Yoga, as we know it in the modern world, is mostly associated with physical exercise, stretching, moving and thereby relaxing. It's now common to go yoga classes to find a bit of balance in our busy lives.
But our modern yoga classes are in fact very modern and new. Yoga is traditionally more of a lifestyle and spiritual practice.
We will look at how finding balance with yoga developed from a more meditative spiritual practise to the active stretching yoga classes we see today.
yoga as union and a spiritual practice
Yoga is sometimes translated as union. This union could be the union with however you define the Divine, God, Goddess, or a state of bliss. Perhaps this is way beyond what you think about when you go to a yoga class. Most of us are just there to find a bit a balance, get a good stretch and the side effect is that we simply feel so much better in ourselves - physically, mentally and emotionally.
On the higher level of yoga, the Royal Path or Raja Yoga, our goal is to find this Divine state. According to Wikipedia “Rāja yoga was both the goal of yoga and a method of attaining it. The term also… equated raja yoga with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Since then, Rāja yoga has variously been called "royal yoga", "royal union", "Sahaj Marg", "classical yoga", and "aṣṭāṅga yoga".
The most popular text on Raja Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, our journey starts with working on our Yamas and Niyamas which really is about ethics and how to live a life with purpose. It then moves onto the spiritual practice of breathing practises, sense withdrawal, concentration all leading to a meditative state and finally to a state of bliss.
Raja Yoga, or Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, may not look much like the average yoga class in a yoga studio, gym or village hall. Yet, in a way our modern yoga practise is still a step towards finding balance and calm.
the yoga path of physical exercise
Interestingly we have another classical yoga text which explains why the yoga practises we know today is the perfect step towards Raja Yoga or that Royal Path to enlightenment.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika gives much more emphasis on what we think of as modern yoga. Or what we practise in a regular yoga class. This is what we often refer to as Hatha yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes how Hatha yoga is the perfect way to prepare for the deeper practices of Raja Yoga.
In The Hatha Yoga Pradipika we start with purifying the body, then asana, yoga poses, and pranayama, breathing practises. Using these tools our mind starts to calm down and we can consider the Yamas and Niyamas of the Royal Path. This is why Hatha yoga is so popular today. Because it is easier for us to calm down and find balance through our body than straight to our already overloaded, stressed and anxious minds.
So why exactly is Hatha yoga so balancing? Well, Hatha yoga is about creating balance. The balance between our active and more calming expressions, between extroversion and introversion, between heat and coolness, the solar energy and the lunar energy. When we practice yoga - these energies are brought back into alignment - on every level.
When we combine a physical or meditative yoga practice with essential oils - we can achieve an even deeper state of balance. See how this can be done in our article on creating balance with essential oils