A Bit Of History Of Yoga

Traditionally the word yoga is defined as the union or integration of individual with universal consciousness. On a practical level, it is a way to balance and harmonize the body, mind, and emotions. This is achieved by practicing asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practices), mudra and bandhas (psycho-physiological energy release techniques), and a wide range of meditation techniques.

Yoga postures stretch our bodies beyond our preconceived limitations, and allow us to return to a more free flowing state of being.

Yoga is being practiced in Indian subcontinent for more than 5000 years, and it was sage Patanjali who wrote the most comprehensive book on the fundamentals of yoga in his book Yoga Sutras. The heart of Patanjali's teachings is the eightfold path of yoga. It is also called the eight limbs of Patanjali, because they intertwine like the branches of a tree in the forest. These aren't commandments, laws, or hard and fast rules. These are Patanjali's suggestions for living a better life through yoga. Here are the eight limbs of Patanjali.

Yama

Yama is social behavior, how you treat others and the world around you. These are moral principles. There are five yamas:

  • Nonviolence (ahimsa). Do no harm to any creature in thought or deed.
  • Truth and honesty (satya). Tell no lies.
  • Non stealing (asteya). Do not steal material objects or intangibles.
  • Non lust (brahmacharya). The person who practices brahmacharya avoids meaningless sexual encounters and, as the well-known teacher B.K.S. Iyengar puts it, "sees divinity in all."
  • Non possessiveness (aparigraha). Free yourself from greed, hoarding, and collecting. Make your life as simple as possible.

Niyama

Niyama is inner discipline and responsibility, how we treat ourselves. These are sometimes called observances, there are five niyamas:

  • Purity (shauca). Purity is achieved through the practice of the five yamas, which help clear away the negative physical and mental states of being. Keep yourself, your clothing, and your surroundings clean. Eat fresh and healthy food.
  • Contentment (santosha). Cultivate contentment and tranquility by finding happiness with what you have and who you are. Seek happiness in the moment, take responsibility for where you are, and choose to grow from there.
  • Austerity (tapas). Show discipline in body, speech, and mind. The purpose of developing self-discipline is not to become ascetic, but to control and direct the mind and body for higher spiritual aims or purposes.
  • Study of the sacred text (svadhyaya). Study sacred texts, which are whatever books are relevant to you and inspire and teach you. Education changes a person's outlook on life.
  • Living with an awareness of the Divine (ishvara-pranidhana). Be devoted to God.

Asana

"The posture of yoga is steady and easy," Patanjali says. Patanjali compares this to resting like the cosmic serpent on the waters of infinity. Patanjali and other ancient yogis used asana to prepare the body for meditation. To sit for a lengthy time in contemplation required a supple and cooperative body. If you are free of physical distractions - such as your foot going to sleep - and can control the body, you can also control the mind. Patanjali said, "Posture is mastered by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating on the infinite."

Pranayama

Prana is the life force or energy that exists everywhere and flows through each of us through the breath. Pranayama is the control of breath. The basic movements of pranayama are inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation. "The yogi's life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths," says Iyengar. "Therefore, he follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow, deep breathing." The practice of pranayama purifies and removes distractions from the mind making it easier to concentrate and meditate.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses. Pratyahara occurs during meditation, breathing exercises, or the practice of yoga postures - any time when you are directing your attention inward. Concentration, in the yoga room or the boardroom, is a battle with distracting senses.

Dharana

Concentration or dharana involves teaching the mind to focus on one point or image. "Concentration is binding thought in one place," says Patanjali. The goal is to still the mind - gently pushing away superfluous thoughts - you know the mind is concentrating when there is no sense of time passing.

Dhyana

Uninterrupted meditation without an object is called dhyana. Concentration (dharana) leads to the state of meditation. The goal of meditation is not unconsciousness or nothingness. It is heightened awareness and oneness with the universe.

Samadhi

The ultimate goal of the eightfold path to yoga is Samadhi or absolute bliss. This is pure contemplation, super consciousness, in which you and the universe are one. Those who have achieved Samadhi are enlightened. Paramahansa Yoganananda called it the state of God-Union.