Friday, August 1, 2014

Me & The Yoga Sutras

Olive Oyl in Lotus Pose
The Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali are the guidelines by which we practice yoga in the modern world.  Outwardly to many, yoga is nothing more than the ability to contort and twist the body into poses that resemble pretzels.   And, to be honest, when I attended my first class, (almost 6 years ago) I believed that too.  I have since learned the poses, called ASANAS in Sanskrit are just one little piece of the puzzle.  In the second pada, or chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains there are 8 limbs of yoga:

1.        YAMA-universal moral commandments

2.        NIYAMA-self-purification through discipline

3.        ASANA-posture or poses

4.        PRANYAMA-rhythmic control of the breath

5.        PRATYAHARA-withdrawal of the mind from the senses and external objects

6.        DHARANA-concentration

7.        DYHANA-meditation

8.        SAMADHI-super-conscious state where individual becomes one with the object of his/her meditation

For the first four years, my yoga practice was sporadic and at times non-existent.  So it took me a long time to realize the poses were nothing without the breath, also known as PRANYAMA. 

Hollace Stephenson, senior student of Rod Stryker and owner of Yoga Shala in Charlotte, NC states, “The quickest way to change your mood is through your breath.”  I could not agree more.  Once I learned I could calm my nervous, anxious, impatient, easily angered, quick to judge, unbalanced mind with long, slow breaths, my world changed.  I became a better mom.  I became a better wife.  I became a better all-around
Bakasana aka Crow Pose
Once I figured out that yoga was more than just a bunch of party trick poses, I quit agonizing over the ones I found challenging, like Bakasana.  I let go of my ego and took this quote by the red-headed yoga teacher that Claire Dederer writes about in her book, Poser:  My life in twenty-three yoga poses, to heart:  “I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect.  The real yoga isn’t in the perfect pose; it’s in the crappy pose that you are really feeling.  You want to feel it from the inside out, rather than make it perfect from the outside in.” 

So there you have it.  The red-headed yoga teacher said it best.  It’s not just about the poses.  But, it’s also not just about the breath.  Remember, there are eight limbs of yoga.

So while I consistently practice the first four limbs, I need to start working on the last four.  I believe 5,6,and 7 are all interconnected so once I add meditation to my practice on a regular basis, I believe Pratyahara and Dharana will fall in line like good soldiers.  As for Samadhi, my mind cannot even process the concept yet.  I’m not ready to go there.  Like an infant learning to walk, one step at a time is my modus operandi.  If someday I reach it, so be it.  If I don’t, so be it.  The greatest gift I have received through my yoga practice thus far is santosa or contentment.  Just as my ego no longer needs Bakasana as part of my physical practice, Samadhi is not a requirement for my spiritual practice.

Epilogue:  Approximately thirty minutes after writing this article, a fellow yogi friend posted this quote from Swami Rama on her Facebook page:  “The goal of meditation is to experience a state beyond the mind’s levels of thinking, feeling, and analyzing.  To achieve this, we must create a state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent.” 
Maybe.  But I prefer to believe the universe was sending me a message about my Samadhi musings. 

Well played Universe.  Message received.

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