Roots in Yoga
Author: Rama Devagupta
This article was originally published in Constant Remembrance, April 2001 and July 2001. This is a version adapted for the web.
In a 1994 Roper poll, 6 million Americans claimed to practice some form of yoga, with 1.86 million claiming to practice regularly, and another 17 million respondents expressed interest in yoga although they had not yet tried to practice it. Currently, the Yoga Journal estimates that there are approximately 20 million yoga practitioners in America, although the Yoga Research Center more conservatively places this number at 10-15 million[f1].
While these numbers are conjectural, one thing is clear: a general interest in yoga is on the rise — and accordingly, the number of people coming to Sahaj Marg with a previous background in some system of yoga is also on the rise. This article provides a basic understanding of yoga, its main branches, and the pertinent roots of Sahaj Marg.
The word "yoga" comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Derived from the verbal root yuj, yoga fundamentally means "union", "to yoke", a "joining together". Yoga is related to words with shared meanings in other Indo-European languages, e.g., yoke in English, Joch in German, and iugum in Latin. Yoga also embraces a wide range of extended meanings, including, for example, "team","constellation", and "conjunction".
However, the principal and relevant meanings of yoga within the spiritual context are "union" and "discipline", and whenever yoga is used in this context, both these connotations are inherently present. For our purposes, then, yoga can be defined as the union of the individual soul with the Divine through the discipline of meditation.
TRADITIONAL DEFINITIONS OF YOGA
"Samatvam yoga uchyate." — Bhagavad Gita, II.48
Evenness of mind is called Yoga.
"Yogah karmashu kaushalam." — Bhagavad Gita, II.50
Yoga is skill in the performance of actions.
"Yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah." —Patanjali, Yoga-Sutras,I.2
Yoga is restraint of mental modifications.
Patanjali's aphorism above may alternatively be translated as: yoga means to restrain the "mind-stuff" (chitta) from taking various forms (vrittis), wherein chitta refers to the combination of:
manas — mind, as the receiver of impressions
buddhi — intellect, as the discriminative faculty, and
ahankar — ego, as the lower self.
THE PRINCIPAL BRANCHES OF YOGA
Recognizing that human beings have different temperaments, different personalities and different needs, the masters of yoga have designed various methods by which one could approach the spiritual path. While at least forty branches of yoga have been traditionally identified, the eight major branches are listed below.
Sahaj Marg, a simplified and modified form of Raja Yoga tries to incorporates the highest essentials from all other forms of yoga. It adopts a holistic approach providing practicable yogic method designed for the average man
[f1] In an Oct. 2000 article, Houston Chronicle listed the number of yoga practitioners in the US as 19 million.