Yoga is often portrayed as a physical, body focused practice, but it is SO much more. Yoga is a practice. It is an 8-limbed path that allows you to connect deeply with the present moment, your highest self, with the divine. Yoga offers the opportunity to peel back the layers of mental, emotional, environmental, and social conditioning. Yoga is an opportunity to tune into your limiting, self-defeating thought patterns that cause discomfort, pain, and unnecessary suffering while at the same time offering growth and healing on the very deepest levels.
When I incorporate yoga therapy into the work I do as an integrative therapist, it typically has very little to do with the physical postures. The focus on the yogic elements is a process of creating a connection with your own internal guidance, inner knowing, inner wisdom and inner truth. The mind/body are intimately interconnected, really—they are just one thing—so addressing the physical body is absolutely a necessary part of the process, however, it is just one limb along the 8-limbed path to freedom.
When engaging with the 8-limbs of yoga there is time to set an intention, contemplate, and integrate the five Yamas and five Niyamas; which together create the first two limbs of yoga. These simple yet powerful concepts (such as the first Yama, Ahimsa: non-harming or kindness) allows a connection and renewed intention with how to approach your internal interaction, your external and environmental interactions with more kindness and love. Ultimately contemplating and integrating these ten concepts leads to emotional balance, internal balance and well-being.
The third limb, Asana, or the physical postures, address the physical body. The postures create freedom and comfort in the physical body by reducing tension, increasing flexibility and developing strength. When engaging with and practicing an Asana it is useful to abandon all attachment to any particular outcome (what the posture looks like). This can be a challenge as your ego may have its own agenda. Practicing a posture offers an opportunity to once again return to contemplating the Yamas and Niyamas. The physical postures, or the Asanas, are meant to combine steadiness and ease in your physical body, promoting and offering steadiness and ease in the mind.
The fourth limb of yoga is Pranayama. This limb offers a dedicated time to breathe and connect with the present moment. When you breathe you draw in prana which is our healing life force and life enhancing energy. Pranayama offers a time to release what does not serve you, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Breath work creates a sense of grounding, preparation and training for the nervous system to be calm and quiet.
As your body becomes steady and at ease, the breathing practices create a calm and serene internal experience, the body/mind is then ready to move into the fifth limb of yoga, or Pratyahara. This is an experience of true relaxation by withdrawing your senses. This limb is all about deep relaxation. The process of surrendering to true deep relaxation is tremendously powerful and allows the possibility to feel, to experience, to open to the expansiveness of your being. The process of deep relaxation is the bridge to the inner limbs of yoga.
The inner limbs begin with the sixth limb, or Dharana, where you create a concentrated point of focus. To create this focus you might use a mantra (word or phrase), your breath, an image, a chant, a candle flame, or anything that is useful for you and assists in the process of creating a one-pointed focus of your mind. Concentration requires effort. The mind will wander, there may be physical sensations that distract you, noises in your environment, emotions that arise and impact the mind/body. The practice is all about returning to your point of focus and maintaining effort to concentrate on your single point of focus.
This practice of concentration can directly lead you into the seventh limb, Dhyana, or meditation. This limb offers the opportunity and ability to completely absorb with the present moment: the only moment. Dhyana offers the opportunity to dive into the space between the fluctuations of your mind. Meditation offers precious moments of complete stillness, complete connection to your point of focus without effort, complete peace. Essentially, yoga IS complete absorption with the present moment. Yoga IS the present moment.
When you experience this deep, timeless connection with the present moment through concentration and meditation you may experience the eighth limb, or Samadhi. Samadhi is sustaining the complete absorption and allowing a connection with your highest self, the divine.
As you embark on your yoga journey, know that yoga is always available. When you set an intention, reflect inward, take a breath, calm your mind/body, you are engaged in the practice of yoga. Samadhi is an opportunity, not a goal. It may be an outcome but not the driving purpose of the practice. When you practice without attachment to outcome, without expectation, you create a deeper freedom and complete surrender. There is no quick path to reach it. In life, you get good at what you practice. With yoga, that is all that is needed: practicing with dedication, consistency and effort. Practice being present, and you are practicing yoga. Practice yoga and can come home to yourself and find true peace, the divine, and a deep connection to all beings.