Yoga is a classical Indian science dealing with the search for the soul. The word “Yoga” signifies both the way to discovery of the soul and the union with it. Yoga philosophy was systemised some 2,000 years ago by Sage Patanjali in a single treatise, Yoga Sutra. The work is still acknowledged by all Yoga practitioners as the authoritative text on Yoga.
Yoga comprises of eight limbs or branches. The following are as formulated by Patanjali:
1. Yama – Conduct towards others or social discipline
2. Niyama – Conduct towards oneself or individual discipline
3. Asana – The practice of Yoga postures for physical discipline
4. Pranayama – The practice of breath control for mental discipline
5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal, discipline of the senses
6. Dharana – Concentration of the mind
7. Dhyana – Meditation
8. Samadhi – Self-realisation, absorption in the infinite
The proper functioning of the body depends on these various limbs or branches. The absence or sickness of any one limb affects the health of the whole body. The same principle applies to the study of Yoga and it’s branches. Any inadequacy in the study and the perfection of any of the eight steps of Yoga will hinder you from reaching self-realisation.
Yoga is built on a foundation of ethics (yama) and personal discipline (niyama). These are universal concepts found in all societies. Thus from the practical point of view, Yoga can be considered to begin at the level of postures (asanas).
For the ordinary person – those who are not inclined towards the spiritual aspect, can practice Yoga for it’s physical benefits. The health of the body and mind is important to all, whether they wish to succeed in their worldly pursuits or in self-realisation. Yoga gives equal fulfilment to the believer and to the atheist or agnostic alike. One of the beauties of Yoga is that it’s doors are open to all. On all those that seek physical wellbeing, mental space or concentration of mind, Yoga bestows whatever they demand and satisfies them all.
Each limb forms part of the whole, and tradition teaches that, even after attaining great heights in Yoga, the practice of asana and pranayama should be continued, for the health of the body.
“The study of the eight limbs of Yoga leads to the purification of the body, the mind and the intellect; the flame of knowledge is kept burning, and discrimination is aroused”.