Yoga is one of India’s six orthodox systems of philosophy. It represents the world’s oldest method for spiritual and physical development.
Hatha Yoga is the physical form of Yoga most commonly practiced in the West. Hatha emphasizes asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation) to promote a greater sense of well being.
Some teachers introduce their students to Yoga philosophy, others teach strictly the physical side of Yoga. In both cases, the most often asked questions (aside from Asanas) from new students are about Religion, the Eight Limbs and Ethics.
Yoga does not meet the traditional definitions of a religion.
Hatha Yoga is a physical and psychological discipline that combines
learning and practice of asana, pranayama and meditation. Because of its roots in Eastern religion and mythology, hatha Yoga has been associated with the Hindu religion. Although both Yoga and Hinduism have their roots in India, Yoga is an independent tradition. Its physical and psychological processes have no connection with religious beliefs. However, dedication to hatha Yoga has been found to enhance one’s
current religious belief system.
The Eight Limbs
There are eight stages of Yoga. More commonly known as the Eight Limbs
or Eight-Fold Path:
- Yama (universal moral commandments)
- Niyama (self purification by discipline)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (rhythmic control of breath)
- Pratyhara (withdrawl from the senses and exterior objects)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (enlightenment)
At the base of the 8-limbs guidelines are Yamas and Niyamas, which are the ethics associated with Yoga. While these ethics are not required, there is substantial benefit one derives when followed.
Saucha – purity
Santosh – contentment
Tapas – austerity
Swadhaya – study
Ishvar Pranidhana – surrendering to a higher power
Resources: B.K.S. Iyengar; Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health; Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D