YOGA & FITNESS
History Of Yoga
The eight limbs of yoga
The eight limbs of yoga comprise a framework which can help us on the path to achieving the state of yoga, that state of fully present, fully aware bliss. We will now explore each of the limbs in a bit more detail. But first, it should be stressed that the eight limbs need not necessarily be followed rigidly in the order described as though they were a shopping list. In fact, it is hard to believe that anyone could approach them in this way. Rather, an individual can focus on any one of the eight limbs of yoga at any time or can work on them simultaneously. The aim of them is to help the individual to yoke the different layers of his/her being together leading to the recognition that, in reality, everything is interconnected.
1. Yamas (universal truths) First there are five yamas which describe our attitude towards things and people outside ourselves:
Ahimsa (non-violence): This means not doing harm to other sentient and non-sentient beings and ensuring that our thoughts, words and actions are acts of kindness and compassion to both ourselves and other beings. We do often focus on this quality in Yoga Nature classes.
Satya (truthfulness): This means living a truthful life that does not harm others. To the extent that if the truth were to cause more pain to someone then it is better to keep silent.
Asteya (non-stealing): Not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes both the material and non-material. For example, not stealing people’s ideas or sharing information that has been given to you in confidence.
Brahmacharya (sense control): Moderation of the senses, that is, avoiding overstimulation and over consumption of any kind.
Aparigraha (living a life free from greed): Taking only what is necessary, not being over possessive and not exploiting others. Living a simple life within our means.
2. Niyamas (studying of the self) There are next five niyamas which describe our attitude and how we behave towards ourselves:
Sauca (cleanliness): Keeping both the body and one’s environment clean. Through practicing yoga, pranayama and meditation both the mind and the body are kept pure and clean.
Santosha (contentment): Being happy with what we have and our lifestyle even when things are difficult.
Tapas (austerity): Literally means to heat the body and therefore keep the body cleansed and fit. Forms of tapas include watching what we think, say, eat, breathing patterns and body posture.
Svadhyaya (sva = self + adhyaya = study/examination = self-study): getting to know yourself through self-reflection or self-examination.
Isvarapranidhama (spiritual awareness): Taking the time to sit (preferably in nature) and appreciate the complexity and uniqueness of the earth we live upon.
3. Asanas (physical postures)
This limb is what many people today recognise yoga as being. Traditionally meaning a 'steady and comfortable' posture, asanas today are comprised of a set of physical exercises which stretch the body leading to increased flexibility, strength and stamina in body, mind and spirit. Asanas are of great benefit to us. They can enable a person to become attuned with the needs of the physical body, the mental & emotional mind and the needs of the spirit. With time the practice ends up being a meditation leading to self-reflection and an increased awareness which then begins to bring harmony to the individual, the family, the community and eventually the wider world.
4. Pranayama (breath control)
This is the limb where we learn to control the breath through the use of specific yogic breathing techniques including retention techniques at the top and at the bottom of the breath. Through linking the breath to the static, dynamic and flowing yoga postures and sequences we become aware of an increase of energy, a cleansing and strengthening of the central nervous system and the mind becoming calmer and more focused. Through these pranayama techniques we become increasingly aware of the flow of prana (energy) in and out through the body.
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses from the attachment to external objects. By practicing asana, pranayama and meditation the practitioner becomes so inwardly focused that outside events and attachments are not a distraction anymore, leading to self-realisation and internal peace.
6. Dharana (concentration)
Dharana means developing a single pointed mind, a mind which does not jump from one thought or activity to the next. By practicing the steps described above a practitioner begins to develop dharana and thus a great peace begins to settle within and meditation can begin. Indeed by doing asana and pranayama a practitioner’s practice becomes a type of dharana where in certain moments it is possible to discover great stillness and concentration within an asana and breathing technique.
7. Dhyana (meditation)
Dhyana is the practice by which there is constant observation of the mind. Observing whether the mind is processing the past, is thinking about the future or, ideally, is experiencing the present moment. Through the constant observation of the mind a practitioner begins to sharpen the mind and concentration leading to a greater understanding of the self and also experiencing the unity of the universe.
8. Samadhi (enlightenment)
Finally, we have Samadhi. Samadhi means to bring together or to merge, which happens to be the ultimate aim of yoga. It is where a person is in complete harmony, there is no more jumping from one thing to the next and the person is not attached to emotions or external objects. An individual flows with life and what it brings knowing that even the most challenging situation contains some sort of opportunity for development. The individual at this point resides in ananda, that state of pure bliss.
Where does yoga come from?
It is possible that people were practicing yoga in some form for hundreds or thousands of years before our earliest written records, and we have archaeological finds in the form of pictures on clay tablets that have been interpreted as evidence in favour of this. However, this evidence is inconclusive and so we must look to the written records of theUpanishads (foundational Vedic texts, many of which were composed before 600BCE) to find evidence that people were engaging in the kinds of practices that we have just mentioned above. At this time there is no indication that any of the extreme physical postures many people know as yoga today even existed.
Moving further in time we find the great sage Patanjali, whose birthdate and very existence is contested but who seems to have lived about the time of Jesus, give or take a few centuries, and who was the first known systematiser and compiler of yogic practices. The core of his Yoga Sutrasis his description of the eight limbs of yoga, which provides us with a very helpful framework for our yoga practice, and it will be set out in more detail in the right hand column. But note that, even here, physical postures occupy a very small space in the Yoga Sutras and even when they do appear they consist simply of seated postures that enable one’s body to open up to the more introverted practices that follow.
In later times (500 - 1300CE) tantric yoga added a whole new complex and intricate suite of techniques that can help the seeker to achieve the state of yoga. These included various methods of visualization, mantra, working with the ‘subtle body’ (chakras) and kundalini energy and bodily postures in three classes: asanas (seated postures), mudrās (spontaneous postures of hands, body, or awareness) and karanas (standing postures or inversions). So it appears that it was only at this time that standing and inverted postures were added to the yogic repertoire.
Hatha yoga (1300CE to the present), which is the root of most modern yoga, is itself a relatively recent development. It was essentially an outgrowth of tantra and it retained many of its practices. Its main purpose was to strengthen and empower the body, to awaken the kundalini and to exert physical effort that will make the attainment of meditative absorption almost effortless. Let us note, then, that even though physical practices were now beginning to increase in importance, they were still performed as an aid to the ultimate goal of yoga, that state of fully focused and integrated awareness that we mentioned earlier.
Finally, we have what has been called modern postural yoga.Krishnamāchārya is often credited as being the founder of modern yoga in early 1930s Mysore. He drew on Hatha yoga, but also upon the Western discipline of ‘harmonial gymnastics’. This probably explains why so many popular modern yoga styles that can be traced back to Krishnamāchārya contain many extreme and difficult postures that do feel somewhat gymnastic. This is a far cry from the kind of yoga depicted in the Upanishads or Yoga Sutras. However, it is very important to stress that this does not make these styles necessarily unyogic. As we mentioned earlier, the method of yoga requires a point of focus, and it may well be that, for some individuals, such vigorous physical practice may well provide that point of focus, as long as the ultimate aim of yoga is kept in sight and the practice does not descend to the level of mere exercise, which sadly it now has in some gyms.
Hi there yogis, my name is Danielle Ball,
I first came across yoga in my early teens after
been a gymnast. Life became stressful so i
decided to do yoga and karate and became
a successful black belt. Once finishing this
I started to take yoga seriously as i started
to notice the positive changes to my mental
health through yoga. As i started to study yoga
and met my fantastic yoga teacher Simon I was given the confidence to take my yoga teacher training, which i was offered as i was so passionate and had benefited from yoga. I feel I have so much passion and experiences to share with you all. My aim is to support lovely people through a journey of positive change.
I hope to teach you a new awareness of your body, mind, and spirit. I also hope that you’ll gain the knowledge and the ability to push yourself to new limits in life. I take a very balanced and open approach to yoga and teach yoga classes in Barnsley. I also teach yoga classes for beginners. As well as great yoga classes in Sheffield. What you might call my niche is that i specialise in helping people deal with there mental health such as depression and anxiety, from having suffered these myself i feel i have alot to give in this area.
The yoga I teach is: unbranded, with familiar postures, not too much “vinyasa” or moving about, will contain some breathing exercises and some meditation. I believe that there is no “one size fits all” and the yoga should be “tailored “ to suit the individual. Preferably, this is done through one to one sessions, with the relationship evolving over time. If in a group session, I like to provide alternatives (easier and harder) to allow all ages and abilities to access the class. In any-case we should all approach yoga with a little less ambition and a little more stillness.
Yoga is not a belief or religion, rather a practical philosophy, a science involving every aspect of a person’s being. It encourages the evolution of the individual through the development of self-discipline and self-awareness.
About Me Danielle Ball