What does yoga mean?
Yoga means to unite. The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means "to join" or "to yoke". What are we uniting? The individual and the present moment.
What are the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga?
1. Yama: Universal morality.
This is the ‘do not’ list of yoga. Do not lie, steal, harm others, be possessive or be greedy.
2. Niyama: Personal morality.
This is the ‘to do’ list of yoga. Be pure, content, self-disciplined, self-aware and surrender to the present moment without judgement.
3. Asana: Physical practices.
This is what most yoga schools concentrate on - it is the physical exercise component of yoga.
4. Pranayama: Breathing practices.
Usually people have a love/hate pranayama. This is the breathing exercises you may have done for a few minutes in a yoga class. Some examples of pranayama are alternate nostril breathing, ujayi breath (sounds a bit like Darth Vader) or yogic belly breathing.
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.
The withdrawal of the senses is to ignore the distractions of the external word such as a desire, a fear or a worry. By withdrawing from sight, sound, touch, smell and taste we can clear away the mental chatter and reflect upon deeper insights. How do we do this in a yoga class? We try to ignore being hungry, we try to ignore the sound of someone passing wind and ignore the sight of other people’s underwear in their see through yoga pants. Instead, we focus on the sixth limb, dharana.
6. Dharana: Concentration
Concentration sharpens your focus and is a tool for staying in the present moment and offering your undivided attention to the task, to yourself, to your friends or to your loved ones. Dharana is about transcending the mind through intense focus.
7. Dhyana: Meditation
Originally the asanas were to prepare the body for sitting on the floor in meditation for hours on end. Nowadays, the meditation practice in yoga is quite short and at the beginning or the end of the yoga class. The meditation is often an om chant in the beginning of the class or a meditation at the end in savasana (lying on the floor in corpse pose). Meditation is important for getting more clarity and connecting to the present moment without judgement.
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment.
This is the lofty limb that is often joked about in yoga classes but rarely explained unless you are in an ashram. Enlightenment is viewed by some as a state of ecstasy, by others it is contentment and satisfaction. Enlightenment can be interpreted in many ways. For some it is being in a state of mindfulness.
What is the history of yoga?
There is no definite time that yoga originated. Some scholars believed the yoga tradition began as early as 5,000 years ago because there was a soap stone seal found in India that had carvings of people that looked like they were in yoga poses.
Why do yoga schools concentrate on sun salutations so much in yoga class?
Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas and are a great workout for the body. It is difficult to pinpoint when sun salutations originated in India. Yoga classes focus on sun salutations because there is flexing, strengthening, lengthening and toning of the muscles. It is also to express gratitude to the sun as we would not be alive without the sun. It is fine to practice sun salutations and moon salutations regardless of whether it is night or day because the sun and moon are always present, we just may not be able to see them.
Why is it called a yoga practice?
It is called a yoga practice because it is never quite finished, the process is the destination.