Yoga is as old as civilisation. The word yoga is derived from Sanskrit and means to bind, join, attach and yoke. Yoga means to direct one’s energy in search of the Ultimate truth. Its goal is to transcend and conquer one’s mind in order to experience spiritual integrity. It does that by systematic training of body, mind and senses, breaking habitual and instinctive behaviour and cultivating one-pointed awareness.
Yoga is a complete science with firm foundation in philosophy and art. It is one of the orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy. Earliest written references to yoga are over 3000 years old and it is known to have existed long before that. The work “Yoga Sutras”, often described as the yoga bible, is a compilation that describes the sum of yogic knowledge and was written sometime between 500 and 200 B.C. The author, Patanjali was a renowned sage who produced treatises on grammar and medicine (ayurveda) as well as yoga. Patanjali describes 8 stages (or limbs, astanga) of yoga. The stages are interlinked and through practice will lead to greater awareness.
In the West, the stage of yoga that is most widely practiced is that of Asana (which means posture). Through asana we learn increased awareness of the body and to maintain a healthy and strong state. The aim is make the body steady and to prepare the practitioner for other stages of yoga.
The 8 stages as described by Patanjali are:
- Yama (our approach to our environment and the world)
- Niyama (personal attitude and self-discipline)
- Asana (posture work)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (control and withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (culmination of yogic practice, Liberation, Bliss)
The first 5 limbs are the disciplines of yoga while the last 3 are it’s attainments.