When people hear the word yoga most think about people getting into pretzel like shapes or sitting in lotus position while ‘oming’. What they know as yoga are the asanas (bodily postures) and maybe meditation. What most people don’t know is that yoga is so much more than that. Yoga is an integrative and thorough approach towards a healthy and joyous life respecting the self, others, and nature. Thanks to its integrity it is so helpful in balancing our intense and mind-loaded lifestyle. In this post I’ll talk a little bit about my experience as a yoga teacher and introduce you to the teachings of yoga.
‘What did you study psychology for if a large focus of your work now is in the field of yoga? Couldn’t you just have done a teacher training and that’s it?’ ‘Aren’t you wasting your studies by focusing so much on yoga?’
I have already heard questions like these from friends or people I met and I completely understand why people would ask these things. Due to the popularity of yoga these days and teacher trainings happening all over, it has lost a lot of its depth for many and as I mentioned before some people simply think that yoga is getting into some bendy postures or chanting some sounds. Additionally, in the western society we live in certain jobs have gained certain statuses, while other professions are seen as less good or less prestigious. it seems to be all about achievement and recognition by others. For many it is more important to have a certain job and be admired by others than actually looking inside and finding out what makes them truly happy.
Yoga for me has not only been a body opening contribution to my life but a mind opening one as well. I studied psychology and did my masters in trauma psychology. I have always had an interest in the mind- body connection and this interest got stronger and stronger throughout my masters. In psychological trauma we see a lot of physical reactions, even though there is no physical reason for them. Getting more into yoga was my way of understanding the body and the mind- body connection better, not knowing that by doing so I would also learn so much more about the mind and the self. My knowledge and understanding of yoga was very limited, influenced by how it is portrayed in our western world. I was always open to spirituality, however in my mind yoga was a physical practice of a few hours a week that might help me connect to my spirituality during the practice. I was not aware that the word yoga stands for teachings covering an entire lifestyle. I would like to explain some of the amazing teachings of yoga to you in the following and with that you will also understand how beneficial these teachings are to anyone who opens up towards them.
Yoga is everything else but shallow and simple. Yoga is an ancient mindful way of living and many of the benefits have been scientifically proven. The asanas, bodily postures, are only one of eight paths. Yoga means unification, the unification of our self with the universal self, the unification of our own being (mind, body, and soul). The final goal is not handstand, but dissolving the distractions of your mind and with that being able to live according to your true self in complete bliss and joy. Yoga is for everyone, of any age, gender, mental and physical state of being. The beauty of it is that it can be adapted to anyone and any needs.
Let me introduce you to the eight limbs of yoga:
- Ethical Standards and Sense of Integrity (Yama)
- Non-violence (Ahimsa)
Physical, verbal mental, direct, indirect, and intentions to act violently
- Truthfulness (Satya)
Be truthful both to others and yourself
- Non- stealing (Asteya)
We should not steal materialistic things, but also not ideas or such
- Getting established in truth (Brahmacharya)
We should not be led by desires, but make use of desires to come to the truth
- Non- receiving of gifts (Aparagriha)
We are allowed to receive gifts, but what is ment here is that we should not get possessive or accumulate things, as if this would unnecessarily pre-occupy our mind with thoughts attached to it)
- Self- Discipline and Spiritual Observances (Niyama)
- Cleanliness (Sauca)
- Cheerfulness/ Contentment (Santosa)
Living and doing everything we do with joy
- Austerity (Tapas)
Challenging yourself and practicing restraints in order to observe ourselves, such as fasting, or being in silence for an extended period of time
- Self- study (Svadhyana)
Getting to know ourselves
- Surrender to the consciousness (Isvara Pranidhana)
Recognizing our own consciousness and the consciousness of the greater power, whether you call it G’d, energy or anything else)
- Poses (Asana)
- the yoga postures were developed to help us in relaxing our body, to strengthen it, and to bring our bodily systems into balance (organs, hormones etc.)
- once our body functions well and we are able to comfortably sit for extended periods of time we can take care of our mind undistracted
- by working on calming and opening our body we also work on our consciousness and emotional being. Many of our emotions are being stored in the body, so by stretching our muscles and connective tissues we can release these stored emotions. This is also the reasons why some people experience strong emotional reactions when practicing at times (crying, laughing, anger, fear)
- Breathing (Pranayama)
- our breath is seen as the bridge between mind and body, it can therefore help us in connecting and calming both aspects of our being
- we work with different breathing techniques to open up our breathing channels for a smooth and fluid breath
- just as asana can be very powerful in releasing emotions, so can pranayama. When we are stressed or in fear we breath very shallow. If we do so over an extended period of time our body adapts accordingly and reversing this will again open up our body and at the same time release emotions and mental patterns
- Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)
- we train ourselves to detach from our senses, bringing our attention inside. By doing so we can observe our cravings, desires, and habits
- being preoccupied with our senses activates our mind and stimulates it. By withdrawing our senses the mind can focus on the self much easier and we can begin to bring our concentration to the self
- Intense Focus (Dharana)
- Pratyahara prepares us for dharana, concentration, the step before meditation
- In dharana we learn to concentrate on one single object, a specific part of our body, the breath, a candle light, or maybe the repetition of a sound
- Extended periods of concentration will naturally lead to meditation
- State of Meditation (Dhyana)
- meditation, dhyana, describes an uninterrupted flow of concentration in which we are completely absorbed
- the mind is calm with either absolutely no thoughts or only a very few
- reaching this state requires commitment, patience, and a lot of practice. It takes a very long time
- State of Oneness (Samadhi)
- Samadhi describes a state in which the meditator realizes a connection, a oneness, with the divine in him and the total divine.
- Many use the word enlightenment for this stage. A person in Samadhi is not connected to likes or dislikes, he is not guided by his desires, nor influenced by mood swings.
- The state of Samadhi is characterized by complete joy, fulfillment, and freedom
The idea is to build up your yoga practice gradually, step by step. As you can see asana is only number three. First of all (and many people forget that) we are advised to observe our mental patterns and work towards a mindful self with moral values.
The final goal of yoga is a state of oneness with our self, which is marked by continuous and uninterrupted joy. The eight limbs of yoga slowly prepare us for this state. We firstly learn to observe and adjust our behaviour and attitude, take care of our body through asana, control the breath through pranayama, withdraw our senses, train our mind to focus, and finally start to meditate, which will lead to Samadhi.
Yoga’s teachings are such a great way of living to balance our hectic lifestyle often accompanied by overactive and often-distorted thinking. Most of us completely lose their connection to the self. This leads to unhappiness, mood swings, cravings, over thinking, and physical problems. Anyone of us is able to re-connect to the self. It is not something we need to create since it is always there. The eight limbs of yoga help us to take off all the layers we have put on over years. It is easy and fast to read an article about this topic, but reaching the different steps requires determination, consistency, and patience. We will have to face ourselves, our thoughts, habits, and our fears. It is absolutely possible though and so worth it. I can tell you from my own experience 🙂
Maybe you can start today just by observing yourself, your ethical standards and sense of integrity, starting with your yamas and niyamas, or introduce a very short asana practice or close your eyes for 5 minutes focusing on your breath. Remember, big developments are made up of many little steps.