What is Yoga?

As the crescendo of International Yoga Day builds up; it’s worth spending awhile contemplating what Yoga really is? In it’s modern-day avatar, Yoga has become a Panacea for all manner of ills. It’s a Fitness regime, Stress-buster, a Holistic lifestyle, Spiritual discipline and much more. So how can a single stream of study cater to so many different human needs?

At the outset, it’s interesting to consider that Yoga is perhaps the most comprehensive study of a Human Being ever conducted. Both in terms of Breadth of Subject matter (body, mind, consciousness) studied and Duration of the research (5,000 years!)

Yoga is an Experiment with one’s Body, Mind & Spirit in the quest of Liberation and Transcendence. That’s what Yoga essentially is. Since ancient times, when a Man/Woman began questioning Life and their place in the vastness of the Universe; they turned towards Introspection and Meditation to seek Answers. That process is what we call Yoga. As incredulous as it may seem, this 5000 year-old discipline has never gotten outdated! In spite of several Millennia worth of transformation; Man’s essential Questions have remained the same. And hence Yoga still is relevant. In fact not only is it still relevant, Yoga is thriving like never before. From a spiritual pursuit undertaken by a few under their Guru’s watch; Yoga has metamorphosed into something of a Pop-Culture phenomenon!

Yoga is one of 6 traditional ‘Darshans’ (literally ‘to see’) of Indian philosophy: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa – Uttara & Purva (also called Vedanta), Samkhya and Yoga. Yoga is the most practical of all philosophical systems in the world and has gained popularity being a holistic regime that is beneficial for body, mind and spirit.

Traditionally there are 4 forms of Yoga, and based on your individual nature, one would work best for you while the others would be very beneficial as complimentary practice.

Bhakti Yoga implies practices that are based on Faith and Devotion. Prayer and Worship, generally of a Divine God is the most common expression of Bhakti practices and it is the best form for any Emotional, loving person such as Meera and most Saints in Christianity and Islam.

Karma Yoga implies Service to your fellow men and women. And as the Krishna teaches us in the Bhagvad Gita, it is the detachment from the results of your efforts that characterises Karma yoga. Thus Service without hankering after the results liberates us. It is most suitable for People who actively engage in helping others like Mother Theresa and Gandhi.

Jnana Yoga implies Questioning and seeking answers to Life’s essential questions using the Intellect, but not merely as a curiosity; rather as a life-long pursuit of Truth. Jnana yoga will eventually elevate the seeker from Logic to beyond Logic – and into the realm of Intuition and Spiritual Insight into Life. This is suited for people with a Scientific bent of mind and a shining Intelligence like Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, the Buddha or even Einstein.

While these 3 forms of Yoga were clearly described by Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita (circa 1500 BCE), the fourth has existed since time immemorial but was codified by Maharishi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (circa 400 BCE).

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Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Raja Yoga is the science of working on one’s Energy through training the Body, Breath, Mind, Emotions, Intellect and everything that can be trained. When we use the word Yoga today, we refer to Raja Yoga with its physical Asanas, Pranayam breathing practices and Dhyaan or Meditative techniques. Anyone interested in a holistic exploration of themselves is drawn to Raja Yoga, as it gives you Health, Vitality, Clarity of Thought and Spiritual insight too. Patanjali can be said to be the Alpha and Omega of Raja Yoga. Modern luminaries would include BKS Iyengar and Jaggi Vasudev.

In the 2nd of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, he defines Yoga as:

Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah : Yoga is the cessation of all modifications is consciousness. 

In simple terms; Yoga is when you are totally Present and not having a mind that is lost in thoughts. You are in the Here & Now. Always! That’s Yoga.

Once you’ve understood these different yet complimentary paths, choose the one that feels most natural to you whilst continuing to develop all aspects of your personality through the other practices. Let the U.N. International Yoga Day serve as a reminder that Yoga is very much the need of today with our fast-paced, tech-dependent lifestyles often thrown out of sync for lack of centredness – something Yogis have been working on for 5,000 years!

Join us in Celebrating World Yoga Day in Bangalore, Pune and California!


  • Manish Pole  @ManishPole   Bio >>

(Yogi, Teacher, Speaker & Author, Co-founder+Director of the Total Yoga style of Yoga which is taught by trained Teachers in Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Shanghai & California. Also leads Yo!maste Yoga retreats in the Himalayas!) 

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Total Yoga

Total Yoga is a balanced style of Yoga that focuses on Fitness training and Mindfulness practice equally.



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