What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

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When I tell people I teach iRest Meditation, they often ask me if I teach yoga as well.

The answer is YES!  iRest Meditation IS yoga.

But I understand the confusion.  While yoga is an ancient contemplative practice, it’s also a multi-million dollar industry that largely promotes advanced physical postures and a skinny body as the ultimate goal of yoga.  But yoga is more than just downward dogs and sun salutations.

Commentaries of the meaning of the word yoga vary from union, to attaining what was previously unattainable, to directing all our focus on the activity in which we’re engaged, to being one with the divine.1

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras

The meaning of yoga is presented concisely in the Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, a text that is considered by many to be the heart of yoga.1

While little is known about Patañjali, it is widely accepted that he was an authority on yoga, and complied and systemised the vedic knowledge of the time into sūtras that could be handed down orally from teacher to student, in a concise way that would make it possible to remember. It is estimated that Patañjali wrote the sūtras around the second century C.E. and that Vyāsa, the ancient sage who allegedly wrote the original commentary on the sūtras, Yoga-Bhâshya, wrote his commentary around the fifth century C.E.2

Figure: Patañjali and Vyāsa3

 

Yogaś Citta Vṛtti Nirodhaḥ

Patanjali’s answer to this question ‘what is yoga?’, is in chapter one, verse two of the Yoga Sūtras:

yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2)

Different commentators have interpreted this sutra in subtly different ways.

T.K.V. Desikachar wrote:
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.4

B.K.S. Iyengar wrote:
Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.5

Edwin F. Bryant wrote:
Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of mind.”6

Georg Feuerstein wrote:
Yoga is the restriction of the whirls of consciousness.”7

Judith Hanson Laster wrote:
Yoga is the state in which the agitations of consciousness are resolved.”8

Richard Miller wrote:
Yoga is when we knowingly live as the realization of unconditioned Stillness, whether thought is in movement or stillness.9

However you interpret this most influential sūtra about the meaning of yoga, it’s clear that the yoga is related to understanding the mind, and has nothing at all to do with having a slim and flexible body that looks sexy in expensive lycra leggings.

What is yoga to you? Leave me a comment below? I’d love to hear it.

REFERENCES

  1. Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Rochester, Vermont, US: Inner Traditions International.
  2. Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints.
  3. Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints (p.311)
  4. Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Rochester, Vermont, US: Inner Traditions International (p.149).
  5. Iyengar, B.K.S. (2002). Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. London, UK: Thorsons (p.50).
  6. Bryant, Edward. (2009). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. New York, US: North Point Press (p.10).
  7. Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints (p. 286).
  8. Lasater, Judith Hanson. (2014). The Ten Most Important Sutras.
  9. Miller, Richard. (2013). Level 1 Training Integrative Restoration (version 4.6c). San Rafael, CA, US: Anahata Press (p. xxiii).

 

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 When I tell people I teach iRest Meditation, they often ask me if I teach yoga as well.The answer is YES!  iRest Meditation IS yoga.But I understand the confusion.  While yoga is an ancient contemplative practice, it's also a multi-million dollar industry that...

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Grace

Grace

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Moving past mid year we’re called to review and come into alignment with our heart’s deepest calling. As we’re drawn to what we truly love the source of this calling is Grace.

How do I speak about Grace? I think of it as an undefinable essence, an abiding Presence and Mystery awakening us to deeper truth. How does Grace move? How does it reveal itself? How can we learn to recognize Grace?

Grace flows as everything. It abides in every movement and non-movement, both in confusion and clarity. In Kashmir Shaivism, even concealment of our essential nature is full of grace. As everything has potential to point back to the truth of our essential nature anything can be a messenger. The non-dual practices sensitize you to recognize it. Pranayama, Bodysensing, and iRest support you in evolving from the belief of separation to your inherent wholeness and interconnection with all of life.

Approaching life from a sense of separation creates struggle and misunderstanding. You think you have to control life or make it happen a certain way. When life doesn’t conform to your agenda Grace may feel like the surge of a rushing waterfall, fierce and powerful. As you struggle wanting life to be other than it is Grace brings you to the edge of experience. At that precipice one step opens you into the unknown. By abiding here, a deeper truth may be revealed.

At other times you may engage in an effortless flow. Without an agenda you meet life as it is, with a sense of openness and curiosity. In the vast simplicity of the moment Grace shines forth as spontaneous and creative expression. Have you ever had a moment where you’ve somehow gotten out of your own way and a clear response emerged? It is the embodiment or pure expression of life through you. Yet it is also impersonal and you may have no idea where it’s coming from. Here you engage life with a perfect response born right from the moment itself.

The recognition of Grace is a matter of learning to listen to the call of life. Through inquiry you recognize the need to stop, question, and feel into a particular belief, emotion, or action. Whether fierce or gentle, Grace aligns us with life; not my will but they will be done. The heart’s calling is now both personal as our unique expression in the world, and impersonal as the harmonious flow of life itself.

Awakening is a matter of life or the immensity of the Absolute becoming aware of itself through you. Lean into life. A moment may come when you are so undefended that all effort ceases. No practice or teaching is needed here. There is nothing to be done. Abiding as openness Grace may reveal your essential nature.

With love and grace,

Stephanie

Stephanie Lopez, LISW-S, is the Director of Operations, Senior iRest® Trainer and Retreat Leader for the iRest Institute. Stephanie’s offerings are informed by over two decades of immersion in the nondual teachings of yoga. As a psychotherapist & meditation teacher she bridges eastern wisdom with western psychology to support healing and transformation. Stephanie’s compassionate presence, depth of knowledge, and ease of being create a welcoming space for insightful learning. She leads retreats and trainings internationally with a focus on living an authentic and awakened life. Learn more at www.irest.us.

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What is Yoga?

 When I tell people I teach iRest Meditation, they often ask me if I teach yoga as well.The answer is YES!  iRest Meditation IS yoga.But I understand the confusion.  While yoga is an ancient contemplative practice, it's also a multi-million dollar industry that...

read more

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Stress. We all feel it. But what is it? Having a deeper understanding of stress can help us to overcome and manage its adverse effects on our body and mind. Signs and Symptoms of Stress The psychological symptoms of stress include feeling overwhelmed, worry, fear,...

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I learned a new word today; allocentric. Egocentric, as we all well know, is being focused on ourselves; it’s self-centered. Allocentric, on the other hand, is a wider focus, or other-centered. It allows us a greater perspective to see things as an observer, rather...

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How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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Good quality sleep is SUCH an important part of our well being.  When we sleep we allow our body to restore and heal itself, both on a physical and psychological level.

Depression, anxiety and stress can result in poor sleep, and poor sleep can result in depression, anxiety and stress.

So whichever way you look at it, getting a good nights sleep is vital for our well being.

If you’ve had poor sleep (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point), you know the symptoms.  We’re talking fatigue, impaired memory and concentration, irritability, general aches and pains, reduced immune functioning, poorer overall health, decreased capacity to solve problems, increased emotionality and anxiety and relationship problems.

I know for myself, life just feels so much lighter and more joyful when I’ve had at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

But what if you can’t get to sleep at night?  Or you wake up at 2am every morning and can’t get back to sleep?  Let me share some ideas about improving your chances of getting a good nights sleep.

 

WHAT TO STOP DOING FOR GOOD SLEEP

Try cutting back on these things to promote good sleep:

  1. Caffeine, nicotine and processed sugar – try giving these up altogether, it can make an amazing difference, but if it feels too hard, try cutting out after midday
  2. Alcohol – again, if this feels too hard, just stop drinking a few hours before bed, and resist the temptation to drink yourself to sleep
  3. TV, computer, iPad just before bed – give yourself at least an hour without screen time before you head off to bed
  4. Work or study just before bed – again, give yourself at least an hour without this before going to bed
  5. Sleeping medication – if you must use medication, try using it for just a couple of nights to break the poor sleeping routines. Also, be aware that some medications (including some antidepressants) can cause sleep disturbance.
  6. Sleeping in the day – see if you can stop doing this completely as it can throw out your natural circadian rhythm (unless you have a baby who is keeping you up at night, in this case, sleep whenever you can!).  If you need a rest in the day, try a relaxation meditation like this deep mindful yogic relaxation practice instead.
  7. Watching the clock in bed – you might like to get rid of your clock altogether, or perhaps just face it away from you in bed
  8. Telling yourself ‘go to sleep right now‘ – it just doesn’t work!  To get to sleep we need to relax the brain, not give it orders.  Let the conscious mind take a break and allow the unconscious mind (the part of your mind that keeps your heart beating and your lungs breathing, even when you’re asleep) to take over.   Say to yourself ‘I’ve done everything I can today.  Now it’s time to relax, switch off and let go.’
  9. Berating yourself for not sleeping – be kind and nurturing to yourself!  Treat yourself like you would treat a partner or child who was having trouble sleeping.

WHAT TO START DOING FOR GOOD SLEEP

Here’s some great things you can do to promote good sleep:

  1. Make your bedroom a calm and nurturing space (so clean up your bedroom and get rid of any clutter), and only use your bedroom for sleep and sex (this will strengthen the association between your bed and sleeping)
  2. Get up at the same time every morning, regardless of the amount of sleep you had the previous night (in Ayurveda, they recommend getting up before 6am)
  3. Only go to bed when you’re actually sleepy – mild sleep deprivation results in a more rapid and efficient sleep
  4. Practice yoga asana and/or exercise every day – try exercising 5-6 hours before bed, but not closer than 3 hours
  5. Avoid noise – so if your partner snores, turns, kicks or talks in their sleep consider sleeping in separate beds for a while or wearing earplugs (this can actually be great for your relationship, as if you’re sleeping well you’ll feel more loving and less likely to feel resentment that they’re keeping you awake at night)
  6. Find a comfortable sleeping temperature for your bedroom – 15-20 degrees (celcius) is considered ideal
  7. Avoid large meals close to bed time – only eat a light snack before bed if you are hungry
  8. If you have a tendency to lie awake thinking about all the things you need to do the next day, try writing your to do list before getting to bed (getting it down on paper can help to get it out of your head)
  9. Practice relaxation during the day like my deep mindful yogic relaxation – you’ll get really great at deeply relaxing and your baseline stress levels will gradually be reduced, both of which will help you drift off to sleep more easily
  10. Get happy – you’re more likely to be able to sleep when you’re happy.  Make changes in your life to increase your happiness.  Spend time doing things you enjoy.  Make an appointment to come and see me for counselling if you’d like some help with this.

DEVELOPING A SLEEP RITUAL FOR GOOD SLEEP

Develop a night time sleep ritual.  This might include:

  1. Turning the lights down low, perhaps burning a candle
  2. Playing some calming music and/or burning calming essential oils
  3. Drink some calming herbal tea
  4. Slowly and mindfully brush your teeth and change into your pyjamas
  5. Listen to my Blissful Sleep Meditation to help you calm the body, the nervous system and the mind, and to easily transition from waking to sleeping
  6. Create a night time ritual that works for you

LYING AWAKE AT NIGHT

And if you find you’re lying awake in the middle of the night, try this:

  1. Close your eyes, and become conscious of the warmth and the heaviness of your body, and your body breathing naturally and rhythmically – this helps to sink into a deeply relaxed state
  2. Remember that resting peacefully is almost as restorative as sleep – so don’t worry if you have problems getting or staying asleep.  Try saying to yourself ‘I’m just going to lie here peacefully and relax, if sleep comes that would be nice, but if it doesn’t that’s ok because resting is almost as restorative as sleep anyway.’
  3. If you’re having trouble resting peacefully, play my Blissful Sleep Meditation again (if you’re lying awake thinking, try the thoughts version)

WORRYING ABOUT SLEEP

Worrying about lack of sleep is a vicious cycle.  The more you worry, the less likely you are to sleep, and the more likely you are to continue worrying.  Worrying about sleep will most likely reduce your amount of sleep.  And remember that the majority of things we worry about never happen (some people say 90%!).  On the rare occasion that they do, we somehow manage to deal with them.  Try saying to yourself ‘whatever happens, I can deal with it.’

Some people believe that they will go crazy or have a nervous breakdown if they don’t get enough sleep.  This is simply not true.  Sleep deprivation experiments were carried out on medical students where they were not permitted to sleep more than one hour per night for a month or more.  None of them went crazy or had a nervous break down. If you start worrying about this, try telling yourself ‘I may be tired tomorrow if I don’t get enough sleep, but there’s no way I’ll go crazy.’

It is perfectly normal to wake during the night.  Most people wake up once or twice, to go to the bathroom or just turn over, and then they go back to sleep.  Instead of worrying when you wake up during the night, try saying to yourself ‘it’s perfectly normal to wake up during the night, I’ll just go back to sleep now‘ or’ it’s not time for me to get up yet, I still have a few hours left to sleep.‘  If sleep doesn’t come, just rest and relax (remember this is almost as restorative as sleep anyway).

But first and foremost, go gently!  Be kind to yourself.  Find out what works for you.  All these are just suggestions, try them all, or just try one or two.  Ultimately YOU are the expert on yourself.  So listen to your intuition, and you can’t go wrong.

Sweet dreams,

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What is Yoga?

 When I tell people I teach iRest Meditation, they often ask me if I teach yoga as well.The answer is YES!  iRest Meditation IS yoga.But I understand the confusion.  While yoga is an ancient contemplative practice, it's also a multi-million dollar industry that...

read more

The Science of Stress

Stress. We all feel it. But what is it? Having a deeper understanding of stress can help us to overcome and manage its adverse effects on our body and mind. Signs and Symptoms of Stress The psychological symptoms of stress include feeling overwhelmed, worry, fear,...

read more

Look Up to See the Big Picture

I learned a new word today; allocentric. Egocentric, as we all well know, is being focused on ourselves; it’s self-centered. Allocentric, on the other hand, is a wider focus, or other-centered. It allows us a greater perspective to see things as an observer, rather...

read more

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