The asanas (poses or body movements) that are done here in the West at gyms, yoga studios, hospitals, and other settings are just one part out of eight of an ancient system designed to increase awareness of our interconnectedness with all things, support high-quality relationships, and bestow us with optimal health and well-being. Asana is the part that deals directly with body movements, the other parts work with our mind, breath, perception and intention.
The other components of the eight parts include 5 yama (restraints), 5 niyama (observances), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (blissful feelings).
The yama describe ways of behavior that we can cultivate within ourselves that will help us attain the fullness of what a yoga practice has to offer.
These include 1) ahimsa- do no harm to self or others, 2) satya- be truthful and honest with self and others, 3) asteya- do not steal or take things that are not yours, 4) bramacharya- moderation in all things, 5) aparigraha- don’t take or use more than you need – don’t be greedy.
The niyama describe ways to treat ourselves that supports the journey of yoga practice.
1) saucha-cleanliness , simplicity within and without, 2) santosha – encouraging contentment with the way things are, 3) tapas- discipline and commitment, 4) svadhyaya- self study, introspection and study of spiritual wisdom, and 5) Ishvarapranidhana- reverence and honoring of that which is the source of being.
These other components can be highlighted and brought into awareness while a yoga student is doing an asana practice to develop and enrich the yoga experience so that it has the projected result that is described in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”
These are codified thoughts and knowledge of yoga compiled as 195 sutras (aphorisms) that are a blueprint for incorporating the science of yoga into your life. It is estimated that these sutras were put into written word somewhere between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.
At times the presentation of yoga in the West is as physical fitness only, even though the outcome of a regular yoga practice is tremendous health and well being at the physical level. What seems to be missing is the acknowledgement in the main stream that yoga is a path of awakening to our interconnectedness with all things. Union, joining together, is the definition of the word Yoga, and it refers to an open inquiry that is done through the body/mind of what it means to be a human being on this planet Earth.
As the awareness of how our own body (all the separate systems, parts, molecules, cells, bones, muscles, work together as a whole for optimal functioning and well being) grows through the asana and breathing practices it has the capacity to deepen an understanding and caring about how our cultures and civilization can work together for the whole to create optimal functioning and well being on our planet.
I am glad that yoga has migrated to the West and become a main stream popular past time for so many because I do believe that even doing yoga in the gym or just for fitness is the beginning to opening up and evolving peoples perception, sensitivity and consideration of self and planet in the long run.
The essence of yoga is consciousness, not a pretzel pose or a headstand or an arm balance.
Jean Grant-Sutton is director of BodyWorks Integrative Yoga and Stress Management.
Director-BodyWorks-Integrative Yoga and Stress Management Center
490 2nd St
Petaluma Ca 94952