What is Yoga?
Far from being just another way to keep fit, yoga is an all encompassing physical, mental and spiritual journey. Furthermore, it is a journey that anyone can embark upon! There are many misconceptions surrounding this ancient practice, so let’s take a closer look. In doing so we will answer the question – ‘What is Yoga’. When you have the answers to this question, you will soon see how it can enhance all areas of your life!
Yoga is not intended to be an exclusive or immediate tool for weight loss, muscle growth or conventional fitness. It is a comprehensive practice that breaks down barriers. Yoga encourages everyone to release the ego in favour of a greater state of consciousness. It allows confidence to thrive in a genuine and unassuming way.
That’s not to say that it’s unreasonable to have certain health objectives in mind when taking up yoga. However, the importance of the spiritual benefits should be understood and appreciated alongside your physical aspirations.
Each yoga session should be a celebration of the unity of the mind and the body, of the physical and the emotional, and of the spirit and the soul.
Health, Happiness & Wellbeing
Division between body and mind can be detrimental for many reasons. When this disconnect exists stress can be much more prevalent. This can be a precursor to problems such as disrupted sleep, anxiety and abnormal eating patterns.
When considering your health it is essential to view yourself as an entire being. You must understand that your physical fitness should not be prioritised over your mental wellbeing. If this is a concept that is currently off balance for you, then you run the risk of encouraging negative feelings about your body. This can lead to you negating your mental health.
Approaching Yoga with Intention
When you approach yoga with the genuine intention of nurturing your body as well as your mind, you will understand the poses as both physical and mental challenges. There will be much less emphasis on the physical difficulty of the pose, and more focus on how every aspect of you is being challenged. It is then much more likely that you will feel supported to grow.
In order to understand yoga for what it truly is, it helps to get back to basics and strip away all that is unnecessary. All you really need to practice yoga is a willing mind and an open heart.
Although it is helpful to have a mat, bolsters, blankets etc, these things are not essential and you can certainly embark upon your yoga practice with nothing at all. Similarly, you do not need to attend a class regularly (or at all!) in order to continue with your practice. As long as you seek some guidance, or use online resources to shape your sessions, then you will be able to progress with your knowledge and develop your abilities.
Committing to the Journey
Yoga is a journey that requires dedication to reaching eventual progress. It is definitely not something that can be thought of in terms of a quick-fix. However, once you begin to better understand your body, your mind and yourself through regular practice, then you will begin to notice that you are better mentally equipped to maintain your peace. This will become true regardless of any environment or situation that you may find yourself in.
In order to understand and appreciate yoga for all that it is, it is important to embrace the connected concepts, such as mindfulness and meditation. It is also helpful to be aware of the eight limbs of yoga, which serve to teach us all how to live a life of consciousness and meaning.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yama is the first limb of yoga and refers to ethical and spiritual guidelines for achieving balance and emotional stability. They remind us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.
The second limb of yoga is intended to build character, encourage positive duties and enable better observations of the world. They are ‘rules’ of personal observance connected to internal awareness to better understand ourselves and our intentions.
Asanas are the physical postures involved in yoga practice and serve as the third limb. This limb is the primary focus of modern day yoga. It provides the physical challenge that compliments the spiritual unity of the mind and the body.
This is the fourth limb of yoga. Pranayama refers to breathing techniques, and how they can be adopted to affect the mind. Paying close attention to the breath is important in yoga because it channels life energy through the body, creating a greater sense of awareness.
The fifth limb of yoga is concerned with sense withdrawal. When we practice yoga, or enter meditative states, we become better able to focus, and this focus can be directed inwards as we enhance our sense of self. The withdrawal of the senses is key to overcoming distractions and keeping the attention entirely on the practice at hand.
This limb is all about focused concentration, and is closely connected to both pranayama and pratyahara. By fixing the mind on one point, whether external or internal to the body and mind, you can work to clear your thoughts and better hear your feelings.
Meditative absorption is the essence of the seventh limb, and is concerned with the idea of becoming completely absorbed and present in the moment of meditation. The driving force behind dhyana is to find the truth in that which is being meditated on. Dhyana allows for self-knowledge and awareness to grow, while reality and the false ideas that do not serve us well are separated for good.
The eighth limb of yoga is all about bliss and enlightenment. It is the last limb as it is seen to be the final part of the journey once all of the other limbs have been realised. This stage is about coming to terms with the realities of life, and everything that goes hand in hand with self-discovery and truth.
Acknowledging the eight limbs will help to reiterate that yoga is much more than just an activity for your physical body. It will help you to set tangible goals to challenge yourself. Additionally, it will help you to develop your awareness of both the self and the world around you.