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Phyllis Eckler

Yoga I Mid-Term Study Guide


by Phyllis Eckler

Yoga (meaning yoked) is a spiritual practice, not an institutionalized religion, that dates back to around 3,000 B.C.E. Stone pictographs from that era have been found that show yoga asanas or poses and so we know that it was practiced by early peoples in the Indus Valley where modern day India is today. However the mental/emotional controlling elements of yoga form the basis of many religious texts found from even earlier eras. The basic early tenets of yoga are based on the three concept areas of  Bhakti or loving devotion, Jnana which is knowledge or contemplation, and Karma which is about selfless actions. As you can see from these philosophical roots, yoga is both a roadmap for harmonious community involvement as well as self improvement.

During the Classical era of Yoga, the means to achieving enlightenment was thought to be primarily through the subjugating the body’s needs, by means of meditation and mind control. Later on the philosophy was expanded and promoted by Patanjali through his compilations of the Yoga Sutras. It is safe to assume that the Sutras were written somewhere between 1,700 and 2,200 years ago, although they may have existed long before that in unwritten form. Tradition has it that Patanjali is the compiler, but not author, of the Yoga Sutras.


Part Three on Divine Powers
3.1 One-pointedness is steadfastness of the mind. 
3.2 Unbroken continuation of that mental ability is meditation. 
3.3 That same meditation when there is only consciousness of the object of meditation and not of the mind is realization. 
3.4 The three appearing together are self-control. 
3.5 By mastery comes wisdom. 
3.6 The application of mastery is by stages. 
3.7 The three are more efficacious than the restraints. 
3.8 Even that is external to the seedless realization. 
3.9 The significant aspect is the union of the mind with the moment of absorption, when the outgoing thought disappears and the absorptive experience appears. 
3.10 From sublimation of this union comes the peaceful flow of unbroken unitive cognition.

The eight-limbed Raja (royal) Yoga philosophy, sometimes referred to as Ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga is the practice espoused by these aphorisms called sutras. While the sutras are abstract, obtuse and open to interpretation they do fall into distinct categories of practice:

The Practices of Yoga:

  1. yama, ethics, restraint and ahimsa,
  2. niyama, cleanliness, ascetism, etc.
  3. Asana, posture, physical practice
  4. pranayama, breath-control
  5. pratyahara, sense-withdrawal
  6. dharana, concentration
  7. dhyana meditation, and
  8. samadhi, full absorption.

In modern day practice they have been expanded and understood as follows:

Yama - non-violence, truthfulness, brahmacharya, non-accumulating/non-coveting
Niyama - Tapas (Discipline)- Svadhyaya (Self Study) - Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to God/Higher Self) - Contentment/Acceptance
Asana - Discipline of the body
Pranayama - Breath Control
Pratyhara - withdrawal of all senses
Dharana - Concentration/Expand awareness beyond oneself
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Absorption/Universal Consciousness where All is One, One is All, Enlightenment

For their part, the Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical base of all Raja yoga. It can still today be considered the most organized and complete definition of the Raja Yoga discipline. Moreover, the "eight-limbed" or Ashtanga path espoused by Patanjali has formed the foundation for much of Tantra Yoga.

The Yoga Sutras not only provides yoga with a thorough and consistent philosophical basis, but in the process, also clarifies many important esoteric concepts (like karma), common to all traditions of Indian thought.

Later forms of Yoga tradition, such as Tantric Yoga, included the integration of physical practice with the kind of deep meditative work of mind and emotional control we see in Hatha Yoga today. Ha, means sun and tha  translates as moon. These two opposite elements representing strength and power on the one hand, with submissiveness and passive acceptance on the other, perfectly describes the opposite characteristics that we humans struggle with daily. The word, yoga, itself means “yoked” and it is the yoking or joining of these two elements of our human experience that we so often find in yoga practice.(page 6)

In this course we concentrate primarily on only three of the Ashtanga limbs: Asanas which we do as a combination of several yoga poses called a vinyasa, Pranayama (deep yogic breathing) and Pratyhara (meditation). We also touch on the energy centers represented by the seven chakras. These chakras start at the base of the spine and are situated through the center of the torso and up into the head. As the chakras spin they are believed to produce colored energy that is transmitted out to the rest of the body through the nadis  or receptor nerves similar to the acupressure points used in Chinese medicine.

Make sure to go over the glossary of terms (handed out the second week of class), the glossary of asanas (found in the back of your book) as well as the anatomy page.

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