An Intro to Yoga by Kaeli Rose
A regular yoga practice can “make you come alive, and what makes you come alive can keep you alive”. Yoga is known to reduce anxiety and depression, balance thyroid conditions, detoxify the body, improve respiration and vitality, reverse the affects of asthma… and so much more!
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a practical, methodical and systematic discipline to develop awareness, peace, and harmony with our inner nature and outer world. Yoga, the Science of the Self, is a living tradition of internal and external growth and development.
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, meaning “to join”, “to unite” “to connect”. There are many paths to recognizing, realizing and connecting to the true nature of the universe, including hatha, tantra, laya, kundalini, bhakti, jnana, karma, raja yoga, and more. With so many diverse traditions that facilitate spiritual consciousness and universal connection, there is no single definition of yoga.
It is a common misconception in the Western world that yoga is just a physical practice. In North America, there are plenty of stereotypes, including generalizations about what yoga is, and what kind of person practices it. However, the physical practice of yoga is only one of the eight limbs- and it’s not even the first!
The eight limbs, as outlined by Patanjali in the yoga sutras, are lifestyle tools that facilitate awareness, peace and togetherness. There are many diverse practices that nurture, unleash and sustain the limitlessness of the human potential and help keep the body free from illness and disease.
What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
1. Yama- Restraints and morals.
2. Niyama- Personal observances.
3. Asana- Body postures/yoga poses.
4. Pranayama- Breathing exercises and control of prana (energy).
5. Pratyhara- Control of the senses.
6. Dharana- Concentration, focus and cultivating inner perceptual awareness.
7. Dhyana- Devotion, contemplation, meditation.
8. Samadhi- Union with the divine: peace, unity, togetherness.
How do you Practice Yoga?
Yoga is practiced in thoughts, actions and speech. Before we rush into taking a posture (asana, the third limb of yoga) or practicing powerful breath work (pranayama, the fourth limb), it is important to start with simply being kind (the yama: ahimsa). Our practice begins with cultivating mindfulness, paying attention on purpose without judging good or bad, simply noticing. Applying this principle of self-awareness, we introduce the first two limbs of yoga: the Yamas and the Niyamas. The yamas and nimyamas are 10 vows, or commitments, of attitude and behavior meant to improve our humanity and guide our relationships with everything.
Yamas. The first limb of yoga is called the Yamas. These are the restraints and morals of yoga that give instruction on attitude and inner environment . There are five yamas:
1. Ahimsa- Non-violence, compassion, kindness.
2. Sattya- Commitment to truthfulness.
3. Asteya- Non-stealing/not taking what is not freely given.
4. Brahmacharya- Control of the senses.
5. Aparigraha- Non-hoarding/non-greediness/non-possessiveness.
Niyamas. The second limb of yoga is called the Niyamas. These are vows of positive duties and personal observances. There are five niyamas:
1. Saucha- Cleanliness, purity/purification.
2. Santosha- Contentment.
3. Tapas- Passion & discipline, including burning desire/ burning of(f) desire.
4. Svadhyaya- Self-reflection, self-study and study of spiritual texts.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana- Devotion to something greater than self.
Why Does Posture Matter?
In the third limb of yoga we practice postures (asana) with breath work (pranayama, the fourth limb) to move energy (prana) through the body. Every pose relates to specific koshas (5 layers of the self: food body, energy body, mindstuff, wisdom body, & bliss body), gunas (energetic qualities), chakras (energy centers in the body), senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing), elements (earth, water, fire, air, space), organs, body systems (reproductive, digestive, endocrine etc) and more.
Asana translates to mean comfortable seat. If the body is uncomfortable the mind will be agitated and distracted. We can use posture (with breath work) to stimulate the body and its systems, to become stable, and in-harmony in mind, body and breath. Asana focuses on the physical body in preparation for the deeper practices of pratyhara (tuning the senses), dharana (focusing the mind in one place), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (superconscious state of peace and universal connection).
Not unlike any other medicine, with any practice of yoga it is important to be aware of the contraindications, and to modify to the needs of our own body. To learn how to practice safely, seek the guidance of a skilled teacher. If you have injuries or illness, consult your physician and other applicable healthcare professionals. Modify and use props to make the physical practice accessible for all ages and body types. Yoga is for everyone, anyone can practice yoga!
How to get Motivated in Your Practice
Everything we do can be a yoga practice if it is done with awareness. Set an intention: what do you want to get out of a practice?
How we feel is an indicator of our motivation, drive and ability to create/re-create.
Using a behavior model, motivation is influenced by central concepts of:
– Sensation: pleasure and pain
– Anticipation: hope and fear, and
– Belonging: acceptance and rejection.
Consider these three concepts. Notice the samskaras (patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions) that come up for you with regards to sensation (pleasure and pain), anticipation (hope and fear), and belonging (acceptance and rejection). What motivates you? What slows, or shuts you down? What fires you up? Notice, write it down, reflect and apply this information mindfully.
Suggestions for staying motivated.
Set an intention. Make a list of your past motivations and successes, evaluate and reflect. Pay particular attention to what has supported you to reach your goals/succeed in the past, then do more of that. Consider, “who or what will support me to succeed, right now and moving forward?” “What is possible for me?”
Schedule time for your practice and explore how you want to feel, think and move. Yoga is about a sincere desire for self-inquiry, to expand our knowledge, experience and consciousness.
Benefits of Yoga.
The eight limbs of yoga are lifestyle choices that allow us to go with the flow and be open to the unfolding human potentials. Rather than just a physical practice, yoga is a system of lifestyle tools that go on to complement any activity or experience. Mindfulness helps us to simply savior the experience of living, to be able to “dwell in the possibilities”.
There are a lot of well-known benefits to practicing yoga, including but not limited to:
– Deep rest and relaxation
– Relief of muscles aches, tension and migraines
– Increased confidence
– Increased concentration
– Increased immunity
– Increased muscle tone and strength
– Increased creativity
– Improved digestion
– Good bone health
– Improved athletic and sexual performance
– Increased flexibility
– Improved respiration, energy and vitality
– Overcoming cravings and addictions
– Injury prevention, and so much more!
To define what yoga is, or to really understand its many benefits, you will have to try it for yourself! Start your yoga practice with simply being kind to yourself and others. Begin there, and let me know how it goes!
Om, Shanti Shanti Shanti
Kaeli Rose was born and raised on unceded First Nations Territory in Victoria BC. She is a 250-hour Certified Yoga Teacher with a professional background as a Child and Youth Care Counsellor, a group fitness and boot camp instructor, and an award-winning community-based researcher. Kaeli recently took on the role of Director of Yoga and Mindfulness at the McTavish Academy of Art in North Saanich BC. During the school year she also teaches the “Yoga and Relaxation” course at Central Middle School to students ages 9-14 .