Reaching for the stars

stars-moon-quote-facebook-timeline-cover-2621“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

As you may have noticed I have already used a few quotes from the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I can’t remember how long I had to wait before I actually got my hands on it but it must have been at least 4 or 5 years. Whenever I passed a bookshop, I would pop in to see if they had a copy only to be disappointed when they said ‘Not at the moment’. Whenever I visited the library someone else always had it out.

You see, it would seem that the universe was actually conspiring against me by preventing me from reading this book until I was ready to fully appreciate what it had to offer. Obviously I wasn’t ready until the end 2014.

I had spent years trying to locate a copy of this book and then one day, BAM! there it was… in the hands of a stranger sitting across from me in the lounge area of a cruise ship. From where I was sitting, I could see that he was almost finished it so I plucked up my courage and approached the guy. As he closed the book and rested in on the table in front of him, I politely asked him if he would mind if I borrowed it when he finished reading it. He said yes but on 1 condition: that when I return it to his cabin I was to let him know what I truly thought of the book and he would do the same for me. We agreed, he handed over the book and we parted ways for a few days.

A few days later I knocked on the guy’s door with the book in hand. I handed it back to him and once again thanked him for lending it to me. This was followed by a long awkward silence. Eventually he cocked his head on the side as if trying to read my mind and let out a long slow “Sooooo???” Even though I knew that he was going to ask me what I thought I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled something that was pretty unintelligible, listened to what he had to say and went back to my room where I wondered why I couldn’t articulate what I had gained from reading this book.

For years I have wondered this until recently when I came across the abovementioned quote and I realised what it was about this book that had the greatest effect on its readers- it wasn’t the plot, the characters, or the setting, it was his quotes that have inspired millions of readers. Paulo Coelho’s comments on life are life-changing, thought-provoking and the mark that he has left on my soul is indispensable. Simply put, his words are words to live by.

“When you desire something, the world will conspire to help you realize your dreams. That’s why the best things take time. Require patience. Endure tragedy. Failure. And find their way through impossible.”

I have found that in my life that even when I haven’t got something that I desired something better has come along, the world conspired to help me realise my dreams, even though at times I didn’t even know they were my dreams until I got there. I have experienced failure, endured tragedy and had my patience tested time and time again while finding my way through life’s ups and downs but I am where I want to be and I am happy and grateful.

So my advice for my readers is to learn from your failures, grow through your tragedies, be patient and most importantly, recognise and appreciate what you have.

 

Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars- Les Brown

 

Namaste, Natalie

Just Breathe (less)!

Nowadays most people are running around from one task to the next. We can barely find time to cook and enjoy a proper meal let alone find time to slow down and take some deep breaths. There is a lot of talk in the yoga community that suggests that the way we breathe is crucial for good health.

As mentioned in an earlier Blog “Open your heart & Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training)”, before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath. Apart from when I would find myself puffing and panting and gasping for air because of childhood asthma, I gave little to no thought on how and why I was breathing they way I was.

In my Blog entitled “Life’s Lessons” I spoke about how breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice and how they can also be a very useful tool in our daily lives but in this post I would like to expand on those ideas a little further.

Breathing is a rhythmic, involuntary process regulated by our respiratory system but it can also be voluntary such as when we hold our breath or engage in pranayama techniques.

According to my past yoga teachers (and many other creditable sources), most of us breathe incorrectly, meaning most people do not know how to breathe so as to take full advantage of the nourishing, health-giving properties of the act of breathing. What is the first thing a person says if someone is stressed or having a panic attack? It is usually something along the lines of “Just Breathe!” Breathing has direct connections to emotional states and moods– observe someone who is angry, afraid or upset, and you will see a person breathing rapidly, shallowly, noisily and irregularly.

I’m a sucker for interesting trivia so when I watched a yoga documentary (sorry I can’t remember the name) that spoke about the correlation between how certain species who breathe fewer times a minute tend to live longer than species that breathe a comparably greater number of times per minute. The doco gave the example of the giant tortoise who only takes about four breaths per minute. So out of interest I did some research to find that an elephant only takes four to five breaths per minute, and when resting, an alligator may only take one breath per minute. While elephants (60-70 years) and alligators (30-50 years) don’t live quite as long as a giant tortoise (average 100-150 years), they’re undoubtedly on the high-end of life spans in the animal kingdom. Dogs, who average 10-13 years with 10-35 breaths per minute, as well as other animals like cats (12-18 years) and mice (2 years), take many more breaths per minute and live an unequivocally shorter period of time. Human beings, however, exist somewhere in between the dogs and the giant tortoises in both life span and breaths per minute. Humans tend to take between twelve and twenty breaths per minute, and they tend to live between 60 and 100 years.

So with this knowledge in mind, does longer breaths, resulting in fewer breaths per minute, equal a longer life? Paramahansa Yogananda’s book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ seems to suggest this is the case. This leads me to wonder if we can we increase our longevity by changing how we breathe and how often we breathe? If there is a way of increasing your longevity, it would have to be by implementing the Full Yogic Breath.

A full yogic breath is experienced through deep, full inhalations and long, slow exhalations. Rather than trap yourself in a frantic, high-energy breathing pattern, emulate the slower, deeper habits of the giant tortoise and work to take five to seven breaths per minute. When practiced over time, it has been suggested that this habit could lead to a much longer, disease-free life.

Since breathing has never hurt anyone, why not try it now? Get yourself into a comfortable seated or lying position and try Full Yogic Breathing for just 5 minutes.

Now, once you are comfortable, gently close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in. Close your mouth and breathe only through your nostrils. Breathe in deeply beginning by expanding the lower abdomen, moving up through the mid-torso and then to the upper-chest (feeling the collar bones lifting slightly). Then exhale by lowering the collar bones as the air leaves your lungs and push all of the air out by contracting your stomach and drawing inwards towards the spine to complete one round of Full Yogic Breath.

After several rounds of Full Yogic Breath (try to do it for 3-5 minutes but you can go up to fifteen minutes), allow your breathing to return to normal for a minute or two before gently opening your eyes and bringing your practice to a close. Before you move on to your next activity, pause briefly to notice how you feel. Are you more refreshed, awake, and relaxed? How did your practice affect or benefit you today?

By focusing on our breath, we are able to feel a connection between mind, body and spirit. Knowing how to perform simple breathing techniques can help lower your blood pressure, calm a racing heart, or help your digestive system without taking drugs. When the mind is focused on the breath and the nervous system is calm, there is less stress on the body. Your body can also experience better digestion and elimination through Full Yogic Breathing as fewer, fuller breaths help to reduce one’s appetite and keep the emotions and senses under control. Finally, you cannot be angry, upset or anxious if your breathing is slow, deep, quiet and regular.

I hope reading this Blog and completing 3-5 minutes of Full Yogic Breathing has helped bring a little bit of calm into your busy life. As you become more comfortable with the practice of Full Yogic Breathing, you can integrate this style of breathing more and more throughout your day-to-day activities for longer lasting benefits.

Breathe less, be happier and perhaps live longer.

 

Namaste, Natalie

 

Mindfulness Moments

Mindfulness

A few years ago I signed up for an online Mindfulness course along with a 2 other courses. Well 2 years later and I have eventually got around to starting the mindfulness course (luckily it doesn’t have a time limit LOL). I thought today would be a good opportunity to share with you what I have learnt so far…

Mindfulness is about taking a step back and being aware of how you’re feeling. It is a method of paying close attention to your thoughts, moods, sensations and emotions in the moment without any judgment.

I love the time I devote each day to myself to pursue peace and calm. Every morning I have a daily routine followed by about an hour of yoga and meditation before starting work. This time is crucial for me to let go of my daily tasks and the running commentary in my head. It is a time for me to check in with myself and see how I am and enables me to set a platform for mindfulness.

Gaining skills in mindfulness might help you become more aware of the world around you, how you feel, the urges you experience, and how to take decisions about these urges. It can also provide a new perspective on negative emotions, feelings and bodily sensations. This, in turn, can give new ways of managing them.

When life get really busy, a sense of peace and just being can become a little lost or sidelined. However having a small array of mindfulness moments can help us maintain a feeling of ease, peace and calm in our daily lives. Below I have put together a few mindfulness moments that I have learnt along the way that you might like to integrate into your life:

Breathe- simply observe each breath as it comes in and out. Don’t try to change or force it, just observe.

Relax muscles- notice the tension that can be held in many areas (especially in the jaw and shoulders) and let it dissolve.

Flow- focus on the present, just doing one thing at a time and enjoy the peace and ease this offers.

Just being- spend a few moments doing nothing, just letting it all go.

All of these activities will calm the mind and body. In these moments we are able to let go, become still, feel peaceful and be mindful.

I believe having a small array of mindfulness moments can help us maintain a feeling of ease, peace and calm in our daily lives. Taking the time to become aware of, appreciate and understand the world around you, how you feel, the urges you experience, and how to take decisions about these urges is a magnificent gift that you can give yourself.

You may already have practised some of these or have your own. If you do have your own, I’d love to hear about them, simply share your mindfulness moments in the comments section of this post.

mindfulness

 

If you are always rushing on to the next moment, what happens to the one that you are in? – Anonymous

Namaste, Natalie

 

 

 

 

Open your heart (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 2

Open to grace

Like setting the foundation (See: Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 1), this is part of the first principle because it is also extremely important. For me, I think of this as more about ‘opening your heart’. When you practice yoga, your chest/ heart centre should be open.

As a child, I was a severe asthmatic and before being medicated I recall multiple times hunched over gasping for breath and my primary PE teacher yelling at me ‘walk it off with your hands on the back of your head’. Why did he tell me to put my hands on the back of my head you may ask? Well its simple, this simple action opened my chest up and in turn opened up the lungs allowing me to breathe easily. So what was happening when I was hunching over then? I was actually compressing my lungs, making it harder for them to expand with deep breaths which resulted in me taking shallow, inadequate breaths.

Why is this so important now-a-days?

I have just established that when we hunch over, we are compressing our lungs. So now let’s take a moment to think about all of the activities that we do every day (and sometimes for long periods of time) that close our chest and therefore compress our lungs- sitting at a desk all day, typing on a computer, or not sitting in the correct chair are all examples of ways that we close our chest every day.

Physically, opening to grace creates more space and naturally brings you toward a more optimal alignment. Opening your heart centre can make you feel taller, lift the heart, open the throat, and melt away tension.

So, what does this mean when applied to your yoga practice?

Of course, open to grace means so much more than just opening your heart space physically as described above and like all yoga practices it also has mental, emotional and spiritual benefits… just think about what the world would be like if everyone walked around with their heart emotionally open all of the time.

What does this mean when applied to other aspects of your life?

“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

In English we have so many sayings referring to our hearts- open your heart, listen to your heart, follow your heart, speak from the heart, have a big heart, etc. It is so true that when our hearts are open and we listen and follow our hearts that we will find success and happiness. When you speak from the heart you will not only speak your truth but you will be mindful of those who are listening and will refrain from saying hurtful things. When we have a big heart we are said to be someone who is kind, caring and loving. When you listen to and follow your heart, you can never be led astray. And finally, when you open your heart you are open to receiving all of life’s lessons.

If becoming friends with your heart means opening up your heart to others, listening to yourself and following its advice on what you need, speaking your truth while being mindful of others, and being kind, caring and loving; then the world would be a better place if everyone became friends with their heart and opened their heart more often, wouldn’t you agree?

 

In order to sustain any type of growth or success, one must have an open heart and a solid foundation from which to build. Whether it’s a new creative pursuit, a new personal goal, or in your yoga practice, a good understanding of the fundamental elements and an open heart will help you establish a foundation that allows you to thrive.

When you live with an open heart, unexpected joyful things happen. – Unknown.

 

Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 1

Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) is about opening your heart and sharing something that is special to you with others so that they too can feel as good as you do when you practice yoga. While my YTT was Hatha yoga, during our training one of my amazing teachers, Amanda taught us about the Anusara Yoga’s Universal Principles of Alignment:

1. Set the Foundation & Open to Grace

2. Muscle Energy

3. Inner- Expanding Spiral

 4. Outer- Contracting Spiral

5. Organic Energy

I’m not going to pretend that I am now an expert on this topic but I thought that the first principle would be a great place to start as it kind of sums up my yoga journey to become a teacher of yoga- learning how to safely and correctly teach yoga and opening my heart and sharing something that is special to me with others.

Set the foundations

This is part of the first principle because it is most important. Everything else builds from it. Beginning your Hatha yoga practice by building a strong, flexible, and solid foundation is essential. Like any structure- think buildings, bridges, yoga is built from the foundation up and the foundation is rooted firmly to the ground. If you look at an asana the foundation of the pose which is touching the floor affects everything else. Yoga poses either start their foundations in the feet or hands (or, in other words, from the ground up).

If your foot is placed even slightly out of alignment, it translates up to your knee, pelvis, back, and so on. If your hand is turned out or the finger tips are lifted, your wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck may experience unnecessary strain. Therefore, it is essential to begin by building your feet as your solid roots to build upward. If your feet/ hands are fully connected to the earth, they will move energy up correctly through your ankles/wrists, knees/elbows, hips/shoulders and spine, preventing unnecessary injuries and allowing you to practice and master more advanced asanas successfully.

In yoga, you build a firm and level foundation by focusing on your foundations (whether they be your hands or feet), and from it a strong, spacious, and elegant pose will rise. To create a firm foundation, use the strength of your legs or arms to send strong roots into the earth; make the foundation level by contacting the floor evenly with your feet or hands. Building awareness in the feet/hands in each and every pose may sound tedious, and yes, it can take years of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. When building a house, having a solid foundation will determine the viability of the rest of the structure as it goes up, so too will having a solid foundation in your yoga practice ensure that the rest of your body is well supported and protected.

According to my 3rd surgeon, balance and shape of your feet are determined by the shapes of the bones in your feet, the structure of the ligaments that hold the bones together, and the muscles that move and position the bones. Though research I found out that the bones and the structure of the ligaments are hereditary, but you do have the power to change the strength, flexibility, and coordination of your foot muscles. Since doing yoga regularly, I have made significant changes to the shape and balance of my feet- my right toes have spread and my foot is slightly wider. This has allowed me to gain better balance and compensate for the irreparable damage that my foot and ankle have endured.

So what’s the life lesson?

Life is a journey and it’s up to you to set the foundation; to know when to pursue and when to let go. It’s up to you to look after your mind and body through meditation, exercise and healthy eating before you get sick, not just treat it when it is sick. It’s up to you to make choices that will serve you instead of hinder. It’s up to you to monitor and control your thoughts, feelings and actions. It is up to you to love yourself first and foremost so that others can also love you. Change is inevitable but when you set the foundations right, you are anchored and can brave the ‘stormy of high seas’ of life.

 

Whether you are setting the foundation in a yoga class or in your daily life, it is imperative to get the fundamentals right. Please come back tomorrow for the second part of this 2 part blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blogs so far.

Namaste, Natalie

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Without a good foundation I would not been able to achieve this pose. My left foot and my two hands have created a solid foundation even on sinking sand to allow me to rise up into this pose.

Life Lessons

Dedicated to Marina, Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura. Thank you for sharing some of my most profound and life changing yoga moments with me, Xx

For those of us who practice yoga, isn’t it often difficult to explain how transformative a yoga practice can be?

As mentioned a previous post Transform your Mind, Body and Spirit yoga provides many physical, mental and spiritual benefits, such as improved balance, strength and flexibility, it can increase your happiness, focus and self-esteem, and can provide inner strength, benefit your relationships and connect you with guidance. However, there are also many wonderful life lessons to learn through yoga.

Today I wanted to talk about 8 of the 10 most important life lessons that yoga has taught me.

  1. To love and honour my body. 

Dear Body, “I love you. I accept you. I see you. I promise to cherish you all the days of my life.”- Unknown

Today we are bombarded with images of perfection through social media and advertising,  and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we should look a certain way. However the more I practice yoga, the more I appreciate my body for the way it moves, rather than the way it looks. I am thankful for its strength and flexibility, and for the way it functions. I am grateful for good health and the ability to be able to walk again. I now honour the physical temple that houses me by nourishing it with healthy foods, using positive thoughts and self-talk, listening to my body’s needs, through sunshine, movement and exercise and finally by treating it with dignity and love.

2. To be patient.

Our patience will achieve more than our force- Edmund Burke

In today’s society, we do not really have to be patient. If we want to buy something, we can order it online and have it delivered the same day. Yoga has taught me that good things come to those who wait. More challenging poses seemed elusive when I first started yoga, but with regular practice and perseverance and without force, I have been able to learn poses that once seemed impossible.

3. To not compare myself to others.

The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday- Matty Mullins

I’m not going to lie, this was a hard one but I can honestly say that I do not compare myself to other people when I take yoga classes anymore. Believe me I used to feel very inadequate, especially in more difficult classes. Dealing and managing a long-term injury is always difficult. In the beginning I would find myself looking around, wishing my body was injury free or that I was able to get into that pose or look like that instead of the way I looked in the pose (usually awkward and uncomfortable). For a long time I have been able to focus on my practice and movement without being distracted by watching other people. However in the beginning of my Yoga Teacher Training I did find myself somehow getting distracted by the strength and flexibility of my peers and teachers but instead of wishing that I looked like that in this moment, I was inspired by their dedication and practice and refrained from feeling jealousy. I looked at what they were doing and endeavoured to improve my yoga practice so that I could be a better yogini than I was the day before. Thanks for the inspiration Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura.

4. Let go of things that no longer serve you

Respect yourself enough to walk away from ANYTHING that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you HAPPY! – Robert Tew

It is natural for things to come in and out of our lives and when things that we have wanted in life come our way, we sometimes hold on so tightly for fear that we will lose it. Other times we may cling on to unhelpful thoughts or feelings. It’s normal to want to hold onto behaviors, thoughts or feelings, objects, or even people but when they no longer serve us, that is when this ‘holding on’ can become unhealthy and sometimes harmful. At times, our minds can make us believe we need these belongings, situations, thoughts, feelings or relationships, and out of this fear we desperately hold on to them.

By letting go of these things that no longer serve us, a powerful lesson is reinforced- the lesson to trust when it’s time to let some things go. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me, especially to let go of thoughts and feelings, and one that I am still struggling with now.

5. Slow down.

Slow down, happiness is trying to catch you- Clarissa Garay

I lived (and still do to some extent) my life in the fast lane. For those who know anything about doshas- I am a pretty typical Pitta. I speak quickly, walk quickly, think quickly and make decisions (most of the time) quite quickly. I am adventurous and am always planning my next adventure. I am also observant and I process information I gather accurately.

So when I noticed in my yoga classes that people who move slowly are incredibly strong and have good alignment, I too wanted to implement this into my practice. I started focusing on slowing down and not rushing to get to the end of the pose (or to finish a challenging pose).

I have learnt that growth occurs when we take our time and push through a challenge instead of rushing through it without reaping any of the rewards. I also started taking the entire breath for each movement and have noticed a change in my practice. This has also helped me outside of yoga. I am able to stop and smell the roses, instead of running from place to place (although I must admit my work life is still chaotic- and probably always will, I have made a conscious effort to bring balance to my work and private life). I now allow myself time to relax without feeling that I must always be doing something and for this I am a happier person.

6. Breathe!

Before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath.  Breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice, and they can be a very useful tool in our daily lives, too. As I learned to breathe in yoga, I started to become more aware of my breath outside of my practice and began to utilise these techniques in my daily life. I am now able to notice how my breath changes when I am nervous, and how I can focus on deepening and slowing down my breath to help myself relax. Focusing on my breath is one of the easiest things I can control, and I can do it anywhere at any time.

7. Be present.

Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have- Eckhart Tolle.

For the longest time, I could not articulate to other people why I loved yoga- but then I had a teacher talk about being present, and it clicked for me. When I am on my mat, I am only thinking about what I am doing and nothing else. Each pose requires focus and concentration that forces me to be present. This is not easy for me outside of yoga. As an extremely organised planner, I usually get consumed about something in the future- usually my next travel adventure. Being present is still a challenge for me, but I am much more aware of my ability to get caught up in future events and am able to bring myself back to the present moment. This has helped me better manage my stress and realise I can plan for the future but cannot control it.

8. I am strong and I can achieve more than I think

I am stronger than I think I am- Thomas Merton.

My accident and subsequent injuries spanning from 2010-2011 forced me to step outside my comfort zone and to have the courage to take massive action. Being forced to have to learn how to walk again made me a true believer that I can achieve more than I ever thought I ever could. I am strong. I am capable. I am determined. And so are you!

 

Stay tuned for my next 2 posts entitled “Set the Foundations & Open your heart (Yoga Teacher Training)” where the other 2 life lessons that need a blog unto themselves will be explored.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that the life lessons that I mentioned above do not happen after one class, but if you stick with it, you might just find yoga will change your life in many beautiful ways!

 

Life is an adventure… Dare it.

Life is a love… Enjoy it.

Life is a tragedy… Face it.

Life is a struggle… Fight it.

Life is a promise… Fulfil it.

– Unknown

Life is full of inspiration… Embrace it.

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Phillip Island- Victoria, Australia

Road to Dhyana

Calm_-Mindfulness_-Meditation_-Athletes_-Snowboaridng_-skiing

If you haven’t already read my previous Blogs: “The 8 limbs of Yoga” & “To meditate or not to meditate… that is the question (Part 1)”, I suggest you read them before continuing this post.

Dhyana, meditation or contemplation is the 7th limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. This post is called ‘Road to Dhyana’ because meditation is hard to achieve; it is a long and arduous journey. Sometimes, I can fully meditate and other times I am just practicing Dharana (concentrating) which is the step that comes before Dhyana.

I started meditating before I even knew I was meditating. As a young child I would sit in the sun in my mum’s beautiful garden with my back against the garage wall and… just sit and observe my thoughts without getting caught up in it. Sometimes I would get distracted by surrounding noises or a particularly interesting cloud, but for the most part I would just sit and observe. Then somewhere along the way- around my teenage years, I lost my ability to just sit and meditate. I had to always be doing something; with school, work and a busy social life there was little time to just sit.

But like everything else in my life, I found meditation again in my time of need. Whilst laying in a hospital bed in Honduras my ability to temporarily ‘slip away’ provided me with some relief from the terrifying situation that I was in and the pain that I should have been experiencing.

You see, after my accident I was taken first to a public hospital and then to a private hospital and finally to another private hospital. While the public hospital was beyond comprehension, it did not cause me too much trauma as I was there for only a few hours. However the second hospital was one hell of a traumatic experience, one in which I needed to escape from.

I lay in the hospital bed for 4 days in a foreign country with the only person who could speak English constantly telling me that I needed to give them money before I lost my leg. They refused me antibiotics for any infections and no pain killers were administered. My ankle and lower leg were a big as my thigh as my bones in my leg had bowed. I was scared, lonely and at first, in a lot of pain.

Luckily, I had meditation. Meditation provided me with temporary relief through diverting my attention and distracted me from the source of my pain by allowing me to focus on something else. My real pain and suffering thoughts and emotions were held in abeyance. I had learnt how to not give them any attention- to tune them out. My attention was elsewhere, and the relief was palpable.

Of course this isn’t a forever­‐state; it’s temporary. Relief is lovely but, by its very nature, it’s short­‐lived. I am in no way endorsing anyone to use meditation to escape their pain or suffering. For me I was able to use meditation to provide me with temporary relief from a certain situation that I knew would not last forever.

For those people out there reading this and thinking “Great! I can meditate my problems away” think again! These problems, issues, emotions, or pain keep on arising because they need your attention. They show up to be healed, blessed, and transformed but when you’re using spiritual practice to seek relief you’re doing the exact opposite. Meditation­‐as‐relief is an escape strategy and not a healthy way to deal with you problems. When you seek to escape thoughts and emotions you’re not dealing with them and instead you’re denying them what they need to transform.

Instead I suggest that you use meditation to help understand it, come to terms with it and perhaps find ways in which you can begin heal it. Dr Ian Gawler of the Ian Gawler Foundation states that “No matter where in your life you want to see improvement, meditation can help. It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, can bring long-term improvement to your health, well-being, relationships and career.” Mindbody Mastery. I can certainly testify that meditation has brought long-term improvement to my health and well-being and I am starting to use it for personal growth and to improve my relationships and career.

 

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

(May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all).

Om, Shanti.

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The 8 limbs of Yoga

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Yoga is not about perfection and while in the West, it has become about coming to your mat one day at a time to learn more about yourself and train the mind to focus, it is also about something that goes past the asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work). Even when this seems obvious it can be difficult to articulate what that “more” is, well I know it was for me to articulate exactly why yoga made me feel so good and why I kept on coming back to the mat. It is obvious that it was something more than just the physical, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I did my Yoga Teacher Training that I discovered what that something more was- it was The 8 Limbs of Yoga that are interwoven into all good yoga classes. The 8 Limbs were written by Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras in around 200 A.D. The 8 limbs help to define yoga and is a common thread in all styles and systems of yoga.

Living your life to the fullest takes time and dedication. Putting in the effort will take a little bit of self-discipline, but the rewards you will gain will be well worth it. The 8 limbs are a comprehensive way of life/ life philosophy that will help guide you to a more fulfilled life. Each of the eight limbs addresses a different aspect of our multifaceted being, and together they act as a road map to what most yogis refer to as “yoga off the mat.”

Here’s a brief overview of each of the eight limbs:

  1. The 8 limbs begin with the Yamas which deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. There are 5 Yamas are universal practices and are as follows:
  • Ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Bramacharya (sexual restraint)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

2. The second limb consists of the Niyamas which are about self-discipline and spiritual observances and include:

  • Saucha (purity)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (discipline or austerity)
  • Svadhyaya (spiritual studies)
  • Ishvarapranidhana (constant devotion to the Divine, God, or whatever you want to call ‘IT’- for me it is nature).

3. Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.

4. Pranayama is generally translated as breath control and consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. It is yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. By withdrawing we are able to objectively observe our habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.

6. Dharana refers to concentration and it is through Pratyahara that we create the setting for dharana. Once we have relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we are then able to deal with the distractions of the mind itself which, if you have read my previous blogs, is no easy task for most people! We learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single object.

7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation or contemplation. It is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.

8. Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, is described by Patanjali as a state of ecstasy/ enlightenment/ bliss.

Yoga is a practice that anyone can do, on and off the mat. You don’t have to follow Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, but in my opinion it is when you begin to take yoga ‘off the mat’ that you start seeing the vast benefits of yoga in your everyday life. Keeping in mind these values and striving to aspire to them, even moderately, could be a huge tool in the pursuit of happiness. In addition, I feel like it is nice to understand the roots and foundation of a practice that you love doing for a deeper appreciation of the practice. As long as you remember that yoga is not about forcing, but about embracing the practice and the journey, it will certainly benefit your life.

I truly believe that knowledge is power, so I hope that in sharing this knowledge with you has, in some way, enhanced or empowered you in your life.

 

Namaste, Natalie