The western culture has not only accepted the beautiful practice of yoga, but with the popularity of the practice spreading like wildfire – it has become part of our own culture. With new studios popping up on every corner and many brands that specialize in yoga attire, it is truly beautiful that the gift of yoga is reaching corners of the world some thought it never would. However, it is also true that we have a tendency to no longer identify that the roots of yoga come from a different place – and that sometimes our actions dilute the true path of what yoga was designed for. Many of us can sense that even though the exercise of the practice makes us feel good and we typically leave the studio feeling more at peace – there has to be more. The answer is that there is more. There is so much more.
In India, where yoga was born, yoga is not just about the hour you spend on your mat…..it encompasses your entire lifestyle. It is not a religion per say, but it is the science of religions that is made accessible for every single human being – no matter where you are from, what language you speak, or what your culture worships. In true yoga, there are guidelines to being a true yogi – and if these aren't followed, you are not considered a “yogi”. These guidelines are known as the ‘8 limbs of yoga’, and not only enhance your practice to the next level (x100) – but strongly enhance your life as a human being… fully taking advantage of everything yoga has to offer us. And in turn, expanding and deepening your relationship with the divine – or God – whichever word you prefer. So, if you are one of those people who are wondering what that “something more” is, here is a quick guide to the first 4 of these 8 limbs:
The first limb of yoga is known as Yama, and is a set of universal ethics that is believed every human being should follow. This includes non-violence (ahimsa), which doesn't just mean do not kill or act violently towards anything, but also treat everything with love. It is believed that violence only arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance and restlessness and to not act in this way is to have risen above this. It also states that every creature has the same right to live, and as yogis we are born to help others through the eyes of love. And even though it might burn your eyes to read this – it is strongly encouraged that yogis do not eat meat for its effect on our consciousness and the environment. Secondly, truth (satya) is necessary because one is only fit for the union with the infinite if the mind thinks true thoughts, the tongue speaks true words, and the life lives with true morals. If the reality of the yogi consists strictly of love and truth, the fruits of the actions will be rewarded undoubtedly. Next, non-stealing (asteya) refers to not only the physical act of not stealing from others, but also the fact that jealousy and desires for wanting what others have only leads to evil deeds. In addition, gathering things you don't actually need such as excess food, materials, fame, power, etc. is theft. Continence (brahmacharya) is the forth element of Yama and is about not giving into the seductions of sex, drugs and alcohol. Because when on the quest of finding the true self, the door opens to the pleasures and jewels that comes along with this new life – and therefore the desires for these things will naturally decrease. Lastly, non-coveting (aparigraha) states that just as you shouldn't take things you don't need, you shouldn't hoard things you don't need often. A true yogi lives a very simple life and their mind is trained to not feel the loss or lack of things – but instead feels the satisfaction of the fullness that comes with the yogic life…being grateful for what you have, beyond the illusion of misery.
While Yama refers to universal ethics, niyama refers ethics on an individual level. The first requirement for niyama is purity (saucha) and states that the body needs to be cleansed frequently inside and out. Bathing makes you feel fresh and therefore gives you a fresh mind as to also attract freshness in all things. Likewise, eating healthy and pure clean food, practicing asanas and performing pranayamas detoxifies the body. Second is contentment (santosa) which believes that if you aren't content you can't concentrate and one must learn to not let anything rob their mind of its peace – “the flame of spirit does not waver in the wind of desire”. Next, austerity (tapas) is about learning to rid yourself of all desires as to connect with the divine. It involves great steps in character building and and is achieved through your body, your speech and your mind. The study of self (svadhyaya) states that all creation is divine…in other words, there is divine in everything. The same energy that moves through you moves through everything in the universe and if you learn your own language you can learn more about everything – therefore approaching all obstacles with more ease. Lastly, dedication to the divine (isvara pranindhana) explains that everything belongs to the divine, and if you reflect this then the divine shall flow through you. We know this to be true because whenever a human has exhausted all of their resources and still not succeeded, they nearly always then turn to the divine for help because deep down we KNOW it is the source of all power.
Asana is another word for a yoga pose. Performing asanas detoxify the body while reversing physical disabilities and clearing mental distractions. Even though the spiritual aspect behind imitating vegetation, animals, sages, and gods in the postures relates us to the divine, the science of asanas has evolved so much that every single one helps the muscles, nerves and glands. To learn the specific benefits for each asana within your body would leave your jaw dropped. Being able to create complete steadiness in a pose makes your body become your tool and therefore reduces fatigue. When this is accomplished, you finally have the control over your body in being able to tell it exactly what you want it to do…in turn, allowing your seated posture and meditation to soar to new levels.
Pranayama refers to the science of breath, and many different types of controlled rhythmic breathing techniques we can practice daily. Did you know that the length of your breaths directly effects your life? It's no coincidence that dogs who breathe quickly live shorter lives, and that turtles – who breathe very slowly – live to be around 80 years old. Taking time to focus on the breath, and learning how to do it correctly, allows the prana (life force energy) to flow through our body and cleanse out our nadis. In our bodies, we have 72,000 nadis – or energy pathways – and the blockages within these are what create disease. If pranayama techniques are done often and correctly, your body will be freed from disease, your respiratory system will be strengthened, your nervous system will be soothed, your cravings and desires will be reduced and your mind and thinking patterns will become calm and balanced.
Stay tuned for part 2....