Yoga Philosophy on and off the mat Part 2
Asana & Pranayama
Patanjali writes about Ashtanga, the eight limbs of Yoga, in the Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs are a path to purify body, mind, and ultimately lead a life of enlightenment. The Yoga Sutras explain the Yogic philosophy and practice. The first two steps on the path are ethical guidelines, Yamas and Niyamas. The third and forth steps are Pranayama and Asana. Steps 1 to 4 are external work, steps 4 to 8 are internal work. The steps are not linear, you do not have to complete the previous step to get the next. But once you study the 8 limbs of Yoga you can see how each leads on to the next, and how the first 4 steps are a foundation to the later 4.
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation. The physical, mental, emotional and energetic bodies are seen as reflections of each other. The physical body is the most gross tangible body, and therefore the easiest body for us to work with, connect with and gain understanding. Through awareness and control of the physical body we can start to be aware and connect to the subtle bodies, the mental, emotional and energetic.
Asanas are specific shapes to help you connect with your Self and help the prana, life force energy, move around, open up and strengthen your body. Yoga postures will look different on different bodies, as each of our bodies are uniquely prefect in their own way. Next time you are practicing asana let of of the external and bring your full attention and awareness to what is going on internally… then the magic really starts to happen!
Through our physical asana practice, on the mat, we cultivate inner awareness, self-enquiry, and connection to our deeper Self, our soul. Our personal practice discoveries then ripple out to our lives, off the mat. We become more aware to our purpose, more compassionate and connection to ourselves and others, and more aware of prana, our live force energy, flowing through us with each and every breath. We can open up to our playful curiosity of what it is to be alive.
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, “life force extension,” yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e. simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
Pranayama is seen as an advanced yogic practice. A deeper practice after asana. Pranayama takes great patience, focus and awareness. As you are fully aware of your breath, you are completely in the moment. When focusing on your breath, you are not in your mental chatter, the past or future. During pranayama you can experience the now. Western science is now catching up with these ancient practices and much research has now been done on the effects of breathing exercises, mindfulness and mediation. Research shows, what ancient yogic texts have demonstrated thousands of years ago, that being mindful and aware of the breath has many benefits. These benefits include:
- Reduces Stress
- Reduces Anxiety
- Improves concentration and focus
- Rejuvenates the nervous system
- Promotes Emotional Health
- Enhances Self-Awareness and listening to our inner guidance system
We spend a lot of time in our heads, using up a lot of mental energy. Worry and stress takes a lot of our energy. When we are in a state of stress, worry, anxiety we shallow breathe. When we take shortened breaths and expend much mental energy, our other body systems suffer. Chronic stress plays havoc on our hormonal system, putting our body in a constant fight or flight mode. Over time our immune system and other bodily functions suffer. This then leads to dis-ease in the body.
The good news! When you take long deep mindful breaths the body switches from the stress (flight or flight) response, to the restorative and healing (rest and digest) response. So remember to breathe!
“Saying your too inflexible to do yoga is like saying you are too dirty to have a shower” – by unknown
“You don’t use your body to get into the pose, you use the pose to get into your body” – by unknown
…Two of my favourite quotes!
Love and Light, Gem x