Yoga is complete at 360 degrees
I suppose you have heard this plenty of times and very often Yoga is considered to be great against back pain, insomnia, headache and much more. Therefore what mainly comes out is that Yoga has external benefits. It is true that it can help the problems mentioned above, but it has to be mentioned that it doesn’t only cure that sciatica pain but much more. It is correct to say yoga is so much bigger. And this is the responsibility of us teachers; we have to spread what else yoga is good for and teach all these techniques.
I like to start from the origins; 4000-5000 years ago Yoga was linked to the Pashupati seals, mainly because of the body positions of these little statues.
From there, between the Vedas and Upanishads, some very old scriptures, the word Yoga has been found but the first real definition of it arrives in the Katha Upanishad, where it was said that it’s a practice to control the senses. And this is one of the definition we still use today.
If yoga helps to control and restrain the senses, which are the ways to do it?
In the most famous book, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he says there are 8 steps or limbs to follow in order to reach happiness and to get to the goal.The first 4 points can be considered more “visible”, practical and external. The last 4 are internal to us, not visible and it is a job we have to do within ourselves.
Let’s start from the first point, Yama, already mentioned in a previous blog post. The Yamas are 5 and these are precautions we have to have towards the others and the outside world. These are: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha. Quickly translated they are kindness, truthfulness, non stealing, non indulgence (mainly in sex) and non greed.
The second point are the Niyamas, which are gestures we do for ourselves; sauca, samtosa, tapas, svadhyaya and isvarapranidhana, meaning purity, contentment, self discipline, self study and surrendering to the Supreme. Both Yamas and Niyamas have to be cared for all life long, day after day until it becomes natural to live following them. Just think about if someone is very advanced with the asana practice and can reach difficult poses, but he/she is a liar and wicked, that possibile cannot be yoga- it’s more gymnastic. Therefore these 2 points and the 5 points each within, are the basis and this is why they are at the first and second place.
Afterwards, the yoga that everyone knows, the poses on the mat, is the Asana, the third point. Asana is the physical path and with poses more or less advanced it helps the Prana, the vital energy, to flow. In addition to the Asana, we can add the Mudra (hands gestures) the Bandha (energy locks with specific movements, like pulling belly in and up) and chanting Mantras, all again useful for the passage of Prana.
The fourth point are breathing techniques, Pranayama. The control of breath also helps the Prana flow, as the word itself says; prana- yama.
The Pratyahara is the fifth point and it can be considered a bridge between the first 4 points and the last 3, between the external and the internal steps. Pratyahara literally means sense withdrawal. Until now we saw the previous points focused on the outside, on the physical body and the world, whilst from now on the other 4 points are focused within ourselves, soul and mind. Pratyahara is perhaps the less known of the Patanjali’s 8 golden rules, but this doesn’t mean less important. The senses are considered to be distractions and non-stop stimulus for our mind, and these keep the focus away from what is really important: ourselves. If we manage to stop the senses towards the outside world and using them within ourselves, the main goal of Pratyahara is reached.
Furthermore one cannot go from Asana to the final meditation; there would be a gap between these passages and one wouldn’t have a control of the breath and of the mind which is obtained through Pranayama and Pratyahara.
The sixth and seventh limbs are similar, Dharana and Dhyana, and these are complementary. The first one is concentration and the second point means meditation. If someone is concentrated for a long period of time it gets to the second step, the meditation stage: Dhyana.
The eighth and last point to follow is called Samadhi, the final goal for all Yogis. Who manages to reach a state of Samadhi, reaches also realisation and will unify with the surroundings and the universe. Furthermore, most important is to withdraw from the Ego and watch the world from a third eye; this is the main difference between the previous two points and Samadhi. Whoever reaches this contemplation status and deep meditation has reached complete Self realisation.
To conclude, these 8 steps are very important for whoever practices Yoga, it is not possible to get only the Asana practice without knowing the rest and what’s behind.
Also, this is why Yoga is considered to be so complete: it is good for the body, the heart and for the soul. I have learned there are some simple rules to follow from early mornings to evenings, it’s a lifestyle and I have noticed on myself how it changed my point of view and the way I look at situations. The more I study the whole philosophy and history, the more I learn to become an observer and not a judge. The more I get informed, the more I manage to take myself out from the daily situations and look at myself from the outside; This way I lessen my involvement. Although some emotions are impossible to control or avoid, I have learned to observe them and to understand how they come and in what occasions. Also, I have learned to appreciate recurrent thoughts when I am in a difficult Asana, where my body is in pain. I see what my first thought is and what reaction I have. Am I telling myself to get out the pose? Am I encouraging myself to stay?
This is exactly what I want to finish with: whoever knows the Patanjali Sutras or practices yoga this doesn’t mean he/she only thinks beautiful things, is always happy and serene- it means to know how to take the ego off the situations, how to become an impartial observer. To me this has been the biggest gift, I talk to myself much more and I know now that feelings are like a rollercoaster, I just need to be patient and wait until the highs come back and lessen the drama within them.
With love xx