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What is Yoga?

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Simply answered Yoga is a science and a philosophy. Some say yoga is a prescription for living. Whatever it is, you have to experience it to know it. Much like painting: you must paint to experience the creation of painting. I teach Hatha yoga from the branch of Raja yoga which is blended from from two respected methods called, Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga. So its clearer, take a moment to learn a high level introduction to yoga.

Science of Yoga

More than 5000 years of Eastern scientific traditions have shown that the practice of yoga can improve the muscular, skeletal, physiological, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, and central nervous systems of the body. Yoga provides the means to become physically fit in the context of a philosophy that encourages positive health practices and personality characteristics.

Contemporary research studies on the beneficial effects of Yoga confirm change in self-awareness and perspective especially for long term practitioners.

Yoga is an ancient art, science, and philosophy that emphasizes performing one’s daily responsibilities with awareness, integrity, and compassion. From Sanskrit, the word “yoga” translates as yuj "to yolk" the individual mind with the collective consciousness. For many, that includes an ongoing practice of yoga postures.

These postures facilitate the calming and rebalance of the body and mind so that the yoga practitioner can look inward. The concept of rebalancing is derived from the beliefs that there are chakras (wheels of energy) and nadis (rivers) that correspond to different areas of the body. When the rivers of the body are flowing freely and the wheels of energy are spinning at their optimal hertz, you experience wellbeing.

Yoga involves four primary branches of yoga: karma, bhakti, jnana, and raja. For the most part, in the West, yoga instruction is focused on two of the eight limbs in the eight fold path (Ashtanga): Asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control).

Working through the instrument of the body, yoga teaches one to observe and integrate body, breath and mind, to penetrate beyond the outer, physical layers and reach the inner sheaths of one’s being.

What is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar yoga system of teaching is methodical and progressive, emphasizing safety, alignment, and the development of self-awareness. He is the author of the classic Light on Yoga, called the “bible of yoga,” which has been the source book for generations of yoga enthusiasts. Iyengar’s teachings have systematically evolved precise posture (asana) and breathing (pranayama) techniques with a firm philosophical base. Iyengar revolutionized the art of yoga by introducing and incorporating the use of supports called “props” to facilitate learning and accommodate safe appropriate progress.

What is Vinyasa (Flow) Yoga?

The Ashtanga school was developed by Patthabi Jois. He taught in Mysore, India in the first half of the 20th century. Later Ashtanga Yoga was taught by Jois as moving meditation which he also began to call as Ashtanga Vinyasa.

In the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, breath is coordinated with movement. This Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the source of almost all Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga and Yoga Flow styles that have become so popular in the West these days.

Simplified, modern Vinyasa Flow Yoga (also known as Flow Yoga) is best described as freestyle Ashtanga Vinyasa as it doesn’t adhere to the rigid structure of the Ashtanga Vinyasa series set out by K. Pattabhi Jois.

Many Vinyasa Flow classes follow the basic structure of the Ashtanga Primary Series, starting with Suryanamskara A and B but then offer different sequences thereafter. Many classes also closely follow the basic standing sequence of the Ashtanga tradition and the finishing sequence. There are no fixed series of poses. Each class can be different. The basic syntax of Vinyasa yoga allows one to explore a changing syllabus of poses. You can explore poses from the Ashtanga first, second and third series in a more accessible manner than in the Ashtanga Vinyasa series practice.

Philosophy of Yoga

Patanjali, a scholar who lived approximately 2500 years ago, is credited with having written the Yoga Sutras, 196 terse aphorisms that teach about Ashtanga (eight limbed) Yoga.

The “eightfold path,” includes yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, and is non-linear. In fact, all the limbs may be practiced and integrated into asana, the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga. The complete attention and presence required of dharana (concentration) can be achieved through the self-awareness brought by focusing on the alignment, actions, and techniques of any given posture. These principles should be transferred to your daily life, words, thoughts, and deeds.

Ashtanga Yoga - Eight Limbs of Yoga

  • Yama - Universal moral values: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacarya (continence), Aparigraha (non-coveting)

  • Niyama - Self-purification by discipline: Sauca (cleanliness), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (burning desire), Svadhyaya (self-study), Isvara Pranidhana (dedication of one’s actions to the Divine)

  • Asana - Postures, sequenced together to achieve a state of integrated well-being

  • Pranayama - Regulation of the life force through channeling the breath

  • Pratayahara - Withdrawal of the mind from the domination of the senses

  • Dharana - Concentration, single-pointed attention

  • Dhyana -Meditation, attention focused internally and externally at the same time

  • Samadhi- State of absorption in which the aspirant is one with the object of meditation

The Chakras Starting from the lowest working up, the chakras are:

  1. Muladhara - the root chakra associated with shakti energy situated in the pelvis above the anus. This chakra is often associated with the colour red.

  2. Svadisthana - the seat of the vital energies corresponds to the kanda and is in close proximity to the sacral plexus nerve centre. It is associated with the colour orange.

  3. Manipuraka - just above the navel, near to the adrenal glands. It is associated with the colour yellow.

  4. Anahata - the heart chakra, near to the parathyroids. 101 nadis emanate into one hundred subtler nadis each of which branch of into another 72,000. It is associated with the colour green.

  5. Visuddhi - the throat chakra, close to the thyroid gland. It is associated with the colour blue.

  6. Ajna - between the eyebrows. Near to the pituitary gland. It is associated with the colour indigo.

  7. Sahasrara - at the crown of the head. It is associated with the colour violet.

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