Clarity on Yoga
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an entire system of practises designed to bring about complete Self Realisation. There are many ways in which we can apply yogic knowledge in order to attain this deep understanding of the Self. Some would say that everything is yoga. The great sage, Patanjali authored the Yoga Sutras which is the main text that yoga practitioners (yogi’s or yogini’s) refer to on the path of yoga. Patanjali set out eight limbs or steps in what he called Ashtanga Yoga, not to be confused with the type of yoga as practiced in the west. (Astanga Yoga in the west is commonly called Power Yoga and is a style of yoga that is highly structured into five asana or posture series. Asana translated means posture. The practitioner must master the first set of asanas before being allowed to move onto the next.) Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word made up of two words: Ashta and Anga. Ashta means eight while anga means limb. So Ashtanga is a term used to describe Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. They are:
Yama - Social discipline
Niyama - Self discipline
Asana - Postures (Hatha Yoga)
Pranayama - Breath control
Pratyahara - Sense withdrawal
Dharana - Concentration
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Bliss or enlightenment
The literal translation of the Sanskrit word yoga (pronounced Yog as the a is silent) is to ‘yoke’ which means to join together. But what are we joining together? The word Hatha in Sanskrit is the combination of two words: Ha and Tha. Ha means sun and Tha means moon. So in yoga, we are joining together the sun and the moon. This means that we are bringing all the masculine and feminine aspects of the body and mind both energetically and physically into a state of balance. Moreover, we are uniting the individual spirit of consciousness with the universal spirit or consciousness in order to gain spiritual strength.
What we call yoga in the west is called Asana in India. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the text that is mainly used to describe the asana and pranayama limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. It describes Hatha yoga postures and various breathing techniques in detail listing their benefits and contraindications with details on how to perform the actual postures. The very definition of the word Asana means slow and steady. The postures are performed slowly and with steadiness in order to achieve the benefits which are numerous on all the levels of our being.
One of the main focusses and aims of asana is on the digestive system. The yogis believe that if the digestive system is healthy then all the other systems in the body would be healthy also. When the body is healthy and there is no disease then it is very easy to practice the other limbs. With a healthy body, sitting in concentration and meditation for long periods of time without the distraction of the body becomes not only possible but much easier. The more loose and flexible the physical body and the mind is, the easier it is to concentrate and focus. The more the mind is under one’s internal guidance, then the easier it is to attain Samadhi.
In our yoga practice on our retreats we are primarily concerned with the digestive system first and foremost. We use juice fasting to cleanse the entire digestive tract while we use asanas to stretch, twist, compress and squeeze every part of our body bringing the body and all its organs into a greater sense of fitness, tone and health. The mind then becomes pliable and available to affect transformation.