Copyright Catherine Dowd
1.1 Atha yoga anushasanam. Now begins the practice of yoga.
The first Sutra in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
I will be writing about the various aspects of yogic philosophy and the way in which the eight limbs or petals of yoga build upon one another to help us alleviate pain, suffering and stress to arrive at a place of peace and deep contentment.
In the yogic tradition, we have layers of being, beginning with the gross and moving toward the subtle. For example, the first layer is that of the physical body, composed of skin, muscle, bone, etc. Then each layer moves inward toward the more subtle components, so that the second layer is the energetic body, then the intelligent body, the wisdom body and finally the bliss body, that which comes closest to our essence, our Soul.
We begin with the physical sheath or layer, and that is the purview of asana practice, bringing strength, stamina and flexibility to our body. This part of the practice increases and aids our physical health. We replace fat with muscle, which increases our metabolism which, in turn, can help us lose or stabilize our weight. We give our body a physical workout, which aids our cardiovascular system, and often aids our sleep. With a healthier, well-rested body we can build a stronger immune system, which helps us to stay healthy, reinforcing what I like to call a cycle of wellness. We gain a greater appreciation of our physical body and learn to inhabit it with greater awareness, instead of the common tendency to live only in our heads. Perhaps this helps us to seek out healthier foods or develop healthy habits, such as walking more and sitting less. And for me, any physical activity that requires effort, discipline and perseverance helps clear my head, so if I’m feeling lethargic or depressed or anxious, the act of moving clears all of that away, like sunshine clears the fog.
The practice of asana brings us to an awareness of breath, since the movement flows with the breath. Without this breath-centered awareness, yoga is only a form of gymnastics. But with a clear focus on the way breath influences movement and movement influences breath, a natural flow can develop so that our movements become more fluid, growing from the meeting of body and breath rather than being forced by the will of ego.