What is Yoga?
Yoga originated in India at least 5000 years ago. The word comes from the Sanskrit word, “yuj” which means “yoke” (join, connect, link). This can be interpreted as union within ourselves (mind body and spirit) and union with the universal consciousness. Like Ayurveda, Yoga is also a very thorough and comprehensive healing system and has an extensive history, well beyond the scope for writing here! Yoga emerged well before before there was any formalised “religion”, hence cannot be described as a religious practice or cult. Yoga is practised by people of all ages, cultures, religions and backgrounds. “International Yoga Day” , declared by the United Nations, is also now celebrated globally every year on June 21st. It is a universal healing system for humanity. Anyone can practice yoga and it can be adapted to the individual. Therein lies it’s beauty. I believe it is one of India’s greatest gift to the World.
Different types and classifications of yoga have developed over the years including Hatha, Iyengar, Yin, Restorative and Vinyasa. Classical yoga is “Hatha” and is the basis for all other forms of yoga. During the classical period, a sage called Patanjali wrote the foundational key text– The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali. Within this text, an 8-step path to self-realisation is discussed. These 8 limbs of Yoga, sometimes referred to as “ashtanga” yoga is a purposeful and orderly system of steps, the general idea being that one step prepares us for the next one. Let’s take a brief, simplified look at this.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
1. Yama = Restraints – Guidelines for interacting with others (primarily)
Ahimsa= Non-harming (to ourselves and others)
Asteya= Non-stealing (only taking what is rightfully ours)
Brahmacharya= Moderation of senses including sexual energy
Aparigraha= Non-grasping (non-possessiveness)
2. Niyama = Observances – Guidelines for personal integrity
Saucha = Cleanliness (e.g. ourselves, our environment)
Santosha = Contentment
Tapas = Effort (discipline)
Swadhyaya = Self-study
Ishwarapranidhana= Surrender (to God/Universal Consciousness)
3. Asana = Posture
The physical postures…flexible, beautiful, sun-kissed and pretzel shaped bodies! The postures are a well known part of yoga today but note this limb only represents a mere one-eighth of what yoga actually is – please be aware of how yoga can be misinterpreted in today’s society.
4. Pranayama= Breath control
The “prana” is akin to what many would know as “chi” or “qi” – subtle life force energy. Through asana and breath control, prana can be increased and directed through the energetic channels (“nadi’s” – like meridians) nourishing the body and mind. In yogic philosophy, there are 72,000 nadi’s with 3 main channels. If the prana flow is blocked, then deviation from health starts to occur. These practices help to unblock the channels encouraging the rightful flow of prana.
5. Pratyahara = Withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana = Focused concentration in meditation
7. Dhyana = Uninterrupted concentration where a focus is no longer needed.
8. Samadhi = Bliss and transcendence through meditation.