The literal translation of the word yoga is "yolk" meaning unite. Yoga is the union of the various aspects of our being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery and ultimately union with the Divine. It is an ancient system of relaxation, exercise and healing with roots in Indian philosophy. It is not a religion, although its concepts lie at the heart of every religion.
Yoga is believed to be at least 5000 years old. The two most central scriptures of yoga are the Bhagavad Gita
(ca. 750B.C.E) and Patanjali’s yoga sutras
(200B.C.E.). Patanjali’s sutras (literally "threads", a series of aphorisms) delineated 8 limbs of the yogic path, which include yamas
. He listed four pathological states �" depression, anxiety, trembling in the limbs and unsteady breath, which can be remedied by utilizing his 8-part path as a treatment plan. First of the eight limbs are the yamas and niyamas- these are ethical precepts concerning our attitudes toward others and ourselves. The yamas include nonviolence, nonlying, nonstealing, chastity and greedlessness. The niyamas include purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to God. Asana literally translates as "steady seat" and refers to the physical poses of yoga. Pranayama refers to the breathing practices of yoga. Pratyahara is withdrawing the senses from external stimuli. Dharana is concentration, Dhyana, absorption and Samadhi is the state of cosmic consciousness or union with the Divine.
Central to the healing power of yoga is its focus on the Divine being that exists within each individual. As such, all yogic healing interventions proceed from this goal of uncovering the Divine nature of the individual. Yoga is not about self-improvement, but about deconstructing the barriers to what is already there. In her book, Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit
, Donna Farhi likens this to cleaning the windshield on one's car so that one can see the beauty and avoid the potholes while driving.
Yogis believe that we all wish for happiness. For many, the efforts to fulfill on that wish are often misdirected and happiness seems to exist only fleetingly. According to yogic tenets these moments of happiness are always there and available and that suffering is caused by being bound too tightly to current reality by the five kleshas
(afflictions or false understandings). The five kleshas are Avidya
or ignorance of our wholeness, living as though we are separate and alone. Asmita
is over identifying with this body, mind and emotions, which leads to raga and dvesha. Raga
is attraction and Dvesha
aversion; they create a condition whereby we define ourselves by what we love and what we hate. Abhinevesha
is fear of change, especially of death. Yogis believe that through our yoga practice we can awaken from ignorance, transcend our over identification with our bodies, our clinging to what we love, avoiding what we hate and our fear of death. Each time we practice yoga we have the opportunity to remember who we really are, to let go of our roles and touch in with our natural state, what the yogis refer to as Atman
or Self with a capital "S."
This deconstruction happens on a tripod foundation of tapas
(willful practice), svadhyaya
(self-observation) and ishvara-pranidhana
(surrender). Tapas is the inner fire or discipline to make choices that nourish one's well being and provide growth opportunities. In svadhyaya or self study one stays present with the process rather than escaping into addiction or fantasy, recognizing that the most challenging times often hold the most growth potential. And finally ishvara-pranidhana or surrender in which we acknowledge that there is a force larger than ourselves. So that we put in our best effort, stay awake to the process and trust in the outcome, whatever that may be.
Author: Kim Trimmer, M.Ed.