there's so much more than stretching to the ancient art of
Yoga: the science of the mind
Today, most people have heard of yoga and its benefits. It is one of the few ancient spiritual traditions that has maintained itself against the test of time. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuke’ which is most commonly translated to mean ‘unite’ or ‘tie together' because its tools offer ways to bring together the body, mind and soul. It is the key to spiritual development.
Yoga was born over five thousand years ago as one of the six ancient philosophical systems of India known collectively as ‘darshana’, Darshana comes from the Sanskrit word ‘drs' which translates as ‘to see.’ This can also be understood as ‘view’ or ‘a certain way of seeing.’ Perception is an important concept in yoga and gaining clarity to ‘see clearly’ is its primary goal in order to take us beyond the ignorance of the world and to help us understand and go too beyond our own ego bound identity.
Yoga and Ayurveda
Yoga is first and foremost a science of self-realisation. A science of the mind. Its concern is spiritual process, mostly through meditation, breath and postures. Ayurveda is primarily a science of self-healing. A science of life knowledge. Its aim is to prevent and relieve us from suffering and keep us in balance with our environment. Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that have developed and integrated together repeatedly throughout history. Indeed originally, all yoga teachers practised Ayurveda and visa versa. Yoga in its many forms is used effectively as a therapeutic tool in ayurveda. Together they offer a truly profound approach to life and wellbeing and can enable us to realise our full soul potential.
A natural connection to us
Perhaps the need for self-clarity is why so many people continue to take up yoga. We feel there is something beyond us that we cannot see, touch or understand. We are often not completely sure of our ourselves and so may constantly be looking for answers to questions such as ‘why am I here?’ and ‘what is my purpose?’ We realise somehow, that we do not always do things that are best for us or those around us, even though we cannot understand what this should be.
This ‘veil’ or cloak of perception is called ‘avidya’ in Sanskrit. It is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognising things as they truly are but through the vast knowledge and regular practise of yoga we can slowly learn to see ourselves entirely and gain knowledge of our true nature. We can then begin to unveil how our accumulated unconscious actions deeply affect our understandings and misunderstandings allowing for a new contentment and harmony and a deeper quietness and calmness within us.
Yoga and ayurveda understand that everything – all creation - was and is being born from Pure Consciousness (Purusha) into Latent or unmaterialised matter (Prakriti) in a continual and eternal process. There is no beginning and no end just continual process. Therefore, pure consciousness is the origin of all creation and stays within each creation meaning everything is itself conscious and that ‘life’ is to promote the ‘experience’ of conscious’ness.’
This logical, linear and complex vision of manifestation or ‘philosophy’ as it often referred to, is the Samkhya Darshana which is explained by way of 25 primary cosmic principles or ‘tavvas.’
These include; Prakriti or primordial nature, Mahat or cosmic intelligence, Ahamkara or Ego, Manas or mind, the five ‘tanmatras’ or senses, the five ‘jnanendriyani’ or sense organs, the five karmendriyani’ or motor organs and the five mahabutani’ or elements and finally, Purusha or the Pure Consciousness beyond all manifestation.
Gunas of the mind
In yoga and ayurveda the mind is not the domain of the dosha but of the three ‘maha’ (great) gunas. The three fundamental 'gunas', operating principles or ‘tendencies’ of universal nature are generally accepted to be associated with creation (rajas), preservation (sattva) and destruction (tamas.) They are responsible for the manifestation of the doshas and the physical body.
Rajas is the stimulating, active or positive force of motion within us that initiates change, creates urgency and variability and qualities such as love and hate and fear and desire. Tamas is a passive, obstructing or negative force that creates stagnation, dullness, darkness, decay, delusion, depression, ignorance, attachment and greed. Sattva is the neutral or balancing force that harmonises the positive and negative. It creates compassion, flexibility, kindness and an open heart. It is regarded as the highest of the three gunas because it renders a person true, honest, wise and a thing of pure and clean substance.
Unlike the doshas, the gunas are not fixed at birth, in fact it is understood that we are all born of pure sattva. These gunas are ever changing, ever evolving and in constant flux within us. It is us who has the ability through freedom of choice and will to choose which guna we may lean towards and how far. Yoga encourages us to develop sattva and perhaps even to transcend it, going beyond the body and mind to reach our true self.
The eight limbs of yoga
To reach our true self we must practice yoga in its fullest. These days, most people associate yoga with the physical exercise but, according to the ancient text, it is so much more.
The postures, poses or ‘asana’ are just one of the eight equally important limbs or branches of yoga. The others include: yamas (five external disciplines or moral restraints) niyamas (five internal disciplines or personal restraints) pranayama (breath control) pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) dharana (concentration and intense focus) dhyana (un-concentration or meditative absorption) and finally samadhi (union or the ultimate bliss.)
To commit to just the exercise, whilst being very good for us of course, is to utilise but one ingredient of a potential powerhouse of opportunity. Just as the perfectly rounded cake can only be achieved when all ingredients are added, a holistically beneficial practice can only be achieved when all concepts are considered and incorporated.
Yoga and You
As with most things, one thing does not suit all and the same goes for yoga. Many different styles of asanas (or poses) have evolved from the ancient traditional yogic teachings and each have their benefits according the three doshas of ayurveda. These doshas relate to our body constitution, our time of life, the season, the time of day etc.
Someone with a mainly vata constitutions may benefit from a calming and grounding floor based practice that builds strength rather than a fast paced flow which may aggravate their vata. It would help them to hold the poses for a little long perhaps and become aware of the move between poses rather than rushing from one to the next. As vata mostly sits in the area of the large intestine and pelvic area, poses that involve forward bends and or compress this area are particularly healing. Vata types may also benefit from a longer savasana.
Someone with a mainly pitta constitutions may try to adapt a calm, relaxed attitude towards their practice which would be best taken at cooler times of the day such as dawn or dusk, avoiding midday. Care should be taken not to create too much heat or competitiveness in the body as this may aggravate pitta. New concepts such as hot yoga are very popular and there is some thought that this practice may offer a chance to release some of the built up heat that pittas often hold on to. Poses that also offer this release by compressing the solar plexus and/or opening the heart are also beneficial. Mindful breath work is also good for pitta but care should be taken to choose variations that create coolness rather than heat.
Someone with a mainly kapha constitution may benefit from a faster, more invigorating practice. Holding poses for longer, challenging and stimulating the body will improve circulation and allow prana vayu (one of the five vatas of the body) to flow more freely. Poses that open the chest (the seat of kapha) and create heat and lightness are most beneficial and an early morning ritual is the best time for kapha types to prepare and energize for the day.
However, as we are all made of a little of each dosha, when looking for a class it is often best to get a good rounded practice to incorporate all ideas. The key is to treat your practice as just that – a practice. There is no final destination. No competition. Just practice.