When I first practiced yoga, I had no idea of sheer depth of the yoga system. All I thought about was achieving a great body just in time for summer. It didn’t occur to me at that time, that yoga wasn’t all about yoga poses, or it’s Sanskrit name, asana. Yoga was so much more than that. The practice encompasses our daily life and connects us not only to a spiritual side but also gives us a sense of purpose and meaning.
Asana is all but one limb of the eight limbs of yoga. It is not yoga per se; merely a means and tool to helping one achieve the overarching goal of yoga – Samadhi (enlightenment). From a recent survey that the team at BookYogaRetreats.com conducted, we discovered that only 27% of our respondents practiced yoga only for the asanas on the mat. The remainder 73% practiced various aspects of yoga, making it more of a lifestyle than a straightforward fitness regime.
But what does it really mean to lead a yogic way of life? Or better still, who is a yogi?
Living a vegan lifestyle
Part of a yoga lifestyle is to avoid the consumption of meat and meat products. This is in line with the yogic principle of ahimsa – or non-violence. The principle of ahimsa is dictated in yamas in the first limb of yoga. Ahimsa applies to all beings including animals and restricts the practitioner from causing harm, injury or violence against another. Conforming to this principle, many yogis choose to not eat meat. With meat being so common in our everyday diet, not all yogis practice this - only 25% of our respondents are vegetarian or vegan. But the few who does finds the exclusion of meat to be beneficial to the body and the mind.
For many, the exclusion of meat not only applies in their diet but also in the things they wear or use. Living a vegan lifestyle includes opting to use beauty products that are not tested on animals and not acquiring apparel or accessories made from animal skin.
Mindfulness is a natural progression in yoga as it encourages the practitioner to live and dwell in the present moment. Mindfulness teaches you to pay attention to the present moment. It teaches you to be aware of your body and your thoughts. In your yoga practice, mindfulness first teaches you to be aware of your body, and then of your breath. It teaches you to be present in the here and now. A consistent yoga practice on the mat helps the practitioner develop mindfulness that they can apply to their everyday lives. Our survey shows that 94% of respondents incorporate aspects of mindfulness in their lives (50% attest to living life with consciousness and compassion, 33% refrain from detrimental habits and 11% make the conscious choice to go organic).
To live mindfully is to bring the practice of mindfulness away from the yoga mat and to your daily lives. Living mindfully is really the basis of other yogic moral codes, as you can’t practice elements of ahimsa (non-violence) and aparigraha (non-grasping) without first being mindful. Can you show compassion towards others if you do not first acknowledge them in relation to yourself? Can you learn to let go if you don’t first realize that you’re holding on?
Living mindfully simply means to be aware of the present moment and to live in it. It means to enjoy the moment and not always be thinking about what you’ll be doing later, to acknowledge your feelings whether negative or positive and not dwell on it for the rest of the day. Living mindfully means to not be lost in this world of distractions that often come in the form of smartphones and social media, to not zealously document your days and capturing moments but instead, to experience and to live it. Living mindfully also means to be compassionate both to yourselves and to others.
Connecting Body and Mind Through Meditation
An aspect of yoga that is quite popular with yogis is meditation; with 48% of our survey respondents including meditation alongside their yoga practice. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not a separate practice in yoga. Nor is it an addition to the practice. Meditation, or dhyana is the sixth limb in the eight limbs of yoga. Like asana practice, the practice of meditation is a tool to help the practitioner reach the ultimate goal of yoga, which is enlightenment. At the very core of meditation, the practitioner practices to shift their focus inward towards a single point, object or element.
The concept of meditation, as the Indian philosopher Patanjali explains it, is not thinking or contemplating. Rather, it is the presence of a deep sense of unity with an object or activity. It is akin to focusing on the rain as a whole – moving in a continuous flow and culminating in an uninterrupted focus – rather than thinking of rain as individual raindrops.
For yogis, the practice of meditation typically comes at the end of a yoga asana practice, after a series of pranayama. This is a natural sequencing, as asana practice is first done to still the body, then breathing practice to still the breath, which will then ensure that your body and mind is prepared for meditation.
Practicing meditation can be both difficult and easy at the same time. On one hand, the requirement of meditation in the yoga system is simple. One should still and in a comfortable position. In this position, one clears the mind and chooses something to focus on. But on the other hand, the fluid nature of the mind makes it difficult to calm.
To begin meditation, start by focusing on something tangible – be it mantra or breath. Once you find a certain calm in your practice, learn to observe your thoughts. Allow your thoughts to come and go freely but learn to be only a spectator and not a participant in them.
Finding Their Personal Dharma
Perhaps the most important yogic way of life is the search of one’s personal dharma – the purpose of our life and existence. Dharma is covered extensively in the Bhagavad Gita, where it advises that the practitioner should uncover their personal dharma, and that is better to do your own dharma poorly than to do someone else’s well. Yoga encourages its practitioner to find their own true purpose in life and not falsely imitate others’. Only when you discover your own, will you feel fulfilled and content. Your dharma does not have to be grand gestures of charity. It should instead be something that feels right and that makes a contribution to others.
Discovering your dharma, as with everything yoga, is to look within. A great yogic tool to help you center your focus in towards yourself is of course, asanas or the practice of yoga poses. A dedicated practice will slowly help you focus inwards, clear your mind and discover what it is that is your true calling.
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