What can practicing yoga teach us?
Most people I know who have ever practiced yoga came to their first class to enquire into the physical side of the practice. To exercise, maybe improve strength, flexibility and to practice the poses.
I personally started practicing yoga, in my early 20's as a way to move my body, try an exercise which I enjoyed and try something new. It wasn't long into my own journey with the practice before I started to notice the benefits of yoga on my mental health and the way I felt within myself after a class. I tried lots of different classes, different teachers and started to realise that whatever I was practicing in my classes, I was slowly bringing techniques into different areas of my life. I was using my breath more consciously - if stressed I took time to follow my breath calming my mind. If I couldn't sleep I would also turn to the breath, utilising different pranayama practices I had learnt. Mindfulness and meditation just crept into daily life for me just being able to check in on myself.
It's not about DOING yoga, it's about BEING yoga
Yoga is for everyone, it's for every body type, all you have to do is settle the mind, bring awareness inwards, become away of your breath, noticing your breath, connect to the physical body by intuitively moving where the body wants to move, noticing sensations, tightness, tension. This is all yoga and yoga is available to us all.
I am not saying that challenging physical yoga isn't yoga. Of course, we can choose to practice a physical heat building asana session, we can calm the busy mind through building heat and strength throughout the body, turning towards the breath to support us in a more moving meditative practice. But we also need to remember that when you step off your mat an into the rest of your day and week, your yoga is still a part of you.
Yoga can teach us so much about ourselves if we are willing to listen, to become the observer of ourselves, welcoming everything in without judgement, or resistance in order to learn more bout our own authentic selves.
Throughout my practice journey I learnt to apply the benefits of my yoga practice into my life - through challenges, my physical health, mental health, set backs, achievements, highs and lows. My yoga supports me, it grounds me, comforts me, empowers me and is a place where I can find refuge. I have made my own personal growth by learning to look inwards for the answers. Asking myself why I'm not happy because of something which has happened, reminding myself of my own truth, what's important to me, what success looks like to my (rather than listening to social pressures) not trying to find happiness and success outside of myself but listening to what's right for me. Everything I need is within me and I try to remember that every day.
I genuinely feel connected to how I feel physically and mentally from day to day. No filter, no denial or brushing things under the carpet. This has all be realised from connecting to the heart of my practice and what yoga really means to me.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
In reference to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is an ancient text from the Vedic period (over 4000 years ago) There is written this description of the eight Limbs of Yoga and what they are:
Yamas - The Laws of life.
The first Limb, sums up the qualities displayed by the sages. There are 5 laws which are universal and aren’t affected by time, place, birth, or circumstance;
Ahimsa - nonviolence
(within our practice we can move with kindness to ourselves, off the mat, we can be kind and compassionate to others)
Satya - truthfulness
(knowing your ow truth on and off the mat, in you physical practice and in your life, you career, your one life, relationships and friendships)
Asteya - integrity
(Standing up for what you believe in and staying true to your beliefs)
Brahmacharya - chastity
(This meaning can be translated into a sense of refraining, holding back, sustaining your energy and not depleting yourself)
Aparigraha – nonattachment
(In your practice losing any sense of attachment to a specific shape, try to move where feels best not what you think ti should look like. Off the mat, trying to not be too attached to finding happiness outside of yourself, through personal items or materialistic things)
Niyamas - The rules for Living.
Niyama applies these general principles to the individual’s life, discribing the qualities that grow with the practice of yoga. There are 5 laws for living;
Shaucha – cleanliness, simplicity
(I try to live a simple life with as less complications and stresses as I can)
Santosha – contentment/ satisfaction
(being content with yourself, with what you have. practicing gratitude helps me to connect to feeling satisfied)
Tapas – purification
(tapas can be translated to heat and bring off I purities, so maybe a hot, fiery yoga class, a physical work out, going for a run)
Svadhyana – self study/ refinement
(journalling is a great way to observe your patterns and behaviours)
Ishvarapranidhana - surrender to the divine
(I think of this as faith, whatever that might be to you)
Asana – Posture.
Physical exercises that strengthen and rejuvenate the body - releasing and freeing energy blocked at points of stress in the system. The physical postures should be steady and comfortable. They are mastered when all effort is relaxed and the mind is settled.
I have lots of physical practices on my YOUTUBE, please feel free to try any of them.
Pranayama - Breathing exercises.
Drawing in life, energy (prāna). Life energy is increased by the prolonged inhale and exhale or the breath. As the nervous system relaxes, this flow of energy increases.
If you want to try some calming and focusing breathing techniques in your own space, you can try this 15 minute Breathwork Exercises video where I cover some of my favourite pranayama styles.
Pratyahara - Withdrawal of senses.
Drawing our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. As the mind begins to settle, the attention moves inwards – no longer distracted by the outside world. The practice or Pratyahara allows us to observe ourselves, listen in to our needs and wants, we can look at our behaviours and to focus back inwards.
Dharana – Steadiness of mind/ Focusing of the attention.
A directed type of awareness. Dharana means “holding” (the focusing of attention on an object). The longer the mind can stay effortlessly focused, the more powerful it becomes. I like to think of this as practicing mindfulness, being completely engaged and focused on what you are doing.
Dhyana – Meditation.
Meditation is the process of slowing down the mind’s activity while some awareness is maintained. Regular meditation leads to greater depth of inner silence. If you want to try a meditation session with me you can try this free Body Scan.
Samadhi - The Settled mind.
Total Samadhi is the result of the other seven Limbs being fully developed. I like to translate this to simply peace. Something which we are all looking for within our busy lives.
Yoga as a physical practice and how we can find more than just poses
The practice of yoga is about more than just movement and making shapes. Movement can be a release of energy, a way to express yourself and connect to your physical body, we can shift through our emotions with movement.
However, it can be very easy for us to come to an asana class, move through the movements, not really engaging on an emotional or a spiritual level. Instead of allowing this to be the case, we can try to allow ourselves to feel and connect into what works for us. Not just trying to hold a specific pose or find a shape but delving further than our physical state and what our body needs that a day in that practice.
We can challenge ourselves physically and mentally by drawing ourselves out of our comfort zone, maybe learning balance poses or strengthening poses. We can build confidence and strengthen our focus, our sense of intuition and interoception (signals from within the body).
I try to encompass all of the principles of yoga within my own life and when I teach yoga, this is something that I am still working on and will always be working on because I am constantly evolving and growing as a person. I am just so grateful to have found this connection to something that allows me to feel a part of something so much bigger.
If you want to delve deeper into your own practice, I hold 1-2-1 sessions online and in my home studio which can be hugely beneficial in working with specific practice for your individual needs and interests.
I also run regular group online class, all levels and all bodies are welcome.
Please feel free to get in touch, if you would like to book a session you can send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.