What is Yoga
The truth is…there is no short answer…
Many of the teachings that we use in yoga are from Patanjali who was a sage that wrote 195 aphorisms (sutras), or words of wisdom that comprise the book called “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. This book is the guidebook of classical, or raja (royal), yoga. I reference most of my 8 limb information from the Sri Swami Satchindananda translation and commentary of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says that “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” In “Light on Yoga”, B.K.S. Iyengar says, “The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach, and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God.” Mahadev Desai in his introduction to the “Gita according to Gandhi”, “the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God; it means the disciplining of the intellect of the mind, the emotions, the will, which that Yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.”
So, the next question is, what is this “mind-stuff” that this sage, Patanjali, is talking about? In short, it is how we view the world within our own thoughts and minds. These thoughts and views are biased, swayed, tainted, etc by our own life experiences. How how these biases affect our thoughts and how we deal with what life throws at us. Pantanjali teaches us, that with a regular yoga practice we can create space within our thoughts and bodies to allow some control over our thoughts. The idea is that we cannot change the outside world, but we can certainly change ourselves. Hence, one of my favorite expressions, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Gandhi
Most people come to or find yoga in a studio or gym. Many hear about it on TV, radio, news, etc. However, they don’t know what they don’t know. Meaning, they don’t know that yoga is more than stretching, you know, those pretzel like poses that people put themselves in. Don’t get me wrong, for some, that is all that yoga is to them, but yoga in its tradition, is more than that.
I will tell you what yoga is to me. It is a lifestyle. It is more than some stretching/poses (asanas) on a mat.
In yoga teacher training I admitted to my classmates that my physical yoga practice probably wasn’t where it should have been at the time. I was not the only one, but I can only speak for myself. I knew going into teacher training that my physical practice would change. I had been researching so much that I had come across numerous articles that discussed what yogis go through during teacher training. I came across these while diving into the tradition of yoga. I was learning about the lifestyle of yoga….the 8 limbs that make up the whole of yoga. When I started to lose my physical practice I was okay with it because I knew that was only 1/8 of the whole.
In summary, there are 8 “limbs” of yoga. (each bolded work is a clickable link for more information)
- Yamas-Ethical Behaviors; Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion for all living things), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sense control), aparigraha (non-covetousness/to take only what is necessary and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy).
- Niyamas-Self-discipline/spiritual observances; saucha (purity/cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show), svadhyaya (study of self), isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
- Asana-physical postures (used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being)
- Pranayama-Breath control and direction
- Pratyahara-withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects
- Dharana-Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana-Meditation/Devotion to the Divine
- Samadhi-Nirvana/Union with the Divine
I was still practicing “yoga” while not practicing the physical aspect. While, ideally, we want to always practice all 8 limbs, no one is perfect and acts in complete accordance with every single aspect of their spiritual tradition. I try to not be too hard on myself and not be attached to my physical practice. HOWEVER, when that was the first thing that drew someone to something that changed your life in such a tremendously awesome way it’s hard not to be saddened when you lose it, even if you know it is only temporary. So in losing something for a short while, you still practice yoga…the practice of Pratyahara, withdrawal from attachment to external objects or the physical practice of yoga. In other words, it’s okay. We will find our practice again. 🙂
Below is a diagram of the 8 limbs for the visual learners.