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The Niyamas

 

  1. Shaucha – Purifying body and mind
  2. Santosha – Contentment
  3. Tapas – Training the senses
  4. Svadhyaya – Self-study
  5. Ishvara pranidhana – Surrender

As we mentioned last week, Niyamas are the counterpart to the Yamas. Niyamas, like all of the 8 limbs, are achieved through careful observation of our actions, and results of those actions, in order to become aware of their benefits or disadvantages.

To look at their definitions without any analysis, it looks as though they have the wrappings of a strict religious devotion. However, the devotion that is needed here is not a devotion to an outside entity, it is devotion to our own spiritual growth. Through the Niyamas we can begin to realize that this work we are doing within ourselves is reflected upon those surrounding us.

water dropShaucha

This can be compared to the idea of “what you reap, so shall you sow.” If you make the effort to eat healthy foods and exercise, then you will be working towards a healthy body. In the same way, if you feed your mind healthy thoughts and information, then you will be working towards a healthy mind. Of course, this is an oversimplification. We live in a world where it isn’t always convenient and affordable to eat organic and take the time to chew each bite 100 times before swallowing. Similarly, we are constantly inundated with images of violence in our news and in our entertainment.

The point here is to make a conscious effort. To work towards slowing down and being aware of what we are putting into our bodies and what we are filling our minds with. Once a student begins to pay attention, they may find that the body really doesn’t want that cheeseburger and that the unsettled stomach after having a pint of ice cream soon becomes more of a deterrent than the desire for the immediate satisfaction. The waves of emotion from watching or reading about violence and the abundance of exposure that ugliness of the world receives fro the news media will become exhausting once the mind discovers that there are options to expand and explore the self.

contentmentSantosha

Finding happiness with where you are. This one really is as simple as that. However, to put this into action could require a reversal of a lifetime of training for keeping up with the Jones’. We live in a world of consumerism that, unless you are ready to pack up and head for the caves, none of us are immune to. We need to eat, we need clothes, we need a roof over our head and stuff to put under that roof, and then a couple more things to put under the roof, and then a few more items, and then that’s all you need. Except for the iPad, you need that too.

Of course, it isn’t all about being content with what we have. It’s also contentment in our relationships (or lack there of). Being content with your job (or lack there of). Can you be content with just where you are? Our lives are fluid and changing with each moment. If we are stuck in the mind set of “Everything will/was be better when/if…….” then we are lost outside of the current moment and attaching our expectation of happiness to something (or someone) outside of ourselves.

fireTapas

Tapas literally translated means “to burn.” A student working on this yama is working to burn off the mental impurities in order to gain control over the body and its senses. If I may use the lingo of the eighties, the saying “no pain, no gain” can be viewed as Tapas. Any time we make a significant change in our lives, or a change is put upon us, there will be resistance to it a struggle or even suffering until we acclimate to the new situation. So with Tapas we make the decision to make our minds clear and steady by turning towards that suffering and pain and addressing it.

This becomes a kind of washing of the mind, cleansing of the thoughts, and a rinsing out (or letting go) of the impurities and open us up to a greater awareness of our body and our senses.

the thinkerSvadhyaya

With so much external stimuli to contend with we begin to split our world into internal and external realms. And what we view as the external overtakes our mind and our senses to the point of losing the awareness of what is happening within.

Svadhaya is the practice of rediscovering what is happening within ourselves. Bringing awareness to the mind body and breath until we come to the realization that the separation of the external and internal is false. That our awareness is all encompassing and all things are interrelated.

Anything we do with to deepen this awareness is Svadhyaya. This could be studying the yoga texts, sitting for meditation, attending a yoga class and being aware of each posture and its effect on the body, or even throughout the course of your day watching your breath change as you are confronted with different situations. Anything that you do to deepen the awareness of the self is Svadhyaya.

Ishvara Pranidhana

We can imagine this yama as a practitioner sitting in lotus pose meditating, letting go of the mind, and surrendering into bliss, enlightenment, God, etc. However, to truly engage in the practice of Ishvara Prandihana, we must surrender any attachment to the outcomes of our actions. A practiced yogi dedicates all actions to the benefit of the Universal Consciousness.

enlightenment

 

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The Yamas

The first of the 8 limbs of yoga.

The Yamas are often discussed along side it’s complimentary counterpart – Niyamas. As the Yama’s are recognized as restraints of action, Niyamas are recognized as observances the practitioner should follow.

The Yamas and Niyamas are the moral and ethical codes of conduct meant to direct practitioners to a healthy balanced way of living in order to achieve peace and happiness in our lives. These are not commands for the student to fear punishment for not obeying, these are philosophical ideas for the student to reflect upon in order to discover the benefits of adhering to them and also reflect on the effects of what happens in our lives when we don’t.

This week’s blog entry will focus just on the Yamas, next week we will cover Niyamas.

According to Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutra there are 5 Yamas.

1. Ahimsa – Non-violence
2. Satya – Truthfulness
3. Asteya – Non-stealing
4. Bramacharya – Abstinance
5. Aparigraha – Non-Attachement

To describe the depth of meaning in a single word translation is helpful as an introduction to the topic, however many of the subtleties and details are lost with such simple definition.

Ahimsa – Non-violence

What does non-violence mean? Of course it means to not strike out physically at others, but it also encompasses the non-physical as well. Restraint from harsh words and thoughts (such as hatred) are what we are practicing by adhering to this Yama. Non-violence should also be practiced with the self, not acting or thinking in such a way that would be harmful to yourself. However, practicing non-violence by not harming others or yourself is still not the entire picture. The restraint is from doing harm, but put into action it is kindness and compassion for yourself and others. To practice ahimsa is to have respect and compassion for all life.

Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas because it is the primary philosophy that the remaining 4 Yamas build upon.

Satya – Truthfulness

To restrain from lying and to practice honesty with consciousness is a key building block in all codes of morality across all societies. Here in the western world, when we hear a word like truthfulness we may first see this mainly as our interaction with others. However, as practitioners we should first start with being honest with ourselves. In our society we have created our perception of self based on how we feel others perceive us. We strive to create our selves in such a way that we are accepted by others and not necessarily in a way that is true to who we are. Once we can be honest with ourselves, we can begin to break through the fog of the illusory world that we have created with our self perceptions and assumptions and begin to see the world as it truly is. Once we are able to be honest with ourselves, the ability to be honest with others should naturally follow, as we are no longer acting for the purpose of acceptance.

However, one of the challenges of practicing Satya is balancing it with the practice of Ahimsa. We want to avoid being “brutally honest,” as that is harmful to those on the receiving end of our honesty. We we must be impeccable with our words in order to convey the truth without causing harm to the individual it is directed to.

Asteya – Non-stealing

At its surface the practice of non-stealing is the practice of not taking that which is not yours. To practice non-stealing we want to make a conscious effort that any energy we take is reciprocated with equal energy. Money is merely a tangible form of energy, we earned that money through the energy we put out and are trading our energy for an item that someone has put their energy into. We can find many examples if we look into less tangible ideas, meaning situations where money and physical objects aren’t the energies that are being exchanged.

One example is taking someones self confidence or self worth in order to increase our own. Taking away someones personal power in order to feel that we are powerful over them. In a more subtle example, when you are late to an appointment or engagement, you are stealing the time of the individual who is waiting for you. That person is spending there energy waiting and not receiving anything in return for it.

The translation of this line in the sutras (2:37) is: To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes. To practice non-stealing we have to be constantly aware of how we are sending and receiving energy and, according to the sutras, once we find that balance there will be no need to ever want to steal as we will have all that we want.

Bramacharya – Abstinence

Abstinence is always a scary word, it has been so closely attached to celibacy that many see this as being an unreasonable practice for a lay person. However abstinence in this context is not celibacy, it is the practice of self restraint in all things. Excesses, in any activity, lead to a dissipation of energy that could be better applied to other endeavors, specifically the attainment of deeper states of consciousness.

Celibacy can often become an effect of practicing Bramacharya. When the practitioner becomes aware of the bliss that self awareness brings, there is no longer a repression of sensual urges, but a desire to move that energy towards greater self awareness.

Aparigraha – Non-Attachment

Attachment to material possessions will only bring about personal suffering. This is not to say that you should sell all of your possessions and move to a cave in the Himalayan mountains. Nor does it mean that wanting for the next iProduct makes you a bad Yogi. Non-attachment is the realization that our happiness and/or well being does not come from the attainment of these possessions and that the loss of these possessions does not mean a loss of our own identity.

Practicing Non-attachment requires us to realizing that material items come and go through lives and holding onto them only holds us behind on our path. We do not have to deny ourselves the exciting new technologies and gadgets of our time in order to practice non-attachment as long as we recognize that we are not dependent upon them

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8 Limbs of Yoga

Ashtanga - Eight Limbs

Beyond the asanas, yoga can be viewed as a science where we can observe our bodies and minds to create and test hypotheses and develop theories based on our findings.  The full system of the science of yoga is the 8 fold path or the eight limbs of yoga, of which the asanas are just one of the limbs.

The eightfold path was codified in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.  The Yoga sutras are considered the fundamental text on the practice of yoga.  Of the 196 lines of text (Sutras) there are only 3 that discuss the postures of the body:

  • Sutra 2.46 specifies that for meditation the individual should be seated and remain steady, stable, and motionless, as well as being comfortable and at ease.
  • Sutra 2.47 that the practitioners should loosen all tension and effort in their seated posture and that their attention become focused on the infinite.
  • Sutra 2.48 summarizes that the attainment of this perfect posture enables a loosening of effort and the ability to focus on the infinite.

It wasn’t until the Sages began writing commentary on the Sutras that the postures that we know today began to integrate themselves into the practice of yoga to better enable the practitioners to achieve this perfect seated posture

Overall, the purpose of yoga is to cultivate awareness.  These 8 limbs are not commandments or directives, these are suggestions for living a better life through yoga, and only through your own study and practice can you prove the benefits for yourself.

Over the course of the next several weeks we will be looking at each of the limbs and breaking down their meanings in order to help better observe and practice them in our day to day lives.

The 8 limbs:

  • Yama – Restraints
  • Niyama – Observances
  • Asana – Body
  • Pranayama – Breath
  • Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the Senses
  • Dharana – Concentration that leads to meditation
  • Dhyana – Uninterrupted meditation
  • Samadhi – Absolute bliss

 

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Which Style of Yoga is Best for You?

With so many different styles and schools of yoga out there, it can be difficult to choose between them if you aren’t sure what to expect.  This week’s blog will focus on breaking through the mystery of yoga types.

For clarification, it is important to know that yoga is a scientific system with 8 components or limbs.  The postures that we are familiar with are only one of those components: asana.

The second thing you need to know is that all of the yoga that is offered out there is Hatha yoga.  Iyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga, Vinyasa are all Hatha Yoga, the difference between them is what they focus on, what the masters who created the system found true within themselves and then, through their knowledge, established a system for their students to follow.

All types of yoga have their benefits, but not all may be right for you.  Hopefully the following information can help demystify the core schools that are available and give you some guidance as to what will work best for you.  The following is just the tip of the iceberg of what constitutes each of these styles of yoga.  There are volumes of texts written about each style and we encourage you to find a style that suits you and dig in!

Hatha

We’ll start with basic Hatha Yoga.  When a school/class schedule states that they offer Hatha 1 or Hatha 2 classes.  In most cases a Hatha yoga class will begin with a centering practice that will enable the students to let go of the chatter of the mind regarding past and possible future events so that they can settle into the moment and stay focused throughout the class.  Gentle warm-ups will follow to loosen up muscles and ligaments and to bring awareness to the body.  Depending on the teacher and the level of the students attending the class may or may not flow through sun salutations, but standing postures such as Lunges, Triangle, Warrior and Forward Folds are typical.  Core work is a component of most yoga classes to keep the muscles that support the spine strong as well as flexible.  Expect to spend time in a seated cross legged position as well as on all fours in “Table Posture” as these are all common in a Hatha Yoga class.  The class will typically finish with a relaxation exercise, and some teachers add breath work and meditation.

Iyengar

Iyengar Yoga’s primary focus is alignment of the body in each pose.  Through the use of props (blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, etc) the student finds the proper alignment of a pose for their own body’s proportions. It is possible that a student may experience only one or two poses in an Iyengar class.  This does not necessarily mean that it is an easy class.  The student will be challenged to deeply experience each posture, where they feel at ease in the posture and where their body is working to maintain the posture.  Where they feel their body is working, they will then try to find the place where the body can release and settle into the posture with as little effort as possible.  Once this is accomplished the student will maintain the posture for a set period of time as determined by the teacher.

Ashtanga and Power Yoga

Ashtanga/Power Yoga is a very demanding practice.  It is important to have a strong understanding of the postures and the alignment of the body within the postures before moving into an Astanga class.  This class is fast paced and does not lend itself to the teacher making adjustments or corrections.  Ashtanga classes have a set series of poses performed in the same order every time.  The student flows from one pose to the next in a fluid manner.

There are some studios that offer “Power Yoga” that do not follow the specified sequence or structure of Ashtanga Yoga.  These classes are typically high paced, flowing Hatha Yoga classes.  The difference will be the variation of poses and sequence in which you flow through them.

Bikram and Hot Yoga

Bikram is much like Ashtanga in that there is a set series of 26 poses that are always performed in the same sequence.  However, Bikram Yoga is done with the room temperature set between 95 and 105 degrees.  The purpose of this is to allow the muscles, tendons and ligaments to loosen in order for the students to experience more challenging postures as well as to encourage sweating out toxins through the combination of the heat and physical exertion.  Don’t forget your towel and water bottle for this class.

As Power Yoga is to Ashtanga, Hot Yoga is to Bikram – Hot Yoga takes the concept of using heat and exertion to release toxins through sweat, but the postures and sequence can vary from class to class.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa Yoga has the student move through the postures in coordination with the breath.  Breath awareness is important for all types of yoga, but Vinyasa Yoga cannot be fully experienced without proper breath awareness.  In this style, the movement is synchronized to the breath, meaning that the student moves through each pose with either and inhale or an exhale.  Almost as if the breath is moving the body.  This can be challenging for those who don’t have a strong cardiovascular system.

The student can expect to flow through several Sun Salutations as their warm up and then move into more challenging postures.

Yin

Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the tendons and ligaments around the joints.  The students will hold each pose for several minutes in order to discover where they are able to release and let go while maintaining the posture.  Students practicing Yin Yoga are working with the deep tissues and energies of the body.  Even though there may only be a few postures experienced in with a class, the effect can be powerful.

Restorative

Restorative Yoga is yoga for those who want to let go of the outside world for a while.  This style uses passive stretching to release tensions and stresses within the body.  Most poses are done wither lying on the back or in a seated position with the body supported by bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps.  This relieves the student of unnecessary straining so that their body and mind can surrender and release.

Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga is yoga done specifically to work with the energy that resides at the base of the spine.  A basic knowledge of the systems of yoga, such as Chakras and energy channels are helpful, but not necessary in practicing this form of Yoga.  Just as in Bikram and Ashtanga, the student is led through specific poses in a set sequence.  However, there are many different sequences (Kriyas) depending on how the practice will affect the energy systems of the body.  A student attending a Kundalini Yoga class should be aware that it is very different than any of the other styles listed above.  The postures reflect the common Hatha Yoga postures, however there are some postures that you hold for several minutes or particular movements that you will flow through for several minutes.  Kundalni also integrates various styles of breath work and chanting mantras into the kriyas for the purpose of moving the energy through the body.

Schools

In addition to the types of yoga listed above there are also traditions, or schools, of yoga that have a direct lineage to the Himalayan and Indian Masters that established them and brought them to the West.  These traditions focus on yoga as a scientific system of overall health and wellness.  They see yoga as a lifestyle and the asanas as just a portion of the work we do to improve our lives.  Our school, The Himalayan Institute, is one of those as well as Kirpalu, Integral, and Sivananda.

We highly encourage you to try different types of yoga and different teachers.  Even teachers with the same training background will bring their own style and personality to the class.  So if you go to a class and like the movement but are uncomfortable with the speed or level, don’t give up, pick another class.

 

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Welcome to our shiny new blog!

We hope that you have been following the web site updates throughout 2011 and that the improvements have made finding information easier and that the information itself is more timely and appropriate. We welcome any feedback and suggestions.

It was always our intention to add a blog to the site, and we are happy to announce that we are taking the plunge and making the commitment. It is our intention that this blog be an open forum where everyone, from any level or school of yoga, can comment and actively participate in the conversation. As we are volunteer driven, we ask for your patience and kindness as we get the blog up and running and work out any kinks as we make our way through the learning curve of this process.

The posts will be written by teachers from our local studio. The focus will be on the many different aspects that go into living a healthy yoga lifestyle.

We hope that you will enjoy the articles and return each week to check out our new posts.

Thank you for your interest and support in our studio.

Namaste.

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