So, just what is yoga? Is it being super flexible? Meditating 20 hours of the day? A religion? Can you only be a yogi if you can reach some sort of enlightened state? For someone unacquainted with the practice there can be a lot of mystery surrounding yoga. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as exclusive or complicated as it may seem. As it continues to gain popularity in the West, it’s important to know just what is so powerful about this practice and how you can incorporate it into your life.
Yoga started centuries ago, even if only recently it’s beginning to grab more attention. It is one of the six schools of Indian philosophy and was birthed around the 15th century. Passed down through oral traditions and eventually compiled into a permanent text, the Yoga Sutra, by a sage named Patanjali, the practice is full of ancient wisdom that applies even within modernity. That is because yoga is more than the physical and external practice that can be seen with the eye.
Yes, yoga is more than downward dog and handstands! The yogic practice carries philosophies that can be used within all walks of life. There is a large misconception that it is limited to fancy poses or meditation when in fact, there is so much more offered.
Ashtanga are the “eight limbs” of yoga. You may be familiar with ashtanga as a style that follows a set of predetermined set of postures in a series. It also is much richer than just what happens on the mat! The practice includes yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana.
Yama, or “restraints” are for gaining self-awareness. They are principles such as the practice of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-possessiveness. Niyama, or “observances”, are for cultivating happiness and self-confidence. This encompasses purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and self-surrender. Asana, Sanskrit for “posture” is used for meditation and self-awareness. It includes meditation poses as well as your Warrior II, Triangle pose, and other familiar manifestations of a physical practice. There is pranayama, “energy control”. This is the skill of working with the breath to affect one’s energy. Pratyahara is “sense withdrawal”. These are methods of cutting off external stimuli in order to focus on the inner self. Dharana, or “concentration” in English, is focusing the mind and, finally, dhyana is “meditation”.
Now you’ve got an idea of the history and components of a yoga practice, but still, what’s the point? Simply put, yoga is a method of turning inward and connecting to your truest self. Each part of the practice is designed to address the body, mind, and spirit, the physical and nonphysical parts of ourselves. It’s unlocking your full potential and becoming the best you that you can be.
It may be tempting to try and perfect the eight limbs or perhaps even overwhelming knowing all of what yoga really means! No fear, it is called a practice for a reason. Yoga is a lifelong journey towards healing and self-care. For many, what begins as physical soon develops into a deeper spiritual and emotional transformation to find, focus, and develop your inner self. There are many paths to finding You and yoga is here to help! Take your time studying yoga- which is, in fact, asking you to study and discover you. It is this simple goal that makes the practice universal, unique, and stand the test of time.
Good luck on your journey, yogis!
Written by Kala Lacy