By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
I am excited about the Transform Rockford movement, and I look forward to keeping up with the discussion and ultimate changes it brings. Being a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am interested in the initiation and process of transformation, not just within the community, but also within the individual. Transform Rockford begins with the idea that real change has to happen from within our communities and not by some process imposed from an outside source. Yoga, too, is guided by a similar principle: real and permanent personal transformation has to start and be developed from within.
We have all heard the saying, “true change begins with me,” but how often do we apply it to our actions and/or relationships? We carry our internal difficulties with us into any new location, circumstance or relationship. And, it is always harder to examine our self first and foremost, rather than automatically assigning blame and responsibility to someone or something else. Even the ancient teachers of yoga recognized this basic human tendency and formulated tools to help us move through a process of self-examination. The eight-limbed practice of yoga are these tools for self-transformation.
To transform anything, the community or our self, we must first identify current issues and obstacles. We have to let go of the delusion that “I am just fine, but everyone else must change” and begin to observe personal areas that may need changing. Yoga’s eight-limbed practice guides us through this process: developing awareness of issues, decreasing mental distress and distraction around these issues, then ultimately transforming our individual consciousness to a more stable and content state.
The first stages of yoga, the moral precepts and personal observances of Yamas and Niyamas, make us look at our self in relation to others and the roles we play in society. Cultivating behaviors such as truthfulness and nonviolence help us to engage with others in a more positive and productive way. Keeping our own self and environment clean and learning to study our own responses first and foremost helps us to focus our attention on our inner life. The Yamas and Niyamas help to minimize external conflict and internal disturbance, setting the stage for the rest of yogic practice.
The practice of postures, Asana, then begins a more physical and practical form of personal investigation. We all walk into a yoga class with all kinds of physical and mental habits and immediately are faced with stiffness of muscle and tightness of joints, maybe past or current injuries, or just mental boredom or confusion in learning something new. Instead of ignoring these physical conditions and deeply-held mental habits, yoga encourages us to move more mindfully through them. Practicing yoga-asana, we develop an awareness of our present physical and mental conditions to transform them into new and better habits.
Observing and regulating the breath with Pranayama takes us a step beyond the physical to mental and emotional observation and clarity. Becoming aware of the breath is the key to truly experiencing the present moment to have a more productive effect on oneself and others. The breath comes and goes without judgment or opinion, so getting the mind to focus on this more subtle layer brings quiet and calm to any reactive emotional state.
Our sense organs are also affected by every external experience, whether we notice it or not. Honing our attention inward to draw the senses away from outward distraction and toward our inner being is the next practice of yoga, Pratyahara. This drawing in of the senses decreases disturbing effects from external stimuli and increases our ability to make clear and positive decisions in any situation.
The last three limbs of yoga, Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (ultimate freedom), all deal with transformation of the mind. With a more focused mind, free of obstacles and stresses, we can be a better and more productive part of the community in which we live. Through our own personal transformation, we can have a great effect on the transformation of the community around us.
Transforming Rockford to a more safe and thriving city must begin with you! Let your transformation begin with yoga!
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the July 30-Aug. 5, 2014, issue