Yoga, especially in the West, has evolved into a largely physical practice. We see photos of people in acrobatic and pretzel-like shapes on the cover of Yoga Journal and all over the Interwebs. And we think to ourselves, “There’s no way I can do THAT!”
Needless to say, this has caused confusion about what yoga is and why we would want to practice it. It also has caused people to avoid yoga classes because they don’t think they are “bendy” or strong enough.
It’s time for a little Yoga 101…
The word yoga originates from the root word yuj, which means union. As such, it is a wholistic practice that joins together the body, mind, heart, and spirit.
The practice of yoga has been around for more than 4,000. It was practiced before long before written history and organized religion existed.
A sage named Patanjali delineated and systematized yoga into a 8-limbed path to yoga over 2,000 years ago that consisted of the following:
- Yama: Self-restraint, self-control or self discipline. The yamas
represent a series of ethical rules for “right living”.
- Niyama: Observance or rule. The niymas represent additional
ethical rules or personal disciplines for “right living” that compliment the yamas.
- Asana: The physical postures practiced in yoga. The word breaks down as = to be/breathe, san = to join with, and na = the eternal vibration.
- Pranayama: The practice of breath awareness and breath control Prana means breath, life, energy, spirit or soul. Ayama means to extend or draw out, so praynayamaliterally means “extension of the breath” or more accurately, “extension of the life”.
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses from external objects and transcendence beyond the physical body and its senses.
- Dharana: The practice of concentration and comes from the word dhri=attention. It is steady focus of the mind.
- Dhyana: The practice of focused attention through steadfast meditation or contemplation. It involves complete stillness of the mind where the mind is acutely aware without any particular focus.
- Samadhi: Complete oneness with the object of meditation, and results in the arrival at a state of bliss where the one meditating is completely absorbed into God or the divine.
It is interesting to note that the word asana (which relates to the physical postures practiced in yoga) is only mentioned ONE time in Patantali’s Yoga Sutras in Yoga Sutra 2.46 above ” sthira sukham asanam”, which means that our posture must be steady and comfortable. It also means that we must resolutely (steady) reside in a good (comfortable) space.
Yoga is NOT about the fancy poses. It is a practice of discovering what it means to resolutely reside in a good space. All of the other components – the physical postures, breathing, and meditation are vehicles to help you arrive in a space of bliss that goes far beyond anything we can experience by standing on our head. It is available to anyone and everyone, even if you’re not “bendy” and you can’t contort your body.
Come join us and see for yourself!