Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What is Yoga?

You can read a number of articles and books on yoga and get many different interpretations of what yoga is.  You will find historical background as well as religious theologies.  The beauty of yoga is you can make it what you want.  You can delve as deeply as you wish.

There are eight limbs of yoga that are commonly taught from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

1. The first limb, yama, is the moral standards we place on ourselves and others.  They include: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation), Aparigraha (non-covetousness or non-hoarding).

2. Niyama, the second limb, revolves around self-discipline and spiritual observances. They include: Saucha (cleanliness or purity), Samtosa (contentment), Tapas (heat and spiritual austerities), Svadhyaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self), Isvara pranidhana (devotion to a higher power)

3. Asanas are the postures practiced in yoga, comprising the third limb. Through the practice of asanas, we develop discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.

4. Pranayama, or breath work, is the fourth limb.  The idea is to gain a mastery of the respiratory system.  This can be done alone or while doing asanas.

5. Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. We essentially draw our sense inwards, removing outward distractions.

6. Dharana is about concentration, focusing on one thing at a time, rather than jumping from one thought to another every few seconds.

7. Dhyana is meditation.  This would be the cessation of the monkey chatter in our minds.

8. Samadhi is the final limb of yoga.  It is transcendence from this body and a connection with the divine.

In the US, the first experience with yoga is typically a yoga posture class.  Depending on the type of yoga, one might experience asanas and pranayama together.  Occasionally, the teacher will bring in some of the other aspects such as the Yamas, Niyamas, and Dhyana during the class.  The teacher might bring up one of the ways we conduct ourselves and expand upon that, and then invite the students to meditate on it while practicing the asanas or during the final resting pose at the end of class.

In my classes, I tend to talk about issues I face in daily life and how I am working to overcome them.  I know that religion and morals tend to be very personal, so try not to expand upon those aspects.  I primarily focus on the asana and pranayama, creating a type of moving meditation.  When students are more focused on where their bodies are in space and making sure they are breathing in and out at the proper times, they can quiet the chatter in their minds.  It is something that is vital to our busy lives. 

Light and love,


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