Originating from India, yoga is an ancient holistic approach to calming the mind. It was first recorded over 5,000 years ago but is much older than this. In the past, yoga traditions have been passed down from teachers to students, usually on a 121 basis. Now, in the west, it is generally taught in classes.
There are many different styles of yoga; no style is more authentic or superior to another. Hatha yoga is all yoga that works with the body and mind. Modern hatha yoga has evolved with a focus on exercise, strength, flexibility and breathing. It can help boost physical and mental well-being.
Fundamentally, the philosophy behind each class is the same: to calm the mind. This allows the student to face the challenges of every day from a calmer perspective, bringing more clarity, understanding and empathy to the situation.
What does yoga mean?
Yoga means union: the union of the mind, body and breath to bring a sense of complete well being to each yoga student. When we practice yoga, we focus on the mind, body and breath working together. As yoga helps to bring a sense of unity within, it helps to bring a sense of unity with the world around us and everyone and everything in it. When we are stronger physically, we feel stronger mentally to deal with whatever comes our way. When we are flexible in our bodies, we become more flexible in our minds and more open to options and ideas. As fear is reduced, trust in ourselves and the world around us increases and each yoga student is more empowered to go in the direction that is right for them.
Patanjali was an Indian scholar, who wrote down the basics of yoga philosophy. He describes the study and practice of yoga as a path, which leads to a greater sense of wellbeing, peacefulness and inner happiness. The more that the student can go along the different steps, the greater sense of wellbeing and calm they will experience. Yoga practice can be a life long journey. The more you discover, practice and experience, the more there is to discover, practice and experience!
The wonderful thing about yoga is just one yoga class or practice can bring greater freedom to the body and mind. You do not need to study it in great detail to feel the benefits (but you can!) It is all about the practice. Regular practice is like any training programme. The more you do, the greater the understanding and benefits become.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: 8 fold path
Patanjali wrote down the basics of yoga philosophy in the Yoga Sutras, a classic yoga text. He set down 8 steps on how to live a healthy and purposeful life. It is important to remember that the very first step is about being kind to ourselves and others. This means not judging your yoga practice, behaviours or habits, or anyone else’s; it is about trying your best and doing what you can. Rest and relaxation are a huge part of any yoga experience so rest and relax!
Step 1 is Yama.
- Yama focuses on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life: by being kind to ourselves and others. There are five yamas:
– non-violence to self and others
– truthfulness with ourselves and others
– not taking what is not ours to take.
– not overstimulating the senses – moderation and self-care.
– not taking we we don’t need. Conserving resources, energy, love, sharing …
- Step 2 is Niyama. Niyama aims to develop self-discipline. There are five niyamas:
– faith / trust
- Step 3 is Asana. These are the yoga poses and sequences that are practised in hatha yoga classes. The aim of the asanas is to develop strength, flexibility and comfort in the body so that, ultimately, each person’s body is healthy, works efficiently and is free of toxins. This means that students can sit in meditation completely free of physical pain and illness, which make meditation difficult.
- Step 4 is Pranayama: breathing exercises to calm the mind and body. When we breathe out, we breathe out tension and toxins from the body. Our bodies relax. There is a direct connection between the breath, the mind and the emotions. We can calm our emotional response and calm our minds by focusing on the breath.
- Step 5 is Pratyahara. This is the chance to sit quietly and draw our awareness away from the external world so that we can step back and take a look at ourselves. Reading books on yoga philosophy can help us to understand ourselves, our reactions and our behaviours. Taking time out to think allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health.
- Step 6 is Dharana: Is the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation. We learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object, such as counting each inhale and exhale.
- Step 7 is Dhyana: meditation. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. It is about the journey, the exploration, how we treat ourselves and others, this leads to a calm mind. It can’t be forced or gained instantly. Kindness, perserverence, practice and patience are key to taking care of ourselves.
- Step 8 is Samadhi: peacefulness.