What is Yoga – Part 1



 “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”

              “While the process of yoga may seem complicated, the central theme is one of removing, transcending or setting aside the obstacles, veils or false identities . . . eventually coming to rest in our true nature”

                                                                                           Swami Jnaneshvara

These famous quotes give us a strong hint – ‘quietening the fluctuations of the mind’. The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, dealing with Samadhi, in particular the first four sutras, give Patanjalis description of what yoga is. We recommend you listen to the audio download of patajalis sutras to gain deeper insight.

The history of Yoga has passed through a number of phases that can be traced back to the earliest times of the Vedas (oldest extant sacred texts/knowledge) and the ancient civilisations of the Indus valley in India. (± 5000 – 7000 years)

It should be noted that Patanjali was relatively recent at around 200 BCE. 

 The fundamental concept of Yoga had its roots in the ancient vedic era which gave birth to the Hindu religion, but is also present in all the major religions of the world. Yoga as a philosophy is a-religious, meaning it stands as a subject alone and can be applied by anyone within any creed, culture, sect, religion and so on. Nonetheless, culture and religion play a huge role in just about any society. Much Hindu ‘coloring’ is present within the field of Yoga.

Yoga in its most basic Sanskrit translation means ‘union’, ‘to yoke together’. The question arises: what is it that needs to be yoked together? The classic answer is our individual self, Jivatman, (personal experience of ourselves) with a greater universal self, known as Atman, the seed of which lies within our own hearts.  

There are two central approaches to Yoga – dualist and non-dualist schools of thought.

Swami Jnaneshvara  has some excellent advice on this subject:  “The Dualist {approach to Yoga} gives us detailed instructions on how to clear away our clutter so we can find the door. Non-dualist philosophy gives us a sound contemplative base for a deeper understanding of the nature of the door and what lies beyond”

Borrowing a definition from Psychology gives us a further handle on non-dualism: “a state of consciousness in which there is no distinction between the subjects sense of self and the contents of the subjects awareness” In yoga this is Samadhi.

Here is another fascinating quote from David Loy: “when one realises that the nature of our mind and the Universe are non-dual, one is enlightened”

Dualist Yoga philosophy is generally based in Patanjali and his famous ‘Yoga sutras’, and so the whole Astanga system can be seen as a Dualist Yoga form.

Non-dualism has broader roots but is possibly epitomised in the Advaita Vedanta path of Ramana Maharshi.

Dualist philosophy starts from the premise that there is an inherent split between object and observer, (without that split intellectual reasoning would be impossible) and our efforts need to be directed to regaining oneness. Perhaps this is a matter of understanding the relative nature of perception.

The end three limbs of Patanjalis Astanga system are Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union). When practiced correctly Dharana gives rise to Dhyana and Dyana gives rise to Samadhi. These three arms then, are simply different grades of one and the same thing. The combined action of the three limbs is called Samyama.

Concentration is an effort by the practitioner to gain one pointed focus (ekagrata). The mind is quiet and stable without flitting from topic to topic. Meditation is a deepening and sustaining of concentration for an extended period. Meditation comes to include an awareness of a triune of conditions. We are aware of the object of our focus (pratyata), the process of perceiving (pragna) and ourselves as the perceiver. These three elements are initially seen to be separate but as our Meditation deepens, this sense of separateness dissolves and unity is achieved in the final stage – Samadhi.  

Samyama is used as a tool to realize the true nature of self. As a process it is turned inwards towards our deeper layers of consciousness like shining a torch, and insight and knowledge arise as a result. Samyama then, is seen as the ultimate tool with which to achieve Yoga. It should be noted at this stage that it is possible to direct the process of Samyama towards any object one wishes.

When Yoga is understood this way, it becomes clear how it can be said that, say for example a great concert pianist is in a state of Samadhi while in the depths of a performance. To him or her, the music, the player, the instrument and the audience, are all absorbed in a condition of consciousness that can rightfully be termed Samadhi. Perceptive boundaries and time seem to have no more relevance. Individual thought and sense of self are all temporarily merged in the greater experience.

Maha Samadhi is the conscious departure at passing over of a realised Yogi. 

Sahaj Samadhi is the continuous, effortless, transcendent state of a Yogi living from silence (Kaivalya).

 There are countless other forms of Samadhi as well. 

So is Samadhi Yoga? When Samyama is used as a tool pointed at Atman, and when the fruit of that effort arises in Samadhi, yes, this is a ‘Yoga’ state of consciousness.

Patanjali sites a further condition in chapter 4 of his Yoga sutras – Kaivalya pada, final liberation. In Kaivalya, the self-realised Yogi enters into what could be termed a permanent condition of Samadhi and thereby the cycle of reincarnation ceases – hence final liberation. This is also know as Moksha (liberation).

In a fascinating statement, Patanjali says that once the Yogi comes to know (through Samyama) that the Purusha, the supreme entity, is different from our intellect, then yogic self-inquiry comes to an end! This threshold of experience is Kaivalya.

Further, Patanjali maintains that the primary goal of being human is to aim for Kaivalya through Samadhi and to attain liberation one should undertake the investigation of self-existence.

Perhaps no discussion of what Yoga is, even a brief one such as this, should exclude the fabled ‘siddhis’. The siddhis are so-called extra-sensory phenomena such as clairvoyance, out of body travel, healing ability and many other sorts of miraculous abilities.

The siddhis are a trap if we are not careful, and Patanjali, as well as all other fine spiritual mentors, warn against taking up Yoga practice with the sole goal of attaining them in mind.

Extra sensory perceptions and abilities are a by-product of concentration and meditation training and to ever find the gift of these qualities without a solid base of wisdom and maturity within our-selves is to court spiritual disaster.

To sum up, it can be said that ‘Yoga’ is that state of altered awareness where Samadhi is attained in terms of Atman and Jivatman. It goes without saying that intellectually knowing this is not what is meant. As the old adage goes: knowing the recipe of a good soup is utterly incomparable to actually drinking, tasting and experiencing the delicious soup.

In its broader sense, its many further branches, forms and facets, dual and non-dual approaches, techniques and wise injunctions, the field of Yoga gives us information and a chance at practical knowledge of the entire path and how to proceed on it.


Paul Carlos

500h Y.A.I founder/director Sacred Spiral



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