By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
The new year is upon us, and it is a good time to reflect on our self and our life. However, wrapped up in our usual mental habits and cycles of distraction and imbalance, it is difficult to connect back to our quiet inner stability. The practice of yoga acknowledges this disconnect as “spiritual ignorance,” or Avidya, where our ego self covers and forgets our actual self. Avidya creates obstacles and disturbances that prevent us from uniting our “true, inner, unchangeable self” (purusa) with our “outer, changeable and manipulable nature” (Prakrti). This union is the aim of yoga, a step-by-step, eight-limbed journey back to our self.
The first step of the journey is to create an environment fit for the unveiling of purusa. We must peel away unnecessary and harmful aspects of our environment that make up the outermost veil of Avidya. Yoga invites us to practice five moral precepts, or Yamas, to do this. Nonviolence (ahimsa) allows us to take responsibility for our own negative responses and to avoid blaming others. Truthfulness (satya) helps us to experience the reality of things without exaggerating or altering them according to our own desires. Non-stealing (asteya) and non-coveting (aparigraha) help to quell our desire for things we want and don’t have. And through moderation (brahmacharya) we begin to remove clutter and distill life down to only what we need.
The next step inward puts more focus on our individual self. When our environment is clean, we may recognize the need to keep our own being clean from the inside out. The Niyamas are the personal observances that help us do this. Watching our diet and feeding our brain with healthy information creates inner cleanliness (sauca). Discipline and drive (tapas) support the effort to move forward toward change for the better. Through self-study (svadhyaya), we see our true potential and understand our failings, so nurturing contentment (santosha) in all things is important to avoid becoming discouraged. The fifth Niyama, surrender of our ego to the moment and a higher creative power (Isvarapranidhanani) provides support to our distracted mind when the obstacles we face seem insurmountable.
The next two limbs of yoga, Asanas and Pranayama, are actual tools for manipulating and creating change within our nature (Prakrti). Placing ourselves in a stable posture while we focus on the subtlety of breath, we develop awareness to work through the many mental and physical disturbances that occur within our being. Developing focus of mind and connection with breath first under these controlled postures, we may ultimately find stability of mind even in uncontrolled situations.
Yoga’s fifth limb is Pratyahara, the drawing of our senses inward. Once we are present in body and less ruled by the head, we are able to experience sensation from the inside out. Our actions and reactions are felt at a deeper level, but we can manage them through our practice of the previous four limbs. When we are no longer pulled outward by sensory overload, our consciousness is less disrupted, and we can sit more quietly with our self at any given moment. Pratyahara is an important tool to develop as the world around us spins seemingly out of control.
Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union) are the last three aspects of yoga. Together, they bring integration to body, mind and spirit, and dispel the last of our Avidya. Since the mind is habitually in constant motion, yoga philosophy encourages “long, uninterrupted, disciplined practice” to stay our course.
In Dharana, we focus the mind in one direction. As concentration deepens, the consciousness falls into meditation, in which past and future disappear and the present is revealed. Being present, we experience pure potential, and our ego weakens. As the ego surrenders, our outer Prakrti merges with purusa and a bliss unencumbered by any self-consciousness comes to fruition.
Most of us have felt an aspect of this bliss in moments when our mind is not grasping for things that are not there, and we feel content with whatever comes. A peace settles in, and for that moment, we are free. That is the glimpse of Samadhi and the complete removal of Avidya. So, take ahold of that feeling as you face the new year and begin the journey of yoga back to your self.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Dec. 26, 2012-Jan. 1, 2013, issue