Three Aspects of Yoga

What is yoga? Why are you doing yoga? Do we really want to understand yoga? Lately these questions went through my head again and again. The trigger for these thoughts is usually when people ask me what kind of yoga I am doing, and if yoga is good for weight loss or if they can get a good workout with yoga. It seems like asking a computer sales rep if you can write e-mails with their newest computer model.  -  Maybe that is not a too good comparison, but one that came to me just then.  

Here is what we covered in the Yoga Day on the 11th of Feb in "Union of Head, Heart and Hands".

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The aim of yoga is not getting a beautiful body or getting a flexible body - not even to get a healthy body. All these things will be possibly a side effect of yoga while the real goal is self realisation. And therefore we have to look at three definitions of yoga.

1. Yoga is a discipline. Through this discipline the body, mind and spirit can get connected like the parts of a tree are connected: the trunk (body and the sense organs), the branches with leaves, flowers and fruit ( mental and emotional faculties) and the roots that are the foundation for a strong healthy tree that expands outward the way it's meant to (the spirit which we are the least connected with). 

2. Yoga as integration of head, heart and hands. There is meditation and Yoga Nidra to expand our mental abilities, pranayama (breathing practises) to connect with our heart through becoming aware of our emotions, and asanas (Yoga "postures", done with awareness) to connect us with the physical body to become aware of our actions and fine tune them so that they become selfless.

3. Yoga as the path to expanded awareness. This we know that today as mindfulness. 

If we summarise this and bring it together so we can do something with these definitions, so that yoga is lived rather than practiced in one or tow yoga sessions a week we go to, we can say that yoga is a discipline we cultivate by setting daily a little time aside to practice some asanas, some pranayama and some meditation / relaxation. By setting a specific time aside we become the master over our mind (and not the other way round) that could find 1000 excuses why you should do it once in a while or that there are more important things to do on that particular day etc. Through doing the practice with awareness of movement in coordination with the breath and then being the witness of the thoughts that are jumping around in your mind and the reasons that come up why it is silly to always do the same thing every day, that you need to do something for your neck instead of your lower back.... and on an on it goes - you get to really practising yoga and then living it. In this way you find out a lot about your mind, your tendencies, but also your strengths. Your awareness will be fine tuned so that life after your "yoga practice" looks different as well and you will be different in the world. too.  ;-)

One's whole experience of life gets lightened up, and one really dives into the experience of life.

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Or as my yoga master Swami Niranjananda Saraswati from Bihar Yoga Bharati said :

"Practicing yoga and learning about yourself is like entering a big dark room and turning the lights on one by one. People want instant transformation. Yoga is not for these people. It is for people who are patient and willing to work hard to overcome their limitations."

 

Turning Mindfulness into Heartfulness this festive season

During the time leading up to Christmas I read that 40% of Australians are feeling rushed and pressed for time and that issues related to personal finance are the top source of stress.  This so called festive season is for many an anxiety driven experience, where the pressure of family expectations, social commitments and the cost of Christmas presents can lead to people having increased cortisol and heart rate levels combined with an overall negative and/or drained life experience and energy. So maybe it is THE time to practice mindfulness?

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Mindfulness is such an "in-expression" these days, but what is it? Before the whole mindfulness -trend started it was called in the  Yoga world "expanded or heightened awareness". This different awareness one would practice while doing asanas (yoga postures) as well as during the practices of pranayama (breathing techniques) and as a result one would not only have an easier time getting into meditation practice but this heightened awareness could  also then flow naturally into every day life activities. Basically it would show effects on our interactions with others and with how we do things or work. What we call now mindfulness was called training the outside observer, the witness within us.  It has become very popular to promote mindfulness at the workplace, because one has found that through the practices of mindfulness the attitude of the person and therefore also the behaviour changed into a more conscious one. One point no-one has talked about so far is the most important part that it should develop, and that is a connection with one's heart. As my Yogamaster Swami Satyananda said we have to know which parts of our life require the head (the mind) and which ones the heart (feeling and compassion).  I would like to say during the festive season this year let's move from observing the mind to expanding the heart and act from there rather than from the mind. Let's practice "heartfulness". Through this practice where we allow ourselves first to look and observe what's going on inside us and then move our awareness into our heart and allow ourselves to truly feel, we will have a fresher outlook onto this year's festive season and we will know what and who is important to us and create a truly festive season.