Yoga [yoh-guh]: a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
Originating between 5,000-10,000 years ago, the practice of yoga has been passed down for generations. The first written traces of the yogic practice and lifestyle are shown in the Four Vedas— The Rig Veda: The Book of Mantra, The Sama Veda: The Book of Song, The Yajur Veda: The Book of Ritual, and The Atharva Veda: The Book of Spell. Considered the most sacred books in India, its text contains some of the oldest recorded information in history.
Derived from the ancient Veda are the Upanishads. The Upanishads are a collection of lessons that were passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. The scriptures were originally taught verbally, making memorization and repetition the key element of learning the ancient methods of peaceful and mindful living. No one knows exactly when the Upanishads were decidedly written, though historians have placed the time somewhere between 800 – 400 B.C.. These books graciously gave those who were outside of the exclusive teacher-student practice the ability to study this spiritually grounding lifestyle. Within the Upanishads blossomed the “six-fold path to liberation.” The path includes controlling the breath (Pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), meditation (Dhyana), concentration (Dharana), contemplation (Tarka), and finally absorption (Samadhi). Created as a guide on how to sacrifice our ego through self-knowledge and ultimately reach enlightenment.
More commonly known are the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali. These books are composed of the same sort of beliefs, techniques and practices that had been taught verbally and learned from the original written Upanishads. Within the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali created one of the most followed paths of the Yoga world: the Eight Limb Path of Yoga. Mirroring the “six-fold path,” the Eight Limbs are a simple and wholesome outline for life; teaching us to tap into a higher awareness through mindful living. In its specific order, the Eight Limb path is designed to reconnect our energy with the divine through evaluating ourselves authentically, taking steps towards bettering our own lives and how we interact with others. Once we have gotten this far in our practice, we can begin to shift our energy to stillness, and quieting the mind for meditation. Eventually the goal is to be accustomed and willingly able to sit in meditation for extended periods of time. Allowing the mind to rest and stay centered in a pleasant state.
Many practitioners in the 21st century have been introduced solely to the physical aspects of yoga, and may not be aware that it can be utilized in everyday life. The philosophical practices of yoga are the actual foundation of the entire idea. For example, in the Eight Limb Path of Yoga, the Asanas are only one part out of the eight branches. The Path consists of 1)Yamas, restaints or universal moral code; 2)Niyamas, personal observances; 3)Asana, practice of physical postures; 4)Pranayama, breath control; 5)Pratyahara, control and withdrawal of senses; 6)Dharana, concentration and cultivating awareness; 7)Dhyana, meditation; 8)Samadhi, absolute bliss or enlightenment.
Yoga is a state of being. A peaceful and mindful way of life that is the most powerful and rewarding. But how do we get started? Where do we begin? What is the point? The term “yoga” can be translated from ancient Sanskrit text to the word “union” and from my understanding of this lifestyle, that’s exactly what is does. Unify. It gets us in touch with our higher self, it can bring us together as people, and it serves as a guide to “unify with the divine.” No matter what steps we take, whether we begin studying ancient scriptures or take a yoga class at the gym, we are given Many options to reconnect with the true divine spirit that has encompassed this world. All we can do is try to open our eyes and truly witness it’s magic, begin move forward and create our own path to liberation and pure living.