What is Yoga?
Yoga literally means union. I personally have learnt, believe and follow the philosophy that yoga postures develop strength in order for the body to sit in meditation for long periods of time, to connect and unite with the higher self. This allows the practitioner to become more aware of oneself which aids in decision making and understanding the role they must play in life.
The yoga postures will help to tone and strengthen the body. Posture work will also aid in developing a heightened sense of awareness of the capability of the body as well as drawing attention to weaker areas which need to be strengthened.
The breathing exercises will encourage prana (life force energy) to circulate through the body efficiently providing energy and healing qualities. Just as we need to exercise the body to stay healthy and well we must exercise the breath. Breath awareness will also calm and relax the body to comfortably lead into meditation.
Relaxation provides the practitioner time to rest the body and mind thus rejuvenating oneself in order to take on daily tasks. Overall if a yoga practise is undertaken then you will sooner or later experience the benefits whether it is mentally, physically or spiritually.
The Eight Limbs (Levels) of Yoga
Yoga means union and the practice of yoga is the union of body, mind and soul. As these three parts of the being start to work in harmony together it creates greater peace and happiness.
Yoga is an ancient tradition which dates back over 5000 years. It originates from the master Lord Shiva (who is revered as a God by many). Lord Shiva taught locals in India 84,000 different yoga postures. These were reflections of nature for example Tree pose. The great Sage Patanjali then reformatted yoga to what is called Raja (Royal) Yoga which is described as the science of self realisation. It has eight limbs (levels) called Ashtanga drawn from the words ‘Ashta’ meaning eight and ‘anga’ meaning limb.
The eight limbs (levels) of Ashtanga are;
Yama means control and involves the rules of morality and self restraint;
– Ahimsa – Non violence
– Asteya – Non stealing
– Satya – Truth
– Aparigraha – Non covetousness
– Brahamacharya – Moral life
Niyama means restraint or observance to gain spiritual progression and involves the following;
– Saucha – Purity in body, mind and words
– Santosha – Contentment
– Tapas – Tolerate challenges gracefully
– Swadhyaya – Self study
– Ishwar Pranidhana – Faith in God/ Higher being
Asana literally means seat or base and involves the practice of physical exercise and posture practice.
‘Prana’ means life force energy and ‘Yama’ means to control. Through the practice of breathing exercises you can learn to control your life force energy.
Pratyahara is the bridge between the outer world into the inner world. Pratya’ means towards and ‘hara’ means moving as you move from Asana (physical practice) into Dharana (concentration of the mind). It is often practiced through the form of relaxation techniques.
The word Dharana means concentration. It is the practice of developing the strength to focus on one thought or object. This can involve visualisations, affirmations, prayer or focussing on the chakras.
Dhyana means meditation which involves finding the point of stillness in the mind or the gap between our thoughts.
Samadhi is the final limb of yoga and means to become one with God/higher being. This is when one experiences a deep bliss of love and joy.
Also note within the eight limbs of Ashtanga four of the limbs compile together to make what is known as Hatha yoga. These four limbs include Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana. Often what we see being taught in the present day yoga classes is Hatha yoga which involves, physical exercise, breathing, light meditation and relaxation.
The word Hatha is drawn from ‘Ha’ meaning sun and ‘tha’ meaning moon. Therefore Hatha yoga is the balance of duality which exists in creation. When everything is in balance it brings together a sense of Oneness and union which is yoga.