Part 1: Yoga Philosophy – Yoga Terms
This blog will discuss the following terms: yoga, karma, samsara, samskara, prakriti, purusha, buddhi, ahamkara, prana, nadi and brahman.
The Light on Yoga describes the term yoga as “the yoking of all powers of the body, mind and soul to God.” Yoga is derived from “yuj” which means “to yoke or bind together”. My interpretation of the term yoga is that it binds the mind, body and soul together as one (to yoke). The practice of yoga brings an awareness to the individual which connects different areas of the body together bringing an all round awareness. The Bhagavad Gita elaborates on the term in that it brings an awareness to the “self”.
The term “yoga” is summarised well in the Matri Upanishad as “the oneness of the breath, the mind and likewise of the senses and the abandonment of all conditions of existence, this is designated as yoga.” As mentioned already yoga is the merging of the body, the senses and the mind to achieve a higher state of mind. Through practice it brings awareness to the self and freedom. Freedom in the sense of looking at yourself as you are at the moment, non judgmentally and being able to live in that moment accepting who you are and letting go of yourself.
The term karma is commonly used in the West with the understanding that actions have consequences. Fundamentally this is true but it goes much deeper than just actions, it’s in our mind and soul too. Thoughts also have consequences, not just our actions. Karma is karma, it doesn’t differentiate between good and bad or right and wrong. Our actions and thoughts determine positive and negative karma. If we think negative thoughts, these likely spur on further negative thoughts. Equally, in our actions if we act positively, others will act positively towards us.
Yogapedia explains the karma is affected by the intention behind the action, so what was unintentionally a negative action doesn’t have the same consequence as an intentionally negative action. The Bhagavad Gita talks about how karma can grow from “a seed into a tree”. This is the idea that we can fundamentally change who we are or aspects about ourselves, this happens from a thought that we have that grows into more and more, and ultimately actions which make this change.
An example is that I thought I could be a yoga teacher, from this first thought I embarked on a course to give a grounding and then onto teacher training. One day this thought will be a reality as I take action to lead towards this.
Samsara is the circle of life and death. It is the concept that we live multiple lives, it ties into “yoga” in that in death we depart our body and are re-incarnated into another. Karma determines our next life. The Bhagavad Gita mentions one should slip out of this life with ease not fearing death as they’ll be re-birthed into a new life.
Samskara – “Sam” meaning complete or joined together, “kara” meaning action, cause or doing. These are our habitual habits. It is our thoughts and our conditioning. These can be good and bad habits. Samskara isn’t something we really notice as these habits are in our unconscious and often split second decisions. To become aware of samskara we need to slow down to notice these habits.
Our bad habits can prohibit us from growing and developing so trying to be aware of these is key. Bo Forbes talked of a great example where she witnessed people pushing themselves to their maximum in her classes but later harming themselves. Only through injury where they able to back off a little and discover their habits and adapt them.
Prakriti & Purusha
Prakriti is object and form. Yogapedia describes Prakriti as a “primal creative or natural force”.
Purusha is subject and life. It is pure consciousness and described as indescribable, so I’ll try to describe it anyway!
Prakriti is the feminine, creative energy (that gives birth to the world of name and form), and its counterpart Purusha as masculine energy that encompasses the self (Self – not the self as the personality we think we are). My interpretation is that one can not exist without the other. Whilst Prakriti is the world around us (physically), Purusha is the consciousness (spirituality) around us. The reference of masculine and feminine energy is appropriate as without both there is no baby. Without one there isn’t the other.
Buddhi is the “higher mind”. It is our inner wisdom, the function of the mind that knows, judges, decides and discriminates. The Buddhi is our mind, fundamental to who we are. It is part of our ego. It’s not something we’re aware of or really can be as its part of who we are. In samkhya philosophy the buddhi is one aspect of the mind where as ahamkara (ego) and manas are other aspects. So the buddhi is not described as part of the ego but it is part of the individual mental apparatus or psyche.
Ahamkara is our ego. Yoga is described as a good practice to help understand our ego. Bo Forbes example of people going straight to the maximum position is an example of our ego trying to reach the most advanced posture when in fact it’s may not be the best posture for us. Once we understand our ego or how to connect to it we’re then able to work on shedding our ego or controlling it. The Bhagavad Gita defines Ahamkara as “self will, separateness”. We need to discipline our ego but our ego is also what makes us unique as individuals.
Prana is life force. In yoga prana is referred to flow in and out of the body through the breath. It is far more than this though. The breath brings energy into the being. We intake and expel prana though our breath, sharing it with others and using what we need. Beyond ourselves prana is shared among everything and everyone, it is life force. The sanskit definition “an” meaning movement and “pra” meaning constant. Prana translates to “constant movement” hence its association with the breath is appropriate, something that is always moving and some thing everything needs to survive.
It translates as “tube, channel or flow”, the Nadis are the channels in which energy is passed around. There are three principle Nadis around the spinal cord that correlate to the energy centres of the chakras, these points cross but are not related. The three principle Nadis are;
Ida – This is the feminine left channel and ends at the left nostril. Its regarded as cool and nurturing and said to control our mental processes. (shown as white)
Pingala – This is the masculine right channel and ends at the right nostril. Its regarded as warm and stimulating and said to control our somatic processes. (shown as red)
Sushumna – The central line which runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. It passes through all 7 chakras.
Prana is carried around the body through the Nadis. Outwith the being if we look to nature roots are a great example of nadis, these feed the plant/tree the life force it needs to survive.
Brahman doesn’t have a direct translation but refers to the highest universal principle. In Hinduism Brahman is the highest God there is, whilst not a definitive being more of a power.The Upanishads describes a concept that Brahman is the eternal and spiritual source of the universe, with no beginning or end. Brahman is the essence of the universe, in religion this is referred to as God. My understanding is that Brahman is the essence of everything and the foundation of creation.
My blog will be updated with more so stay tuned!