Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why I Practice Yoga

Just the other day, my friend, who's never really been interested in yoga asked me to explain why. "Of all the different activities out there, Mandy, why yoga?!" A little caught off guard, I fumbled around for a bit, explaining the post-savasana "yoga high", the camaraderie in a class setting, the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment after holding a handstand, etc. Then, I just stopped. I took a big breath in and caught my bearings. The reason I practice yoga was all around me. It was the green juice I was holding in my hand - saucha. It was the peace in my heart knowing that even though not every day was perfect, I knew I was on the right path - santosha. It was the idea that the poses we practice help cultivate a strong body, but all the other "limbs" of yoga help cultivate a clear mind and peaceful heart. 

The practice of cultivating a well-rounded self is, for me, what makes yoga a lifestyle. More than just the poses, it's a way to survive and eventually thrive in a disjointed, unbalanced world. 

Every year, yoga attracts millions of new practitioners. Most of them come initially for the physical benefits and many stay practicing for the mental, emotional and spiritual breakthroughs that take place on their mats. For those newer to yoga, I put together this brief introduction to yoga - outlining the first 2 of the "8 Limbs of Yoga" which are essentially guides to living your best life. You'll notice that these guidelines, even though written many, many centuries ago still have relevance today. I invite you to embrace some of these ancient teachings and look at your yoga practice as more than just postures your body can perform, more of a lifestyle you can experience every day, in every minute! Thank you for reading!

The word yoga translated from ancient Sanskrit, literally means to create a union. The goal of yoga practice is to create a union between one's body and one's breath, on a individual level. On a more universal level, the goal of yoga practice is to create a union between one's self and the divine, in search of bliss. Through pranayama (breath control) and asana (practicing postures), yoga helps us calm the instability of our minds, allowing us to  become more present and find awareness in our daily lives. Over time, yoga gives us the tools to reunite with our souls and become better versions of ourselves.

When you are disconnected from your soul, you are not able to be fully present, getting lost in your ego, unable to witness the everyday miracles around us. Yoga continually shows us the beauty of waking up and staying present through poses that teach us to be more flexible, courageous, humble, balanced, grounded, centered....and most importantly, how to exhale out all the "bad" and inhale in all the "good" that life has to offer.

The essence of yoga can be found in Hindu scriptures called the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali in the 2nd Century BC. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined the 8 Limbs of Yoga through which one can eventually achieve complete bliss, or samadhi.

Throughout my journey with yoga, I have come to believe that by incorporating the principles of the
 Yamas and Niyamas in little ways each day, we can begin our path towards achieving bliss and finding internal peace in this high-pressure, unsettled world.

The first limb of Yoga, the Yamas, teach yogis how to treat others:

Ahimsa: non-violence, inflicting no harm on yourself or others through thoughts, words or actions.
Satya: truthfulness in word and in thought. Think about what you say before you say it...Is it true? Is it kind? If not, you probably shouldn't say it.
Asteya: non-stealing. Eliminate greed from your life by not desiring that which you do not have. Find beauty, contentment and gratitude in what is already your own.
Brahmacharya: practice moderation in all that you do. This can apply to eating, drinking, sexual activity, shopping, exercise, even how often you practice yoga. Are you living a balanced, moderate life?
Aparigraha: non-attachment. Escape the need to accumulate. Find ways to let go of material things and negative thoughts that clutter your mind. Exhale and Just let it go.....

The second limb, the
 Niyamas, teach yogis how to treat themselves:

Saucha: purity or cleanliness of your diet, your home, your thoughts, your life...
Santosha: finding contentment in your journey, being satisfied in your place in life, knowing that wherever you are at right now is exactly where you are supposed to be.
Tapas: cultivating a fire of self-discipline; cultivating strength in the body, controlling the monkey mind.
Svadhyaya: study of sacred writings and study of yourself through reflection and self-analysis.
Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to the Divine, something greater than yourself.

The final Niyama, Ishvara Prandihana is a difficult one to wrap your mind around, but one of my favorite yoga teachers, Shiva Rea, does a great job explaining it in this piece she wrote for Yoga Journal.

“...to many modern Westerners, the idea of surrender as a virtue may seem strange. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we’ve confronted seemingly insurmountable problems or in some other way hit the edge of our individual will and abilities. But in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali transforms "surrender" from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice.

For Patanjali, Ishvara pranidhana is a potent method for dissolving the endless agitations of the mind, and thus a means to the ultimate unified state of yoga: samadhi. Why? Because Ishvara pranidhana shifts our perspective from the obsession with "I"—with our narrow individual concerns and perspective—that causes so much of the mind's distraction and creates a sense of separation from our Source. Since Ishvara pranidhana focuses not on ego but on the sacred ground of being, it reunites us with our true Self.

Like the descent through layers of tension to rest in the release of Savasana (Corpse Pose), Ishvara pranidhana provides a pathway through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature—grace, peace, unconditional love, clarity, and freedom.”

One of the few times I've felt complete bliss - on our honeymoon in peaceful Koh Chang, Thailand, 2011.

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