Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a religion. Rather, it is a science, art, and philosophy. The precise inception of yoga is debated, but it believed to have started around 4,000 years ago. It was codified by the sage Patanjali around 2,500 years ago, when he wrote the yoga sutras.
Yoga can be described as having eight petals. The eight petals of yoga are:
Yama and Niyama
Yama and Niyama are the first two petals of yoga and are internal and external ethical disciplines. In order to progress within a personal practice of yoga or to teach yoga, there must be a foundation of “Yama” and “Niyama.”
“Yama” is a universal ethic as it pertains to the whole of humanity. It is a moral and wise conduct to follow while in contact with others used in the practice of ethics outside of one’s self.
Yama is discarding violence, fear, stealing, greed and lust. It also means to have tolerance, self-restraint, and to be truthful and dispassionate. A person should have unconditional love for his fellow man, while being compassionate, generous, and dignified relative to society and the world.
“Niyama” is individual discipline that has to be observed and practiced within one’s self. Niyama is cleanliness, contentment, rigorous self-discipline, self-study, study of scriptures dealing with higher aspects of life and surrender to God.
“Asana” are the poses that keep the body healthy, strong, and in harmony with nature. The yogi practices these asana to render his body fit for the soul. Learning the poses (asanas) is the petal of yoga that must be tended to every day. It uses the building of the body to improve the mind into a calm and balanced one. This leads the practitioner through the other stages of yoga that concludes with the last, Samadhi, a state of bliss
“Pranayama” is the extension, prolongation, and distribution of vital energy and consciousness that spreads through the body and mind. To do this, students are taught to regulate breathing. It begins with the simple movement of breathing, leading one deeper into oneself by teaching to observe the very act of respiration. Pranayama has three movements: prolonged inhalations, deep exhalation, and prolonged, stable retention, all of which have to be performed with precision. Pranayama is the actual process of directing energy inward, making the mind fit for “pratyahara” (the next petal of yoga).
Pranayama is not simply deep breathing, which only tenses the face muscles and tightens the chest. The cells of the brain and facial muscles remain soft and receptive while the breath is drawn in or released gently. Guruji advised “to inhale with joy as if receiving the life force and to exhale with gratitude expressing humbleness as a surrender.”
“Pratyahara” is the detachment of the senses. When the senses withdraw from objects of desire, the mind is released, which in turn becomes passive. Then the mind turns inward and is set free from the tyranny of the senses. This is Pratyahara.
Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi
The practice of the first five petals lays the foundation for the last three. The controlled mind that is gained in pratyahara is made to intensify its attention on a single thought in “Dharana” (concentration). When this concentration is prolonged, it becomes “Dhyana” (meditation). In Dhyana release, expansion, quietness and peace are experienced. This prolonged state of quietness frees a person from attachment, resulting in indifference to pleasure or pain. The experience of “Samadhi” is achieved when the knower, the knowable and the known become one. Self-awareness is lost. Samadhi is a state of total absorption or a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation. The yogi realizes the part of the supreme soul within himself. Samadhi is bliss.