Did you know that September is National Yoga Month?
I never imagined, when I took my first yoga class in September of 1998, that there would ever be a National Yoga Anything. Or that I would someday teach yoga, yet alone write about it.
But here I am, fifteen years later, living my yoga, with a small business, and a blog that is almost a year old. Looking back makes me profoundly grateful for this powerful practice, that transformed my entire life.
At first I thought yoga was just an exercise. That’s what it felt like for the first few years I practiced. But, the more I learned, the more I realized that yoga bled into other areas of my life. Yoga made me happy, and healed my mind, body and spirit, in surprising ways.
In the past fifteen years, yoga has helped me lose weight, get in shape, sleep better, heal my body, eat better, deepen my Christian faith, and live with authenticity and purpose. I love this practice so much, that I find it hard to do it justice with words.
In honor of National Yoga Month, I will post a little insight about yoga every day in September. I hope that sharing my experiences will inspire you, and everyone else who reads this blog, to add a little more yoga to your lives.
Because, I believe, with all my heart, that everyone needs yoga.
It just makes so much sense. To be sure of what we believe, live skillfully, strengthen our muscles, create space in our bodies, quiet our minds, breathe with intention, practice mediation, and connect with God. How could that be anything but good?
When we are born, we arrive straight from God. We are perfect, just the way He made us. As our separation from God increases, and we adapt to life on earth, we lose bits and pieces of our original innocence and completeness. The Eight Limbs (branches) of Yoga teach us how to become whole again, and draw us closer to Him.
The Eight Limbs
The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
- Yama (universal morality)
- Niyama (personal observances)
- Asana (physical postures)
- Pranayama (breathwork)
- Pratayahara (control of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration and personal awareness)
- Dhyana (meditation, for the puspose of seeking God)
- Samadhi (oneness with God)
Like most Westerners, I began my practice on the third limb, asana, in a hatha yoga class at a health club. I was lucky that my instructor, Joy, had ten years of experience (which was rare at that time), and did share some pranayama and meditation. But I didn’t really get it. I thought the bhakti breathing was weird, and savasana made me anxious.
I loved the workout, though, so I took a lot of classes at the health club, and practiced with Steve Ross on Oxygen’s Inhale TV Show, when I couldn’t get to the club. It was just exercise to me, for a long time.
Four years went by, before I learned about the eight limbs of yoga. As a committed Christian, I had been afraid to explore yoga philosophy, in the early days of my practice. I had no choice, however, when I decided to become a yoga instructor. I had to embrace all of it.
Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
This awesome yogi named Patanjai was the first to record yoga philosophy, about 2000 years ago. It was one of the first things we learned in my yoga teacher training course in 2002, and it felt like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. Yoga was suddenly more than a workout, and it would soon become a way of life.
It occured to me that I had sort of learned yoga backwards, and wished I had understood the Eight Limbs, before I met my mat.
For those who are new to yoga, I suggest starting at the beginning, with the yamas and the niyamas.
About the Yamas and the Niyamas
The yamas and niyamas are observances that teach us to live skillfully. They are as follows:
1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
2. Satya (truth)
3. Asteya (non-stealing, or non-cheating)
4. Bramacharya (self-restraint and moderation in all that you do)
5. Aparigraha (non-coveting, non-competitiveness)
1. Saucha (purity)
2. Santosha (contentment)
3. Tapas (discipline)
4. Svadhyaya (self-study)
5. Ishawar-pranidhana (surrender to God)
During the five months of my teacher training at Peachtree Yoga Center, we explored the yamas and niyamas, as they relate to yoga practice. I was also participating an intense 36 week Bible study at the time, and would read my Bible during the breaks. It was such an interesting juxtaposition, to study the yamas and niyamas, as I was exploring the Old Testament. I realized that Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, and the authors of the Bible were essentially saying the same thing. Live a righteous life, and be in relationship with God.
I had been afraid that studying yoga would threaten my Christian faith, but it was actually the opposite. After I learned about the yamas and the niyamas, I felt more connected to God on my mat, than I ever had before. I realized that it was vital to use what God gave me, if I hoped to understand my purpose in life. And I learned to focus on how the practice felt, more than how it looked, which made me appreciate yoga so much more.
For those who are new to yoga, it’s ok if you want to start to learn the practice through asana, but the practice will come with more ease, if you spend time considering the yamas and the niyamas before you meet your mat each day. I will talk more about each of the yamas and niymas in future posts, as well as many other of aspects of yoga (there’s so much to share!). Follow this blog, if you have not already, and like My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook, for yoga and wellness insights and tips.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me!