March 9, 2021 |

Read Time: 8 minutes

The word yoga always comes in association with asanas and flexibility. Yoga mats, asanas and meditation are the first things that come to mind.YOGA IN THE VEDAS

 But it is far more than that. What is commonly termed ‘yoga’ today is only one aspect of the philosophy behind it and its practice. While the practice of yoga in itself is effective, knowing the science and philosophy behind the practice can increase the benefits of the manifold. It may change the way you see and experience yoga. Let us understand a little more about this favourite form of exercise.

What is yoga?


If yoga is more than just an exercise, what is it? Yoga comes from an ancient land with culture in depth about the working of the human body and universe. Yoga as we know it today has been popularized by the west as a form of exercise.

The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit word that can be loosely translated in English as “union”. The union here means the union of the human with the divine. This is also the purpose of life. One will find this mentioned across texts, stories, and songs in ancient traditions. This particular understanding of yoga is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali, a great sage and author of vindictive literature.

What are Vedas?

In India, knowledge, and wisdom has been passed on from generation to generation through oral traditions. This tradition is still alive, although practiced by fewer people due to urbanization and globalization. Some of the oral traditions were written down and recorded, which have become texts of reference. 

The Vedas are a large set of texts or manuscripts that are considered one of the primary sources of knowledge and wisdom in early traditions. They are mostly written in Sanskrit and serve as the basis for many aspects of the Hindu way of life. Vedas were written by rishis who received knowledge through intense Tapasya and sadhana. There are many other texts and commentaries that have been written in relation to the Vedas through the ages. Yoga is part of these Vedas and finds mention in many forms in various Vedas.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Patanjali, a great sage, compiled knowledge about yoga from various sources into a concise text called the Yoga Sutras. These sutras have been widely translated into many languages and circulated across the world. Many yoga gurus like B.K.S Iyengar, Sri Krishnamacharya used the sutras as guidelines for their hatha yoga practice. These forms of hatha yoga were taken to the west where it gained huge popularity and was appropriated into the world of fitness and health. Those gurus wanted to take the message of Patanjali along with the philosophy, to the west in order to spread the Vedic way of life. However, the essence of the Vedas has been lost in translation.

According to the Yoga Sutras, there are eight components or Ashtangas (eight limbs) of yoga. Understanding and practicing these eight angas is essential for a human being to unite with the divine. The Ashantangas are as follows:-

      1. Yama – The first limb, Yamas refer to the qualities that one must cultivate in their lives.
        1. Ahimsa: This means that one should practice not causing harm through one’s actions or words.
        2. Satya: To speak the truth, whatever it may be to that individual. 
        3. Asteya: To refrain from stealing from another’s actions, words, or ideas. 
        4. Brahmacharya: To be in control of one’s sexual desires.
        5. Aparigraha: Do not desire to possess or hold onto anything. 
      2. Niyama – In the second limb, Patanjali describes a set of practices that one on the path of yoga should cultivate. They are:-
        1. Shaucha: Maintaining cleanliness in the environment around you, in the body, and in the mind.
        2. Santosha: Be content with your worldly possessions, body, and experiences. This is possible when one accepts oneself and the world as they are.
        3. Tapas: Persistently pursue your sadhana.
        4. Svadhyaya: Reflect and introspect, especially what you read and hear from your guru.
        5. Ishvarapranishana: Contemplate and mediate about Ishvara.
      3.  Asana – Patanjali then goes on to describe the posture that one can use for their meditation. He suggests that it be a position that can be held comfortably without moving. He further suggests asanas should be worked on and perfected over time through ishvarapranishana. There are no particular positions described by Patanjali in the main text. However, in the Bhasya commentary attached to the text, there is the mention of twelve sitting positions for meditation. The asanas that we see practiced in a modern yoga class can be derived from these positions.
      4. Pranayama – This is a set of breathing techniques that are described in the Yoga Sutras. They are to be practiced in the asana that one has perfected. These breathing techniques bring direct awareness to their prana through controlled inhalation and exhalation.
      5. Pratyahara – While first our limbs were connected with the body and external world, we now begin to move inwards. Pratyahara when translated to English comes to mean the control of one’s sensory organs. This means that one must not be controlled by one sensory organ and the information that they bring to the brain. This is to ensure that one is not tied to and controlled by external factors.
      6. Dharana – This is the practice of focusing the mind on one thing, be it an object or mantra. Training the mind to focus on one thing is to take control of the mind and its function.
      7. Dhayana – Once external distractions have been taken care of and the mind is trained to focus on one thing, Dhyana is the practice of focusing the mind in reflection or contemplation. This is the path to attaining knowledge about oneself and the divine. This is uninterrupted by thoughts and is pure awareness.
      8. Samadhi – This is the final stage where the difference between the Dhyani and the divine disappearance. The human unites with the divine and is in bliss.

As you can see, this is a long-term practice that has to be undertaken by the yogi. These steps are best practiced under the guidance of experienced gurus. 

There are many paths to the divine but Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga is one of the most effective for us – the people of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Ms. Mimi Partha Sarathy

Founder, Managing Trustee and Sr. Yoga Teacher Sri Krishna Wellness Yoga Centre

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India