What is yoga?

It's never too early -- or too late -- to start practicing yoga.
It's never too early -- or too late -- to start practicing yoga.
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The word "yoga," from the Sanskrit word yuj, means "to yoke or bind," and is often interpreted as "union" or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a "yogi," a female practitioner, a "yogini."

The Indian sage Patañjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).

Today, most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

To perform Namaste, we place the hands together at the heart chakra, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is an especially deep form of respect. Although in the West the word "Namaste" is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing. "Nama" means "bow," "as" means "I," and "te" means "you." Therefore, "Namaste" literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you."

We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation.

For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.

Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers,and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow — the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart.

Republished with the permission of YogaJournal.com.

About the Author

Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at age 7 with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga tradition three years later. Aadil received the advanced yoga teacher's certificate at age 22 and is the founder-director of the internationally renowned Yoga Centers™ in Bellevue, Wash. Aadil is also a federally certified naturopath, a certified Ayurvedic health science practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified Shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.