Yoga is not about acrobatics, although it can seem that way to those that are not familiar with its history, its purpose or its practice. Most people today, in the West, view yoga as a physical practice, but the asanas (yoga postures) are only one part of the journey of yoga.
The word yoga means to “join or yoke together” — to attach one’s attention to the steady control of the mind and the senses. The practice of yoga is the integration of many aspects of one’s life into a unified and conscious whole.
What is happiness? How do we reach peace within ourselves? How can we end suffering? What is enlightenment? Liberation? The desire to understand the self brought forth “the science of mind” called yoga.
The beginnings of yoga originated about 5000 years in the Vedas, sacred texts found in ancient India. Vedic Yoga taught that sacrifice transcends the limitations of the ordinary mind. The Vedas were a collection of hymns in written Sanskrit that praised a higher power. Pre-Classical Yoga (2nd Century AD) taught that there is an ultimate unity in all things – that one can transcend the mind and body to discover one’s true nature and be liberated from suffering. The Upanishads, 200 scriptures, describe and explain ultimate reality, the transcendental self and the relationship between the two. The Upanishads further explain the teachings of the Vedas. Just as the Upanishads further explained the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita written about 500 BC further explain the Upanishads. The Gita is considered to be the oldest known Yogic scripture. It is an epic story about Krishna and Arjuna that set down the mystical experience of one author (Shankara). The Gita’s subject is “the war within – the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge form life victorious”. The Gita presents four main paths to self-realization– jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge, bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action and raja yoga, the yoga of meditation and disciplining the mind and senses.
In 2nd Century AD, Patanjali, considered “the father of Classical Yoga,” put together over 200 sutras or “threads” which became the first and foremost scripture of yoga. Rāja Yoga, also known as Classical Yoga, is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation to further one’s acquaintance with reality and achieve liberation. Classical Yoga teaches that hard work and deep meditation can relieve human suffering and lead to liberation. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga in NYC, writes: “Raja Yoga itself is an integral approach…its goal is nothing less than the total transformation of a seemingly limited physical, mental and emotional person into a fully illumined, thoroughly harmonized and perfected being—from an individual with likes and dislikes, pains and pleasures, successes and failures, to a sage of permanent peace, joy and selfless dedication to the entire creation”.
Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path of Yoga are:
Yamas: the universal commandments — the five abstentions, restraints.
- Ahimsa: non-violence
- Satya: truth
- Asteya: non-covetousness
- Brahmacharya: abstinence, particularly in the case of sexual activity. It does not necessary imply celibacy.
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness
Niyama: refers to the five observances — self-purification through discipline
- Shaucha: cleanliness of body and mind
- Santosha: satisfaction, contentment
- Tapas: discipline and mental control
- Svadhyaya: study of self which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within
- Ishvarapranidhana: surrender, devotion to (or worship of) God.
Asana: Physical postures to keep the body disease-free, to preserve energy to prepare for meditation.
Pranayama: control of breath.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from their external objects
Samadhi: becoming one with the object of meditation
Gloria Rabinowitz’s yoga classes follow the spirit of Patanjali’s Eight Limb path to Samadhi. The mind, body and breadth are honored and the yoga practice has as its goal, a healthy, happy, loving, compassionate and spiritual soul.