WHAT IS YOGA?
Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam
'Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field'
'Then the seer rests in its true nature'
[Yoga Sutra 1:2]
The Sanskrit word Yoga means 'union' or 'to unite'
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It became popular in the West in the 20th century. The Sanskrit word Yoga means 'union' or 'to unite'. Yoga is the practice that aims to join the mind, body and spirit. The ultimate goal of Yoga is to achieve liberation. It has been practiced for thousands of years and, over the years, many different interpretations have developed about what Yoga means. Each different type of Yoga has its own emphasis and practices.
HISTORY OF YOGA
Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written some time in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called "classical yoga". Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an "eight limbed path" containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.
A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world. The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.
SCHOOLS OF YOGA
There are Four Paths of Yoga: Karma Yoga (the yoga of action); Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion or divine love); Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge or wisdom); and Raja Yoga (the science of physical and mental control)
Raja Yoga, often called the "royal road" offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It includes methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind; when body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally. Asanas and Pranayama form the sub-division of Raja Yoga known as Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yogi uses relaxation and other practices such as Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Mudras, Bandhas, Pranayama, Kriyas etc to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called Prana. Most forms of yoga can be classified as Hatha Yoga. Meaning Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa etc classes are all Hatha Yoga. The word “Hatha” can be translated two ways: as “willful” or “forceful,” or the yoga of activity, and as “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha), the yoga of balance. Hatha practices are designed to align and calm your body, mind, and spirit in preparation for meditation.
ASHTANGA - THE EIGHT LIMBS OF RAJA YOGA
Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. These 8 limbs are:
Yamas - The Yamas or restraints (Don'ts) are divided into five moral injuctions, aimed at destroying the lower nature. They should all be practiced and developped by the letter but also more importantly in the spirit. They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed
Ahimsa or non-violence
Satyam or truthfulness
Brahmacharya or moderation in all things (control of all senses). Also refers to celibacy
Asteya or non-stealing
Aparigraha or non-covetousness
Niyamas - The Niyamas or observances (Do's) are also divided into five and complete the ethical precepts started with the Yama. These qualities are:
Saucha or purity - this internal and external cleanliness
Santosha or contentment
Tapas or austerity
Swadhyaya or study of the sacred texts
Ishwara Pranidhana which is constantly living with an awareness of the divine Presence (surrender to God's Will)
Asanas - postures. The Yogic physical exercises are called Asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga Asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine's flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen. The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones)
Pranayama - regulation or control of the breath
Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind
Dharana - concentration. The last 3 steps constitute the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step:
Dhyana - meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step:
Samadhi - the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness where body and mind have been transcended and the Yogi is one with the Self or God
** do not confuse Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga with Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga; is a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. The Sanskrit word "Ashtanga" or "eight limbs" is representative of the eight-fold path of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Pattabhi Jois would encourage the practice of all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga with special emphasis on the first 4 limbs - Yamas and Niyamas, asana and pranayama
THE YOGA SUTRAS
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE by Sage Patanjali. Today the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy
Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters (in Sanskrit pada):
Samadhi Pada (51 sutras) Samadhi refers to a state of direct and reliable perception where the yogi's self-identity is absorbed into the object meditated upon, collapsing the categories of witness, witnessing, and witnessed
Sadhana Pada (55 sutras) Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline. Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriyā Yoga and Ashtānga Yoga:
- Kriyā Yoga (‘kri’ meaning action or effort and ‘ya’ meaning self or soul) In the Yoga Sūtras it emphasises the practice of three of the Niyamas of Ashtānga Yoga: tapas, svādhyaya, and iśvara pranidhana – austerity, self-study, and devotion to god
- Ashtānga Yoga ('astau' meaning eight and 'anga' meaning limbs) is the yoga of eight limbs: Yama, Niyama, Āsana, Prānāyāma, Pratyahara, Dhārana, Dhyāna, and Samādhi
Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras) Vibhuti Pada is the chapter about progressing. It refers to the last three limbs of the eight limbs of yoga, dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi
Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras) Kaivalya literally translates to "isolation", but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation or liberation. The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego
WHAT IS ASHTANGA VINYASA YOGA?
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a traditional style of yoga derived from an ancient Indian text, the Yoga Korunta; a record of groupings of asanas/ postures which are practiced in synchronization with the breath. You will sweat. The practice produces an intense internal heat, the heat purifies the muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins as well as improving circulation and releasing beneficial hormones and minerals. It is a gradual process and with regular practice it revitalizes the body and mind, and awakens the soul. Ashtanga Yoga integrates the practices of postures, breathing techniques, lifestyle choices, and mental exercises to bring the mind under control and enable a life of peace and happiness.
Vinyasa; breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namaskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas. The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing asanas makes the blood hot. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, sweat is an important byproduct of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs.
Tristana: Breath, Bandhas and Drishti
Throughout the practice we use a breathing technique known as Ujjayi breathing (also known as oceans breath) Ujjayi breathing is breathing with sound, imagine you are closing the back of your throat filtering your breath. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner creates heat in the body and purifies the nervous system.
In Ashtanga yoga we make use of Bandhas (energy locks) mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy and give lightness, strength, balance and stability in the postures. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct. The third bandha is Jalandhar Bandha, known as neck lock; lift the chest and sternum up while lengthening the back of the neck, by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck. The neck, throat and face muscles remain relaxed.
Drishti (focal point) is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine drishtis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Drishti stabilizes the functioning of the mind. It hinders distractions and helps you keep focused throughout your practice.
The Ashtanga vinyasa system of yoga is comprised of three powerful groups of asana sequences in ascending order of difficulty that effectively purify, strengthen and open the body in preparation for higher yoga and meditation. When practiced correctly, with correct alignment, and in the proper order, the body and the mind open. The sequences themselves should also be practiced in sequential order, ideally with the guidance of a teacher. The practitioner should fully integrate the physical and energetic lessons of each series, often requiring years of consistent practice, before proceeding to the next series.
Usually an Ashtanga yoga practice begins with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B, followed by a standing sequence. Following this the practitioner begins one of three series, followed by the finishing sequence.
- The Primary Series -
The first series is known as Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga Therapy) the Primary Series functions to heal, detoxify and align the body, with focus particularly on the realignment of the spine. Through consistent practice of the first series, foundational strength, endurance and flexibility are built in preparation for fully accessing the benefits and effects of the subsequent series.
- The Intermediate Series -
The second series is known as Nadi Shodhana (The Nerve Purifier) With the appropriate preparation through practice of the first series, the second series purifies and balances the nervous system. By opening and clearing the subtle energy channels and the chakras, the second series purifies the complex nadi system and balances the duality of energies within us.
- The Advanced Series -
The third series is known as Sthira Bhaga (Centering of Strength) which is divided into four parts (A,B,C,D) to make it more approachable. The third series combines the lessons of the previous two series. It integrates the power and grace of the ashtanga practice into divine balance, which requires high levels of determination and humility.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa system is known for its power, attention to detail, and dedication to the tradition. The integrity of the lineage is maintained through parampara (the unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student). Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara. The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his teacher. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The modern method of approaching Ashtanga Yoga is known as the Ashtanga Vinyasa system which was passed to Sri T. Krishnamacharya by his guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari and subsequently to his loyal disciple, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois; whose daughter Saraswathi Jois and grandson R. Sharath Jois still teach at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, where they continue to preserve this lineage and share this practice with yogis from all over the world.
Professor T. Krishnamacharya is considered to be the father of modern day Yoga. He devoted his life to the practice and study of Yoga. It is through his teachings that the systems of Ashtanga Yoga (K.P. Jois), Iyengar Yoga (B.K.S. Iyengar), Vini Yoga (T.K.V. Desikachar), Yoga Therapy (A.G. Mohan) and traditional Hatha Yoga (Indra Devi) were developed.
The basis of Krishnamacharya's teaching was ''to teach what is appropriate for the individual.'' Krishnamacharya taught the Vinyasa Krama method; the linking of postures together in sequence by numbers, thus bringing about certain innovations to the evolution of the classical Yoga. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the concept of Vinyasa is not mentioned. It has been said that Krishnamacharya's understanding of the vinyasa method was confirmed through his discovery of a copy of Rsi Vamana's Yoga Korunta at Calcutta University.
Vinyasa Krama was a phrase (not a style of yoga) used by Professor T. Krishnamacharya. 'Vinyasa Krama' otherwise known as 'moving by numbers' is the tradition of practicing asana in a flowing sequence connected by the breath. Vinyasa meaning 'to place' and Krama meaning 'in stages'. You can see the practice as learning the postures one by one observing the correct order. Rising from the appeal of the Ashtanga Yoga style, modern Vinyasa Yoga was brought to the West by various students of Pattabhi Jois. Unlike Ashtanga, however, a Vinyasa Yoga class does not stick to the same sequence of poses. Instead teachers have the freedom to craft their own flow for each class. In addition a Vinyasa class may include music in the background, which you won’t find in an Ashtanga class.
The following text is sourced from Seth Powell, PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University and Founder + Director, Yogic Studies
What is tradition? How do the teachings survive? The Sanskrit terms sampradāya and paramparā are often thrown around to invoke authority and authenticity. What do they mean? According to our latest guest faculty, Dr. Daniela Bevilacqua:
sampradāya संप्रदाय (sam + pra+ dāya) refers to the act of transfer, the bestowing, of doctrines or teachings. The sampradāya forms a general infrastructure of rules and ideologies, created by a specific guru, that other gurus can impact through their own practices and achievements.
paramparā परंपरा (param + parā) means from “one to another”, an uninterrupted succession or sequence. This represents the succession of gurus and disciples, creating a spiritual chain through which a body of practices, views and attitudes are transmitted. So according to the number of disciples that a guru has, various paramparā can be formed. The various paramparās may form specific sub-groups inside a sampradāya or may be related to specific teachings connected to a specific guru inside a sub-group.
This does not mean however that traditions continue to exist unchanged, or that they are static ahistorical institutions. In fact, the opposite is true. The concepts of sampradāya and paramparā allow for constant innovation, in negotiation with what has come before: teachings can be redefined and reviewed by each successive generation of followers—in response to the needs of that community.