What is yoga?
Most of us, when we hear yoga, think of physical postures and movement, exercise if you will. However, asana (physical postures) is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is a system, a science, a lifestyle. Practice and application of yogic principles lead us to freedom, liberation, and happiness. This is why Yoga and Ayurveda can be a great support to traditional or western therapies. Yoga and Ayurveda are very much steeped in Philosophy and psychology. Yoga and Ayurveda allow us to balance our life physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
These are the external ethical practices, There are five (ahimsa) non-violence, (Satya) truth, (asteya) not taking from others, (brahmacharya) non-excess, and (aparigraha) non-hoarding. These are like a personal GPS they tell us if we are going in the wrong direction and that we need to make a u-turn. Each one has tools we can practice and use with ourselves and others to help balance and support a happy life.
These are internal ethical practices they go a little deeper and are tools we can use every day to cultivate happiness and self-confidence. Five niyamas (saucha) purity, (santosha) contentment, (tapas) self-discipline, (svadhyaya) self-study and (ishvara pranidhana) self-surrender, surrendering to a higher power. Moving inward, this is where we start to really begin to reveal our true nature and observe and change non-serving habits.
This is our physical practice, the poses. When you drive to your local studio unroll your mat and practice with the community (sangha). Many poses are beneficial when treating ailments from belly aches to deep-seated trauma.
This is the regulation of breath, through many different breathing exercises that calm the nervous system. Working with the prana vayus and breathing exercises help to support healing. Regulation of the breath can cool you down, warm you up, wake you up, help you fall asleep, calm the mind, and everything in between.
Sense withdrawal, blocking out the external world. This is where we begin to focus on one single thing while the world is going crazy around us. Like being able to meditate staying calm and focused in the middle of Wegmans on a busy Saturday morning. Detaching from sensory experiences.
Concentration, this is where we begin to keep our attention on a single place, breath, mantra, flame, image, etc. The mind can still wander here so we bring is back to that single place
This is the meditative state, attention is so focused that outside noise and activity does not interfere with our concentration. The mind becomes clearer and interrupting thoughts and emotions fall away. "The quieter you become, the more you can hear" Baba Ram Dass.
Yoga is defined as mastering the roaming tendencies of the mind, Yoga Sutra 1.2. Samadhi is the ultimate goal, the final frontier, this is where we are so completely focused that our own sense of individuality vanishes (yeah, sit with that for a while). Non-attachment (vairagya)
Mental - Emotional Afflictions
Emotions or instincts that rise when our buttons are pushed, causing negative reactions are kleshas; all kleshas are fear-based. Kleshas cause us to suffer by producing negative thoughts and emotions. Three practices that can weaken these afflictions over time are (Tapas) self-discipline, practices causing positive change, (svadhyaya) self-study, self-observation, (Ishvara pranidhana) self-surrender, and humility with faith. As long as we are in the grip of the kleshas, we will inevitably experience one or more of the nine obsticals: disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, inability to withdraw from sense cravings [addiction], clinging to misunderstanding, inability to reach samadhi, inability to retain samadhi.
The Five Kleshas
Avidya - lack of awareness (ignorance). Avidya shows up in many areas of our life, relationships, our "stories", our prejudices, our desires, and fears. Avydia is when we mistake the impermanent for the permanent, impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-self for the true self.
Asmita - Distorted sense of self (egoism). "I AM"ness, having a distorted image of ourselves that does not match reality. It causes us to believe that our being is limited by things like our name, occupation, likes, and dislikes.
Raga - Clinging to past pleasure (attachment) When we have a pleasurable experience it is natural to want (desire) that experience again. You have formed an attachment to that experience. If the desire cannot be fulfilled, causing us pain or discomfort, then raga has manifested in us. This suffering (duhka) is happening because we are attached to a previously experienced pleasure. Ever go to your favorite restaurant and order your favorite meal only to find they changed the recipe.
Dvesa - Clinging to past suffering (aversion). When we experience pain or discomfort from an experience, we often avoid that situation, so it doesn't happen again. You walk into a bar/restaurant, and you see your ex (it didn't end well, for you.....); you do everything in your power to avoid that person, most likely leaving and never getting your favorite meal (they changed the recipe back).
Abhinivesa - Fear of death (loss). We naturally don't like change, especially when we don't know what's next. We experience pain and suffering when we realize that we lack the ability to control life. You are on a rough flight; chances are you are scared, freaking out, and suffering but really what can you do? At that point, you have no control over your fate.
Avidya is fear born of ignorance, and Asmita is the fear the ego has of losing decision-making power or things it has become attached to. Raga erupts when we are afraid we will not experience a certain pleasure again, dvesha manifests from being afraid we will endure a painful event again. Abhinivesa is the deepest fear of death.
By understanding and working with the kleshas in our own lives, we can begin to understand our habit patterns and use the tools we have from our yoga practice to change them. We can end the cycle of "I always do that" "Why is every relationship like this?", "The world is against me", Nobody understands me".......
Prana is the energy that coordinates our senses, our vital life force, prana provides the means to make the body move and the mind think. Prana divides itself into five prana vayus, these five vayus govern different areas of the body and different physical and subtle activities. When working harmoniously, they promote proper health and vitality of the body and mind, allowing us to live life with meaning and purpose.
Prana Vayu (little p)
Is situated in the head at the eyebrow center. It is forward momentum, governs intake, and inspiration. The flow of prana is inward and upward. Its energy pervades in the chest region, this is the fundamental energy that directs and feeds the other four vayus.
It is situated in the pelvic floor its energy pervades the lower abdomen and governs elimination. Movement is downward and outward. Nourishes the organs of digestion, reproduction and elimination.
It is situated in the heart and lungs it flows throughout the entire body, it governs circulation on all levels. This vayu moves from the center of the body out to the periphery and around.
It is situated in the throat and has a circular flow around the neck and head. It governs growth, speech, expression, and upward movement. This vayu promotes mental clarity.
It is situated in the abdomen, the energy is centered in the navel. It governs assimilation (physical and mental), discernment, and consolidation. It moves from the periphery of the body to the center.
Prana moves through the body via Nadis (channels, streams) every human has seventy-two thousand Nadis. There are seven sites in the body where all seventy-two thousand nadis intersect, those seven sites create a wheel of energy that make up the seven Chakras. Chakras don't "open" or "close" per se, the nadis (channels) get blocked not allowing the energy to flow through which creates an imbalance at that site.
This chakra governs safety, survival, grounding, and the right to live. Family, community, instinct are the key players here. Lack of trust, being overly dependent, and indecisive are signs of a blockage in this chakra.
This chakra governs emotions, creativity, and sexuality. Relationships, sensuality, movement, and flow are key players. Diminished sensuality, no motivation, and no connection to the world are signs of blockage in this chakra.
This chakra governs will, social self, and power. Transformation, self-esteem, and determination are the key players here. Lack of energy, insomnia, and eating disorders. A weakness here will hinder the development of all other chakras.
This chakra governs compassion, love, and integration. Healing, nurturing, devotion, and forgiveness are key players here. Loneliness, inappropriate behavior, and a hard time sharing thought and feelings are signs of blockage in this chakra.
This chakra governs personal truth and expression. Speaking one's truth, authenticity, harmony, and integration are key players here. Hard time expressing oneself, difficulty finding the right words, fear of asserting, or maintaining controversial opinions are signs of blockage in this chakra.
This chakra governs perception and intuition. Wisdom, imagination, self-realization, concentration, and focus are key players here. Lack of concentration, ADD, diminished clear thought and insight are signs of blockage in this chakra.
This chakra governs transcendence, wisdom, and universality. Clarity, purity, simplicity, and spirituality are key players here. No such thing as a blocked chakra here but a weakly developed crown can lead to feelings of being trapped in the material world and having a sense of emptiness. Feeling that something is missing.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras are made up of 196 sutras compiled by Patanjali before 400 CE. The sutras fell into obscurity for almost 700 years between the 12th and 19th centuries and came back in the 19th century.
The sutras are a guideline for your yoga practice, and how to practice. And by practice we don't mean nailing the perfect handstand; you won't find that information here. The first sutra (1.1) Now the teaching of yoga - Atha yoga anushasanam. Sutra 1.2 Yoga is mastering the roaming tendencies of the mind - Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah. Sutra 1.33 cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the unvirtuous, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness - maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.
Samadhi Pada One
Samadhi is the blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the one. Techniques the yogi must learn to dive into the depths of the mind are outlined here.
Sadhana Pada Two
Sadhana means practice or discipline here Patanjali outlines two forms of yoga; Kriya (action yoga) and Ashtanga (eightfold path)
Vibhuti Pada Three
Vibhuti is translated as power or manifestation. Yogi superpowers (if you will) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers should be avoided, and the attention should be fixed only on liberation.
Kaivalya Pada Four
Kaivalya means isolation but is used in the sutras it means liberation and is used interchangeably with Moksha, which is the goal of yoga; liberation. This pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.
The Bhagavad Gita
The song of God
The Bhagavad Gita is part of the Indian epic The Mahabhrata book six. The Gita introduces us to karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and transcendental knowledge. It is the book that teaches us non-attachment. The Gita is comprised of eighteen chapters and is a well-known Hindu text, and is a dialogue between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna. Arjuna is fighting on the side of dharma against Adharma (good vs. evil) but becomes despondent when he sees his enemies are cousins, uncles, teachers, and friends.
In the first chapter the opposing armies stand poised for battle, Arjuna in the middle of the battlefield sees relatives, teachers, and friends and is overcome by grief, his mind becomes cluttered and he gives up his will to fight. For the rest of the chapters, Krishna reminds Arjuna of his "duty" (his dharma) and teaches him the ways of non-attachment. We are all Arjuna to some extent, Our minds get clouded, and we create stories as to why we should or why we shouldn't do something. Not being able to treat situations with equanimity; your neighbor committed a crime and you think "he should be put away forever" but a family member or friend committed the same exact crime and you think "they should be let off, they didn't mean it". you are attached to your family member or friend and don't want to lose them, the crimes are the same the only difference is attachment.
Ch 2 vs. 48 Equanimity of the mind is yoga. Do everything centered in that equanimity. Renouncing all attachments, you'll enjoy an undisturbed mind in success or failure
The Gita is where some may begin to squirm but don't. In verses where Krishna is saying things like" see me wherever you look", and "worship me" he is speaking as the mouthpiece of the divine (God, or whatever your belief system/religion calls the all-pervading divine energy). He is not saying worship me, Krishna, he is saying worship the divine, again whatever that means to you. This is an excellent book to just pick up and begin reading whatever page it opened to. Jack Hawley wrote a great book "The Bhagavad Gita, a Walkthrough for Westerners". This is a great place to start if you are new to Indian texts, the Gita and yoga.