For many of us, the mention of yoga brings up mental images of downward dog, warrior poses, sun salutations, and maybe even handstands. But did you know that yoga goes way beyond physical practice?
Yoga is a lifestyle, and as such is broken into 8 “limbs”, or 8 areas, in which you can adopt yoga into your life. Yes, eight! This means that yoga is far more than getting sweaty in a fast-paced vinyasa class at the local gym.
Life is all about balance, right?
We eat a balanced diet - or at least, we know that we should.
We understand the importance of a work-life balance.
Yin and yang, day and night, working out too much or not enough.
All of these things are about balance…
So why is it important to have a balanced yoga practice? In this blog post, I’m going to discuss movement and meditation as being equally crucial to your practice and your life.
Whether you’re an Ashtanga-fan or meditation-junkie, there’s a lot to be said for adopting both movement and meditation into your yoga practice.
What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
Historically, we know that yoga covers 8 different pathways of life. The life of a true yogi can only be achieved by committing to each pathway. Now, you may not want to become a self-titled ‘yogi’, however, there’s a lot we can learn from the traditional meaning behind yoga.
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The 8 limbs are as follows:
Yama - attitudes towards others and our environment
Niyama - attitudes towards ourselves
Asana - physical postures/poses
Pranayama - controlled breathing
Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses (non-attachment)
Dharana - concentration
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi - enlightenment
As we can see, the physical practice of yoga (asana) makes up only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga masters ultimately aim to reach enlightenment, and though you might not have the same goal in life, there’s a lot to learn from yoga’s roots.
The two key aspects of yoga
When we practice yoga, it’s important to spend time in movement as well as meditation. It’s so easy to get caught up in goal poses - you know, being able to touch your toes, balance on one leg for more than 5 seconds, and do the splits. It’s just as easy to commit to daily meditation and forget about movement.
We need both to really thrive, and here’s why.
Yoga as a physical practice teaches us about our bodies. Not only are we taking care of our bodies by stretching and strengthening, but through daily practice, we’ll also come to learn a great deal about them.
We will quickly learn what hurts or is a hindrance when we move into a particular pose, as well as quickly recognizing any new pains. Understanding our bodies in this way enables us to take action on what’s going on and, ideally, fix it - whether through yoga, a health professional, or other means of healing.
Meditation offers us something similar, but for our minds. There’s a lot to be said for spending time each day in silence - watching our thoughts without judging or chasing them. It can take a lot of practice to stop running away with your thoughts during meditation, but the payoff is a more positive outlook, less stress, better sleep, and an increase in both patience and creativity.
The relationship between asana and meditation
Of course, we can add a lot of meditative qualities to our physical practice of yoga. We practice moving meditation during a vinyasa class and we also focus on the present moment when we practice asana.
Practicing asana is a great way to connect to our bodies, something that we try to achieve during meditation but that can sometimes be a little difficult - hello busy busy mind! Our bodies are, surprisingly, a place that we don’t spend very much time living in. Our lives are so fast-paced and stressful that we spend the majority of time living in our heads - we’re thinking of our to-do lists, anxious about a future event, or feeling regret over something that happened in the past (to name a few). We very rarely spend time noticing how we feel in our bodies (until, of course, it starts to hurt, which is often why we start yoga in the first place!).
So although asana offers us a sort of meditation, we can also get caught up in our thoughts about the practice itself. What do I look like? Why can’t I balance? What is everyone else doing? I love this song!
Sitting in silent and motionless meditation for a few minutes, on the other hand, offers us a quiet place to calm the breath, still our thoughts, and stop judging ourselves.
Developing our yoga practice
As we begin to learn more about our bodies through asana, we start to consider all of the ways in which we can improve physical pain.
Here’s a fact - 8 to 10 people suffer from either foot pain or lower back pain. But how often do you consider your feet during your yoga practice? One of my favorite ways to start a practice is by rolling a tennis ball under the sole of my foot - give it a try, you won’t be sorry.
And whilst we’re on the subject of feet, did you know that back pain can originate from an issue with our feet? An abnormality or deviance in our feet can make small changes to the way we walk - these small changes, over time, can affect the muscles in our lower back.
Understanding our bodies better drives us to cure our aches and pains.
Meditation, on the other hand, encourages and helps us to stop focusing on the pain.
Maintaining a balanced yoga practice of both movement and meditation can help us to quiet our minds, learn about and cure our bodily aches and pains, as well as take the focus away from our discomfort - even if only for a few seconds.
Next time you hop onto your mat for 20 minutes of your favorite yoga class, try sitting in meditation for 5-10 minutes afterward. Your body will be buzzing from your practice and you’ll be able to really focus on stilling your thoughts.