Yoga Styles & Philosophy

ASHTANGA YOGA, AN OVERVIEW

In the Western world Ashtanga yoga is generally thought of as a physically demanding yoga exercise practice sometimes referred to as “Power Yoga”. The actual meaning of Ashtanga is so much more than merely an exercise program. The word “Ashtanga” is derived from two Sanscrit words: ashta meaning eight and anga meaning limb. Ashtanga Yoga includes eight major aspects or limbs (see below). Yoga asanas (postures or exercises) are just one of these eight limbs of yoga systematized by the ancient sage Patanjali. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras- (the term “sutra” meaning thread-the science of yoga is a kind of magnificent tapestry that is woven together by threads of universal truths)- date back to more than 5,000 years ago and explain the art and science that is yoga. The Sutras are a guideline for living a truthful and virtuous life with Hatha Yoga preparing the body, particularly the nervous system for stillness, creating the necessary physical strength and stamina for the mind to remain calm.

One of the most well known of the sutras-“Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.” means “Yoga is the cessation of thought waves in the mind.”

When one is able to stop the mind from it’s constant ramblings, one will be able to achieve a state of higher consciousness bringing knowledge of peace and contentment. This is accomplished through following the 8 limb path.

Hatha Yoga

The ancient text known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains that the “Ha” represents the life force energy or prana and "tha" represents the mental energy. Thus Hatha is the union of opposites, coming together to balance the mind and body.

Patanjali’s eight limbs are:

Yamas — the 5 principles of social responsibility & behavior:

  • Ahimsa: nonviolence of speech, thought or action
  • Satya: truthfulness, to speak and live in truth
  • Asteya: non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya: continence or self control, a call to practice moderation
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness or non coveting, it’s about letting go

Niyamas — the 5 principles of personal responsibility & behavior:

  • Saucha: purity of mind and cleanliness of body
  • Santosha: contentment; shifting the focus so that instead of looking for happiness from the outside or outside material things, we look inside ourselves for our happiness
  • Tapas: austerity; Literally: to burn. A burning desire resulting in self-discipline. Per the Yoga Sutras, burning away impurities and kindling the sparks of the divine
  • Svadhyaya: Self-inquiry, study of the Higher-Self. Basically Yoga is the practice of self awareness-everything is a means for self study, we are here on earth to learn. It includes satsang and japa—repetition of Om or any sacred mantra which helps to connect us to the vibrational essence of the Divine
  • Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to divine truth: recognition that we are all interconnected and the ego-self is an illusion. Absolutely surrender and let go. A means to an end. Surrender is the means, Samadhi is the end. In Samadhi, the separation between ourselves and the universe dissolves

Asana — posture, seat

Pranayama — mastering control of the life force energy or prana, the key to livening the life force prana = breath, vital energy ayama = expansion

Pratyahara — withdrawing our outer senses in order to get in touch with our inner senses

Dharana — concentration: attention and intention. Paying attention to the “cues” given to you by the Universe. Becoming clear in your intentions, then releasing those intentions and surrendering those desires to the Universe

Dhyana — meditation. Being aware that life is change and not losing your self in the changes

Samadhi — superconsciousness

Main sources of information: Ashtanga Yoga Primer by Baba Hari Dass; Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison; The Hatha Yoga Pradipika; Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life