Whether you are new to yoga or have a regular yoga practice, most people are familiar with some of the basic premises behind this ancient tradition. You know, for example, that many classes begin and end with the sound “Om,” which signifies the unification between the “three worlds” in Hinduism: earth, heaven, and atmosphere. Perhaps you even know some of the poses, or asanas, like downward-facing dog or cat-cow pose.
The thing is, it can be so easy to get hung up on the materialistic or self-serving parts of the practice–so much so, that the real, fundamental yogic truths get lost in the fold. If you love yoga as much as I do, read on to see whether you’re already honoring these aspects of the practice.
Remember that Asana is only one of Eight Limbs of Yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are described in the Yoga Sutras, the preeminent text of yogic philosophy. First enumerated by the great sage Patanjali, these limbs act as a guideline for yoga practitioners across the world. They include the Yamas (refers to following a moral code, and include ahimsa–non-violence towards all living things); Niyamas (refers to rules governing personal behavior); Asana (refers to the yoga postures with which we’re all familiar and is the starting point for most people); Pranayama (refers to breathing techniques); Pratyahara (refers to withdrawal of the senses); Dharana (refers to concentration); Dhyana (refers to sitting meditation); and Samadhi (refers to merging with the divine).
The upshot? There’s a whole lot more to yoga than a few chaturangas! And while this list might seem overwhelming, the purpose of mentioning it here is to demonstrate the relative position of asana within yoga as a practice. Sometimes we are so fixated on the asana part of our practice that we forget to honor the other, arguably more important parts of the journey. In other words, let your asana practice be a means, rather than an end, to self-knowledge.
Build a relationship with your teacher.
Over the years of yoga practice, one of the things I’ve learned is that a teacher can make or break my experience. Don’t be afraid to shop around if you’re not 100% satisfied with his or her teaching style, personality, etc. You really do want to find someone with whom you can develop a connection; this is helpful not only with physical adjustments but with the emotional side of things, too. I’ve come to see my teachers as mentors, people who can advise and guide me whenever I need it.
Keep in mind that there is no one yoga body.
To think otherwise is completely antithetical to yogic philosophy. One of my favorite yoga quotes is by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the late Ashtanga guru: “Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga.” If you don’t think yoga is available to you, think again! Don’t give up until you find the right teacher, style of yoga, or even studio.
Have a regular yoga practice.
This is so important if you want to grow, both in terms of acquiring strength and stabilizing your emotions. Pattabhi Jois also said, “Do your practice and all is coming.” Nothing could be further from the truth. So long as you make time to practice regularly (you could even start with 2-3 days a week and increase from there), you’ll begin to develop a rhythm and daily habit of getting on your mat. When I don’t practice for a week, I am noticeably weaker (and definitely more cranky). Think about it: if you were studying for a big exam, you wouldn’t reserve a couple hours a week to learning the material; you’d dedicate a couple hours a day or more! The same is true for yoga: in order to learn about ourselves and become proficient in the Eight Limbs, we must make a concerted effort to dedicate time and space to the practice.
Next time you decide to take a class at your favorite yoga studio, stop trying to perfect that challenging headstand. Stop comparing yourself to the girl next to you. Instead, focus on the true essence of yoga: steady your mind and commit to self-knowledge, or non-violence, or just talking with your teacher after class. Commit to honoring yourself and the practice, and the rest will come.
What, in your experience, enhances your yoga practice?
Also by Molly: These 4 Yoga Poses Will Challenge and Sculpt Your Entire Body
Related: 7 Yoga Mudras To Manifest Your Intentions And Cleanse Your Energy
The Science of Stress Management and Yoga
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