What is Yoga?

what is yogaFor Americans, yoga is about health more than spirituality. That is how it started for me, yoga healed my chronic back and neck pain. However, if you are a seeker of truth, as I am, you will find yoga is a path to self-realization, to wholeness, to freedom and true inner peace and happiness. There are many paths you can take; yoga, however, is the rocket ship path as it combines the physical with the spiritual. When you are a true yogi, you don’t “do” yoga, you “are” yoga. You are united within yourself and then find unity in the outer world.

How ever way you start your yoga practice, it doesn’t matter, the point is to start. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.(Yoga sutra #2) Just remember yoga is not about how flexible you are or what poses you can do. Use your time on the mat as a way to center yourself peacefully. It is a silent path that enriches you from within.

“Yoga is the art work of awareness on the canvas of body, mind, and soul.” ~ Amit Ray


The Eight Limb Path

According to Patanjali, the great sage who wrote the famous Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, 196 Indian sūtras (aphorisms) from 400 CE that constitute the foundational text of Ashtanga Yoga, also called Raja Yoga, there are eight limbs in yoga that if one follows with devotion and perseverance will reach enlightenment. In the Yoga Sūtras there is only mention of asana or poses three times and it is the seated easy pose for meditation. However, if you go to almost any yoga studio in our country you will be focused 90% on the yoga asanas. Interesting to note.

  1. Yama: Universal morality
  2. Niyama: Personal observances
  3. Asanas: Body postures
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses
  6. Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine

***Yama: how we relate to the external world.

  1. Ahimsa: nonviolence, inflicting no injury or harm to others or even to one’s own self, it goes as far as nonviolence in thought, word and deed, deeper meaning: the Rishis (Hindu sage and saints) in their wisdom defined love as Ahimsa.
  2. Satya: non-illusion; truth in thoughts, word and actions, deeper meaning: we know who we are, we are truth itself, we connect to true Self versus little self-image
  3. Asteya: non-covetousness, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is one’s own; non-stealing, deeper meaning: we need nothing outside of ourselves to feel complete
  4. Brahmacharya: abstinence or moderation, particularly in the case of sexual activity. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness; non-hoarding, deeper meaning: letting go of fear based attachments, including people…having less differences

***Niyama: how we relate to ourselves, the inner world.

  1. Shaucha: purity of body through proper diet, cleanliness and exercise and purity of mind through positive thinking, good company, prayer and meditation
  2. Santosha: satisfaction; satisfied with what one has, contentment with everything as is, good and bad, deeper meaning: living in the present here and now, ability to tolerate and find an equanimous mindset within the world of duality
  3. Tapas: self-discipline, spiritual heat or fire that burns away the self-image and ego and allows us to live from our higher self and not from our emotional reactions
  4. Svādhyāya: self study and study of spiritual scriptures, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within, while doing every day activities tuning in to be the observer or witness
  5. Ishvarapranidhana: selfless service, dedicating all of one’s efforts to God or to the greatest good of All, surrender to God; love, truth and faith must arise in one’s heart in order to live in complete freedom, unaffected by uncertainty and the unknown.

“When thought ceases, curbed by the practice of yoga, when he himself looks upon himself and is contented with himself, when he knows a total bliss beyond sensual pleasure, which can be grasped by the spirit alone, and when he knows it and, once fixed upon it, does not truly stray from it, when he has acquired it and can think of no greater acquisition, when firm on it he cannot be swayed even by profound grief—then he knows that this is the unbinding of his bond with sorrow, which is called ‘yoga,’ and that this yoga must be yoked on him decisively with undespairing heart.”
— Bhagavad Gita