Yoga and esotericism


Yoga is a Hindu doctrine of a philosophical nature, which seeks physical and mental control, to achieve spiritual perfection, through the practice of asceticism, meditation and concentration. Yoga, from Sanskrit योग, union, comes from the root yuj-, yoke, so it not only seeks union, and teamwork of body and mind. It also defines a "balance" between the two. Its meaning is applicable in different concepts: in mathematics, it is the sum; in astronomy, a planetary conjunction; in physical context, effort; in psychological context, concentration, and from there it leads to meditation and salvation, and consequently, to the power that allows it. Although there are those who practice it as a pure physical exercise, its religious and esoteric side cannot be denied, since it appeals to the spiritual and control over it, spiritual liberation (mukti), higher knowledge and union with divinity. The Western world has made an effort to divide the "secular" part from the "esoteric" part, without wanting to over-appreciate that its origins are indisputably related to a soteriological (salvation) vision.

The doctrinal bases of yoga are spread throughout all Hindu literature, such as the Bhagavad-gītā, or the Upanishads, the Puranas, which expose, in contrast to the polytheism exposed in other religious works, a kind of monotheism, Brahman, which It would be a creative divinity, absolute and unique, that takes different forms and avatars, and that the human being is connected to the divinity and can achieve union through certain practices and knowledge. The "base" text of the current types of yoga is usually considered the yoga-sutra, from the 2nd century BC, written by Patañjali, a yogi philosopher, although some branches came to consider him an incarnate god, since there are also myths in the that Naga-Shesha, Vishnu or Shiva are the true creators and transmitters of yoga. Although there are other yogic texts, this is the oldest. However, according to some archaeologists and religious historians, such as John Marshall or Mircea Eliade, it could have been practiced up to ten centuries before, however, nothing has been proven, since certain poses are typical of divinities or dances and cannot be considered sculptures or reliefs are practicing yoga as such.

There are various schools of yoga, each one with a different purpose. If we stick to the Hindu tradition, the three major or fundamental ones would be:

Three fundamental yogas

Raja-yoga, (royal yoga) or Astanga-yoga (yoga of the eight limbs or the eight paths), although there are yogis who distinguish them. These eight paths would consist of the iama or prohibitions (respect for life, not lying, not stealing, celibacy and not becoming attached to material things); the niama or precepts (purity, contentment, austerity, recitation of the Vedas, disposition towards God); the asana or posture: the back always straight; pranajama, the control of breathing; pratiajara, control over the senses and needs; dharana, control over thought; dhiana, meditation; and finally, shamadi or absorption, the moment in which the individual perceives that he is merging with the universe, that he belongs and is in balance with it.

Jñāna-yoga (yoga of knowledge, understood as Supreme Knowledge). According to this school of yoga, there are four paths to salvation: Viveka, discerning what is earthly from the spiritual, the real from the unreal, the good from the bad, the temporal from the eternal; Vairaguia or the absolute lack of attachment to material things; Shad sampat or the six virtues (peace, control over the senses, renunciation of pleasure, patience, faith and concentration); and finally, Mumuksútua, the desire for spiritual liberation. This system has two branches: one that considers that God and the soul are the same entity that must completely merge, and another that only seeks the eternal and balanced relationship between both things.

The third fundamental type would be Karma yoga, union through activity. As indicated by the already well-worn concept of Karma, the human being must adhere to his dharma or religious duty, detached from the results, and obtain liberation from the karmic wheel and reincarnation. Regarding this karma there are different forms of moral approach, highlighting that of selfless good actions, and that which puts the greater good before the individual good.

As can be seen, only the first type would be what is considered "yoga" in countries outside this Asian culture, since it is associated with physical practice, and the second, only because of its meditative aspect. However, all these types of yoga have a pure and indisputable esoteric purpose, to achieve something hidden in plain sight through its realization through a philosophy of life and specific actions.

Naropa Yoga

On the other hand, there are yogas in the plural, which constitute Tibetan and Buddhist tantric meditations, although the influence of their name can be verified as they share the same goal of liberation. The most famous are the Six Yogas of Naropa, also called dharma (conducts) of Naropa, they are a kind of techniques that seek to "shortcut" the work towards Enlightenment. They are essentially based on the Hevjatantra and were combined by the guru master Tilopa (10th-11th century) and by his disciple Naropa, an Indian mystic from the 12th century, and consist of the following six precepts: Gtum-mo or yoga of internal heat, which visualizes the energy as a burning sphere inside the body, but controlled, or else it can become anger. Sgyu-lus, or yoga of the illusory body, where the practitioner identifies all feelings and needs as illusory, and the presence of the divinities is experienced. 'Od-gsal, the Clear light, where one seeks to remain in the inner light, in the tutelary god, and move away from the concepts that arise from the spirit. Rmilam, dream yoga (not to be confused with Nidra yoga, which will be explained below) seeks control over these, a lucid dream, and the integration of knowledge transmitted through dreams, even contacting other teachers or divinities. 'Pho-ba or the transference, the step that annuls the duality of the human being and brings him closer to transcendence. And Bardo, the intermediate post-mortem state. There are those who place this prior to the reach of transcendence.

Non-fundamental yogas

Returning to the practice of yoga, in the singular, there are non-fundamental branches of yoga, which are, paradoxically, the best known in the Western world. Among them we find Kriya yoga or action yoga, a supposed yoga recreated and reborn in the 19th century by the yogis Mahavatar Babaji and his disciple Lajiri Majashaia, focused on pranajama or breathing control; vinyasa yoga, popularized in the 20th century, which was practiced through the orderly performance of specific groups of asanas; bhakti or devotion, which is more of a religious movement, and can be found in most types of yoga; Iyengar yoga, which takes the name of its creator, in the 20th century, and whose differentiating characteristic is its therapeutic nature, which serves people with physical limitations so that they can also perform the asanas, which have a rigid order, in addition of being able to use different tools and supports for its practice.

And although in the latter it would be somewhat more complex to find that esoteric facet, although the idea of liberation persists, there are two other non-fundamental paths, which are undoubtedly the most famous: hatha yoga and kundalini yoga. Both are known in the West as physical exercise, but in few places that are not centers of Asian culture, all the beliefs surrounding postures or breathing are explained, as well as the precepts that the true yogis of India or the believing practitioners of other countries countries carry out as a complement to these exercises. This fixation on taking it as a physical exercise has a clear cultural component: taking yoga for a vital or religious philosophy would come into conflict with the existing religions in other territories, specifically in cases of monotheism and dogmatism, where beliefs have no place. polytheists or concepts such as universal union or spiritual liberation. However, in the esoteric environment all these concepts can find a place without much problem: divinity can be one or multiple, unique or with avatars, and the soul-spirit can be considered individual and interrelated. Furthermore, esoteric philosophies are usually changing and absorbing, and considering that there are infinite links in the universe, any religion or belief has its value and its acceptable counterpart.

Hatha yoga (strong, stubborn, insistent yoga) was invented in the 15th century by an Indian religious named Suatmarama,, although as in previous cases, the gods are used, in this case Shiva, as the main teacher. It is based on a series of mixed religious writings on tantra, that is, on energy concentration techniques. Hatha yoga takes into account pranas or breaths, and their influence on the chakras (चक्र, circle), sources of energy existing inside the human being, according to Hindu tradition, and which are activated through correct breathing. The purpose of hatha yoga is physical and mental serenity, and the awakening of the chakras, bringing balance and happiness to the individual in all aspects of their life.

Although it is evidently not practiced in general yoga schools, initiation into hatha yoga required a series of physical purifications, shatkarmas or kriyas, quite unpleasant from a modern perspective, which included stomach and throat washings, as well as forced breathing. After that, the different types of pranajamas (rhythmic, oceanic, sound breathing...) and the keys or bhandas, massages or muscular contractions that allow the activation of different chakras were learned. Later, the learning of mudras, mantras or prayers, and asanas would begin.

Its greatest characteristic is the transition between asanas with delicacy, and whose learning implies that little by little the said posture can be maintained without fatigue or pain, obtaining the aforementioned physical serenity, as well as mental, since each asana has an implicit meaning. The best known are Padmasana, or the lotus flower posture; Uttanasana or pincer pose; Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose; Vrikshasana or Tree Pose; Virasana or Hero Pose; Shirshasana or Head Pose; Sarvangasana or candle pose; Setu Bhandasana or bridge pose; Utrasana or camel posture; Anjaneyasana or crescent moon posture... Among many others, which vary according to the school, levels and purposes, since each one requires a specific breath and causes the activation of one or more chakras. An example of a fluid and generally comfortable succession of asanas is the Sun Salutation or Sūria namaskār, a combination of twelve postures, of which from the seventh onwards they are repeated but in an inverted manner. It is not common when it is performed as a simple physical exercise, but each of these postures is accompanied by a mantra that reveres (namaḥ) the sun as divinity.

There is a variety of hatha yoga called Ananda yoga, which focuses on self-realization and performs affirmations with each asana, "raising" a level with each one, improving self-awareness and self-control, and therefore, control over human energies.

As for kundalini yoga (coiled or snake yoga), it bases its work on the belief that energy remains like a coiled snake at the base of the spine, and that when the chakras are activated, it can spread, going up the spine. , through the nadi, the tubes or rivers of energy/prana, which traditionally number 72,000 and are identified with the veins, and there are three: Sushumná (the axis from the spine to the cerebral cortex), Idá, which flows to the left nostril, and Pingalá, which flows to the right nostril. The basis of this yoga is willpower to maintain breathing, mudras, postures, and insistence on the habit of meditation and repetition of mantras. All of this helps the purification of the nadi, which is seen from the point of view of Ayurvedic medicine, where if these energy channels are blocked they can be the cause of diseases, and health is recovered and increased through their cleanliness and good operation. This harmonization shares visions with Tantrism.

Kundalini is probably the type of yoga most associated with esotericism today. This is due, on the one hand, to the entire New Age current, which not only promoted the practices of Eastern therapies, but also gave great importance to all questions about the macrocosm, the microcosm and universal energies. On the other hand, different types of tantric techniques have been developed within these modern esoteric currents, which in reality are completely outside of Eastern philosophies and traditions, which is why many call it "neotantra" or "Western tantra." This is centered on what could be called sexual yoga or massage or tantric sex, consisting of an excitation of the sexual organs as a means of liberation and meditation, whose purpose is not pleasure, but well-being, based on the fact that sexual energy It is one of the most powerful and also serves to activate the kundalini snake, which is found in the lower part of the human torso, and which, due to its ecstatic characteristics, opens the energy channels, achieving harmony. For all this, it receives biased and distrustful views, and is not appreciated by those who consider it to be an extrapolation and cultural expropriation.

Western Esoteric and Occult Reviews

The new nascent esotericisms and occultisms, as well as neopaganisms and New Age currents, focus greatly on the spiritual revolution and mysticism. De Michelis (2005) emphasized the creation of a kind of Neo-Hinduism, linked to the individual's search and desire for self-realization in a globalized world. And in reality, it can be considered to be largely correct, since new movements seek to delve into ancient traditions to recover that human-divine essence that is considered lost.

Continuing with extrapolations such as the one mentioned with "neotantra", Western occultism has influenced the vision of Eastern esotericism, altering and fusing many of its concepts, as already indicated was the case by not having a closed canon: for example, prana does not It would not be the energy of the body, but a universal energy that must be attracted and allowed to flow through, through absorption through breathing or expulsion through exhalation. Other occultists have tried to merge this universal prana with terrestrial magnetism and its perception by certain living beings. It has also been associated with Chinese Qi. The nadis have been visualized as the entire set of veins, not just three channels, and when it has been seen like this, symbolism has been sought for the number three or with other organs of the body that are pairs and an addition, associations that could be considered unnecessary.

All of this, together with the cultural and religious issues mentioned above, have meant that, on the one hand, yoga divides its original function between liberation through breathing and physical exercise, and only physical exercise so as not to hurt sensitivities but benefit from its stretches. and muscle strengthening (not in vain does Pilates draw on yoga and therapeutic exercises). The meditative part, although it cannot be denied that yoga is one of the first psychological "therapies", in the Western world it has ended up turning to this facet, to relax, reduce stress, and at the same time increase self-esteem, improve self-control , etc.

We find that many esotericists and occultists use some yoga tools for magical purposes, considering that ancient sages of India obtained from yoga special abilities to manipulate the environment through the manifestation of their own energies, confusing but often using the term yogashiddi, which is understood as the psychic powers obtained with yoga.

There is also a yogic branch called Nidra yoga that focuses on immersion in trances and mind-body abyssment, and that also includes an observation of dreams, misinterpreted by Western esotericism, since it does not seek their interpretation, but rather their control and suppression of dreams that may lead to bad karma. Among other misleading or altered uses, mudras and mantras are used in conjurations and tantra for sexual magic, just as they have popularized meditative practices. Yoga has also been used to concentrate energies or transmit them, along with postural exercises in relation to Qigong, Tai-chi and other oriental practices; certain groups prefer to avoid yoga because it is a "generic practice", and return to the physical sigils of Osman Spare, as well as the so-called druidic postures, based on the modern idea of supposed postures adopted by the magical individuals of the Celtic-Norse world, to meditate, concentrate and use its magic.

In any case, having analyzed the origin of yoga and its background, we can better understand the reluctance of certain religious groups to practice it, in the face of popular ignorance of most of its esoteric characteristics, often taken as "philosophical", "moral". or "metaphysical", to avoid a connotation towards which there is also suspicion. Using an example from De Michelis again, yoga, as a health practice, is a secular ritual for the West.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Calle, R.A. Diccionario de Orientalismo y Budismo. Tikal Ediciones, Barcelona, 1999.

-De Michelis, E. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism. A&C Black, 2005

-Servier, J. (ed.) Diccionario crítico de esoterismo. Akal, Madrid, 2006.

-Filoramo, G. (ed.) Diccionario de las religiones. Akal, Madrid, 2001

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