Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Does Your Yoga Practice "Awaken" You?

The classical Yoga of Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived more than 2,000 years ago, has eight limbs, or aspects to the path:


The idea is that for yoga students to transform and reach their full potential, the need to practice all eight limbs is required. Additionally, each limb can contain all the other limbs, so students can practice all eight limbs within any one limb. It’s holographic.

These days, the general understanding of yoga is limited. It’s seen as a cool form of exercise, or a way to relax and de-stress. This relates to yoga as asana, literally “seat” or “posture,” and these are the exercises that are performed in any hatha yoga class. But asana is just one aspect of the practice. In fact, students can continue to do the exercises for years and years and derive some benefit, but not change very much. For the practice to be transformative, that is; for the practice to awaken the yoga student to their full potential, the practice of all eight limbs is a necessary path.

The first limb, “Yama” refers to the characteristics that can be practiced to live in harmony (in yoga, literally “union”) with the world. If harmony is lacking from a students life, it will be difficult or impossible to still the mind, or come into yoga.

The 5 Yamas:
Ahimsa – non-violence
Satya - truth
Asteya – non-stealing
Bramacharya – containment of energy
Aparigraha- non-grasping

This month we will look at the Ahimsa (non-violence) Yama. For most people, violence that imposes harm to others is not a big problem. This is good, but there are more subtle levels to ahimsa that should be considered. For example, it’s not uncommon that small amounts of aggression find their way out into the world through socially acceptable actions like road rage. Other forms of actions that could be damaging include harboring angry and resentful thoughts about people, gossiping, and practicing self-critical and harsh behavior towards ourselves.

A wise meditation teacher once said that “we learn to be loving by noticing how unloving we are.” To focus on where a students practice reside, pay close attention to the ways aggressive energy is released into the world in seemingly harmless ways. Take notice of the ways you talk to yourself, how often the inner voice is critical, harsh and unkind, and how you talk and behave with those nearest and dearest to you. As students discover more about themselves, consider how to celebrate the wakefulness rather than exhibit further levels of aggression. Learn to be non-violent by noticing how violence is projected.

Written by Shannon McCall
Yoga Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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