Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yoga

Most people who know me are aware that I am a certified Yoga teacher.  In 2008, I completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program through the South Okanagan Yoga Association (SOYA).  I didn’t do this so much because I wanted to teach yoga classes; I did it more because I wanted to understand Yoga better.  I thought that it would complement the Yoga Philosophy course I had completed in 2004.  And it did!

In the West, Yoga is more or less thought of as a type of exercise.  And to some degree it is.  But Asana, or postures, practice is only one part of what Yoga is all about. 

There is also the misconception that Yoga is a religion.  It is decidedly not.  It is a life style; a way of living, similar in some aspects (of philosophy, particularly) to Buddhism.  And while Buddhism is now considered a religion, it was not Siddhartha Gautama’s intention that it be one.  (But that is another blog.)

There are actually eight parts, or limbs, as they are called, to Yoga:

The roots are found in Self Study, Discipline and Dedication

1.       Yama – Self-restraints: non-Greed, Spiritual conduct; non-theft; Truthfulness, non-Injury
2.       Niyama – Things to do, coming to terms with yourself: Dedication, Self-study, Austerity, Contentment, Purity
3.       Asana – postures and movement: control of the body
4.       Pranayama – Breathing techniques: Control of the breath/life force
5.       Pratyahara – detachment form the world, sitting quietly aware of breath: control of senses
6.       Dharana – steadying the mind
7.       Dhyana – contemplation, mindless attention
8.       Samadhi – Bliss which defies description (enlightenment)

The last three culminate in meditation, contemplation, concentration.

For the visual learner - a visual!

There is nothing religious about any of it.  There is a mystical feature that is talked about in the teachings; that of psychic and other supernatural powers that develop through the practice.  These come with cautions and warnings and all the regular disclaimers – If this is your goal, then you will not achieve them! 

Yoga teachings strongly suggest and encourage practitioners to be vegetarian.  It isn’t a rule, as such, but there is a bit of snobbery going on there, I think.  I also think that it has been greatly influenced by all the hype about what is and isn’t good for you.  Occidental thought and culture have not made Yoga better.  Just different from its original form. 
The typical yoga class in the West contains elements of all of the limbs of Yoga, but the true philosophy is buried deep under the pursuit of looking good in the usually expensive “yoga attire” that the western capitalist mentality has pitched, to phenomenal success, as being required.  I often wonder if the ancient Yogis had special Yoga-wear loin cloths.  I highly doubt it.  Asana practice is just as effective in sweats and t-shirts as it is in “yoga” pants and camis.  You’re probably better off doing it naked anyway.  (I wonder how much a naked yoga class would cost…  I’m not sure it would be conducive to concentrating on the poses.)

I do want to be clear that I am not knocking yoga classes.  I think it’s wonderful that people are being introduced to this limb of the practice – no matter what they wear.  I enjoy sharing yoga asana with my friends, though I do not teach professionally.  It’s very peaceful exercise, relaxing and I think that is probably what westerners need more than anything:  some relaxation!  

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