The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which means ‘yoke’ or ‘union’. Practising the postures and breathing with awareness develops harmony, unifying the mind, body and spirit, and helping us to realise our nature. When asked to describe his teaching, B.K.S. Iyengar told Yoga Journal:
“I just try to get the physical body in line with the mental body, the mental body in line with the intellectual body, and the intellectual body with the spiritual body so they are balanced. It’s just pure traditional yoga, from our ancestors, from our gurus, from Patanjali.”
Patanjali – More than 2,500 years ago, Sage Patanjali authored the Yoga Sutras, a written work on the subject of Astanga Yoga, the eight-limbed path towards spiritual fulfillment. A sage and a scholar, he wrote classical texts on Sanskrit grammar and medicine, as well as his Yoga Sutras, the first written statement of yogic philosophy. Before that, yoga followed an oral tradition, passed on personally from teacher to student.
The eight limbs are yamas (moral conduct), niyamas (personal disciplines), asana (postures), pranayama (control of the breath), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (total absorption). In 196 succinct aphorisms, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe the working of the mind and emotions, and the path to fulfilment. In the first chapter yoga is defined as “the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. This famous phrase encapsulates both the practice and the ultimate aim of yoga: the means are just as important as this end.
It is Patanjali’s unique perspective that asanas and pranayama can be a template to explore, evaluate and experience each of the other limbs. Asana can even carry us through to the higher limbs of yoga, including pratyhara, dharana and dhyana, directing practitioners towards Samadhi, the complete freedom at the end of the yogic journey. Iyengar Yoga addresses this journey towards spiritual fulfillment from a perspective which is practical, experiential and intensely personal. Iyengar Yoga begins with ongoing practice of the yoga asanas (postures) with a focus on alignment. In time students learn to penetrate beyond the outer physical layer to the inner kosas (layers) of mind, energy and spirit.