What is yoga anyway?

I’ve been described as inquisitive – which I’m pretty sure is a nicer, roundabout way of saying I’m pretty f*cking nosey, But it’s true really. I like knowing the how and the why.

I’ve decided to apply this inquisitiveness to yoga because I don’t really know much about it other than I like the warm fuzzy feeling i get from it when i leave!

So, let’s start with the very basics – what is yoga?

The dictionary.com definition is as follows:


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.
any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquillity, etc.
union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.

Ok, that’s the official part taken care of, but that still doesn’t quite do it for me, so let’s dig deeper…

Yoga is an ancient body of philosophies, that came from The Yoga Sutra, which is an authoritative collection of aphorisms (concise statements) that outline the 8 limbs of yoga. These threads of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life – a guidebook if you will.

This bad boy was written at least 1,700 years ago and is made up of 195 sutras.

This was all compiled by a man named Patanjali but not much is known about Patanjali. Scholars place him in the 2nd or 3rd century but no one quite knows when he lived, there’s lots of myths surrounding him but not many actual hard facts.

Patanjali came up with The 8 limbs of yoga, which consists of:

Yamas – restraints

Niyamas – observances

Asana – postures

Pranayama – breathing

Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses

Dharana – concentration

Dhyani – meditation

Samadhi – absorption

8 Limbs of Yoga – taken from Bindi.yoga.ca 

We explore these 8 limbs and in doing so we begin to refine our behaviour in the outer world and then we focus more inwardly until we reach Samadhi – so that’s our end goal.

Most people (me!) that practice yoga are engaged with the third limb – Asana, which is the physical postures which are designed to purify the body and provide us with physical strength and stamina that’s required for long periods of meditation.

But it’s much more than just physical postures and fitness, which i think is what so many of us start out practicing yoga for, i know i certainly did. It’s about connecting movement of the body to the rhythm of our breath and our mind. Connecting these three things helps us to direct our attention inward and through this we learn to recognise habitual thought patterns and become more aware of our experiences as they happen in the moment.

Patanjali saw the Asana limb of yoga as a pairing of effort and ease. Which is a bit of an oxymoron really, but definitely true when you think about it. He saw Asana and even life itself for that matter as being full of opposing experiences. In the moment of Asana you learn that effort and ease are one in the same, they are both impermanent and will pass. Which is something to definitely remember when you’re in those postures that feel like all your limbs are on fire and that in fact this is life now and the pain will never go away…just me? Ok.

So there’s also a bit of actual science to it all it – Asana leaves you feeling good because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system because it’s lengthening and strengthening your muscles and you’re practicing (or at least attempting to) calm, even breathing. It improves your digestion, boosts immunity, normalises blood pressure, lowers heart rate and helps you sleep better!

The 8 limbs can be a bit overwhelming if you think you need to just jump right into all 8 at once, they definitely seem pretty daunting to me. So don’t. I’ve started with Asana and I know that with that I can work on my Pranayama (breathing) and my Dhyani (meditation) and God knows I need all the help I can get with my meditation.

P.S I found this website https://www.ekhartyoga.com/more-yoga/yoga-dictionary and it’s got an awesome yoga dictionary in it – my teachers always speak in what seems like such a magical yoga language and now I finally know exactly what my Drishti is!


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