You hear about people doing yoga all the time. But, how many people actually live yoga?
Yoga is not simply an exercise. Yoga is a science.
I’m a yoga teacher, yes, but more so I’m a seeker. A true scientist at heart. There’s a lot of claims about what can occur if one lives life according to the guidelines set forth in the practice of yoga. So I’ve decided to embark on a new experiment:
What will become of my life in 6 months if I commit to practicing each and every premise of Yoga, every day?
Like any good scientist, I’ll follow the scientific method. The first of which is “observation” or research. It is the beginning stage in understanding the parameters of the experiment. That’s what I’ll lay out today.
What is Yoga? What does it mean to LIVE yoga?
Traditionally, yoga is a holistic framework to build one’s life upon in order to bring about peace, balance, good health, and greater harmony with others.
If one is living yoga, then they are following a specific formula. A specialized life path. A path made of eight different limbs. These eight “limbs of yoga” are basically steps laid out in order to show people how to create union between the body, mind, and spirit. It is a road-map of “right living” set forth around 200 AD in a sacred text called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. If followed correctly, the text promises that one will attain an end to all restlessness of mind, lasting peace, and union with God.
(Starting to understand why I’m interested in taking this on?)
So what are these guidelines? I’ll lay out each limb of yoga, and then go into deeper detail on how they should be (and can be) lived by the yoga practitioner.
1. Yamas—Moral Code
The Yamas are your moral code. They’re universally recognized characteristics that make up right living. They’re to be practiced daily, said to purify human nature and contribute to the greater health and happiness of society. These are five commandments of not-being-an- asshole, if you will.
- Ahimsa: Non-harming, compassion for all living things
- Satya: Commitment to Truth
- Asteya: Non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: Sense control, or abstinence, particularly in regard to sexual activity
- Aparigraha: Non-greed
(I’ll go into these deeper later on.)
2. Niyamas—Personal Code of Conduct
The Niyamas are the laws. Daily rules that need to be put into practice, not simply known or acknowledged. They are the personal code of conduct for living an authentic, pure life.
- Sauca: Purity, cleanliness
- Santosa: Contentment, being content with what you have
- Tapas: Disciplined use of energy, keeping up with fitness, engaging in cleansing behaviors
- Svadhyaya: Self-study, self-reflectiveness
- Isvarapranidhana: dedication to the God, celebration of the Divine
3. Asanas—Physical Postures
This is the easy one. Asanas are the physical postures, what most people in the West think of as “yoga”. It’s what we practice in gyms and studios. The word asana means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit. Moving the body into certain postures, pushing physical limits, learning to “stay” in the present moment even when it’s uncomfortable… all of these things are beneficial to for calming the mind and exploring ones inner being. The postures are designed to bring forth emotions, a tool for exploring our relationship and mental attitudes that come up as a response to the physical world.
In short, the physical postures give rise to complete health and balance within the body. This is needed in order to move on to the next limbs of yoga.
4. Pranayama—Breath Control
The Sanscrit word “prana” means life-force. The word “yama” means to restrain or control. This practice encompasses different breathing techniques in order to control, measure, or direct the breath. It is said that if the in-breath and the out-breath are balanced, perfect relaxation and balance of bodily activities are realized.
If practiced correctly, proper breath control has the power to “strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration.”
No cravings, and no anxiety? Count me in.
5. Pratyahara—Sense Withdrawal
As we move up the path, the guidelines become a bit more complex and abstract. Pratyahara means to “withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses”. Sense withdrawal. Or, in layman’s terms, letting go of the attachment to the many external, sensory temptations and distractions.
For someone in the 21st century, this one is a doozie. Nearly everything we do is to feed one sensory desire or another. My interpretation of how to incorporate pratyahara into everyday life is to cut back on every external distraction and activity that feeds desire. Limit TV, social media, cut out fast food, limit sweets, and be wary of all marketing devices aimed at perking up the senses.
In essence, practicing pratyahara means to master the senses. It is listening to only to the internal voice and quieting the external. When our bodies tell us that we are hungry, we eat. When other tell us that something is delicious and we begin to crave, we withhold. The senses are put in their proper place—under our control.
6. Dharana—Undivided Concentration
This is really where meditation comes in. Dharana means “immovable concentration of the mind.” This practice takes time to come to in full. It is pure focus, unwavering and full, undivided attention.
Only when we are feeling right in our body, and in control of the distractions plaguing the mind are we truly able to meditate. Meditating, or focusing the mind on a single point of direction, is a practice. The more it is practiced, the more intense the focus can become. This internal attention is not a selfish mechanism. Rather, as stated by yoga revolutionary B.K.S Iyengar, the ego is restrained and ” all faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of ‘I’ or ‘mine’.”
Dyhana means worship. This practice can be translated to something like prayer. But, more so it’s a contemplation on the greater truth of reality. Reflection on the true nature of oneself, of others, of society, of the world, and of God.
During this practice, truths are revealed to us by our own repeated and constant inquiry into the true nature of all things. (If you’re now asking yourself: What the hell is she talking about?) It really is simply focusing and contemplating on the idea that we are all made up of the same elements at an atomic level. It is realizing that we are all the same. That we are all Divine.
(I’ll share more insights into this as I come to them through practice 😉 )
8. Samadhi— Union
The eighth limb of yoga is, from my understanding, the final destination. This is where the path leads. The ultimate union. Uniting body, mind, and spirit. But also uniting spirit with God, with the Universe, with the Divine, with whatever greater power you believe in.
This last limb represents true yoga. It is an end to the feeling of being separate. It is the realization that there is no difference between you, others, and the universe on the whole.
It is the state of true enlightenment.
So… That’s the end goal. Shouldn’t be too hard. Right? 🙂
… Hypothesize, Predict, Experiment.
My own hypothesis? I’ll become an ethereal, yogic being that floats instead of walks and can heal people by looking in their direction.
My hope is simply that by the end of this I find myself living a deeper, more fulfilled, connected life. I’ll record the day to day activities that I embark on in order to best accomplish these requirements, and attempt to fully live yoga in the 21st century.
Follow me on the path to enlightenment here. I’ll be updating with the various struggles, thoughts, successes, and (of course!) all of the failures along the way.