Yoga is a popular way to increase flexibility, gain strength, and reduce stress. It’s also a 5,000-year-old system of mental and physical practices originating in India, which includes philosophy, meditation, breath work, lifestyle and behavior principles, and physical exercise. 

Yoga as a system of thought and practice has a primary reference to the philosophical system that flows from the teachings of the ancient Indian yoga philosopher, Patanjali. Maharishi Patanjali is believed to have compiled his Yoga Sutras around 200 years BC but archaeological evidences and the study of ancient scriptures suggest that yoga was practiced in ancient India a long time before this, even as early as 3000-5000 BC. Although Patanjali is the author and compiler of the Raja Yoga Sutras, it is said that the original teacher of Yoga was Hiranyagarbha - the cosmic mind of the cosmic intelligence.

Yoga is not always the only answer to all our problems. However, by using its brilliant tools such as:

  • Asana
  • Pranayama
  • Mudras
  • Bandhas
  • Drishti
  • Meditation
  • Mantras
  • Kriyas
  • Intention

We can support our imbalances and help our body-mind complex to get harmonized or supported. 

Eight Limbs of Yoga

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or Ashtanga (“eight-limbed”) yoga. The eight limbs are:

  • Yama - Inward restraints, 
  • Niyama - Outward actions, 
  • Asana - Physical postures, 
  • Pranayama - Breath control, 
  • Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses, 
  • Dharana - Concentration, 
  • Dhyana - Meditation, 
  • Samadhi - Oneness with all. 

Similar to the Upanishads, Patanjali defines yoga in the Sutras as “the restraint of the modifications of the mind.” Note that Patanjali’s description of Ashtanga is different from the physical practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga followed in the West today.

It is the third limb, asana (AH-su-nuh), or physical postures, that most yoga practitioners today are familiar with. Yet beyond a brief reference to a seated meditation posture (the Sanskrit word “asana” literally means “seat”), physical yoga practice is notably absent from the Yoga Sutras. In fact, the only mention Patanjali makes of asana is in the instruction “Sthira Sukham Asanam,” which translates to “the yoga pose should be steady and comfortable.”

Other early yoga manuals, including the 14th-century Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the 17th-century Gheranda Samhita, have somewhat limited discussions of asana and do not contain any references to standing poses or Sun Salutations — the foundation for many contemporary systems of yoga. Instead, the early texts spotlight meditation and subtle body energies such as chakras and Kundalini.