The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

September 6, 2015 Updated: September 6, 2015

By , Organic Lifestyle Magazine

Yoga, in its entirety, is a complete way of life. This 5,000 to 10,000-year-old discipline is a collection of teachings handed down through the ages, a means to connect mind, body, and spirit through proper breathing, meditation, and mindful, focused postures. The full practice of yoga is concerned with all aspects of living: the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the individual and his/her relationship to the Earth and fellow creatures. It provides principles to live by and a means to reach self-actualization and enlightenment.

There Are Four Major Paths to Yoga:

  1. Bhakti Yoga—the path of devotion
  2. Jnana Yoga – the path of rational inquiry
  3. Raja Yoga – the path of mental concentration
  4. Karma Yoga – the path of right action

It is believed that all yoga paths lead to spiritual enlightenment.

Around the second century, Patanjali sought to define and standardize yoga. He outlined the underlying principles of Raja yoga, which are now known as Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga or the Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga.

Reading much like commandments, the first two limbs are concerned with the do’s and don’ts of everyday life—basically morality and proper living.

First Limb: Restraints (The 5 Yamas)

These are the things you are to refrain from doing—”the don’ts.”

  1. Do Not Be Violent (Ashama) Treat yourself and all other creatures with respect and kindness. Learn to love yourself.
  2. Do not be Untruthful (Satya) Live a truthful life, but if the truth can harm others, keep silent.
  3. Do Not Steal (Asteya) Do not take anything that is not yours, including the ideas of others. Do not abuse your power or confidences.
  4. Do Not Lust (Bramacharya) Gain control of the senses and practice moderation in all things, especially sexuality.
  5. Do Not Be Possessive—Do Not Covet (Aparigraha) Don’t be greedy or exploitive.
Сommon sequence of asanas in the practice of Yoga, Surya Namaskar.
Сommon sequence of asanas in the practice of Yoga, Surya Namaskar. (Sergey7777/iStock)

Sun Salutations Instructions

1. Begin by standing in Mountain pose, feet about hip width apart, hands either by your sides or in prayer position. Take several deep breaths.

2. On your next inhale, in one sweeping movement, raise your arms up overhead and gently arch back as far as feels comfortable and safe.

3. As you exhale, bend forward, bending the knees if necessary, and bring your hands to rest beside your feet.Inhale and step the right leg back.

4. Exhale and step the left leg back into plank position. Hold the position and inhale.

5. Exhale and lower yourself as if coming down from a pushup. Only your hands and feet should touch the floor.

6. Inhale and stretch forward and up, bending at the waist. Use your arms to lift your torso.Lift your legs up so that only the tops of your feet and your hands touch the floor. It’s okay to keep your arms bent at the elbow.

7. Exhale, lift from the hips and push back and up.

8. Inhale and step the right foot forward.

9. Exhale, bring the left foot forward and step into head-to-knee position.

10. Inhale and rise slowly while keeping arms extended.

11. Exhale, and in a slow, sweeping motion, lower your arms to the sides. End by bringing your hands up into prayer position. Repeat the sequence, stepping with the left leg.

Second Limb: How to Treat Yourself (5 Niyamas)

These are the observances—”the do’s.”

  1. Be Pure (Sauca) Internal and external cleanliness is achieved by cleansing and detoxifying the body, yoga breathing, yoga exercises, and meditation. Your surroundings, your mind, and your body should all be clean and uncluttered.
  2. Be Content (Santosha) Practice humility. Be content with who you are and what you have.
  3. Be Disciplined (Tapas) Practice discipline of the body and the mind.
  4. Study (Svadhyaya) Study the sacred texts and one’s self. The more you know yourself, the deeper your connection with the higher power.
  5. Live with an Awareness of the Divine. (Ishwara Pranidhana) Let go and connect to the Divine or surrender to God’s will.

The third and forth limbs combine to form Hatha Yoga, the practice of breathing and exercises that comes to mind when most of us hear the word yoga.

Third Limb: Physical Poses or Postures (Asanas)

 These are the exercises most of us think of when we hear the word yoga. These exercises are designed to give us strength, balance, and control of our bodies; to improve circulation, oxygenation, and flexibility; and to relax and rejuvenate us. Postures are to be done gently, with focus and concentration to bring our mind and body into harmonious union.

Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose) (matthewennisphotography/iStock)
Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose) (matthewennisphotography/iStock)

Fourth Limb: Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)

Through proper breathing the body receives more oxygen and wastes are eliminated. In fact 60% of toxins released from the body are exhausted through the lungs. In traditional martial arts and meditation, breathing is taught before anything else. Breathing is emphasized and considered to be one of the most important skills you can learn. Through yoga breathing exercises, the body and mind are strengthened and you become calmer and more focused.

Breathe through your nose and fill the lower part of your lungs. Instead of your chest expanding as it does with a shallow breath, your abdomen expands. Watch a baby breathe. This is a natural breath.

Practice breathing every day, all day. In time, proper breathing will become second nature. You will have greater reserves when you exert yourself. Your stress will be reduced. Every cell in your body will benefit from higher oxygen levels and increased elimination of wastes and toxins.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh limbs are dedicated to an escalating mastery of meditation. Each is dependent on mastery of the limb preceding it.

Fifth Limb: Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)

This may occur through breathing, meditation, or exercises, but it refers to the ability to withdraw your senses to the point they no longer distract you.

Sixth Limb: Concentration (Dharana)

Concentration is honed to focus on one object, one point, one image, at a time.

Seventh Limb: Meditation (Dhyana)

Uninterrupted meditation when objects are no longer needed (paulprescott72/iStock)

This is uninterrupted meditation when objects are no longer needed to focus the mind.

Eighth Limb: Enlightenment (Samadhi)

The eighth limb is achieved through mastery of the other seven. The eighth limb is the ultimate goal.

All of the other 8 limbs work and nothing blocks you from oneness with the Divine.  This is the definitive level or awareness and peace.