What is Yoga?
This ancient tradition and practice has becoming popular, now more than ever. But what truly is yoga? Is it just holding your hands together and attempting to put both legs behind your head? Well, yes and no.
According to Sadhguru a Yogi and writer which I truly admire, he claims that “Yoga is not just an exercise. It is a process and system through which human beings can find their highest possible potential.”
To be honest I couldn’t agree more.
The word “Yoga” essentially means, “that which brings you to reality”. Literally, it means “union.”
But when did this ancient tradition start? Well Adiyogi, or the first yogi is believed to have existed over 15,000 years ago. Adiyogi is also commonly known as Shiva. When he reached illumination or Smadhi, a topic discussed in our last video, it is said that he abandoned his body in an ecstatic dance over the Himalayas. When it became beyond movement, he became utterly still. People saw him experienced something they had never seen before, and this began to generate great interest. People looked at him, felt entertained, but after a long period of waiting everyone left apart from 7 men. These men pleaded him to explain how he did what he did but he answered “You fools. The way you are, you are not going to know in a million years. There is a tremendous amount of preparation needed for this. This is not entertainment.” Given this challenge the men began to prepare the next day. They practiced for days, weeks, months and year. But Adiyogi continued to ignore them. However on a full moon day after 84 years of Sadhana or practice, Adiyogi realised that they too had become illuminated. He couldn’t ignore them anymore. Shiva put different aspects of yoga into each of these seven people, and these aspects became the seven basic forms of yoga. Even today, yoga has maintained these seven distinct forms, with the eight being illumination itself.
The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices , the way we interact with the world.
The five yamas are:
Aparigraha: wrong desire
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
The five niyamas are:
Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities
Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, "life force extension," yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
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These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don't give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the "peace that passeth all understanding"; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, "holier than thou" kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.
The four types of yoga
There are four types of yoga which enable you to follow the 8 limp path. These four types of yoga are present in all of us, however one will always be dominant.
Karma Yoga - Body
Path of action: Yoga of selfless service to others
Jnana Yoga - Mind
Path of Knowledge: Yoga through intellect.
Bhakti Yoga - Emotion
Yoga of devotion: Yoga of love to all beings
Raja Yoga - Energy
Path of discipline: Yoga to energize the body and mind.
Yoga comes from Hinduism
It was developed and prospered in that culture, so it has become associated with a hindu way of life. However, The word “Hindu” has come from the word “Sindhu”, which is a river. Because this culture grew from the banks of the river Sindhu or Indus, this culture got labeled as Hindu. Hindu is not an “ism” – it is not a religion. It is a geographical and cultural identity.
Yoga is all about impossible postures
In the yogic system, there is very little significance given to asanas. For a little over two hundred Yoga Sutras, only one sutra is dedicated to asanas.
Yoga is a great exercise Regime
If fitness is what you are seeking, if you want six-pack abs or whatever number, I would say go and play tennis or hike in the mountains. Yoga is not an exercise, it has other dimensions attached to it. Of course you become lean, strong and healthy, but only to have a better conducting vehicle towards Samadhi.
Yoga must be practiced morning and evening
Yoga is not something that you do morning-evening. It is a certain way of being. One must become yoga. If it’s morning-evening yoga, the rest of the time entanglement – this is not yoga, this is only yoga practice.