Embrace the five pillars of yoga and ayurveda as tools for taking yoga off the mat and into your life. My aim is to cultivate a state of peace, grace and vibrant health. I believe every person is unique; therefore, these pillars will mean something different to each of us and manifest in different ways.
These five tenets foster mindfulness, self love and self care and peace — a harmony of Mind, Body, and Spirit:
While not all of yoga is centered around physical practice, most of us in the west first encounter yoga as something we do for our bodies. This is the first of the five pillars and it’s an important one. Maintaining a healthy body and how we take care of it are an essential part of a modern yoga practice. Asana (the poses) provide us with many benefits. They make us stronger, more flexible, and maintain range of motion for the spine and limbs in all directions. But a physical yoga practice has a deeper purpose.
It helps the body clear the energy pathways (nadis) for optimal energy (prana) flow. It also helps to stabilize us, create mental focus and connect to our breathing which will lead us towards the other pillars of yoga and more subtle practices. In addition to an asana practice, we can take care of the body with other forms of exercise. Walking, hiking, swimming or other forms of getting the heart going are very beneficial. So is building strength through weight training or other exercise systems. A healthy body lends itself to the deeper, spiritual work of yoga.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for breathing practices. The breath is the bridge between your body and energy flow. When you work with the breath, you work with your energy (prana). There are a multitude of breathing techniques, each with a different effect on the energy system, nervous system and mind. Beginning to regulate and control your breathing is an essential skill to develop in your yoga practice as it prepares you for more advanced practices and meditation. It also links to mind. It helps bridge us to meditation.
Today, modern science is showing what the ancient practitioners knew, having control and regulation of our breath impacts the entire nervous system. It helps to restore balance when the human system is under stress and strain. Knowing which kind of pranayama is appropriate and why, will support homeostasis in the body and mind.
This is perhaps the most important of the 4 pillars, although they are all important. We are all challenged when it comes to meditation, at least at first. The benefits of meditation are countless: stress reduction, eliciting deep relaxation and brain wave function, more clarity, mental focus, greater creativity & ease, better sleep, digestion etc. etc.
Possibly the most important benefit of meditation is that we start to see the crazy workings of our own minds. The more frequently you embrace stillness and stop the constant doing, the more you see the busyness of the mind. A lot of the mental chatter is untruths we tell ourselves over and over again. Stories created by Maya (illusion). If we see the world as Maya or illusion at its surface, we can discover the depths of Brahman (an all-pervasive universal consciousness) wherever we look.
The goal of yoga is to pierce the veil of Maya and enter the state of Turia and embody a superconsciousness level of existence.
So, meditation helps us separate from the untruths of the mind and course correct towards truth. In separating out all of those mind traps (chitta vritti), we can reprogram or retrain how we think. Meditation is then in part a process of removing negative or unhelpful thinking.
The other benefit of separating from all the mind chatter is that we experience a part of ourselves that isn’t constantly changing and subject to the ups and downs of life. There are many words for this in yoga, Patanjali (author of the yoga sutras) calls it purusha, the seer. I like to say the soul or an internal reservoir of peace, ease, clarity and consistency. The more you experience THAT, the more you know who you are. That quiet calmness begins to color your life instead of all the crazy thoughts! Does that make sense? It’s really the very heart of what we want to experience and KNOW through the art and science of yoga.
The body is a temple. Nourishing the physical body is one of our greatest responsibilities, and yet modern life makes it difficult. There is no right diet for everyone, so we must learn to listen to our bodies and nourish them according to our own unique needs. It’s not just about what we eat, but how we eat as well. Slowing down…. chewing… savoring… these are simple acts, but not easily incorporated into our busy lives.
Honoring what our bodies are telling us, eating mindfully, and choosing the combination of whole, local and organic foods wherever possible, are all practices that elevate our physical and spirit bodies.
Our bodies need the right prana (energy) filled foods. An Ayurvedic diet specific to your constitution, stage of life and where you live, will set you up to feel your best.
Following a few simple Ayurvedic guidelines and noticing what does or doesn’t work best for your body and your life will make you feel energized, nourished and vibrant.
How do we show up in the world? What energy, intention and contribution do we bring to our work, our relationships, our family and our larger community? Approaching and engaging with life from an intention of clarity, kindness and authenticity enables us to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating a bridge between our material world and spiritual experience. We can love, speak and live with intention and from intention, bringing meaning and choice into all aspects of our lives.