The Indian sage Patanjali wrote the original description of the yoga system in the Yoga Sutra around 5000 years ago. This text is a unique blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application and remains to this day the primary text of yoga.
The roots of yoga are highly spiritual. The term yoga is made up of two components, "Yog" and "a", meaning union of aatma; it implies connecting with the divine power. The yoga system is a comprehensive description of an approach to life both practically and spiritually. It puts forward eight limbs of yoga:
Yama - abstentions, or extinction of wrong habit, it helps develop forgiveness, fearlessness, non-violence, firmness, compassion, straightforwardness, truthfulness, faith in self and the teacher.
Niyama - auxiliary virtue or moral purification and avoidance of moral infarction and gradual construction of new positive behaviours. It helps develop austerity, contentment, charity, knowledge of philosophy, recitation of mantras and modesty. It amounts to purity (internal/ external)
Asana - meditation postures or dynamic position of the human body statically maintained for a certain length of time, mastering this stage is important for dharana, dhyana and samadhi. There are sixteen forms of asanas. Besides the role of asanas in mental and spiritual realm, it helps in physical health and maintains body vigour.
Pranayama - control of vital breath, by breathing exercises. It is important for physical health and maintaining peace of mind.
Pratyahara - control of mental activities. Here one withdraws his attention from his perceptual cognition. He may see but does not look; he may hear but he does not listen.
Dharana - concentration of mind or capability of focusing on ever fewer objects until he is aware of only one.
Dhyana - concentrated meditation or effort to direct the full impact of consciousness upon the self, beyond any memory of ego.
Samadhi - transcendental super consciousness or perfect absorption of thought in one object thus getting total release from bonds of the world (Singh,2006)
Of these, Asana (postures of yoga) are most associated with yoga. Indeed many modern approaches to yoga simply concentrate on the Asana to the neglect of the other valuable aspects of the yoga system. In contrast, Chanting Yoga emphasises Dyana (meditation) and repetition of mantras and concentration on the primordial sound vibration
Meditation - Dhyana
The concept is that the individual consciousness (jiva) falls victim to the desires, wishes, fears, doubts, convictions, pattern formations and drives which in turn lead to disturbance in the psychic energy and gives rise to suffering and disorders. We all have a tendency to gravitate towards external things, identify with them and try to find happiness through them.
Through yoga, we can rein in this tendency. The systematic practice of yoga teaches us how to turn inward and become aware of our true nature. Meditation is the yogic technique that enables us to experience "self". This was described in the yoga sutra as a meditative program to fulfill our consciousness.
The three stages are:
Emergence of consciousness
Enlargement of consciousness
Merging of consciousness with cosmic consciousness.
Meditation helps in relaxation and uplifts a person spiritually. Chanting mantras, meditation, rhythmic movements have a positive effect on our emotions. The parasympathetic system is activated which facilitates relaxation (Aftanas, 2002; Kjaer, 2002).
Scientific evidence suggest that meditation improves the immune response, decreases the response to the sympathetic nervous system (stress), modifies cardiac symptoms, reduces pain sensation and slows the ageing process.
Emotional and spiritual benefits through meditation are far more efficacious and early response is noticed as compared to cognitive restructuring and psychotherapy. It enhances self-esteem and cultivates self dependence (Aftanas, 2002; Infant, 2001; Travis, 2001).
Breathing Control - Pranayama
Pranayama is controlled breathing ("prana" = breathing, "yama" = controlled).
According to the Vedic scriptures the human body is made of five elements: earth (priithvi), water (jal), fire (agni), air (vayu) and ether (space). Amongst these five elements air is considered the most essential. In pranayam not only the air in the body is inhaled and exhaled but along with the oxygen there is vital force that is taken. This vital force permeates the entire universe and what we inhale and exhale is only a fragment of it.
The yoga system is closely linked to the spiritual idea of karma. Scientists know that every action has a reaction. This is also the understanding of karma. One aspect of karma is that those who cause violence and suffering to others must experience that either now or in future. Karma is linked to reincarnation. The Vedas state that there are 8,400,000 types of body so if we are animalistic (flesh eating etc and cruel to animals) we will lose human form and descend into lower species in later life. Animals are guided or compelled by instinct and so animal's existence has no karma generated, as he also has no free will/freedom. Karmic laws explain that negative traits like hostility, cruelty and depression come from those activities which involve unnecessary killing. On a biological level, animal adrenaline enters the human body when taken in as flesh.