There are many aspects to yoga practice. From a Western perspective, yoga is often considered a purely physical practice. We follow a routine of asanas, physical postures, towards a goal of physical fitness. While this is a common reason for someone to find yoga, it is simply part of a bigger picture.
Yoga has a deep philosophical background, providing nourishment not only for the body, but for all elements of our being. At the core of this philosophy is the belied that everything started with pure being, divine essence. In this state of purity, there was no suffering, as there was nothing material, no attachments. During creation of our lives, we begin to forget this purity, and so suffering can creep in.
Therefore, if we gather together, if we become more aware of mind, body, spirit and emotions – all the elements which make up our self – we become more aware of our purity once more. This, is what leads to happiness. The creation, focusing on what we are making, doing, being – this leads to suffering through our needs, desires, expectations.
Patanjali, and yogis like him, pondered the meaning of suffering and how we can transcend this state of Human life. In an attempt to transcend the suffering of our own creation, from our Ego, he developed the Eight Limbs of Yoga. As a philosophy, it is a holistic way of viewing the world – caring for our mind, body and spirit, and eventually bringing us towards the goal of enlightenment and connectivity with the divine. When we reach this state of oneness with the Divine essence, we are able to live from a place of authenticity. We are in touch with our true nature and purpose. We don’t have to look outwards to determine right from wrong, or to understand our own happiness.
Patanjali described the eight limbs of yoga as:
- Yama: Universal moral code
- Niyama: Personal observances
- Asanas: Physical postures
- Pranayama: Breathing techniques
- Pratyahara: Control of the senses
- Dharana: Concentration and inner awareness
- Dhyana: Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi: Union with the Divine
Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at each of the eight limbs in more depth, exploring yoga philosophy and truly taking our practice off the mat.