What is the Meaning of Yoga?
In 1999, I was on a plane flying home from India, after nine years of living in the Himalayas. I’d been meditating, studying meditation, practicing yoga and living the everyday bliss of self-awareness. On the plane I picked up a glossy magazine and was amazed to see photos of North Americans practicing power yoga poses and talking about how yoga is good for getting a fit body. Now, I agree that yoga is great for your body and your health, but I had to giggle at how differently I’d learned the purpose and meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘yoga’. In India, yoga has been studied and practiced for thousands of years, but it’s not the look of the physical body that is the main aim of yoga there.
Yoga, in Sanskrit, means to completely know yourself and to be at peace in yourself. It is not possible to define this peace except to say it is freedom from all suffering, freedom from doubt and freedom from confusion. A natural blessedness unfolds in you as you feel this peace and you increasingly realize this as the core essence of your life. This realization is called yoga: a clear knowledge of the oneness of your self with the source of all life.
Being established in this knowledge, your life starts to flow with a vital freshness and harmony, with clarity, mental alertness and a fullness of loving understanding. This yoga state is expansive, creative and life-supportive.
You might doubt that this kind of expanded awareness is possible for anyone but a Himalayan sage; but yogis, including myself, have found that self-knowledge is a natural state and is possible! Our consciousness is self-reflective; in other words, you have the capacity to know the essence of your own life and mind. This potential has been researched for thousands of years by meditators. Yoga is an exploration into this nature of consciousness and existence. Yogis have discovered, through deep personal inquiry that at the root of their own life exists freedom and an ever-present space.
But how, you might ask, is this relevant to the everyday life that I live? Once you understand that life’s activities, situations and happenings never alter your essential unchanging existence, your ego doesn’t have to prove its superiority, nor believe in thoughts of inferiority. This pure space of yourself is not affected by praise from anyone, nor is it diminished by criticism. Imagine the relief of living with this sense of perfect ease!
In this state of awareness, the body and mind continue to function perfectly of course, but you don’t need to believe all your thoughts or reactions. One benefit is that negative and painful thoughts in your mind such as anxiety, anger, fear, neediness or confusion no longer seem so real. When ideas are not repeated or re-enforced, after time, they just go away! Try it and see for yourself!
A yogi is someone who engages in practices in order to realize this essential existence and their own potential power of awareness. It’s great to have a healthy body, but this awareness is real power yoga!
To Celebrate Endings and Beginnings, Do a Yoga Mala
From the yoga studio to a night on the town, people are donning mala bead necklaces around the globe. However, this trend is steeped in meaningful tradition and symbolism. Each mala necklace has 108 beads, and each bead evokes an energetic frequency based on its material, whether stone or seed.
How to Practice a Yoga Mala
A yoga mala is the ultimate moving meditation. It has a repetitive, steady rhythm that helps transcend the purely physical form and move us closer to the unified Self. One body, one mind, one breath. Each forward bend serves as a pranam or devoted prayer to the source. Each vibrant backbend is an emergence of radiant light. The body is the mala, the breath is the mantra.
What is a Mala?
A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra or asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole.
What is the Significance of 108?
The number 108 is seen as significant across a range of cultures and disciplines. It informs the architecture of sacred texts that are central to yoga and eastern philosophy: there are 108 chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads and 108 primary Tantras. In in the field of Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places in the body, identifying intersections of matter and consciousness. Through the lens of astronomy, the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun.
When to Use a Yoga Mala?
Use a yoga mala to mark an end, celebrate a beginning, or as the basis of a devotional prayer. Here are some moments that may call for a yoga mala:
- A birth in the family
- Spring Equinox
- Your Birthday
- When a friend or family member is ill
- For Mother Earth
- The end of a relationship