So what is Yoga and where did it come from? A question I’m sure I will be asked if I go on to share my practice with others. Here is my potted guide, based on my limited knowledge and understanding, as I embark on my early journey of exploration.
Yoga was first described to the world over 4, 000 years ago in the ancient Asian Bhagavad Gita text, also known as “The Lord’s Song”. This scripture described a four fold path of Yoga to attain ‘union’ of the body, mind and soul in order to lead a healthy, peaceful and fulfilled life. The four paths to achieving the goal of yoga or ‘union’ are Karma Yoga, to have an intention to improve, Bhakti yoga, to have commitment and devotion, Jnana yoga, to draw upon wisdom and knowledge and Raja yoga, to live life following 8 prescribed limbs or principles.
Two thousand years later the Asian philosopher, Patanjali translated and adapted parts of this ancient text into the Yoga Sutras. The 196 verses of the Yoga Sutras form the basis of the Yoga practice that we know today. Patanjali introduce the modern world to the 8 limbs of Yoga. The word ‘Ashtanga’ means 8 limbs and from this beginning other forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa, Hatha and Iyengar yoga have evolved.
The 8 limbs or principles to achieving “Yogah citta vritti nirodhah” or ‘union’ (Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, verse 1.2) are:
- Yama – self discipline within the context of the word in which we live
- Niyama – the maintenance of good personal habits and attitudes
- Asana – body postures – a healthy, strong and flexible body is the key to achieving a calm, still and peaceful mind
- Pranayama –calm and controlled breathing to enable focus and clarity of mind
- Pratyhara – to gain control over the senses in order to minimise external distractions
- Dharana – to focus and direct the mind
- Dhyana – to achieve total involvement and concentration with no distractions
- Samadhi – a state of meditation
Therefore, by striving to achieve the above the body, mind and emotions are in balanced and healthy state. Sridhar, D.V; Muthu, A. The song of Truth: An Essence of the Yogasutras of Patanjali