Purpose of Yoga
The purpose of Yoga is to take the mind to a level of perfect concentration. A state where there are no thought waves. It is said that in this state, we realize true knowledge of ourselves and creation. It is a state of expanding consciousness such that it merges with universal consciousness. That is why, Yoga is also described as ‘union’ or ‘becoming part of’.
Evolution of Types of Yoga
There are definitions and explanations given in different ways. However, this can only be achieved through perfect concentration of the mind. There are so many different types of minds, that there cannot be one identical path for everyone. That is where a Guru would come into the picture. A guru was a Rishi who would know the type of mind of the student and accordingly prescribe the path and the techniques to follow. Over the centuries, some of them became more prevalent and at some stage, these started getting documented. So the purpose and meaning of Yoga is the same and at the higher levels, it is all about meditation and concentration. However, to prepare us, the techniques could be different. These are what are known as the types of Yoga.
Different Types of Yoga
Let us look at some of the types of Yoga. There are numerous types of Yoga. There are various techniques and tools. Since Yoga is so vast, anyone can pick up a small tool, technique or path and call it something. However, they are not exclusive to each other. In the Yoga Sutra, one can find almost 17 techniques or ‘types’ of Yoga. However, most of them are meant for very spiritually advanced students who have a steady mind. Let us look at some of the more popular or heard of types of Yoga:
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Hatha Yoga
- Kriya Yoga
- Tantra Yoga
- Japa Yoga
- Mantra Yoga
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali has put forward Ashtanga Yoga as the most appropriate for all individuals. Ashta means eight and Anga means body or parts of a body. So the eight parts of the body of Yoga is called Ashtanga Yoga. The eight steps or parts are:
1) Yama – These are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (control on sensory pleasures) and Aparigraha (non-hoarding or non-accumulation).
2) Niyama – These are Saucha (physical and mental cleanliness), Santosh (contentment), Tapa (perseverance), Swadhyaya (self study) and Ishwar Pranidhana (Faith in a higher power)
3) Asana – These are physical practices to train the mind and make the body ready for the following stages.
4) Pranayama – Control of the energy force which is represented through breathing. This helps to control and calm the mind and also provides a lot of physiological and psychic benefits.
5) Pratyahara – This is withdrawal or cessation of desires and attraction to sensory objects. It is only when we are free from desires can we concentrate.
6) Dharana – This is the initial stage of going deeper within by concentrating on a mental object, physical object or some internal process or body part as given by a guru.
7) Dhyana – This is a deeper level of concentration where one is completely ready for the final stage.
8) Samadhi – This is the stage when the entire mind is concentrated fully with no thought waves. There is realization of true knowledge and an individual gets liberated from the cycle of births and deaths.
The Yoga Sutras mention Asanas and Pranayamas but nothing more is given. To understand and practice these, one has to refer to Hatha Yoga. Hatha means perseverance. At the same time it also means balancing the two aspects of every individual. When perfect balance is achieved, realization occurs. Hatha Yoga has a much stronger emphasis on the physical practices to prepare for meditation.
There are stringent routines, discipline and diet requirements. There are asanas and cleansing processes called kriyas to prepare the body for pranayama. There are Bandhas (locks) and Mudras (positions and gestures). The entire psychic operation of the body is explained in Hatha Yoga scriptures. This is where we come to know of chakras, nadis and kundalini.
The last three niyamas constitute Kriya Yoga, viz; Tapa, Swadhyaya, Ishwar Pranidhana. By itself, this is a difficult path but is appropriate for individuals who have a lot of faith and are work oriented.
Tapa means to persevere in your path to Yoga. Obstacles are only learning opportunities and not a problem. Swadhyaya means studying the self internally, including the mind and constantly improving. Ishwar Pranidhana means to have faith in a higher power. There should be no goals or expectations or targets of any kind. The moment goals or expectations enter the picture, Yoga ends.
Tantra means expanding consciousness. Tantra makes use of the five senses to transcend them and reach a stage or realization. It makes use of sounds, symbols, colors, smells, touch, sex and psychology to reach the highest stages. This is why it is known to be dangerous. If one does not have the right guru, it can destroy the psyche.
There are four main types of Tantra: Vishnu Tantra, Shaiva Tantra, Shakta Tantra and Buddhist Tibetan Tantra. There are good tantriks and tantriks who misuse their knowledge and powers. There are are quite a few tantra scriptures and a well laid out path, similar to the Yoga Sutras. There are types of mind which are explained, psychology, what to do with each type of mind, etc.
Mantra is a syllable or a word given by a guru. The mantra need not have any meaning at all. It is the sound and the intonation which is important as it activates psychic centers and takes the student to a higher level of consciousness. Since mantras impact us significantly, we cannot pick up any word and syllable and practice. It can harms us physiologically and mentally. However, there are some common mantras given which everyone can safely practice. Two examples of such mantras are ‘Om’ and Gayatri Mantra.
Constant chanting of a mantra is Japa. Japa is of three types: a) Normal audible chanting b) Very subtle chanting with barely any sound and c) Chanting in the mind and internalizing it. There are some people who also write mantras as it is difficult to recite in the mind. There are some who make use of external aids like a counting beads mala.
To sum up, there are different types of Yoga, but all with the same purpose. The types are determined by a Guru. The most practical type of Yoga for all of us is Ashtanga Yoga as the first three steps can be practiced even without a guru. To make a beginning with Yoga, take our traditional online yoga programs.