There’s more to yoga than postures
You’ve been asking me for more yoga philosophy in my blog posts, following my series on the
Moving into Dancer, focussed on the now
koshas, so for my next series I thought it would be nice to go right back almost to the beginnings of yoga and see how the teachings are as relevant today as they were centuries ago.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. Stone carvings have been found in the Indus Valley depicting yoga postures that have been dated around 2,5oo years old. This never ceases to amaze me! To think that I am practising something that comes with such history, that must clearly work otherwise it would not have stood the test of time.
We’re going to come forwards in time a bit though to 200 years BC. Up to this point yoga had always been taught teacher to student, verbally, never written down, until the scholar Patanjali wrote his Yoga Sutras. These are short phrases, or threads that when studied reveal the knowledge and profound of wisdom of yoga. Within these sutras he documents the “Wheel of Yoga” or the “Eight fold path”, (also known as the 8 limbs of yoga) the way to achieve balance and harmony within ourselves and with the world around us.
Let’s take closer look then at the eight fold path, and in future blogs we’ll explore them all in more depth and see how they are still relevant to us today.
In the west we often think that yoga is just about the physical postures, in fact posture and movement work (asana) is only the third spoke in the wheel. Focus on all the 8 spokes will bring about change, aligning your mind, body and soul (remember the word Yoga itself means union). You can just focus on one of the spokes but it’s much easier to adopt a more integrated approach, you naturally find that as you focus on 1, the others will come into line. Have you noticed that if you embark on a fitness programme, you then find that you want to eat more nourishing foods and then as your fitness and energy improves you start sorting out other areas of your life, or perhaps find time to focus on a new hobby? It’s the same kind of thing with the limbs. If you commit to a regular asana practice, in time you’ll notice that your breathing is better so you can focus on this a bit more, you’re more relaxed so you’re more inclined to meditate, a regular meditation practice might highlight a habit you’d like to change and so it goes on.
Here are the eight limbs then, I have put the Sanskrit name first and then the translation :
Yamas – restraints
Niyamas – observances
Asana – physical yoga, movement and postures
Pranayama – breathing, harnessing our life force (prana)
Pratyahara – sense withdrawal
Dharana – single pointed focus of the mind, concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – the final step to enlightenment, complete contentment, the ultimate goal of yoga.
The first 4 limbs relate to our connection with the world around us, giving us the tools we need to tackle the habits that stop us tapping in to our true nature. The final 4 limbs teach us how to harness the power of the mind to bring about the calm and stillness we need to reach enlightenment.
I hope this blog has whet your appetite! We’ll start exploring the yamas next time. Ix