A while ago, I had posted about starting on a deeper journey with my Yoga practice. In a couple of days, I set off for a month-long Yoga Teacher Training Course (TTC) in Dharamshala, India, at the foothills of the Himalayas. This town is more well-known as the official residence of the Dalai Lama. I am looking forward to it and, as preparation, I’ve been reading up on how to make Yoga a part of my life — beyond taking the odd 45-minute Yoga class.
My first encounter with Yoga did not happen during my years growing up in India. In those pre-internet days, even if there might have been Yoga classes in Bombay, no one in my family or social circle knew about them. During my years studying in the U.K., Yoga was something we thought of as a new-agey pastime that only people who had a lot of time and money could afford. So, my first Yoga experience was in the U.S., sometime in 2005 or 2006, when I bought a couple of Gaiam DVDs and started asanas in my living room. That got me interested enough to go on a few 1-2 week fitness spa retreats where I took more supervised Yoga classes. None of this was enough to build a sustained practice, although I did select a handful of my favorite poses and, during my years of business travel, I’d practise them in my hotel rooms as a way of energizing and refreshing myself.
But, truth be told, this ad-hoc practice of preferred asanas didn’t really make me feel any different. The stretching felt good for my stiff limbs, and some of the deeper breathing cleared my sinuses. Beyond that, I didn’t get anything out of such efforts. And, understandably so.
About a year ago, my health wasn’t the best. Nothing serious. Just a sluggish metabolism, which was, likely, a combination of the natural aging process and a general lack of eating, exercising or sleeping well. That’s when I returned to Yoga. But, this time, I wanted to learn about it as a holistic practice rather than just a series of poses. So, in addition to picking up a few books (see the end of this post), I also booked myself on this particular course.
What I hope to get out of this entire experience this time around is a more mindful way of living. Yoga means “union of the mind, body and soul”. It goes well beyond wearing trendy Lululemon clothes, saying ‘Namaste’ and ‘Om’, breathing deep and contorting your limbs, to a whole new way of thinking, a way of being and a way of behaving. And, very importantly, a way of creating. I know this latter because of the number of creatives I’ve met in the last decade or so who attribute their ability to create their art to this kind of mindfulness. One of them, a writer, explained this to me as follows:
To be truly creative, our thoughts, speech and actions need to be in sync, united. When we can only look at the world where the object is one thing, the experience of the object is another and the word is quite different from both, our knowledge and creativity is hampered. Just as wick, oil and flame combine together to create light, Yoga helps us to align our thoughts, speech and action more fully so that we, too, may create our unique light.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will share more about my journey and learning. Let’s end today with something that many newcomers (and some oldtimers) to Yoga are often not aware of. “Ashtanga Yoga” as described by the ancient guru, Patanjali, is about eight aspects or disciplines of Yoga as follows:
1. Yama — Our behavior and attitude towards the world and other people; social ethics
2. Niyama — Our behavior and attitude towards ourselves; personal ethics
3. Asana — Postures; practice of poses
4. Pranayama — Expansion of vital energy through control of breath
5. Pratyahara — Withdrawal of the senses from external objects, things, people, situations; turning one’s attention to one’s true Self, one’s inner world, experiencing and examining self to prepare for the next 3 stages
6. Dharana – Concentration on a single object/idea in preparation for meditation; fixing the mind on a single object — a mantra, one’s breath, a physical object one wants to observe, or a concept/idea — without drifting or jumping to something else
7. Dhyana – Meditation; contemplating, reflecting on whatever one has focused on during Dhahran, and doing so in a non-judgmental, non-presumptuous way
8. Samadhi – Complete absorption and oneness with the subject of one’s meditation so that there is no sense of one’s separate, personal identity (in other words: without any sense of what psychologists refer to as our individual ego)
The first four of these Yogic disciplines together are defined as practice, referred to as ‘Tapas’. They are the Path of Action, known as ‘Karmamarga’.
The next two disciplines are defined as self-study, referred to as ‘Svadhyaya’. They form the Path of Knowledge, known as ‘Jnanamarga’.
The final two disciplines are defined as the surrender of the individual self to the universal spirit, referred to as ‘Isvara Pranidhana’. They form the Path of Devotion, known as ‘Bhaktimarga’.
Often, the integration of the last three Yogic disciplines is also known as ‘Samyama’.
Yoga books that I recommend, regardless of what level of practitioner you consider yourself to be:
Go to ‘A Month of Yoga (contd.)‘