YOGA – In Life as in Practice
For me, the practice of Yoga is a path of consciousness; enabling me to experience life in a way that makes sense, providing tools to be the best version of myself. The philosophy of Yoga allows me to see things from a growthful perspective, elevating my experience with feelings of joy, gratitude, connection and intimacy – with myself, others, nature and life itself. Yoga anchors me in an evolving and empowered state, creating space for the integration of different parts of myself in daily life. Most importantly, Yoga has allowed me to find stability in a challenging world which often appears ready to collapse; I can honestly say, without the benefits of my Yogic practice, my life might have already imploded.
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” – Sutra 1.2 PATANJALI
When my physiotherapist first recommended yoga some twenty years ago to help with rehabilitation of RSI, like most people in the west, I believed it to be a fitness regime. Even at the turn of the century there seemed to be many types of yoga around, with people clad in the latest yoga-attire queuing up at their local gym to engage in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha, Bikram or Vinyasa, many in pursuit of the illusionary perfect yoga-body.
Nowadays it can be even more confusing to understand yoga as it seems there’s one for every occasion: “acro yoga”; “water yoga”; “aerial yoga”; “chair yoga”; are some of the names of classes commonly available. There are even ones that seem completely incongruous, such as “gin yoga” and “disco yoga”. Most of these apparent versions of yoga can be highly beneficial on many levels and a lot of fun, but unless the practice is grounding you in the earth, opening you to the cosmos and leading you into a state of divine union, then “yoga” is just a tag line. The word has been fully exploited by capitalism and turned into a consumerist pastime, and all too often there is little to no focus on its philosophical side and the true benefits of an authentic practice.
Search online for ‘yoga’ and countless images pop-up of beautiful people with strong, athletic bodies, displaying excellent flexibility and balance by holding sometimes complex and seemingly impossible positions, against a backdrop of breath-taking, exotic scenery. This is not yoga. It may be an image of an asana, though to think of this as yoga is to think your bathtub reminiscent of the ocean. I’d even go so far as to label this “misinformation”, since yoga is an internal process which cannot be photographed. Originally a limited number of asanas were used to build the strength and stillness necessary to maintain meditative posture for prolonged periods. Unsurprisingly, due to their physical benefits, it’s these asanas which have been usurped by western capitalism and packaged as a trendy fitness choice. Of course asanas fulfil a function integral to the practice of yoga, and what we do on the mat is important, but without the philosophy to put them into context, they’re just another kind of exercise.
At the time of my initiation, I had an inkling of the philosophical underpinnings of yoga, but expected to be engaging in physical strengthening exercise. Through the encouragement of my teacher, I began to do short daily practices which is when I noticed its calming influence and an increase in feelings of wellbeing. Having struggled for many years with mental-health and depression, this effect was as welcome as it was unexpected, and my interest in the subject and study of its true meaning and practice was born.
“The word ‘Yoga’ essentially means, that which brings you to reality”
– Sadguru: What is Yoga?
Coming from ancient Sanskrit, the word “yoga”(योग) comes from the root word “yuj” (युज्) which means to ‘yoke’ or ‘join’, and is understood to mean ‘union’; the union of all parts of the self that often seem separate: physical body, mind, emotions, energy body and spirit. This union is achieved not simply by engaging in a series of ‘asanas’ (yoga postures) in a class, but by embodying the precepts of yoga in thought and action.
There are “8-limbs” to yoga as defined by Patanjali, the foremost respected ancient scholar on the subject and author of the Yoga Sutras: the definitive text on yoga. The first two of these 8-limbs could be thought of as the “10-Commandments” of yoga, as they provide moral codes for abstinences and observances. I allow myself to be guided by these moral codes in my daily life.
Taken from the original Sanskrit, the 8-limbs are widely understood thus:
1. Yama (moral codes of abstinence):
- Ahimsa – non-violence
- Satya – non-lying (truthfulness)
- Asteya – not stealing
- Brahmacharya – right-use of energy (energetic continence)
- Aparigraha – not hoarding
2. Niyama (observances):
- Saucha – cleanliness, purification
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – self-discipline, inner fire
- Svadhyaya – study of the self and sacred text (Bhagavad Gita etc), understanding the background of yoga. Knowledge of ‘self’ and questioning who we are, where we come from, and why we are here.
- Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to divinity. Fundamental to yoga and life. Offering action to divinity rather than ego.
3. Asana: simply put: a steady and relaxed posture.
4. Prāṇāyāma: ‘breath-control’; refers to how we use the breath during asanas and become conscious of the vital-energy (prana) that we are moving through us in addition to the exchange of gases in the physical respiratory process.
5. Pratyāhāra: withdrawal of the senses; removing importance from external, sensorial input and focusing instead on inner perception.
6. Dhāraṇā: concentration of the mind; the initial step of deep, concentrative meditation.
7. Dhyāna: the practice of meditation and being in a meditative state, being ‘one’ with divinity.
8. Samādhi: illumination or enlightenment; the final phase, the 8th limb, the pinnacle of practice. Achieved when the other limbs are in alignment and we are operating without any sense of separation, feeling a union with all parts of ourselves and creation. I have glimpsed this state of connection and ensuing bliss when I’ve achieved elevation from ego, during particular meditative practices such as Kundalini Yoga or Vipassana, and felt overwhelming appreciation and oneness with all that is. It can be compared to the peak ecstatic state of orgasm, though not centred in the sex organs as a burst of relief, the tastes of Samādhi I’ve had have been all body, all being sustained expansion experiences, imbued with a sense of peace and joy.
“We must abandon all attachments to the result of the action; and then – and only then – can we achieve supreme peace.”
– Krishna to Arjuna (Bhagavad Gita)
The task of encapsulating twenty years of learning into a readable blog-post is not a simple one, as my journey has taken me deep and far. Since my early foray I’ve spent time at ashrams in India, Thailand and Spain, doing intensive teacher training courses and extended programmes of study. I qualified as a teacher in 2005; have attended and facilitated numerous workshops, classes and retreats; and done countless hours of reading and practice. It’s definitely worth it, as I now embody a deeper consciousness in all aspects of my life.
“He who has no attachments can really love others, for his love is pure and divine.”
– Krishna to Arjuna (Bhagavad Gita)
The messages presented by my physical body are more apparent and easier to interpret, such as the need for rest, movement, sunshine, for touch. I have greater awareness of my mind: its processes and patterns which can get me stuck in a particular way of thinking; the stories of the past which present themselves as memories and the stories of the future which present themselves as plans, both of which serve to distract me away from fully living each present moment. There is greater connection to my emotional being and acceptance of the nuances of my emotional world. I am able to perceive my energetic-self and respond to times of apathy or vigour, and adjust my plans accordingly. I am coming to know myself more and more as a spiritual being, not as an intellectual idea, rather as an experiential reality.
There’s a developing sense of recognition of the Self that sits behind all other processes; the observer, spirit, higher self, universal consciousness, which is currently experiencing itself as ‘Andi’ in this physical realm. As I evolve and grow into this union I experience greater harmony and balance, enabling me to manifest more peaceful and elegant outcomes.
When preparing classes, workshops or retreats, I ask for guidance from the universe to help me share what it means to explore this union. Yoga cannot be taught, it can only be experienced and humbly I offer myself to accompany others on their own journey. For me, starting from a place of self-love is fundamental, there is no room for the western-capitalist tendencies of competition or comparison; what we can do both on and off the mat varies from day-to-day as well as person-to-person. A state of change is the only constant in life. I also encourage students to focus on all parts of the process and to let go of the idea of goals. In this way we can really experience each moment as a gift of life and an opportunity to grow in consciousness.
“In order to achieve a state of yoga, one must develop both practice and detachment from achieving that state”
– Sutra 1.12 Patanjali
Whilst I do my best to live-up to these ideals in everyday life: like everyone I ebb and flow, though my commitment to my own personal growth never waivers. I offer myself and my service with as much humility and integrity as my current evolution will allow.
If you would like to chat to me about private yoga sessions, either in person or online, or the possibility of designing together a personalised retreat here at Casa Luna for yourself or a small group, please send me a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I invite you to explore yoga with me as an act of self-love and a way to truly know and understand yourself. We are connected.
With infinite love, Andi