We all know what yoga is on the mat – it’s the yoga asanas (poses) we throw ourselves into, creating shapes and movement on the mat, giving our body a physical workout.
But, what is yoga off the mat? For me, it’s not quite as simple as the 8 limbs of yoga, which is what many are taught.
Yoga is a very personal thing. It’s a different practice for everyone – some might like Ashtanga or Power yoga, some might prefer Kundalini or Yin.
The 8 limbs of yoga philosophy, stemmed from Ashtanga (ashta = eight, anga = limb), are guidelines on how to live a life of more meaning and purpose, and act as a moral compass as we guide through this crazy thing called life.
The 8 limbs of yoga are as follows:
1. Yama: A guide for the external world, teaching us to hold ethical standards, with a sense of integrity. Within the yamas it’s broken down further into: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Brahmacharya (continence), Aparigraha (non-covetousness).
2. Niyama: Further looking to the external world, the niyamas teaches us spiritual practices as well as self-discipline. Broken down, these are: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (heat), Svadhyaya (sacred scriptures study), Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to God).
3. Asana: Something we all recognize as yoga, is the movement we practice on the mat, connecting breath and body, conscious and unconscious, preparing the mind and body for meditation.
4. Pranayama: Translated as breath, this is the fourth limb, and as mentioned above brings the mind and body, through observation of the breath, into the present moment. The breath is a great tool to help prepare the mind for meditation, leading into the second half of the limbs.
5. Pratyahara: Here we start to pull away from the demands of the external world and instead focus on ourselves, withdrawing the senses, which so easily distract us.
6. Dharana: Building on the practices from the stages before the 6th limb, here in Dharana we keep shifting the focus inwards further. We have dealt with the distractions of the external world, now we look at the distractions of the mind, and instead shift our focus on a single thing (energy center within the body, our breath for example) and again, prepare for the next stage ahead.
7. Dhyana: Similar to Dharana above, Dhyana is meditation but taken to the next level. Dharana focuses on one single thing to guide us into meditation, but with a single-pointed focus to keep the mind still. Dhyana is keeping the mind still but without the focus and energy needed to practice concentrating on one thing. Instead, you are simply aware but without strain or focus.
8. Samadhi: The last of the 8 limbs, here is what is described as a state of ecstasy, where you transcend your self to a higher power of enlightenment. A feeling that cannot be bought, but instead experienced, where you gain pure joy, calm, peace, and happiness, all in a single minute or even second, depending on how long the mind allows to keep you here in this state of being. This is definitely not an easy thing!
But, with all these 8 limbs, which are there to guide us into a happier and healthier life, how do they actually guide you to happiness? This is where the real yoga off the mat is practiced. But as mentioned above, yoga is such a personal thing, so it’s different for everyone.
Yoga connects movement and meditation, connects your breath and body, which separates it from other forms of fitness. You are bringing your mind, body, and soul together, through your asanas, through your Dhyana and through your Pranayama. All of this together helps bring you into the present moment so you can experience happiness, achievement, peace, and connection to self, all together.
Connection to self helps you find your why. Your why is your driving force, to power through those tough times, your reason to exist, your reason to get up in the morning when you have no energy. Yoga has helped me find my why.
Personally, my why is to be strong and confident on and off the mat. Strong and confident on my mat with my asanas (arm balances, inversions, headstands, handstands) and strong and confident off my mat in daily life and the challenges it brings (enter Covid-19 and lockdown).
In the last 3 years, I've had some challenges off the mat that yoga has helped with. I’ve signed my first ever mortgage and moved into my first ever home of my own, only to be made redundant within a month of moving in. I stepped away from the 9-5 and changed my whole career around, becoming a yoga teacher (I used to design shoes!), I lost my job again because of this current global pandemic and had to rent out my flat, moving back home with my dad. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, I lost my mother suddenly to lung cancer. My family and friends helped me through it. But my why guided me through it, and still does, every…single…day.
In the book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is described as “the science of the mind.”
This, to me, connects way more to my why, than the 8 limbs (or at least, some of the 8 limbs). Out of the 8 limbs, some of the hardest things to learn are the external limbs (Yamas and Niyamas). Even though the full practice of meditation is hard, we all live in such a demanding world – demanding of our time, our attention, our love, our money, our work, our health, our skills our everything, that it can be really hard to stay who you are and keep you calm, present, happy, joyful.
And so, if yoga is “the science of the mind”, meaning that we have to look after our mind and guard our mind with what thoughts we let in, then my why massively helps with this. Whenever we are faced with troubling times, I come back to my why and it guides me into a happier and healthier state of being. To quote the Find Your Why Foundation, "yoga can provide you with techniques to teach you how to, at any moment, step into the eye of the storm.
So, what does my why give me? It gives me ease, strength, confidence, and guidance, but ultimately peace and happiness. When I think back to the quote highlighted above, I get a warm sensation and a little smile starts to form – not because life is easy or joyous 100% of the time. But because I’m using the tools I have in my toolkit to deal with the storm head-on!
So, I would urge you to find your why. And if you don’t know what it is – that’s fine. Explore it, dance around it, then connect and nurture it through your yoga practice.
Namaste, Anna Kichenside
Flamingo Yoga Maya
Anna is a yoga teacher with a strong emphasis of asking her students to find their WHY. Connecting and celebrating 'YOUR WHY' is a fundamental part of yoga. “Your why becomes your intention for the class. Your intention becomes your driving force. And your driving force changes your life.” To find out more about your why yoga, please visit: www.flamingo-yoga-maya.co.uk/your-why-yoga
Signup for info on the latest classes and discounts.
© COPYRIGHT 2021 YOGADOWNLOAD