Yoga is becoming a worldwide popular form of healing, and even exercise. Most people only look at yoga and recognize it as a purely and strictly physical thing. I know I have taught classes and the first thing people ask is, "Will this make me sweat?" "Will this make me lose weight?". I teach at a slow pace compared to most teachers and I can sense that some of my "students" get restless (even in savasana). I can also sense that how I teach is quite different than mainstream "vinyasa/hot/power" yoga. Now I am not criticizing other instructors or forms of teaching, but I can say that I have attended some yoga classes and spiritually left the same as how I came. What I realized was that these teachers were not teaching yoga, they were teaching fancy poses and postures ONLY. They were not teaching about the entirety of yoga.
I cannot fault those who are new to yoga for only thinking that yoga is strictly physical. If you simply look at google or social media, all you see is predominantly non POC contorting their bodies in these awesome ways, which usually garners the response(s) "Oh, I cannot do yoga, I am not flexible" or "My body could never do that." What most fail to understand that yoga has 7 more limbs, or aspects, to it than the back-bending, hand-standing, super-twisty postures, & WTF poses.
We, at We Heal Too, want to provide as much information as we can for people to fully understand what they are doing and what they can aspire to attain. Yes, the ultra flexible postures are amazing and beautiful, but what is the purpose if your mind and spirit are not as fluid?
Lets talk about yoga as a whole, in its entirety.
First of all, yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a way of life and a way of being. Yoga does, though, have very deep roots in spirituality (which is the basic fundamental element of any religion therefore you can believe in whatever religious or spiritual path and you can apply the principles of yoga to your life) and self-awareness.
Yoga literally means "to yoke" or to come together. The ultimate goal of yoga is to bring the body (physical), mind (mental), and soul (spiritual) all together so that they are all on the same page, speaking the same language.
The Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, broke yoga down into eight limbs, which is called ashtanga. The eight limbs of yoga, are in a sense a code of ethics, guidelines to live a "meaningful and purposeful life".
The eight limbs are as follows:
By no means do you have to be Hindu or Indian to follow these guidelines. These codes of ethics are non-discriminatory and if you do have your own set of beliefs or practice a particular religion, you will see that most of these things line up with many other teachings.
The eight limbs of yoga are a step by step progression to what most would call "enlightenment" (if the word enlightenment is triggering, you can think about it as being free from the suffering of the world, getting to know your true self, or clearing your being to get closer to the Creator). One step/limb, leads and adds to the other. If you are lacking in one step, you lack in the others (much like the chakra system which we will get into soon!).
Now let us break it down.
Yama is focused on our behavior towards others and ethical standards. I have found that the yams can definitely be applied to self as well.
There are 5 Yamas, which are:
•Ahimsa- non-violence: this can also be applied to yourself in your yoga practice. It is not just a physical thing, but a mental one as well. Do you strain your body or push yourself farther than your limit? (Hello Ego!) Are you patient with yourself and practice balance as much as you can? Do you stick to the same 5 poses or 1 pose on one side because you are REALLY good at it? This is showing your body violence!
•Satya- truthfulness: Honesty is always the best policy!
•Asteya- non-stealing: simply put, do not take what is not yours.
•Aparigraha- non-coveteousness: not wanting what someone else has
Niyama is more so focused on how we deal with ourselves and self-discipline. There are 5 Niyamas, which are:
•Saucha- cleanliness: I am sure you have heard "cleanliness is next to godliness". Keep yourself and your space as clean, open, and as pure as you can.
•Samtosa-contentment: Now this does mean to just take whatever life hands you (or throws at you). This, in a way, is saying to be in the moment, in the present. Be grateful and content with what you DO have. Of course, you can always work on improvement, but celebrate where you are now, while you are here!
•Tapas- (not to be confused with the style of food) heat; spiritual austerity:
•Svadhiyaya- study sacred scripture & self-study: This can be one in the same. You can learn a lot by studying and observing yourself. You technically have all the answers you need, but reading and studying knowledge on your own will accelerate your spiritual journey!
•Isvara pranidhana- surrender to God/Goddess/Creator/Source/The Universe: Surrendering is the most fulfilling, yet often times the most challenging part of the journey. Trust in what is bigger than yourself and watch the magic unfold.
Once you get the Yamas & Niyamas down for the most part, we clear the way and move up the "tree of life" towards Asana.
Asana references what we do to our body aka our temple. This refers the poses and postures that you often see when "yoga" is mentioned or thought of. These postures are performed for particular reasons and lead to certain results, often on a metaphysical level. Back bends open the heart. Standing postures ground us. Inversions allow us to see things from different perspectives. Hip-openers help us release pent up emotions especially shame and guilt. This physical practice creates mental discipline and allows for release. The tightness or openness in a posture can also help us gauge where we are spiritually. for instance, if a person is having a difficult time with heart openers, maybe they are afraid of opening up and being vulnerable. If a person has tightness in the legs, maybe they are dealing with root chakra blockage with stability & security.
Prana is defined as "life force" and most people loosely translate this to "breath" (which is your life force). Therefore, Pranayama the control of the the life force energy which dwells in the breath. There are many different breathing exercises that one can do to circulate this life energy and/or send this energy to specific places in the body. One great way to start is to learn how to take a full, deep, breath and "breathe in the belly" aka your diaphragm. When practicing asanas, you will often hear the instructor reminding you to breathe or to breathe a certain way while in a posture. Sending the life force energy through your body, or to certain areas, allows the physical body to soften/open up, or get stronger with that force backing it.
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. In this limb, we draw our awareness away from what is going on outside of us and around us and bring that awareness to what is going on inside of us. With this detachment from the outside world, when we quiet the external chatter, we can better hear, see, and understand what is happening within us. It is almost like retreating within your shell to become the observer.
**side note, have you ever drawn the comparisons between ascended masters and prominent figures in all spectrums of religion and spirituality, that just about all of them, at some point went into the "wilderness" to "hear the voice of God" or came out with a major revelation? Even the sages and gurus of today take journeys into the mountains and caves (away from the loud cities) to tap back into themselves & tap back into a higher power.
Dhahran means concentration. Through movement, breathing, and silence, we are able to concentrate and focus on what is in front of us, what our mission is.
Dhyana means meditation. You use pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana (breath work, withdrawing the senses to retreat within, & concentration) to prolong your concentration for an extended period of time. Here, you are aware, but your thoughts are not fixed on one thing. It is like being still and quiet even when there is a hurricane around you.
Samadhi is the final stage once you put all of these things together. Samadhi is the ultimate state of ecstasy or enlightenment. This is the ultimate peace and the ultimate connection to the Creator!
So here you have it. The FULL breakdown of what yoga is. A great recommended read is the Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, which breaks down each limb to the finest grain!