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The original meaning of the word yoga is a special state of mind known as Samadhi. In ancient times samadhi was commonly experienced – as part of the cycle of waking, dreaming and deep sleep, this fourth state (samadhi) also occurred at certain times of day. But today, due to our our stressful lives, conditioning and unhealthy habits, the experience of the samadhi state has mostly been lost.
Over time, yoga practices have been developed to diminish and eliminate the afflictions which torment us and to help cultivate states of relaxation and release as a foundation for experiencing the true happiness and knowledge which yoga brings. This is the secondary meaning of the word yoga – a method or technique used to acquire the state of samadhi. Yoga practices put the body and mind into a healthy relaxed state suitable for sitting with a quiet mind.
Samadhi is a natural state which occurs when all activities of the mind stop. When the mind ceases all activity, then the soul is experienced in isolation from the the mind and body in its pure essence – which is truth (sat), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ananda). Since this experience is no longer commonly found, we no longer feel a true sense of identity and no longer access the bliss of samadhi.
Yoga practice (sadhana) should have a goal, a target. Without a clear intention we will get lost. A good understanding of the technique and how to apply it is also necessary. If we have clear idea about our destination and a good knowledge of how to get there then our efforts will be effective. But without a proper sense of direction or knowledge about technique our efforts will not produce the desired end.
The essence of yoga sadhana (practice) is – tapas (purification/discipline) – svadhyaya (enquiry into the nature of the essential Self) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to the wisdom of nature/the essential Self).
Discipline, purification and surrender are essential components of asana practice. Surrender or relaxation, letting go, is the counterpart to effort. In asana practice our aim is to balance these two – when these two are equalized, asana is said to be perfect. Then asana acts as a foundation for pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Sva-dhyaya – enquiry into the nature of the true, essential Self, the soul or purusha is the essence of yoga practice. The goal of yoga is Self-Realization – Self knowing. The path to this knowledge is through study, reflection and meditation.