What is Yoga?
Yoga is a system of study and practice that is at least 5,000 years old. Yoga is not a religion, but a philosophy that influences a lifestyle integrating mind, body and spirit. The word Yoga means “to join” or “unite”. When we practice Yoga, union is attained in the physical practices by uniting body, mind and breath. Yoga is also practiced in our day-to-day lives as we try to unite our actions with our ethical and moral principals, making decisions from a perspective of what is in the interests of the highest good, and by uniting individuals in a community.
Whether you are practicing Hatha, Sivananda, Ashtanga, Iyengar or Kripalu Yoga, they are all though to have their roots in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali. Patanjali, a Philosopher and a Physician, said to have lived 300 years BC, is the founder of Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy. He wrote in the Yoga Sutras ,
“Yoga is a settling of the mind into silence, and only when the mind is silent can we realize our true nature, the effortless Being of the Self”.
From his teachings, Ashtanga (eight limbs) Yoga was structured into eight areas of techniques and practices. These eight limbs, are as follows:
The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
- Yamas: ethical disciplines of truth, nonviolence, control of vital energy,non- stealing, non-covetousness.
- Niyamas: personal observances of; purity, contentment, study, surrender to the ego.
- Asanas: physical postures that prepare the body/mind/spirit for meditation.
- Pranayama: control of vital energy, using breathing exercises.
- Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses.
- Dharana: concentration of the mind.
- Dhyana: meditation.
- Samadhi: the superconscious state.
These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. One does not seek to change oneself through the practice of Yoga, but to allow one’s own natural state of total health and self-understanding to become a reality. How does this happen? Like all positive and healthy change it happens over time, with consistent attention and practice. Joining regular classes, reading about Yoga, creating a relaxation or meditation program at home, or enjoying a Yoga retreat can be helpful as you begin to explore the teachings.
Yoga can mean different things to different people. First and foremost Yoga is intended as a personal practice, and each person come to the practice with their own goals and needs. For some, Yoga is a practical method of life management, maintaining good physical health, preventing illness, and enhancing relaxation and mental clarity. For others, Yoga is a spiritual path to self-realization. No matter your goals, every aspect of life, from breathing, exercise, personal hygiene, nutrition, and even stress management is observed in this system.
Yoga is far from simply being physical exercise; rather it is an aid to establishing a new way of life which embraces both inner and outer realities. However, this way of life is an experience which cannot be understood intellectually and will only be living knowledge through practice and experience. Swami Satyananda
It is important for each student to move at their own pace and follow their own path of interest as they explore the teachings, techniques, and practices of Yoga. Many Yoga students begin with the physical aspect of yoga (asanas), and gradually add meditation, pranayama (breathwork), mantras, silence, fasting, and with each day a growing awareness of the divine. This lifestyle is referred to as a “practice”, because it is in the practicing that we attain our spiritual, physical, emotional and mental goals. Just as when working towards any goal in life, we must remember, the journey is the thing. A Yogic saying reminds us that:
In doing, in doing, it is done.