By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
Holidays are celebrated all over the world at this time of year. It is the season of lights, of being thankful, of sacrifice and overall sharing in the glories of life. To top it off, as the New Year approaches, it is also the season for reflection and new beginnings. No matter who we are, we are affected by this season in some way, whether it be exciting, joyous, terrifying or stressful. So, with all that going on, it is also a season in which yoga becomes necessary.
The eight limbs of the practice of yoga, from the Yamas to Samadhi, help us not only to better interact with the world around us, but also to arrive at a deeper understanding of our own individual self. This knowledge of self provides a firm and stable foundation from which to share in the gifts of life. Holidays bring a lot of gathering and shifting and changing, so staying connected to our inner stability can help us to start the New Year in a fresh and inspiring way.
The Yamas are the moral precepts of truthfulness, non-violence, moderation, non-stealing and non-coveting. As the Yuletide draws us into social celebrations and shopping sprees, moderation can help us to avoid the regrets that come from over-indulgence. And, as we see presents being given that we want for ourselves, or we can’t find in the store that one thing that we crave, non-coveting will keep us thankful for what we do have right in front of us. Accepting and enjoying whatever is truthful and necessary in any given moment can lead us away from the agitation created by wanting something other than what is.
The Niyamas are personal observances of cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study and surrender to a higher power. While the Yamas manage our external, environmental interactions, the Niyamas give us individual focus during times of outward distraction. Eating well and avoiding agitating environments keeps us clean both inside and out. In studying our self, we reflect on our own truth separate from outward expectation, and we begin to nurture a deep contentment. Paradoxically, it is in surrendering the confines of our individual ego that the source of unlimited possibility is revealed.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, which is why the practice of physical yoga postures (Asanas) and simple awareness of breath (Pranayama) can be helpful. When the world around us offers up so much distraction and obligation, we lose contact with our self, and therefore lose our mental and physical balance. Yoga poses provide us opportunities to listen to our own body and to focus the mind in one direction. With that focus, the mind is reconnected to the body and the breath, settling us into the present moment, where our whole being comes to rest.
The last four aspects of Yoga (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) are known as the “internal practices.” They move us more deeply toward the workings of the mind to improve the quality of our consciousness. While the first four aspects begin to train our distracted mind in a one-pointed, inward direction, the last four develop a centered and stable consciousness. As described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, when the fluctuations of our mind are calmed, we are no longer disturbed by worldly dualities, and our pure and blissful consciousness is able to shine forth.
The sensory overload of the holiday season highlights the importance of the practice of Pratyahara — drawing our senses away from external distraction and toward our own internal signals. Practicing Pratyahara, we can experience — even through all the hubbub — the quiet internal space guiding us from within.
Yoga philosophy teaches that our internal truth (purusa) shines from the center of our heart, waiting to be remembered and uncovered . As we do the work to reconnect to that internal truth and diminish the distraction by the world around us, we are able to celebrate everything more fully. So, no matter what our holiday may be, may we also celebrate this light within ourselves. It truly is the best gift ever given or received.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue