Like most people who are new to yoga, I started with a very limited view of the practice. When I began, I automatically associated the term “yoga” with just the series of postures that you move through to break a sweat and feel invigorated.
But the more I practiced yoga and the more I read about it — and especially as I began to learn about meditation — the more I came to realize that yoga is a whole lot more than just exercise and that the purpose of the practice is much greater than mere physical fitness.
I came to realize that the “yoga” that most people refer to as yoga is actually just one aspect of a much larger and all-encompassing system that purifies our body, mind, and spirit.
It was only once I encountered The Yoga Sutras, a classic book by the ancient sage, Patanjali, that I understood that the physical yoga exercises we ordinarily do in most yoga studios are just one ‘limb’ or step of the overall yoga system.
So let’s take a brief look at that system, so we can understand how the physical postures and movements relate to the system as a whole.
Patanjali, the ancient sage, articulated the classical system of yoga perhaps more succinctly than anyone. Born before 400 B.C., Patanjali compiled a set of roughly two hundred aphorisms that explained the entire process of yoga from start to finish.
These aphorisms have influenced and inspired generation after generation of genuine seekers, each one of whom must eventually has to grapple with the terse sincerity of these statements.
The Yoga Sutras describe most importantly the process of yoga found within the school of Raja yoga. For a description of the other three traditional schools of yoga — karma yoga, bakti yoga, and jnana yoga — visit my article on them here.
The Yoga Sutras outline the process of yoga as a gradual process of refinement of the body and mind. Patanjali enumerates the process of Yoga into eight steps, often referred to as limbs, which are the following: