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(yō`gə) [Skt.,=union], general term for spiritual disciplines in HinduismHinduism
, Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the vast majority of the people of India. One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in
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, BuddhismBuddhism
, religion and philosophy founded in India c.525 B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. There are over 300 million Buddhists worldwide. One of the great world religions, it is divided into two main schools: the Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, and
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, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth. More specifically it is also the name of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophyHindu philosophy,
the philosophical speculations and systems of India that have their roots in Hinduism. Characteristics

Hindu philosophy began in the period of the Upanishads (900–500 B.C.
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. Both Vedic and Buddhist literature discuss the doctrines of wandering ascetics in ancient India who practiced various kinds of austerities and meditation. The basic text of the Yoga philosophical school, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (2d cent. B.C.), is a systematization of one of these older traditions. Contemporary systems of yoga, such as those of Sri Aurobindo GhoseGhose, Aurobindo
, 1872–1950, Indian nationalist leader and mystic philosopher. Born in Bengal, he was sent to England and lived there for 14 years, completing his education at Cambridge. Returning to India in 1893, he plunged into the study of Indian languages and culture.
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 and Sri Chinmoy GhoseGhose, Chinmoy
, 1931–, Indian mystic and poet. Orphaned at the age of 12, he went to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in S India, where he stayed for the next 20 years, practicing spiritual disciplines.
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, stress that spiritual realization can be attained without the withdrawal from the world characteristic of the older traditions. Yoga is usually practiced under the guidance of a guru, or spiritual guide.

Patañjali divides the practice of yoga into eight stages. Yama, or restraint from vice, and niyama, or observance of purity and virtue, lay the moral foundation for practice and remove the disturbance of uncontrolled desires. Asana, or posture, and pranayama, or breath control, calm the physical body, while pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, detaches the mind from the external world. Internal control of consciousness is accomplished in the final three stages: dharana, or concentration, dhyana, or meditation, and samadhisamadhi
, a state of deep absorption in the object of meditation, and the goal of many kinds of yoga. In Buddhism the term refers to any state of one-pointed concentration.
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. Through such practices yogis acquire miraculous powers, which must ultimately be renounced to attain the highest state. In samadhi the subject-object distinction and one's sense of an individual self disappear in a state usually described as one of supreme peace, bliss, and illumination. A common feature of different traditions of yoga is one-pointed concentration on a chosen object, whether a part of the body, the breath, a mantramantra
, in Hinduism and Buddhism, mystic words used in ritual and meditation. A mantra is believed to be the sound form of reality, having the power to bring into being the reality it represents. There are several types of mantras.
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, a diagram, a deity, or an idea.

Hindu tradition in general recognizes three main kinds of yoga: jnana yoga, the path of realization and wisdom, bhaktibhakti
[Skt.,=devotion], theistic devotion in Hinduism. Bhakti cults seem to have existed from the earliest times, but they gained strength in the first millennium A.D. The first full statement of liberation and spiritual fulfillment through devotion to a personal god is found
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 yoga, the path of love and devotion to a personal God, and karma yoga, the path of selfless action. Other classifications exist. Patañjali's yoga is known as raja, or "royal," yoga. Hatha yoga, which stresses physical control and postures, is widely practiced in the West, where it is the dominant form of yoga and is often divorced from yoga's spiritual traditions. In the United States, yoga as a physical and quasispiritual exercise regime has been popular especially since the 1960s. Kundalini yoga, especially associated with TantraTantra
, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, esoteric tradition of ritual and yoga known for elaborate use of mantra, or symbolic speech, and mandala, or symbolic diagrams; the importance of female deities, or Shakti; cremation-ground practices such as meditation on corpses; and,
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, is based on the physiology of the "subtle body," according to which seven major centers of psychic energy, called chakras, are located along the spinal column, with the kundalini, or "coiled" energy in latent form, located at the base of the spine. When the kundalini is activated by yogic methods, it ascends the spine through the main subtle artery of the sushumna, "opening" each chakra in turn. When the kundalini reaches the topmost chakra in the brain, samadhi is attained.


See S. Dasgupta, Yoga as Philosophy and Religion (1924, repr. 1973); I. K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga (1967); E. Wood, Yoga (1967); M. Eliade, Yoga (1969); P. Sinha, Yoga (1970); J. Varenne, Yoga and the Hindu Tradition (1976); R. Love, The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America (2010); S. Syman, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (2010); W. J. Broad, The Science of Yoga (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Sanskrit, literally “joining,” “union,” “concentration,” or “effort”; the term is found in texts going back to oral traditions of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.).

(1) In the broadest sense, a doctrine and method of controlling the human mind and psychophysiology with the aim of achieving higher psychic states. In this sense, yoga is an indispensable part of all the philosophical and religious systems of ancient and medieval India, and it is regarded by these systems as an extremely important means of realizing ethical and religious ideals, of which the highest is the complete liberation of man from the bonds of material existence. The basic ideas of yoga are the parallelism between the microcosm of man’s psychophysiology and the cosmic body of the universe, signifying that all man’s conscious strivings for self-reconstruction find their correspondence in the play of cosmic forces; the gradualness with which man masters the practice of self-change; the possibility of controlling biological bodies and inanimate objects by the mind; and the potential existence and possible development in any living being of a special yogic force, capable of fundamentally altering the natural order of things.

The basic concepts and actions of yoga are the subordination of body functions, or yama (control of respiration, temperature, digestion, the heart, circulation, and so on); settling the body into particular fixed postures, or asana; meditation upon a fixed (real or mental) object, bhavana; a state of trance characterized by a sharp change in mental and emotional condition, dhyana; and a state of psychic equilibrium and concentration, in which the mind acquires the characteristics of a homeostatic system (nonreversibility of psychic processes), known as samadhi. The ideas and concepts of yoga served as the basis for the development of a particular system of anatomical and physiological concepts about the circulation of life energy in the organism (kundalini-shakti ) and its concentration in the functionally important centers of the body (chakra). Yoga became especially highly developed by the Tantrist sects and schools of Hinduism and by Mahayana Buddhism.

(2)One of the six orthodox systems of Indian idealist philosophy, as summarily expounded in the Yoga-sutra of Patanjali (some time between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D.). Its basic idea is that the individual (purusha) can achieve spiritual liberation by stopping the flow of mental activity and bringing into equilibrium the basic tendencies of individual existence: sattva (serenity), rajas (activity), and tamas (inertia). In the yoga of Patanjali, eight stages of psychic concentration are distinguished, beginning with yama and ending with samadhi. Yogic exertions result in attaining the state of mahasa-madhi, that is, a merging of the contemplator, the object contemplated, and the process of contemplation. Mahasamadhi is considered to be a state of absolute freedom.

(3) Yoga understood as a form of consistent meditation (in the Vedanta), rather than as psychophysiological exercises (hatha-yoga). This form of yoga, raja-yoga, gives an intellectual interpretation to all yogic practices, explaining them as special reflex procedures for establishing the practicing individual’s identity with absolute reality.

In modern times, there have developed within yoga certain tendencies of classical Hinduist yoga, of which the most prominent representatives are Vivekananda, with his idea of integral yoga (the end of the 19th century), and Yogananda (the 1940’s and 1950’s). A specifically Buddhist yoga became especially developed in Tibet and Japan. The practice of yogic psychophysiological techniques to sustain the viability of the human organism under conditions of extreme scarcity of food and of anomalous rates of the functioning of the nervous, endocrine, and respiratory systems is being studied by contemporary clinical medicine, experimental psychology, and physiology.


Ramacharaka. Hatha Yoga. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Vivekananda, S. Filosofiia Ioga. Sosnitsa, 1911.
Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia, vol. 2, pp. 296–330. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Aurobindo. The Synthesis of Yoga.New Jersey, 1950.
Coster, G. Yoga and Western Psychology.Oxford, 1949.
Dasgupta, S. Yoga As Philosophy and Religion. London, 1924.
Eliade, M. Patanjali et le Yoga. Paris, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The Buddhist exercise practice of yoga has a number of benefits, including helping one learn how to control his or her dreams.



The two largest religions to originate in southern Asia (the geographical and cultural area that consists of contemporary India, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) are Hinduism and Buddhism. Both of these complex religious traditions have been shaped by schools of philosophy that regard the world as we experience it as being in some sense “dreamlike,” illusory or unreal. In terms of this metaphor, it is the goal of the religious life to “wake up” from the illusion of this world.

The method by which the “awakening” is accomplished is often conceptualized as some form of yoga. In the West, the widespread popularity of hatha yoga has led the term yoga to be associated with an exotic set of physical exercises. However, in its original southern Asian setting, yoga encompasses a complex variety of practices, all of which aim to release the individual aspirant from the cycle of reincarnation.

Despite Hinduism’s traditional discourse about “awakening from the dream,” a form of yoga directed specifically at controlling the dream state does not seem to have developed until it emerged in Tibetan Buddhism (although it may have had a predecessor in Tantric Hinduism). According to tradition, the teacher Marpa introduced six yogas, including the teaching on dreams, in Tibet in the eleventh century.

The dream yoga of Tibet involves what has come to be called lucid dreaming in the West—a state in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. The lucid dream state is not itself a form of meditation. Rather, the yoga of the dream state is practiced while one is in a lucid dream. During sleep, the yogi (one who practices yoga) exercises control over the landscape of his or her dream, learning that the dream world is transitory, malleable, and a function of consciousness. If the yogi has properly digested the teaching that this world and the dreamworld are both creations of the mind, the yogi’s dream experience helps him or her realize the illusory nature of this world. Learning to control the dream state also prepares the yogi to determine where his or her consciousness goes after death, a major goal of many schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


1. a Hindu system of philosophy aiming at the mystical union of the self with the Supreme Being in a state of complete awareness and tranquillity through certain physical and mental exercises
2. any method by which such awareness and tranquillity are attained, esp a course of related exercises and postures designed to promote physical and spiritual wellbeing
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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