With week two of CPY TT under my belt, I'm feeling mentally centered...but physically exhausted. I've completed 15 classes in 14 days, and have found myself tuning into my body and customizing more in class. I think I went through a whole C2 class without doing a chaturanga other day. And I'm proud of it! Finally learning to listen to my body.
Week two of training was heavily focused on the history and philosophy of yoga. Back in college, when my yoga practice began, I never cared about the “woo-woo” / spiritual side of yoga. In fact, I felt an aversion to it - and usually skipped the namaste at the end because I felt silly bowing with my eyes closed. Yoga was simply a workout that allowed me to clear my mind and end with a two minute nap - what more could I need?
It wasn’t until this year - when I began practicing with an amazing teacher - that I became interested in the spiritual side of yoga. And now, it’s like the flood gates have opened. Once I start to learn a little, I need to know it all. I've become and "om-er." Seriously, what a 180.
I’ll spare you every single detail, but here’s a brief recap of what I learned this week. If you’re interested in learning more, see below for some books I highly recommend!
A Brief History of Yoga
Let's go all the way back to 2000 BCE, on the banks of the Sarasvati River. Here, an ancient civilization of Hindus were the ones to first document references to the yogic thought, which was based around breath control, philosophy, and spirituality.
Four thousand years ago, the basic foundations of yoga began. I'll stop there and let that sink in...
Is that not astounding? I'm fascinated by the fact that my daily yoga practice is so deeply rooted in history. I cannot stop thinking about how many people have practiced yoga throughout the centuries, how many people around the world are practicing RIGHT NOW, and how many generations will carry this practice on in the future. I'm humbled to be part of such a time-honored tradition.
Since it’s early beginnings, yoga has taken many forms. Around 500 BCE, yoga became its own distinct philosophy and practice. Karma, Bhakti, and Jhana Yoga were all born during this time. In 200 CE, the Yoga Sutra (8 Limbs of Yoga) was written. This text continues to be the backbone of most forms of yoga. More on this later...
The forms of yoga that most of us practice today didn’t emerge until the Post-Classical Period (500-1900 CE). Raja, Hatha, Tantra, Kundalini, and Mantra Yoga were all born during this time. Hatha yoga, the physical yoga practice that emphasizes balance and breath, is most similar to the yoga in our classes today.
It wasn't until the early 20th century that yoga made it's way west to the United States. Masters of yoga in India and other Eastern countries came to the US and began to introduce and teach the yoga practices we know and love today.
In an effort to keep your attention, I'll give you a high-level overview of the philosophic foundations of the yoga practice. I highly encourage you to read more on the subject if you're as interested as I am. It is truly fascinating.
The Yoga Sutras is a spiritual text that outlines the eight-fold path of yoga, written by Patanjali who was known as the "father of modern yoga." These eight limbs (ashtanga) act as the guidelines to living a meaningful life, and they serve as the moral foundations of yoga. Through the ashtanga, we learn self-discipline, ethical conduct, spiritual observances, meditation, and eventually how to reach the ideal state of consciousness. The eight limbs are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
Yama: focus on restraints, or things we should not do. Reminds us to conduct ourselves ethically and morally in our day to day. There are five yamas that we practice:
Niyama: focus on spiritual observances, or things we ought to do. The five niyamas are:
Tapas: heat; self-discipline
Svadhyaya: study of one's self / self-observance
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to the Divine / God / Universe / etc.
Asana: literally meaning "seat," asana refers to the postures within our practice. Through the yoga poses (asanas), we develop the ability to concentrate during physical movement.
Pranayama: meaning "life force." More loosely translated, pranayama is our breath control. We attempt to master our breath as we move, recognizing how it connects to our physical exertion as well as our thoughts and emotions.
Up until this point, the sutras have been focused on gaining mastery over our body. As we move to the next four, we begin to deal with the senses, the mind, and eventually work to attain a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara: control of the senses. This sutra emphasizes the withdrawal of our awareness from negative impressions. If you are easily disturbed by sensory overload (me!), pratyahara is an important focus for you. Without it, meditation will be impossible.
Dharana: concentration. Pratyahara sets us up for dharana, the process of concentrating on a single point. This focus can be mental (a word or phrase that's repeated) or physical (the flicker of a candle).
Dhyana: meditation - the uninterrupted flow of concentration. While dharana continuously focuses the mind on one-point, the mind is completely quiet in dhyana. In this stillness, the mind produces few or no thoughts at all.
Samadhi: the ultimate state of bliss or consciousness. A yogi's end-goal. At this stage, you will realize a connection to the Divine, or a oneness with the Universe.
Through the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the complete yogic path as a guide to finding peace, something that all humans aspire to achieve.
While I'm not sure I've fully reached Samadhi, I look forward to someday achieving that state of bliss through my yoga practice. I will say that I'm truly starting to understand those tanks that say "I came for savansana." It's easily my favorite part of a yoga class :)
More to come next week!