Yoga found it’s roots in ancient India. To practice yoga is to focus on enhancing both physical and mental discipline. There are many different schools of yoga; some of which I will briefly describe in this article.
A sage named Patanjali is believed to be the founder of Yoga by many people. He defines yoga as a practice that inhibits changes in the mind. Patanjali’s texts have influenced one of the most followed schools of meditation called Ashtanga Yoga (Eight-Limbed Yoga). Here are the eight limbs:
1. Yama – Devoid of lying, violence, covetousness, sensuality and being possessive.
2. Niyama – content, study, purity, austerity and belief in god.
3. Samadhi – to merge the conscious mind with the object of meditation.
4. Dhyana – Intensely contemplating the nature of meditation.
5. Pranayama – to stop (restrain), breath control.
6. Pratyahara – Remove the senses from external stimuli.
7. Asana – seated meditation.
8. Dharana – Focusing on one object.
These eight rules are practiced in almost every Raja yoga school of meditation. For those that practice this school of meditation the diversity of the world is not seen to be an illusion. The world is still there and very real. Once a student has reached the highest levels in one of the Raja schools they realize there are many selves discovering themselves independently rather than a single universal self.
Yoga is often practiced along with other religions such as Buddhism. The Buddha himself incorporated yogic ideas into his sermons. His philosophies are very different than the ones which showed up in early Brahminic texts. The Buddha believed that being in a meditative state is not the end but one must reach a certain mental state in order to become enlightened. In other words a complete cessation of thought is not the end goal because there should be a certain awareness going on in the mind.
Yogacara Buddhism is a philosophy that developed in the early days. The whole idea behind it is a path leading to the bodhisattva through means of yogic practice. The end goal in this school of Buddhism is to reach enlightenment.
A person practicing yoga might have their sight set on many different goals depending on what school they are practicing. One person might be trying to achieve a healthier life while the next is striving to achieve Moksha (Mukti). Moksha means a release from the endless cycle of dying and being reborn (reincarnation). Someone who has achieved Moksha is also believed to be devoid of the suffering and limits that the physical world once placed on them.
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