When we think about yoga, we often think about physical movement on a mat, possibly associating it with an Indian Ashram or maybe even some Lulu lemon pants.
Learning about yoga from an early age, as my father studied and taught yoga when he was younger, I always knew yoga embodied way more than the physical aspect. After studying myself (partly in Asia) and building my practice every day, I feel called to explain this more in depth.
The body as a worthy vehicle for self-realization
Translated, Yoga can be translated as ‘unity’. By physically practicing hatha yoga (asana), we unify mind and body and become aware of the interaction between the two. We practice sensing who we are energetically, what the effect of our energetic state is on the body and vice versa. In doing so, we expand awareness and prepare for meditation.
Our state of consciousness has a lot to do with the human conditioning of identifying with our thoughts and outer reality as we perceive it. Getting swept away because of this identification removes us consistently from our inner knowing and potential. Practicing asana en meditation can lead us to grow consciousness and will create a greater sense of Self. Yoga, is getting back to the consciousness we are at our core, getting very intimate with life.
The eight limbs of yoga
By learning more about the philosophy, we deepen our understanding about yoga as a self-realization practice. I’ll try and give a brief overview:
The eight limbs (ashtanga) can be understood as ‘stages’ towards self-realization. Starting with the very important virtues and ethics (yama’s and niyama’s). Scratching just the surface here, an example: You not only need to understand compassion, the importance of truth or the freedom of detachment intelectually, you also need to live by it. So for instance; how honest or harmful are you to yourself and others (satya/ahimsa)? Do you practice this?
Living consciously and compassionately, we can start practicing the physical part of yoga; asana. Preparing the (energetic) body. Practice combining this with breathwork (pranayama) and turning your senses inward (pratyahara) and it will facilitate us to prepare for concentration (dharana).
Concentration, single pointed awareness, is needed for meditation. When concentration is perfected, meditation appears. Meditation practice, connecting with stillness and sensing our energy, will allow moments to tap in a state of consciousness where there is no identification with reality as we know it. It leads to a state where the individual I-consciousness is dissolved in the Supreme consciousness, otherwise known as ‘Oneness’, ‘the Absolute’, or ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ beyond duality (samadhi).
In short, this is what yogis practice and devote their time and energy to in life. Nowadays in all shapes and forms, with or without the Ashram or fancy leggings. Either way, let it contribute to a more conscious world.