The word ‘yoga’ is derived from ‘yuj’, a Sanskrit verb that means ‘to unite’ (in fact, yoga shares an Indo-European root with the English verb ‘to yoke’). While the practice of yoga today is widely concerned with attaining physical fitness, its original purpose was far higher – to bring together body, mind and breath through a series of physical postures (asanas), meditation techniques and ways of living, leading to realization of the true purpose of existence – union with something bigger than ourselves.
The four, primary types of yoga are designed to suit four psychological profiles of spiritual aspirants.
- Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) for the intellectually inclined,
- Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion) for the emotional,
- Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action) for the physically active and
- Raja Yoga (Yoga of Meditation) for the contemplative individual.
These are not mutually exclusive but blend into each other in actual practice, with perhaps one being predominant, depending on the individual.
The daily practice of asanas brings a sense of well-being as the body becomes stronger, more balanced and flexible and internal organs function optimally. Deep breathing (pranayama) relaxes the mind, produces a state of joyful serenity and develops concentration, leading to great mental clarity. With regular meditation, the practitioner is able to go ever deeper within himself. The concerns of his external life become insignificant as he understands the pure nature of his Self and its link with the Universe, or what is commonly termed as God. Paradoxically, this detachment helps him function more effectively in his daily life.
Can everyone reach this idealized state? Perhaps not. But the journey is hugely fulfilling and certainly brings you closer to God.