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January 26, 2011 / yogasabri

Yoga: a practice, a tradition, a cultural treasure, a path and so much more…

Recently, I decided to add 1/2 hour to the beginning of a new class to give a short introduction about Yoga. 1/2 hour is hardly enough  to present the discipline, but it had to do, as I wanted to dedicate enough time to the actual physical practice. The reasons leading up to my decision were many, but mostly, I became concerned about the misconceptions I often hear about Yoga.

I don’t believe I can change the perspective of everyone who holds prejudgments, nor do I believe it’s my job to do so. However, I think that often times people are afraid to begin practicing Yoga and miss out on the countless mental and physical benefits of the practice because of the wrong assumption of what the practice entails.

Personally, I have heard some quite funny descriptions of Yoga: it’s a brain-wash practice, it’s a religion, it’s something for hippies…of course I get a little giggle in my head when I hear such. Sadly, however, sometimes people don’t place judgments just on the practice. They place judgments of themselves: “Oh, I can’t do Yoga, I am not flexible, I am not strong, Yoga is for contortionists, I am too stiff!!” – and in these cases, I can’t help but note the irony of it all, because those who are so prone to judge themselves might just be the ones who need Yoga the most!!

So, I can’t expect everyone to be inclined to the practice, of course. BUT! I am giving here the chance to learn about this incredible practice, so that one can make an educated decision to either take up the discipline or not. The decision will not be based on hearsay and misconceptions.

So, let’s start at the very beginning. What is YOGA? The Sanskrit word YUJ means to join together, to unite. More specifically, the discipline refers to the union between MIND and BODY.

I might be stating the obvious here, but I want to share that this discipline originated in India. Yoga has been practiced for at least 5,000 years, but the first written documentation mentioning the practice is the YOGA SUTRA of PATANJAL YOG DARSHAM, dated between the year 100 B.C.E. and 500 C.E.

There are 6 major branches of Yoga:

RAJA YOGA – the Royal Path, from the word Raj, meaning Royal. This is the Yoga outlined in the Sutra. I will dive into more details about this practice later.

BHAKTI YOGA – the Path of Devotion. This type of Yoga entails the practice of selfless giving and tolerance.

MANTRA YOGA – The Yoga of Chanting. Practice entails chanting Vedic Mantras to achieve supreme consciousness.

KARMA YOGA – The Yoga of Good Deeds. It teaches that all present experiences are influenced by past actions. It’s considered the past of good service.

TANTRA YOGA – A Yoga practice characterized by rituals meant to teach us to be aware of everything we do; often misinterpreted to be a practiced focused exclusively on sexual relations, this practice focuses highly on purity, humility, courage and passion.

JNANA YOGA – A Philosophical Branch, it focused on nurturing the mind. It teaches to become aware of one’s TRUE SELF.

But today we will concern ourselves with RAJA YOGA – THE ROYAL PATH.

Vinyasa Yoga is a style of Raja Yoga, and it follows the system outlined in the Yoga Sutra. All styles of yoga including a physical practice are HATHA YOGA styles, and belong to the realm of RAJA YOGA.

The Yoga Sutra is undoubtedly the most relevant Yogic text of all times. In this text, Patanjal Yog Darsham described all obstacles enountered by the mind, hindering us to achieve our full potential and therefore from knowing our true self. The text instructs us that all these obstacles are created by the mind itself, and with practice, one can learn to control the flow of thought that become obstacles, and can therefore focus on reaching the state of Pure Bliss, the STATE OF YOGA, as UNION BETWEEN THE MIND AND THE SOUL.

There are 8 different stages to achieve this state of Pure Bliss, known as the 8 LIMBS OF YOGA –  from the Sanskrit Ashta, Eight, and Anga, Limbs.

These 8 Limbs are:

NYAMAS – Abstinences – Non-Violence, Non-Gossip, Non-Stealing, Non-Lying, etc.

NYAMAS – Observances – Modesty, Inner Contentment, Endurance, Self-Cleanliness, etc.

ASANAS – Postures – The Baby Cake of our Vinyasa Practice 😉 – Postures designed to restore well-being, increase strength and focus and aid meditation.

PRANAYAMA – Breath Control – Perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT feature of a Vinyasa Practice. The breath is the channel that guides our attention from the external world to our inner self. As we practice Yogic breathing, we learn that meditating on our flow of breath, we leave less space for our mind to create unwanted thoughts that can control our senses. In a Vinyasa practice, each movement is connected to either an inhalation or exhalation. The word Prana means “LIFE FORCE, VITALITY” and Ayama means “EXPANSION” – so as we expand our belly with each inhalation, we are not just taking in oxygen, we are also welcoming vitality into our bodies. Hence, the importance of deep, long, diaphragmatic breathing in yoga.

PRATYAHARA – Withdrawal of the Senses – At the stage, one internalizes consciousness, and focuses on the internal effects of cause-action, rather than the external ones, over which one has no control.

DHARANA – Concentration -The practice of focusing on one object and to bring the mind’s attention back to that object whenever it wanders away.

DHYANA – Meditation – An unbroken state of concentration, where the mind is fully controlled and follows the will to focus exclusively on one object without trying to escape.

SAMADHI – Superconsciousnes – the State of YOGA – the State of BLISS. Where one needs nothing to feel contempt and in union with the Universe.

This last stage can be achieved for a mere moment or for a lifetime, depending on one’s dedication to practicing each limb. All obstacles of the mind have been removed.

So, in a nutshell, I tried to describe what Yoga is about. The countless physical benefits of the practice are just a bonus, compared to everything that Yoga is.

I felt obliged to share this bit of knowledge with you, especially for those who are not familiar with Yoga at all and would like to know more about it before starting the practice.

It will always be my pleasure to share what I know. It will always be an honor to do so, knowing that someone appreciates it and might consider practicing Yoga as a result.

I leave you for now with love, as always. Namaste.



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