Yoga is an ancient life-style practice originating in northern India. The word yoga derives from a Sanskrit word for ‘union’ which in this context means the union of body, mind, soul and spirit for the benefit of the planet and mankind. Over the millennia yoga philosophy has been conveniently re- interpreted in practise and now in the West we mainly focus on aspects of posture and breathing. However, yogis throughout time have pondered the question as to how we can transcend human suffering.
Documentation of yoga originally comes from the Vedas (ancient Hindu scriptures), which date back between 4,000 to 5,000 years. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Vedic knowledge was passed down from teacher to student through perfect memorization in the way of verses and poems. It wasn’t until the second century B.C. that a sage named Patanjali created the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a template to help followers to transcend the confines of their ego and to reach self-realization.
Western intellectuals ‘discovered’ yoga in the nineteenth century. Initially, European and American interest in this practice evolved around its philosophical foundations, and fascination with Hindu theological writings was the first step toward the popularization of yoga in the West. Later it became a physical practice which took many differing forms, all of which share the fundamental intention of improving mind/body balance in this world.
In Hindu philosophy, which includes yoga, Indian medicine and martial arts, the vital force or Prana comprises all cosmic energy, permeating the universe on all levels and is analogous to Chi in Chinese therapies. Pranayama is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and is a practice of specific and often intricate breath control techniques.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga as outlined by Patanjali are below:
1. The Yamas are rules of moral code and include non-violence or non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint and non-possessiveness.
2. The Niyamas are rules of personal behaviour including purity, contentment, discipline or austerity, spiritual studies and constant devotion to God.
3. Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.
4. Pranayama are yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force.
5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses.
6. Dharana refers to concentration.
7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation.
8. Samadhi is merging with the divine.
The practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is referred to as practicing raja yoga, or the Royal Path, named to distinguish the practice from hatha yoga. Ashtanga yoga embraces all eight of the branches of practice and is designed to help the practitioner live a more disciplined life with the goal of alleviating suffering. Hatha yoga, which is probably the most commonly practised form in the West, places an emphasis on two of the branches, ie, breathing and posture, Pranayama and Asana.
The benefits of yoga are individual and depend on the level it is practised at. Many practitioners find that yoga helps them to focus and feel relaxed. Others may increase their physical flexibility, strength and balance. All the physiological systems in the body benefit from yoga. In 2003, scientists studied both long-time yogis and beginners and they found that the stress hormone cortisol had decreased, even after just one session of yoga. Yoga has also been found to increase alpha and theta waves in the brain, meaning that yoga can relax the brain and increase access to the subconscious and emotions. Regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain, depression and stress as it has been shown to increase endorphins, encephalins and serotonin levels. Yoga is now commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs, schools, hospitals and surgeries. The first International Day of Yoga was observed worldwide on 21 June 2015.
British Wheel of Yoga
BWYQ - The British Wheel of Yoga Qualifications
BWYQ is funded by the British Wheel of Yoga. They award Ofqual-regulated yoga teacher training qualifications at Level 4 in the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This is the highest level of yoga teacher.