What is the meaning of Yoga, a word which we hear so often? How many Yogas are there? How do we practise yoga?
Yoga is that which ‘unites’ (yuj—to yoke) the Jivatman (the individual soul) with the Paramatman (the Supreme Self or God). Any path of spiritual discipline which help achieve this union is ‘Yoga’. Yogas are generally considered four in number: Jnanayoga, Bhaktiyoga, Rajayoga and Karmayoga.
Jnanayoga states that it is ‘Atmajnana’ (knowledge or direct experience of the Atman) that gives Moksha. An aspirant of Moksha should cultivate viveka (discrimination), vairagya (dispassion) and virtues like self-control and forbearance. Then he should approach a competent Guru (spiritual teacher), listen to him explaining the message of the scriptures, and reflect and meditate on that message, which will ultimately give him the experience of the Atman.
In Bhaktiyoga, cultivating love of God, meditating on His form and repeating His name form the primary disciplines.
Rajayoga prescribes meditation on the Atman by the following eight steps: Yama (restraint), Niyama (observances), Asana (posture), Pranayama (regulation of breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (trance experience).
Karmayoga advocates the purification of mind by performing one’s duties in a detached way and as a service to the world. This purity of mind will ultimately result in the experience of the Atman who is within everyone of us.
Health and purity of body, and moral rectitude are basic disciplines common to all the four Yogas.