Updated March 2012

Table of Contents

The Philosophy of Yoga  -  A Tiny Peek
A Very Short History of Yoga
Pranayama  -  Breath Control
Dhyana  -  Meditation
Mantra  -  Sacred Chant
108  -  A Sacred Number
Aum  -  A Sacred Sound
Bandha  -  The Core
Mudra  -  The Hands
Asana  -  The Poses

Be mindful of the quality of energy you bring to the mat this day,
how your mind feels, your body,
take stock of how you arrive here this time.
Think of what you wish to cultivate by being here,
set your intent for your practice for this day.
Turn the breath into sound:
Sanskrit Symbol for aum     Aum     Sanskrit Symbol for aum     Aum     Sanskrit Symbol for aum     Aum.

The Philosophy of Yoga  -  A Tiny Peek

From the "Tao te Ching" by Lao-Tzu, translation by Stephen Mitchell:
The Sanskrit word “yoga” means yoke/harness, or union, and encompasses the collection of spiritual beliefs, scholarly philosophy and physical techniques used for purification in the strive towards a union of the mind, body, and emotional self, with the ultimate goal of achieving transcendence and liberation from the Self/Ego.  The goal of any yoga practice is a sattvic (pure) balance of rajasic (active) and tamasic (passive) energies  -  a powerful union of yang and yin, effort and surrender, ha (sun) and tha (moon).  The practice of Yoga helps us learn about stillness in movement and the flow of stillness, ultimately so that we have greater ease in every aspect of our lives.

Developed in India over 5000 years ago, yoga predates written history and knowledge and was initially passed down orally, from master (yogacharya) to disciple (yogi).  About 2000 years ago, the sage Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, a collection of the various views and ideas on the practice of yoga and summarized them into 196 short, concise, terse aphorisms that form the foundation for most forms of yoga practiced in the world today.   According to Patanjali, the practice of yoga aims at the quieting of the mind, which in turn opens the door to meditative states of mind and eventually a union of the individual with the universal consciousness.  Ideally, yoga is the union of the physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual body, resulting in a purposeful and balanced life.  For most people today, yoga is no longer the path to enlightenment, but a way to keep the body fit through some form of asana practice, and the mind clear with the relaxation techniques of pranayama and meditation.

Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga

According to Patanjali, yoga consists of eight limbs, which are all equally important and are related as parts of a whole.  They are:
  1. Yama (abstentions)  –  Universal Ethical Principles  -  five universal commandments aimed at creating a “better” world:
    • Ahimsa  -   non-violence, inflicting no injury or harm to others or even to one's ownself, it goes as far as nonviolence in thought, word and deed
    • Satya  -   truthfulness in word & thought
    • Asteya  -   non-stealing; non-covetousness, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is not his own
    • Brahmacharya  -   chastity; abstinence from sexual intercourse; celibacy in case of unmarried people and monogamy in case of married people.  :Even this to the extent that one should not have any sexual thoughts towards any other man or woman except one's own spouse
    • Aparigraha  -   non-possessiveness; being non-grasping
  2. Niyama (observances)  –  Rules of Personal Conduct  -  five personal disciplines:
    • Shaucha  -   cleanliness of body & mind
    • Santosha  -   satisfaction; contentedness
    • Tapas  -   self-discipline; austerity and associated observances for body discipline & thereby mental control
    • Svadhyaya  -   self-study and study of the Vedic (yoga) scriptures which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul
    • Ishvarapranidhana  -   surrender and dedication to the Supreme Being.
  3. Asana  –  Practice of Postures  -  devoted and conscientious practice of the various types of postures.
  4. Pranayama  –  Practice of Yoga Breathing Techniques  -  practice of breath control and breathing techniques with care and discrimination.
  5. Pratyahara  –  Control of the Senses  -  detachment from worldly activities: developing a non-attached attitude of body and mind.
  6. Dharana  -  Concentration  -  being able to hold on to a subject mentally.
  7. Dhyana  -  Meditation  -  developing a quiet, meditative state.
  8. Samadhi  -  Absorption in the Infinite  -  Trance or a state of bliss:  reaching a state of absorption in a subject or in the Divine.
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A Very Short History of Yoga

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Pranayama  -  Breath Control

In the beginning, there is a breath (the first inhale of a newborn).  In the end, there is a breath (the last exhale in the moment of death).  In between, breath is always present.  Without breath, there cannot be life.  Most people do not especially notice their breath, unless it is impeded, e.g., because of a runny nose, a scratchy throat, or unless attention is drawn to it consciously, e.g., during physical exertion or when practicing breathing techniques as yoga practice.

Pranayama is an important part of any yoga practice, and for all pranayama techniques it is absolutely essential to sit in a comfortable position that can be maintained for a long period of time without overdue effort that might tighten muscles or become painful.  The sitbones are the base and the knees should actually be lower than the pelvis to enable free movement of the diaphragm (some practitioners sit on blocks).  The spine should be easily stacked onto the pelvis and kept from collapsing, again to enable free movement of the diaphragm.

Practitioners engage in several different pranayama techniques, i.e.,