In this section we will discuss the history of yoga, the philosophy behind it, the ‘eight limbs of yoga’ and the seven major chakras.
There is no written record of the inventor of yoga. Yogis (yoga practitioners) practiced yoga long before any written account of it came into existence. Yogis over the millennia passed down the discipline to their students, and many different schools of yoga developed as the practice widened in global reach and popularity.
Sanskrit, the Indo-European language of the Vedas, India’s ancient religious texts, gave birth to both the literature and the technique of yoga.1
The “Yoga Sutra,” a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy by the Indian sage Patanjali is a type of guidebook that gives guidance on how to gain mastery over the mind and emotions and advice on spiritual growth, providing the framework upon which all yoga practiced today is based. The Yoga Sutra is the earliest written record of yoga and one of the oldest texts in existence.
The Sanskrit word “yoga” has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. Many translations point toward translations of “to yoke,” “join,” or “concentrate” – essentially a means to unite or a method of discipline. A male who practices this discipline is called a yogi or yogin and a female practitioner is called a yogini.
The postures that are now an integral part of health and fitness in many centers around the world were not originally a dominant component of yoga traditions in India. Fitness was not a chief aim of practice; focus was placed on other practices like pranayama (expansion of the vital energy by means of breath), dharana (focus, or placement of the mental faculty), and nada (sound).2
Yoga began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century, with an explosion of interest in postural yoga in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West.
Yoga, in ancient times, was often referred to in terms of a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms and fruits. Each branch of yoga has unique characteristics and represents a specific approach to life. The six branches are:3
- Hatha yoga – physical and mental branch – involves asana and pranayama practice – preparing the body and mind
- Raja yoga – meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga”
- Karma yoga – path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions
- Bhakti yoga – path of devotion – a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance
- Jnana yoga – wisdom, the path of the scholar and intellect through study
- Tantra yoga – pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.
- Yama – ethical standards and sense of integrity. The five yamas are: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness)
- Niyama – self-discipline and spiritual observances, meditation practices, contemplative walks. The five niyamas are: saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat, spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of sacred scriptures and of one’s self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
- Asana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
- Pranayama- regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses of perception, the external world and outside stimuli
- Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
- Dhyana – meditation or contemplation – an uninterrupted flow of concentration
- Samadhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness.
The word chakra means “spinning wheel.” According to the yogic view, chakras are a convergence of energy, thoughts, feelings, and the physical body. They determine how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, and even the manifestation of physical symptoms.
When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it is said to trigger physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion. The theory is to use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra.
- Sahasrara: the “thousand petaled” or “crown chakra” represents the state of pure consciousness. This chakra is located at the crown of the head and signified by the color white or violet. Sahasrara involves matters of inner wisdom and death of the body.
- Ajna: the “command” or “third-eye chakra” represents a meeting point between two important energetic streams in the body. Ajna corresponds to the colors violet, indigo or deep blue, though it is traditionally described as white. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the pituitary gland, growth and development.
- Vishuddha: the “especially pure” or “throat chakra” is symbolized by the color red or blue. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the home of speech and hearing, and the endocrine glands that control metabolism.
- Anahata: the “unstruck” or “heart chakra” is related to the colors green or pink. Key issues involving Anahata involve complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection and well-being.
- Manipura: the “jewel city” or “navel chakra” is symbolized by the color yellow. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the digestive system, along with personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion formation and introversion.
- Svadhishthana: “one’s own base” or “pelvic chakra” is said by practitioners to represent the home of the reproductive organs, the genitourinary system and the adrenals.
- Muladhara: the “root support” or “root chakra” is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to hold our instinctual urges around food, sleep, sex, and survival. It is also the realm of our avoidance and fears.
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