There is a lot of “yoga” out there right now. A boom has occurred and every gym, fitness spot, grassy area, and beach is now offering “yoga.” There are live streams, videos, Youtube channels, memberships, subscriptions and more. Learn to differentiate between those that are Yoga and the rest.
What Is Yoga?
There are 8 specific aspects to the practice of Yoga. When all are included, you are practicing Yoga.
1) Yama: Restraint/Direction/Control
2) Niyama: Observation/Self Control
3) Pranayama: Directed Breathing
4) Asana: Intentional Movement
5) Pratyahara: Sense Withdrawal
6) Dharana: Focused Concentration
7) Dhyana: Meditation
8) Samadhi: Integration
To explain each of these in depth is a much deeper conversation. For those of you seeking a deeper understanding or wishing to learn more about the history and philosophies of Yoga, begin by joining a class. A high quality teacher will incorporate these terms and explain them as they apply to what happens on and off of your mat.
Technique is Important
Asana (Yoga poses) change the way we move. The technique behind each position is important because it forces us to think and focus upon the way in which we are habitually using our bodies. Your teacher should be cueing postures in very specific ways in order to encourage you to redirect your attention and consider your habits. The value lies in understanding how to execute the postures well. Once you have developed this skill, then you can begin to move more quickly and gracefully through them.
Did you know that Yoga has influenced most of the major spiritual practices in the world? Ancient Indians were seeking answers. They wanted to know why the world is the way it is. They were studying the stars, the Earth and human nature. During class you should be learning about the philosophies and history of Yoga as well as how to integrate the practices into your life. Learning about the history of Yoga and the various practices that stemmed from it will help you to develop a deeper understanding and discernment among the various styles that have branched from the roots of the practice.
Yoga is something that we do all of the time. It happens on your mat, in the lobby, in your car and as you travel through the world. Your teacher should be giving you homework. As they teach, they should be offering focus points and concepts to consider. After you complete your mat practice (Asana) you may feel calm, steady and at ease. In your mind, though, there should be something that you carry out with you. Something that you consider beyond the mat. You should feel as though you are ready to make a tiny change or shift in your life that might just make things better. If you leave sweaty, tired and feeling like you got a work out, then you did, but it wasn’t Yoga.
One of my favorite quotes is "Yoga is not just a work-out, it's a work-in."
Something amazing happens when you begin working on something new. Whether it's skiing, playing piano, painting or Yoga; you can feel that rush that comes as you begin to develop the skills necessary to accomplish the activity. In yoga, we refer to this as Tapas. It's zeal, energy, the desire to continue.
Hatha Yoga begins as a practice with physical focus. We learn to direct the movement of our bodies, breath, internal functions and Prana through effort.
Fitness activities such as HIIT, running, Crossfit, cycling, acrobatics, etc. can help us to develop strength, mobility and physical ability. They do not qualify as Yoga practices, but do align with the idea behind Asana (postures). The more we move our bodies, the better we understand them and more control we have over them.
Beyond these work outs are the practices of Yoga that encourage wellness within. Pranayama (intentional breathing techniques), Satkarma (purifying techniques) and Bandha (pranic movement) are just a few of the practices that cleanse the physical body.
Combining the techniques of physical fitness (work outs) and Hatha Yoga can bring about general physical health and wellness.
As we keep working, practicing, and learning more, Tapas can begin to fade. Our workouts become less enjoyable, the task becomes more challenging. Our interest decreases or we become bored with the repetition. When this happens, we can become frustrated because it doesn’t feel as exciting as it did when we first began. We want to be better, to feel what we felt. We want to access what we had before or quickly become adept at something new. The challenge becomes greater and the work more difficult. This is the point in our practice when it's time to return to Svadhyaya or self-study.
Refect upon where you began and how you used to feel. Consider that which has changed about your physical body. What feels different? What do you wish to continue to change? In doing so, you begin shifting your practice from simply being about the workout and, now, being about working-in.
Stick With It
Yoga can be tricky. It offers us great gains, growth, and wellness. Each of us has the ability to maintain and move forward on our paths. However, as these tangible, physical rewards seem to decrease, the challenges begin. We must learn to honor our limitations, push ourselves further and work-in.
Be an observer of your self. Notice the subtle changes in your appearance, wellness, thoughts and general outlook on life. Stick with the practice and you will soon be practicing Yoga everywhere. As you do so, you will continue to reveal your Self.
"You don't get what you don't ask for."
"Ask and ye shall receive."
"You can't always get what you want."
We've heard these sayings a million times but, how often do we consider these themes when it comes to our own lives? More often than not I find myself either accepting that which is available or acting as the skeptic and analyzing everything. Why not just ask? Ask for what you want.
Yoga has become a world-wide commercialized activity. People are making millions selling Yoga. Do they really know what they are selling? Do you really know what you are buying? Why not take the time to search your self for knowledge and to dig it out of your teacher? Believe me, I don't have all of the answers. Together, however, we may be able to shed some light into the darkness of our knowledge of Yoga.
Don't ever be afraid to ask your teacher when a question arises during your practice. It's the best way to evaluate if you really are getting "half of what you want and half of what you need" (Amy Pearce-Hayden).