What is Yoga?
Today is which is a good date to start Yoga and improving your health, happiness and greater sense of Self ... Yoga is an ancient Indian practice, dating back to 2500 BCE, possibly even earlier. It is a scientific system designed to bring the practitioners health, happiness, and a greater sense of Self.
In Yoga, the body and mind are linked to create a state of internal peacefulness and integration, bringing the individual from a state of separation to a self-unity that is flexible, accepting and whole. At the practical level, and included in the contemporary definitions of Yoga, are the actual physiological/mental techniques themselves. These techniques concentrate on posture and alignment, as well as creating a higher consciousness.
Yoga utilizes stretching postures, breathing, and meditation techniques to calm the emotional state and the mind, and tone the body.
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THE PRACTICE OF YOGA
Yoga is much more than a physical practice. Through the practice of yoga we learn to connect the body, fluctuations of the mind, and the rhythm of the breath. Connecting the mind, body and breath helps us to focus inward and become aware of habitual thought patterns without judgment. We become more attuned to our moment to moment experiences.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
Ashtanga Yoga comes from the teachings and philosophy of Patanjali. It is thought that Patanjali complied the Yoga Sutra's around the 3rd or 4th century BC. The Yoga Sutra's contain 196 surtas and serve as a guidebook on the practice of yoga.
The eight principles found in the Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali serve as a doctrine to yoga as well as a moral and ethical guidebook to living a meaningful life. These guidelines do not imply that anyone is bad or wrong based on behavior, but rather that when we choose a specific behavior we get certain results. The Yoga Sutras serve as a manual for attaining mental and personal freedom and Samadhi. In Samadhi all mental fluctuations are inhibited and one is in a meditative concentration leading to an experience of oneness and peace.
The first limb of Ashtanga yoga, Yama, looks at ethical standards of how we live our lives. Yamas are restraints that we place on our self, a essential self-discipline to propel us towards the actualization of our dharma or life's purpose. The yamas are broken into five practices of conduct.
The first yama, Ahimsa, is non-violence. Ahimsa refers to living in such a way that causes as little harm as possible, this applies not only to physical violence but also to the violence of thoughts, words or actions. To practice Ahimsa is to be conscious of our thoughts and intentions in our daily interactions.
The second yama, Satya or truth is about slowing down our speech and carefully choosing our words so that they agree with the first yama, ahimsa. It's only when we have intended to act from non-violence can our words reflect truth or satya.
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The third yama, Asteya, or non-stealing, in the obvious sense is interpreted as not taking things from another without permission. In a less obvious sense Asteya refers to taking only what you need, and avoiding greed. Greed can stem from a feeling that we are lacking. When we internalize that we have everything we need in this moment can be really practice Asteya.
The fourth yama Brahmacharya, has to do with sexual conduct. When we practice Brahmacharya, the intentions of our sexuality are spiritual and conscious. Our sexuality supports our inner selves rather than deplete us.
Aparigraha, the fifth yama tells us to avoid greed. Aparigraha is different from Asteya, that reminds us to avoid stealing that is motivated by a greed steaming from a sense that we are lacking. Aparigraha is greed that steams from jealously. Jealously means that we are resentfully or painfully desirous of another's advantages. We become resentful of and long for what another has. Aparigraha helps us discover our self, so that we no longer feel the need to desire what someone else has, or be what someone else is.
The second limb of Patanjali's Ashtanga yoga is Niyama. The Sanskrit word Niyama translates as observance and are rules of conduct that apply to individual and self-discipline. It is through the study of yamas that we learn restraint and what actions to avoid. It is through the study of the niyamas that we learn to cultivate the attitudes and behaviors that contribute to eliminating personal suffering.
Santosha is the practice of contentment. Embracing contentment means accepting each and every experience as it is without attempting to change it. To attain peace of mind is to find contentment within, as our external environment is constantly changing beyond our control. Through the practice of yoga we learn to cultivate Santosha. We learn to become content and at ease in the midst of difficulty.
Tapas or austerity comes from the Sanskrit word tap which means to burn. Tapas means burning the impurities from the mental and physical through self-discipline. Self-discipline, study of true-self and devotion are yoga in practice. Tapas is consistency in the practice of the eight-fold path. Through Tapas we learn to develop consistency in all our goals.
Svadyaya or self-study is being aware of our thoughts, words and inner-dialogue. To practice svadyaya we begin to rid ourselves of the illusion of separation from our true self, from others and the world around us. We practice self-inquiry and also study of the sacred texts of the world such as the Yoga Sutras and sacred literature of the world.
Ishvara-Pranidhana is about humbling one's self and surrendering the fruits of one's action to a higher good. To practice ishvara-pranidhana is to act with our best intentions and commitment and to let go of our attachment to a practical outcome. To really live presently is to let go of our expectation of what should be.
The third and most well-known limb of Ashtanga yoga is Asana or the physical postures of yoga. Asanas should be practiced mindfully connecting movement with breath while observing the mind. Through the practice of asana develops discipline, concentration and awareness of the body. The physical practice of yoga not only gives us a strong body but frees us from physical aliments and mental distractions.
Pranayama, the fourth limb, is breath control, and is different than normal breathing. Prana means "breath" and yama means "pause". During pranayama three processes are regulated, exhalation (rechaka), suspension (kumbhaka), and inhalation (puraka) to establish control over the nervous system and mind. Pranayama techniques range from the simple to the advanced. Pranayama will play an important role in your yoga practice and can restore energy and relax the mind and body.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, focuses on withdrawal of the senses. During pratyahara we consciously bring our awareness away form the external world and direct attention inwardly. When focusing consciousness inward we can objectively observe our habits and thoughts.
The sixth limb, Dharana is the ability to focus the mind's attention on one thing. Dharana allows us to slow down thinking and is often taught by focusing one's attention on a mantra, silent repetition of sound, an idea or image. We learn to extend the length of concentration eventually leading to the next limb of Dhyana (meditation).
The seventh limb, Dhyana, is the practice of meditation. Learning to meditate is a technique that allows for control of one's mind leading to a feeling of inner calm.
Samadhi, a state of meditative union with the Absolute and self-realization, is the eight limb of ashtanga yoga. Patanjali refers to the final stage as one of ecstasy. When the mediator engages with the object of meditation, the mediator is no longer conscious of herself, because the mind is totally engaged and identified with the object of meditation; the knower, the known, and the knowledge become one. The mediator experiences a deep sense of connectedness with all living things and a sense of being at one with the universe. The final practice is one when we sit in a place of pure peace.
"Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it." (Dennis P. Kimbro) quis, condimentum id, vol