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Talk Delivered in Yog Parv” – Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, 24th June 2015

ESSENCE OF YOGA

Dr.M.Jayaraman, Assistant Director, Research

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram

An article in Sunday Review of the New York times titled “How Yoga Won the West ”

that appeared during October 2011, notes that yoga is a 6 billion industry in the United

States. It also states “If you are annoyed that your local gas station is now a Yoga
studio, you might blame Vivekananda for having introduced it into National
conversation”. Such is the following and popularity that yoga has attained world over.
The origin of such Yoga lies in Vedas, which, German Indologist Maxmuller calls as the
oldest text of the world.

मन उत िधयः

ṛgveda 5.81.1

This reference to Yoga is from the firth mandala of Rgveda. This mantra speaks of
being mindful in actions (which is Yoga) to attain the desired benefits.
Kaṭhopaniṣad (2.3.11) states –

तां योगिमित

Firm control over the senses is stated as Yoga.


The same Upanishad proclaims (1.2.12) –

देवं धीरो जहाित

An intelligent person realizes the inner most self with yoga (concentration of the mind)
and overcomes happiness and despair.
These and many such references from the Vedas and the upaniṣads not only firmly

testify the Vedic origins of Yoga, but also underline what yoga essentially is. Further,

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Shri Krishna in Bhagavadgītā glorifies Yoga with a host of memorable definitions such
as -

योग ।
yoga is balance of mind 2.48

तं दु:खसंयोगिवयोगं
Yoga is the disjunction of the connection with suffering
योगः कौशलम्।
Yoga is dexterity of work.
Though this is the fact but, going by current understanding, Yoga is considered as a set

of physical exercises and breathing practices to keep the body fit. Referring again to the
New York times article mentioned earlier - “Yoga in the US is an exercise cult”.

Originally, Yoga is considered as one among the six major Vedic schools of philosophy.

The other five are Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṅkhya, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta. Based on the
experience regarding western systems, the term ‘philosophy’ gives us an impression

that it is intellectual jugglery, armchair speculation and has no direct bearing on our

lives. But philosophy in Indian context is very close to life and it makes life fruitful. It is
eminently true with regard to Yoga system of philosophy.

Patañjali ’s yogasūtras is considered as the foundational work in the field of yoga which

was written in the beginning of the common era or just before that period. Yoga

according to Patañjali, is getting established in one’s own true nature (draṣṭuḥ svarūpe
avasthānam) by calming and silencing the mind (cittavṛtti-nirodha).

One has to tune oneself to realize one’s own true essence. This attunement happens

when the entire being is involved in this process. Otherwise, it become lopsided and

impractical. Human existence has many layers including physical, intellectual, emotional

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and spiritual levels. These are stated as pañcakośas in Taittirīya Upaniṣad. The five
sheaths are - “annamaya, prāṇamaya, manomaya vijñānamaya and ānandamaya”.

Patañjali provides a powerful set of tools called Aṣṭāṅgayoga, that leads a practitioner
towards his real self by beneficially contributing to the well being of each of these layers

and gradually orienting them towards the sublime goal of self-realization. The eight

limbs that form part of Aṣṭāṅgayoga are – Yama, Niyama, Āsana Prāṇāyāma

Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna and Samādhi.

It is very important to note here that before – the most popular limb of yoga i.e
Yogāsanas, Patañjali prescribes two yogāṅgas namely Yama and Niyama. Swami

Vivekananda states - human beings should strive for “ātmano mokṣārthaṃ jagaddhitāya
ca” (liberation of the self and also welfare of the world). Inclusion of Yama and Niyama

by Patañjali specifically serves this purpose. In a society that lacks cohesion and

harmony, it would be near impossible to strive for perfection, excellence and self-

realization. So, Yama and Niyama are the therapeutic prescriptions of Patañjali for
social health. For individual health, Pathya (dietary restrictions) and Bheṣaja

(medication) go hand in hand. Similarly for social health (jagaddhita/ samājahita), Yama

is pathya and Niyama is Bheṣaja. Yama includes Ahiṃsā, Satya, Astyena,


Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. i.e abstaining from violence, falsehood, stealing,

control in indulgence in sensual pleasure and abstaining from borrowing. Niyama


includes – Śauca, Santoṣa, Tapas, Svādhyāya and Īśvarapraṇidhāna – i.e cleanliness,

contentment, self purification through austerities, study for self improvement and

surrender to higher power.

Only after addressing the most important and mostly ignored issue of a health &

harmony of the society, Patañjali turns his attention to other limbs of Yoga for individual

wellbeing and self-realization. He presents – Āsanas for physical firmness and fitness,

Prāṇāyāma for balance of breath, Pratyāhāra for the regulation of the operations of the

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sense organs, Dhāraṇā and Dhyāna to discipline and sublimate the mind and Samādhi
to feel or realize one’s true blissful nature.

This gradual progression from the level of social health to self realization is what has
made this ancient Indian system of knowledge truly universal. The fundamental

approach of Patañjali to give beneficial touch to all layers of human existence has

caught the imagination of people of all walks of life cutting across professions and has
impelled them to embrace yoga. Not only in contemporary times, even in ancient times

various disciplines adapted/accepted Yoga. Śaṅkarācārya, great Vedantic philosopher


and a staunch advaitin, softens his stand with regard to the dualistic Yoga. He reveals

his regard to yoga in his commentary to Brahmasūtra (2.1.3).He states - though yoga
proposes duality as the ultimate reality, still one cannot ignore the important disciplines
like āsana, prāṇāyāma and mediation that form part of yoga which are essentially Vedic
in nature.

Buddhism, Tantrasastra, Ayurveda and even the disciplines of fine arts including

Natyasastra (which is sometimes called as Nāṭyayoga) and saṅgīta (which is glorified as


Nādopāsana, which resembles Nādānusandhāna a yogic practice) have accepted yoga

as an integral part of their systems.

Numerous commentaries on Patañjali s yogasūtras were written, including the one’s by


Vyāsa and Śaṅkara. Many independent texts on yoga came to be composed. A

separate class of upaniṣads Yoga upaniṣads emerged. Further, based on Pātañjala

Aṣṭāñga , various branches of Yoga evolved in the period of two millennia post-patañjali.

Some such branches of Yoga that evolved out of Patañjali’s thought include

Mantrayoga, Layayoga, Hathayoga, Rājayoga, Tārakayoga, Kuṇḍalinī yoga, Śiva yoga

etc. In these later branches of yoga, Hatha yoga, that focuses more on attaining

physical agility and fitness has gained enormous popularity in modern times.

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Therapeutic yoga that has evolved out of this branch of Yoga has benefitted a huge
section of humanity cutting across continents irrespective of age, gender and socio-

economic considerations. Unfortunately, this also has led to situation where yoga is
being seen through the pin-hole of health and fitness. But as seen earlier, Yoga is a

vast estate of knowledge that has the potential to unlock enormous possibilities in

human beings. Even Haṭhayogapradīpikā, an important text on Haṭhayoga states

“Haṭha is a ladder towards Rājayoga” (rājayogam āroḍhum icchoḥ adhirohiṇīva). Hatha


should be practiced as a stepping stone towards the royal and grand objective of self –

realization, beyond health benefits.

All improvements, improvisations, modifications to suit current need to the field of yoga
generated/ supproted by scientific scrutiny and systematic study are welcome. But it is

essential that these edifices or yogic superstructures emerge on the systematic, holistic,

universal and strong foundation laid by the Aṣṭāṅgayoga of Patañjali.

To conclude it would be apt to quote from Yogacarya Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the

guru of Yoga luminaries like BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi jois and TKV Desikachar. In one of

his compositions he states –


फले

Sustained practice of Yoga bestows Bhukti – worldly benefits (like health and wellbeing)
and also Mukti – spiritual realization.
Thus, understanding the essential spirit of yoga and practicing it appropriately would

indeed ensure universal wellbeing (jagaddhita) and self-liberation (ātmano mokṣa) as

averred by Swami Vivekananda. This in short is the potential of yoga and essence of
Yoga.