Friday, May 24, 2013

A word from Rachel

Dear friends,  
What an amazing summer it has already been!
I just had the absolute joy of "graduating" the first two groups of over 30 new yoga teachers last month from the brand new om my yoga academy registered yoga school.  It was amazing to see the growth that occurred in each student, the strong relationships that were forged throughout the 6 long weekends together, and the encouraging sense of support that developed throughout these trainings. Perhaps I am still in "teacher-trainer mode," but between the feeling of celebration over all that these groups have learned in the past six months, and the excitement over our upcoming visit from Deborah Adele, author of the amazingly down to earth and inspiring book, Yamas and Niyamas, I have decided to use this newsletter to give you a little yoga philosophy 101.

The Eight Limbed Path of Yoga 
In the yoga sutras, one of the earliest and most important yogic texts, the author, Patanjali tells us about an "8 limbed path" of yoga that we can follow to live a life of greater awareness.
The first two limbs that Patanjali outlines are the yamasand niyamas. These ethical principles can be considered "guidelines for conscious living" and they hep us to live a life that is positive, honest and purposeful, instead of reactive in nature. There are five of each, and I will be sending a second email this month to explain them in more detail and to remind you about our yamas and niyamas workshop night!

The third limb is asana, the physical poses.  Many of us (myself included) began our yoga practice with some degree of physical motivation.  We wanted to become more flexible, increase strength, lose weight or decrease aches and pains. I love to witness the constant physical transformations in those who are on their mats faithfully. Every downward dog, warrior and vinyasa you work through in class is work within the limb of asana, and while you are doing fantastic things for your physical health - you are also preparing for work on much deeper levels!
The fourth limb of yoga is pranayama.  "Inhale!" "Exhale" "Breath deeply!" and "fill the lungs!" are cues you hear us say every day at om.  Pranayama means "breath regulation," and in the Yoga Sutras, the practice of Pranayama is considered the highest form of purification for the mind, just as Asana (poses) are considered to be the highest form of purification for the body. Breathing fully and with control is immensely beneficial for the body, mind and nervous system. Make it a goal to pay extra attention to your breath this week.  You'll be intentionally practicing the fourth limb of yoga!

I would venture to guess that whether you realized it or not, many of you have been practicing pratyahara, the 5th limb of yoga, as well.  Pratyahara means "to draw back or retreat."  In our daily experience, our senses constantly attach to objects and distractions.  In order to direct our focus inward, we must stop spending all of our energy on things that distract the mind and free ourselves to focus on the present moment.  When you take time out of your schedule to come to class, leave your cell phone in the lobby and try to let go of your to do list and latest worry - this is practicing pratyahara!  Some days it may be easier than others to pull back from the the chatter in the mind, and some days it is almost impossible.  But just as is true with the poses of yoga- perfection is not the point here, just practice.
Only when we have stepped away from the things that pull on our thoughts and vie for our attention can we begin to concentrate. Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga,means one-pointed attention, or concentration. When we practice Dharana, we try to focus on only one thing or idea, and we concentrate with our entire force on this single object. It could be an uplifting mantra, a beautiful image from nature, the sound and feeling of your breath or even a challenging yoga pose.  We try to give you suggestions throughout most of your classes to help you concentrate, but you can choose anything that works for you to bring the mind to one pointed attention, and you will be practicing Dharana.  

When you allow yourself to focus deeply on the object of your concentration, you may find that all other mind chatter eventually quiets, and there are no interruptions in the stream of your attention.  When you experience this sustained focus, you are practicing the 7th limb of yoga, Dhyana, or meditation. A great time to ramp up your practice of this limb is during savasana (final relaxation), at the end of class.  Use this essential part of class to explore your ability to be present, and to "unhook" from the usual distractions of life.  Then choose an object to focus on and allow your mind to settle into deep meditation on that object, letting everything else pass through and drift away.

The final limb in the eight-fold path of yoga is Samadhi. Unlike the other limbs, we cannot exactly "practice Samadhi," but our practice of the other limbs is the system we follow in order to reach this state.  Samadhi is a state of being, and in this state, we are at total rest in body and yet our minds are alert.  In this ultimate place of realization, we move into pure awareness, and we exist in a state of deep peace and joy.

The eight limbed path of yoga is a systematic way to work on our body, mind and spirit - and now you know that you are already practicing many of the limbs each time you come to the mat!

As always, a huge thank you to each of our beloved students who continue to practice with us!  Through the summer, we are showing our gratitude by making all of our wonderful classes the same regular-class rate!  We really hope that many of you will take advantage of this amazing summer special to add some new classes to your schedule and mix up your routine with some Aerial yoga, BarreFusion or Pilates equipment sessions.  We can't wait to share our favorite practices with everyone!

See you at om...

Rachel Wilson

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