Undeniably, this is the era of yoga. In USA, there are 20.4 million adults practicing yoga. There are 57 listed yoga studios in Singapore. A search for yoga teachers in Singapore also yield an impressive list. There is an ever growing niche of yoga – Anusara, Iyengar, Astanga, Power, Bikram, Hatha, Yin, Viniyoga, Kudalini, SUP and so on. So much so that even I want to dabble in this pool of yoga niche by coming up with my own Santosh Yoga. I’m just kidding. But seriously, whenever I tell somebody I am a yoga teacher, they will further the conversation with enquiries to what kind of yoga I teach.
Essentially, yoga is just yoga. It is intriguing for there to be so many different yoga styles because the text, which gives structure to yoga, Yoga Sutras, only have2 sutras committed on asanas. But nowadays, we have some practitioners talking about bakasana and headstand like that is the epitome of yoga. I agree that these postures are fun to do, but to me, what makes our yoga practice so beneficial to our life is the holistic package that it offers in the eight limbs. I encourage you to take the time to understand the philosophy of yoga, understand the eight limbs of yoga and practice them.
To get you started, here are the brief explanations of the eight limbs of yoga and a brief guide to integrating them into your life.
Limb 1: Yamas. Restraints.
The 5 restraints are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, control of sexual desires and abstinence from coveting things.
These restraints are quite similar in any other ethics teaching. What goes around comes around. Even if there is no such thing as retribution in the world, we shouldn’t hurt others. If we hurt others, we can actually feel the pain of others as our own. Call me hippy, but I think we all have a responsibility to strive to spread more love and compassion in this unbalanced world. Watch this video to understand how doing good things could lead to a happy brain.
Limb 2: Niyamas. Observances.
The 3 observances are discipline (cleanliness, contentment and austerity), constant study and devotion/surrendering of your actions.
Again, I see all these niyamas as the fundamentals of life, no matter which aspects you apply them to, be it academic, work or activism.
Cleanliness applies to both physically and mentally. When we clean ourselves mentally, it means we rid ourselves of impurities like arrogance, malice and etc. Contentment and austerities guide us to live within the means that is required to sustain our lives.
We don’t get more than we need and we are able to develop resilience in our minds. In which, this determination and discipline will enable us to maintain regular study that add values to our lives.
Surrendering of our actions don’t mean giving up, it refers to devoting our actions for our higher self/God/greater good in a way that we become unattached to the results of our actions. We will do what is required of us to make this a better world but we will carry in ourselves a sense of peace no matter what our actions result.
Limb 3: Asana. Physical postures.
This is what most people know yoga for. The physical postures of yoga: the downward dog, upward dog, cobra, headstand and etc.
A good and sound practice of physical postures comes from the derivations of postures and sequencing according to the individual strength, flexibility and needs. When asanas are practice in such a way, it will increase our strength, improve our flexibility, improve our structural alignment, promote proper functioning of our body systems and maintain mental steadiness.
Limb 4: Pranayama. Regulation of breath.
The yogic breathing methods include various form of breathing, like ujjayi, nadishodhana and sitali. It also includes the practice of regulation and suspension of inhalation and exhalation.
Our breath hold the key to our mental state. Recall the time when you are angry, or when you are peaceful, how is your breathing like? Chances will be when you are angry, you are inhaling heavily and quickly. When you are peaceful, your breath is deep and smooth. If our minds are restless, our breath will also fluctuate greatly. It works the other way too. If we try to concentrate on our breath, our mind becomes focus too. The practice of breath regulation helps to quiet our mind, improve our concentration and bring about a state of peace.
In our next article, we will continue to explore the other 4 limbs. These 4 limbs will guide us through the exploration of our mind in order to achieve a state of calmness and peace.
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