Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a science. It is helpful to know exactly what yoga is when we come to a powerful practice such as this. Far more than just the practicing of a few asanas and pranayamas, yoga is a powerful scientific method of alchemy that brings us into a greater understanding and control of the movements of our energies and our mind. This science can be utilized in a number of different directions depending on individual inclination.

The word yoga comes from the root yuj which when conjugated from either the 4th or 10th conjugation of sanskrit will yield different meanings. The 4th conjugation leads us to the definition as given by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras and means "samadhi", which is a deep state of one-pointedness. The 10th conjugation meaning leads us to the definition which is more commonly ascribed to the term, meaning "yoking or union". This blog will explore both meanings as potential understandings of the term yoga. The two terms are actually very intimately related.

Union in the beginning of practice should be the attempt to unify the elements that are present within our own microcosmic world. Namely, the different elements of our ego/personality structure. This process is also described within Psychosynthesis (a powerful psychology of spirit developed by Assagioli, an Italian psychologist and yogi who worked with Freud and Jung at the turn of the last century). Without total acceptance and unity of all of the different elements which make up our personality structure, we cannot hope to stream together all of the movement currents which lead to samadhi or one-pointedness. For example, if one part of us wants one thing and another part wants another, or if there is some form of internal conflict within ourselves, however small, then how will we hope to come together in a one-pointed way?

To bring together these various parts of ourselves, we first must separate and learn to see the diverse streams of movement within ourselves. Once we can separate and identify these elements, they must somehow find peace with each other. Acceptance, a full and deep acceptance is the starting point for this stage, which we might term purification. Sometimes some inner negotiation and dialogue need to take place at this point in order to allow the different elements to co-exist side by side without warring with each other. At this point, when we have all of the elements together in the same room, and existing in an air of acceptance, then and only then can we truly begin the process of inner union. At this point we have liberated the sum total of our energy and it can flow harmoniously into a central stream of one pointedness, which will lead us to samadhi. Thus the two definitions of yoga come together here, inner union being the cause which leads us to the result of samadhi. 

Looking at the meaning of yoga defined as samadhi, we can begin to gain insight into this term by looking at the second of Patanjali's yoga sutras which says 'yogascittavrttinirodhah'. This statement means 'yoga is the nirodhah (containment or control) of the mind waves/definitions'. Some define nirodhah as a resolution of the mind into its origin but this is only one way of manifesting control of the mind. Some define it as a complete disassociation with the waves of mind but this also is a form of control. In whatever way we choose to relate to the mind's energy, we are in a form of relationship that is governed by our will.

The entire first chapter of the yoga sutras is devoted to the understanding of how this process of control comes about. From the perspective of the hatha yoga, we control the field of the mind through its underlying energy, which is called prana. The techniques described in the hatha texts for the control of the prana are called mudra, which has been discussed in many of the other blogs on this site. Please see those writings for further detail on how to access this inner movement.

We can understand this process of samadhi easily if we first understand the process of what Patanjali calls parinama. Parinama is a concept discussed in the third chapter of the yoga sutras. It means a change in state or a transformation. It is movement. To really understand how to hold something contained is through understanding first the movement that creates containment. For example, take a small object and pick it up with your hand. At first glance when we look at this object we see only the object that we are holding. However, if the hand was not holding it up to our face we might not be able to see it. When you look at the hand you also think that perhaps it is static. But this isn't the case. The hand itself is moving. It appears still but actually the nerves are firing and the muscles are holding the object by pushing against it to keep the object still. The same process occurs in yogic meditation. We "hold" an object in mind with the movement of energy. The energy comes through the process of mudra. If we learn to emphasize the movement instead of the object, the object doesn't fall out of our grasp. This is the process of samadhi, the first definition of yoga. Samadhi is described clearly in sutras 1.17 and 1.18.

Lets now come back to the meaning of yoga as union. After we have internal union and the one-pointedness of samadhi then we can speak of union in the greater sense of the yoking of the Jiva to the Paramatma or the small self to the Big Self. This is how union is thought of classically. The microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm so the more that we first work on inner union, the more that we will start to see the union of the small self to the world at large. We may however be tempted to see this as a one way process or a one way arrow, considering only the yoking of the small self to the Big Self. We can also look at it from the other direction. We can see the arrow go the other way, in other words the process of union can also be seen as the yoking of the Big Self to the small self. The first arrow, takes us into the bias of absolute truth, the second keeps us in the bias of the relative truth.  If we are to have true integration, we need to have the arrow going both ways. This concept is described in Psychosynthesis  as transcendence/immanence. The concept of transcendence/immanence tells us that small self "transcends" to Big Self, while simultaneously Big Self descends to become "immanent" in the small self. This concept is illustrated beautifully in the Bhagavad Gita, when Krishna convinces Arjuna to keep to his dharma and fight the fight he needs to fight while simultaneously transcending conventional notions of death and loss. Union in this way is a two way street, uniting macrocosmic and microcosmic truths. It respects individuality and simultaneously acknowledges the deeper underlying unity. A strange paradox.

So yoga can be seen as a process of unifying our inner selves, which leads to a mental/energetic containment of one-pointedness (which we call samadhi), which in turn leads us toward a deeper unifying/aligning of our limited self or microcosm with the greater self or macrocosm. I find it useful to follow both of these definitions of union and samadhi, and not just limit myself to one of them.

These topics have only been given in a cursory way but hopefully they might shed light on this most glorious science of yoga.

All peace.