My YTTC Journey: Learning that yoga is not yoga

I started to practice yoga more seriously as a way of dealing with alot of major life events happening within a very short period of time. It was a space where I could calm my monkey mind, find focus and feel my damaged body mending. I was even developing a sense of spiritual awakening, that I had never expected to find. Everyone just assumes I must be a Christian because I’m a white English woman, but looks can be deceiving! My parents were into Zen and Buddhism when I was growing up. I flipped from atheism in my teens-20s to understanding in my 30s that there’s something like the universe or Gaia around us. I definitely believed in fate and Karma. At the same time I started to practice yoga regularly, I discovered mindfulness, meditation and small acts of kindness as a daily way to “do good and be good”, a sentiment that influences both yogic (e.g. Sivananda, Wikiquote, 2016) and Buddhist thought (Instilling Goodness School, 2016). So it was all heading in the right direction, but it felt like a bit of a “mishmash” or “rojak”, as I went about finding my way along my inner and outer spiritual journey.

At that time, I just thought this yoga thing is great! I love it! I’m sure I bored many friends raving about it, as I tend to want to share with those around me. Then a new friend came along and shook me up a little. He told me that I’d got it all wrong. Our conversation went a bit like this:

Friend: “What you do in your yoga class is not yoga, you got it all wrong”.

Me: “What?! Shut up. Of course it’s yoga. I go to back bend class, therapy class, hot class… How is that NOT yoga?”.

Friend: “It’s not yoga and it’s hard for you to understand. What you do is just something created by Westerners to make money”.

That last point I will never agree with, although of course there are some branches of modern yoga which are more tied to following a key teacher, and have a definite air of commercialism and branding around them. They will remain nameless here! However, that revelatory conversation led to me being taken to a lecture by a Krishna monk. After a couple of hours, I left having heard that yoga is pure devotion and eventually reaching a Brahmic state and a oneness with the divine. Okay, so this did sound kind of different to practicing physical poses! I am an open-minded and curious person, so I wanted to learn more about why the thing I embraced as yoga (asana) was not yoga!

I started reading excerpts from Bhagvad Gita and trying to work it out for myself. I saw glimpses of what yoga might be, but it was a slow-forming idea, rather than a sudden awakening to what this all meant. So I just carried on enjoying my asana classes and didn’t worry that I wasn’t really “doing yoga” according to others’ expectations. I experienced feelings of spiritual awakening, practised my different mindfulness techniques, and dipped in and out of different philosophical texts or articles about different concepts. That seemed good enough for me.

However, what really opened my eyes up to what yoga is – in its holistic form – was attending this Yoga Teacher Training Course. We were introduced to the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga or Raja Yoga via stories and examples that could relate to everyday life (Tirsula Yoga, 2015). I didn’t need to hear or read much to know that this was suddenly making all the things I had heard earlier, and the various spiritual practices that I liked to bring into my daily life off the yoga mat, make alot more sense to me. As we’d say in the UK, “the penny dropped” for me and I saw clearly that yoga asana is just one beautiful part of the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Asana is a physical preparation to help us live a more mindful and pure life. The 8 Limbs are:

1) Yama: including practices of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (freedom from jealousy and coveting), Bramacharya (Godly living), and Aparigraha (non-possesiveness).

2) Niyama: incorporating Saucha (pureness of body), Santosha (my personal favourite – contentment, gratitude), Tapas (cleansing the body and senses), and Swadhyaya (making an inner journey to know ourselves and the sacred).

3) Asana: physical yoga practice.

4) Pranayama: breathing practices, such as Ujjaya.

5) Pratyahara: listening to the signals from inside the body to fulfil our needs so that our inner being is not affected or shaken by external influences.

6) Dharana: focus and concentration.

7) Dhyana: meditation.

8) Samadhi: reaching enlightenment and connecting at the highest level with the super-conscience and nature.

So I learned that my friend was right all along! I was practicing yoga asana, but I wasn’t living yoga in a conscious manner through my life, though I did adopt relevant and related practices that in many senses brought me to the same destination. Nothing I learned about in the 8 Limbs was new to me, it all resonated with who I am, but this approach put it all together into a practical and clear structure for how I could live a truly yogic life. That’s something much deeper that I will take away from this experience and I’ve been sharing little by little with my friends and family so that they, too, can know and love what yoga is in its truest and most enriching form. Thank you!

Author: Arwen, YTTC Jan-Apr2016

 

References:

Instilling Goodness School (2016) Following the Buddha’s Footsteps http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/footsteps.htm

Wikiquote (2016) Swami Sivananda, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Swami_Sivananda

Tirsula Yoga (2015) Tirsula Yoga Training Manual, 200 Hour Y