More than an Asana Practice
Asana, the physical practice of “yoga”, is one of eight limbs of yoga.
Where did these ideas come from?
The ideas and practice of yoga are so ancient that one can only trace it back so far in history. One of the early written record that was widespread is called the Yoga Sutra which dates back before 400 AD. There is so much written on the Yoga Sutra, that I feel inadequate to briefly sum it up in my own words (although you can read the short paper I wrote as a final project for my yoga teacher training here) . Instead, I will point you to resources of people who have studied the Yoga Sutra and encourage you to go read it for yourself.
Read the Blog
I have started a series of blog posts called “Sutras and Scriptures”. You can go to this first blog post and follow along as I continue to study, explore and write on this topic.
Join the Group
There is a group of us reading How Yoga Works. It not what you think it is by reading the title, scroll down the page to see a description. We are meeting once a month on a Google Hangout. You are welcome to join us. Here is the information page.
Learn a little Sanskrit
Work to learn Sanskrit names of poses. It may seem odd to be asked to learn poses in another language. Why is it important? If you really don’t want to, it’s OK, but I think it’s cool. Why? Because this is a practice learned all over the world. I can meet someone from Argentina, Germany, France, China or Alabama. I might not understand their language, but if I go to an Ashtanga studio, I will know the poses because we all learn the same Sanskrit words. Sort of like learning the Latin words for plants or medical terms so people can work together cross linguistically.
Ashtanga Yoga Limbs 1 and 2
The first two limbs (out of 8) of Ashtanga Yoga are the Yamas, Niyamas. Some people liken these to the Ten Commandments. As you focus on these during your Asana practice, it changes the way you think about what you are doing with your body and how your experience on the yoga mat is like your life.
- The 5 Yamas are:
-Bramacharya: focus energy toward the divine
- The 5 Niyamas are:
-Tapas: purifying practices
-Svadhyaya: self study and the study of sacred texts
-Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to the divine
There is a lot written out there on the Yamas and Niyamas. Under the “About Yoga” tab you can find a paper I wrote for my yoga teacher training where I compare them to the Ten Commandments. Do a Google search under these words and you will come up with plenty to study and hopefully you will feel motivated to look at ways to gently train your mind to move toward these ideals
Try this: Pick one of the Yamas or Niyamas to focus on during your asana practice and watch your mind. For example, if you choose Ahimsa (non-harming), watch if you tend to push too hard in a stretch that may lead to injury. Or, do you find yourself thinking “I’m not as good at this as that person.” Or, “That person thinks they are so hot. What a show-off.” Do you see how these kinds of actions or thoughts lead away from Ahimsa? Next practice, try a different Yama or Niyama to focus on until you have had a practice with all 10.
- The 5 Yamas are: