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Seeking Samadhi (almost there 😉)

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 shares her thoughts on Dharana and Dhyana – the 6th and 7th Limbs in the Astanga Yoga System

The most-revered ancient sourcebook for yoga practice, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes how the mind works and how we can integrate yoga into our lives. Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga includes eight components of practice (“ashtanga” means “eight-limbed” in Sanskrit), and dharana, or concentration is the sixth of these eight limbs. The seventh limb is dhyana, or meditation, and the eighth and final limb is samadhi, or enlightenment. These last three limbs are often studied together and are called antaratma sadhana, or the innermost quest.

By definition, this focus cures the inner conflicts we so commonly experience. When you’re completely focused, you can’t be of two minds about something.

Like many people, I’ve found that when there’s a disparity between my actions and my thoughts I become more fatigued and feel less joy in my life. But I don’t feel conflict—even though I may encounter difficulties—when I’m truly focused on and committed to the moment.

This ability to focus all the mind’s attention toward one thing is the foundation of the next limb—dhyana or meditation—and is absolutely necessary if the practitioner is to reach the liberation of samadhi. One way to understand the distinction between concentration and meditation is by using rain as an analogy. When rain starts, the moisture of clouds and fog (everyday awareness) coalesces into concentrated moisture and becomes distinct raindrops. These raindrops represent dharana—intermittent moments of focused attention. When the rain falls to earth and creates a river, the merging of the individual raindrops into one stream is like dhyana or meditation. The separate raindrops merge into one continuous flow, just as individual moments of dharana merge into the uninterrupted focus of meditation. In English, we often use the word “meditate” to mean “to think,” but in yoga, meditation is not thinking; instead, it is a deep sense of unity with an object or activity.

Yoga students are often taught to meditate by focusing on a mantra, on the breath, or perhaps on the image of a guru or great teacher. These practices are extremely difficult because it is the nature of the mind to jump around from idea to idea, from sensation to sensation. In fact, Swami Vivekananda called the mind “a drunken monkey” when he introduced meditation to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.

Once you’ve taken the first step of learning to still the body for meditation, you can’t help but notice how “un-still” the mind is. So instead of thinking of meditation as some dreamy state in which thoughts do not happen at all—instead of trying to quiet something that by nature is never quiet—I pay total attention to the agitations which are my thoughts. My thoughts may continue, but paying uninterrupted attention to my thoughts is itself the meditation.

Asana 😍

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Asana is a Sanskrit term which is often translated as “posture” or “pose.” Asana can also be translated as “a steady, comfortable seat,” particularly for the purpose of meditation.

Many people equate asana with the act of performing fancy, advanced poses. However, anyone of any level of experience can practice (whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced). Individual asanas can also be modified to suit all practice needs and desires.

Why Practice Postures?

In the contemporary world where many of us are perpetually on the go, practice can slow us down and help us bridge disconnections between the body, mind, and breath. It can also be practiced to increase strength and flexibility, improve balance and core strength, and bring a sense of mindfulness into our everyday lives. Scientific research is also suggesting that a regular practice can provide the following benefits:

Relieving chronic pain

Teaching you to control your respiration

Improving sleep and self-reported quality of life

Reducing anxiety and depression

Styles of Practice

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is commonly referred to as the founder of modern postural yoga. He is credited for reviving hatha practices in India, and he was the teacher of some of the most influential yogis of the 20th century: T.K.V. Desikachar (his son), Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S Iyengar.

Both Krishnamacharya and his son Desikachar took a fully customizable approach to asana by adapting their teachings to suit the individual and providing one-on-one instruction. Desikachar went on to found the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram—a center for yoga therapy that continued his father’s teachings. Jois founded Ashtanga Yoga, which is known for its breath-focused, progressive sequences. Iyengar founded Iyengar Yoga, which is known for its innovative approach to props. Iyengar invented new ways to modify poses, making them more effective and accessible for all types of practitioners and levels of experience. (You can learn more about props and their application here.)

Other styles include Jivamukti (founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life), Forrest Yoga (founded by Ana Forrest), Bikram (founded by Bikram Choudhury), Kundalini (the most widespread form was founded by Yogi Bhajan), and more.

Philosophical Background

Yoga asana is the third limb of the eight-limbed path outlined in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali—a seminal yogic text. The eight limbs are: the yamas and niyamas (moral and ethical codes), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (spiritual absorption).

Chapter 2, verse 46 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra states that asana should strike a balance between steadiness and ease (sthira-sukham asanam). Practice shouldn’t be painful. If you are experiencing an excess of emotional and/or physical discomfort during your practice, either come out of the pose you’re doing, or ask your teacher how you can adjust the pose to suit your body and your practice needs. It could also be that you’re attempting an asana practice that is too advanced. If you’re new to asana, start with a beginner’s class.

Pose Names

Many poses have Sanskrit names and these pose names often describe the pose’s appearance. For example, one can see that adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) emulates a dog stretching. And trikonasana, or triangle pose, asks the practitioner to take on a triangular shape. Utthita hasta padangusthasana means hand to big toe pose, and this standing pose literally involves just that: extending one leg and grabbing your foot with your hand (and you can always use a strap if you can’t reach). Also: Don’t feel too overwhelmed by the Sanskrit. You don’t have to know the Sanskrit name of each pose, or any Sanskrit at all to practice them. Allow your teacher to guide you through the experience and gradually you’ll become more and more proficient in this practice.

Words and thoughts by Yoga International

Practice and all is coming’…. 💪🙌😍

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This week we explore ‘Tapas’, Patanjali’s 3rd Niyama – which reminds us to keep on keeping on- showing up for ourselves, by chopping wood and carrying water (both before and after enlightenment) 😉

The third of Patanjali’s Niyamas is ‘Tapas’, which often translates traditionally as ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’. The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. In this sense, Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.

Tapas doesn’t have to mean being solemn and serious though, this fieriness is what gets our heart pumping, heightens our desire for personal growth and reminds us of how much we love our yoga practice! Just as with all aspects of the Sutras though, Tapas has relevance both on and off the yoga mat….

Tapas on the mat

First of all, ‘discipline’ doesn’t strictly mean pushing ourselves harder in a physical sense. Sometimes just actually making the time to get on the mat and meditate, or practise for 10 minutes every day is difficult enough! For some, Tapas will mean making time to be still and observing the mind, and for others it’ll mean working on strength and practising that arm balance we’ve been putting off.

Tapas is an aspect of the inner wisdom that encourages us to practise even when we don’t feel like it, even though we know how good it makes us feel! It’s that fiery passion that makes us get up and do our practice for the love of it, and by committing to this, the impurities are ‘burned’ away. Making the decision to go to bed a little earlier so you can wake up early to practise is Tapas; not drinking too much or eating unhealthy foods because you want to feel good in your practice is Tapas; and the way you feel after an intense yoga class, a blissful Savasana and deep meditation? That’s Tapas too – ‘burning’ away the negative thought patterns and habits we often fall in to.

Cultivating a sense of Tapas in our physical practice could mean trying poses we usually avoid or find difficult, or leaning mindfully in to our edge within a tough asana. Realising that it does take time to get in to a more ‘advanced’ version of a pose doesn’t have to be discouraging at all; having the discipline to practise consistently and the humility to admit when we’re not perfect are both essential to reaping the rewards that ‘discipline’ has to offer.

As Pattabhi Jois famously said; ‘Practice and all is coming’….

Taking Tapas off the yoga mat

The discipline we learn on the mat is a fantastic lesson to take off the mat and in to every day life. When we breathe through challenging situations in a yoga practice, such as a difficult balancing pose, or when we find the strength to lift up in to an arm balance we previously thought was ‘impossible’, we can take these lessons with us and learn to be strong when facing challenging life situations.

Having the courage NOT to listen to the voices in our head that tell us we’re ‘not strong enough’ or ‘not good enough’ to attempt a more demanding pose or go for that new job opportunity is also an element of Tapas that ‘burns’ away those ‘impure’ thoughts, and leads to more self trust and inner strength.

Having the courage NOT to listen to the voices in our head that tell us we’re ‘not strong enough’ or ‘not good enough’ to attempt a more demanding pose or go for that new job opportunity is also an element of Tapas that ‘burns’ away those ‘impure’ thoughts, and leads to more self trust and inner strength.

Igniting the inner fire

Working with core strength is a surefire way to tap in to that sense of ‘fieriness’ stoking the ‘agni’ or inner fire. The core is where our Manipura Chakra lies, and this energy centre governs our sense of self confidence, inner strength, willpower and self discipline.

The element of fire – which both the Manipura Chakra and Tapas link to – is also the element of ‘transformation’, and we can see this for ourselves as we take on those challenges we’re faced with. Transformation generally happens when we allow change to happen; stepping outside of our comfort zone and practising poses we’re not confident with or may be a little afraid of is when we begin to grow and learn about ourselves. If things are too easy all the time, we don’t tend to learn the life lessons we need to make us stronger and more rounded people.

Travelling a bumpy road is well worth it when you eventually find a place of peace and freedom. The lessons we learn from facing challenges and fears are the ones that tend to have the biggest positive impact on us.

When we work with the element of Tapas, it’s important to make sure we’re acting from a place of positivity and love, and not from fear. When we push ourselves a little further, we should do it not because our ego tells us to, but because we really truly feel we can go just that little bit further.

Words By The divine Emma Newlyn Yoga

The Yamas: Brahmacharya: Right use of Energy

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We found this babes musings on this often misunderstood (and brushed over quickly) Yama. Let @emmanewlynyoga break it down for you- Brahmacharya is not what you may have been thinking…..

What does Brahmacharya mean?

The fourth of the Yamas, Brahmacharya is often translated as ‘celibacy’ or ‘chastity’, which doesn’t always make for a very popular Yama…! Traditionally, ‘Brahmacharya’ was meant to encourage those involved in the practice of yoga to conserve their sexual energy, in favour of using that energy to further progress along the Yogic path.

The common misconception that Brahmacharya is all about celibacy means it is often overlooked or considered irrelevant in our modern culture.
However, the practice of Brahmacharya or ‘right use of energy’ as it is widely translated, is more prevalent now than ever.

Contemplation: The word Brahmacharya actually translates as ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is thought of as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic terms, so what we’re basically talking about here is behaviour which leads us towards ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power’.

Regarding Brahmacharya as ‘right use of energy’ leads us to consider how we actually use and direct our energy. Brahmacharya also evokes a sense of directing our energy away from external desires – you know, those pleasures which seem great at the time but are ultimately fleeting – and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves.

“Brahmacharya also evokes a sense of directing our energy away from external desires … and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves.”

Where is your energy directed?

Consider for a moment where your energy is most directed. I’ll have a guess that a large part of it is put towards worrying and generally concerning ourselves with things that don’t really serve us best. A lot of our energy may also be spent on trying to present ourselves as someone we’re not in order to please or impress others, or maybe we direct our physical energy towards endlessly pushing ourselves to be fitter, stronger or skinnier…. Does any of this sound like you? If so, it might be time to look a little closer at that Yama you’ve been avoiding….

In order to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we need first of all to listen to what our bodies need. After all, to be able to spread our message to the world and really make the most of what we learn from our yoga practice, we need to have enough energy within ourselves.

In order to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we need first of all to listen to what our bodies need.

 Boost your happiness to boost your health

As many parts of the world move towards Winter, our immune system naturally needs a little boost, but we don’t always listen to what we really need the most. By becoming aware of our energy levels and really listening to what we need, we can take action to ensure we feel at our very best.

Yoga is an all-natural happiness booster – you may notice that if you’re feeling down, nothing helps more than a great yoga class – and happiness is actually a proven immune-booster too! When we’re unhappy or fearful, our bodies respond by switching on our stress-responses (that infamous ‘fight or flight’ system we’re always hearing so much about), which heightens our blood pressure, lowers our energy levels and weakens our immune system. When we’re happy and relaxed however, our nervous system switches on our healing mechanisms, which helps to keep our bodies in a vibrant and powerful state.

If we are able to direct our energy towards something positive each day – rather than directing our energy towards our often negative thoughts – we’ll not only be able to boost our immune system, but we’ll also actively be making the right use of our energy!

Listen to your body and let your practice serve you

We’re often encouraged to listen to our bodies in a yoga class, but if we’re accustomed to practicing Yin, butterfly pose in one particular way, it can be difficult to change our habits – even when our bodies are asking us to. To make the most of our energy, we can enhance our health and well-being with the right yoga practice for us at that time; if you’re accustomed to a strong yoga practice and your body needs restoring, allow some time for a deep Yin practice. If you always opt for a soft and still practice, try some Power Yoga to give yourself a boost of strength and energy. Your body is always talking to you; listen and see what it has to say!

Listen to your body! Think about where you’re directing your energy – is it helpful or hurtful?

Brahmacharya in your Yoga class

Mixed-level yoga classes are increasingly popular, which means there are lots of different abilities, Yoga class needs and energy levels together in one class. Often in these classes, lots of different options are given so everyone can make the most of their practice. You may be offered variations and modifications of postures, the option to move through a vinyasa or to rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose).

This situation can lead us in two different directions; surrounded by other practitioners, you might feel pressure to ‘keep up’ or impress others, but consider whether taking the posture is helpful or not – your practice is about your body, no one else’s. On the other hand; if you’re the type to shy away from taking it to the next level, consider stepping out of your comfort zone a little – outside of that little bubble of familiarity is where we grow the most!

Brahmacharya in every-day life: How do you use your energy?

Right now there seems to be an over-emphasis on how ‘busy’ we should all be – that busy is better – and that if you’re not busy, there’s something wrong. The point is, whether we’re constantly ‘busy’ or not doesn’t matter – it’s whether what we’re doing is worthwhile. Filling our schedule with as much as we can may seem impressive on the outside, but when it comes to how this makes us feel on the inside, it doesn’t leave much space to breathe.

“Brahmacharya encourages right use of energy, so if your energy levels are flagging at the moment, consider whether your daily tasks are draining you of your vitality. Could you find a way to take a few moments a day to just stop and breathe and find a little peace?”

This ability to slow down will not only allow your body and mind to take a much-needed break, but you’ll be much more aware of how you’ve been using your energy that day. As we mentioned earlier – listen to your body! Think about where you’re directing your energy – is it helpful or hurtful? Be aware of how you feel physically and energetically when you’re in certain situations – do some people drag your energy down? Do others make you light up? Is there something you love doing that really gives you a boost? (For most of us yes, it’s probably yoga!) Whatever your day-to-day schedule includes, become aware of not just what you do, but how you do it, and how it affects you.

By becoming aware of how our bodies and minds respond to certain situations, we can begin to cultivate a life that does serve us, and that does make the best use of our energy. By contemplating Brahmacharya within our every-day actions, we can take our yoga practice off the mat and into our lives and allow it to serve us at all times….

So what behaviour leads you towards your higher power and helps make the right use of your energy?

x Emma

 

Blog reposted from Ekhart Yoga 🙏🏾