What is Yoga?
Yoga is NOT a religion. It is a philosophy and a science of self-knowledge developed in India over the last 5,000 years. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj means “union” “link” or “join.” Yoga is the union of the mind, body, and spirit. You will find that the definitions of yoga are many and multifaceted. The purpose of yoga is to bring the body into a state of unexcelled physical health and well-being, and to bring to the mind peace in the midst of the problems and pressures of everyday living. All of the definitions of Yoga, including a vision of the world, a spiritual path to realize that vision, and a set of techniques to support the path, lead to a single experience, which is Yoga. No matter how much we study yoga, it can only be experienced within ourselves in order to be Yoga.
The expression Satchitananda is one of the best known descriptions of the complete experience of Yoga: Sat (truth) ability to discriminate the true Self we discover along the Yoga path; Chit (consciousness), refers to the nature of the true Self as that unconditioned source which continues to exist when this body is gone; Ananda (bliss) refers to the nature of the true Self as happiness itself. When truth, consciousness and bliss come together as our very nature, and we are able to rest more and more in this experience, whether in Yoga practice or in our daily lives, this is the experience of Yoga.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyanas (meditation) and samadhi (liberation/enlightenment). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi. Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asanas, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
There are a number of varieties of Yoga, e.g., Raja, Karma, Kundalini, and Jnana. Most schools in the United States teach some form of Hatha Yoga, whose focus is on the physical postures (called asanas) regardless of the variety of yoga. Hatha Yoga is a set or sequence of asanas designed to align, strengthen, and tone your bones, muscles, and ligaments. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body – especially the main channel – the spine – so that energy can flow freely. Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects: active, hot, sun, and feminine aspects: receptive, cool, moon – within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path towards creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose. Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
The yoga postures can be practiced as a static pose (holding the pose over ½ minute or more) or done as a dynamic flowing sequence (moving from one posture into another smoothly), known as Vinyasa Yoga. Because proper breath is so vital to good health, yoga postures are usually performed in combination with a focused use of the breath (pranayama). There are many styles of Hatha Yoga, ranging from the most gentle, to most physically challenging. There is no requirement that you move on to increasing levels of difficulty unless you prefer the physical challenge. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female, a yogini.
Regardless of the style, a well-trained teacher will encourage you to find “your yoga” based on where your body is right now. By listening to your body you will know when or when not to go deeper into a pose. The main purpose is to practice tuning into and listening to your body as a way of bringing awareness into the present moment.
The yoga classes taught by Pat Dunning come from the classical yoga tradition, Iyengar Yoga, developed by the B.K.S. Iyengar, known as “one of the world’s masters of Yoga.” Her classes are for the average person with no limit on age or sex. As the yoga is always done slowly even quite elderly people find that it leaves them with a sense of well being no strain or exhaustion.