The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which means ‘yoke’ or ‘union’. Practising the postures and breathing with awareness develops harmony, bringing unity to the mind, body and spirit. It aims to help us realise our nature. In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit is part.
Many of the ideas underpinning yoga stem from a classical work in India – the ‘Yoga Sutras’ of Patanjali, seen as a wise sage. In 196 short descriptive sentences he outlines yoga philosophy, the first ‘aphorism’ being: ‘Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.’
Another Indian philosophical work – ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ – in Chapter 6 explains the meaning of yoga as ‘deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow’. It suggests – ‘When the mind, intellect and self are under control, freed from restless desire, so that it rests in the spirit within, a person becomes ….. one in communion with God…..A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within…When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi … finds fulfilment. …… This is the real meaning of Yoga – a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.’
Patanjali described the ‘eight limbs’ or stages of yoga. On this eightfold path the first two ‘limbs’, yama and niyama, offer guidance on a personal moral code, towards others and oneself.
The next two ‘limbs’, asana and pranayama, are the physical practices taught in our yoga classes: yoga postures and control of the breath. They give us the tools to look further inward.
The other four stages continue this inward search. Through withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara) and concentration (dharana), sustained meditation (dhyana) engenders ‘samadhi’, which is can be seen as freedom, self-realisation and enlightenment.
Mr. Iyengar talks about yoga as “meditation in action”. Yoga in practice combines all eight elements, helping us to explore further. Then we can go back into the outside world, exploring further that everything is interconnected.