Yogic Life

While some class attendees, co-workers, friends and relatives have assumed that yoga poses (contemplating their navel in a yoga pose) is all that there is to yoga, others have asked “is there more?” I answer with a resounding yes! If there is a desire to learn more, the yoga landscape is a rich, multi-textured approach to life.

As Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tell us, yoga is an 8-fold path consisting of:
Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. What do these words mean, and how can these concepts enhance my life?

The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical considerations, with the 5 Yamas guiding how we think and act in the outside world, and the 5 Niyamas guiding us in our inner life. You could correlate them to the Ten Commandments.

Yamas: There are 5 Yamas. One of my teachers, Melina Meza, explains, “The Yamas prepare you to see that how you treat the outer world reflects how you treat your inner world. It is through conscious application of the Yamas that you will learn to see that compassion is your birthright, trust begins with yourself, healthy boundaries make healthy relationships, and balance is not as bad as it sounds. They allow you to work with what gifts you have been given, rather than what you perceive you are.”

The 5 Yamas are Ahimsa – Do No Harm, Satya – Truthfulness, Asteya – Non-stealing, Brahmacharya – Discipline, and Aparigraha – Non-greed. A pretty good reference for both the Yamas and Niyamas (next) can be found on Wikipedia. The first Yama, Ahimsa, trumps the remaining 4 Yamas. For example, it may be the truth to tell someone that they could do x, y or z, but if it’s in any way unkind, and can’t be modified to be expressed in a kind manner, it would be better to rethink the commentary. As the 9th step of any 12 Step program says, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Niyamas: There are 5 Niyamas, which are Shaucha – Cleanliness, Santosha – Contentedness, Tapas – Heat (to bring heat or energy to that which you do), Svadhyaya – Self-study, and Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to or worship of God.

Asana literally means comfortable seat. We use the term asana for the physical practice of yoga – the yoga poses.

Pranayama: Prana is the life force or essence. You may be more familiar with the term “Chi”, Chinese for the same thing. Prana = life force, Yama = constraint, which can be more easily translated as breathwork. You may see people practicing Ujjayi breathing (literally Victory Breath) which is sometimes called Ocean breathing because of the sound it makes in your throat as the breath passes through a more constrained windpipe; alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodana); or Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire, literally translated to Skull Shining Bright). These are examples of Pranayama, and have specific benefits during asana or meditation practice, or for other reasons. These are tools to be used with careful consideration. The reasons why one might be selected are not the same across the board. Additionally, some of these should not be used if you have certan respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD.

Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses which can include closing the eyes, shutting off the phone, radio, television, turning inward. Indeed, closing one’s eyes activates the parasympathetic nervous system, invoking rest and restoration, very important in our busy, hectic lives.

Dharana: Concentration; putting your attention on 1 thing. This could be the breath (inhalations and exhalations), the flame of a candle, gazing at an object. This builds to …

Dhyana: Meditation, and intense concentration. There are many approaches to, and many benefits of, meditatation, some described above in Dharana. These benefits include physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Samadhi: A state of union with the divine stemming from the intense concentration of Dhyana.

Please note that my spelling is done phonetically, as I do not have access to a keyboard that includes the dicritical marks to better indicate pronunciation. A good Sanskrit guide can be found here.