There are so many branches and styles of yoga. Many of them primarily accentuate the asanas (or physical postures); but that’s only part of it. Yoga is actually a system that focuses on the entire person. It is a practice of returning to wholeness – uniting our finite self with our infinite being. The goal is to evolve to a new level of consciousness by developing a higher awareness in the experiences we have physically, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually.
In an authentic practice, we are enhancing our abilities to remove obstacles that block us from overall life goals and from being our authentic self. These obstructions, both subtle and obvious, make us believe that we don’t deserve happiness. They also become mental disturbances that embed themselves and creates disharmony, internal conflicts, suffering, feelings of alienation, despair, loneliness and separation. These aspects become the root of emotional trauma, physical limitations and disease. They become so established that being able to achieve a happy, successful and functional life seems impossible. Yoga crushes this myth. Yes, yoga is a consistent and focused practice to maintain, but with each step we will know how to appropriately deal with the challenges we face on a psychological, physical, and spiritual levels.
We learn to switch negative internal language into more functional ones. We become aware of how we process our experiences without creating damaging exaggerations that may prevent us from living in our truth. We learn to breathe deeply through painful and stressful times so that we may process them in a healthy way and avoid long term attachments and suffering. With a focused yoga practice; even deep, painful experiences such as dealing with the death of a loved one, losing a job, loneliness, depression, persistent stress and anxiety becomes manageable (to non-existent).
A Tried and True Practice
Yoga has a very long history. One could say, it is old enough to be tried and true. It has morphed and adjusted over time, but has a basic foundation that has been fairly steady. This beneficial foundation was set and written down around 300 AD by Patanjali (a yogi who studied and practiced yoga in great depth). Through learning and growing in his practice, he observed and realized that there were misunderstandings around the purpose and practices of yoga. As a result, he defined an outline to follow and to advance in. We know these guidelines as ‘Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras’. Many yogis and yoginis will tell you that making a full commitment to this practice means that you would have to be a monk. However, in today’s time, not everyone really has that luxury to totally escape and renounce from everyday life, and that’s OK. This foundation was set up in a way to be practiced by both a renunciate or, what we call in Kriplau Yoga, a householder (someone who makes the decision to keep a job, be in relationships, have children, and contribute to society).
The foundation laid out by Patanjali is known as the 8 limbs of yoga, in sanskrit it is named Ashtanga [Ashta – eight; Anga – limbs]. Basically, Patanjali divided the practice into eight sections. Each of those groups focused on the specific stage of opening the three bodies and five sheaths (essence coverings) it is believed a person is made of.
Yoga’s Breakdown of a person
- Causal: Expressing or indicating a cause
- Knowing Comprehending
- Mental Cognitive
- Life Force Energy
Ashtanga Practice (8 Limbs)
Niyama Observations (in connection to action)
What each Limb mean
Yamas & Niyamas: Are the foundation to an authentic yoga practice. They are more personality, behavioral and discipline refinement practices: Yamas have 5 practices that are centered around refraining from anti-social and damaging behaviors. Niyamas have 5 practices that are centered around observations and enhancing functional internal discipline.
Asana: Physical movement and dynamic holding of specific postures that assist with the internal practices. Moving the body in such a way to open blocked channels, increase flexibility, increase circulation for better brain & organ functioning, improve overall structure & posture, and creating new habitual body placements (when sitting, working, walking, or general moving about).
Pranayama: The practice of using the breath to enhance energy, increase vitality, calming the system (when in a stressful situation), and to enhance overall body and mental functioning.
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
Dharana: Concentration – “concentration exercises to focus and still the mind”
Dhyana: Meditation – “that give experiences of absorption or dissolution”
Samadhi: “To merge with the infinite through deep meditation”
The last four are very advanced stages. Practicing these, as they were intended would take being in isolation to focus. However, the Concentration and Meditation practices can be adjusted for an everyday practice. We will touch upon these at some point in the blog. Subscribe to know when that happens.
Reference: Kripalu Yoga Fellowship 2003 Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training: Basic Certification Manual
Where to start?
For an authentic, deep and all around beneficial yoga practice, the Yamas and Niyamas is a good starting point. They are ideal for addressing internal, behavioral and cognitive challenges. From here, pranayama and the asanas can be used cooperatively as a guide and measurement of processing these internal practices.
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