The most precise meaning of the word “Yoga” amongst those given in the Indian literature is considered to be the one that originates from the philosophy of Yoga (Yoga-Darsana) – from the Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras” and the comments to it.
The Vyasa’s comments “Yoga-Bhashya” and the Vachasapatimishra’s glossary “Tattavavaysharidi” are reckoned in the most precious works helpful to understand the “Yoga Sutras”
The Patanjali’s"Yoga Sutras” is the sainted writing that clarifies the technique of control over the human body and mind therethrough taking advantage of this fine-tuned instrument to attain the absolute freedom - Moksha. Sooner or later every universal form, whatever complicated and godlike it is, disintegrates, and the Universe itself is periodically adsorbed by the "great dissolution " (mahapralaya) and becomes the prime protogenous materia Prakriti. Consequently everything arising, transforming, dying, vanishing and having no concern with the existence, is not sacral. Since the Upanishads India denies the world that we comprehend and attaches no importance to the life that rises ephemeral, painful, illusory to view of a rishi. In other words India denies the material world and the social life, seeking for the sacral world and for the sacral existence.

Still the world and the life exercise an ambiguous function (the duality of the world). On the one hand they plunge a man into suffering and in accordance with the law of karma condemn him to the eternal reincarnation. On the other hand they implicitly help him to seek for and obtain salvation, independence, the absolute freedom (moksha, mukti). The more the man suffers (i.e. the closer his unity with the world is) the stronger is his aspiration for the liberation. "All the Universe from the Brahma to the grass-blade caters for the needs of the soul until it perceives the higher awareness". The higher awareness is understood to be the liberation from ignorance and primarily from pain and misery.
The awareness shatters the illusions of the sensible world and helps the man to “awake”.
“With the help of awareness” means by practicing dispassion till the man realizes his center and melts into his “true spirit” Purusha, Atman.

Before one started his way up to the spiritual perfectness, he was obligated to pass the preparatory interval. Ahimsa – to do no harm by any means. Ahimsa implies Yama – the self-control, and Niyama – the rigid observation of prescriptions.
1) Yama – the observation of prescriptions, the mind training, the self-control:
- Satya - truth, honesty
- Asteya – not to steal
- Brahmacharya – sexual continence; always with Bramm
- Dhi - courage
- Sri - joy
- Shrada – concentration
- Aparigraha – free mind of greediness and attachment to privacy.
2) Niyama – acquisition of skills
- Shaucha – purity, the body and the internal organs epuration
- Santosha – purity of thoughts
- Nishta - discipline
- Sadhana - practice
- Svadhyaya – self-study or study of spiritual scriptures.
Niyama is a kind of discipline of the body. By purifying his body the yogi achieves the ekagrata, i.e. the control over his feelings, and the opportunity to know his soul. Satisfaction and tranquility bring the “unspeakable happiness”; the auaterity as it is; the Tapas (physical effort focused on purifying) removes the dirtiness and gives the control over the feelings, that is the possibility to go beyond them, to develop the “mystical capabilities” - siddhi. There are three types of mystical capabilities known attainable through the yoga: size loss up to the invisible (anima-siddhi), levitation in the air or in the water (mahima-siddhi) and telepathy (prapti-siddhi).
Other programs that help to develop the capabilities – Yajna (ritualistic); Danam (to give).
3) Asana
The yoga technique in the truest sense, it starts from the “third limb of yoga” (yoganga). Asana is the well known yoga posture that in “Yoga Sutras” is referred to as sthirasukham, "stable, comfortable". Patanjali would give general information only because the asana, as well as the yoga in whole, is to be studied under the guidance of the Guru. Asana makes the body tightly immobile, flexible and reduces to minimum the physical efforts at the same time. Thus the yogi avoids the uncomfortable feeling of tiredness and concentrates on the stream of consciousness only.
Asana is one of the particular techniques of the Indian ascetism. It is mentioned in the Upanishads and even in the Vedas, but most commonly it’s met in the Mahabharata and in the Puranas.
4) Pranayama
Prana - life, ayama - control. "You are in a three-horse carriage and to rule it over properly and smoothly you tighten the reins by turns – left and right (ida, pingala). It’is this the pranayama. Who am I? What am I for? Pranayama – the cessation of breathing in and out, it would be obtained after one realizes the asana. Nevertheless the pranayama starts from the maximum slow down of the breath rhythm. With the help of pranayama the yogi aspires to perceive the direct knowledge of his own life pulsation – the organic energy absorbed and emanated while breathing in and out. After the more continuous practice it provokes a dim sensation of some kind of presence in the body, quiescent consciousness of the proper dignity.
The rhythmical breath is obtained by equilibrating three moments: breathing-in (puraka), holding the breath (kumbhaka) and breathing-out (rechaka). The three actions must be equal in their lasting. The “Scanda-purana” would say the matra-pramana is equal to the time needed for taking one breath.
5) Притьяхара
According to the “Yoga Sutras”, it’s a capability to release the emotions from the power of the external objects and influences, to be “inside yourself”. When chitta (the intellect) intents to learn an external object, it doesn’t use the sensory activity – it’s able to perceive the object by his own forces. Consequently - Vyasa would say, - the wisdom (pradjnya) of the yogi perceives all the events as they are. Chittavritti nirodhah yoga is directed on the cessation of the mental activity and hence of the duality, the suppression of the mental flood. As the result the yogi becomes able to contemplate the substance (tattva) of all the objects.

The independence of the external world which is attained through the prityahara, allows practicing the meditation technique consisting of three steps and called samyama in the scriptures.

This is:
Dharana – concentrating on one program, idea
Dhanam – meditating about it
Samadhi – the extasy; I am everything and I an nothing.
The mentioned practice imitates the godlike archetype, but the yogi doesn’t imitate anyway “the deeds and the sufferings” of the deity. The “Yoga Sutras” god – Ishvara – is a pure spirit, who didn’t create the world neither interfere its history directly or indirectly. Hence the yogi aspires this pure spirit.
Most of the modern Russians do not know that yoga is not a kind of gymnastics given in fitness clubs. Effective techniques and methods the essence of which is the liberation and reaching the Divine are the yoga itself.
Treating the body as the temple of the soul the yoga provides the physical health and psychical balance with the help of exercises for the body – asanas – and control over the breath – pranayama. Unfortunately at the West these preliminary exercises have become the end in itself. And like the westerns usually would lose sight of the deep spiritual basis of the yoga, the modern experts of the East-Indian school of yoga tend to bear off the main aim and lay stress on attaining siddhi - the “mystical capabilities”.

There are many different yoga practices and the choice depends on the level of training and on the intentions of an individual.

Karma Yoga – the practice of labor without seeking the profit, for the good of living beings, retraction of the results of one’s doings, bringing up the generosity, the readiness to give a hand and the non-attachment to material objects. This practice is considered to purify our negative karma and what is more important for the yoga practitioners – it develops the non-attachment which would prevent us later on from being trapped by the negative tendencies of the mind – greediness, egoism, laziness etc.

Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love and devotion to a Deity and to the Guru. The bhakta involved in an emotional ecstasy of devotion turns away from his ego spiritually joining his Deity. The Bhakti Yoga is considered to be a quick way to the realization – provided the total commitment, - but it suites mostly to the people with a certain type of character (emotional, disposed to ecstatic feelings). Practically it’s realized through the adoration rituals, spiritual chants, mantras.

Jnana Yoga – the practice of studying and comprehention of the sacral texts – the Vedas, the Upanishads and other spiritual doctrines, received from the Guru. The matter is not in a simple intellectual accumulating and systematization of knowledge, that is particular for the Western science, but in coming to the essence as a result of meditating on the text or on the teaching heard, i.e. the practitioner passes from reflections to an intuitional flash.

Kundalini Yoga (the practice of awakening of the divine energy Kundalini, which is potentially present in everyone) Kriya Yoga (kriya – the practice of purifying, that may be the yoga techniques on the physical epuration or the mind cleansing through the mantras and the meditation), Nada Yoga (the yoga of sound vibrations – the meditative music and chants), Yantra Yoga (the contemplation of certain geometrical images - yantras, that draws into the meditative state of consciousness).

Raja Yoga – the practice of self-realization based on working with consciousness and with the internal energy. If we examine the meaning of this word combination, it is evident that raja yoga means the royal communion. The realization of Raja Yoga state is the aim of all the yoga practice. More particularly it’s a system of spiritual exercises related with the internal visualizing of the energy channels and chakras, with reading mantras and similar mystical practices. In reality these things are to be received only personally from the expert, who belongs to a traditional succession of teachers. Only the one who completed successfully this implementation phase and obtained the confirmation from his teachers, can teach it the others. Parampara (the succession of teachers) is the basis of Eastern spiritual systems. This means the transfer of knowledge from guru to disciple – verbally and non-verbally. Simply speaking guru doesn’t limit only to teaching the student but gives him the energy. This is why the so called “direct transfer” is very important – it preserves the succession of knowledge and power from guru to disciple.

Hatha Yoga. Literally the word “hatha” means power, fury, violence, necessity, effort. Also symbolizes: ha = the Sun, tha = the Moon; the balance or the union of the Sun and the Moon, of activeness and relaxation. Hatha Yoga is working with the consciousness by means of the body; that’s why people practicing the hatha yoga are healthy physically and quite adequate up to the last days of their life provided the correct practice, of course. It allows to control all the actions and manifestations, from the bodily to the full control of consciousness. It is the improvement and preparation of the body and mind for the activity in every necessary regime, that make the practice of Hatha Yoga so required to “reach the top of raja yoga”.
The difference between Hatha Yoga and gymnastics is that hatha yoga although being the work on the physical body is oriented on the consciousness. There is a conception of internal work. In addition it consists in a certain orientation of the attention during the practice and rejuvenating impact on all the ligaments and groups of muscles of the body elaborated through the centuries by experts from generation to generation. This is the main and principle difference of Hatha Yoga from sports.

(the article contains the materials of the lectures of Ashan Sajan Gurukkal, Kochin, Kerala; Mircea Eliade "Yoga: Immortality and Freedom")
Download the text of the section (Word)