Yoga, in the broadest perspective, can be described as the means to attaining a pure state of being.  The effectual techniques for transcending the ego-personality and lifting the spiritual practitioner out of their ordinary perception and relationship with the world.  The ultimate purpose being what is referred to as ‘absolute freedom’, a transcendence of the human condition and the realisation of the ‘highest’ reality or Self.   Despite the apparent vastness of yogic traditions, the overall purpose and message is the same – happiness is our essential nature, and our quest for happiness is fulfilled only when we realise who we truly are.

The Sanskrit term yoga is derived from the verbal root yuj, meaning ‘to bind together’ ‘to link’ ‘to yoke’. In a spiritual context, yoga can denote a unifying discipline,  a preparatory step in attuning one’s body, sense organs and mind for commencing enquiry into the Self (atman, purusha).

Perhaps the best known and most explicit exposition on yoga philosophy (yoga-darshana), are the yoga sutras, as compiled by the ancient sage Pantanjali.  Pantanjali’s yoga sutras were the result of an enormous effort to classify and organise a series of ascetic and contemplative practices that India had known from time immemorial, taking the practice from a mystical tradition into a system of philosophy.

The yoga contained within Pantanjali’s sutras is synonymous with Raja yoga – one of the six schools of Indian Philosophy. Raja yoga (royal or highest yoga) provides perhaps the most systematic method to the practice of yoga.

Pantajali described an eight-limbed path to experience the full fruits of yoga.  The eight-limbed path (ashtanga yoga) consists of:

1. Yama: behavioural observances

    Ahimsa – non-violence

    Satya – speaking and living truth

    Asteya – non-stealing

    Brahmacharya – abstinence

    Aparigraha – non-covetousness

2. Niyama: internal discipline

    Sauca – purity of body and mind

    Sontosa – contentment

    Tapas – austerity or discipline

    Svadhyaya – self study

    Ishvara-pranidhana – surrender

3. Asana: posture

4. Pranayama: breath regulation

5. Pratyahara: regulation of sensory faculties

6. Dharana: confinement of the mind

7. Dhyana:  meditation

8. Samadhi absolute freedom

Yoga, as explained by Pantanjali, is powered by practice (abhyasa) and dispassion (vairagya). Practice referring to the spiritual pursuit of conquering the ‘ordinary’ mind which appears innately restless. Pantanjali noted that in order for practice to be successful it must be steady and cultivated over a long period of time, without interruption.  In order to practice yoga with success, effort (tapas) is required.  The second chapter of the yoga sutras, Sadhana Pada (meaning: on practice) prescribes specific and systematic tapas in the form of purifications, external and internal disciplines and breathing techniques.  In this regard, yoga practice is indispensable.

Hatha Yoga – inner force

The word hatha, means force and commonly refers to the branch of yoga that engages in self-transformation and transcendence by means of physical purification.   It incorporates many techniques for purification and stabilisation of the bodies energies – including a multitude of asanas (postures) which are used to restore and maintain the practitioners wellbeing, flexibility and vitality and also to serves as a passage way for meditation.  At the heart of hatha yoga practice is breath control (prananyama) and techniques to manipulate the bodies energy (prana) via the breath.

This form of yoga is perhaps best known in the west, but cannot and must not be confused with gymnastics. It is the physics and physiology of meditation that is of primary concern.  The hatha yogis became master of a zone infinitely greater than the ‘ordinary’ psychic zone. Increaseing awareness to a ‘subtle body’ – that is, making use of sensations, tensions and trans-conscious states. 

Compiled by Alan


1. The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali  (edition by Swami Hariharananda Aranya) 

2. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Maharshi Swatmarama)

3. The Bhagavad Gita (edition as translated by Eknath Easwaran)

4. Yoga Mala (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois)

5. Yoga Makaranda (Sri T. Krishnamacharya)

6.  Yoga Yajnavalkya (A.G Mohan, Ganesh Mohan)