The roots of Yoga can be traced back roughly 5,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization, where seals depicting people performing asanas (yoga postures) were used in trade along the river. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word "Yuj" meaning to yoke, join or unite. It is the union of all aspects of an individual: body, mind and soul. Hence, Yoga reunites all opposites - mind and body, stillness and movement, masculine and feminine, sun and moon - in order to bring reconciliation between them. Yoga is one of the six branches in Indian philosophy and is referred to throughout the Vedas – the ancient scriptures of India. There is a legend that says that the knowledge of Yoga was first offered by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and then passed on to the world.
Originally, yoga was passed on as an oral tradition reaching back unknown thousands of years. An unbroken lineage of gurus and disciples worked closely together to preserve and practice the sacred teachings, keeping the practices alive throughout the centuries.
The Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is considered the definitive work on traditional yoga, and is well known as the first ever written. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dates back to around 1st and 3rd century A.D. In this classic, Patanjali articulates the yogic cosmology through 195 Sutras (threads, wisdom pearls). These sutras together form a tapestry of knowledge derived from many yogic traditions into a set of pity equations.
According to the Yoga Sutras, the ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach "Kaivalya" (freedom). This is the experience of one's innermost being or "soul" (the Purusa). When this level of awareness is achieved, one becomes free of the chains of cause and effect (Karma) which bound us to continual reincarnation.
In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes a methodology for the practice of traditional yoga called the 'eight-fold path' or the 'eight limbs of yoga'. It is mainly the third limb of yoga, namely the practice of asanas (positions) that have become popular in the West. Most people assosiate yoga only with the exercise of asanas but is in reality so much more than that.
Patanjali describe 8 disciplines of yoga which must be practiced and refined in order to perceive the true self - the ultimate goal of Yoga. He uses the term Ashtanga Yoga which translates to the eight limbs of yoga.
Principles of right relationship to the world and universal ethics. Non-violence, non-harming, Awareness and gentleness in action, truthfulness, non-stealing. Ahimsa: non-aggression, non-violence; constructive thought and speech. Conflict and violence comes out of fear, anger, ignorance, restlessness, and selfishness. Ahimsa is practiced through compassion, love, understanding, patience, self-love, and worthiness. Satya: Be true to oneself. Acceptance rather than judgement of ones thoughts . Practicing honesty towards oneself provide the foundation for an honest communication with others. Practice of constructive feedback and actions, forgiveness, non-judgemental attitude and letting go of ones role playing (pretending to be someone rather than being yourself). giving constructive feedback and forgiveness.
Asteya: non-stealing; generosity; cultivate sense of completeness, self-sufficiency; letting go of cravings.
Brahmacharya: moderation; build up and preserve a high level of vital energy; channeling emotions, Stepping out of the overindulgence of mind (thoughts, intellect). Practising moderation on all levels; sex, food, activity, rest and all aspects of daily life. Aparigraha: Learning the art of non-attachment to material things and the outer world at large. Non-possessiveness; non-greediness; Satisfying the needs rather than wants; Practice of non-attachment to material things, possessions, relationships and habits.
Principles of right relationship with the Self; disciplines; observances. Shaucha: Learning the art of purity. Purity of body; cleanliness; Good food- and health habits, The practice of eveness of thoughts, speech, and discrimination. Santosha: Being content with what is, accept what is; make the best out of everything. The practice gratitude and joyfulness; remain calm with success or failure. A state of mind that is not dependant on any outer feedback or event. Tapas: The Art of discipline; spiritual fire. The willingness and discipline to do whatever is necessary to reach a defined goal. The practice of determination to pursue a goal and any daily practices. The practice of enthusiasm for the spiritual path. By learning discipline in the duties of the outer world one gain the ability to be disciplined in the inner world.
Swadhyaya: The Art of Self-education; contemplation and study that leads to self-realization. The contemplation on the knowledge offered in teachings and scriptures and an ongoing observation of one self and the activity of the mind. The practice of study and reflection of yogic texts, meditation and a desire to wanting to know the Truth. Ishwara-Pranidhana: Devotion to God, Antaryamin. (the indweller). The surrendering to a greater power. The setting of right goals and directions in life and the willingness to surrender their accomplishments and the desires of the ego to a higher power, be it the Self, The Antaryamin, the Universe, God, a Deity, the Lifeforce, etc. The practice of willingness to surrender, let go of righteousness, cultivation of faith, dedication and sincerity. Willingness to transcend the egoic mind.
Third limb: Asana
Practice of postures. (= asanas.) This third limb of yoga is often misunderstood to be what yoga is. In fact, it is only one of eight limbs.
There are many different schools of yoga and the practice of asanas. Due to many factors such as age, phyiscal condition, health, previous experience and many other things, the recommended practice of asanas would be different from individual to individual. The asanas should be modified to serve the highest good of the person rather then the person having to adopt to fit into the practice of the asanas.
Asanas helps develop stability in the body, elasticity in the lung fibers and in other parts of the respiratory system – this is beneficial for proper practice of pranayama, the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
Fourth limb: Pranayama
Pranayama is the control and regulation of breathing. Pranayama has a soothening and balancing effect on the nervous system and consists of different breathing exercises.
Just as there are several types of asanas, there are different types of pranayama. While Ujjayi and Viloma Pranayama are performed with open nostrils, in anuloma, Pratiloma and Nadi Shodhana Pranayama you use your fingers to regulate breath. The many kinds of pranayamas has a different effect on your physiology and the state of your mind.
"Tasmin Sati Svasa prasvasayorgativicchedah Pranayamah" - The regulation of breath or the control of Prana is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or asana. That is the definition of Pranayama in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Chapter II-49.
'Svasa' means inspiratory breath and 'Prasvasa' the expiratory breath. Breath is the external manifestation of Prana, the vital force. Breath is like electricity, it is gross Prana. Breath is Sthula, gross. Prana is Sukshma, subtle. By exercising control over this breathing you learn to control the subtle Prana inside.
There is conciderable amount of knowledge about the practice of pranayamas.
One of many important elements in the practice of pranayma is the Bandhas. The Bandhas are locks helps the prajna (conscious awareness) to judiciously control the incoming prana, let it flow rhythmically and later on distribute it uniformly. Two of the important bandhas are Mula Bandha (root-lock) and the Jalandhara Bandha (chin-lock).
Other important factors is the correct breathing and the positioning with a straight spine. It is advisable to consult a yoga teacher for correct instructions on the practice of pranayama.
"Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body and the Indriyas by blowing his lungs, i.e., by practising Pranayama." Sri Swami Sivananda
Fifth limb: Pratyahara
The Art of withdrawing the attention of the five senses from the outside world to the inner world. Becoming one with the inner experience.
By withdrawing our attention from the external environment and by focusing inwards on the breath and sensations, we ease the mind and become more aware of our body. With this awareness and focus we can move deeper into the practice of yoga, learning to move through our limitations, fears and expectations. A key in the practice of pratyahara is the observing of the body, breath and sensations as a detached witness.
Indriya-pratyahara, the control of the senses, is a very important form of pratyahara. In our mass media-oriented culture, most people suffer from sensory overload. The result of constant bombardment of impressions from television, radio, computers, newspapers, magazines and books is an ongoing stimulates the placing of ones awareness in the outer world rather than in the inner. We are confronted daily with noise, commercials, bright colors, dramatic sensations. We have been brougt up to indulge in sensory impressions through entertainment and contstant exposure to different medias like the TV, Internet etc.
The problem is that the senses, have their own instinctual will. They tell the mind what to do. If we don't discipline the senses, they will dominate us with their endless demands. We are so accustomed to ongoing sensory activity that we don't know how to be in peace of mind. We have become hostages to the world of the senses and its allurements. We run after what is appealing to the senses and forget the higher goals of life.
Pratyahara translates directly as "sense withdrawal" . By withdrawing our attention from the external environment and by focusing inwards on the breath and sensations, we still the mind and increase our awareness of the body. With this awareness and focus we can move deeper into the practice of yoga, learning to move through our limitations, fears and expectations. The key to practicing pratyahara is the Become a witness and observe the body, breath, sensations and the mind stuff coming and going through your mind. When you practice pratyahara with compassion and discipline, it will lead you to deeper stages of concentration and meditation.
Sixth limb: Dharana
The Art of focus and concentration. One-pointedness that leads to meditation. Dharana steadies the mind. It translates as 'immovable concentration of the mind'. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. This is not the forced concentration of, for example, solving a difficult mathematics problem; rather dharana is a form deeper concentration.
The purpose of dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. Before retracting his senses, on may practice focusing attention on a single inanimate object. After the mind becomes prepared for meditation, it is better able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience.
Seventh limb: Dhyana
Deep meditation. Connectedness with all things. Dhyana makes one forget the body and the world.
It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it.
We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceive and also between words, their meanings and ideas, and even between all the levels of natural evolution.
Eight limb: Samadhi
Complete absorption and union with our true Self, Antaryamin (the indweller), the union with higher consciousness. When we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something that our mind becomes completely one with it, we are in a state of samadhi. Samadhi literally means: to bring together, to merge.
In samadhi our personal identities completely disappear. At the moment of samadhi none of that exists anymore. We become one with the Divine Entity. It is a State of superconsciousness and perfect absorption of mind in Yoga. Samadhi brings infinite Bliss, Knowledge, Peace and Liberation.
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras is a unique reference book and a classic for the stundent of yoga and the spiritual seeker. There are many translations, guides and thorugh explanations of the Yoga Sutras, some are mentioned below together with some other books on yoga.
Recommended reading Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BKS Iyengar Light on Pranayama, BKS Iyengar The Essence of Yoga: Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Bernard Bouanchaud Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar Yogarahasya, by T.K.V. Desikachar The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Satchidananda, Swami Satchidananda Jnana Yoga, by Swami Vivekananda Psychology of Mystical Awakening: The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, by Swami Savitripriya
By Parlan Fritz