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Yoga philosophy

The word yoga comes from yuj, a concept from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. It originally means to yoke draft animals. Figuratively it is translated as the cleansing of the spirit and senses. Yoga is a form of Indian philosophical teachings and consists mainly of spiritual and physical exercises.

In Europe the concept of yoga is mainly associated with the physical exercises only. These are called asanas or yoga asanas. However, this is only a small part of yoga teachings.

Some forms of yoga have a meditative character and focus on spiritual concentration. Other yoga forms (e.g. Hatha) place more emphasis on the physical exercises.

The concept of "yoga", derived from Sanskrit, (from yuga "yoke", yuj for "joining, uniting, controlling, yoking") can be understood as "uniting" or "integration" or in the sense of "harnessing" and "yoking" the body to the soul for collecting and concentration.

The path and method to reach this is viewed differently by the various forms of yoga.

Raja Yoga and the "eight levels":

1. Yama
(abstinence, self control)

2. Niyama
(behavioral rules according to the Code of Conduct of Patanjali, e.g. cleanliness)

3. Asana

4. Pranayama
(breathing exercises)

5. Pratyahara
(discipline of the physical senses to bring awareness deep inside oneself)

6. Dharana
(concentration - on only one point or thought)

7. Dhyana
(meditation - the act of experiencing connectedness through love)

8. Sanadhi
(a state of consciousness which goes beyond normal awareness and dreams, a superconscious state)

The combined simultaneous practice of the three highest aspects of Raja Yoga - Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi (unity, enlightenment) - is called Samyama.

Indian classical writings describe 4 methods of yoga:
Raja Yoga: the meditative oriented levels according to Patanjali.
Jnana Yoga: an intellectual direction, yoga as awareness.
Karma Yoga: the yoga of action, the yoga of selfless acts.
Bhakti Bhakti Yoga: this method views yoga as reverence and devotion.

As time went on the numerous asanas were developed. They were mainly directed at strengthening and mobilizing the body so that it was possible to sit in a meditative pose (Full Lotus Posture) for long periods of time. Over the years the positive effects of these physical exercises on overall well-being were recognized. Thus focus was shifted to physical activities as well. Yoga gained in significance due to Hatha Yoga. The "Hatha Yoga Pradipika", a 15th century text, is the foundation for body-focused yoga schools. Raja Yoga is based in Hatha Yoga; this method of yoga emphasizes more spiritual goals.