So, you’ve been practicing yoga in earnest for a few years now. Maybe you’ve even just completed your first 200-hour yoga teacher training on the shores of Costa Rica. Your practice is evolving, and you get the feeling there’s some pieces of the vast yoga puzzle you might be missing because you know that yoga is so much more than handstands and Sun Salutes.
You’ve had a taste of its mystery and wonder. But where does it all come from? Is there more? Here are six parts of the yoga lifestyle you might be overlooking.
Yoga is Based on Ancient Vedic Teachings
Written in Sanskrit, arguably the world’s most ancient language, the literature found in each of the four Vedas contains a wealth of cosmological wisdom, which has the potential to enlighten us in regards to our understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. The "Rig Veda" is the oldest one and often considered the most important. One-thousand hymns dedicated to all of the Hindu gods and goddesses are found within the "Rig Veda." And according to Swami Vivekananda:
“The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, only held in the bondage of matter; perfection will be reached when this bond will burst; and the word they use for it is, therefore, mukti---freedom from the bonds of imperfection, freedom from death and misery.”
Sun Salutations are More Than Just the Physical Movements
It is said that Sun Salutations began in Vedic times as a means of welcoming the dawn of morning. This means that the creation of the sequence of the Sun Salutation would have taken place more than 2,500 years ago. Most likely, it also included various chants and mantras, water libations and edible offerings, such as rice and edible flowers. Of course, like all yoga practices, the Sun Salutation has no doubt evolved over the years, but it does continue to keep its sacred essence in relation to the intention behind the circular flow of postures.
Also known as Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation is a beautiful set of yoga poses that give reverence to that almighty ball of blazing fire in the sky--our beloved sun. Namaskar means "to bow," while surya means "sun." Sun Salutations are believed to harness the life-giving energy of the sun, while also providing us with a yoga sequence of postures that calm the mind, stretch and tone the body, and even strengthen the heart. (Learn more in Surya Namaskar: 12 Morning Asanas & Mantras.)
Prana is Very Real
Yoga (and Chinese medicine for that matter) teaches us that there is a very real flow of energy that takes place along energetic pathways within our subtle body. When we establish a regular yoga practice, we unleash a life force energy, also known as prana. This prana travels along energetic pathways to regenerate the body, mind and spirit.
Allowing life force energy to flow as we open our awareness to it during our yoga practice, supports equanimity, increases energy and supports whole body health. This feeling of balanced internal energy is apparent when we lie in savasana at the end of a yoga class.
Make a point of giving attention to prana each time you practice yoga. It’s a very real thing, and the more you feel it flowing throughout your body by giving it your attention, the more intimate your relationship to your life force energy will be--which is great for enhancing health on all levels.
Nature is Within and Out
When you begin to think about the many yoga poses that get their names from nature, you can see just what an integral part nature plays in the yoga tradition. There’s tree pose, downward-facing dog pose, pigeon pose, flying lizard pose... the list is seemingly endless. You can see how the ancient yogis were studying and mimicking nature when they came up with the postures and their names.
Aligning ourselves with nature helps us open our hearts and minds to become more loving and peaceful individuals in all that we do.
Think about how good it feels to practice yoga on a beach or some other quiet place in nature. Lying in savasana under the sun while taking in the healing energy of the sky that envelops us like a warm blanket, feels like pure bliss. Our nervous system slows to a pace that’s more aligned with nature’s underlying rhythm-- slow, silent, patient. It’s from this rhythm that we can give of ourselves fully and from a place of infinite love and compassion.
Yoga is all About Knowing Yourself at the Deepest Level
“Who am I?”
Have you ever sat in meditation and asked yourself this question?
When meditating and contemplating this profound question, realize that, as a yogi, you are on a spiritual journey. Your path is a process. Every day you start over again. Establish yourself in the present moment, and then ask the question, “Who am I?”
The answers that arise might be different from day to day. You’re not the same person you were yesterday. The key here is to simply keep asking the question. With time, you’ll be able to recognize your own spiritual evolution. And that is a powerful thing.
Self-realization is Your Birthright
By dedicating yourself to the serious path of the yogi, you are well on your way to becoming a more realized person. If you follow Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and devote yourself to the discipline and practice involved in doing so, you’ll naturally become more realized.
As you follow the spiritual path of the yogi, you remove the obstacles to your own enlightenment. But you must realize and accept this one thing first: You are the one responsible for your fate. You cease from blaming others for your lot in life. You don’t blame the Higher Power either. You don’t blame the family you were born into. You don’t blame your life experiences.
This radical acceptance helps us journey onward because when we take responsibility, we have the capacity to change everything. It is we who can change our circumstances for the better. It is we who can become more realized human beings. This is what yoga teaches us. And, as you can probably guess, there’s much, much more!
May you delight in the wonderful mystery that is the yoga lifestyle!