In Part 1 of our “Are You Practicing Yoga?” series, we uncovered how many Yoga practitioners often mistakenly use the word “Yoga” to refer to the physical asana practice of postures. Done on their mats in studios around the world, asana practice has dramatically risen in popularity over the recent years. Yet without fully grasping what Yoga is as a whole, we can’t embrace its rich ability to transform our lives and our world.
What is Yoga?
In its full expression, Yoga is an eight-limbed philosophy which dictates how you interact with the world and within yourself. Practicing Yoga isn’t only done in the hours that you’ve logged sweating on your mat. The Yoga philosophy sets out guidelines for how you live your life with others (yamas), how you conduct yourself interpersonally (niyamas), how you maintain awareness of your breath (pranayama), your awareness of your physical senses, cravings, addictions, and habits (pratyahara), and your awareness as a whole (dharana). Dhyana is the uninterrupted state of awareness in which you are keenly aware of everything producing few or no thoughts at all. Samadhi is the final stage where this heightened awareness goes even deeper as you begin feeling a true interconnectedness with all living things.
Lu DiGrazia, C-IAYT, is the Founder of The Hawaii Yoga Prison Project and Education Director of the Yoga School of Kailua. As one of America’s first Yoga teachers, DiGrazia explains that Yoga is more than a fashionable fad that will burn out as trends come and go:
“Yoga means balance in union with oneself. The whole practice is about understanding oneself on all levels of our being, to be present, mindful and awake. It includes all eight limbs of Yoga practice, not just asana. Asana alone is incomplete if you are truly practicing Yoga–it is one eighth of Yoga practice. Our society mirrors a lack of Union with self and other, and the commercialization of Yoga practice today buys into this. Yoga practice serves to develop and nurture one’s meditative mind. That is Yoga, that is the practice of Union.”
In modern society, the practice of Yoga can be applied in a myriad of applications–in our relationships, careers, families, our commute, what we purchase, even in what we eat. Yoga practice allows us to show up in each moment, to be present, to be joined as one with all other beings, while also joining our spirit, body, heart, and mind. Yoga practice helps us to break through the spinning, robotic thinking so that we can end unhealthy thought patterns through our awareness, allowing us to fully connect with our true human nature.
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To practice Yoga, in the most genuine sense of the word, would mean that we incorporate a practice that simultaneously embraces each limb of the Yoga principles. (Keep in mind, Yoga is not a religion!) Instead of merely an exercise regimen, Yoga practice is a way of life–one that will present many opportunities for growth and realization each day.
For example, we can follow the yamas to guide our behavior. Practicing non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint, and non-covetousness, we conduct ourselves with high ethical standards. To go further, we can begin to study the niyamas and focus on applying right action in our own lives. The five niyamas include cleanliness, contentment, passion for personal transformation, and the study of one’s self through outer sources such as in the mirror of our personal relationships.
“The ultimate result of Yoga practice is mindfulness and meditation,” says DiGrazia. “In a true sense, then, to realize the practice of Yoga, one must pay attention to each moment, learn to be still, and thus learn to meditate as an ongoing experience of life. To me, a true Yogi is not one with the best asana. The true Yogi will have a happy home and many dear friends.”
How has Yoga practice changed your life and helped you to transform our world?