My yoga teacher always told us in class that most people own a yoga mat as a reminder that they need to practice yoga, but how many people will actually practice yoga on a daily basis or even once a week outside of class? I always encourage my students to practice whatever they can remember at home. But what does the practice of yoga really mean? The true practice of yoga extends beyond the mat as yoga is not just about the flexibility and strength. Yoga means union and thus yoga is about bringing together the mind, body, and spirit.
There are eight limbs of yoga, which is known as Ashtanga Yoga (in this case, I am not referring to the style of yoga). The physical postures or asanas are just one aspect of yoga. The other seven limbs of yoga are Yama (rules of social conduct), Niyama (rules of personal behaviour), Pranayama (control of prana or the breath), Pratyahara (control of the senses), Dharana (control of the mind), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (perfect concentration/pure state of consciousness).
In Yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas are the most important aspects as they are the rules of social conduct and personal behaviour. These should be applied to your daily life. The five rules of Yama are nonviolence, truth, not stealing, control of sexual energy, and non-clinginess. The five rules of Niyama are cleanliness, contentment, discipline, study, and devotion to God or spirituality. Yama and Niyama always go together and these ten guidelines are the foundation of living life in accordance to Yoga and rising in levels of consciousness.
Along with the physical practice of yoga comes breathing. Pranayama includes various breathing exercises that allow you to control your breath, which will then allow for you to control your mind. Taking deep breaths and engaging in breathing exercises is great not only for the lungs, but also for the mind and spirit. Whenever you are under high amounts of stress, its important to take a few moments and just focus on your breathing. Outside a yoga class, I recommend taking the time to focus on your breath every morning, which will help your body wake up and it helps to clear your mind.
Pratyahara is the control of the senses and pranayama is one of the ways to withdraw your senses. In other words, by controlling your senses, you can focus on the inward and let your own internal senses guide you rather than the external environment influencing your senses. Having control over your mind and senses comes through Pranayama, but also comes through Dhyana or meditation. Although it is recommended that you engage in both pranayama and dhyana to gain higher states of consciousness (Samadhi), it is not required. Pranayama is also considered to be a form of meditation and some meditations require you to focus on the breath.
Ultimately as you can see, all aspects of Ashtanga Yoga are intimately connected and to have a true practice of yoga, all aspects are needed. Whether or not you practice your asanas daily, you can most certainly practice the Yamas and Niyamas along with breathing so that you can work your way up to having complete control over your mind and senses. To establish yourself in Yoga, it takes time and practice. Whatever shape and form your yogic practice entails, be patient with yourself and progress at a pace that’s challenging, yet comfortable for you.
If you have any questions about the practice of Yoga, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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