WHAT IS YOGA, REALLY??
Most people have the same preconceptions about yoga - it’s about flexibility, strength, and handstands...basically. While this is included in things you’ll gain or learn with a regular practice, this is not the basis for yoga. If you’re going into a class concerned with those ideas, you’re missing the most important things yoga is intended to do. While everyone can certainly take what they want to from it, the actual benefits from the whole package can be truly life-changing.
Whether or not you’re interested in the whole spectrum of yoga, which I’ll explain in a second, I can tell you that it is NOT Instagram models in crazy, pretzel poses. It’s also not a reason to feel intimidated (also a common misconception I hear often), it’s about shedding your ego (or personal identity/ thoughts/ judgements) and connecting only with your own body, mind, and breath as you move from one pose to another. It’s moving your energy, heating your body, and prepping for hours in a seated meditation. That’s how the poses, or asanas, help you do the best work for yourself. Also, keep in mind for your next class, that most people are doing the poses incorrectly, so you never know if that person over there is really that strong & flexible or their hips are actually in the wrong position allowing for more movement. Listen to and watch your instructor, feel your breath and movement, that’s all you need to do!
“Working with yourself to stop negative self-talk, anger towards others (or yourself), healing your past wounds and traumas to release you of those negative thoughts is an incredibly life-changing experience”
Anyway...moving on to the real info…
Yoga in Sanskrit means “union”. It’s the union of mind, body, and soul. It’s actually an entire way of being, thinking, doing, acting, and behaving. There are 8 different aspects to actual yoga, the poses or asanas only being one of them. It’s actually A LOT of information so I’ll break them down in ways that made them click for me:
1.Yamas-Ethical living rules that effect relationships with others, not unlike the 10 Commandments. There are 5 of these rules:
-Ahimsa-Non-violence to oneself and to others. This is the first and most important principle of Yoga: Basically, don’t physically hurt anyone or anything, K?
-Satya-Truthfulness, not lying. This is pretty obvious but it also includes not lying to yourself!
-Asteya-Not stealing. Again, self-explanatory.
-Bramacharya-This is actually celibacy and fidelity...but...let’s be real…….obstaining from sex is not really applicable in today’s society, this is just the original concept. But fidelity? Hell yes, it is. Don’t cheat!
-Aparigraha-Non-coveting, non-possessiveness. This one is about greed and materialism. Short version is: You don’t need that shit!
2. Niyamas-Inner observances or things you do either internally or for yourself- Habits for healthy living, spiritual enlightenment, and a liberated state of existence. Also 5 rules for this:
-Sauca-Purity & cleanliness- It’s purity of mind, speech, and body. By pure I don’t mean “Keep it clean! Stop swearing or thinking dirty!” (Come on, now). It does me literally cleaning your body, yes, but also cleansing your mind of disturbing thoughts, negativity, anger, greed, pride, etc. This is where the real inner work gets done and it’s HUGE. Working with yourself to stop negative self-talk, anger towards others (or yourself), healing your past wounds and traumas to release you of those negative thoughts is an incredibly life-changing experience. It takes work and it’s difficult, but I can tell you that this is the #1 thing Yoga has done for me and it’s unreal how it will change you.
-Santosa-Contentment, satisfaction. This is doing your best and accepting the results of those best efforts; serenity and satisfaction with things exactly as they are. This is where Mindfulness comes in; being present and aware in the exact moment that’s happening right now. This also takes practice and work on yourself but it’s worth every single second of trying. Regular Mindfulness meditation is a huge step to you just feeling happy (that’s another blog post…)
-Tapas-Literally translated to “heat”. It’s self-discipline in a spiritual practice; persistence & perseverance in cleansing the mind and body through Yoga asanas (poses) and meditation in an effort to acheive self-realization. Not unlike Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, this is basically tied to the other things listed. In short, it’s using Yoga and Meditation to heal your shit and dig things up about yourself that need attention. This is exactly how I did it and it was worth every second of trying.
-Svadhyaya-Sva means “one’s own self”, Adhyaya means “a lesson”. It’s self-study; introspection and study of one’s self or soul-of your thoughts, speech, or actions. See above! These all fit together to help create the result of figuring out why you do what you do, feel the way you feel, react the way you do, etc. It’s truly knowing and understanding yourself from all the way inside.
-Isvarapranidhana-Commitment to “Lord, God, Supreme Being”. This one is also outdated as the freedom to choose beliefs is more accepted and reasonable in modern times. What this comes down to is just love and devotion to all living beings: yourself, animals, insects, other people...it’s living a life that’s in alignment with the highest good of all of life.
3. Asana-”Posture”-This is the Yoga we all know; the physical postures. The Yoga asana practice is intended to create focus, concentration, and prepare the body and mind to sit in meditation for hours on end. This is why we take a yoga class! This is what it’s meant for. These movements, poses, and breathwork move your energy, release stuck emotions, create an intense ability to concentrate, and relax your body. This can help you tap into the things you’ve stuffed down, ignored, buried in your mind and manifested in your body and fully face and heal from it - releasing, possibly, decades of inner turmoil you may have even realized you had. In my opinion, anything other than this intention is not Yoga. It’s a Westernized bastardization of an incredibly important and effective mental health tool and process intended to fully better your life.
4. Pranayama-This is breath control. Learning to control, move, or slow down your breathing in specific ways. This breathwork is a huge part of releasing stuck emotions, forgotten hurts, and generally moving your energy through your body in an intentional way. Breathing exercises help calm the mind & the nervous system.
“These all fit together to help create the result of figuring out why you do what you do, feel the way you feel, react the way you do, etc. It’s truly knowing and understanding yourself from all the way inside.”
5. Pratyahara-”Inward Turning”- This is turning your attention inside of yourself toward your mind, your energy body, and your soul. This is what a basic mindfulness or MBSR meditation teaches you to do.
6. Dharana-”Concentration or contemplation”- This is the allowing of yourself to surrender to the full concentration that happens when you turn your attention inward; the releasing of your running thoughts.
7.Dhyana-This is meditation-This is where you separate from your ego mind or the self-involved, judging, human person identity and begin to merge with your higher consciousness.
8. Samadhi-This is Oneness. This is the end goal of fully letting go of the ego into full realization that you are the same energy, the same consciousness, as every other thing on the planet; expanding consciousness to other energetic planes and into infinity. This is the monk that’s fully enlightened. This is not where everyone needs to aim their practice, but it IS the general end goal of all of Yoga.