or rather, what is your yoga? I am sure that you have heard in classes “this is your practice”… but is it? What is yoga to you? And what yoga is the “right” yoga? I have been rolling this thought around in my head for some time now, more so over the last month… There seems to be a strong urge for a strong, vigorous or heated practice in the town where I live, rich with Ivy League-ers, and in this day and age that has made yoga popular now that the realization is there that asana practice and pranayama can cause you to break a sweat and work hard.
I have seen and practiced many types of asana practice, and being the black & white determinant type of gal that i am, have struggled with how many styles prevail in our country now, while wanting to have an idea of whether I am on the “right path” or not. Bikram makes me sweat, reel and excel through intense heat and asana. Ashtanga makes me fly and breathe. Anusara makes me soar though catharsis and deep practice. Kripalu made me giggle and run. Kundalini energizes me and makes me vibrate. Yin makes me settle blissfully.
I have finally been able to sit down and screen the movie EnLighten Up via Netflix and it was a pleasant and interesting film, taking a yoga newbie and submerging him into in depth, intense yoga practice and experiences across many borders…(I should be so lucky!) to determine whether he can find enlightenment. It does become apparent that the film maker herself is projecting her own curious intentions through the films interviews, but I am thankful that her subject was someone other than herself.
Listening to so many yoga gurus sharing their expertise and insight for yet another truth seeker asking what is it all about and why do we do it is a treat. It is interesting how the physical (asana) practice can be all for some, whereas the devotional (bhakti) practice is for others. Yoga as we know it (Ashtanga) technically is an 8 limb practice of yoga and includes a web of interwoven ideals that are not independently achieved, but are instead concurrently striven for along the way.
The eight limbs are as follows: (some explanations utilized and paraphrased from http://www.yogamovement.com/resources/patanjali.html )
Yama is social behavior, how you treat others and the world around you. These are moral principles. Sometimes they are called the don’ts or the thou shalt nots. There are five yamas:
Nonviolence (ahimsa). Do no harm to any creature in thought or deed.
Truth and honesty (satya). Tell no lies.
Nonstealing (asteya). Do not steal material objects (a car) or intangibles.
Nonlust (brahmacharya). Moderation in all.
Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha). Covetousness.
Niyama is inner discipline and responsibility, how we treat ourselves. These are sometimes called observances. There are five niyamas:
Purity (shauca). Purity is achieved through the practice of the five yamas, which help clear away the negative physical and mental states of being.
Contentment (santosha). Cultivate contentment and tranquility by finding happiness with what you have and who you are. Seek happiness in the moment, take responsibility for where you are, and choose to grow from there.
Austerity (tapas). heat and vigorousness in learning your path. Show discipline in body, speech, and mind.
Study of the sacred text (svadhyaya). Study sacred texts, which are whatever books are relevant to you and inspire and teach you. Education changes a person’s outlook on life. As Iyengar says, a person starts “to realize that all creation is meant for bhakti (adoration) rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within himself and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe.”
Living with an awareness of the Divine (ishvara-pranidhana). Be devoted to God, Buddha, or whatever you consider divine.
“The posture of yoga is steady and easy,” Patanjali says. Patanjali compares this to resting like the cosmic serpent on the waters of infinity. Although Westerners often consider the practice of asana or postures as an exercise regimen or a way to stay fit, Patanjali and other ancient yogis used asana to prepare the body for meditation. To sit for a lengthy time in contemplation required a supple and cooperative body. If you are free of physical distractions — such as your foot going to sleep — and can control the body, you can also control the mind. Patanjali said, “Posture is mastered by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating on the infinite.”
Prana is the life force or energy that exists everywhere and flows through each of us through the breath. Pranayama is the control of breath. The basic movements of pranayama are inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation. “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths,” says Iyengar. “Therefore, he follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow, deep breathing.” The practice of pranayama purifies and removes distractions from the mind making it easier to concentrate and meditate.
Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses. Pratyahara occurs during meditation, breathing exercises, or the practice of yoga postures — any time when you are directing your attention inward. Concentration, in the yoga room or the boardroom, is a battle with distracting senses. When you master pratyahara, you are able to focus because you no longer feel the itch on your big toe or hear the mosquito buzzing by your ear or smell the popcorn popping in the microwave.
Concentration or dharana involves teaching the mind to focus on one point or image. “Concentration is binding thought in one place,” says Patanjali. The goal is to still the mind — gently pushing away superfluous thoughts — by fixing your mind on some object such as a candle flame, a flower, or a mantra. In dharana, concentration is effortless. You know the mind is concentrating when there is no sense of time passing.
Uninterrupted meditation without an object is called dhyana. Concentration (dharana) leads to the state of meditation. The goal of meditation is not unconsciousness or nothingness. It is heightened awareness and oneness with the universe. How do you tell the difference between concentration and meditation? If there is awareness of distraction, you are only concentrating and not meditating. The calm achieved in meditation spills over into all aspects of your life — during a hectic day at work, shopping for groceries, coordinating the Halloween party at your child’s school.
The ultimate goal of the eightfold path to yoga is samadhi or absolute bliss. This is pure contemplation, superconsciousness, in which you and the universe are one. Those who have achieved samadhi are enlightened. Paramahansa Yoganananda called it the state of God-Union.
In the film there is an interview with Shri Pattabhi Jois where he explains that four limbs are external: the asana, the pranayama, the yamas, the niyamas; and 4 that are internal: pratayahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The film goes on to show many other masters in yoga (“Titans”, if you will…but that’s another film) who contradict, clarify or eschew the ideals set previously. Is yoga in fact the practice of unifying with the Divine within and without? Can that be achieved through asana only? or must all paths be acknowledged..Bhakti, the yoga of devotion & divine love, Jnana (yoga of knowledge), Raja (the Royal yoga that follows the 8 fold Path) & Karma yoga ( the yoga of service)? Maybe it’s this.
This is getting entirely too lengthy! Therein lies the rub– Maybe we make it too difficult.