To me, yoga is stillness, inwardness, peace, and solitude. It is a path to wisdom and balance. It is my purpose. It is my sanctuary.
Over the past few years, my definition of yoga has changed, as I have. I’ve shifted away from seeing it as something I do just for my body and now consider it my entire lifestyle. Something that began as a physical practice, as it does for many, has become so much more, including my life’s purpose.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of the first comprehensive, written guides to yoga) defines yoga as “restraining the mind-stuff.” Each aspect of yoga, including the physical postures, is designed to enable us to sit longer in meditation to discover truth and non-attachment.
The yoga postures (called asanas) that we are so familiar with, are just one of the eight-limbs of yoga. By practicing Ashtanga (or these eight-limbs), this state of supreme consciousness and truth can be achieved:
- Yamas: ethics/right action – nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excessiveness, non-possessiveness.
- Niyamas : morals – purity, contentment, zeal/austerity, self-study, and surrender to god/universe.
- Asanas : that which is steady and pleasant. Yoga postures are designed to purify the body and enable us to sit for a longer period of time in meditation.
- Pranayama: control of prana, or breath (our life force energy).
- Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses from external objects. Pratyahara marks yoga’s transition to the internal consciousness.
- Dharana: focused concentration of the mind on a particular topic or observance.
- Dhyana: meditation and contemplation on the above. Dharana and dhyana are related; dharana is the state of mind and focus which leads to dhyana, the flow of uninterrupted consciousness.
- Samadhi: superconscious or oneness with meditation or the universe/god. This marks the loss of the mind’s identity.
The eight limbs of yoga are like a tree; each branch growing from the previous one, together creating something beautiful and sustaining. Building on a foundation on the yamas and niyamas, yogis are able to grow and develop into beacons of peace and truth.
For me, yoga continues to evolve as I do.
I like to think of the yoga postures as a gateway to an entire lifestyle. Attending a yoga class, is likely the first introduction any of us have to yoga, in general. But in these classes, where we’re working our muscles and organs while doing countless chaturangas, we have an opportunity to turn inward. The yoga class asks us to leave everything outside and remain present on the mat, even if it’s just for an hour. It asks us to set an intention, reminds us to breathe, and teaches us compassion for our bodies.
Yoga represents my journey to self discovery and self fulfillment internally, rather than searching externally for happiness. It’s about balancing energy, finding awareness,and practicing mindfulness. I may never master all of these eight limbs. I certainly struggle with the stillness of meditation and I constantly need to remind myself to breathe and accept the present moment for what it is. But I do my best to adopt the philosophy of yoga and I think I am happier and more peaceful because of it.