Yoga is so much bigger than studio practice. Recently, Lululemon started a campaign called, ‘This is Yoga’ and I couldn’t be more on board with their message. Yoga has become so popular and with that, its message has become increasingly subject to being watered down, misinterpreted and even lost. With so many Americans recognizing a need to exercise, they seek out yoga because of its low impact and welcoming vibe. My hope is that all people seeking yoga will find a teacher who shows them the whole practice. The world would be such a better place if more people practiced yoga in its fullest sense. And with many new entrants, we have a big opportunity to make a positive impact in our communities!
So let’s examine this broader interpretation of yoga and how it shows up in our lives. Pantajali who is said to be the father of yoga, outlines an eight limbed path in the Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs are as follows:
Yama: Universal morality, restraints or moral views. There are five Yamas, which include Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding).
What do you think of when you hear these words? Consider the deeper meaning behind these moral views. For example non-stealing seems like a pretty easy one, right? But how do we steal things like time and energy from ourselves and others? How often do we rob ourselves of the present moment by worrying about the future, analyzing what others might think or dwelling on something we said to someone in the past? Examine each yama more closely. How do they show up in your life? This is yoga.
Niyama: Personal observances or positive duties designed to take us deeper into practice and build character, moving from the surface levels of self to the truth hidden within. There are five Niyamas, which include Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning of desire), Svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power).
Just like the yamas, each of these are rich in their meaning and how they show up in our lives. Take Santosha for example. This is one that our modern day society makes extra challenging because we are constantly bombarded with messages to want more taking us further and further away from contentment. How do we find rest and contentedness? When we practice gratitude, Santosha becomes easier. What are you grateful for? This is yoga.
Asanas: Physical postures. These are the thing most people think of when they think of yoga. And truthfully, the word asana means ‘seat’ which specifically refers to the seat one would take for meditation. The only instruction Patanjali gives for this is “sthira sukham asanam”, the posture should be steady and comfortable.
Think about your asana practice, more specifically the poses that you find uncomfortable. How can you find steadiness in them? Do you ever practice poses throughout your regular day outside of yoga? How does the physical practice of yoga impact your life? If you work in an office all day, consider incorporating simple postures that rotate the neck and lengthen muscles in the forearms throughout your workday to reduce stagnation in the body. Where else can you incorporate simple postures to energize your life? This is yoga.
Pranayama: Breathing exercises, and control of prana (life force energy). This involves working with the breath through various techniques that have a direct impact on the mind.
Any activity that regulates breath and brings us into the present moment has this ability. Think of going for a run where the breath becomes rhythmic with each step. Think off a high stress situation where you take a moment to pause and take a deep, conscious breath to calm down. In what aspects of life do you recognize breathing and pause to regulate your breath? This is yoga.
Pratyahara: Control of the senses or withdraw of the senses. This does not mean that we actually lose the ability to hear, smell, etc, but it is the sense of drawing inward to change our state of mind and become focused. The things outside of ourselves no longer become distracting as we meditate.
Have you ever experienced the state of ‘flow’ where you were so wrapped up in working on something that you were completely not even aware that someone was talking to you? Think of creating art or playing music. It’s easy to see the flow experience in college athletes who are so passionate about their sport, completely focused on what they are doing. These states of flow draw in the senses and focus our energy. This is yoga.
Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. This is the ability to hold concentration during meditation. This is the stage many get to when they think they are meditating.
This is a place of deep relaxation that we find in corpse pose. But it can also be experienced during a massage, laying out in the sun or even gazing at a campfire. Think of experiences that bring you to that place of rest where you have that sense of drowsiness, almost asleep, but you maintain a state of conscious awareness. Where does this show up in your life? This is yoga.
Dhyana: Devotion, meditation on the Divine or meditative absorption. This is the stage where you are actually meditating. It’s when you move beyond the mind stuff and the thought that you are meditating to that place no mind or non-doing.
This is a stage many of us never experience in ordinary life which makes it extra sweet when we do get a taste of it. It takes disciplined practice of all of the previous limbs and it takes making time in our lives for non-doing in all aspects of the word. In what areas of your life do you wish to make more time? How would you benefit from this type of deep meditation?
Samadhi: Bliss or enlightenment, union with the Divine. This is not about floating away on a cloud or even about being abundantly joyful, but rather it’s about seeing life exactly as it is without any judgment, likes, dislikes, pleasure, pain or any emotions affecting it. It’s not a feeling or being state but a simple ‘i-am-ness’ without disturbance. That is bliss.
From this standpoint, enlightenment is not as difficult to obtain as one may think. The more we deepen our commitment to daily practice, the more we experience small glimpses of this, and the more we can appreciate the simplicity of our true nature in an out of balance world. What comes to mind when you think of bliss or enlightenment? What experiences in your life up to this point would you associate with ‘bliss?’ What can you do to bring you closer to this ‘i-am’ state without judgment?
By incorporating all eight limbs into daily life, our yoga practice becomes a lifestyle that moves us closer to our true essence. Yoga means ‘union’ or to ‘yoke,’ meaning union with the Higher Self or the divine source, universal spirit, God, whatever name you choose. It is the recognition, that in our purest form, we are that. It is through our commitment to greater self discovery that we continue to unfold, revealing deeper aspects of our authentic self that is here with a unique purpose that serves the whole. With this deeper understanding, wouldn’t you agree that the world would benefit from more people embracing this broader practice of yoga?
Namaste: The light in me honors the light in you. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, together we are one.
By: Sarah Balmer, BS, Certified Holistic Health Coach, CPT, Certified Yoga I.S.® RYT-200