These days, most of people’s approach to yoga is very superficial. Many think that yoga is simply performing asanas (physical postures), without knowing that asanas are just the tip of the iceberg of what yoga really is. Yoga is much more complex, and has a deeper purpose, which transcends our physical body.
According to the text, «The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,» yoga can be defined as the «restraint the modifications of the mind-stuff.” In its second chapter, Sadhana Pada, Patanjali explains in detail many different ways on how to restrain the mind, quieting one’s chitta vritti (also known as “mind chatter” or “monkey mind”) to help the yogi cut away the mental obstacles, which are blocking the light of the Self within.
In Sadhana Pada, Patanjali presents to us “The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga,” which are essential tools that we can adapt in our daily lives to guide us to progressively slow and quiet down the mind, which will eventually allow us to pay deeper inward attention to our true selves, and, furthermore, realize our undeniable existing connection to a higher Self (which, in some cultures and belief systems, is known as God, Supreme Energy, Universal Energy, and so on).
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, as described by Patanjali are:
Yamas (Ethical Observations)
Niyamas (Self Observation)
Asanas (Physical Postures)
Pranayama (Breath Control)
Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)
As you can see, the physical practice of asanas is only one of the many aspects of yoga. To be able to go beyond the physical body, and to work on the deeper layers of the mind, it is necessary to follow these eight steps as much as possible in our everyday lives.
In order to restrain your mind from moving away from the present moment, it is essential that you exercise proper social behaviour (Yamas), develop mindful self-observation and self-awareness (Niyamas), keep your body healthy by practicing Asanas while paying the most attention to your breath (Pranayama), train your mind withdraw your senses to reduce the wandering of the mind (Pratyahara), learn to concentrate on the breath and movement of your body when practicing asanas, slowly reducing the effort you put in your practice by being mindfully present, meditation will arise (Dhyana), and, as much as possible, always try to keep yourself to be in the present moment to eventually realize the significant connection between yourself and the higher Self (Samadhi).
By approaching your practice this way, even an hour of asana practice can become a substantial experience full of self-awareness. Some practitioners also describe the practice as a very spiritual experience because this process of mindfulness allows one to perceive oneself from the core, and not from a superficial perspective.
As you start to practice the Eight Limbs of Yoga with intention and attention, you will notice that the outcome of your practice will change significantly, as you begin to explore the many different layers of your self. As Iyengar had once said, practicing yoga is like peeling an onion— the true self is covered by many different layers, and, through a committed yoga practice, all these layers can be gradually peeled off one by one.
If you have already been practicing these 8 steps on and off your mat for a while now, it’s possible that you have already started to notice that the practice opens up not only your physical body; it also works on a deeper level as it allows you to see more clearly the true nature of your mind. First, the practice will start to change the body, as you will notice that you start to feel stronger and more flexible. In time, this will allow you to better observe your body, your breath, and your movements, which then, in turn, will enable you to become aware of more subtleties within your physical body.
Eventually, when you dig deep enough in the physical body, you will start to recognize the constantly existing connection between your body and your mind— that when the body changes, the mind subtly changes with it. If you notice yourself having less feelings of anger, desire, or delusion, it means that the practice has already started to change your mind in a deeper level. This is the moment you will start to notice the non-physical effects of a committed asana self-practice in your daily life.
Yoga does not change our reality, but it is a powerful tool to help us change how we perceive our reality. So rather than focusing our energy on trying to fight or change things all the time, yoga teaches us to accept the present moment as it is. Imagine how much happier and lighter you can be when you feel less frustrated during the day! If you have less expectations, or, eventually, no expectations at all, you will start to see the magic behind the practice.
Accepting the moment does not necessarily mean that you wait (as in a type of inertia or idle state) for something to happen to you; rather, it means to fully engage yourself in the present moment and embrace it as it is, without denial or judgment. With this state of mind, you will see that it is only in the present where you can keep moving forward in your life, or change its direction.
So let go of fear from the past, let go of judgments and expectations in the future, and simply focus on where you are now.
Before every practice, take just a few minutes to first bring your attention back into your breath and body, set your intention, and be ready to accept whatever the practice will show you today, one breath at a time.
Every present moment is a learning experience.