Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago (a lot longer than any fitness trend!). The word “yoga” means “union”, or simply put, the union of mind, body and spirit. All of the eight yogic paths have this union as their goal.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have systematised the philosophy of yoga into the Yoga Sutras an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutras are a collection of 195 statements that serve as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga:
- yamas (restraints)
- niyamas (observances)
- asana (postures)
- pranayama (breathing)
- pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
- dharana (concentration)
- dhyani (meditation)
- samadhi (absorption)
Today most people practicing yoga are practicing the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation. In the West, the words asana and yoga are often used interchangeably.
The idea is that as we explore these eight limbs, we begin to refine our behavior in the outer world, and then we can begin focus inward, until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).