Yoga is an ancient Art and Science of the mind-body connection. The word Yoga derives from the Sanskrit root yuj which means to yoke, join, merge or unite - all duality ceases to exist. There are numerous interpretations of the word yoga “to tie the strands of the mind together” (Desikachar, 1995); “to attain what was previously unattainable” (Desikachar, 1995); “to direct and concentrate one’s attention on” (Iyenger, 2001). Essentially the practice of yoga is the intention and discipline of integrating mind, body and soul by directing our attention toward the activity we are engaging in. Yoga is a practice of mindful awareness of the present moment. This practice creates space in our heart-mind to direct our thoughts, feelings and actions in a conscious and deliberate way versus being caught in a cycle of perpetual and automatic habits / reactions. With increased awareness we become the witness (sakshi) - 'if I can observe my mind (thoughts) and my body, I come to realize I am not my mind or my body. Thereby we move from the gross (tangible) to more subtle. Yoga is both the means and the goal. The state of Yoga is sat-chit-ananda, truth, conscious and bliss
There are eight limbs of the Ashtanga Yoga system (Raja Yoga) as defined and codified by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
× Yama – Universal ethical standards and ones sense of integrity
× Niyama – Self discipline and spiritual observances
× Asana – physical postures
× Pranayama – breath regulating practices
× Pratyahara - withdrawing attention from the external environment
× Dharana – drawing attention internally through concentration
× Dhyana – the undisturbed practice of concentration through meditation
× Samadi – where the mediator is one with the object of his/ her meditation, thus yoking
Within this comprehensive system each stage is necessary complete yet all are integrated and interwoven. Whilst practising asana and pranayama teachers might make reference to principles and values pertaining to the Yamas and Niyamas. By focusing on breath and the alignment of your body naturally your focus begins to withdraw from external stimuli (Pratyahara) as we begin to focus internally (Dharana). Another way of cultivating present moment awareness in a yoga class is to apply drishti a fixed gazing point.
What is Vinyasa Flow Yoga?
Vinyasa Flow Yoga is the art of synchronizing breath and body movement. Through uniting body and breath the mind begins to still, this is the precursor for the state of Yoga, merging as one, cultivating an intrinsic feeling of ease. Vinyasa Yoga classes are dynamic and rhythmic, typically you will be invited to use a breathing technique called ujjayi breath whereby your mouth is closed and you breathe in and out through your nose. By constricting the epiglottis (back of your throat) the breath becomes audible, the sound of the breath is similar to the sound of the ocean. The intention is to maintain a steady and balanced breath count throughout your asana practice. Your audible breath becomes an anchor as well as a mirror. By focusing on what is your breath is doing you’ll be aware when you lose the rhythm of your breath – this often means you are exerting too much effort on trying to ‘achieve’ something. If and when this happens, gently and compassionately bring your breath back. The rhythm and tempo of the breath slowly becomes natural and intuitive overtime. A general rule of thumb is that we inhale to expand and extend the body and exhale to contract the body.
"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again" - Thich Nhat Hanh
Most Vinyasa classes should challenge you physically and mentally – it is not meant to hurt but you should feel metaphorically and literally stretched, this is part of the art of discipline in yoga. The idea here is that you learn to be aware and ideally transcend your limited beliefs about yourself and your potential. With this in mind the yoga practice is an opportunity to really start tuning in and listening to your body. This is why we refer to ‘playing with your edge’, your edge is your point of resistance either physically or mentally. Which, is important. You are encouraged to surprise yourself but going deeper and further into your practice even though you might be sweating, shaking, panting and internally shouting “get me out of here”. However you are equally invited to know when to stop and when you have gone your deepest and your furthest. This constant dance and interplay reveals to us the inner workings of our mind and the habitual thought patterns and story lines we tell ourselves.
What is Jivamukti Yoga?
"As a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings, Jivamukti Yoga is grounded in the original meaning of the Sanskrit word asana as “seat, connection” - relationship to the Earth. Earth implies all of life. Citing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which states that asana should be sthira and sukham, Jivamukti Yoga maintains that one’s relationship to others (asana) should be mutually beneficial and come from a consistent (sthira) place of joy and happiness (sukham). This is a radical idea that, when put into practice, can dismantle our present culture, which is based on the notion that the Earth and all other animals exist for our benefit and to be exploited for our own selfish purposes. So the practice of asana becomes more than mere physical exercise to keep one’s body fit or to increase strength or flexibility; it becomes a way to improve one’s relationship to all others and thus lead to enlightenment - the dissolution of the sense of separateness, the realization of the oneness of being, the discovery of lasting happiness" - Jivamukti Yoga
Yoga is 100% non-competitive and non-judgmental. We all start from where we are. We all have different physical, mental and genetic histories. What someone elses’ pose looks like from the outside tells us nothing about what is going on in the inside. Try your best to focus on your own practice throughout, if and when (we all do or have done) you feel that pull toward comparison bring yourself back to your breath, your body, your mat. It’s called yoga practice for a reason.