Yoga’s Eight Limbs – Part Four – Asana

“The body is my temple, Asanas are my prayers.”  B.K.S. Iyengar

The Asana or the poses and postures are what most people today recognize as Yoga.   The picture of the svelte, cool looking model twisted into a pretzel-like form while remaining beautifully relaxed is what causes a lot of people to fear yoga practice.  I cannot count how many times I have heard (and even said myself) “I can’t do yoga I’m not flexible enough!”, “Doesn’t yoga cause injuries?”, “Aren’t they all vegetarian?”, “I can’t quiet my thoughts with that relaxation thing at the end.”   These fears and assumptions keep many from returning to or just trying yoga.   Perception:

yoga-emergency  Me 🙂   The instructor – kathryn budig

The word YOGA basically means union.   We yogis like to think of it as a connection of physical body, mind and spirit.   Don’t let that scare you either!  It usually occurs without much notice.  The positive side effects of a regular yoga practice are stress relief, increased body awareness, calmness, and greater relaxation.  At first, a yoga class may seem like a new frontier.  There will be mats, blocks, and straps oh my!  Strange Sanskrit words may be used.  Don’t worry, this varies from class to class just as the students do.  There will be the bliss ninny’s, the yoga overachiever, the vegans, regular people and other newbies.  Instructors and teaching styles vary widely.   Keep trying different classes and instructors until  you find one you connect with.

So what are these Asanas and where did they come from?  have things changed in them that much since people began practicing them?  Asana means to “sit down in a state of being”.   The original thought from Patanjali suggests that asana is “to be seated in a position that is firm but relaxed.”  Patanjali who wrote the Yoga Sutras and other ancients who wrote yogic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita refer to mostly seated meditation postures.  T. Krishnamacharya is likely the source for what we see as yoga asana today.  He taught B.K.S Iyengar and K. Patthbi Jois.  These men had various influences for the asana postures we see today and even their yoga practice when viewed on old YouTube videos seems “heavier” than the dance-like fluid movements we see today.  The evolution of yoga asana practiced as largely seated postures to today’s modern asana has taken place over the past 200 years.   The philosophy and practice of yoga however,is much older.

While asana is practiced widely and in a variety of ways we see it continuing to transform, grow and evolve.  These changes in asana are a clear example of the dynamic changes that we are to embrace in life as well.  It is quite ironic that the practice of yoga teaches detachment from outcome, and transformation in life and has also become the same, fluid and transforming.  Yoga asana meets you where you are – seated, standing or just breathing.  Your pace, your practice, and remember to BREATHE.

Namaste’

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Yoga’s Eight limbs – Part Three – The Niyamas

“At it’s core Chaos Theory reveals that much of the mystery that surround us is actually order masquerading as randomness.”  ~ Jeremy Gutsche

Niyamas are five practices that offer insight into relationships to the world around us.  In Chaos Theory, which is relatively new, scientists have begun to understand at a greater level the interconnectedness of all.  From our cellular level to the environmental and even universal level.  The Niyamas give us insight into how our behavior in the world not only affects us personally, but also others around us.

Purity (Saucha) – This Niyama addresses not just outward purity as some would suggest, but purity of intention or thought.  The action begins in our heart with the thought – is the thought from a place of compassion or selfishness?

Contentment (Samtosha) – Contentment is always a difficult practice in today’s world.  It really has nothing at all to do with external circumstances but being happy with what is given to you THIS day, in this moment.  When we practice this it is Samtosha.

Ardour (Ishvara-Pranidhana) – Surrender to God.  This is yoga in action.  At times in Asana or poses we must surrender in order to fully come into the pose.  This is why yoga becomes an internal as well as external practice.  Surrendering to the pose requires first surrendering internally to where you are at this moment.  Realize that surrender isn’t weakness it is great strength.  You acknowledge that there is a greater power at work within and without.

Discipline ( Tapas) – The traditional interpretation of this word is fiery discipline.  Most people associate difficulty with discipline.  Some believe that because something is difficult it leads to transformation.  That is not always the case.  Just because you grit your teeth and hold a difficult pose a few more breaths does not make you disciplined.  This appeals more to the ego.  Tapas isn’t about that one moment when you can outlast a difficult situation.  The practice of fiery discipline is a daily committment to being consistent whether that is getting on your yoga mat daily, or working consistently through difficulties in life.

And finally study of self ( Svadhyaya) – actively studying or meditating on the nature of self.  This is not done from a standpoint of egotism but from the acknowledgement that we are all interconnected.  It is practicing the ability to see God in the person in front of us, in the nature around us, and in ourselves.

The challenge of the Niyamas is to look beyond ego deeper into ourselves until we see the interrelatedness of all.  When we practice the Niyamas we appreciate with compassion and love ourselves, and all around us.  Quite a challenge at times for us, but through the daily Tapas we can succeed in a greater and deeper understanding of all.

Namaste’

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Yoga – Yamas continued

“Learning to love your life is about first learning to forgive yourself, learning to love yourself  – then also extending those same virtues of compassion to others.”  ~ Cyndi Rose

Most people come to yoga as a form of physical exercise for well-being, to increase strength and flexibility, or general health reasons.  However, Patanjali begins the Sutras with first learning the Yamas and Niyamas.  At their core these are the “do’s” and “dont’s” of yoga kind of like the ten commandments.  Most yoga today lacks these basic teachings for beginners.

I recently watched the documentary “Enlighten Up” (which I would highly recommend).  It is about a young man who knows nothing about yoga and is asked to undertake a learning quest or journey in the hopes to find enlightenment or understanding of yoga.  The gal doing the documentary actually does this with a selfish purpose in mind – she has been doing yoga for years and wonders about coming to enlightenment or having an epiphany.  One of the quotes that stuck with me from this was from B.K.S. Iyengar, he said “I was a sickly child and started doing yoga for health.”  When asked about gaining understanding of yoga philosophy or attaining enlightenment through yoga, he stated  ” I told you it took me six years to gain health.  When health is not there how can you think of philosophy?”  So true.  Yoga for health is a good thing and not everyone wonders about the deeper aspects and that is okay.

We went through the first three Yamas last week, lets explore the last two.

Brahmacharya (continence, involving self-restraint and moderation in all you do)  – no excess or gratuitous flippant behavior.  Older scholars say this deals with sexual abstinence or celibacy of the yogi.  I feel that is possible and attainable for some chosen few, however not for everyone.  I believe that it deals with any behavior that is without moderation.   I have heard it said people can abuse anything drugs, books, other people, clothing, alcohol, cars, whatever it is excess ruins.  In some cases being abstinent is the best thing for that person, however, I believe that should be on a case-by-case basis and sometimes is even a personal choice.

Aparigraha (non-coveting, including no envy, jealousy or unhealthy competitiveness).   Be yourself and believe in yourself – there is none like you in the world!  There is a unique niche you fill in this universe.  Stop comparing yourself to the success of others and measuring your weight, your wealth, or your worth!  The only competition should be challenging yourself to be the greatest “YOU” that is possible.  Envying or competing with other people in unhealthy ways will only lead you to distress, disharmony, and dissatisfaction.  It is also the greatest and worst distraction from ourselves and who we should be.  I cannot be successful or happy as anyone else but ME!  Everyone else is already taken.

How will these last two yamas challenge our thoughts, our actions and our days this coming week?  Which of the five yamas do you find the most challenging? does that fluctuate?

Namaste’

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The eight limbs of Yoga ~ PART I

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
―    Patanjali

Over the course of the next month I am going to be studying and writing about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Today is part one beginning with the eight limbs.  While I am no expert and am not using original text (I do not read Sanskrit) I have some valuable resource material that will hopefully help me to do this endeavor justice.

The eight limbs are:

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

The Yamas are about our behavior and interactions with others and our world.  The first is Ahimsa or nonviolence.  In my opinion this is more about showing love.  This takes a brave, strong person.  It is difficult not to lash out in anger at people or hold a grudge.  Ahimsa is the ultimate act of forgiveness.  It is to forgive those who may transgress against us and return love instead of hatred, anger, or harsh language.

The second Yama is Satya or truthfulness.  Honesty starts with  yourself.  Be honest about where you are, what you want, but not so honest that it causes Ahimsa or harm to another (this includes self-harm).  No beating yourself up or others.  Truth is truth, not judging it as good or bad, just true.

The third Yama is Asteya or nonstealing.  This should be an obvious one but many people will overlook it.  It is about being content with what comes to us by honest means.  This includes not making excuses for “little” things, such as “This person has so much they won’t miss it” or “they don’t need it”.  It is stealing which stems from the desire of that which you do not possess.

These three should get our thought processes started.  How will you apply these Yamas over the coming days?  What opportunities will be presented?  Be present and mindful in each moment.  Namaste’

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Practice makes Perfect

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”  Anton Chekhov

New Year’s Resolutions?  I still do them each year and you know what?  I have had years of practice!  I succeed with some while I fail at others.  Success is still there and happiness is not just based in success but enjoyment of the journey.  Lessons and growth are gained from each experience.  Testing knowledge we gain should be verified in practice.  I have heard it said from many great athletes, or anyone who may excel in music, the arts, industry, that what sets them apart is not their talent or natural abilities, but the practice of their sport/art/business.

Don’t just camp on the fact that you know something ACT on it, verify that it is truth.  We all know that we should eat good food, exercise, and take care of ourselves – the knowledge is there—- it is the action or choices we make that are the difference.  The practice – there lies the golden nugget.  We are what we repeatedly do/practice.  Life is amazing that way.

So onward into the new year.  My resolutions this year really encompass all the goals we could list – to be mindful of the moments of each day I am blessed with, present in the choices I make, and compassionate first to myself then to others, practicing non-judgment (focus on what you want rather than what you want to avoid).

A little acronym to help along:

R – Resist the inclination to judge or compare yourself to others at every turn (acknowledge your thoughts but don’t let your ego defeat you – this brings misery and unhappiness)
E – Enjoy the present moment (nothing wrong with planning for the future or remembering the past, but this moment is the only one like it you will ever have or experience – be present)
S – Savor the food you eat (good eating choices is paramount to good health – being healthy and at a healthy weight are probably 80% what you eat – so beating yourself up with hours of cardio won’t make up for that whole pizza you just ate)
O – Own the choices you make (be conscious of the choices you make daily – they will follow you into tomorrow)
L – Love others (loving others doesn’t mean being a doormat – Love is an action word:  When possible show love by random acts of kindness to those close to us and even complete strangers)
V – Victoriously go forward each day – think positive thoughts (intend to have a positive daily experience – don’t let circumstances or outside influences rob you of your joy)
E – Everyday you wake up be grateful – there is always much to be grateful for (there is so much in life we take for granted, I am ever humbled by this)

And to be perfect?  You already are.  You are already PERFECTLY YOU – no other like you in the entire universe.  So practice being perfectly yourself!  The most excellent YOU will shine through.

Namaste’

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Darkness and Light

Isaiah 42:16
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Recent events have assaulted our very psyche as a whole.  How and why are questions being asked.  Answers are all too elusive when senseless acts of evil are abundant.  Understanding that evil is the absence of light is the beginning.  How do we defeat a negative? an emptiness? a void?  Defeat darkness with light.  Do not be ruled by fear.  Have a compassionate heart.  Do not let tyrants or evildoers dictate your lives.  Light displaces the darkness, evil against evil only perpetrates the darkness.  Do not look for reason where there is none – tragedy strikes and it is not answerable to our understanding even though we would like it to be.  Just because we recognize that evil is the absence of light doesn’t mean we become passive and look the other way when evil is done.  Be the light, the compassionate heart that displaces the darkness.  Do not give precedence or attention to those who perform heinous deeds to elicit fame, or fear.  Pray for them and their families.  Do not glorfiy evil acts; rather spend time helping and praying for the healing of your family and friends and those suffering with pain, loss, confusion, and fear.  We can’t give a hug, a smile, or comfort to everyone in the world but we can do this with those around us….and it does make a difference!

“Give light, and the darkness will dissappear of itself” ~ Desiderius Erasmus

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Fit

“Fitting in is not belonging. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.  When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.” ~ Brene Brown

It’s always this time of year that my favorite pair of jeans seems to start feeling “tight”, I am tired and trying to stay warm most of the time.  The few days of warmth and sunshine scattered about are like precious drops of an elusive elixir of life that never seems to be enough.  There is an abundance of high calorie, sugary, and fatty food around everywhere because of the holidays.  I’ve heard that we have this primal need to put on weight before the dark nights of winter are upon us.  Some type of primitive brain tells our bodies that “hey the food is going to be scarce soon so you’d better eat up and pack it on”  – but that primitive brain didn’t know about McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, buffets, and such.

Also due to the darkness being longer and less daylight I feel less inclined to exercise. I don’t like cold and don’t prefer to be out in it walking, even though I know its good for me.  I also seem to find excuses to not go to the gym or fitness classes.  Tiredness, fullness, and sluggishness set in – it’s winter!

Fitting into my jeans and staying fit has become a priority of late.  I am determined to make conscious choices rather than follow the herd and graze on the cookies, pies, breads and stuffing.   Similarly, I don’t have to follow the herd to “fit in” to any groups or with specific people.  I (and you) have the freedom to be yourself and be loved just as you are by friends, family, and coworkers.  Trying to fit into my tight jeans can be a struggle and uncomfortable.  The same is true for trying to fit myself into a group or with a specific person – it will make me uncomfortable.  The fitting in also squashes the real you and sometimes if you pack it down enough you lose yourself, and it is a long journey back.  It is in realizing that you deserve to be and will be loved and/or liked based on who you really are that is quite freeing.

F – Friends/Food – choose well your friends and what you will put into your body for nourishment.  Don’t think of it as denying yourself some precious commodity, but rather taking good care of you.

I – Intention – pay attention (thought) and make it your intention (action) to love people anyway, and love yourself.  Those who are meant to be in your life will stay and love you.  Also you can be sure that what you eat will accumulate in your cells, and either feed you or weigh you down.

T – Take – Take only what you need to nourish your body and soul.  Food is for us to live, so eat to live don’t live to eat.  Friends and family are there for us to help us grow, trust, and love – don’t take them for granted or misuse them.

So in the end it’s not about trying to fit into my jeans, it’s about feeling like I belong in them.  Sending all of you the love and light that is needed for today – Namaste’

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