You might choose to use ‘yoga’, just as a way to exercise your body and this is fine. Physical asana (posture) practice improves suppleness, strength and stamina (particularly Hot Yoga & Ashtanga – which are more demanding of the cardio-vascular system).

However, yoga can be much more.

Yoga means ‘to yoke’ or unite. Yoga is the science and art of right living, seeking to unite body, mind and spirit/soul. Balancing all systems of the body and trying to find balance to live in peace, good health & harmony with the greater whole. Uniting the self (individual consciousness) with the universal life force.

By focusing on the breath, synchronising breath and movement, helps to still the mind from its constant chatter (chitra vitti) and bring you into the present moment.

There are 4 Paths of Yoga:

•       Karma yoga – the yoga of action, selfless service

•       Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion, offering up emotional energy to seek oneness with the universal spiritual energy or a chosen deity.

•       Jnana yoga – the yoga of knowledge, based on the philosophy of non-dualism

•       Raja yoga – the royal path. Using Hatha yoga (physical asanas, breathing practice & meditation) to find the union of yoga.

The 8-limbed structural framework of yoga – from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

1. Yamas – guidelines for interacting with others Ahimsa – non-violence, compassion Satya – truthfulness

Asteya – non-stealing, not taking anything that has not been freely given Brahmacharya – faithfulness

Aparigraha – non-attachment, taking only what is necessary

2. Niyama – guidelines for personal observance

Sauca – purity. Outer cleanliness and inner cleansing through asana & pranayama. Also cleansing the mind of disturbing emotions.

Santosa – contentment. Acceptance of life’s challenges, to find peace. Tapas – disciplined use of energy to enthusiastically engage life. Svadhyaya – self-inquiry & awareness.

Isvarapranidhana – celebration of the Spiritual. Setting aside time to recognise there is a larger force than the self, guiding the course of life.

3.  Asanas – Posture practice

Moving the body into postures to improve health, strength, balance & flexibility. Quieting the mind to prepare for meditation.

4.  Pranayama – Breath control

This controls prana (energy) within the body, to restore & maintain health.

Hatha Yoga is the practice of asanas, pranayama & meditation. The practice of pranayama & asana are considered the highest form of purification and self-discipline for the mind and body. It generates heat within the body to purify the nadis (energy channels), calm the mind and lay the foundation for concentration.

5.  Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses

Withdrawing the senses from external stimuli. When an individual is so absorbed in an object of meditation, the senses are no longer tempted to develop cravings, which lead to unhappiness and dis-ease.

6.  Dharana – Concentration

The objective is to steady the mind, focussing attention upon a stable entity. 

7.       Dhyana – Meditation

8.       Samadhi – Enlightenment

The body & mind are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake. Achieving Samadhi is difficult! The Yoga Sutras suggest the practice of asanas & pranayama as preparation for dharana, because they influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana & samadhi can follow.

These 8 Limbs of Yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to attainment of physical, emotional and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather it allows the natural state of total health and integration to become a reality (Doran, 2011). 

Yoga is a vast ‘subject’.

Enjoy your own practice and explore it deeper, if and when the time is right.

Namaste. (The light & love in me, salutes the light & love in you)

What is Yoga?

Yoga is the anchor in all of my weather

It gifts me its calm when at the end of my tether Yoga is grounding, a feeling of peace

A practice that provides me a blanket of ease Watching my thoughts, not getting caught up Safe in my centre, I know I’m enough

A strong connection to inner Self A knowing of union above all else Yoga feels like the mother of me Nurturing, safe, answering my plea Mind, body, spirit united as one

A feeling of wholeness has begun.

Poem by Lara Priestley (published in the Devon School of Yoga newsletter)