The word ‘Yoga’ means union as in uniting the actions of the mind, body and breath to bring about steadiness and focus. Essentially it’s a way of living to calm and steady our minds, reduce stress from the pressures and challenges of everyday life and put us more in touch with the workings of our bodies and our real selves.
Originating in India more than a thousand years ago, Yoga is rooted in Samkhya philosophy, a branch of Hindu philosophy and based on the wisdom of centuries of spiritual experimentation.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra probably offers the most comprehensive and practical account of yoga, defining yoga as ‘Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah’(I.II) – ‘Yoga is a state in which the minds agitations are resolved’, as interpreted by Judith Hanson Lasater. Patanjali sets out a very practical 8 step path to purifying the body and mind with the goal of cultivating a quiet steady mind, eventually leading to a sense of calm and wholeness.
And as Judith Hanson Lasater explains, that although the Yoga Sutra may seem ancient, written in another culture and time and things have moved on since then, its wisdom is still relevant today. What hasn’t changed is the human mind, human emotions and the human heart and the fact that we live in a community. The Yoga Sutras are about the mind and the ways we create our own happiness and contentment, a course in mindfulness and much more. They teach us the basics of a well-rounded practice, what prevents us from reaching a state of yoga, advice on how to practice and how to make progress. They help us understand ourselves and they encourage us to realise there is a way not to be at the mercy of our thoughts.
To quote Prime Minister Narendra Modi on International Yoga Day in 2016, “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfilment, harmony between man and nature. It’s a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise, but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature”.