Spiritual Life Society & Hudson Yoga Center


What is Yoga ?

Yoga Glossary


AUM What is Yoga

Yoga is a sanskrit word that comes from the same root as the latin "yoke" - to join together. Perhaps the best translation of it would be "union".  

Union of what? Well that depends on your perspective, whether practical, scientific, religious, or spiritual. Here are some the common "unions" that people seek: 

So Yoga is "union".   A sage named Patanjali codified Yoga many thousands of years ago. (He did not originate Yoga, just wrote down the practices).   In his work called the "Yoga Sutras" he says,  
"Yoga is the control of the vrittis of the mind". 
The vrittis are waves or modifications such as thoughts, memories, and emotions. It is not that these waves are bad or evil, but just as the waves of a lake scatter the light and keep you from seeing your reflection, the vrittis keep you from seeing your true self. He goes on to say,  
"When the vrittis are controlled, the seer abides in his own true nature". 
Here is another way to look at it: Everything has a "true nature", that essence that comes forth when you just leave things alone in their natural environment. For example:   So, what is the true nature of a human being - your true nature? Someone searching for this, someone trying to be one with their own true nature, is a yogi (male) or yogini (female).  

And by the way, the yogis, and sages of all tradition, say that your true nature is peace, bliss, and happiness. That you are truly divine. 

To learn more about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, follow one of these links:
"Patanjali's Vision of Oneness", Translation by Swami Venkatesanda
"The Threads of Union", Translation courtesy Bon Giovanni
"The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali", interpreted by William Q. Judge (Theosophical University Press Edition)
"The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali", Translation by Alice Bailey & Djwhal Khul

Now, just because someone is a yogi, or studying Yoga, you really don't know that much about him/her. There are many kinds of Yoga, or paths leading to union. If someone says they are a scientist, you don't really know whether they spend all day in the chemistry lab or all night looking at stars. All you know is that they are following a systematic path towards knowledge. Yoga is like that. Some yogis meditate, some pray, some contemplate. Some dance all day long singing Hare Krishna. Different systems of Yoga are suitable for different personality types, so pick the path that calls to you. Honor all the paths, but follow one.  

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AUM What is Astanga Yoga (a.k.a. Raja Yoga)?

Astanga Yoga is the most systematic branch of yoga. Astanga Yoga means 8-limbed yoga or 8-runged yoga because there are eight main parts to it. It has been around for thousands of years, but was first written down by a sage named Patnjalli about 2000 years ago. Astanga Yoga is often called "Raja Yoga", which means the "Royal" Yoga. This name was actually coined at the turn of the century by Swami Vivekannanda, who thought Westerners would have a hard time saying "Astanga"!  

Note: There are yoga schools in the U.S.A. that call their teachings "Astanga Yoga". While these schools have some wonderful teachings, the name can be a bit misleading, as what some of them often teach an intense style of asanas. This should not be confused with the "classical" teachings of Patantaji in the Yoga Sutras.

The eight steps of Astanga Yoga are:  

  1. Yama, or Controls or Restraints 
    • Ahmisa - Non-violence, non-injury, living to love and serve 
    • Satya - Truthfullenss, eliminating falsehood from our lives 
    • Asteya - Non-stealing, not taking that which is not ours 
    • Bramacharya - Non-indulgence, not disturbing the harmony and equilibrium of our lives 
    • Aparigraha - Non-possesiveness, yielding, letting go of unnecessary objects which obstruct our progress 
  2. Niyama, or Observances or Actions 
    • Shaucha - Purifying body, mind, and spirit 
    • Samtosha - Contentment, cultivating the inner joys shich come with freedom from desire 
    • Tapas - Self-discipline, developing a strong will, training the habits of body and mind 
    • Svadhyaya - Self-study 
    • Ishwara Prandihana - Self-surrender to our higher consciousness, our true inner self, and/or to god (notice that yoga acknowledges that there is a god, but does not name any particular god or prescribe particular religious practices). 
  3. Asana, or Posture 
  4. Pranayama, Control of the Life Energy, often called the "Science of Breath" (but it is much more than that). 
  5. Pratyahara, Control of the Senses 
  6. Dharana, or Concentration, learning to focus the find into one point 
  7. Dhyana, or Meditation, sustaining the mind on one-point 
  8. Samhadi, or Self-Realization, transcending the mind, going beyond the normal limits of self or ego, becoming one with substance and flow of creation. 

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AUM What is Hatha Yoga

Most people refer to the "twisty exercises" or postures as "yoga" or "hatha yoga". Actually the postures are just the third step (asana) of Hatha Yoga, which includes the first four steps listed above, Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama.  

Even so, most yoga classes at community centers and even many yoga centers are on the postures.  

Cobra Posture

"Ha-tha" is actually a compound of two sanskrit words, "ha" meaning sun, and "tha" meaning moon. So hatha yoga is really the "union of the sun and moon". This refers to bringing together our light and dark sides, our masculine (strength) and feminine (gentle) sides, our constant nature and our changing nature. In addition to sun-moon, Hatha also means force and flexibility.  

Have you ever been by a lake, or on a mountain, or just about anywhere at sunrise or sunset? Did you notice how calm and still the world becomes? This feeling that comes at the joining of day and night, the union of sun and moon, is the goal of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is seen as a preparation for the higher steps of Astanga Yoga. It makes the body become comfortable and steady so that it is not an obstacle in achieving the subtler states that meditation makes accessable.  

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AUM What is Pranayama and the "Science of Breath"?

"Prana" (with a capital "P") is the life energy, and Pranayama is the "control of the life energy. Because "prana" (with a little "P") means breath, many people refer to the Pranayama as "The Science of Breath". Technically, this is incorrect, because there are four other "life energies" in addition to breath. On a practical basis, though, you may think of Pranayama as the "Science of Breath" because for beginners, most of the practices would be breathing exercises. Many of the more advanced exercises (both breathing and otherwise) often seem very strange to those who are not familiar with them. Some of the effects of these advanced practices can be very gentle and subtle, like just feeling balanced, but many can produce powerful reactions and are best done under the guidance of a good teacher. 

One of the best books on the subject is called (surprise) Science of Breath by Swami Rama, Rudolph Balentine, M.D., and Alan Hymes, M.D.
Click here to see some reviews of Science of Breath

May the Force be with you!  

Science of Breath

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AUM What is Meditation?

Dhyana, or Meditation the 7th limb of Astanga yoga. It is a state of awareness attained when one is able to sustain the mind on a single point. In this state. our awareness is different from our everyday awareness just as a laser beam is different from a flashlight. A flashlight can illuminate a large area, but a laser, even a very low power laser, can cut through solid objects. The best description of a meditative mind is a "one-pointed mind".

Many people confuse meditation with contemplation or prayer. While these are all useful and helpful practices, they are very different from meditation. If prayer is "asking" then mediation is "listening". If contemplation is "thinking/considering" then meditation is "watching".

One of the intermediate/advanced books on the subject is called Mantra & Mediation" by Pandit Usharbudh Arya, D. Litt
Click here to see some reviews of Mantra & Meditation

Other good books can be found in our book section.!  

Mantra & Meditation

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AUM What is Samadhi?

Samhadi, or Self-Realization, is the last step of Astanga Yoga. It is a transcendence of the mind, going beyond the normal limits of what we normally call our self or ego. It is becoming one with the substance and flow of creation. It is like the feeling when we become totally lost in something outside of ourselves, perhaps when watching a beautiful sunset or waterfall, being absorbed in a game or story, or watching your children experience joy.  

Interestingly enough, it is not the goal! It is just one of the tools that a yogi uses in discovering the inner light!  

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Spiritual Life Society and Hudson Yoga Center
One East Main Street, Hudson, Ohio   44236   USA
330-650-1216 or 330-342-2479   e-mail: info@aum.org