Some big cities are said to have more yoga studios than Starbucks. Yoga is no longer considered exotic, it is now mainstream. It has been adopted by challenging athletes; corporations seeking to improve employee productivity; even parents who want to instill in their children the skills of working with personal resources. Yoga helps you concentrate, feel better, and be happy.
In our book “Power Yoga” – asanas, philosophy and everything that will help to master a sporty and dynamic style of yoga. In this article, we will share the exciting story of the author of the book, Leah Callis, and talk about how yoga can unite all areas of life.
The body communicates important things
I started doing strength yoga at a turning point for myself. For years I have led an extremely active life, worked as a political campaigner and allowed myself to be consumed by work without a trace. At about twenty-five years old, I ended up in the hospital with half of my body numb.
The numbness had started a few years earlier with a tingling sensation in the right foot during exercise. I stopped running and doing cardio because the “needles” in my right leg were felt more strongly when I moved. After a while, a dull pain in my right leg and arm became my constant companion. At the same time, my career was taking off, I was doing what I always dreamed of. I pushed the constant background pain in the body into the background, giving priority to work and responsibilities.
One morning after a successful work event, I woke up and realized that the sensitivity in my right foot was much less than usual. My foot was so swollen and numb that I could hardly put on my shoes. Sitting down at the table, I realized that it was not just a matter of feet. The loss of sensation spread to the entire right side, including the right half of the face.
I called the doctor, and he told me to go to the ambulance immediately, because the symptoms indicated a stroke. The hospital told me that given my age and symptoms, I most likely have multiple sclerosis. I was horrified.
Living with yoga
The experience of the illness brought me to my senses. I realized that stress and burnout had exhausted me to the bottom. The body was trying to inform me of something much more important: it was not just old injuries that made themselves felt. The illness became an opportunity for me to start living more meaningfully and efficiently. Then I decided to start doing yoga regularly.
Yoga led me to a completely different life. She helped to gradually awaken my body from sleep, restore its strength, sensitivity and feel the connection with it. I no longer lived on the machine; yoga has become the map of my new journey. The practice helped me to abstract from what was happening in my head and focus on the body, and I remembered what it means to feel it as mine from crown to heel.
Time on the rug became my refuge, an opportunity to take care of myself.
Step by step, Leah not only regained her health, but also became stronger. Photo from the author’s instagram
I realized how, in just a few years of living in constant stress, tension knots literally formed in my body. The practice of yoga helped to release the heaviness accumulated inside as a result of stress, and concentration on the breath helped to calm down and become more focused. Asanas, breathing and physical activity up to the seventh sweat led to the fact that my knots dissipated and for the first time in many years I felt strong and felt unity with my body.
I discovered my inner wisdom. Daily practice taught me to listen to and respond to subtle physical signals from the body. The exercise made my body my ally, my guide, and my greatest teacher.
Yoga means “to unite”
“Yoga” is translated from Sanskrit as “to bind”, “to unite”, “to unite”. Yoga is a method of connecting things. At the level of the physical body, it teaches us to move consciously and in a coordinated manner. Yoga asanas – the ability to be aware of the whole body, not to overload some of its parts and not to ignore others, as well as pay attention to your emotional state during practice.
When we move in unison with the inner rhythm (breathing), and the body assumes a certain position (asana), we concentrate and accumulate life energy – our strength.
Yoga is effective because you are involved in it in its entirety, and not in parts.
Leah finds opportunities to practice anywhere. – Photo from the author’s website
It connects body and breath, mind and movement, actions and skills. The result is a holistic practice that is simple, accessible to everyone, and has a profound impact on health, mental health and soul.
Eight branches of yoga
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a fundamental text on yoga written over 1700 years ago by the sage Patanjali. It speaks of the eightfold path of yoga – ashtanga (“eight limbs” or “branches”). The eight branches are the system we follow to become happy and healthy. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we learn for the first time that yoga is not just a training for the body, but a system for building an optimal life.
Eight branches will help you stay on track in your search for your true self. Looking inside, we discover wisdom and spirit in ourselves and begin to identify with them. This inner work and personal search helps to understand the meaning of life and what is most important in it.
Yoga helps you get to the hidden reserves that you already have and are just waiting for you to open them, wake them up and share them with the world.
In the West in yoga we are often attracted by physical exercises, but in the ancient yoga system there are many more practices that develop the body, uplift the mind and soul. This is what the eight branches of yoga include.
Ahimsa: Non-Violence. The first principle is that no harm can be done. He encourages us to strike the right balance in all respects so as not to harm others or ourselves. When faced with anger and violence, we need to be calm and empathic.
Satya: Truthfulness. Satya – honesty towards oneself and truthfulness in thoughts, words, actions and relationships with people. This is more than just “don’t lie”. By always telling the truth, we become free.
Asteya: non-appropriation of someone else’s. Practicing asteya, we do not appropriate other people’s things and merit and do not envy what others have. This principle reminds of the need to live consciously, without robbing yourself, those around you and our planet.
Brahmacharya: abstinence, moderation. Moderation is strength. Initially, brahmacharya meant celibacy: it was believed that by abstaining from sexual intercourse, it was possible to preserve and focus vital energy. A more modern interpretation of this term is a responsible and moderate attitude towards one’s strengths. Think about how, on what and on whom you spend them.
Aparigraha: Non-acquisitiveness. Attachment to the material world, to people and things, only burdens us and complicates our life. This yama calls to get rid of greed, hoarding and desire to possess material.
Shaucha: purity. Shaucha calls not only for the purity of the body, but also for the purity of actions, perception, purity in the home and hearts. By freeing ourselves from everything that pollutes, we can find harmony, clarity and energy. Say goodbye to food, habits and people that drain you; invite things into your life that make you feel better.
Santosha: contentment. We are happy with life when we accept it as it is and appreciate the moment. Santosha calls to live in the present and thank life for the daily gifts that surround us.
Tapas: self-discipline. Tapas is heat, without which there is no change or growth. It is the self-discipline necessary to establish a new routine of life; dedication and perseverance in a long-term relationship; self-control, which is needed to stay in a difficult asana for a long time, when the muscles burn and sweat runs down the face. Tapas requires trust in the process, especially when it gets “hot” and your tenacity wanes.
Svadhyaya: Self-Study. Svadhyaya is a search and daily practice of self-discovery. If in the hustle and bustle of everyday life we do not find time to look deep into ourselves and think, then we ourselves will not notice how we begin to live on autopilot. Examine your motivations, reflect on what made you who you are, and how to become the best version of yourself.
Isvara-pranidhana: belief in something more and relying on it. Ishvara-pranidhana is the understanding that we are all connected and boil together in this cauldron. It is also the belief that there is something greater in the world than us, some more grandiose common design. You can believe that the Universe is protecting you, you are under its protection and it will tell you the right direction. You just need to trust her and rely on her.
Asana: physical practice
In Sanskrit, the word “asana” means “seat” or “posture”. Yoga asanas are an opportunity to study, understand and increase your strength and energy. Asana practice encourages you to treat your body with respect like a temple and learn to find a balance between the physical tension we experience while doing the postures and inner peace. In asanas, there is no ultimate ideal; the main thing is the process. Allow your body to express what is hidden inside.
“I felt the change myself and saw a similar transformation happening to thousands of people,” writes Leah. Photo from instagram
Pranayama: Controlling Energy and Breath
Prana means energy, yama means control. The vital energy circulates through the body through the same channels as the breath. Yogis practice various breathing control techniques to increase energy levels. One deep breath at any time can change the quality of your energy and make you feel your strength.
Pratyahara: distraction from external stimuli
The fifth branch of yoga reminds us that the most powerful source of strength is within. By redirecting our attention from external stimuli inward, we awaken the inner vision and listen to the inner wisdom. To discover in yourself the reserves of strength, you need to listen to what is happening inside, and pratyahara becomes the first step on this path.
Learning to concentrate at once will not work. This is a practice that needs to be revisited over and over again. While performing asanas, we focus our gaze at one point, and this helps to focus on the physical and mental levels. As a result, all external stimuli cease to exist and we listen to what is really important. The practice of “tying” the mind to one object, place, idea or method builds up strength and teaches concentration, preparing you for meditation.
When the mind is focused on one object for a long time, it enters a state of deep meditation and contemplation. As soon as concentration completely absorbs you, the tension in the body and mind leaves you and you feel the oneness with the moment and blissfully dissolve in it. Meditation teaches us the power of being present.
The culmination of all practices, the experience of bliss and joy, is samadhi. In this state, you are cleared of worldly concerns, and your true intentions, body and soul are united; you feel oneness with the entire universe. The goal of yoga is complete liberation.
There is wisdom in the body that cannot be grasped by the mind. Active and disciplined yoga practice makes people realize that they have bad habits and self-destructive behaviors, subconscious beliefs that have limited their freedom and self-expression for many years.
Having crossed the old fetters that have held them back for a long time, people discover their true aspirations, gain the opportunity to voice their dreams and finally begin to live life the way they always wanted. With practice, sensitivity increases. This makes us more receptive to body signals. Yoga is called “practice” because it has to become a permanent part of life, it is something that has to be done with devotion and concentration. Only then will you discover the strength in yourself.
Based on the book “Power Yoga”
Photo on the cover of the post – from the author’s site