There is NO alternative word for “Yoga.” The whole of Yoga is called Yoga. The word Yoga is all encompassing, embracing all its various forms simultaneously, not separately. So, when people attempt to use an alternative word they are misunderstanding and there are reasons for this misunderstanding. This use of the term Yoga when they really mean “Hatha Yoga” (or, more accurately, Asana) has been a major reason for people mistakenly thinking that Yoga is a physical program that has a spiritual component, rather than a spiritual program that may include a physical component.
Ironically, there are some students and even teachers of modern Yoga that want to ignore (sometimes completely remove) the spiritual orientation of Yoga. This happens for a variety of reasons; these people think they will benefit by dropping the word Hatha from the term Hatha Yoga. By dropping the word Hatha, and calling it only Yoga, it’s much easier for them to avoid the fact that the ancient texts (such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika), clearly state the spiritual priority inherent in traditional Yoga. This way they can avoid the fact that “Ha” and “tha” refer to the subtle energies of Ida and Pingala, the process of Kundalini Awakening, and subsequently attaining Samadhi.
Getting the whole and the parts confused … The "whole" is "Yoga.” Not only has Hatha Yoga (the "part") commonly been labeled as "Yoga" (the "whole"), the whole process and scope of Yoga as been affected in regard to our collective perceptions of Yoga. One way of seeing this clearly is to remember that Yoga is the whole, of which Bhakti Yoga is a part, Hatha Yoga is a part, Jnana Yoga is a part and Karma Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Nada Yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantra Yoga, etc. are all parts and “Yoga” is the whole.
In his commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, B. K. S. Iyengar, a well known teacher and author writes:
"… Through the discipline of Yoga, both actions and intelligence go beyond these qualities [gunas] and the seer comes to experience his own soul with crystal clarity, free from the relative attributes of nature and actions. This state of purity is samadhi. Yoga is thus both the means and the goal. Yoga is samadhi and samadhi is Yoga …"
B. K. S. Iyengar goes on to say:
"… Usually the mind is closer to the body and to the gross organs of action and perception than to the soul. As asanas are refined they automatically become meditative as the intelligence is made to penetrate towards the core of being. Each asana has five functions to perform. These are conative, cognitive, mental, intellectual and spiritual…."
The entire purpose of Yoga is spiritual: The entire purpose of ancient, authentic, traditional Yoga, including Hatha Yoga, and all the others mentioned above are spiritual in nature. Following are a few points from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 13th century text outlining the practice of Hatha Yoga. This text is possibly the best known and most authoritative text on authentic Hatha Yoga.
Click HERE to read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The last chapter of this text is entitled Samadhi (and it is significant to note that of the four chapters of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the last chapter is entitled Samadhi, the higher state of consciousness). This should make clear that the focus of Yoga is Samadhi.
The following few references from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika should make the true nature of Hatha Yoga clear, (note how the emphasis shifts away from postures to breath, kundalini, raja Yoga, and Samadhi):
- Chapter 1: The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to be a stairway to Raja Yoga, the higher Yoga (1.1-2). Postures are the first part of Hatha Yoga (1.77)
- Chapter 2: After postures, one should practice with breath (2.1)
- Chapter 3: The energy of kundalini is the support of all the Yogas (3.1). Kundalini is awakened and travels upwards (3.68-69). Kundalini opens the door to enlightenment (3.105)
- Chapter 4: Samadhi leads one to the eternal and highest bliss (4.2). Mind and the eternal merge like salt and the sea (4.5). Those who do only Hatha Yoga without realization of Raja Yoga derive no fruits for their efforts (4.79) (It does not mean that no physical benefits are derived; rather, since the goal of Yoga is spiritual in nature, when only the lower practices are performed, the intended goal is completely missed, yielding no fruits). All of the practices of Hatha Yoga and Laya Yoga are means to Raja Yoga, samadhi (4.103)
And finally, this quote from Swami Chidananda Saraswati, head of the internationally known Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society) in Rishikesh, India. He explains that:
"Yoga is not mere acrobatics. Some people suppose that Yoga is primarily concerned with the manipulation of the body into various queer positions, standing on the head, for instance, or twisting about the spine, or assuming any of the numerous odd poses which are demonstrated in the text-books on Yoga. These techniques are correctly employed in one distinct type of Yoga practice, but they do not form an integral part of the most essential type. Physical postures serve at best as an auxiliary, or a minor form of Yoga."
Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 9).”
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500