Essence and Substance of Yoga ► 05 Vedic Stream Of Yoga

Posted: 17.12.2011

Vedic Stream Of Yoga

The mention about the term ‘Yoga’ and yoga practices in various forms are found in several scriptures - Vedas, Bhagavad Gita. Brahmasutra’s, Uttarmimansa, Vaiseshik, philosophy of Kanada, Nyaya of Gautama, Sankhya philosophy of Kapila, Upanishads and others. However, it will not be an exaggeration that it was sage Patañjali who around 200 B.C. was the first to collect, compile, systematize, condense and codify the scattered material on Yoga in 195 aphorisms (Stanzas) in his canonical work “Yoga Sutra”. He is as a matter of fact father of systematic yoga. Subsequent developments are all off-shoots. Yoga sutra is in four parts.

1. Samadhi Pada:

This part contains 51 sutras (aphorisms) meant for those who have balanced mind. The emphasis is on stopping thought processes by practice and detachment.

This is the very definition of Yoga by Patañjali Yoga is stopping of thought process. Instead of stopping the controlling or channelizing properly will be better interpretation of the word ‘nirodhaḥ’ | | 2 | |
By practice and detachment, it will be possible to channelize thought processes of mind in right direction | | 12 | |

2. Sadhna Pad:

This section contains 55 stanzas (sutras), prescribing eight sequential steps of yoga for those who are at lower stage in their faculties of mind.

The eight steps of yoga are Yama (vows), Niyama (Rules), Asanas (Postures), Pranayam (Breathing regulation), Pratyahara (Austerity in activities of five senses), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyan (Contemplation) and Samadhi (Identification) |  | 29 | |

(i)  Yama:

The five Yamas are Ahimsa (Non violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmcharya (Celibacy) and Aparigraha (Non-acquisition, Non-Possession or non-consumerism). These are pre-requisites for yoga practitioner to be imbibed and observed before proceeding furthers sequentially to other steps | | 30 | |

(ii)  Niyama:

The Niyamas are also five. These are Shauch (Cleanliness, purity), Santosh (Contentment) Tapa (Austerity, tolerance of hardships, adversities), Svadhaya (reading good, informative guiding scriptures), Ishvarpranidhan (Taking inspiration from teachings and ideals of one’s iconic deity) | | 32 | |

Cleanliness implies both internal and external of mind and body and also ambient environment social as well as natural. Mind should be cleaned and purified of bad and evil thoughts and no harmful, harsh and undesired act against anybody, anything should be done bodily. The ambient environment should also be unpolluted and amicable. The natural physical environment particularly the air for breathing, water for drinking and food for nutrition should not be polluted. Likewise social environment in family, society nation and globally should also be peaceful, good and harmonious. Without this yoga may not be possible and if practised will not be fruitful.

Unfortunately some weird and unnatural practices not prescribed by Patañjali have subsequently been added with Hathayoga gaining popularity. Inserting thread in nostrils and churning alternatively, thrusting a long measured piece of cloth in digestive tract, inhaling and exhaling water alternatively through nostrils, tratak and kapalbhati etc. are weird and unnatural practices and against the basic concept of yoga which is primarily union with nature to be as close as possible to nature.

(iii)  Asana (Posture):

Sthirasukhasanam | | 46 | |

According to Patañjali posture during yoga practices should be such that one can remain stable, steady and comfortable during the required period. As a matter of fact proper comfortable and steady posture is necessary not only during meditation but also during every activity - sitting, standing, running, driving, cooking and doing any sort of work. This will enhance efficiency and will protect from any harm because of wrong posture. Now-a-days special ergonomically designed furniture is being advised for proper posture according to the nature of work, work place and the person. Patañjali did not prescribe, advocate and even mention any of the eighty four odd postures being advocated frequently by yoga teachers as a must for yoga practices. These are being propagated for commercial considerations as medical recipes. The justification given for eighty-four odd Asanas (Postures) is that they are condensed from eighty-four lakh of postures which is the number of various life-forms (yonis) and that adopting postures of various animals will endow the qualities and efficiency of respective animals and birds. This is absurd and unscientific. The various natural postures of animals and birds are necessary for them for their function. Human beings have evolved further out of these lower stages and accordingly their body functions are different. Copying animal postures is anachronic and harmful. In addition to odd postures weird forced muscular contractions (Bandhas) and gestures (Mudras) are also prescribed and practised. In first Bandha Muscles of anus are contracted. In second chin is pressed hard against chest such that arteries of neck are closed. In third belly is forcefully lifted up and lowered. These are forced, unnatural and harmful. The eight gestures (Mudras) are very odd. In Kechari Mudra (Moving-in-void gesture), the ferenum of tongue is cut and tongue is gradually elongated to reach to the middle of eyebrows. In another Vajoli Mudra (Thunder bolt gesture) ejaculation has to be stopped while in actual intercourse and if it happens then the semen and sperms have to be sucked back along with ovum of woman which is impossible. It is shameful that such obscene practices have also been included in Yoga under the influence of “Vama Marga” (the cult of perverted).  The more important and potent first two steps of Yama and Niyama have almost been relegated or even abandoned. Patañjali did not even mention gestures (Mudras) which are also being emphasized and propagated along with Asanas.

(iv)  Pranayam:

To stop frequency of breathing is Pranayama. Stopping is cessation of breath which is an attribute of life itself and only dead do not breathe. Controlling, regulating or lengthening of time in breathing will be more appropriate meaning of the word (‘vichchhedaḥ’) | | 49 | |

Inhaling (Purak), exhaling (Rechak) and keeping the breathed air inside (Kumbhaka) are three type of Pranayama | | 50 | |

These are of short and long duration (dīrghāsukshmaḥ). Patañjali did not mention that the natural duration and frequency should be lengthened and breathed air retained by force. The words ‘desha,’ (place) kāla,’ (time) ‘saṁkhyā’ are important. Naturally time increases or decreases according to place (situation, exigency) during sitting, standing, running or in face of some danger and according to levels of emotions of anger, vanity, greed, good and bad news etc. What Patañjali prescribes is that yoga practitioner should just observe the natural flow of breath as it is during a given situation and time. Of course a person, a yogi observing Yama and Niyama will have equanimity in varying situations and will not be swayed away by emotions and his breathing will naturally be steady. In Sanskrit there are various modes of interpreting the meanings of words. By ‘Abhida’ mode of interpretation ‘vichchhedaḥ’ means stopping. But according to “Lakshna” mode the correct meaning of ‘vichchhedaḥ’ is not stopping or cessation but experiencing the natural rhythm of breathing. Anything, any activity if forced is unnatural. Forced body activity is prohibited by Charak, the great Ayurvedacharya, terming it as “Prajñana Apradha” (Crime against mind and body).

Transgressing time in any mental or body act, doing acts wrong and painful for body are crimes against mind and body and are causes for diseases..... | | 103 | |

What is important is that the air being breathed in should be clean and unpolluted. If inhaled air is polluted, its forced longer inhaling will do more harm than good. The more harmful is the practice of suspension or retention (Kumbhak) of the inhaled air which in air sacs of lungs is continuously exchanged by polluted air (CO2) in blood capillaries and if retained longer than the concentration of CO2 will be more and more in air sacs and the blood will not get required O2 for its purification. Excess CO2 accumulation in blood leads to blood poisoning reduces immunity inviting various diseases. CO2 in blood reacts with water in blood forming carbonic acid - a poison.

Bāhmābhyantara vishayākshepi  | | 51 | |

In this stanza (Sutra) Patañjali has given the spiritual connotation of Pranayama as its fourth dimension in addition to the three dimensions of Purak. Rechak and Kumbhaka. It exhorts that effort should be made to throw out the evil thoughts, emotions and sensual infatuation with every exhalation.

(v)  Pratyahara:

svavishayāsamprayoge chitrasya svarupānukar ivedriyāṅāṁ pratyāhāraḥ | | 54 | |

Pratyahara is withdrawal of five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing from their pursuits and indulgence and thus free the mind from sensual infatuations to enable it to concentrate on pure-self. Such extreme interpretation is not practicable and is escapism. The practical interpretation is austerity, restraint, control of unbridled pursuit and indulgence in sensual pleasures. It is unrestricted race and greed to acquire and consume more and more objects to satisfy unlimited sensual desires that is responsible for spiralling consumerism many times more than carrying capacity of nature which is one of the principal factors for increasing environmental pollution and degradation.


3.  Vibhutipada:

Out of eight steps five have been described in second section Sadhanapad of Yoga Sutra. The remaining three are dealt with in this third section Vibhutipa containing 55 stanzas (Sutras).

(vi)  Dharana:

In Dharana practice of yoga the yogi practises concentration of mind on a particular object of thought | | 1 | |

(vii)  Dhyan:

It is extension and intensification of previous step Dharana (concentration) by continued dwelling upon or contemplation of object so held in Dharana | | 2 | |

These two steps Dharana and Dhyan are very important in practical yoga Dharana is starting point while doing any work by concentrating the mind in that work and not allowing it to waver in other thoughts. Dhyan is then continuing the concentration till the work is completed. Both processes should be adhered while undertaking next work and so on. Sitting idly and concentrating on imaginary objects, fantasies is certainly not an ideal type of Dhyan. It is just waste of time which is most valuable in life. Of course advance mental planning for an important task is also necessary and for that one may sit quietly and ponder over pros and cons and methodologies of work to be undertaken. This is not idling but a prerequisite for important work. For examples writing project formulation etc. need such contemplation. But purposeless fantasies while sitting idle are just waste of time. Time is most valuable in life and should not be wasted.

Even a single movement of life can not be obtained by all the diamonds in the world. If any one wastes life in unproductive, useless, passive pursuits it is greatest idleness.
-Yoga Vāsishtha 6/175-178

(viii)  Samadhi:

It is further intensification of previous two steps. It is identification with the object of contemplation | | 3 | |

Abstract noumenal concept like merging into one’s iconic deity object, god etc. are of not practical importance. There are certain very important works like scientist working on important research when the person has to concentrate very intensely as if he is merged in the work and forgets even his own bodily needs of food etc. Samadhi for practical purpose in life is highest stage of concentration while engaged in work of importance.

In the subsequent remaining stanzas of this section there is mention of weird and occult superpowers which may be attained by yogi such as knowledge of past and future, knowing thoughts of others minds, becoming invisible, entering other’s bodies, getting rid of hunger and thirst, becoming very small or very large, passing through all types of hindrances, capability to destroy all types of materials things etc. These are impossible and only conjectures and superstitions. If even a few possessed such powers in this country any time in the past, no invader would have been able to conquer, enslave and torture the people. But history is witness that India suffered ignoble defeats, slavery and tortures repeatedly over and over again. It is unfortunate that an eminent sage Patañjali who has assiduously and systematically devised scientific steps of yoga, also succumbed to such superstitious conjectures which were prevalent during medieval era. However, he has wisely denounced such superhuman powers:

These occult powers are hindrances in the path of progress and uplift | | 37 | |


4.  Kevalyapada:

In this last section of yoga sutra there are 34 stanzas (sutras) which are almost an extension of previous section Vibhutipad. There is mention of more occult powers:

The yogi can have powers to know about previous births, to cure diseases, to meet his deity in person etc. | | 1 | |

It appears that an enlightened person with scientific temper could not have mentioned such superstitions. Subsequent jealous followers might have added these to accommodate then prevailing concepts. This apprehension is not unfounded because several of canonical scriptures have been proved to be adulterated. For example Mahabharat according to scholars originally contained only about nine thousand aphorisms and now there are over a lakh. Likewise Bhagavad Gita could not have been as lengthy as now because it would not have been possible to deliver such lengthy sermons requiring a few hours when armies announced commencement of war by blowing respective conches. Krishna could have got hardly a few minutes to awaken Arjun from cowardice.[1] So Patañjali could not be the author of superstitious fantasies, superhuman weird powers etc. The dilution of standards prescribed by Patañjali is continuing and are preponderant in present times also. After Patañjali sprang up several off-shoots. Subsequent yoga teachers are continuously modifying even the basic concepts and tenets, diluting and even abandoning the fundamentals.


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Essence and Substance of Yoga


D.R. Mehta, Prakrit Bharati Academy.
Prakash Chand Baradia, Ratandevi Bherunlal Baradia Charitable Society, Jaipur.

Edition:   1st edition 2010
ISBN: 978-81-89698-92-8

HN4U Online edition: Dr. Rudi Jansma