Ask anyone who practices yoga, ‘What is yoga?’ and be prepared to get varied answers like “yoga is slow, boring, I love it, good for stress, makes me calm” etc.
Each of these responses are unique and interesting but if you’re looking for the real answer, you’ve come to the right place. Dive in, to know some theory.
STORY OF YOGA
Yoga is an art and science that was practiced many, many years ago by the people of ancient India. They learnt and practiced it to keep their bodies fit and healthy. In those days, all kinds of learning took place by word of mouth. Including this subject. This way of life and transfer of knowledge continued till sometime around 500 and 200 BC, when there descended a sage, Patanjali who contributed greatly this practice.
WHO IS SAGE PATANJALI?
Sage Patanjali is first and foremost the author of the greatest books on Yoga called the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. It is in this book that he speaks about its meaning and practice. In the earlier days, as mentioned above, knowledge was shared by word of mouth. But it was Patanjali who collated and systematized the knowledge of this ancient practice into a book called the ‘Yoga Sutras’. This book contains 196 sutras (or aphorisms). Apart from this, Patanjali also authored two other books called ‘Charaka Samhita’ on Ayurveda and ‘Mahabhashya’ on Sanskrit grammar. There is an interesting story behind Patanjali’s birth. You can read it here.
WHAT IS YOGA?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to join, bind, attach and yoke. It represents the union of the Individual Self with the Universal Self. In the Yoga Sutras, Sage Patanjali defines it as ‘yogah chitta vritti nirodhah’ which translates to cessation of the modifications of the chitta (consciousness). The way to attain this is by following the eight-fold path called ‘Ashtanga Yoga’.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
In the Yoga Sutras, Sage Patanjali has given the eight stages called ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ where ‘ashta’ means eight and ‘anga’ means limbs. Hence the eight limbs. A person who follows this path is called a yogi.
Yamas: Universal Ethical Discipline
Niyama: Personal Discipline
Pranayama: Control of Breath
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of Senses
Samadhi: Union with God
The first seven limbs, when followed with dedication and sincerity over a long period of time, converge to take the yogi towards the final limb- Samadhi; union with God. This is the goal, according to Sage Patanjali. Even though these eight limbs might look like eight steps to be followed one after the other, they are not. One cannot separate the eight limbs, they must be followed together for they are all connected to each other.
THE PRACTICAL ASPECT
Yoga is, in essence, is an experiential subject. Just reading about or learning the theory is not enough. It is best understood when it is practiced. But knowledge of the basics of the subject is essential otherwise it just becomes a sort of physical exercise. The limb of yoga that can help you experience the practice first is– asana (the third limb). Most people begin their practice here. For it is through asana that one can go forward to pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhayana etc.
You might wonder why is asana, the third limb, practiced ‘first’? Well, Sage Patanjali says that the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama are vows to be followed by every individual irrespective of time, place or condition. These are unbreakable vows that come first in the journey to salvation. Without them the rest of the stages are not possible.
Keeping this knowledge in mind, I hope you get inspired to begin your practice, if you already haven’t.
Leave your comments on how yoga has helped in your life.
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