Many people come to yoga looking for a workout or the physical asana practise and often are unaware of the underlying reason we do yoga. The REAL reason. The asana practise (all the bendy stretchy stuff) is just one facet of yoga. In fact, yoga is a 24/7 mental and physical commitment.
Yoga, we think, was first put into text by Patanjali around 1700 years ago. No one really knows who Patanjali was, but the text ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ describes yoga as a life system that brings about chitta vritti nirodha, or the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. In order to achieve this state of bliss, and lead a meaningful, purposeful life you must practise the 8 limbs of yoga. The first 4 pertain to gaining control of our own bodies on the path to bliss. So here is a quick run-down for all yoga beginners:
1 The Yamas – the 5 yamas are a list of ethical considerations we should follow in our daily lives. They are qualities that all help make us a generally nicer person, a bit like the commandments.
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation)
- Aparigraha (non-covetousness)
2 The Niyamas – like the yamas, the 5 niyamas reflect on self-discipline.
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Samtosa (contentment)
- Tapas (spirituality)
- Svadhayaya (study of the self and scriptures)
- Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Universe)
3 Asana – this is the one we are all familiar with, the poses. Our body is our temple and through it we learn discipline and the ability to concentrate.
4 Pranayama – control of the breath. Yogis believe in the power the breath has over the body and mind, and the literal translation is ‘life force extension’. There are many breathing techniques to explore and note the effect on the body. They can be performed alone or integrated into your asana practise. The one that sounds like a snore is ‘ujjayi’ and is common in class.
5 Pratyahara – sense withdrawal. This is nothing sinister! This is simply the practise of withdrawing our attention away from what is going on around us and focussing our attention internally. I often call it zoning out in class and it’s ok! This practise almost has magical properties (from experience) when it comes to stress relief and control of depression. It takes a lot of practise to stop your mind working overtime, but when you get there, even for minute, it works wonders.
6 Dharana – from pratyahara to this next step, which is concentration. While sense withdrawal focusses the mind internally, dharana is intense concentration for a prolonged period.
7 Dhyana – similarly to dharana, dhyana is concentration BUT this time without focus, whereby you notice more and aware of things without reaction. This is often practised through meditation. This is probably the hardest thing to achieve and is a big step. It take years to master, and even I am not there yet.
8 Samadhi – the goal. A state of bliss or ecstasy and a feeling of being at one with the universe. Often translated as ‘enlightenment’ this phrase has been hijacked by people who believe nonsense on google and so it is being moved away from. But wouldn’t it be nice to get there?
We’ll be exploring the 8 limbs of yoga in the Yygge® classes next term, so if you are interested to learn more and give it a go, sign up on the website to register for more information!