I've been practicing yoga for a long time. I can still remember buying my first yoga video - it was a Rodney Yee video - and trying to follow along in my bedroom in the 1840s farmhouse we were renting with the ugly blue shag carpeting. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't touch my toes the way Rodney could. (Maybe because my arms are too short and my hamstrings are still, after nearly 20 years, too tight.)
At any rate, throughout the years, I picked up on a few key principles of yoga. When I started my formal education in yoga and Ayurveda, I was given the chance to really dive deep into these concepts.
Remember that the practice of yoga is really about way more than just the asana we practice in studios and church basements and community centers and hotel spas. There are a few key concepts of the practice of yoga that we should all know about if we're going to truly embody the mind-body-spirit connection.
1. The Chakras The Chakras are energy centers in the physical body that relate to aspects of our physical existence. This concept of subtle energy centers in the body isn't exclusive to yoga - traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture and acupressure) also recognize these energy centers, as do many South American shamanic cultures.
In the yogic tradition, the 7 main chakras are located in the trunk of the body, beginning with the root chakra at the base of the tailbone; the sacral chakra located around the belly button; the solar plexus chakra right beneath the sternum; the heart chakra where the heart is located in the chest; the throat chakra at the base of the throat; the third eye chakra located right between the eyebrows; and the crown chakra, located at the very top of the head or hovering just above the physical body.
Each of these energy centers reflects a different type of energy that relate to not just the physical processes of our body, but also the spiritual aspects of our lives.
2. The Koshas Going deeper into our energy bodies than the chakras, the Koshas are the different layers of energy that make up our consciousness. Starting with the gross (outer) layer in the form of the physical body, and ending up with our soul.
When we understand these layers of energy, we can start to understand our true nature according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
3. The 8 Limbs of Yoga Everyone who has ever been to a yoga class has some familiarity with one branch of the practice of yoga - asana. And sometimes yoga teachers might do a little bit of breathwork (pranayama). But did you know that there are actually 8 different aspects of the complete practice of yoga, called the 8 limbs of yoga?
Yama is a set of ethical guidelines for relating to other people; niyama is a set of ethical guidelines for self-love and self-care; asana is the physical practice of yoga with which many of us are most familiar (yoga poses); pranayama is breath control, which some of us have practiced in yoga class; pratyahara is the practice of turning our focus inward, away from the outside world; dharana is the practice of refining our concentration; dhyana is the practice of meditation; and samadhi is the state of enlightenment when we embody our connection with all things.
4. The Doshas The term dosha literally means "imbalance", but the concept of the doshas is a way to describe three different types of energy that are present in all things.
Vata is the energy of movement, and is dry, cold, and upward motion; kapha is the energy of cold, wet, and downward movement; pitta is hot, fiery, and moves slightly, mostly in one place.
These three types of energy make up everything in nature in different amounts, including human beings. Each type of energy shows distinct characteristics in physical form, and in each of the four seasons.
I'll be diving more into each of these topics in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more information on how to expand your yoga practice!