Many people think of yoga as a workout, but it’s so much more than that. Yoga is a philosophical and spiritual practice that has been around for thousands of years. There are five basic concepts that are at the heart of yoga philosophy. These concepts can help you live a happier and healthier life, both on and off the mat. Keep reading to learn more about these five yoga concepts!
Here are Five Basic Yoga Concepts that you Should know About
1. Yama–The Universal Moral Code
Yamas are universal moral principles that govern all human relationships with ourselves, others, nature, and the universe as a whole. Some examples of yamas are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), honesty (asteya) and greedlessness (aparigraha). It’s important to note that the yamas are universal principles that should be considered for their individual merits and not followed because of societal pressure.
How to Use Yamas:
Yamas can help you make better choices in life. For example, if you feel like swearing at someone today, ask yourself whether it’s ok with the first three yamas (nonviolence, truthfulness and honesty). Are you willing to admit that you’ve done something wrong? Are you willing to face the consequences of your words? This doesn’t mean put on an act or go overboard with politeness. Just try living by these universal concepts of behavior as described by yoga philosophy.
2. Niyama–Self-Cultivation Principles
Niyamas are the personal, individual observances that help us cultivate an attitude of contentment and awareness in our lives. Some examples of niyamas are cleanliness (saucha), contentment (samtosha), spiritual study (svadhyaya) and devotion to God (ishvara pranidhana). Note that svadhyaya is “self” plus “study,” not “self” plus “what other people study.” So this principle isn’t about conforming to mainstream cultural norms, it’s about cultivating self-awareness through serious introspection and looking within for answers to questions that will improve your life.
How to Use Niyamas:
You can use the niyamas in any situation where you feel overwhelmed or frustrated. For example, when you’re angry with someone, ask yourself whether the anger is healthy and helpful (not just for you but for other people). Can you let go of this anger in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone? Can you forgive the person who wronged you in some way? Start practicing niyama when your mind feels clouded by stress so that your thoughts are clearer and more focused on what’s important.
3. Asana–Physical Postures to Prepare the Body for Meditation
Asanas are physical postures and exercises that prepare the body for meditation and help keep it healthy. Both yoga philosophy and modern science agree that asanas can help prevent many of the problems we experience both physically and emotionally in our daily lives. Asana is a great way to make sure you never get behind the wheel when you’re tired because you’ve been practicing staying awake on your mat!
How to Use Asanas:
Practice simple back-bend poses in the morning before work so that you have more energy during the day. Practice inversions in class to feel more grounded and centered at the end of a long day. Just remember to avoid any extreme practices such as holding your breath or pushing yourself too far. Yoga is about listening to your body and practicing with awareness, not about how far you can push yourself before your body breaks!
4. Pranayama–Breath Work to Enhance the Mind-Body Connection
Pranayama literally means “to control (or expand) life energy.” You can think of prana as something like “chi” which flows through us when we breathe; except that prana isn’t limited to breathing as most people understand it. Every function in our bodies requires some form of this vital energy and it’s important not only for physical health but also for emotional and spiritual balance.
How to Use Pranayama:
Some teachers encourage everyone to practice pranayama before starting their asana practice, but this isn’t necessary if you’re an experienced student. Just remember that each time you take a breath (even between poses) it’s like taking two steps towards the center of your mat–towards consciousness or self-awareness. Before long you’ll be sending out “pranic vibes” to other people! If this sounds strange, try practicing Pigeon pose on your right side for 1 minute with your left palm over your abdomen (roughly 4 inches below the navel).
5. Pratyahara–Withdrawal of the Senses to Promote Inner Awareness
Pratyahara is like taking a break from all of the stimulation around you (sights, sounds, smells) so that you can explore what’s going on inside yourself more deeply. You can think of it as “going into sensory-isolation mode” by withdrawing your attention away from external distractions (and towards internal awareness). If you’re coming to class for this reason only, then don’t worry about trying new poses too much; just practice moving slowly and deliberately so you have time to become aware of what’s happening in your own body without being distracted by other people’s movements.
How to Use Pratyahara:
You’ll probably find that you don’t need any external help to use this tool! Just stay focused and notice what your body feels like before and after class (without taking anyone’s word for it). Do you feel more relaxed? Energized? Weightless? Grounded? Almost everyone experiences pratyahara differently, but if someone had to “categorize” how their experience was different with eyes closed verses open then he or she may say the following: Closed eyes–more relaxed; open eyes–more energized. If you’re still not sure why you should practice shutting out the world once in a while, think about what people are saying about yoga on the news lately.
As you can see, there are a variety of ways that yoga is practiced and learned. With so many different styles out there, it’s important to find one that speaks to your personality as well as reflects the way in which you want to live. Whether you’re looking for a progressive practice with lots of physical movement or something more meditative and introspective, we’ve got what you need!
About the Authors
Journey Healing Centers focuses on Yoga primarily as a healing practice for men, women and children of all ages. We know that most Americans believe that “yoga is good for you,” but did you know that science backs them up? It’s true! Yoga has been shown to improve health, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and balance, all while reducing stress, anxiety, and pain. Yoga practitioners have a stronger sense of mental clarity, physical fitness, flexibility, and strength. As you can see these are all powerful reasons for taking up Yoga – so join us!
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