The ancient science of yog(a)
The practice of yog(a) dates back to thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent as a pre-Vedic tradition1. It is not limited to fixed rituals, but it is the name given to the umbrella of scientific techniques which is as open and dynamic as any other branch of science. The person pursuing these practices is known as sadhak meaning student. (S)he takes help of a guru who is a realized person like a professor. The learning is an ongoing process, ending at the death only. Even Guru is a learner for himself/herself. Yog(a) is a Complete package, a lifestyle to be adopted rather than time-based affair or rituals. Its practices are based on ancient research work done by rishis/munies (saints) thousands of years ago. Some Indian saints like Swami Vivekanand, Mahesh yogi and Paramahansa Yogananda etc took this great science to western world where it is being practiced in many flavors. Even the medical professional like Dr. Deepak Chopra2 and Dr. Dean Michael Ornish3are advocating this lifestyle.
The word yog(a) means union. It can be understood as a bridge between inner wisdom and outer actions4. When your outer actions are based on your inner wisdom, the best of you comes out and you realize your true potential.
Since yog(a) is designed for our optimal physical, mental and spiritual well-being, this lifestyle is ideally suited for cultivating human values.
The Ashtang yog(a)
The wisdom and practices of yog(a) were passes from generation to generation thru guru-chela (The master & disciple) practice by way of shruti (speaking by Guru and remembering /understanding by chela, no written scripts.) The work of compiling yog(a)’s all aspects and documenting were done by Patanjali in his work ‘yogsutra5’ about 1700 years ago. This is considered as the Bible for yog(a) even today.
Patanjali has defined the 8 limbs of yog(a) or ‘ashtang yog’ in’ yogsutra’. These are listed below –
I. Yam
II. Niyam
III. Asan
IV. Pranayam
V. Pratyahara
VI. Dharana
VII. Dhyan
VIII. Samadhi
Let us try to understand each of these one by one.
I. Yam
Yam are the general guidelines, which are not to be violated in any circumstance. These are 5 guidelines -
A. Ahinsa -means ‘nonviolence either through words, action or intention’.
B. Satya -means ‘being in the state of truthfulness and not indulging in falsehood’.
C. Asteya - means, ‘Do not consider things as your own which are the property of other person’.
D. Brahmchrya- means ‘discipline in every aspect of life’.
E. Aparigrah- means ‘Do not store more than what is needed’.
Some people may think that these definitions are vague and impractical. But when we are honest and sincere in our thinking, we precisely know the meaning (to us) of each of these guidelines at any point of time. Yet we tend to overlook it. Yam is a practice of being aware of these guidelines and following these in true spirit.
II. Niyam It means rules. Where ‘yam’ are the general guidelines, niyam are more specific practices to be adopted. Following 5 Niyams are listed by Patanjali-
A. Shouch- means ‘personal hygiene of body & mind’.
B. Santosh- means ‘feeling happy & satisfied’.
C. Tap- means ‘intense self-discipline and willpower, even through discomfort.’.
D. Swadhy – means ‘regular study voluntarily’.
E. Ishwar pranidhan- means ‘surrender to Supreme life force or almighty god’.
The niyam should not be followed out of compulsion. These should not be considered as fixed rituals to be followed. These are to be practiced to the extent possible in the circumstances around us.
III. Asan
These are postures which helps to maintain a healthy body. Most of the people consider asan as synonym for yog(a) which is not correct. Asan is just a part of it. There is so much material available on this topic that there is no point to repeat it. The only caution worth mentioning is this regard is that these are like medicines and should be practiced based on individual needs and the capability of body and these should not be copied blindly.
IV. Pranayam
These are special breathing patterns which help in maintaining vitality & longevity. The calming of mind and stabilizing of thought pattern is also attained by these practices. The two most common practices are bastrika pranayam where the forceful exhale of breath is done and anulaom-vilaom pranayam where a balanced breadth is maintained from both the nostrils.
V. Pratyahar
It is a state in which we focus inwardly through our senses to examine what is happening in our body & mind. In common practice, we use the power of our 5 senses to collect information from outside and then take actions accordingly. Through the practice of pratyahar, we learn to get detached from the outside world and find a glimpse of our true nature inside.
VI. Dharana
It is the state of deep concentration and focus. The object to be focused is not that important as the practice of focus is. These practices synergized the mind to the best of its capabilities. The use of these practices also helps us to use the mind as a tool or slave, rather that it becoming our master and ruling over us.
VII Dyan
It means being conscious in all situations. We tend to work in programmed or autopilot mode most of the time. Being in dhyan means being aware of what is happening around and inside us. In this state we witness everything as it is happening rather than developing a biased view.
VIII. Samadhi
It is the final stage of yog(a). The mission of ‘knowing our true-self’ gets completed here. It is perhaps beyond words to explain this state fully. This is the ‘best state of being’.
The eight limbs of yog(a) are interconnected and to practice in the order given above. Yam is the beginning and Samadhi is the ultimate state to be achieved.
The yam and niyam provides a framework and prepare the sadhak to proceed further. These can be considered as ‘Dos (niyam) and Don’t (yam)’. Asan and pranayama prepare the body for further activity. Prathyahar prepares the mind for last three stages. At the last stage the mind becomes calm and perception to the absolute reality is clear. It is just a void (no body or nirvana state) where we are free from all our biases. Patanjali describes this as the purpose of yog in yogsutra, "योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:"
Three basic strategy for life of a sadhak of yog(a)
We live in illusions and our choices are restricted. The cause of illusion is our attachments or fixed point of view. The choices are restricted due to maintaining the position we already have. The two opposite forces trouble us always.
How to live the live in best possible way between the influences of two opposite forces?
Keeping a balanced point of view between the two extremes is the solution of this problem. It was called the madhya marg (meaning middle path) by Gautama Buddha who was the inspiration for the Buddhism, a religion stared in 5th century BC and popular in many parts of the world today. It is also called the state of Nirvan meaning freedom from all attachments or bindings. If someone maintains this state of life, s(he) is free to exercise any out of all choices available without getting biased to any one extreme force.
Three main strategies are advocated in yog(a) to realize the state of Nirvan are -
I. Bhakti yog(a)
It is the path of total surrender. To accept everything in totality as it happens. Actually, you follow your heart -beats. It is following the precise systematic and complete flow to which every other activity is aligned & synchronized. No questions asked. Like a good player, accept all decision of the referee, although some of these apparently appear to be wrong. Like a good employee, honor all the decisions of your employer/boss even if these look stupid or harsh from your point of view. A bhakt yogi enjoys life in all its purity.
II. Karm Yog(a)
It is based on the sense of duty. You do everything to the best of your capabilities, unbiased, as if it is your duty to perform the tasks presented to you by the life situations. Like a good actor, you just try to act on the wishes of the director. Like a healthy player, you enjoy the play or game itself, not worrying about the results which may be victory or defeat.
III. Gyan yog(a)
It is the path of knowledge. Cutting down the jargon and layers of illusion by exploring in the vast and complex jungle of mind is the main aim of this strategy. You try to understand the life as it is. You try to know till there is nothing left to know, and you reach the void state the path to Nirvan. It is a way to understand the relative values in life and realization of your absolute position.

Yog(a) means being human
Thus, yog(a) is designed to cultivate more and more human values and following the superhuman or Almighty God and having a union with Him. This tool can be effectively used by a Guru (Master) to make his/her sadhak (disciple) more human. In form of yam, it has its foundation in absolute human values like satya (truthfulness) & ahinsa (no violence) etc. Thus, it is suitable in every circumstances and era.
Deformation of yog(a)
Yog(a) was invented by rishi Muni to keep our body and mind and his spirit in the best state but nowadays it is being used as a ritual or ‘a form of exercise’ which is a very limited use of this grade science
Yog(a) ,which was formally known as ‘a set of traditions’ has now became a product to sell .Earlier it was only a means to an end (the ‘end’ being the divine knowledge/connection with God), now it is being treated as an end-product itself. Earlier, it was a secret knowledge which was revealed by Guru at appropriate time to the chela who was also a sadhak or learner and had an urge for learning. But now it is being sold from business houses as online course or CD in exchange of a cost tag attached to it. If you have the paying capacity, you can acquire it. This is a great shift in the perception of common people about yog(a). The spirit of yog(a) seems to be vanishing by this shift in thinking. This is perhaps the dilution phase in the evolution of a great utility. But it is natural. The same thing has happened to music and sports also. In this context, the word योग (yog) is often used as yoga which is not it’s correct way of pronunciation. To highlight this difference, the word yog(a) is used in this paper.
Yog(a): a realization
Yog(a) is neither an act which can be performed nor a product which can be purchased. Its scope is much beyond ‘a form of exercise’ or a ‘health product’.
It is a realization which can happen to anyone. After this realization, the prospective of looking at everything changes and thus the meaning of life also changes. With this realization of new meaning to the life, similar actions are performed with different intention and confusion is replaced with clarity and life becomes celebration irrespective of circumstances.
This can be understood by the example of motherhood. A lady, when realizes that she has become the mother of a child, her life changes drastically. Despite all her limitations and against any amount of hostile circumstances present, she does her best to protect and develop her child to his/her best potential. Although for an outsider, the change in her life will not be even noticeable unless he/she is closely associated with that mother.
Relevance of yog(a) in modern times
Yog(a) deals us at the level of mind and its consciousness. It is designed to take the mind to a biasfree state so that one can make the choices in his/her life to think, act or feel in appropriate way respecting the circumstances around and the internal desires. Therefore, the application of yog(a) techniques is not different in high tech environment of modern time from what it used to be thousands of years back or. In fact, it is more relevant for modern time as the need to declutter and purify the mind is more pressing is more pressing in the complex lifestyle today than the simple life of old days.

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