'Yoga' is the term which is commonly used to describe a union of spiritual disciplines relating to the 'body', 'mind' and 'soul'. Yoga philosophies can be found within many religions including: Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism.
Yoga was brought to the West in the 19th century by Hindu Monks, and was adopted by many people as a great way to exercise and keep fit and healthy.
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
The ultimate objective of yoga is to create an awareness of ourselves as beings that are intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. We achieve this through the correct use of breathing and body as well as meditation.
The art of Yoga was practiced and perfected many hundreds of years ago in India. Yoga philosophy was written down in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, in 200 AD. This text contains the essence of Yoga philosophy and is seen as the blueprint to reaching our full spiritual potential.
The Eight Limbs Of Yoga
The core of the Yoga Sutra texts is an eight limbed path which forms the structure of Yoga as we know it. No single element is more or less important than the other, and in order to achieve the objective that true Yoga sets out, none of these paths can be overlooked.
The eight limbs (paths) of Yoga are:
- Yama : Universal morality
- Niyama : Personal observances
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Control of the senses
- Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The Yamas and Niyamas are then broken down into five seperate practices
Ahimsa - Compassion for all living things
Ahimsa translates as to not injure or be cruel to any living creature. To expand on this, we have to understand that this practice is not merely about 'not doing' but being actively showing kindness to others. We also have to consider our duties and responsibilities, and show compassion and consideration in every action.
Satya - Commitment To Being Truthful
Satya focuses on always speaking the truth. We must consider how our words are said and how they can potentially affect others. However, it is not always possible to be truthful in any given situation. If someone should potentially be hurt by telling the truth, then it is better to say nothing at all.
Asteya - Do Not Steal
Asteya relates to not only taking someones belongings without permission, but also using something in a different way to what was intended. This also relates to non-physical items and also means we should not use/take someones time in a way in which is not justifiable.
Brahmacharya - Sense Control
Brahmacharya relates to how we see and use our sexual energy. It does not necessarily promote celibacy, but rather the forming of meaningful relationships which help to reach an understanding of the highest truths.
Aparigraha - Neutralising The Desire To Aquire And Hoard Wealth
Take only what is necessary and never succumb to greed. Hording wealth and materials implies a lack of faith in god and his will to look over and protect you for the future.
Niyama - The Rules and Laws of Yoga Philosophy
Sauca - Purity
The law relating to inner and outer clenliness. Your body should be physically clean and well maintained and your mind should be pure in thought.
Santosa - Contentment
This yoga rule relates to modesty and being content and satisfied with what we have. Accept that their is a purpose behind everything that happens (also referred to as Karma).
Tapas - Disciplined Use Of Energy
This rule refers to keeping our body fit and healthy to give us strength to confront difficult situations, without showing signs of pain or hurt on the outside.
Svadhyaya - Self Study
This Yoga rule relates to activities that cultivate self-reflection and a learning about yourself. This rule even promotes actively seeking your limitations as a human being and accepting them with open arms.
Isvarapranidhana - Celebration Of The Spiritual
This Yoga rule relates to tuning into the knowledge that there is a higher force at work which guides us on a daily basis. It states that some time should be put aside every day to reflect and learn more about this spiritual guiding force.
Asanas - Body Postures
This is the practice of mastering physical body postures. This is the most commonly recognised practice when it comes to mainstream yoga practitioners. The art of moving the body into certain postures not only increases physical strength, but also helps to strengthen and focus the mind.
Pratyahara - Control Of The Senses
This Yoga rule relates to withdrawing the senses from attachment to material possesions. We should not clutter our senses and distract from our path to true self realisation.
Dharana - Concentration and Cultivating Inner Perceptual Awareness
This rule teaches us to ficus the mind and our attention in one direction. The purpose of this is to aid in inner healing and for this, the mind must be absolutely focussed and still.
Dhyana - Devotion, Meditation on the Devine
This relates to concentrating on a single point of focus with the sole purpose of knowing the truth about the object you are focusing on. The aim of this practice is to train the mind to focus on the 'Devine' and bring yourself closer to understanding it.
Samadhi - Union With The Devine
True Yoga - The final step is learning to bring all that you have practiced together to become a liberated soul, enjoying awareness of pure identity.