Yoga In Illness and Health
by Jnani Chapman, RN
What is Yoga
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The word Yoga means union and comes from the ancient Sanskrit language. The root word means to yoke together. Yoga is understood to be both a process and a goal, a means and an end: the process is the consistent and intentional utilization of some set of formal and informal practices (described further on); the goal is an attainment, the description of which varies depending on who is talking. A.G. Mohan addresses these dual aspects when he says that the goal of yoga is a "state of mind which is an end in itself" and adds that "whether we want to touch our toes or reach God, there must be movement. This movement is yoga" (p. 12, Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind). Joan Borysenko, co-founder with Herbert Benson, MD of the Mind-Body Clinic at New England Deaconess Hospital, says that the practice of yoga is "aimed at learning to quiet the mind and to direct it." She speaks of the practices as "centering" and asserts that the end result is an increase of awareness, honesty, confidence, competence and love (p. 99, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson).
Yoga has its origins in the ancient Vedas, scriptures sacred to all Hindus. The Vedas were passed along orally in story. and song for centuries and first recorded between 1000-3000 B.C. In the first half of each of the Vedas,* ancient sages (rishis) express instruction in rituals and rules of conduct. In the last half of each of the Vedas (collectively called "The Upanishads") these sages express philosophical insights gained by their experiences of superconscious states, and offer encouragement to help readers achieve these insights through direct experience. In the Vedas, yoga is one of six equally valid systems described as paths to that experience. Later, the Bhagavad Gita, meaning "Song of God", was passed along and set down in writing. It is a section of the sacred epic scripture, The Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita serves to further peoples' understanding of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna, as an incarnation of God, describes how one can carry on rightly in life. Krishna describes some of the practices in yoga which can help one achieve self-realization. These include Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga (described later). Many versions of the Bhagavad Gita are available translated from the Sanskrit with commentaries by the teachers of various yoga traditions. Philosophical and practical approaches can vary widely depending on the translator's lineage and training.
The gamut of teachings expounded as yoga can range from a specialized secular framework to a highly ritualized religious structure. Although yoga and Hinduism share common roots, people who:practice yoga are not necessarily Hindu and Hindus do not necessarily practice yoga. Hinduism, according to Houston Smith, is unique among most religions by holding that other religions "are alternate and relatively equal paths to the same God" (p. 114, Religions of Man). While A.G. Mohan states that yoga "is not wedded to any religious tradition," and others believe that Yoga neither accepts nor rejects God, Mircea Eliade interprets yoga as theistic. Yoga is certainly similar to religion in that it is based on ethical precepts, codes of behavior, and established rituals and practices.
Copyright © 2000 Jnani Chapman, RN
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