Yoga 101: The eight limbs of yoga

IMG_0529If you have ever attended a yoga class, you may have come across the term “Ashtanga Yoga“. In this context, “Astanga Yoga” refers to a stream of hatha yoga based on the teachings of Pattabhi Jois (himself a student of the great yogi T. Krishnamacharya), which is characterized by a fixed set of dynamic sequences. While there are three series, normally only the so-called “primary series” is practiced. Pattabhi Jois brought this style of yoga into the Western world. He only died in 2009, so you can see that this school of yoga is a rather new one.

Originally, the term “Astanga Yoga” has quite a different meaning. It goes back to Patañjali, the old Indian sage who wrote down the yoga sutras and refers to astanga as the concept of the “eight limbs of yoga”: each limb corresponds to one step on path of yoga and has a different purpose. Here is a short overview of what the eight limbs are about (The Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar, p. 3, 12-31):

  1. Yama: Universal moral commandments.
  2. Niyama: Self purification by discipline.

In the first two stages, Yama and Niyama, the yogi lays, if you want, the foundations for his path: he follows the common rules of moral for society and the individual, and lives a disciplined, pure life in terms of his body, thought, word and food. „Whether or not to be a vegetarian is a purely personal matter (…) But, in course of time, the practitioner of yoga has to adopt a vegetarian diet, in order to attain one-pointed attention and spiritual evolution“. Niyama also includes the cultivation of a content mind, because this is the prerequisite for being concentrated. „The yogi feels the lack of nothing and so he is naturally content.“

  1. Asana: Posture.

The purpose of the third limb of yoga, āsana, or posture, is to bring steadiness, health and lightness of limb. However, the objective is not just to keep the body strong and elastic, the practice of the postures also trains and disciplines the mind. Further to that, by performing the āsanas, the yogi assumes positions that resemble a variety of creatures at all levels of evolution which should teach the yogi that they all breath the same Universal Spirit.

These first three stages of yoga are hence the outward quests (bahiranga sadhana), before moving on to the next to stages which are called the inner quests (antaranga sadhana):

  1. Pranayama: Rhytmic control of the breath.

The first of these two stages is dedicated to breath (prana), the extension of it (ayama) and its control. The purpose of following a proper rhythmic of slow deep breathing is to strengthen the respiratory system and reduce desires and cravings. The thought is, that by controlling the breath, the yogi can control his mind and can also control its constant movement.

  1. Pratyahara: Emancipation of the mind.

It is the fifth stage, when the process of the withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects begins. The yogi undergoes a self-examination to learn control his senses and become free of its desires. He can learn to do so by being aware of the qualities that drive him, and will be able to pursue actions prompted by sattva (the ideal, pure or good quality), and will try to eradicate those caused by rajas (the quality of mobility or activity) and tamas (the dark and restraining quality). Ultimately, the sattva quality should remain as the only quality.

The final three stages are also referred to as the „quest of the soul“ as this is what these stages focus on: the Inner Self.

  1. Dharana: Concentration.

The purpose of this stage is for the mind to be focused on one task. There are five states of mental state. It is only in the fourth state (ekagra), when the mind concentrates fully on one thing. The final stage, niruddha, is when the mind leaves behind intellect and surpasses the feelings of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and concentrate fully on the Deity, and its symbol AUM. The Sanskrit word Aum means the best praise or the best prayer, its symbol has many meanings and interpretations, which center around omnipresence, living spirit, creation and the triad of Divinity.

  1. Dhyana: Mediation.

When the flow of concentration is uninterrupted, the state that arises is dhyana (mediation)“. When the yogi’s mind is illumined by dhyana, this will transform him and he will share its state of lightness, clearness and serenity by becoming „a light unto himself and others“.

  1. Samadhi: A state of superconsciousness.

At the end of the quest or at the peak of the mediation, the yogi’s body is as if asleep yet the mind is fully alert yet beyond consciousness. This state is characterized by a silent feeling of truth and joy.

***

As you can see, the original understanding of yoga goes far beyond the physical practice, it has become known for in the West. While the practice of asanas is an important element to ensure healthiness of the body, it is only one step on the path of yoga. You may choose that this is all you want to take up for yourself. But if you take a deeper look, you may find that there are several other concepts that can also be quite useful to guide you through the  ups and downs and challenges of our hectic daily life, by developing a sort of inner compass of what is right and wrong for you. For example, I have learned to respond much better to what my body and mind need, e.g. when it is time for me to take a break and focus on what I need to recharge my batteries.

If you want to read more about the eight limbs of yoga, you can do this in BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga”, the source for this article.

❤ Kate

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A little introduction into yoga

imageWhile I have been practising yoga for many years now, it always used to be mainly a physical activity for me which also had a sort of calming, meditative effect on me, which I appreciated. When I recently joined a yoga teacher training, I began to learn that there is a lot more to yoga than just its physical side. Following the mission of this blog, I want to share a bit of my newly acquired knowledge and thereby inspire others to look deeper into the story of yoga and what it has to offer. The concepts described below follow the books of A.G. Mohan (Yoga Reminder) and T.K. Desinkachar (The Heart of Yoga).

Why do we speak of ‘Yoga sutra’ and what does ‘yoga’ mean

Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian thought known as darsanas. It originates in the Vedas, which is the oldest record of Indian culture, but it was not systematized until the Indian sage Patanjali wrote it down in a structured “sutra” form. „Sutra“ is a style that uses very few words, but yet captures the essence and is thus very clear.

The word yoga has acquired several meanings. They usually centre around the following: “to unite”, “to attain what was previously unattainable”, focusing all our attention towards the activity we are pursuing at a particular moment, or also “to be one with the divine”. Essentially, it is about being mindful and attentive to our actions, which usually involves change.

Removing cloudiness from your mind and perception

There are some basic concepts that build the foundations of yoga. These include the concept of avidya. Avidya is expressed through its brances of asmita (the ego), raga (having demands), dvesa (rejecting things), and abhinivesa (fear), and through which, individually or collectively, our perception and mind are clouded and we end up feeling dissatisfied with the results of our actions. We want to reduce avidya, as the absence of it is recognised by the absence of unrest or agitation, and an internal feeling of peace.

Everything is subject to constant change

Another basic understanding of yoga is that everything is subject to constant change, a concept which is called parinmavada. The objective of yoga is to lift the veil of the clouded mind to see our deep self within, which is the one thing within ourself not subject to change. Ways of achieving this can be by tapas, to keep ourselves healthy and cleanse ourselves inwardly, e.g. by practising asanas, and pranayama. The second means is svadhyaya, which means inquiry or getting to know ourselves. The third way is the “love of god” or, in practical terms, a certain quality of action which in practise refers to pursuing a career or gain qualifications. It is these three actions that are known as the yoga of action (or kriya yoga).

Reach a state of lightness

Changing something in one’s life is often a motivation to start with yoga. A reason why we feel this way may be that our mind is in the state of duhka. The notion of duhkha refers to a feeling of being restricted in our possibilities, a feeling of being squeezed. The objective of yoga is to eliminate the duhkha and reach a state of lightness and openness within, which is called sukha. Avidya relates to duhkha in that every action deriving from avidya results in some form of duhkha. Duhkha can also be understood by looking at the three qualities of the mind which are described by yoga: tamas, rajas and sattva (all three together are collectively known as the guna). While tamas, the state of heaviness and lethargy, and rajas, the striving for action, restlessness, can produce duhkha, sattva, which refers to a clarity of mind, is the only one leading to a reduction of duhkha. The forces of duhkha limit our feeling of freedom and can limit us. Being aware of these forces within us is one step towards working to reduce duhkha.

***

I am going to stop here, since I am certain this is as much as someone can take when starting to dive into these old yoga concepts. But it already gives you an indication that yoga is, in fact, much more than some gymnastic or breathing excercises.

A much lighter read is A.G. Mohan’s ‘Yoga Reminder’. It is recommendable for everyone who would like to learn more about yoga, its concepts, meanings and different elements.  Here are some quotes of the book that particularly stuck with me and changed the way I used to look at things and approached life:

Unless we cultivate the ability to choose one peaceful thought over other thoughts, we will not be happy, even if all of our wishes are fulfilled“ (p. 11).

From Steadiness arises the possibility of holding to positivity. A scattered mind cannot stay focused on a positive goal“ (p. 38).

To bring steadiness and positivity to the mind, the body, the breath, and our senses, choices, and relationships – this is the goal of yoga“ (p.36).

Reading A. G. Mohan’s book made me realise some perhaps not so fruitful patterns in my lifestyle. The world is always changing around us. So indeed, the only thing we can control is how we approach and feel about these changes. Our minds might want to distract us, but the more steady our thoughts are, the  more complete and content we feel. A scattered mindset can have an impact on our actions, as it diverts focus, and will make it more difficult to keep inner balance and positivity.

I hope this little glimpse into some of the concepts behind yoga will bring you some enlightenment as well.

❤ Kate

Sources:

T.K. Desinkachar: The Heart of Yoga

A.G. Mohan with Dr. Ganesh Mohan: Yoga Reminder – Lightened Reflections

The perks & challenges of the unemployed life

2014-09-27 13.11.00Being without a job is usually considered a uncomfortable, pitiful situation. Of course, one of the main reasons people try their utmost to avoid being unemployed is because they cannot or do not want to put up with the financial consequences. But it appears to me that the second most important reason why people do not want to be stigmatised “unemployed” even though they loath their current job is because generally being unemployed is equated with not performing, not capeable (enough) and unproductive. And no one wants to be thought of that way and be pitied.

However, no one ever pities people who are in jobs which make them feel frustrated, bored or burned out on a regular basis. The difference is: this is how people end up feeling themselves, whereas an unemployed person might acutally be happier than during employment. So the stigmata connected with the status are not actually true. Nevertheless, being unemployed over a longer period of time is draining your spirits and resources, no doubt about that. Here is a list of the five perks and challenges I experienced while being unemployed:

1) No more excuses: “I don’t have enough time for xyz”

Being unemployed comes with a benefit 90% of people claim they never have enough of: time for their friends, family, hobbies or things they have always wanted to do. How often have we read that time is the most precious thing we have? Well, there you go, as an unemployed you have plenty of it. So do not let anybody make you feel sorry for yourself and start doing the things you haven’t had enough time for during your job. This way you will do things you love doing, learn new things and develop new interests, which will give you positive energy and perhaps even new ideas what you want to do with your life. Or what you don’t. If you have been wondering what it is that you really want to do with your life, having the freedom and time to explore different options will show you how much you really care about it. For example, I found out I will not end up becoming a master chef since I just prefer spending my time elsewhere than in the kitchen all the time, even when having plenty of time at hand.

2) Defining your identity without your job

To start with, I am sure there are plenty of people who do not need to learn this lesson because they have never defined themselves very much over their job. Congrats to them. But I have, although less so in recent years than at the beginning of my professional life. If you spend 40-60 hours a week in your job, it just becomes the main element in your life, if you do not have kids, intense hobbies or other engagements on which you spend a large part of your time and dedication.

And second, it is always a challenge to present yourself to a new group of people (or even worse, to a new date) that you are currently unemployed. Without a professional label, one needs to fill the resulting identity vacuum, not only with regard to one’s place in a society, but most importantly to figure out for yourself who your are apart from your job. And this is a challenge much bigger than taking on any new random position, where you easily slip back into the daily routine of an office job, but with a take-away that you may benefit from for the rest of your life.

3) Cleaning up with bad habits and reviewing relationships

Consequences from 1 and 2 will be that you will know better who you are but also who your true friends are. Busy jobs and daily rountine often prevent us from reviewing our relationships, and in fact a lack of time or thought sometimes even solves conflicts before they erupt. Of course, with a lot of time and need for distraction, you may tend to have some unrealistic expectations of your friends, and sure, they may still be busy with their lifes. Nevertheless, you will find out quite soon which of your friends (and it may be those in the most intense jobs and with plenty of other committments) really care about you and want to know how you are holding up, and for which you can change the tag to “aquaintances”.

4) Dealing with loneliness and despair

There is no kidding, at some point not finding an adequate new role will make life very tough, especially if you live by yourself and you do not have people around you with flexible schedules, a partner or really good friend closeby who you can see and call at any time. For me, spending a lot of time all by myself was certainly the biggest challenge of all.  Although I need my alone-time on a regular basis, I am a very sociable person and not seeing anybody (except for talking to a shop assitant/waiter/etc.) for 3-4 days really freaked my out. And the situation was exacerbated due to the fact that all of my best friends live in other cities as I do. I remember the morning before an interview, I actually called one of my best friends from abroad, all in tears, feeling incabable to perform at the upcomming interview because loneliness had dragged my down so far. From that moment on, I made sure never to be alone for more than 2 days as I had realised that the road from loneliness to despair was a very short one for me. Finding myself in this situation allowed me to see how important true and close personal connection was to my happiness and that it was going to be a driving priority in my future decisions in life.

5) Finding a more a more balanced, reflected and positive self

Going through phases 1, 2, 3 and 4 was often great fun but many times also tough and took me to my own limits. It allowed me to build a stronger, more conscious connection to myself and to really appreciate the people that are really close to me in my life. And finally I managed to get rid of the frustration that has accompagnied me many times in almost all of my jobs, and instead I have taken a new friend on board: the optimism to always look at the positive side of things.

Therefore, what I would like to say with this post is that despite financial cutbacks there are a lot of things to gain from being unemployed for a while. Work life will likely be long enough and you may not want to wait to do things in pension which in the end you may not even be able to experience as a happy healthy person So, enjoy the time you have and make the best of it, with a job of without one!

 

Financing your next vacation

NY_PR Mai_2012 233In September this year, I started a little project. I wasn’t sure when I would be finding a new job but I also knew that I wanted to spend the Christmas holidays somewhere warm and sunny. So my mission was: how to afford such a trip while not working and without using my savings? Since I had some free savings available, I decided to see how much money I could make within a month or two by investing in stocks. The challenge was: would I be able to make net gains of around 2.500,- Euros?

How to prepare

In order to figure out which companies to invest in and to get an idea of where the financial markets were standing at the moment, I started reading The Motley Fool and the financial section of newspapers and magazines. Further to that, I kept making mental notes when I came across new or promising technologies and then researched which companies were active in the sector, and how their product and prospects were judged by experts. Eventually I made a list of potential companies that I considered for Investments which was composed of some big well-established players in consumer goods industries (following some sort of philosophy of investing in products/companies I believed in and ideally even use myself) combined with some quite specialised suppliers in evolving product categories with a bit more risk but at the same time more potential to grow. I checked where their current share price was at the moment compared with their performance over the last three years, and took a decision of whether it was a good time to buy in, or whether it seemed more advisable to monitor the development for a while. The last step was to sign up for online trading with my bank where I already had a clearing account and a security deposit, and I could get started.

Mission accomplished!

It worked! I recently sold three of my seven investments and registered a net gain of about 2.400 Euros which represented a return on investment of roughly 15% after capital gains tax and fees. I reinvested in the same company shares which hopefully keep growing in value but put aside the amount that I made by selling at a higher stock price.

If I had realised how much money I would be able to make with so little work, I would have started doing this much earlier. For sure, you cannot expect to make x money by day z on a regular basis, but if you are flexible enough and some interest in following market development, it is a great way to make extra money with quite little effort and you can treat yourself with a nice designer purse, a weekend trip, a vacation or even more – depending on how much money you can spare to invest. So I will continue investing and following the stock market, this is for sure. The decision of where I will spend my Christmas holiday however has not yet been taken. You will find out!

PS: It is going to be Sri Lanka 🙂