I am two months into a 200-hour yoga certification. I made this commitment to deepen my understanding of the flow-inducing practice as it has become dear to me. Also, I have a desire to become a better teacher. Yet, I am finding much more than that. I have found a world that I have been searching for while curious and experimenting only at the surface.
Like many, I’m sure, I was under the impression that yoga would be great for stretching, mobility, and peace of mind. Yoga is all these things and can remain solely this for those who wish it to remain as such. But it can also be a journey of self-discovery and self-transcendence.
Yoga is the study of personality, diet, self-expression, psychology, medicine, and much more. With much of my background in psychology, I have discovered that most of what we understand as psychology, yogis had named and discovered thousands of years ago. Ayurveda, for example, is a study of person type, relating personality traits, diet, body shape, and emotional nature.
Yoga offers steps, practices, and processes to reach complete control of the mind. These are referred to as the eight limbs. It is believed that if followed, enlightenment can be achieved. Often referred to as total ecstasy and peace, I believe it is total control over the mind. The following is an introduction to each of the eight ‘limbs’ of yoga.
The first is Personal Ethics. When you get to the root, this is essentially the golden rule. It involves practices of non-violence, truth-telling, not being envious, and not stealing.
The next could be described as personal disciplines. These include cleanliness, contentment, self-study and improvement, and other self-bindings.
Yoga Poses and Postures
In the west, Asana is what we know as Yoga. This is the practice of the postures to train concentration and discipline. We learn how to control our mind through this practice as well as become aware of our bodies at a deeper level.
This is the practice of various breathing techniques in order to direct the nervous system. This could be to calm yourself down or to increase blood flow to certain areas and more.
In this yoga limb, practices are learned to draw focus away from the outside world and move the focus inward. Thoughts are examined as well as other states that arise from the body. The purpose is to learn the true nature of one’s self.
This is the precondition to meditation. This may be focusing on a limited range of stimuli. We attempt to slow down the pace of thoughts. This is a deeper attempt to direct and control the thoughts that arise in our minds. This could also be chanting, mantras, or other repetitious sounds that fill awareness.
The differentiator between concentration and mediation is that meditation is to be granularly aware without focus. It is the state of intense awareness. The mind does not create any thoughts at this stage. This is a true experience of stillness.
A profound connection with all is achieved through the steps above. A sense that peace supersedes all need for understanding. A state of bliss. The complete control of the mind or perhaps the complete freedom from the trappings of the mind.
*I did not include the Sanskrit words. My intention is to get to the root of what yoga is in a relatable way. (Any google search for ‘the eight limbs of yoga will provide the Sanskrit words.)
Though much of Yoga is based on the Hindu religion, it seems clear to me that the practice of Yoga will enhance any spiritual practice.
Looking at Yoga through the eight limbs, it appears to be the building blocks of what many would consider a good life. We have to start with ethics. What is it that we believe? This point is really a function of each’s individual point of view and experience.
Next, what do we do? What are our disciplines? Do we lie? Are we on time? Are we clean? Are we organized? What are we doing to better ourselves?
The next step is putting our beliefs and disciplines into action. This is what the poses and postures teach us. We deepen our beliefs and disciplines through action.
When we start learning how to breathe, we are really beginning to get control. We are able to calm down physiological feelings that arise from emotions and often perpetuate and reinforce the emotions.
The adults I know all seem to have a hobby that requires concentration. One of my brothers has taken up carpentry in the late hours of the night, for example. This is reflective of this limb.
Many I’ve come in contact with stop here in their progression. But those in the yoga community seem to be looking for something deeper. This is where the next two levels come into play. Meditation is the feeling of stillness. I’ve had this feeling for a split second. It was incredible. A complete feeling of ultimate awareness. I don’t know that this state or the state of ecstasy can exist permanently in life. But, the journey is engaging, fulfilling, and self-reinforcing.