Patañjali divides the practice of yoga into eight stages. Yama, or restraint from vice, and niyama, or observance of purity and virtue, lay the moral foundation for practice and remove the disturbance of uncontrolled desires. Asana, or posture, and pranayama, or breath control, calm the physical body, while pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, detaches the mind from the external world. Internal control of consciousness is accomplished in the final three stages: dharana, or concentration, dhyana, or meditation, and samadhi. Through such practices yogis acquire miraculous powers, which must ultimately be renounced to attain the highest state. In samadhi the subject-object distinction and one's sense of an individual self disappear in a state usually described as one of supreme peace, bliss, and illumination. A common feature of different traditions of yoga is one-pointed concentration on a chosen object, whether a part of the body, the breath, a mantra, a diagram, a deity, or an idea.
Hindu tradition in general recognizes three main kinds of yoga: jnana yoga, the path of realization and wisdom, bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion to a personal God, and karma yoga, the path of selfless action. Other classifications exist. Patañjali's yoga is known as raja, or "royal," yoga. Hatha yoga, which stresses physical control and postures, is widely practiced in the West. Kundalini yoga, especially associated with Tantra, is based on the physiology of the "subtle body," according to which seven major centers of psychic energy, called chakras, are located along the spinal column, with the kundalini, or "coiled" energy in latent form, located at the base of the spine. When the kundalini is activated by yogic methods, it ascends the spine through the main subtle artery of the sushumna, "opening" each chakra in turn. When the kundalini reaches the topmost chakra in the brain, samadhi is attained.
See S. Dasgupta, Yoga as Philosophy and Religion (1924, repr. 1973); I. K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga (1967); E. Wood, Yoga (1967); M. Eliade, Yoga (1969); P. Sinha, Yoga (1970); J. Varenne, Yoga and the Hindu Tradition (1976).
Yoga (Sanskrit: योग, IAST: yóga, joːgə) refers to traditional physical and mental disciplines originating in India, to the goal achieved by those disciplines, and to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy.
Major branches of a yoga include Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Raja Yoga, compiled in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and known simply as yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is part of the Samkhya tradition. Many other Hindu texts discuss aspects of yoga, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and various Tantras.
The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to control, to yoke or to unite. Translations include joining, uniting, union, conjunction, and means. Outside India, the term yoga is typically associated with Hatha Yoga and its asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise. A practitioner of Yoga is called a Yogi (unisex term) or Yogini (for female).
While the most ancient mystic practices are vaguely hinted at in the Vedas, the ascetic practices (tapas) are referenced in the (900 BCE and 500 BCE), early commentaries on the Vedas. The Rig Veda, earliest of the Hindu scripture mentions the practice. Robert Schneider and Jeremy Fields write, "Yoga asanas were first prescribed by the ancient Vedic texts thousands of years ago and are said to directly enliven the body's inner intelligence. Certainly breath control and curbing the mind was practiced since the Vedic times. It is believed that yoga was fundamental to Vedic ritual, especially to chanting the sacred hymns
In the Upanishads, an early reference to meditation is made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earliest Upanishads (approx. 900 BCE). The main textual sources for the evolving concept of Yoga are the middle Upanishads, (ca. 400 BCE), the Mahabharata (5th c. BCE) including the Bhagavad Gita (ca. 200 BCE), and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 BCE-300 CE).
Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300–1700 BC) sites depict figures in a yoga- or meditation-like posture, "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga" that point to Harappan devotion to "ritual discipline and concentration", according to Archaeologist Gregory Possehl. According to prof. Egbert Richter Ushanas, concerning the IVC seals he has said, "All the seals are based on Vedas -- Rig Veda and Atharva Veda.
These two are regarded in India as twins, the two aspects of a single discipline. provides a basic theoretical exposition of human nature, enumerating and defining its elements, analyzing their manner of co-operation in a state of bondage (bandha), and describing their state of disentanglement or separation in release (), while Yoga treats specifically of the dynamics of the process for the disentanglement, and outlines practical techniques for the gaining of release, or 'isolation-integration' (kaivalya).
The sage Patanjali is widely regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy. Patanjali's yoga is known as Raja yoga, which is a system for control of the mind. Patanjali defines the word "yoga" in his second sutra, which is the definitional sutra for his entire work:
- Yoga Sutras 1.2
This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind ()". Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis).
Patanjali's writing also became the basis for a system referred to as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. The Eight Limbs are:
Madhusudana Sarasvati (b. circa 1490) divided the Gita into three sections, with the first six chapters dealing with Karma yoga, the middle six with Bhakti yoga, and the last six with Jnana (knowledge). Other commentators ascribe a different 'yoga' to each chapter, delineating eighteen different yogas.
Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama, compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in 15th century India. Hatha Yoga differs substantially from the Raja Yoga of Patanjali in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha). Compared to the seated asana, or sitting meditation posture, of Patanjali's Raja yoga, it marks the development of asanas (plural) as full body 'postures' now in popular usage.
Hatha Yoga in its many modern variations is the style that many people associate with the word "Yoga" today. Because its emphasis is on the body through asana and pranayama practice, many western students are satisfied with the physical health and vitality it develops and are not interested in the other seven limbs of the Raja Yoga tradition.
The development of Sufism was considerably influenced by Indian yogic practises, where they adapted both physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama). The ancient Indian yogic text, Amritakunda, ("Pool of Nectar)" was translated into Arabic and Persian as early as the 11th century.
Yogacara received the name as it provided a yoga, a framework for engaging in the practices that lead to the path of the bodhisattva. The Yogacara sect teaches yoga in order to reach enlightenment.
During tantric practices and studies, the student is instructed further in meditation technique, particularly chakra meditation. This is often in a limited form in comparison with the way this kind of meditation is known and used by Tantric practitioners and yogis elsewhere, but is more elaborate than the initiate's previous meditation. It is considered to be a kind of Kundalini Yoga for the purpose of moving the Goddess into the chakra located in the "heart," for meditation and worship.