WHAT IS YOGA?
HOW HAS IT CHANGED FOR ME? HOW HAS IT CHANGED ME?
If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have defined yoga as asana. I didn’t know any different and to be honest at that time for me, asana was purely enough to draw my attraction to yoga. Just over a year ago, my eyes were opened; I was at a point in my life and my practice where I was looking for more. The universe opened one of it’s biggest doors and lucky for me I was ready for it. In the last year, I have come to realize and understand that there is way more to yoga than just asana; however, it is through asana that we are able to progress amongst the other eight limbs.
The thing that I think has impacted me the most is the integration of the Yammas and Niyamas into my everyday life. They are all very straightforward principles, and when energy is put into following them the effects are so worthwhile. All the yammas and niyamas have made a difference in my life; however, the ones that stand out the most are ahimsa (non-violence), aparigraha (non-attachment), santosha (contentment) and tapas (discipline). Ahimsa is non-violence; it was through this yamma that I realized that like energies attract. I became more aware of who I kept in my company; as I eliminated those that gave off negative energy from my day to day, I realized that my environment was a lot more positive. Aparigraha is non-attachment; I have always lived a simple life and never desired fancy things. I have always been happy with what I had and worked hard for it; I was never big on receiving gifts but loved to give them. What I learned is that you could have attachment to something other than an object, I was very attached to my yoga practice. I thought that in order to practice I had to be in a studio with a teacher guiding me; I never liked missing a class. I have learned that things don’t always work out the way we want them to and by being adaptable to that we avoid restricting ourselves. In other words, by being attached to having things a certain way, we are not open to whatever the universe may toss our way. Santosha is contentment and through that comes happiness. In a physical sense, asana, if you focus on where you “should be” you will never be content or happy; instead however, by focusing on what we need and being happy with where we are, we are able to grow. For example, a year ago I switched studios and began studying with Michelle. I walked into my first class and everyone around me was doing headstands. If I had focused on the fact that I couldn’t do one however I felt should be able to do one (since I had been doing yoga for over 3 years) I never would have focused my energy on learning how to build the strength and confidence to do one properly. I was content with where I was in my practice at that time and therefore I was not held back by my ego. Also I was open to that new challenges that the universe brought not only a new pose, but also a new teacher, new studio, new environment and new energy. It is hard to manifest what is the best; however, by accepting what has been given to us, contentment will follow which in turn leads to happiness. Obsessing over what we think we need often leads to limitations by blocking potential possibilities; therefore, unnecessarily wasting energy. By letting go of the ideology that things have to be a certain way, we are able to be present with what is right; too much energy goes into what we want rather than into what the universe says we need. There is no way to predict or control every situation and trying to typically leads to disappointment. We need to learn to be open to the challenges and opportunities that the universe presents us; it is through this openness and acceptance that we gain contentment. And through contentment we gain happiness. I have begun asking myself “does it really matter?” and “is it true?”. Tapas represents right energy; in other words, focusing energy in the right place. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative helps to ensure that we are not wasting energy, because even if a situation is unfavorable doesn’t mean it has to elicit a negative experience. Also by focusing more energy on our priorities it helps discipline the mind. This was a huge learning experience for me and helped me understand where my “edge” was which helped me not only develop a greater understanding of my body but also of my mind. I have also come to realize the power of the breath; through our breath, we are able to help control our body and our mind. I have always heard the expression “just take a deep breath and start over”, but I never really thought anything of it. I have learned that through my breath I can not only calm the body/mind but also energize it. It is through Asana and Pranayama that comes concentration. The mind is also a powerful tool as illustrated through satya and pratyahara; satya represents truthfulness and pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses. Our senses can distract our mind in different directions; therefore, if we can detach the senses we can more easily still the mind. Our thoughts become our actions; therefore, eventually what we think and say will coincide with what we do. One of my most influential quotes is from the Upanishads, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.”
Yoga is the union of the body, the mind and the breath. Although that is a long way off for me, I believe that through the practice of the eight limbs I will be able to learn more about myself and who I am which in turn will help me further develop my own practice. All the changes I have made in the last year have been subtle but the impacts they have made are tremendous. I have come to understand that what I used to know yoga as is not wrong, but at that time it was what I needed it to be.
Yoga has changed me by helping me realize when we as human beings grow and evolve, our idea of the truth changes. “Replacing ignorance with ignorance to get closer to the truth.”