Yoga has different meanings for different people. To have a clearer understanding of what Yoga is – it’s worth exploring its origins and also the contemporary forms of it. Tracking back to the origins of Yoga, we find that it is an ancient spiritual path that originated in India, where Yoga practitioners were seeking to experience the union with universal consciousness, so-called enlightenment (Samadhi). Hence, various physical and meditative exercises were designed and practised to restrict the fluctuations of the mind and get closer to Samadhi.
Nowadays, Yoga has become a massive industry with many brands and products, chains of studios, and patented physical exercise programs. It just happened that for most people, Yoga earned the label of physical flexibility and the ability to place body parts into unusual positions. Of course, there is a part of truth in this kind of thinking because stretching and strengthening the body is one of the vital steps on the path of Yoga, but there are quite a few more other steps on this path. So what are they? One can find the original description of the path of Yoga in the “Yoga Sutras” written by sage Patanjali.
Patanjali describes Yoga as an eight-fold path (Ashtanga) consisting of:
5 Yamas, 5 Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.
5 Yamas – 5 ethical conducts
|Brahmacharya||Abstinence / Moderation of sexual activity|
5 Niyamas – 5 self disciplines
|Isvara Pranidhana||The realization that there is something much bigger, more significant, and stronger than the individual self.|
ASANA – physical exercises designed to heal, cleanse and strengthen the physical body and its subtle systems.
PRANAYAMA – cultivating subtle energy (Prana) with a help of breathing exercises. Also, understanding the connection between the breath and the mind.
PRATYAHARA – experiencing stillness beyond the stimulations of the senses.
DHARANA – various concentration practices intended to gain the ability to focus the mind and observe without judgment.
DHYANA – keeping the mind still without the object of concentration and experiencing being in the present moment (meditation).
SAMADHI – transcending the limitations of the body, mind, and consciousness, experiencing the ultimate freedom.