Ashta Anga refers to the eight limbs of Yoga. According to the ancient texts, “The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali,” and “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” all eight must be practiced in order for Yoga to occur. Yoga is both the means and the end. It is the combination of the practices of right action, speech and thought. What is right is defined by the eight limbs. When we follow the guidelines provided by the ancient Yogis we are more likely to be upon the right path.
The Right Practice for You
Every body is different and each one of us is unique. Just because all of your friends are taking “Hot Yoga” or “Vinyasa,” style classes that does not mean it is the right practice for you. In fact, it is rare that a hot or active practice is the best place for any of us to begin. The additional stress placed upon your body due to warm temperatures and new, challenging movements can actually hurt you. As with anything new, your first Yoga practice should be slow and well directed. You should be given the opportunity to attempt simple movements, ask questions and provide feedback to your teacher about how you are feeling throughout the session.
Living in Pain
I began practicing Yoga because all of my friends were enrolled in the class and it fulfilled a course requirement. I continued practicing because it initially reduced and then eliminated my debilitating back pain.
My pain had begun in high school as a result of scoliosis and growth spurts while competitively running in track and cross country. I continued to run while in college and continued to damage my back further. Adding insult to injury; my role as a teacher for children with autism required that I lean forward to reach desks and be at eye level with my students. There were days during which, due to the pain, I couldn't stand up straight, sit comfortably or sleep.
Yoga for Healing
Yoga Asana as well as the calming effects of breathing consciously and mindfulness practices helped me to heal. The movement was the perfect prescription for my back. The breathing helped me to remain calm when managing stressful situations and aggressive students. The mindfulness practices helped me learn to slow down and focus so that I could pause before putting my body into an unsafe position or activity.
As I continued to practice I learned the differences between the various modern styles and began to explore the various practices. When I met my teacher, in New York, I was granted access to the lineage of Rajahatha Yoga and began to develop my own practices in a way that best works for my life.
Continuing the Healing
Although I enjoy attending group classes at Yoga studios, my personal practice is what keeps me healthy. I spend less time moving actively and more time slowing down. The more slowly I move, the more awareness I have, and the better I am at addressing whatever issues; physical, emotional, energetic or mindful, that I am dealing with.
If you are ready to begin healing and to feel better through Yoga you might consider seeking out a teacher who has experience in more than just teaching classes. That which you experience physically could be a manifestation of something deeper and vice versa. Seek someone who can offer more than just poses. Find a Guru: a guide who sheds light where it is currently darkness.
It seems as though there is a Yoga studio on every corner. Like coffee shops and breweries, they are popping up everywhere. How do you know which one is the right one?
There is no “Gym Factor”
A gym is designed to be noisy, sweaty and has multiple uses. A Yoga studio has just one: Yoga. You know you've found a good studio the minute you walk in the door. The space is clean, smells nice and is tidy. There are materials appropriate for a Yoga practice.
You'll see things like mats, blankets, straps, backless chairs and some bolsters. The space should feel like home. There should be a place to put your belongings (away from your mat), a clean bathroom (clean enough to walk into barefoot), and an immediate feeling of comfort.
There is no Yoga Show
The teacher at a Yoga studio is there to guide you as you practice. He or she has their own practice they do on their own, outside of the studio. We call this a “home practice.” This is how we prepare to teach and develop our skills. A teacher should be there to teach for you, not at you.
Your Yoga teacher should demonstrate postures in a way that appears accessible for you. They will be watching you while you practice and encouraging you to use tools, try something different or attempt something challenging. Like any good teacher, a Yoga teacher is there to offer knowledge, guidance and encouragement. As they demonstrate the poses, they are considering who is in the room and what they are able to do.
While practicing you should feel as though your teacher is noticing you just enough to help you feel safe while at the same time allowing you the space to focus upon your practice. You should feel as though every instruction given is meant for you to decipher and follow as appropriate for your body, state of mind and current status. In moments when you feel nervous or unsure your teacher will encourage you to try, to push your limit, to make an attempt.
You Learn More Than Poses
Yoga is more than poses. It is a lifestyle. Everything from the way you rise in the morning to they way you stand in line will be effected if you continue to practice. Your mindset, thoughts, ideas, questions, diet, breathing and daily movement will change.
A Yoga studio is a place for gaining knowledge. Your teacher should regularly use sanskrit terms (and explain them). They should tell you why the pose you are doing is important and how it connects to the others in the sequence. You’ll be told to breathe and move at the same time, and in a particular order. You’ll learn about everything from history to religion, science and mythology as your teacher explains the names of postures and the words being used during the practice.
While at the studio you’ll notice that everything has meaning. The plants, imagery, colors and more all fit together in a perfect puzzle designed to effect your senses and enthuse you to practice. Your teacher will explain how everything about the space creates a shift in awareness allowing you to detach from the world outside of the space.
There is No Competition
Yoga is a work-IN, not a work-out. The reason to practice is to reveal that which you do not see. Often, what we do not see is our authentic selves.
You might hear your teacher compliment you or someone else on your posture, form, prowess, etc. They are doing this to encourage you to keep trying, to keep growing, to keep practicing. What you won’t hear is your Yoga teacher shouting at you to “push harder,” “go faster,” “beat so and so.” Everyone is working from their own place and will move forward as appropriate. Yoga is not about getting sweaty or going until you puke. Yoga is a practice of deep understanding and awareness of your Self.
Your Guide is a Teacher
There is a big difference between a teacher, a guide and an instructor.
An instructor simply directs; they tell you what to do in a similar fashion to a drill sergeant instructing recruits. There is little emotion and a lack of connection. They give orders and instructions.
A guide shows you the way, but does not help you get there. Like any camp counselor they give you the tools and show you how, but don’t actually help you along the way.
A teacher can tell you what, why, how, and provide suggestions and corrections along the way. A Yoga teacher lives authentically. You’ll know this because of their behavior; they will be honest, generous, helpful, considerate, patient and ready to provide variations and support to help you access the postures, deepen your breath and increase awareness.
Seek out a Yoga studio that offers more than poses. Seek out a teacher who practices authentically. Seek out a practice that provides more than a work out. Learn to practice Yoga.
Join us at Lake Tahoe Yoga to learn more.