Yoga is a highly powerful and unique system of transformation. It is special because it unites a rich philosophy with methods of action and practice. Through the research of the ancient yogis, we have inherited knowledge (jnana) we can use for understanding our bodies, minds, hearts and souls. As a means to gain this knowledge they created systems and methods (tapas) we can use to gain this knowledge.
The human being, like the universe, is made up of an indivisible whole, but since trying to comprehend the limitless vastness of the universe is a daunting, mind-melting task, it’s helpful to take various parts in isolation and investigate them closely. In the larger sense, the categories are artificial, but knowledge of the individual parts can help in our understanding of the whole, and give us the knowledge we need to create transformation. It is certainly part of our mental nature to divide things into comprehensible parts; what we must remember is to do is to put them back together afterwards, as the various categories only serve us when they are used to bring us closer to an experience of the center.
Yoga philosophy is created for a very specific purpose: to bring us into svavidya, or self-knowledge. In the cosmological view of yoga, the indivisible limitless plays the host for the countless forms and energies, which manifest to create the universe that we can see, feel and experience. Yogic philosophies group forms into categories to aid our understanding, the most fundamental of which is the two basic energies of the universe: purusha and prakriti. There are countless others, such as the three divisions of the mind, the five koshas, the six chakras, the nine gates of the senses, the 84,000 asanas and so on.
Breaking down different energies into their component parts enables us to look more closely at the role these energies play in our lives and how they influence us. This is essential work in the yogic journey of self-knowledge and self-discovery; once there is understanding and jnana, there is the power to create transformation. Most of us, for example, have very little idea of how the mind really works. However, if you look closely at the categories of the mind as given to us in yogic philosophy, we can begin to see how it functions differently according to which part of the mind is activated, and this can lead us to some understanding about the nature of our own minds. To know ourselves a little bit better is to have svavidya and naturally self-knowledge leads to harmony, connection and happiness.
There are countless different systems and categories employed in the vast world of yoga to achieve the overall goal of unity and connection, which is generally the same for all systems. Some methods employ a philosophy of Tantra or Vedanta or Samkya to the yoga. These yogas can be different types such as Hatha, Nada, Jnana, Karma or Bhakti yoga amongst others. These different yoga types can then employ different categories of practice such as asanas (postures), mantra (prayers), or seva (service); or philosophical concepts such as koshas (layers), mahabhutas (elements), doshas (qualities of matter), etc. There are many forms and concepts behind the practice and knowing something about them is very useful to your development. Which ones you explore depends on you and on the system of yoga that you are involved with.
One of the most useful categories for understanding the makeup of one’s own being is the system of the koshas - the five layers (or sheaths) of a being. The concept of the koshas has been in use for over 3,000 years, and has proven to be extremely helpful in comprehending the basic makeup of a person. Everything that we are, from the gross to the source, has its place in the system of the koshas.
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