What is Yoga? Maybe you have heard of yoga? Maybe you have even practised yoga? But, can you tell me what yoga is?
On one hand yoga, is an exercise which physically challenges the body, commonly practised on a yoga mat. However, what if I were to tell you it is also an exercise which mentally challenges the mind, which takes place both on and off a yoga mat, before, during and after attending a class. Would you be surprized?
By reading this blog, you will discover more about what yoga is, and how it could benefit you.
So, what is yoga? As I mentioned, on one hand (the Western hand) yoga is a ‘a physical exercise’ which represents Patanjali’s 3rd limb of yoga. It is a method of stretching and creating space within the body and mind. However, on the other hand (the Eastern hand) yoga is much less tangible; it is a collective of Patanjali’s 8-limbs of yoga with a focus of the 8th stage, that of Samadhi. Enlightenment!
Ancient yogic sage, Patanjali, describes the spiritual guidelines of yoga known as ‘the 8 limbs of yoga’, as follows: Yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense with drawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment).
The first 4 limbs related to the physical self and the 4 upper limbs relate to the mental self. Traditionally, this yogic model is taught in sequence, meaning a student begins with the body (asana), moves onto the breath (pranayama) and finally reaches concentration (dharana), through meditation (dhyana) and ultimately pure bliss enlightenment (samadhi). Today, it is common for the 8-limbs to be taught out of sequence, since they are all inter-connected. Patanjli quoted, “a mind without disturbance is yoga”. I would like you to take a moment to think about what this means to you…..To some, this may mean, to live with compassion, sincerity and contentment.
So, maybe now, you can begin to understand that yoga is not a physical being. Not an emotional being. It is a natural state of being. It is fully integrated with who we are. Everybody contains a piece of divine soul. We are always intimately connected. It sits and waits behind our conscious awareness until we are ready to access it; we just might not know it. Working with yogic philosophy and yogic tools allows the state of yoga to arise within us. So, having explained what yoga is, I would like to tell you about how yoga can help you. As already mentioned yoga is an excellent self-help tool to help us access the natural place of calmness and tranquillity that resides within us all. Bruce Lipton, reports “1% of illness are related to genes. 90% of illnesses are related to stress”. This is a shocking fact, as in the large this indicates self-infliction through life style choice. He continues to say “the more control we have in our mind, the more control we have in our life” thus, reduce dis-ease, illness and a long list of consequences. Lipton discusses a study on people with depression, where just 12 minutes of yoga and meditation per day, over a 6-week period, observed a 33% reduction in anxiety, increased resilience, and improved mental health. The reduction was attributed to a combination of movement, breath awareness, mindfulness and relaxation. This shows the immense power of yoga, meditation and pranayama.
‘Yoga as Medicine’ by Timothy McColl, demonstrates how Yoga can be used as both a preventative and treatment to common health issues. In summary, it highlights yoga, meditation and pranayama:
- Has a balancing and therapeutic effect
- Helps to promotes relaxation
- Helps to reduces stress, anxiety, the chattering monkey mind, the stress hormone cortisol, blood pressure, and emotional frustration
- Helps improve blood circulation, lung capacity, nervous system, digestion system and energy levels.
In addition, increased awareness of the mind, body and soul connection may encourage positive thinking, leading to better life style choices and thus a more balanced, mindful and harmonious life.
So, just like with any other discipline, we must practise. The more we practise the easier it is for the state of yoga to arise. Yoga asana tempers the body. Yoga meditation tempers the mind. Yoga pranayama tempers the energy pathways. Together these tools invite the natural state of yoga to the surface, enhancing confidence, independence and self-awareness. This is our union of our highest self with something greater than us. Through practise we achieve peace and alignment in this very life, physically, mentally and emotionally.
So, if you have not tried and fallen in love with yoga yet, I whole heartedly recommend that you give it a go. Before you do, I would like to remind you to think of Patanjali’s 8-limbs of yoga, and in particular, be kind and gentle with yourselves, work within your limitations at all times, listen to any messages your body may wish to tell you as you practise.
I invite you to remember “Our true yoga is about how it makes us feel and what we learn about ourselves. Our flexibility is measured not by the length of our muscles, but by our willingness to step up to our challenges”.
I hope you might be inspired to try more yoga either at home, with me in a class or on a retreat. A few minutes of deep relaxation every day can help remind you that even when you are busy on the outside, there is a quiet place within. Do the practise as if your life depends on it, because funnily enough, it does.
p.s If you have time, I highly recommend reading ‘Myths of the Asanas’ by Alana Kaivalya, which helps to highlight some of these principles through beautiful written mythological stories.