Southampton Common was the venue for a very uncommon sight last week. Two hundred and fifty yoga fans gathered for a mass al fresco yoga session.
The extraordinary event was organised to celebrate United Nations International Day of Yoga on Sunday 21st June 2015, which saw similar collective yoga sessions taking place in different cities all over the world.
The Southampton event was organised by the Yoga Sanctuary in Shirley and enjoyed a fantastic turnout from regular practitioners (known as yogis) and complete novices alike, both adults and children.
Ancient and sacred
Yoga is often mistaken for a bunch of gentle stretching exercises. Actually it is much more fascinating and profound.
The practice originated in India over four thousand years ago and is widely practised around the world as a powerful way to improve lifestyle, health and well-being. Given its ancient history and potent health benefits it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for an International Yoga Day to be officially celebrated.
What is yoga?
Yoga means ‘union’ and whilst there are many types of yoga, essentially, they are all rooted in the same principles which can be referred to as the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
These steps are as relevant to today’s world as they were when Patanjali (circa 315 A.D.), known as the father of modern yoga, decided to take the numerous and increasingly diverse forms of ancient yoga and distil them into the essence of their common features. These are:
Step 1 – Yama
Ethical standards for how we deal with people and the environment around us. The Yamas are broken down into 5 ‘wise characteristics’ and some of these include truthfulness and non-stealing, which doesn’t refer solely to possessions but includes anything not freely given to us, such as time and energy.
Step 2 – Niyama
Like the Yamas these include 5 areas and they relate to the attitude that we live by as we try to create a soulful existence.
Some of these areas include purity, both in one’s mind and body; contentment so that we are grateful for what we have in life and so we face situations that life throws us with strength and acceptance; and a celebration of the spiritual where we find the time each day to recognise that there is a larger consciousness at work in our daily lives.
Step 3 – Asana
This involves practising physical postures or poses such as the ‘downward dog’ or ‘tree’. Whilst these poses are what most people think of as yoga they are only one of the eight steps involved in bringing harmony and union to our lives.
The benefits of the Asanas include increased strength, balance, flexibility and well-being and as Asana means ‘staying’ it also offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore their emotions, commitment and concentration which permeate into a deeper spiritual level.
Step 4 – Pranayama
‘Prana’ means vital energy and Pranayama encompasses the breathing techniques that accompany the postures.
When combined effectively, the result is heat which purifies the energy channels of the body which in turn calm the mind and nervous system, strengthen the respiratory system and reduce cravings.
Step 5 – Pratyahara
Pratyahara means ‘drawing back’ or ‘retreating’. This is where the practitioner turns their senses inwards and the benefits of the first four limbs become apparent in daily life.
Happiness is less likely to be affected by external events and we are increasingly less likely to look at others for their approval as we develop a stronger self-love.
Step 6 – Dharana
Dharana means concentration. At this stage the body has been tempered by the Asanas, the mind has been quietened by Pranayama and the senses have been brought under control by Pratyahara.
This gives the ability to concentrate fully on an object and to become totally absorbed, meaning the temporary absences of ego and the notion of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ which hinder inner peace.
Step 7 – Dhyana
Dhyana means ‘meditation’ and as the mind can now focus efficiently on a single point the practitioner can reflect deeply on an object to know the truth about them as clear insights are gained and more subtle levels of perceptions are experienced.
The practitioner can see their own true nature and of the divinity within all things. This, by the way, is the meaning of ‘Namaste’- an ancient sacred greeting where one being acknowledges the sacredness in another and in all things.
Step 8 – Samadhi
Samadhi means to ‘bring together’ or ‘merge’ the previous states into a state of consciousness. It’s like a realisation that each being is a single and unique wave in an ocean of universal consciousness where illusions of the mind are lifted and a state of freedom is reached and where we see no distinctions between ourselves and others.
We are each one wave and yet we are all one ocean. We treat others exactly as we would like to be treated, as harming others ultimately harms ourselves also. Yoga doesn’t seek to change us but helps us get back to that natural state that we were all born with, existing as consciousness, truth and bliss.
In a hectic modern world where we are contactable 24/7, where our senses can be overwhelmed by external stimulus and where global events can make us feel like the world has turned upside down, yoga can bring a deep personal transformation.
It can create a force that brings more peace, strength and love into our lives.
As our light shines brighter those around us start to respond in positive ways also and it starts to become clear how powerful this ancient and timeless practice is.
Whilst it seems slightly ridiculous that it’s taken over 4,000 years to internationally recognise the benefits of yoga it is also an auspicious time to be alive, here and now, in order to embrace this global peaceful movement when the world needs so much healing.
About Damien Tudjman
Damien Tudjman is an experienced teacher, qualified life coach and dedicated practitioner of yoga and is currently undertaking an 18 month yoga teacher-training programme. If you would like to find out more about yoga or would like a taster session, please email Damien: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Yoga Day Southampton 21st June 2015
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