Philosophy Of Yoga

The original meaning of the word philosophy comes from the Greek roots philo– meaning “love” and -sophos, or “wisdom.” When someone studies philosophy they want to understand how and why people do certain things and how to live a goodlife. In other words, they want to know the meaning of life.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means to “Yoke” or to “Unite” The uniting of the consciousness which is ever present into our consciousness, which breaks the internal belief we are separate

The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating a union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short, it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole. This art of right living was perfected and practised in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoy lasting peace.

Patanjali’s was the first person to systemize yoga. The yoga sutras are considered to be one of the most fundamental texts written in yogic history. It denotes the philosophy and practice of Raja Yoga (also known as classical yoga) and is made up of 4 chapters (Padas), divided into 196 verses (sutras).

The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practising all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

The 2nd chapter contains the eight limbs which translated into Sanskrit “Ashta” means eight “anga”  means limbs, Without getting confused with the later created Ashtanga Vinyasa birthed from Pattabhi Jois.

The eight limbs in the Yoga Sutras are presented as a step-by-step practice that leads the practitioner to greater awareness, personal transformation, deep states of meditation and ultimately, Samadhi. Whilst the eight limbs can be approached as a step by step progression, leading to gradually deeper meditative states, it is important to remember that, just as a spider has eight legs extending out from its body, the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga are interconnected to each other. The spider’s body synonymous with the state of supreme consciousness and the spider’s legs synonymous with the 8 limbs.

In brief, the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we are a relationship with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yamas, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

The yamas are broken down into five subcategories

Yamas (Universal Morality)

  1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things
    The word ahimsa literally means not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
  2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness
    Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing.
  3. Asteya – Non-stealing
    Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us.
  4. Brahmacharya – Sense control
    Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relation to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behaviour with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practising brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self.
  5. Aparigraha – Abstain from attachments to possessions.
    Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants. Suffering is caused by attachment to a thing, people and ideas.

       The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when these five behaviours outlined above-become part of a person’s daily life. Thus, the yamas are the moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.

Niyama (Personal Observances)

Niyama means rules of life. These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully

  1. Sauca – Purity
    The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practising asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and remove toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. “But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.”
  2. Santosa – Contentment
    Being content with what you have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.
  3. Tapas – Self-discipline
    Tapas refers to having self-discipline to act instead of reacting in our thoughts, replace negative with positive and resentment with forgiveness, violence with peace, unhappiness with joy. On the physical its about keeping the body fit or to confront and to handle the inner urges. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal.  Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.
  4. Svadhyaya – Self-study
    The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.
  5. Isvarapranidhana – Celebration of the Spiritual
    Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of the supreme power.” It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to the higher power of Divine will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside time daily for our conscious connection
  6. Asanas (Body postures) Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being. The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Indeed, using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unseen elements of their being, the forces that shape our lives through our responses to the physical world. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.

As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that pervades our every aspect of our body. The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit.

Pranayama (Breath Control)

Prana means “breath” and yama means “pause”. Pranayama is the means of properly regulating the otherwise irregular and hurried respiratory process without using excessive force or restraint. Pranayama regulates the three process of exhalation ( rechaka), suspensions (kumbhaka) and inhalation (puraka), and establishes control over prana, the vital force of the body.

When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized. In yoga, we are concerned with balancing the flows of vital forces, then directing them inward to the chakra system and upward to the crown chakra.

Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self-discipline for the mind and the body, respectively. The practices produce the actual physical sensation of heat, called tapas, or the inner fire of purification. It is taught that this heat is part of the process of purifying the nadis, or subtle nerve channels of the body. One can heal them self of any disease with the use of pranayama.

Pratyahara: Withdrawal of senses from their external objects

Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means “nourishment”; pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self-realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.

Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)

Dharana means the concentration of the mind upon a physical object, such as a flame of a lamp. In dharana, we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions.When the mind has become purified by yoga practices, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now we can unleash the great potential for inner healing.

Dhyana (Devotion, Meditation on the Divine)

Dhyana means profound meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when one focuses on the divine they become more reflective of it and they know their true nature. As we fine-tune our concentration and become more aware of the nature of reality we perceive that the world is unreal. “The only reality is the universal self, or God, which is veiled by Maya (the illusory power). As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer. Unhappiness and fear – even the fear of death – vanishes. This state of freedom, or Moksha, is the goal of Yoga.

Samadhi (Union with the Divine)

Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. In the state of Samadhi, the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.

Thus, Samadhi refers to a union of true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.

From the historical tradition of Hatha Yoga, there are four other types of yoga that also assist in living the teachings of yoga. Yoga in all of its forms provides a means for one to master the body and mind so that the soul or true self is expressed by living yoga as a fully integrated life experience.

Jnana Yoga

The path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, faith and service to the Divine by whatever name you use. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine. This is done through the use of mantras, dance, and offering of food.

Karma Yoga

The path of action, service to others, mindfulness and remembering the cause and effect of our actions in thought, word and deed.

Raja Yoga

A comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts and the mind.

Modern Yoga

In more recent times there is a common misconception regarding the true meaning of yoga. It is easy to see why when many public yoga classes may be better summed up as gymnastics. It is imperative that physical asana postures are performed with a dedication to the unification of mind, body and spirit. Unfortunately, the main focus is often only on the physical postures themselves.

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