Yoga is about disciplining the physical, mental, and spiritual being within us. It is known to be the best medicine for a healthy and peaceful mind and body. Some prominent symbols of the Yogic tradition explain why and how this happens.
Yoga originates from the Sanskrit term yuj, meaning union or yoke. Thus, yoga helps us unify our body, mind, and spirit.
Yoga, a rich and sound lifestyle. By calling it a lifestyle, we refer to all aspects of human life. Commonly seen and practiced as a physical exercise (from the Hatha Yoga), the main purpose of Yoga in helping us achieve a balanced mind is often forgotten. It trains the mind more than the body.
Yoga is a heritage that had been passed on through generations, orally. It was around 2,200 years ago that this knowledge was first documented through Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sūtras’. The sage describes the functioning of the mind in 196 aphorisms. According to him, yoga is to be attained by means of Ashtanga Yoga; literally eight limbs, or the eight stages of yoga.
Yama: Five principles of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, abstinence, and non-possessiveness.
Niyama: Includes cleanliness of the body and mind, satisfaction, austerity, study towards awakening, and dedication or surrender to God.
Asana: Practicing disciplined physical postures that lead to meditation. This principle is the most-known form.
Pranayama: Control over breath.
Pyatyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.
Dharana: Concentration of the mind.
Dhyan: Sustained meditation (the act of meditation is different from the object of meditation).
Samadhi: Self-realization or enlightenment (oneness with the object of meditation).
Ashtanga yoga thus gives a way of life. According to ancient Indian philosophy, there is a link between each object that exists; this interconnect reflects from the theory behind yoga too. To maintain the body, mind, and spirit in rhythm, is the goal of a ‘Yogi’, or the one who practices yoga.
Yoga Symbols with Meanings
Om is considered to be the primeval sound. The Mandukya Upanishad (part of Vedic texts revealing the truths and nature of reality) describes Om to be the supreme consciousness. Before the universe came into being, it was only ‘oṃkāra’, or this vibration that was present. It is believed that, when we chant the ‘oṃkāra’, we can feel connected to this vibration, which is said to be within and outside us. In Sanskrit, it is also known as praṇava, or ‘to shout’ sound. Many mantras in the Hindu religion begin with Om, including some that are pronounced while doing Surya Namaskar. The symbol has different meanings: it combines the three syllables of A (Brahma, or creation), U (Vishnu, or preservation), and M (Shiva, or disintegration). They also represent waking, dream, and deep sleep states.
The Sapta Chakras are the seven nodes or energy points in our subtle body. Different from its literal meaning of a ‘wheel’, a Chakra corresponds to an energy vortex in the non-physical body. They are located at the central meeting points, or plexus of the subtle energy channels (nadi) that carry life forces (prana). It is a path of enlightenment (through awakening of the Kundalini, the primal energy), which on activation of the chakras begins from the Muladhara and goes up to the Sahasrara chakra.
This is known as the ‘root chakra’. It is located near the end of the spine or tailbone, under the sacrum. This chakra symbolizes the Earth element, with the seed sound (or beeja mantra) of ‘lam’ (white letter in Devanagari script at the center, pronounced as lum). It has four petals, for the Sanskrit syllables of वं vaṃ, शं śaṃ, षं ṣaṃ, and सं saṃ. These are the four vrittis (modes of consciousness) of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha, which are the four aims of life according to Hinduism. Asanas like the Garudasana, Siddhasana, practicing the Mula Bandha (a yogic posture), and certain mantras can be chanted to activate this chakra.
The second one is the sacral chakra, meaning ‘one’s own base’. The seed sound in this chakra is ‘vam’, as seen in the center. With six petals, it depicts the following Sanskrit syllables: बं baṃ, भं bhaṃ, मं maṃ, यं yaṃ, रं raṃ, and लं laṃ. The emotions or vrittis represented are affection, pitilessness, delusion, disdain, destructiveness, and suspicion. It is also located near the tailbone, but above the Muladhara chakra. It concerns water metabolism, and so is associated with the sense of taste, sexual desires, and reproduction. Potential karmas or sanskaras are said to be lying in an inactive state here, which are expressed in the Muladhara chakra.
Manipura is also called the solar plexus or the naval chakra. ‘Ram’ is the root sound in the center. The chakra forms from ten petals, corresponding to the syllables of ḍa, ḍha, ṇa, ta, tha, da, dha, na, pa, and pha. It symbolizes the Fire element, seen from the red triangle surrounding the syllable of ram. Thirst, jealousy, spiritual ignorance, shame, fear, disgust, etc., are the vrittis linked with this chakra. The processes of digestion and metabolism are under this vortex. Along with fire, it also is the place where the inward (prana vayu) and outward (apana vayu) flowing energies are balanced. Manipura is the center of willpower, dynamic energy, and achievement, making the activities of creation or destruction possible on meditation. Pranayama is practiced to balance this sphere of influence in the subtle body.
This is the heart chakra. It refers to the unstruck or unheard sound, also forming the term ‘anahata naad’, which means celestial sound. Located in the central channel of the spine, at the heart, it is all about love, compassion, sympathy, selflessness, and devotion. It is thus believed that it is easier for doctors to activate or open up their anahata chakra. The two intersecting triangles symbolize the union of the masculine and feminine energies; Purusha (the supreme being) and Prakriti (Mother Nature), or Shiva and Shakti. Anahata, or serenity, portrays the seed sound of ‘yam’ (pronounced yum). Nested within the twelve petals are the Sanskrit syllables of kam, kham, gam, gham, ngam, cham, chham, jam, jham, nyam, tam, and tham. The vrittis include lust, fraud, hope, repentance, anxiety, longing, etc. Ajapa Japa (effortless chanting of mantra), asanas, pranayama, and bhakti (devotional) yoga help purify this chakra.
This throat chakra is the fifth one located at the neck. It has sixteen petals, and represents the element of Ether, and is thus associated with the acts of hearing and speaking. The seed sound in the circle is that of हं ‘ham’ (pronounced hum). The petals are inscribed with sixteen Sanskrit vowels of अ a, आ ā, इ i, ई ī, उ u, ऊ ū, ऋ ṛ, ॠ ṝ, ऌ ḷ, ॡ ḹ , ए e, ऐ ai, ओ o, औ au, अः ḥ, and अं ṃ. The throat chakra, more so the petals, are home to the seven basic musical notes. It is understood to be the purification center, originating from ‘viśuddha’, meaning especially pure. Meditation upon this chakra is believed to confer many occult powers, like the ability to see three time periods of the past, present, and future. The singing or playing of musical instruments is said to open or clean this plexus.
The Ajna chakra is positioned in the brain, between the center of the forehead; also the location of the third-eye. Om, or the
‘praṇava Om’, is the seed sound of this chakra, with two petals. These two petals supposedly represent the two subtle energy channels or nadis, known as Ida and Pingala. They meet at this point, before going upwards to the Sahasrara chakra. The syllables of ‘ham’ and ‘ksham’ on the two petals symbolize Shiva and Shakti, respectively; sometimes also interpreted as surrender of the ego (ham) and forgiveness (ksham) for spiritual progress of a being. Yogic practices like the Trataka and forms of Pranayama are said to energize this chakra.
In the study of occult sciences, it is believed that there are other minor chakras placed between the Ajna and the Sahasrara chakra, the prominent ones amongst them being the ‘Manas’ and ‘Guru’ chakras.
Sahasrara is known as ‘sahasradala’, ‘sahasrakamal’, or the crown petal, which refers to the chakra being thousand-petaled. Also called the white lotus, it is situated right above the top of the head, with a thousand petals arranged in 20 layers, each consisting of fifty petals. This chakra symbolizes freedom from illusion, detachment, a divine state of pure consciousness, and the experience of oneness. After traversing the six chakras, the yogi reaches this chakra, where he/she experiences Nirvikalpa Samādhi, the highest state of samadhi or enlightenment. At this stage, a being is believed to possess the highest levels of occult powers (siddhis), enabling transformation into the divine. This is also where the ‘Parama Shiva’ or the ‘Parama Pusrusha’ (the Supreme Being) are believed to reside.