Opening the Heart - Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: Opening the Heart with Yoga

By Val Spies
July 23, 2018

Opening the Heart - Art of Living Retreat Center

 

The study of yoga is so vast, with a rich global history dating back thousands of years. But when you look at the history, writing, and teachings covering it, the one thing we can all connect to, regardless of time or place, is the feeling of the heart.

 

When you really get down to it, yoga opens the heart and provides us a pathway leading to connection with the universal self. We all yearn for this, and we find something of this purification in yoga–a purification that moves us away from distractions and cravings and moves us into the openness of the heart. The heart radiates when we are able to reach that space.

 

Uniting the body, mind, and heart

In asana practice, you start to learn about the intelligence of the body, the intelligence of the mind, and the intelligence of the heart. The goal of yoga is to unite these intelligences, because that unification is where we find ease, peacefulness, and balance.

 

For many years of my life, I was a corporate manager. I experienced what we all experience, which is a constant persuasion to shut down around the heart. We’re not asked to make our decisions from the heart. We’re outright prompted to make decisions from greed, to not be honest or truthful. To grasp for things and to always want more than what we have, and to achieve that by any means possible. We follow this greed and unkindness and become distracted and unsatisfied. We start to shut down and close in on the radiance of our hearts.

 

When my students come into my class, I see that wall. But even a simple asana practice opens the heart back up and begins to heal you. That’s what’s so beautiful about yoga, that opening up of the heart, just like a lotus flower blossoming.

 

The lotus of the heart

As the Chandogya Upanishad says, the space within the lotus of the heart is the same as the great infinite space beyond. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, and both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars.

 

Sri Sri also says in his teachings that bliss cannot be understood, and is extremely difficult to achieve. That all we seek is the Divine union with the Source, and that everything else in the world distracts us from that goal. There are so many unexplainable, incomprehensible ways of not coming home.

 

Everything that we do in yoga is preparing us for meditation. Meditation is the ultimate practice that will take you into more peacefulness. The more we practice yoga and meditation, the more it becomes like the background music of our life, and we’re able to tap into it whenever we need it.

 

Space to explore

Yoga is actually very practical and accessible. There are so many different pathways that are available to everyone. We’re all looking for the same thing. We’re all yearning for that feeling of peacefulness and open heartedness where we’re not afraid to give and receive love, or to be authentic and genuine.

 

It’s important to give yourself space to explore yoga. Sometimes it really does take going up to a beautiful place like the Art of Living Retreat Center to recenter yourself, be present in the moment, and explore your path. To take a break from distractions and technology and spend time in nature. And then when you go home, you have something really beautiful to take with you that you can weave throughout your life. It’s just not the same as struggling to do a meditation for 20 minutes every day. It really gives you a good baseline to build upon.

 

Finding your Dharma

It’s so worth it to step away and move into a space where you can start to seek out your Dharma, your purpose in life. So many of those experiences come to you through nature, which is something we of course have in abundance at the Retreat Center. Nature is one of our most wonderful teachers. Joining the yoga practice at sunrise, and then eating such nourishing food, really everything that is offered at the Center comes together to create a more purified environment for you to really feel the expressions of the heart, to let that space be more radiant for you.

 

Val Spies, E-RYT500, is the owner and director of the Lotus Pond Center for Yoga and Health, originating in 2003. She has been guiding yoga retreats for 12 years and is the lead teacher the Lotus Pond Teacher Training Programs. Together with Melissa Carroll, their expertise is in teaching yoga combined with dynamic, heartfelt sessions on yoga philosophy and creative guidance in retreat immersions.

 

Join Val Spies and Melissa Carroll at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 28th – October 4th for her retreat, Yoga and Creative Writing. 

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
TAGS: asana , heart , holistic wellness , Val Spies , wisdom , yoga

Exploring Wisdom: Sri Sri on the Eight Limbs of Yoga

By Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
February 5, 2018

In 2015, Art of Living founder and guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar spoke with Philip Goldberg on the importance of the eight limbs of yoga. As relevant as ever, Sri Sri’s wisdom encourages us to consider all aspects of a Yoga practice as a path to greater fulfillment, health, and happiness. 

 

Q: What would you like people to know about Yoga?

Sri Sri: Yoga is like a vast ocean. You can just go for a breeze, or you can go with an oil rig and drill for oil … Yoga offers many things to different people at many different levels–whatever they aspire for: union with the cosmic consciousness, or physical health, mental clarity, emotional stability, spiritual ecstasy — all this is part of yoga.

 

Q: Does it concern you that people think of Yoga only as asana [the familiar physical postures]?

Sri Sri: Not really, because at that moment that’s what they understand. But once they start doing asana they start seeing there is something beyond that. If interest for meditation gets kindled, then they are on the right track. But if it stops at exercise … it’s not bad, but they will not reach the goal.

 

Q: When people think of the classic eight limbs of Yoga…

Sri Sri: I knew you would ask about that. Unfortunately, people think the eight limbs are eight steps, one after another. You know, when a baby is born it’s not that one limb develops after another. All the limbs develop simultaneously. The eight limbs of Yoga are so interconnected, if you pull one all the others will come along with it.

 

Q: Some people think you have to master the yamas and niyamas before you can do the others. [The yamas and niyamas — five behaviors to avoid and five to engage — constitute the first two limbs.]

Sri Sri: The limbs are not sequential, they are all together. The practice of the others contributes to the ability to observe the yamas and niyamas. When we teach meditation in prisons, we see that the moment they have a taste of meditation, their whole thought process and behavior pattern changes. They start on the path of non-violence. They become very truthful, and the tendencies to cheat disappear. So the yamas and niyamas start happening in people’s life just when they begin meditation.

 

Q: How do your Art of Living programs fit into the eight limbs of classical Yoga?

Sri Sri: Yoga would be incomplete if even one limb is absent from it. All the eight limbs coexist. Our program is the same way. We do some asana, and some pranayama-breathing exercises-and meditation that leads to samadhi [the 8th limb; not a practice but a state of consciousness transcending thought].

 

This interview first appeared on Huffington Post, and is presented in excerpt. 

 
 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: asana , Ayurveda , eight limbs , interview , sri sri ravi shankar , yoga , yoga practice , yogi
Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?

By AOLRC
January 28, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center

 

Increasingly, the practice of Asana, or the physical poses we understand as yoga, is being alienated from the very source of its conception; its moral, ethical, and philosophial raison d’être and foundation. Perhaps this is because the modern practice has separated the metaphorical wrapping paper from the gift itself, interchanging the two and taking the wrapping paper instead of the gift.

 

Most practitioners of Yoga have heard of the eight limbs of yoga: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight limbs are integral to one another: they are neither dispensable nor separable. Why, then, does Asana remain the centerpiece of the modern experience of yoga? Why are they understood as a progression on the path of yoga, when in fact they are a composite and part of an organic whole?

   

Yamas

The five Yamas are as follows: Ahimsa, or non-violence, Satya, or truth, Asteya, or non-stealing, Brahmacharya, or moving in Brahman (infinity), and Aparigraha, or non-accumulation. These five principles are universal in nature, without exception. An intrinsic part of human values and an ethical code of conduct. The understanding of, and more importantly, incorporation of them, changes the entire texture of our physical practice.

 

Niyamas

Niyamas can be understood as the cultivation of the self. There are five Niyamas: Shaucha, or physical purity, Santosha, or contentment, Tapas, or endurace, Swaadhyaaya, or self-study, and Ishwara Pranidhaana, or devotion to the Divine.

 

Asana

Asana is widely understood as the totality of yoga. The Yoga Sutras define Asana as that which is steady and comfortable. Again, in the words of Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Feeling the body, letting go of the effort, and experiencing the infinity is Asana.”

 

Pranayama

In Pranayama, we understand the dimension of the breath. Various Pranayama techniques are outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. At a fundamental level, the inhalations and exhalations are controlled in a certain rhythm or pattern. A good example of this is the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique taught by Art of Living that has helped bring a greater mental clarity and physical well-being to millions around the world. Patanjali has stressed that Pranayam should be explored with proper guidance, as they thin down the curtain around the light – prakash avanaram. 

 

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the inner canvas, the reference of the inner world and the coaxing of the senses to withdraw inward. It is fundamental to cultivating a practice that is not thrown off by the external fluctuations of the body, the senses, and the circumstances. Various guided meditations are helpful to invite the mind to dive inwards.

 

Dharana and Dhyana

Dharana and Dhyana are sometimes thought of as interchangeable. While meditation has become popular even outside the realm of yoga, the concept of Dharana, which is the singular pointed attention of meditation, was prescribed by a teacher in accordance with the needs of the individual and his or her progress on the path of yoga. Dharana and Dhyana are intimately tied to Pranayama, a good example of why no limb of yoga is separate from the other.

 

Samadhi

Samadhi, or the state of ultimate bliss, as long been considered too lofty a goal for the common man. This eliminates the opportunity for us to blossom on the path of yoga. Every moment that we feel one with the infinite self is one of Samhadi.

 

What is truly profound is astoundingly simple. When our experience is clouded, our understand is blurry as well. If your only experience of yoga is sweating in a hot room, then the opportunity for a deeper experience and understanding diminishes. The gift of yoga is the opportunity to experience the whole being, not just the body. Why settle for less?

According to Yogi Krishan Verma, director of Sri Sri Yoga Trainings at the Art of Living Retreat Center, “You are more than just the body.”

 

 

While this may sound like a lofty goal, in experience, it is simple, and brings a seismic shift to the way we practice. At the basic level, when the emotions are clouded or the mind is scattered, the body reflects that as well. The body and the physical practice is just one limb of yoga. Why would we take the part as the whole?

When we move through the eight limbs of yoga as a dynamic whole, the practice parts to reveal our true self. All conflict and duality shifts to illuminate the light that we are. As explained by Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “When a body develops, the whole body develops together. Simultaneously all the aspects, all the limbs of the body develop.” The eight limbs of yoga are just that – limbs in the body of yoga. This realization is a gift that we unwrap with a sense of awe and wonder!

by Shalini Parekh

 
 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
TAGS: asana , breathing , eight limbs of yoga , meditation , sudarshan kriya , yoga , yoga practice

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