I recently completed my first 200hr yoga teacher training. Very Exciting! It was an incredible and life changing experience. I have been practicing yoga for about 6-7 yrs, it was a natural progression for the spiritual path I am on. I noticed that when I practice yoga in addition to my meditation practice I felt exceptionally centered and with a clear connection to Spirit. Hhhmmm why is that? The opportunity to investigate this question came when we were required to complete a research paper on a topic of our choosing to complete the yoga teacher training. What I discovered has inspired me to continue on this path and keep “taking it to the mat”. The following are my findings. Enjoy!
Yoga & Spirituality
I have often found after yoga practice I feel open, calm and clearly connected to Spirit, much as I do when I sit to meditate. I know yoga is a mind, body & spirit practice and that through the practice of yoga toxins and blocks can be removed from the body and mind but what is happening on the spirit or energetic body level that leaves me feeling so clear and strongly connected to Spirit? Hhhmm let’s see..
What is yoga? Well as it turns out upon researching the word yoga it is derived from the Sanscrit word “yuj” which means to bring together, to unite. Yoga means union. Awesome…ok union to what? Union in three forms:
- · Union in the Individual Person – when you look at an individual person you are looking at several elements that come together to make that person. Body, mind, intellect, emotions, ego (mistaken sense of self), pure self. Often these components are at war within a person. Such as emotions overriding intellect. Ex. losing your temper.
- · Union between ourselves and the Divine – we are never disconnected from God, however we can have the illusion of being disconnect. Yoga is employed as a means to remove that veil of illusion and to again remember our unity with the Divine
- · Union between ourselves and other beings, all of God’s creations – looking at history, politics, civilization throughout time there has been conflict, wars, greed, social clashes due to a sense of disunity between ourselves and others which is caused by ego. Caused by false identification on our part and on the part of others.
An expert on the matter, Patanjali, defines yoga as such: yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind. Stilling and gaining control over the subtle aspects of our mental and psychic selves. Patanjali states the goal of yoga as being self-realization and God-realization.
OK, so riddle me this… how is this union with the Divine achieved? The first is to have self-realization, you have to know first your own experience of consciousness before you can know the origin of all consciousness. (Is there an App for that? No. If you want to get to the castle you have to swim the moat…ie. Do the work) For God realization it is believed you study scriptures, sacred texts, such as Bhagavad Gita, Narada Bhakti Sutras and Shandilya Bbhakti Sutras and other texts. (guessing like all sacred texts there are no Cliff Notes? No) However, you must have self realization before God realization. Hhhmmm now we seem to be getting somewhere…So how is self-realization achieved?
The entire yoga system its self is called Ashtanga, which means eight limbs. No one part is more integral than the others. Practicing all eight limbs eventually brings completeness to the practioner as they connect to the Divine.
- ·Yama – Universal morality, the attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves. Moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.
- Ø Ahimsa – compassion for all living things
- Ø Satya – commitment to truthfulness
- Ø Asteya – non-stealing
- Ø Brahmacharya – sense control
- Ø Aparigraha – neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
- · Nyama – personal observances, how we relate to ourselves inwardly. A personal attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully
- · Asana – the physical aspect of yoga, body postures. Along with the physical benefits of the postures such as improved health, strength, balance and flexibility the physical poses allow the practitioner to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being. Taking it to the mat offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith and unity between the physical and etheric body. The asana practice quiets the mind becoming both a prep for meditation and a form of meditation in and of itself.
- Ø Sauca – purity
- Ø Santosa – contentment
- Ø Tapas – disciplined use of our energy
- Ø Svadhyaya – self study
- Ø Isvarapranidhana – celebration of the spiritual
- · Pranayama – breathing exercises and control of prana. The breathing technique Pranayama controls the energy (prana, chi, ki) in the body in order to restore and maintain health, relax and balance the bodies. The combined practices of asana and pranayama facilitate the highest form of self discipline and purification for the mind and body by creating heat or the inner fire of purication.
- · Pratayhara – withdrawing of the senses, the interiorization of awareness. Pratyahara implies a withdrawal of senses from attachement to external objects, sensorial distractions, things that stimulate. The vital forces flow back to the Source within and the practitioner can concentrate without being distracted by externals. By sensory withdrawal the sense become extraordinarily sharp.
- · Dharana – concentration, focus, cultivating inner perceptual awareness. In Dharana the practitioner focuses on a single point or task, the mind is stilled to achieve the complete state of absorbtion. The mind is focused in one direction.
- · Dhyana –Devotion, meditation on the Divine. Dhyana is perfect contemplation. Concentrating on a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. Meditation is the tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.
- · Samadhi – complete absorption of one’s awareness in the Divine such that any separation, awareness of any separation between us and the Divine ceases to exist. Union with the Divine. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it emerged. Samadhi refers to union or true Yoga where the the illusion of the separation between self and non-self is released.
So from this research it appears that the practice of yoga, Ashtanga is a tool or way of living to help the person peel away the layers of dirt, social conditioning, perceptions and/or gunk accumulated over time allowing the practitioner to better know themselves. It reveals to them what they know, what they believe inside, their boundaries physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It allows the practitioner to strengthen and become flexible emotionally, mentally, spiritually as well as physically thus becoming forgiving and accepting of themselves and others. For myself, it allows me to discover, know, forgive and love who I am which seems to move aside the gunk that clogs the connection to Spirit. Spirit/Mother Father God/ Universe/Source loves us and is always there, always connected, however we get in our own way throwing up illusionary blocks and clogs diminishing (but never stopping) the freedom of the Flow. In conclusion, one more time for the cheap seats in the back…my yoga practice has allowed me time and time again to “Roto-Rooter” the Source pipeline, LET GO and BE IN THE FLOW.
The Eight Limbs, The Core of Yoga – William J.D. Doran
Yoga Spirituality: From Asana to Sadhana – DharmaNation (video)