Yoga & Spirituality

Quite often there is not enough understanding of the spiritual side of Yoga, which is really too bad because just by having a basic understanding of this aspect of Yoga, and not really even actively practicing it, can reap many rewards.

The spiritual side of Yoga is actually the original practice. Using Yoga as a series of physical and mental balancing techniques did not come about until many years later. Some Yoga adepts believe that unless you are balanced Physically, Mentally, Emotionally and Spiritually, you are not really in balance. The good news is that all of these are inter connected, and by focusing on one, you are in effect helping them all.

Ashtanga Yoga, as the name implies, focuses on Ashtanga or the 8 Limbs of the Tree of Yoga. These limbs, or branches, are 1) Yama, or universal morality, 2) Niyama, or personal observances, 3) Asanas, or body postures, 4) Pranayama, or breathing exercises, 5) Pratyahara, or control of the senses, 7) Dharana, or concentration and 8) Dhyana, or enlightenment.

The physical aspect of Yoga only concerns itself with the third limb, Asanas, and with the exception of a few meditation periods totally ignores the other branches. This makes it very difficult to get the full benefit from your Yoga practice and you really should give it a bit of thought.

I was wondering exactly why this is so, and why it is so different in the United States and India and I can only surmise that most Yoga teachers in the U.S. are not aware of this, so it is very difficult to teach that which you are not aware of. So for people just getting started in Yoga and looking for a teacher, it is highly recommended to ask a few questions about this aspect of Yoga to see if a potential teacher is knowledgeable about it and/or even cares about it. If it is something you feel you may wish to explore later, it is best to make sure it will be a possibility later rather than attempting to change horses in mid stream.

If you are already involved in a Yoga practice, and would like to add a spiritual component to it, but do not have a teacher readily available, there are options open to you. Since, ultimately, spirituality is a singular endeavor, you really don’t need someone to hold your hand while you meditate. There are hundreds of viable meditation systems out there and chances are, even if you do have a teacher who is spiritually inclined, their specific meditation practice may not fit you spiritually. So you have to find the one that resonates with you even if it is not the system your teacher practices.

Having a teacher who is spiritually inclined, even if it is not the system you would chose has its own advantages. They will be able to guide you and help you even if it is a different spiritual path merely because they understand the concept of a spiritual path whereas a non-spiritual teacher may not.  So you can start from wherever you are, it is the ideal place for you to be at the moment, and proceed accordingly. There are many paths open to you, just choose one and get started, you can always change it later if it doesn’t suit you.

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