PHILOSOPHY

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Yoga is more than an exercise or a series of asanas (yoga postures).  Yoga helps us control the mind, which often gets caught up in fear, uncertainty, expectations, and desires.  By practicing yoga, we can remove these barriers that prevent us from living in harmony with our own self and therefore the world around us.  

The philosophy of Yoga was laid out in detail over 2000 years ago by Pananjali and has been expounded on by many great teachers to follow.  Patangali wrote out 196 Yoga Aphorisms (principles), which explain in detail the aims, practices, and results of yoga.  embedded within the writings of Patanjali are eight basic limbs of the practice of yoga, sometimes called the 8-fold or 8-limb path.  By incorporating the 8-limb path of yoga into our lives, we are able to eliminate impurities in our minds and bodies.  Over time, we harness inner contentment and harmony, and an understanding of the world around us that is not colored by our own ego, but rather an ability to see the god in all. 

One important note here:  Yoga is not a religious practice nor does it conflict with any religious practice.  The philosophies of yoga are designed to be universal.  Individuals of all different religious practices or with no religious practice at all can find benefit from incorporating one or all of the 8-limbs of yoga into their lives.

 

THE 8-LIMBS OF YOGA

Yamas (Restraints) can be likened to the “morals” of a yogic lifestyle.  The yamas are abstinences from behavior that cause harm to ourselves and others, reflecting the yogic value that the purpose of life is to serve.  The five yamas are: Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Non-Lying), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Non-Lust), Aparigraha (Non-Greed).

Niyamas (Observances) are practices that we incorporate into our daily lives.  Niyamas compliment yamas in that they are the actions that reinforce the values to which we aspire.  The five niyamas are: Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Self-Discipline), Svadhyaya (Self and Scriptural Studies), Ishvara Pranidana (Devotion to God).

Asanas (Postures) are the physical exercises of yoga.  Asanas are designed to be a physical means to a spiritual end, and serve several purposes for the mind, as well as the body.  Asanas open up the muscles and organs in the body allowing for purification of the centers where we hold stress and disease.  Also, practicing asanas helps to clear the mind and trains us to be focused in the present moment.

Pranayama (Breath Control)  means restraint of the vital energy.  Breath is the vital energy that gives us life, and thus the practice of Pranayama is restraining or controlling the breath.  This does not mean simply “holding” the breath.  There are many pranayama practices, some designed to produce calmness in the body and the mind, and others derived to give us energy or momentum.  Regardless of the physical breathing exercise, the intention of the pranayama practice is always the same: to help us connect to and move energy through our bodies

Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal) is the practice of observing and controlling our senses.  The practice of pratyahara does not refer to denial of one’s senses, but rather withdrawing the mind from its obsession with sense objects.  Our senses are constantly bombarded with sights and sounds that attract us, touches that excite us, and tastes and smells that entice us.  The practice of pratyahara teaches us to observe the mind’s reaction to what our senses are perceiving, and over time, cease being controlled by our senses.

Dharana (Concentration) is single pointed focus on the essence of an object. Dharana can be considered a short meditation, in which one is singularly focused on an object or particular thought for a few moments.  We often jump from thought to thought, or sometimes are thinking about or observing multiple objects at one time.  When practicing Dharana, we are fully present in our thoughts and focusing only on the object at hand.  The practice of Dharana prepares us for Dhayana.

Dhyana (Meditation) is a stream of unbroken thought, flowing towards the object of concentration.  When in meditation for a few minutes or hours at a time, the true (or divine) essence of an object is revealed to us.  That is, we are able to understand what the object is in its pure form, unfiltered by our senses or human perceptions.  In other words, we see god in the object of our meditation, which is the first form of Samadhi. 

Samadhi (Absorptionis realized when we are able to see the divine nature of an object.  Samadhi has many names or translations, because it can manifest itself in many ways in our lives, including: Bliss, Nirvana, Enlightenment, Self-Realization, Awakening, Union with the Divine. . .When we experience Samadhi, all concept of individualism and differentiation is lost—the objective universe disappears and we experience the universe as the Atman (Reality), where everything is connected by god.