India, that is Bharat, is the land which inspires and encourages absorption in seeking spiritual knowledge and wisdom – literally the meaning of the name Bharat (‘bha’ refers to spiritual knowledge and wisdom and ‘rat’ refers to being absorbed in seeking). Bharat’s cultural history is extremely unique and out of all the contributions in the field of philosophy, sciences and arts, the most remarkable gift Bharat has given to the humankind is the system of Yoga.

Yoga is described to be as much a philosophy as a theistic science and an art, and it is said to be as old as the human civilization. The Vedas – the ancient spiritual scriptures of India – provide the spiritual core and philosophical foundation for what we now call as yogic tradition. Throughout the years and the modernization and popularization of these ancient practices, a lot of the essence of the original tradition has been lost and for most of the modern practitioners, the purpose is understood as the different processes of the system, such as maintaining the body in good shape, controlling the fluctuations of the mind and developing discipline. These are important practices on the way, but only tools in the process towards the original goal of yoga, which in the Bhagavad Gita and in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is described to be the complete surrender and union with the Divine.

In the widely regarded authoritative text on yoga, Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the eight parts or limbs of yoga, known as the system of Ashtanga Yoga. Asana and pranayama, important in the modern understanding of yoga and often understood to be what yoga means, form just two of the eight limbs on this path. The system of yoga as per Patanjali starts from understanding and applying the ethical guidelines; yamas (abstinences) and niyamas (observances), into our lives. It then continues with asana (postures), pranayama (breathing) and pratyahara (withdrawal) practices, preparing ourselves physically, mentally and energetically to the further practices of yoga. The previously mentioned external limbs then lead towards the internal practices and aspects of the path; dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption). This process of eight steps is a gradual and interrelated process, guiding the practitioner from the outer, physical understanding of the reality into the inner layers of our awareness, eventually to the state of seeing under the layers, seeing one’s essential and fundamental nature in connection with the Divine – a state of self-realization.

In the Bhagavad Gita the system of yoga is described in a form of ladder; each rung representing different steps on the way towards the original goal of yoga – that connection with the Divine, which in the Gita is explained on a personal level to be Krishna, a supreme person or God. In today’s yoga scene we can see so many different types of yoga being marketed, but actually the system of yoga is one, and all these different yogas represent just parts of the process. The process starts from our conditioned life here in this material world and with yoga of action – Karma Yoga, proceeding to the yoga of knowledge – Jnana Yoga, and then to which for most of the practitioners today is the most familiar – Ashtanga Yoga. These are all described as important steppingstones towards the deeper spiritual dimensions and applications on this ancient path.

After the external processes, the highest rung on the yoga ladder is the process of Bhakti Yoga. Through this path of loving devotional service, the purpose is to re-establish our original, eternal relationship with the Divine and to free ourselves from the material bondage and the continuous ups and downs of our existence here and to find a permanent source of happiness and bliss from the spiritual platform, in that relationship with the Divine or Krishna.

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