What is yoga? Principles of yoga. History of yoga.

What is yoga? Yoga is a system of self-exploration.

Now, what and what for are we supposed to explore?

Yoga says that every person has a Supreme "Self". It dwells in a state of absolute happiness and freedom. To explore your Supreme Self, discovering your inner state of happiness and freedom - this is the path of yoga described in a few words.

Yoga is a very interesting system of self-exploration, where a person is encouraged to comply with moral and ethical principles - the so-called first and second principles of yoga.

The first principle of yoga is a principle of kindness. It discourages us from doing harm to anyone unless it is absolutely necessary; however, if it is impossible, we should act according to our duty and try our best to minimize that harm.

Causing no harm to any living being is a corner stone in any kind of yoga. If it is possible to avoid doing harm, we shouldn't do harm to anyone. If it is impossible, we should act according to our duty. Each of us knows or feels intuitively their purpose. Now, if we must act in a certain way and if it involves doing harm, we must ask ourselves, ‘Is it our duty to do so?’ If the answer is 'yes', then our duty is to act in this very way. However, if this is not our duty, we shouldn't do it.

The second principle of yoga is a principle of common sense. It is a principle of logic, a principle of rational use of one's resources. It encourages us to spend all our power only on the achievement of the goals set. We invest our power and time only in things that lead us to our goals, whatever they may be - in work, in studies, in rest or in private life. I.e. to approach all tasks, we set for ourselves in all spheres of life including yoga with common sense. And what task do we set in yoga? It is the task of self-exploration.

The most important detail distinguishing yoga from other systems of self-exploration is that we should, as yoga encourages us, practice self-exploration in harmony. Violence to yourself is out of question. It is important to understand it early on, especially if you have never practiced yoga before. Those who have not practiced yoga before, usually react to the word 'yoga' with fear, that you have to force yourself somehow, to compel yourself to do something, to feel a certain discomfort. Now, from the very beginning we should define it very plainly and clearly. Yoga does not imply violence. It's another matter that sometimes we have to force ourselves, to make some effort. But even making this effort, we observe ourselves from the background and feel joy from overcoming ourselves.

And what is the origin of yoga? Who made it? This question is very difficult to answer. Yoga has come to us from the most ancient times - the times so ancient that we can only assume and guess when this teaching actually appeared. Yoga probably appeared many thousands of years ago. It appeared so long ago that all authors and names got lost. This happened due to several reasons. For a long period of time the tradition was not written down upon any material media but was conveyed orally. On the other hand, it was not always appropriate - to leave your name. But we can say that yoga is much, much more than 3,000 years old.

Anyway, the estimates differ. Some consider yoga to be more than 5,000 years old. Some mention even an older age. As a matter of fact, it is not that important. What is important is that somehow this teaching came down to us. And with the very fact that it existed for so long and survived, we can prove, even though implicitly, the efficiency of this method. For a great number of other systems including the systems of self-exploration just did not survive. But yoga has shown that it is such a strong system that it would have been insane to give it up in the ancient times. Thus, it was passed on from generation to generation and made it to us. Of course, there are names of certain authors or Teachers that became known at later stages of yoga expansion. But, essentially, we do not know where this teaching came from. This is one of the mysteries, one of the very serious mysteries of history.

Question: how did this knowledge come down to us? It came down from teacher to student, and at the same time through the ancient texts. Some of them survived and were published, others did not survive, and still others survived but were not published.

What is yoga of meditation and what does it give?

There are various branches of yoga: hatha yoga, pranayama yoga, mantra yoga, raja yoga, djnana yoga etc. Together they all represent a single teaching the goal of which is to achieve the peak of self-exploration and to acquire freedom. Knowledge is power, and any knowledge regarding us gives us tools to find solution for problems and avoid negativity.

Meditation is one of the branches of the single yoga teaching. And the goal of meditation yoga is the same as the goal of all yoga as a whole: self-exploration, acquisition of freedom from all the limiting factors. We may say that meditation is a set of tools that lets us reach the highest goal of yoga.

The word 'meditation' has a lot of meanings; it is hard to translate it unambiguously. The word itself is of European origin: from Latin meditation – reflection, contemplation, mental process. Before the 20th century this term only stood for deep thinking, concentration on a problem, an inner prayer, as well as a form of philosophical lyrics.

The word 'meditation' has the same stem as the word 'media' or 'multimedia', which means 'something intermediary, something that connects'. In the West meditation is usually understood as some intermediate incomprehensible state of a human being: here is their functioning and interaction with the outside world, and there is their interaction with the inner world. The practice of meditation in the West gained widespread acceptance in various spiritual organizations. Christian mystics as well as esoteric societies ranging from alchemists to Pythagor’s disciples - the Pythagorean, used it.

What we call 'mediation' in the West, is defined with three terms in the East: 'dharana', 'dhyana' and 'samadhi'. In 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali' the three of them together are called 'sanyama'. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the three stages of a meditative process, which successively supersede each other. As we can see, there is a certain difficulty in trying to relate the western term 'meditation' to the practices that exist in the East. This causes all kinds of speculations on this topic, which, moreover, are everyway fueled with numerous incomprehensible books. There is indeed a lot of popular literature on the market now, in which meditation is presented either as exotic esotery, or as something extremely sublime, yet bookish. An approach like this, exultant and emotional, as well as the exotic-esoteric one results in a distorted picture of this most ancient practice. Meanwhile, the yoga of meditation, like any other branch of yoga, is as accurate as mathematics. Mediation is based on certain principles: the principles of our body, the principles of mind and the principles of our world. And despite the fact that the topic of meditation is rather complicated and serious, it is at the same time very close to life. Our task is to approach the theory and of course the practice of this question in such a way that each of you could consciously try this kind of yoga and get a result yourself.

To define what meditation is and how we can benefit from it, in order to understand why and how meditation works, we shall take a very roundabout approach.

Nowadays life has become rather stressful, everyone has to experience a lot of pressure coming from our everyday life. And it results in that we often fail to restore our emotional balance, equilibrium, and harmony. The eternal rush that makes us move and race forward causes various stress conditions that gradually begin to reveal themselves on the physical level, too - we start to suffer from some physical diseases. Thus, a rather grave problem arises. Sophisticated people suffer from it most. People who are somewhat rough, with sort of rough sense organs, rough mind, are less sensitive in regard to various irritants, whereas more sophisticated people suffer tremendously. Now, yoga gives us a wonderful method that is called 'meditation'. This method helps us deal with all these negative moments of life. But strictly speaking, this method of meditation, which lets us avoid all these negativities coming from life, has a deeper essence. This is one of the methods of self-exploration. We remember that yoga is a science of self-exploration. Now, this 'curative' effect of meditation is like a 'side' effect.

Now a couple of words for those people who have never come across meditation in their life before. The thing is that it has become quite a trendy topic nowadays. The television, magazines and books encourage us to turn to meditation, but inexperienced people have difficulty in understanding what is meant sometimes.

What kind of state is it that we are encouraged to pursue? And how should one approach it anyway?

As a matter of fact, everyone has their own personal experience that at least vaguely resembles meditation. Imagine yourself doing some very difficult job for a very long time and then that you have finally finished it and sat down to have rest - with the feeling of a job well done. You sat down, relaxed and found yourself in such a blissful state, with a very good, positive emotional background - that you have really completed some very important task.

Now, this state partially resembles the state experienced by those who practice meditation. But the experience in a state of meditation is deeper. At this point it is already important for us to understand the following: meditation is natural for us. It is not something artificial, brought from outside, something difficult and incomprehensible that is even hard to approach. No. We all understand somehow intuitively what it is; moreover, all of us have partially experienced such states in our everyday life. Yoga is a very practical science. And naturally, it has worked out an algorithm allowing for a fast and efficient achievement of this state of tranquility and serenity with a very positive background within.

And why should we enter this state at all? What is the use of meditation for a modern person?

For example, we cannot always do a job and have rest afterwards. A modern person's job can sometimes last for many years and its result is very distant in time. And that is where we observe a state of accumulated stress - we tense all our powers, all our emotions, all our nerves but the result is still not there. We burn out and simultaneously fall within the scope of numerous irritant factors: we get stuck in hours-long traffic jams or push strollers through the subways during rush hours, we are surrounded by the noise and the clatter of the city, the overall nervousness falls upon us. And these negative factors overlap with the internal pressure from unfinished tasks or some unachieved goals that we set for ourselves, which results in dire consequences in the form of stress. That is why it would be good to learn to enter this state of peace, tranquility, and detachment in order to restore one's strength, to see things in a new light even if it is the task we are working on.

Let us consider another example. Suppose you are trying to resolve some complicated life situation of yours. And yoga encourages us to resolve it with maximum kindness. Sometimes you have to wait until other people around you will understand themselves the necessity of a compromise. And they may be unwilling to do so. They may, on the contrary, be stubborn and hold their ground - and a conflict situation arises. Now, yogis should sometimes arm themselves with patience, so that the people involved in the conflict situation could change their mind after a while. And how do poor yogis stay patient when they are loaded both at work and here, and they are all stressed out head to toe? 'Be patient', they demand - and yogi is already at the end of patience, it is impossible to bear it anymore.

Let us consider one more example. For example, you are trying to solve some difficult life situations. And yoga calls you to solve it in the kindest way. Sometimes it is better to wait until the people surrounding us understand that it is necessary to make some compromise. But they may not be inclined to this solution. On the contrary, they can persist in their way and this leads to a conflict. So sometimes yogi needs the patience to wait for people who are involved in a conflict situation to change their point of view. But how this yogi can be indeed patient when he is overloaded with work and is in constant stress. They demand from him: "Be patient," but he cannot stand it all anymore. And usually on the purely emotional level. And at some point, it becomes a vital necessity to plunge into a harmony and balance from time to time if we want to save relationships with our relatives and friends. But how can we reach this state of harmony and balance if our whole life strains us with pressure from all the sides?

Meditation is exactly that way which allows us for some time to forget about all our affairs, gain strength and return to our problems rested and refreshed. And even though the time of meditation can be very small even this is enough to recharge our batteries. Moreover, sometimes a brief meditation can be more profound and healing than sleep for twelve hours in a row. Because there are such mental states that will not allow a person to relax even while sleeping. Some internal structures are clamped leading to nightmares or thinking about affairs and problems even while sleeping. Thus, another positive quality of meditation is that it gives us strength exactly at the moment when it is most needed.

The question arises: how did meditation come to yoga? According to yoga when a person is engaged in self-discovery with the help of very serious respiratory, physical and mental exercises it turns out that his or her sensitivity is sharply exacerbated. Plus, yoga practice is very hard and serious by itself. It turns out that a person who is seriously engaged in self-exploration and has internal and external factors putting a load on him or her experiences the same kind of stress as a person in the modern overloaded world does. The only difference is that the yogi comes to it consciously and is experimenting with body, thoughts, and breathing. And the ordinary person suffers because of the life disorder, conflict situations, poor ecological state of the surrounding nature, problems of civilization, for example, constantly rumbling music, loss of natural rhythms of life as it was even some hundred years ago, when people were getting up at dawn and after the sunset there were no activities. So, it turns out that the ancient yogis practiced yoga and because of these studies they were becoming more sensitive. In the comments to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is said that the body of a yogi becomes sensitive like the eye. Indeed, if even a grain of sand gets into our eye it leads to a sharp pain. The same with yoga: being engaged in the self-exploration we become supersensitive. And this brings serious problems in usual life leading to the tendency of a more secluded way of living. Modern people have become extremely sensitive too but for another reason: because of numerous artificial and external irritants. In ancient times yogis have developed meditation technology as a tool that allowed them to calm down, relax, take a breath, gain strength and not to be so hyper-sensitive, over-irritated, over-reactive to external factors. So, meditation can serve as a universal medicine to a modern man as well.

When you develop regularity in your practice of meditation, even if you had a sleepless night and before that there were hard days and today serious work is expected then even with a short 15 minutes practice you will be able to fully restore your strength. And again, when facing some difficult situation in life you will show more patience and wisdom. This is the guarantee that you will cope with this difficult situation. Therefore, meditation is extremely necessary. At least to be adequate. Unfortunately, today a lot of quite normal people behave as mentally unbalanced and not quite adequate performing illogical actions and thereby creating problems both for themselves and for the others. This is the result of stress. Such a wave of inadequateness can cover any person. This was well known to yogis in antiquity. There is such an image of a yogi who is always calm and restrained and does not react to anything negative. This image is quite real. But nobody mentions that before reaching this state the yogi has to pass through the fire and water, thick and thin - a state where literally every nerve cell is shaking, and any small stimulus brings the literally physical pain. This is a very difficult stage in yoga practice (for people who are seriously engaged). And without meditation, it cannot be overcome. The same thing we can observe nowadays with ordinary people who are far from yoga.

Life is so hard for them that they are literally shaking with tension and negative emotions. And sometimes they behave, roughly speaking, absolutely insane. Meditation helps restore balance, peace, and harmony.

This effect of meditation is achieved due to the fact that during the practice the inner free space is created and gradually expanded. We have our karma and we do not know what will happen tomorrow. But we have the so-called "inner wonderful land" and at any time whatever anything happens we can find ourselves in our inner magical kingdom that was built by us and does not depend on anything. This is the world of meditation that we created. And while being there we calm down and come to ourselves. We gain strength and return to our usual dimension. And we start to remodel the normal world. Feeling tired – back again to the inner kingdom. In our material world, everything is very doubtful and unsteady. When we create a world of unaffectedness within ourselves we create a reliable ground which is always under our feet.

Thus, if you practice meditation on a completely unconditioned basis just because you wanted so after some time the inner unaffectedness will develop inside becoming a springboard for all the positive changes in life. The fact is that if we start practicing yoga it is inevitable that we clean ourselves, get rid of something negative and rebuild our lives and relationships with people. This is an extremely tedious task. And it is desirable to have moments of rest that can be regular meditation. But like everything in yoga it works only in one case if it is a habit.

Day after day, day after day... But on one of the days, you will suddenly feel that something new appeared in your life. Calmness, pacification. The most interesting is that after a while you will catch yourself thinking that you are waiting for the moment of meditation. On a usual day you will point out in the background, "Tomorrow morning I will wake up again and I will have a few minutes of absolute calm and rest when no one disturbs me." And this thought will start to warm you from the inside. It will be such an island of unaffectedness that will be growing in you. Every day, from year to year. At first, you need very mild conditions. But then your whole life will be going on this calm full background.

It is important to emphasize - the fact that you will have this island of unaffectedness does not mean at all that you will walk with a stony face. No, you will behave quite naturally, will have fun and joy. But even if you are in emotions some part of you is controlling this. The person who is engaged in yoga is not some kind of a monk who already does not care about anything in this life. No this is a very active and joyful person. But he or she differs from others in an invisible way, by the look at everything from the position of strength. Why? Because this person has this magical land inside where he or she can always go and have a rest there. It is even enough to just think about this island and here comes calmness. People will feel balance, non-conflict, and tranquility from you. Usually, even just the presence of this person calms down the minds of other people. It turns out that when becoming more patient, calm and balanced you win in all the complex and conflict situations.

Last modified: Saturday, 25 July 2020, 10:35 AM