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  • Liz Nierzwicki

Hey, Dude: Yoga Isn't Easy

I'm not here to sugar coat it, if you're not stretching because it's a "girly thing" and "easy" you seriously need to check your ego, and then do a little bit of reading to enlighten yourself.

Luckily I'm not the one you came in contact with when you said that stupid comment, because I definitely would have tried my best to enlighten you. It's a big world with a ton of information floating around, much of it fills our minds with nonsense so we think we know things, but the truth is, we only know our perception of what we "think" something is.

First thing first, I want to talk about athleticism. In 7th grade, I was the fastest girl in my county; I ran the 100-meter dash in 12.4 seconds and held the record at my school for a while. Then, in high school, I became a dancer. In college, I started lifting weights and became hooked.

Then one day, I did a yoga class and I experienced major stress relief.

The reason I mention all of this is because people see yogis and they stereotype them. Yoga to me wasn't about the stretching and it still isn't. It was about what happened to me that day to relax me and that is why I became a yoga teacher. It was because I experienced an unexplainable calming response (that almost made me feel like I could float) after a class and knew I needed the benefits of yoga in my life. But this isn't about something you said about me, it's about your perception of what you think yoga is, so I'll continue..

So let me explain my sassiness, I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day and he was telling me that he overheard two guys in the gym saying that yoga is a "girl thing", it's "too easy" and that is why they don't do it. I understand many people have this preconceived notion as to what yoga is (poses and stretching); but in reality, you will never know what yoga is until you experience it for yourself. Yoga is way more than stretching or poses. Yoga is a system towards complete mastery over your mind.

Yoga was traditionally a male practice.

Back in the day, I'm talking pre-Jesus days, yoga was practiced. It was something that was done with one's own body to move it, work it, test its strength and calm the mind. Yes, all of this was done before weight machines, dumbbells, pilates reformers, basketballs, balls of any sort, etc, etc. Humans used their own body to work it out and what those humans found was that this lovely little practice worked wonders. It made them feel better, helped them to move freely, it cured illnesses, it corrected spinal problems, it gave them clarity, it helped with depression, headaches, back pain, pregnancy, and the list goes on and on...

But guess what, this practice was mainly practiced by men. It was the masculine thing to do. It was the masculine thing to be able to lift and move the body by his own strength (think arm balances and handstands). It was extremely sexy to the women for a man to know his mind, feelings, and emotions and be in complete control of them. And guess what, it still is extremely sexy for men to have control over their mind, desires, and attachments. But since there aren't as many men doing yoga, you can see why I'm even writing this blog post to begin with.

Long before there was psychology and psychotherapists, there was this practice of yoga. It helped people to know about themselves. It helped them to discover deeper aspects of their personality and habits and learn why they did what they did. From the beginning of time, we have all wanted to know more about the mind- how it works, and how we can work with it. Yoga gets you closer to understanding the mind than any other practice in the world and you will only understand this once you begin the process of yoga.

Yoga is... an eightfold path.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health, and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.

1.Yama (Ethics) - The first limb, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Basically: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The five Yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence Satya: truthfulness Asteya: nonstealing Brahmacharya: continence Aparigraha: non-covetousness

2. Niyama (Observe) - the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.

The five Niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness Samtosa: contentment Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

3. Asana (Poses) - The postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas (the poses), we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation, knowing ourselves, and digging deeper into why we do what we do.

4. Pranayama (Breath Control) - This fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.

These first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.

5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal) - The fifth limb, means withdrawal of attachments or withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Not many people are doing this in today's day and age. This critical step in yoga will help you to know that it's not "out there" but inside. This step helps one to be keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, feelings, and attachments, as we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe ourselves. It is this stage we become self-aware.

6. Dharana (Concentration) - As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. Not an easy task.

In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: an image or the silent repetition of a sound (mantra). We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of asanas (poses), breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. When we practice the poses and breathing, we are able to pay attention, yet our attention travels. In dharana, we focus our attention on a single point and this concentration naturally leads to the next step, meditation.

7. Dhyana (Meditation) - The seventh stage of yoga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.

8. Samadhi (Bliss) - Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of yoga as samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. Clarity, peace, love, understanding, it's all here. It's the experience of bliss and being completely connected and one with the universe.

When you decide to take the yogis journey, you begin to understand that yoga is the path to peace. Yoga is a practice. Yoga is life. We are all always practicing yoga, many just aren't aware. However, if you'd check your ego at the door and dig a little deeper, you will find there's nothing to have an ego about. We're all the same anyways.

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