What is Yoga?
The word Yoga means union or communion. Through the practice of Yoga you learn how to unite the power of your mind, body, and soul. You will also discipline your intellect, emotions, and will. Together this will allow you to look at life in all aspects evenly. “A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled in the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment.”
The objective of yoga is to train you to use your breath and body to increase your awareness of yourself. This creates a balance that will allow you to live your life in peace, good health, and harmony. “It is like a great musician becoming one with his instrument and the music that comes from it. The yogi stands in his own nature and realizes himself, and the part of the Supreme Soul within himself.”
Yoga focuses on harmony and moderation. “Yoga is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, not for him who stays awake. By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow.”
Yoga is a method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels. “As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift.”
The foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in approximately 200 BCE. The core of The Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for the practice of yoga. Through the study and practice of yoga it will become self-evident that one element is no more important than another in a hierarchical way. However, because we are individuals, a person can emphasize one limb and then move onto another as they develop their knowledge and understanding.
The eight limbs are as follows:
- Yama – Universal morality
- Niyama – Self purification by discipline
- Asanas – Body postures
- Pranayama – Rhythmic control of the breath
- Pratyahara – Control of the senses
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – A state of super-consciousness brought about by profound mediation
The first three limbs reflect outward quests. Yama and Niyama control the yogi’s passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with this fellow man. Asanas keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature. When these three elements are brought together, the yogi becomes free of body consciousness; he conquers the body, and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul.
The next two limbs, Pranayama and Pratyahara, teach the yogi to regulate the breathing, control the mind and therefore free the senses. These stages of yoga are known as the inner quests.
Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi take the yogi to the inner most places within his soul. The yogi learns not to look outward to find the divine spirit. Rather, he knows that it is within him. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.
“The study of Yoga is not like work for a diploma or a university degree by someone desiring favorable results in a stipulated time.” Yoga is a path for which there is a unique starting point for every yogi, but has no end point for any yogi. We are all at different points along our path. Allow me to accompany you and guide you through your journey!
Sources: Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar