Why do we practice yoga? Is it to improve flexibility, posture, or health? Is it to release stress? We may walk into our first yoga class for any of these reasons and then gradually discover that the goal is something even more than we imagined. I am going to outline the basics of yoga philosophy and the true goal of yoga practice.
You may have heard of concepts like meditation, consciousness, union, bliss and maybe even experienced them at times. Last month we discussed fear and the idea developed that letting go of fear came easier when we let go of distractions such as opinions or expectations and focused on the present moment. We even blindfolded ourselves during practice to withdraw our senses and redirect our focus inward on the breath, on the body, on the moment . . . this is the beginning of meditation. At this point in our practice the postures have opened the channels of energy, just as the breath and withdrawal of senses has purified the mind. Now what do we do with this prepared Awareness of the present moment?
According to the the path of Patanjali and the 8 limbs of yoga the next step is Concentration. Concentrate on a physical or gross object and gradually move to subtler and subtler aspects of the object. For example a flower: first picture the flower, then the petals, the stem, the smell, the color, the sensation, the growth and blooming process, the atoms that make up the flower, theatoms that make up the air surrounding the flower, the interaction of the petals with the air around it on an atomic level, etc. The repeated concentration on the object of concentration is Meditation. And finally when the mind reaches a state where the gross and subtle impressions dissipate we become encompassed with the state of being itself, Bliss.
Gradually through dedication, determination, contemplation, concentration and meditation we gain the ability to merge with that which we previously thought was apart from us, and come to know them in their own True Essence, this realization of universal truth is Consciousness. Each new perspective of this Truth allows us to see a larger picture, and each larger picture shows us subtler restrictions or thoughts that need to be shed in order to reveal Pure Consciousness. This is obviously a big concept to grasp especially when we haven't thought much about it.
The final chapter in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as if there is a deeper concept to find (but there is!!) discusses the concept of Liberation. Once the mind is able to function in Pure Consciousness, completely freed of the false and imaginary perception of the self, the mind begins to flow toward wisdom, and the realization of freedom, liberation of the mind. This is why we practice yoga . . . freedom. We practice yoga to experience freedom from opinions, judgements, boundaries, or limitations; to find happiness in letting go.
This basic overview of yoga philosophy demonstrates a systematic way to discover our own Awareness and then provides us with a path to utilize this Awareness in a way that benefits ourselves and those around us in a very positive way. It also highlights that yoga is so much more than the hour(s) we spend in yoga class each week. Yoga is embedded in everything we do throughout the day.
8 Limbs of Yoga
Evidence of the practice of yoga dates back to over 5,000 years ago. A text called the Yoga Sutras was complied around 300-200BC by a man named Patanjali. This text is commonly referred to when discussing the philosophy of yoga as it is the most organized and complete compilation of such ideas. Within the text Patanjai highlights the 8 limbs of yoga as a guide to transcend what we inherently spend our time and energy thinking about and open ourselves to Consciousness.
Yamas - Universal morality non-harming truthfulness non-stealing
right use of energy non-possessiveness
Niyamas - Personal discipline purifying your mind and body
contentment discipline, will-power inner exploration surrender to higher self Asanas Physical practice
Pranayama Breathing exercises and control of prana
Pratyahara Withdrawal of the senses Dharana Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness Dhyana Meditation, dissolves separateness Samadhi Bliss, Union with the Divine
Side Crow Variations are arm balancing postures with a twist. These poses strengthen and tone arms and shoulders, engage the core, improve balance and confidence, and increase hand strength and wrist articulation. In order to move forward into the side crow poses and their variations we have to free the mind!
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Alternate Nostril breathing is a beautiful breathing technique that helps keep the mind calm, happy and peaceful by just practicing it for a few minutes. It also helps release accumulated tension and fatigue. The breathing technique is named Nadi Shodhan, as it helps clear out blocked energy channels in the body, which in turn calms the mind. It is also known as Anulom Vilom pranayama.