How is yoga different from exercise?
Book Two of the Yoga Sutras: Portion on Practice
Book Two of the Yoga Sutras lays out eight yogic practices, only one of which includes exercises for the body. Before Patanjali even comes close to explaining the trendy practice of asana, he takes twenty-seven Sutras to explain why a person might want to practice yoga, as well as how and what a yogi gains by practice.
Sutras 1-24 in Book Two culminate in the understanding that the root of all suffering is a misidentification of the true self (Purusha) with the physical self (Prakriti, literally “nature”). In Sutras 25-27, Patanjali explains that if we do not identify with Prakriti, we are not bound to the cycle of pain and suffering. Only by “uninterrupted discriminative discernment” (S.S. Sachtidananda trans., Yoga Sutras, II.26) can we quiet our mental modifications enough to see the Purusha clearly.
Sutras 28-55 in Book Two outline Raja or Royal Yoga. The is one of the many paths we may choose to explore in Yoga. Also called Ashtanga Yoga, it includes eight practices to develop unity between the body, breath, and mind.
All yoga includes a form of organized movement (i.e. exercise), but it’s only one part of the story. Yoga is an intact wellness system that addresses health on every level. This means yoga has practices for the body, breath, mind and emotions. The first two practices are ethical exercises, the third and fourth are exercises for our bodies and breath, and the last four practices exercise our ability to withdraw our attention from the outside world, tune into ourselves and attain consistent peace.
The Eightfold Path - Raja Yoga
We will go over these practices in more depth in future Jnana Yoga posts.
By gradual movement along this path, we learn to master our senses. When we are not controlled by the senses, we are able to disidentify with feelings of pain. Though pain is inevitable, suffering is preventable. And the best part is, anyone can benefit from these practices! To quote the great sage, Sri Swami Sivananda, yoga can "adapt, adjust, and accommodate" to the individual.
Which practices draw you to yoga?
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YSC Basic 1 introduces students to creating Yoga Therapy treatment plans for children with special needs. Development from birth to age twelve is covered in the first course. Sonia teaches through lecture, demonstration, practicum, and of course, yoga. The course is appropriate for yoga teachers and students, healthcare practitioners, and families of children with special needs.
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The article 7 Scientific Examples of When Yoga Is the Best Medicine by Dr. Lawrence Rosen lists the populations who seem to benefit from yoga practice, citing current research emerging from mindfulness and yoga studies. Among the groups listed were adults with cancer, children with autism, veterans and victims of abuse with PTSD, and older adults with cognitive impairments. It is so inspiring to know fellow Yoga Therapists in many of these fields. I am humbled by their service in Yoga Therapy.
I am especially excited about the research on-going on yoga's effects on children with autism. I look forward to the day when studies have examined yoga's benefits on children with a variety of special needs, on people with mental illness, and really... just about everyone. We are moving in the right direction but if we want good research, it has to be a slow process. Here's to more understanding and awareness of yoga's benefits!
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...