Yoga is more than a series of poses and gymnastics. It is a philosophy and a way of life that is known as a path to enlightenment and union with the divine. It’s been used for thousands of years to link the physical with the spiritual.
Some of the philosophy behind yoga can be incorporated into every day life. Whether at work, standing in line at the grocery store, meeting with family or traveling, yoga’s ideas will give you a foundation of life that will carry over on and off the mat. Here are some principles that modern yogis can use to enrich their world and the lives of people around them.
Flexibility means you can flow with things and adapt to when the situation is out of your immediate control or doesn’t go as planned. As you learn to bend and flow in asana, so too will you adapt to circumstances in daily life and be able to readjust to changing conditions. Flexibility allows you to stay in tune with life and use the present state to your advantage, whatever it may be. Knowing that you have the strength to withstand any variables means you’re more likely to come out on top, maintain your peace and have self control.
Yoga practice is an adjustment into taking appropriate action. Instead of sitting passively on the sidelines of your life, you learn to move and be willing to take actions to accomplish the vision that you set forth. You can take action in many different ways and forms, whether it is being committed to health, wellness, financial stability, a world cause or to be the best version of yourself you can be, yoga teaches you that in order to accomplish anything you indeed must act first. Action doesn’t necessarily have to be sweat inducing, sometimes the best action to take could be a moment of japa, but doing something at the right time is the key to living correctly.
Know Your Limits
Yoga studios are full of implicit limits. Knowing where to place your mat all the way to what level of yoga you are supposed to take to be able to keep up with the teacher are examples of limits. This can transcend to daily life by knowing how late you can stay up, how much you’ll be able to do in one day and even knowing that peer pressure isn’t the best thing for you. Having limits means you can be strong and focus your intention and energy into the things that you know you can do, in the most skillful and mindful way possible.
You don’t have to conform and dress in skin tight yoga clothes if you’re someone who is more comfortable being modest. If you’re not able to hold a pose the whole time, you can learn to set boundaries and sit it out. Setting boundaries is a fundamental practice in self care, and involves whether or not you’re comfortable with the yoga teacher adjusting your pose or not attempting a pose that you might not necessarily be up for yet. You’ll have to learn to not let other people affect you and your practice, and because you see one person wobbling and falling down it doesn’t necessarily have to be you.
Be Comfortable Trying New Things
Especially for first timers, yoga is a huge exercise in being open to the unknown. Yoga practice widens your horizons and teaches you to freely dive into areas that you’ve never explored before. The first time you practice a pose can be absolutely thrilling, and this attitude creates a zest for life that can multiply in many different ways. Soon, you might find yourself trying spicy curry or the newest kale recipe. Yoga classes can introduce you to new philosophies, music and ways to express yourself that will change your perception of the world.
After your first yoga class, you might have been surprised to see everyone spraying down their matts right after. Cleanliness is one of the principles of yoga, and you might find yourself being more aware of the effect of your habits and the environment around you. Even the motions need to be clean, and your muscles and limbs create clean lines when the poses are performed correctly. You’ll want to shower right after class and have clean feet in the yoga studio, and you’ll find yourself more aware of your environment and maybe even getting on your hands and knees to scrub the floor. This level of cleanliness extends to pure thoughts as well, in clearing your mind and being at peace.
Wake Up Early
The sun salutation series, or surya namaskar, is ideally performed right at sunrise. This practice links you with the cycle of the sun and after you start practicing yoga, you can see that your body will naturally wake up with the sunrise. Those early morning yoga classes you have time for before work or class will also teach you the benefits of rising with the sun, and this practice will give you time in your day for yourself and to meditate on your goals and aspirations.
Yoga teaches you to honor nature by aligning yourself with nature. Thus the poses have names like mountain pose, tree pose, fish pose etc. You literally envision yourself as part of nature, and the practice changes you as you learn to see yourself as part of all life and as a creation of nature. Ever imagine yourself as a tree flowing in the wind? Well, after tree pose you might have.
Be Open Minded
Yoga takes physical fitness to a level that it is beyond competition and all about the inner journey. You find yourself supporting your fellow classmates and cheering them on, which is a step beyond modern athletics in the west. You’ll be open-minded to a new language, new people and culture and it might be a life changing experience.
In the ultra superficial and materialistic modern world, the yogic principle of giving thanks may seem a little out there. Your first few times of giving thanks in corpse pose or prior to class might feel stifled, but after a while your resistant ebbs and you feel yourself more in a space of receiving. Yoga teaches us to be grateful for our bodies, the gift of breath and the time spent in class learning.
Ethical Standards and Sense of Morality (Yama)
The system of yoga has ancient standards and texts associated with it, and some of the principles associated with yoga, according to Patanjali, is ethical standards. One of these ethical standards is ahimsa, or nonviolence. This is seen in the gentle flow of yoga and the supportive environment that is experienced during class. Another one of the principles is satya, which could be translated into truthfulness. We’re encouraged to be honest about our body’s abilities. A third principle is asteya, which is nonstealing. We supply a donation in exchange for our teacher’s time and put back the mats that we borrow. Fourth principle is brahmacharya, which is continence. We’re taught how to do muscle locks and are respectful of our fellow students. The fifth ethical standard is aparigraha, which is non covetousness. We focus inwarldy on ourselves and our performance, knowing our self is the only thing that we are responsible for.
Yoga is a journey into self discipline. Everything from arriving on class on time, to taking proper care of our bodies teaches how to be self disciplined. You learn how to control your emotions, and even though you might want to cry or laugh (or both) during class, you become the master of your senses and self control.
The Power of Concentration (Dharana)
The principle of concentration is a stepping stone into meditation. Focusing on what the teacher is instructing you to do and using the teachings into your own life is an example of concentration. After starting a yoga practice, you might find you’re better able to focus in your relationships or at work.
In the quiet moments while holding a pose, you adapt to your breath and learn meditation. Even between poses is a respite into the inner workings of the mind. Yoga can teach meditation with the recitation of the mantra om and in the skilled control of the body and breath.
Enjoy Life (Samadhi)
The entire practice of yoga is meant to be enjoyable, and can transition your consciousness into thinking about peace, love, joy, bliss, freedom – everything that makes a person happy. Yoga is meant to help you be more comfortable, healthy, strong and at peace, which are very beneficial to staying fit and living a happy life.
The principles of yoga are meant to be a lifelong adjustment into attaining more self awareness and access to higher states of being. Even if you’re simply in it for the physical benefits, the ideas behind yoga can shape you into a more balanced person.
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Having been a teacher’s assistant at over 50 yoga teacher trainings worldwide, Rebecca Rebecca has a firm grasp on the fine art of yoga and meditation. In her work, she carefully reflects on a vast expanse of knowledge to help others find peace in both body and mind.