Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Last month, I wrote about my journey into yoga, and what it has meant for me personally. This month, I thought it would be fun to share some words of wisdom from my favorite teachers, and also some thoughts from my students about what yoga means to them. In the West, we tend to think of yoga as only the physical practice, however, asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali in the The Yoga Sutras, and nowadays, there are numerous styles of yoga practice within asana. I asked the experts some questions to help demystify yoga. I asked Jason Bowman to summarize the eight limbs of yoga, and he responded: "The eight limbs of yoga are a step by step process to sensitize the mind to ever increasing layers of subtlety. One begins in the most obvious realms of relationship and personal habit formation in order to progress to the task of refining the physical body and the energies that animate it. Only after such practices are undertaken with great diligence is it realistic to expect any insight related to the nature of the mind and its role in creating meaning. The pinnacle of the practice is approached when all the aspects of one's being have been uncovered and understood with serious discipline, and one's being is therefore finally able to be seen as interconnected to all other beings."
Gina Caputo developed a style of asana practice called Integrated Vinyasa™ Yoga. When I asked her how she describes this style of yoga, she said: "Integrated Vinyasa™ Yoga is a yoga practice rooted in intelligent, natural evolutionary patterns and emphasizes the subtle inner work we access via our physical bodies and movement. My classes integrate the polarities of alignment and flow, anatomy and energetics, science and philosophy, engagement and relaxation, outer and inner, focus and release, structure and spontaneity, tradition and evolution and work and play. This form illuminates our wholeness, our relationship to Nature, and an energetically sustainable approach to living fully.” One of my favorite modules in advanced teacher training was on anatomy, so I asked my teacher Sarah Tangredi about the importance of alignment in yoga, and she replied: "Alignment in asana is essential - it creates space and support for all joints, absorbs and disperses forces better through the fascia, and supports good circulation and neural pathways. That said, there's an emotional component that comes with physical alignment, and then there's getting your mental game in alignment with your soul, and your boundaries and life. Then alignment takes on a much bigger, much more important role." I learned to teach Stand Up Paddle board (SUP) yoga from Lisa Fierer. When I asked her about why people should give SUP yoga a try, one thing she had to say was this: "In SUP Yoga, we’re asking people to trust, not to tense up, to create balance out of releasing, rather than clinging. On the paddleboard, this is most evident in our toes. The most common mistake is toe crunching. When the water and waves move beneath our boards, there’s a tendency for our toes to tense up and try to grip the board. The yogic practice, especially on water, is an invitation to align the placement and movement of our bodies with the fluidity of water, much like the movement of our breath." When I decided to dig deeper into the yogic path, I asked Tias Little of Prajna Yoga how he would describe dharma, and he responded: "In yoga we aim to walk the path with a clear eye and true heart. On the path it is easy to get side tracked and lost in some cul-de-sac of personal obsession and petty concern. The dharma is a guide to help us stay true not only to ourselves but to all of our relations. When walking the trail cairns help guide the way, a simple stack of rocks showing the path’s direction. The dharma is like a cairn, it elucidates the path and gives us the confidence to persevere on the long road back to the source of all things." I asked my students for one word or phrase about what yoga means to them, or what brings them to their mat, and here's what I heard: Strength Calm mind Healing Self-love Yoga makes me feel more like myself Grounding Stress relief Peace, love and beauty I would love to hear from you. Comment on this post below or on social media with what yoga means to you!