What is Yoga?

So you have heard yoga is good for you.

Perhaps you have heard yoga is only for flexible people. Or for hippies. Maybe for bored housewives.

Indeed, it’s all of that and much more. Yoga is for everybody. And for every body. If you can breathe you can do yoga, in one form or another. And we can definitely all benefit from it.

But what then, you may ask, is yoga exactly? 

Well, here is a (very, very) short explanation going beyond the standard “exercises on the mat” reputation it has.

What is yoga?

The practice of Yoga originated in India and the word itself translates from Sanskrit as “union”.  Although open to many interpretations, it is often referred to as the union between the “Individual” and the “Universe” or between the “Body, Mind and Soul”. To attain this union, in other words to become enlightened and achieve liberation, several paths have developed throughout the millennia.

Altar Yoga Here & There BaliAltar in our yoga shala in Bali. Different gods, different gurus, different practices.

Karma Yoga

Have you ever heard of Mother Theresa, the catholic nun who dedicated years of her life to the poor and sick in India? You could say that she was a true practitioner of Karma Yoga. She chose the path of selfless service. Enlightenment can be achieved by this kind of dedication. Perhaps you already practice yoga, without realising it, such as volunteering or charity work. Especially if you do it as an act of pure selflessness without expecting anything in return, not even gratefulness from those you help, then you are indeed a yogi.

Jnana and Bhakti Yoga

Two other paths of yoga are Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Jnana yoga practitioners are the intellectuals. They use their will and power of discrimination to cut through the veil of ignorance and attain the Truth. They study ancient texts and scriptures and also practice mental techniques of self-questioning and deep reflection in order to find the Truth. Through Truth, achieve liberation.

Bhakti yogis are the emotional ones. They follow the path of love and devotion. They chose a spiritual practice focused on loving devotion towards one or more gods. Are you familiar with all those offering rituals and ceremonies in Bali? That’s a form of bhakti yoga.

Balinese Ceremony Yoga Here & There
Ceremony in Bali

Raja Yoga

The path that we are most familiar with in our modern era is Raja Yoga, or Royal Yoga, the path of self-control and self-mastery. The method to practice Raja Yoga is by following the Eight Limbs of Yoga. These are:

1.     Yama: five guidelines on how to interact with others
2.     Niyama: five observances to keep the body and mind clean
3.     Asana
4.     Pranayama: breath control, extension of life-force
5.     Pratyahara: withdrawal from the senses, mastery over external influences
6.     Dharana: concentration on a single point of focus
7.     Dhyana: meditation, continuous concentration
8.     Samadhi: direct perception of the true Self

I might get to explain all of these limbs to you in subsequent blogs, but for now, did you notice the one in bold?

Practice on the mat

That is the limb we nowadays generally refer to as yoga: the asana practice, the physical practice of yoga postures. The purpose of asana practice is to purify the body, to free it of dis-eases or anything that could make you feel uncomfortable when you try to sit still to meditate. Because hey, you need to meditate for hours on end in order to achieve self-control, right?

Meditation Yoga Here & There
Meditation practice during our yoga teacher training in Bali.

The warriors, the tree poses, the lotus poses: these are asanas, physical yoga postures. Perhaps that is what you have been told yoga is. Sweating on the mat, trying to touch your toes. Indeed, that could be part of your yoga practice, although the practice would be in the “trying to touch” rather than in the “touch your toes” bit. 

But as you have gathered by now, yoga is much more than that.

Yoga is about physical wellbeing, absolutely, but also about mental strength, emotional balance and spiritual peace. About mindfully connecting to the world around us and about knowing how to surrender without fatalism, about being disciplined without being dogmatic. Furthermore, practicing yoga can make you more focussed, help you get rid of anxiety, improve your mobility, improve your outlook on life… I could go on and on, but you probably already think I’m getting carried away.

Concluding, yoga can definitely be beneficial, whether you are a bored housewife or a hippie. And everything in between.

Come check us out in at Coconut Yoga Bali in Amed, Bali or at Yoga Here & There in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia for daily asana classes.

To learn more than just about the physical practice, have a look at our 200-hour Teacher Training Course, which is great for those who already know they want to teach and also for those who simply wish to deepen their knowledge about yoga.

Sankalpa

Have you ever wondered how it works, sankalpa, that intention setting that the yoga teachers invites you to do at the beginning of a yoga class?

It took me a while to find a way that works for me but now that I have, I use it as much off the yoga mat as on.

My experience with fruitfully setting intentions does not come from studying the scriptures or from extensive meditation sessions. The health coaching skills that I picked up during my studies at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition were very helpful. But I mostly learned by doing and much of it by trial and error. You can scroll down to find a video in which I tell you about this wonderful, unexpected experience.

Yaisa on the Beach in Sellicks

Let me first list what I think intention setting is not about. It’s not about (and this is not an exhaustive list):
– asking to win the lottery or any other (materialistic) possession
– wishing somebody ill
– verbalising a wish and then letting go of any responsibility.

Consider this example: your car broke down and you have no money to fix it or to buy a new one. You have a serious transportation problem. As a sankalpa, it would be easy to express something like: “I want a new car” or “I need money to buy a new car.”

That’s the solution to all your problems, right? But does that sound like an intention that comes from the right place? If a friend would ask you exactly that in those words, would you be inclined to help?

Instead, look at the underlying issue. What are you not able to fulfill without transport? Who is going to get in trouble if you can’t drive? Perhaps, a better wording of your sankalpa is “I need a way to remain independent” or “I will do anything to keep my job” or “My children will not miss a single day of school.”

Already, the phrasing of your “wish” is less superficial. It’s not about you owning a car, but about the purpose of the car.

Broken 2CVBy Arnaud 25 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Next, ask yourself how you can inject this “request” to the universe with some positivity and conviction. There is a simple, grammatical solution to that. Rephrase your intention in an affirmative form and in the present tense.  So for example: “I am independent” or “The solution to my transport problem exists.”  Perhaps it doesn’t feel that way just yet, but by infusing yourself with this optimism, you tap into a pool of energy that knows no limits.

Another layer that you can add to your intention setting is to visualise the result. It only takes a couple of minutes. You can do it in bed, before you fall asleep. Imagine yourself driving a car to work or visualise getting a phone call from a colleague offering you to carpool. Smell the interior of the new car, hear the voice of your colleague. Don’t dwell on your current problems, instead focus on seeing, feeling, smelling or tasting the future. Visualising is a very powerful tool to direct every cell in your body towards a solution.

Once you have set your intention and done your visualising, don’t sit back and think that God (or whoever/whatever) will solve it all for you. I don’t think that that is how it works. I believe in Newton’s Third Law that action is reaction. You still need to keep your eyes open for solutions, explore your opportunities and do all the mundane things you can think of to achieve your objective. All the positive energy you put into finding a solution to your problem will reflect back on you and your will see it returned, somehow.

At Sellicks Beach

The last step however, is the most important one. And that is that you need to trust and surrender to the Universe, believing that it will present you with what you need and deserve. It could be exactly what you visualised in one of your fantasies or it could be totally unexpected.  Be open to whatever you are presented with and fully embrace it.

It could be that your neighbour breaks his leg and can’t drive their car for the next six weeks, so in return for doing his shopping, you can borrow his car for a while, giving you enough time to save money for a repair. Or your childless great-aunt passes away and leaves you and your cousins with a small inheritance, just enough for you to buy a second-hand car. Is the solution always perfect? Perhaps not. But it is a wish come true.

Just recently, as I was really hoping for a larger number of students in my Ashtanga classes, I set the following intention: “I am successful at sharing my love and passion for Ashtanga yoga”. I visualised full class rooms, spent a couple of minutes remembering the students that had come to my Ashtanga classes in the past but I hadn’t seen in a while and promoted my classes on social media with renewed energy. And believe it or not, but not only has the number of students been increasing since, but I even got asked to teach a new Ashtanga class at location where I had previously never taught. I would say, mission accomplished.

Yoga at Gemtree Winery

So now, let’s look at sankalpa from another perspective. A sankalpa does not necessarily need to be a solution to a problem. It can also be about something that you would like to invite into your life in a more general sense. A vision for your near or long-term future.

An example of this is the key word that I choose for my vision board this year: expansion. It does not concern an immediate or urgent situation, but it’s the state of mind that I wish to live in. For 2018, I desire expansion of my business, expansion of my knowledge and my skills so that I can help more yoga students and health coaching clients, expansion of my horizons by travelling and meeting new people…

My sankalpa could be: “I live an expansive life” or “My experiences continuously expand my life”, but in this case I kept it simple. It’s simply “Expansion”.  I repeat it like a mantra, I use the word as much as I can when appropriate and every time I undertake something, new or routine, I think: “Yes, this is expansion”. Heck, the whole purpose of this blog is about spreading the vibe even more!

Visionboard 2018

And surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising), since I have planted this seed deep in my subconscious, several really great things have been presented to me. Some totally unexpected, others as the direct result of long standing efforts.

There is one event in particular that was way beyond my imagination and that enriched my life in a sense that I have never experience before. I tell you about this story in the video below.

In the meantime, ask me any question you have about Sankalpa and feel free to share your experience with intention setting below in the comment section.

Have you ever set an intention with a successful outcome? Have you ever had amazing gifts presented to you in the most unexpected beautiful ways? I would love to hear from you