What is Yoga? Part 1

Today we are starting a multi part new series on Yoga for an in-depth look at evolution progress and aims of Yoga and it's meaning as well as interpretation in the modern world. The following series an in-depth look at Yoga is compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com

What is Yoga?

1. Definition of Yoga

1.1 General definition

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj – to join, to unite, to joke. In the modern world yoga is often confused with the physical exercises, the asanas. Yoga however is a philosophy and the asanas were described and integrated into the school of yoga later in time only. Yoga actually refers to the union of individual consciousness and the universal consciousness (also sometimes referred to as ‘God’); the union of body, mind and soul – inner union and harmony. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of the important early scriptures describing yoga), yoga is a discipline, requiring control and restraint from what we don’t want (unsteady mind, suffering, impurities, illusion, etc). Yoga is a path leading to our freedom, self-realization and liberation. In other scriptures Yoga is also described as a process of discrimination, separation: “atman” (the self) from non-atman (un-self), and real from non-real. We need to see the definition of yoga in its broad sense, as we cannot limit yoga to the mat or a few hours of posture practice. Yoga is a way of life and a beautiful inner journey, which has much higher aims.


1.2 History of Yoga

Different authors point at different dates in time as when Yoga came about. Stone carvings depicting figures in Yoga positions have been found in archeological sites in the Indus Valley dating back 5,000 years or more. Yoga comes from the Indo-Sarasvati civilization, which traces back to 6500 before common era (BCE). The Indo-Sarasvati civilization is possibly the oldest civilization on earth. Yoga spread around the Ganges River and in places like Kashi (called also Benares or Varanasi) and Rishikesh. There is a common misconception that Yoga is rooted in Hinduism; on the contrary, Hinduism’s religious structures evolved much later and incorporated only some of the practices of yoga. (Other religions throughout the world have also incorporated practices and ideas related to yoga.) The tradition of yoga has always been passed on individually from teacher (guru) to student through oral teaching and practical demonstration. Guru, meaning one who removes the darkness of ignorance, replacing it with the light of intelligence, guides the student on the spiritual path. The formal techniques that are now known as yoga are, therefore, based on the collective experiences of many individuals over many thousands of years. The particular manner in which the techniques are taught and practiced today depends on the approach passed down in the line of teachers supporting the individual practitioner. One of the earliest texts to do with yoga was compiled by a scholar named Patanjali, who set down the most prevalent yoga theories and practices of his time in a book he called ‘Yoga Sutras’ (“Yoga Aphorisms”) as early as the 1st or 2nd century BCE or as late as the 5th century A.D. (exact dates are unknown). He described eight steps to come to Samadhi (enlightenment). The steps are commonly referred to as the “Eight Limbs of Yoga”, or “Ashtanga Yoga” (Ashta means eight, Anga – limbs), and this is what is generally referred to today as ‘Classical Yoga’. Most current adherents practice some variation of Patanjali’s system.

The eight steps of YOGA are as follows:

1. Yama – universal ethical principles
a. Satya (truthfulness)
b. Ahimsa (non-violence)
c. Asteya (non-stealing)
d. Brahmacharya (divine routine)
e. Aparigrah (non-possessiveness)

2. Niyama – rules of personal conduct
a. Saucha (cleanliness)
b. Santosha (contentment)
c. Tapas (austerity)
d. Svadhyaya (self-study)
e. Isvaraparidhana (devotion to God)

3. Asana – the practice of Yoga postures

4. Pranayama – the practice of Yoga breathing techniques

5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses

6. Dharana – a willful concentration of the mind on one object, one pointed concentration

7. Dhyana – meditation, a natural state where the mind becomes stable on one object without any effort

8. Samadhi – absorption in the Infinite


Evolution of a Yogi
Evolution of a Yogi

In the next part we will exam each of this parts in detail and how they relate to each other ? If you have any questions or comments please use the comments box below.


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