These days, most people think that yoga is a set of stretchy, bendy pretzel type exercises intended to keep you skinny and young. But this is a far cry from the original idea of yoga.
Yoga means unity, referring to the unity of the individual soul (Atman in sanskrit) and the Supreme Soul (Paramatman), or God. So yoga is a path to spiritual enlightenment: a philosophy, a holistic lifestyle and a set of practices designed to develop the body, mind and spirit, in harmony. The yoga postures taught in today’s studios are just one of the eight ‘limbs’ of astaunga yoga. Here they are those eight limbs:
- Yama – 5 ethical principles pertaining to our interactions with the world, such as non-harming and benevolent truthfulness.
- Niyama – 5 ethical principles pertaining to our internal behavior, such as mental purity and contentment.
- Asanas – physical postures
- Pranayama – breathing exercises
- Pratyahara – sense withdrawal and non-attachment
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – spiritual meditation, or meditation upon the infinite
- Samadhi – spiritual trance
So as you can see, the physical yoga postures represent just one of these eight limbs. The other seven are more related to meditation.
So next time one of your friends tells you that they’re off to their ‘yoga class’, you can show off and reply, “Really? You’re going to engage in the world’s oldest system of holistic personal transformation and enlightenment, the key practice of which is spiritual meditation? Cool!”
Don’t worry, they won’t become violent. They’re calm, relaxed yogis remember?