Yoga is an ancient practice originating in India and it involves physical, mental and spiritual practices. The ultimate aim of these practices is a state of permanent peace, ‘union with the divine’.
Yoga has been practised in the pre-Vedic period but it was passed from teacher to students. It was the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali who systematised and codified those existing practices of Yoga and wrote them down in Yoga Sutras. Mentions of Yoga can be found before Patanjali’s Sutras, in Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita , etc. However, Yoga Sutras provide systematised essence of philosophy and teachings of yoga in a highly scientific manner.The book is a set of 195 aphorisms (sutras) which are short, terse phrases designed to be easy to memorise.
The sutras are divided into 4 chapters:
– Samadhi Pada – covers definition and the purpose of yoga
– Sadhana Pada – practical guide with the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga)
– Vibhuti Pada – focuses on a possible supernatural powers
– Kaivalya Pada – discusses the mind and enlightenment
The Eight Limbs of Yoga:
– Yama – Ethical disciplines – a list of moral vows
– Niyama – Self observation – a set of concepts for self-discipline and spiritual purification of body and mind
– Asana – Posture – stillness of body and mind in any position
– Pranayama – Breath control – control of Prana (life force)
– Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal – practice of withdrawing from external distractions
– Dharana – Concentration – practice to calm and focus the mind
– Dhyana – Meditation – it is a naturally occurring state as our mind and body become still.
– Samadhi – A state of joy and peace – the final step in the way to experiencing Self realisation.
Patanjali compared the eight aspects of yoga to limbs of a tree. Every tree in a forest grows with the same goal: to reach towards the light. Wisdom and spirituality unfolds in the same manner as a tree grows, in a steady and natural way.
Through regulation and awareness of practice, the eight limbs are nourished. We become more insightful and aware of what we put in our bodies and how we interact with the world around us. From this kind of introspection, the qualities of Yama and Niyama begin to develop. Further, as we apply focused awareness of breath while practicing postures, the qualities of Asana and Pranayama begin to grow. We become more familiar with Pratyahara as we keep the mind focused on the sound and quality of the breath, as the senses are encouraged to turn inward. As we improve our abilities of controlling the senses from wandering during practice, the subtle quality of concentration deepens in the form of Dharana. In time, the practice moves further internally and refinement of concentration develops as our ability to stay present is enhanced. The practice then grows into a deep resounding meditative experience known as Dhyana. At this stage, we are creating greater potential to explore the finest realms of yoga known as Samadhi, in which we realise the pure essence of all that exists.
The limbs of yoga develop in a similar manner as a tree grows, we cannot force and speed upprogress. When we are ready for the next step it unfolds and our practice develops. As a practitioner, our job is to practice with patience and awareness, expanding our understanding of yoga through experience. „Practice and all is coming’
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