“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.” B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga is beyond physical
Yoga offers many physiological benefits, but the practice supports intentions much greater than bodily mastery. Considering yoga’s historical evolution and multi-faceted components, physical improvement is actually a side-effect, not the end-goal. Many people enjoy yoga for the feeling of vitality and beauty, which is reason enough to sustain regular practice. But with ongoing practice and the proper attitude, there is great potential for internal growth and life transformation; the ultimate power of yoga!
Yoga is the Goal, and a system of techniques to achieve the Goal
Yoga is a noun and a verb: In Sanskrit, the root “yuj” translates to “union” or “to unite.” The goal is Samadhi, or self-realization; it is union with the eternal cosmic force that moves the Universe. People and religions have different words for this force, but Yoga is not a religion. Being one with your true Self, you can’t identify situational problems or possess an ego. You are immortal, all-knowing, and operate in complete harmony with the laws of the Universe. Maybe this sounds a bit lofty but again, only experience conveys the truth. Conveniently, yoga as a verb defines how to experience Samadhi.
“Truth is one, paths are many.” – Sri Swami Satchidananda
Imagine Yoga as a tree with many branches. The branches on the tree are different paths which unite us with self-realization: Jnana Yoga unites through knowledge, Bhakti through love and devotion, Karma through action and service, and Mantra through voice and sound. There are several other branches depending on what text or historical context you use to define yoga; most branches overlap. Hatha Yoga, or union through bodily mastery, is the most obvious example of yoga we see today. However, some say that Hatha yoga is not a branch of yoga at all, but actually preparation for Raja yoga, union through mental mastery.
The Intersection of physical and mental, or Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga
Patanjali prescribes Raja Yoga in The Yoga Sutras, an ancient scripture which was the first systematic presentation of yoga as action. Within the Sutras is the Eightfold Path, a set of guidelines to follow for self-realization. Asana, or posture, is just ⅛ of the Path, which is why Hatha Yoga might not be considered a distinct and separate branch and also why yoga practice is more of a lifestyle than fitness regimen. The Eightfold path is the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa, a classical style of Hatha yoga, which is highly influential on most other forms of yoga today.
Find Your Yoga
The physical yoga class in which you flow through postures is of the Hatha Yoga branch; it can also be qualified as one aspect of Raja Yoga, in that you are preparing the body of long hours of seated meditation. There are numerous styles of Hatha Yoga, many of which overlap. There is Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar, Anusara, Kundalini, Kripalu, Integral, Jivamukti, Sivananda, Forrest, and others, as well. Classes often integrate yogic themes and concepts, exemplifying how the many branches of yoga are interwoven. Each style of yoga employs a different focus to approach Union. All yoga has value; its up to you to determine which path aligns with your personal style, and leads you to experience yoga as Union with the Self.