What is Yoga?

Yoga is the alignment of mind, body and spirit. The word “yoga” originates from “yuj” in Sanskrit, which means “coming together”. In the modern context, yoga is often associated with gymnastic-like movements and beautifully designed spandex clothes. Yet while we spend the most time in perfecting our yoga poses in fancy yoga studios with these beautiful people and bodies around us, the true essence of yoga is about finding this union of mind, body and spirit. When you experience freedom and consistency in your thoughts and actions, you can be said to be practising yoga.

The free-spirited yoga philosophy sets no specific moral rules or regulations, and dictates nothing to be right or wrong. What it has is a guide showing practitioners of yoga how to attain “Samadhi”, the final super-conscious state of enlightenment that lets us all find peace and harmony within ourselves. To help my friends outside of yoga practice understand the true nature of this practice, I have outlined here Patanjali’s guide for achieving the state of Samadhi

(1) Yama: refers to the way of dealing with external stimuli so that it improves your internal well-being. The Yoga Sutra suggests that we practice non-violence to ourselves, embrace the truth, free ourselves from jealousy, find and remove our hidden biases of other people, and stop feeling possessive about things.

(2) Niyama: refers to how we could ideally handle changes and stimuli inside us. We should have the nature to accept everyone for who they are, no matter in what form. We listen to our body and we listen to our inner voice. When we truly understand ourselves, we take actions that are not tainted by negativity for ourselves or for other people. Contentment is not about happiness or sadness, it is about being at peace with ourselves and finding freedom in our thoughts and actions. 

(3) Asana (pose): is probably the most familiar word in modern yoga practice. It refers to the physical movements that we make with our bodies. Ideally, we should find stability and comfort in all the poses that we do. The purpose of asanas is to help our bodies find strength and flexibility, so that we can be free of ailments and find freedom in our movement. I personally find it super amazing that the ancient lineage of yoga practitioners have been so in tune with how their bodies feel, that the poses passed down through the ages are ingeniously designed to be effortless (when done properly) and functional for our emotional and physical health.

(4) Pranayama: “Prana” is the Sanskrit word for life force. Interestingly, while this word originates from Hinduism, I find similar references describing this organic energy in other languages and culture, such as “qi” in Chinese, “mana” in Polynesian, “orenda” in Amerindians, and “od” in ancient German. In yoga practice, “Pranayama” refers to breathing techniques and exercises that are supposed to energise or relax us, depending on which you pick to practice. With reference to achieving Samadhi, I feel it is also about the appreciation of this energy that gives us all life.

(5) Pratyhara: is the practice of moving your consciousness inwards, so you perceive things for what they are, not what they appear to be. We commonly experience events through our five senses – taste, sight, touch, smell and sound. We find clarity in our perception if we could just relinquish the control that these five senses have over us.

(6) Dharana: refers to our mind’s ability to concentrate on a thought. We all lead such hectic lives today that requires us to multi-task. Thoughts flit through our heads rapidly because we are expected to move fast and react faster. In our minds, we think about what we should do now, what we should do next, how we should act, what we should feel, what other people think… that I suppose the ancient yogis would think is a form of craziness if they knew what was in our minds today. Dharana is finding that mental discipline to slow down the appearance of these thoughts, and eventually, to have the ability to hold only one thought for an extended period of time.

(7) Dhyana: When we are able to achieve Dharana (holding only one thought), the next step is to allow this thought to vanish. The boundaries between that singular thought and our mind blur and become one. This point of singularity is the state of Dhyana.

(8) Samadhi: In the state of Dhyana, as you dissolve the boundaries between your thought and your mind, you will recognise yourself becoming one with nature. This frequency formed with nature is known as “Samadhi”. This state takes you beyond the boundaries of your mind, transcending sensory experience, time, space and causation. It is the final goal of yoga practice that brings peace, joy and bliss to the practitioner.

Developed over thousands of years with the relentless pursuit of knowledge and internal reflection, the philosophy of yoga leads its practitioners beyond the confines of well-researched science and modern medicine. Given that it is also written by men of their times (enlightened as they are), it is helpful to take the yoga sutras with a pinch of salt (with reference to point 5 – Pratyhara), and take in what is relevant to the spirit of yoga – which is to find union on your mind, body and spirit. In the course of my yoga study at Tirisula, I am humbled by what I have learnt of the wisdom shown by practitioners of this ancient philosophy, and would encourage everyone to try it for themselves with an open mind and an open heart.


– Vanessa Tang – 

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