what is yoga?

Yoga is freedom. It is love. It is pure, radiant, unobstructed joy. It is pure awareness, wide-awake and clear.

Yoga practice itself is a simple collection of techniques for observing what is in the present moment. These techniques lead to a pure attention to the subtleties, movements and forms of whatever is present, including one’s own thoughts and freedom.

The techniques of yoga are merely ways of keeping the attention focused and present with whatever is occurring. They are based on connections between patterns of thought, the emotions, the breathing, the posture and the general physiology of the body. Through yoga we can cultivate these feedback systems between the body, the breath, the senses and the thoughts.The body itself then becomes the ground for enlightenment.

For example, when people are eager and attentive, they sit up straight. When they are sad or confused, their posture and breathing immediately reflect it. When listening carefully, their breathing nearly stops and their mouth relaxes. Such connections have been explored in detail and utilized for thousands of years.

The Eight Limbs Of AshtangaYoga

In order to guarantee that the insight of yoga is real, it has been presented as having numerous interdependent limbs. The term Ashtanga yoga means eight limbed yoga. It has been explained in-depth by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

  1. Yama (ethical relationships, i.e. non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, continence and the non-gripping of things and thoughts)
  2. Niyama (internal awareness, i.e. cleanliness, contentment, mystical burning, self study and surrender to God)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (extension of the breath)
  5. Pratyahara (drawing back the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Samadhi (absorption)

This variety of limbs ensures that one will not become distorted and ungrounded by yoga practice. The first four limbs of Ashtanga yoga are quite challenging. Like roots, they make one’s practice grounded and real. They allow you to function well in the real world. You can wash the dishes, take out the garbage and relate to yourself and others honestly and happily. The last four limbs (the inner limbs) sprout spontaneously from the first four. They are easy and natural, when the first four are nurtured well. The inner meditative limbs return the favor, and they make the outer limbs much more deep and true.

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is designed to reveal the full depth of yoga. It is the systematic, step-by-step unfolding of awareness without neglecting weak areas or catering to strong ones. This approach, called Vinyasa, means sequential. It implies intelligent, balanced evolution and it produces remarkable strength, flexibility and clearness of mind. Out of the principle of Vinyasa, different progressive series of postures were created, based on using the movements of the Sun Salutation as links.

The basis of the series, which also cultivate pranayama and meditative use of the eyes during the practice of postures, is explained by the sage Vamana in the ancient Sanskrit text, theYoga Kurunta. This text was apparently lost until it was rediscovered, early in this century, by the great teacher T. Krsnamacarya of Mysore, India. His student K. Pattabhi Jois, who eagerly mastered the method, was entrusted with preserving, refining and transmitting this Vinyasa system.

The formal method of Ashtanga Vinyasa has six series of postures which are used in training the body, breath and the intelligence to merge together harmoniously without any distortion or unresolved aspects of the mind, which might create a false sense of self. When body, breath and mind merge seamlessly, spontaneous samadhi occurs. The series cover a broad spectrum of postures, combinations of postures and linking movements. They are like scales which a musician may master. They are challenging and beginners will often practice only portions of them, and may need sub-series to span the gap between their present situation and their potential one.

How To Work Intelligently

At first learn the Sun Salutation and its components well.

Its movements are the foundation for the other forms and will develop strength, endurance and flexibility quickly. One should do them until a light sweating has begun. They are always done before proceeding with other postures! Some beginners work just on Sun Salutations for 10 to 15 minutes and then rest in the Corpse Pose as their entire daily practice. Week by week they gradually add on a few more postures, until eventually the entire series is complete.

Unless you are unusual you will not be able to, nor should you try to, complete all of the series at first.

It is a slow cumulative process, like in evolution. Therefore, according to your capacity establish your pace. Learn the basics first.

The Series can be slightly modified if there are time restraints on your practice.

For example, if you have just one hour to practice, you can do the first half of the series (through the Boat pose, Navasana) and then the Finishing postures. The next day, complete the standing postures and then the second half of the series and the finishing postures. The standing postures alone also form a balanced group, if practice time is limited to 30 or 40 minutes. Standing postures are important for newer students because they create proper alignment and are grounding. They are for most people the best type of posture if little practice time is available. Of course, doing the entire series is preferable, in order to cover the entire spectrum of movements and postures. Occasionally, a posture or group of postures, needs to be skipped over due to injury or weakness. Learn these or return to them as soon as it is possible and safe. Maintain the integrity of the series intelligently, rather than playing to your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses.

Substitute the easier forms, if necessary.

Proceed through difficulty with courage and intelligence. Advancement means working compassionately from the present circumstances. More advanced series or postures should come in an organic, grounded way, not by straining.

It might take a couple of years or more to complete the Primary Series.

After that there are many more series. Stay with the series as a method of discovering the internal principles upon which the series have been constructed. These principles carry the value, interest and purpose of the practice. Be patient and be happy now in the process of learning.