Yoga Rockford: Understanding the ‘core’ of yoga

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

With yoga’s current popularity, students have so many styles and systems to choose from. And, the U.S. obsession with yoga commercialism bombards us with ads and marketing, gimmicks and blends, even drama and politics. It is all so distracting! We have to look close and dig deep to recover the “core” of yoga, its roots, its purpose and its aim.

Yoga is an ancient practice and philosophy rooted in the history and culture of the Indian continent. The first yogis passed practices on orally from teacher to individual student. Somewhere between 200 and 500 B.C. (depending on the source), the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali became the first written treatise describing yoga as a philosophy and a disciplined practice. Taking yoga from local cultural practices to a firm discipline, The Yoga Sutras (along with later books and commentaries) allowed yoga to spread more widely and stand as the philosophical core of the practice of yoga.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are composed of 195 (196, depending on the translation) short aphorisms that describe yoga, its practice and its aim. The definition of yoga is given in the second Sutra, “Yoga citta vrtti nirodha”: Yoga is the cessation of the movements of consciousness. From that definition, Patanjali goes on to explain the process of yoga, with quieting the mind at the core of the practice.

The eight-limbed practice of yoga spans all realms from moral precepts to final ultimate freedom of the mind and spirit. The Yamas (universal moral precepts) include truthfulness, non-violence, non-stealing, non-coveting and moderation in all things. The Niyamas (personal observances) include cleanliness, contentment, self-study, discipline and surrender to any higher power you may believe in. Asana is the current popular practice of physical postures. Pranayama includes many forms of breath regulation. Pratyahara is the drawing of all our external senses toward internal focus. Dharana is the beginning step of focusing the mind in one direction. Dhyana is meditation, when the concept of time disappears. The final stage of yoga is called Samadhi, a state of being where the mind is free of disturbance and ultimate peace is experienced.

From this philosophical core, many lineages of practice arose in India. From those, only a handful of gurus brought yoga to the masses during the last century. And today’s most visible and popular forms of yoga have literally blossomed out of only a few traditional teachers. From that small group, and in just the past few decades, yoga in the United States has exploded into an astounding mix of sellable possibilities. Students grab a nugget of teaching, put their own spin on it, market their own styles, and voila … Pilo-Acro-Christo-Aero-Power-Hot-Gentle You Name It-Yoga.

These choices can be confusing to any student of yoga, so it is a good thing yoga at its core is a method for getting beyond external confusion and distraction. The physical postures (asana) have now become the focus of modern yoga in the West, for good reason. The mind needs a tangible place to begin its journey toward the inner self. But we cannot get caught up in the physical posing alone. As the Sutras suggest, our physical work must lead to mental and even spiritual benefits. For example, Iyengar Yoga utilizes detailed instruction and steady holding of poses to bring the body and mind into balance. Physical alignment of the body brings into sync the central line of the nervous system and energetic systems running along the spine with the spiritual core at the center of the heart. Through this work on alignment, the mind settles to a steady quiet state of being, free of fluctuation.

The possibilities of yoga are there to explore, but remember to keep sight of the core. Because as stated in the third Sutra, when the mind is rid of its fluctuations, “tada drastu swarupe vasthanam”: we come to dwell in our own true splendor. Join Pranayama Yoga Studio for “The Core of Yoga” intensive from 9 to 11 a.m., Saturday Nov. 2.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2013, issue

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