karma philosophy, you will ultimately get what your work deserves.
· Raja Yoga - this is methodically following a series of exercises to achieve liberation. Practically speaking, yoga means Raja yoga and I will explain it in detail.
· Bhakti Yoga this is the religious part of Hinduism where it deals with gods, temples and worship. This part is a lot like Christianity.
Raja Yoga (when term yoga is used without any adjective, it is Raja Yoga) has 8 main components to be followed in order.
· Yama - this is the moral aspect of Yoga practise. It comprises of Satya (being truthful and honest), ahimsa (not doing any harm to anybody), aparigraha (not coveting anybody's wealth). Essentially it means be good. Unless you are good, your mind will wander in guilt when you meditate.
· Niyama - this is the one that deals with all the duties. It deals with cleanliness, and all the duties you have to do to support the world around you (including your parents, animals around you and your society at large). Essentially it means do good things. "Doing" keeps you active and keeps you in harmony.
· Asana - Now we are getting to physical aspect of Yoga. This includes 100s of asanas (postures) that keeps your body healthy and glands maintained correct. Essentially it means stay healthy. Unless you are healthy, your mind will wander due to pain & sickness.
· Pranayama - This is the breathe control part of Yoga. In Yoga philosophy, controlling and organizing breath patterns is considered the essential part of mastering the mind.
· Prathyahara - This is the part that deals with taking your senses away from the other objects. You could find a quiet place to sit and "meditate" without being disturbed by the world around you.
· Dharana - This is intense focus on a particular object that improves concentration. The purpose of this exercise is to have the mind focus on only one thing at a time.
· Dhyana - At this point, you are not focusing anything and let your mind find a way on its own. This is intense meditation.
· Samadhi - This is the point of complete liberation.
Yoga philosophy is thus all about mastering mind to achieving liberation. In Raja yoga it puts up paths to be followed in order to make the mind in harmony and if you think about it, it is very practical.