Mindful Monday: What Is Yoga?

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Whether you’re new to your mat or a seasoned practitioner, you’ve undoubtedly pondered this question: What is Yoga?

Is it being really calm and not eating meat? Or is it buying expensive yoga pants and learning to twist your body into pretzel like shapes? Maybe it’s juice cleansing and chakra aligning. Or going to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and subscribing to Yoga Journal. Wearing mala beads and patchouli essential oil. Is yoga doing my 21 day cleanse and Jenny B’s sound healing? I know –  It’s drinking kombucha and balancing on your head! Does going to Burning Man officially make me a yogi?

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which translates to “yoke” or “union.” The practice of yoga is both an art and science dedicated to creating this union between body, mind and spirit. It’s a tool for us to learn how to use our breath and bodies to foster a deep awareness of ourselves as beautiful, individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short, it is about making balance and creating equanimity so we may live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were recorded in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so we enjoy  lasting peace off of our mats.

The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

So you can see that the asanas or poses we practice equate to only 12.5 percent of a complete yoga practice! It’s an integral part of our holistic practice, but it cannot stand alone.

We’ll explore each of the limbs in a bit more detail for the next eight weeks! So make sure to check back in with Mindful Monday each week!

Namaste, my fellow yogis!

“Practice and all is coming.”  – K. Pattabhi Jois

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