For my autoethnographic project I will be attempting to practice yoga and observe whether it has an impact on my lifestyle and relaxation levels. I have a basic knowledge of yoga, essentially that it is an ancient practice which is a really good form of exercise as it lowers blood pressure, stress and can enable people to have a more relaxed outlook on life. As a broke and stressed out uni student I need more of all of those things in my life and therefore have absolutely nothing to lose by attempting this. Except maybe a little dignity when I discover I am not as flexibly inclined as I originally assumed.
I have been doing yoga for the past 8 months in between uni, working and going on holidays I can’t afford, in an attempt to get some zen and relaxation into my routine. I am generally a very high strung person who is stressed about anything and everything. However I realized there must be a better way of dealing with life in general than this. Hence; yoga.
Currently I aim to go 3 times a week and I usually leave feeling somewhat relaxed (never completely) with the impression I have done some exercise even though I basically stayed in the same spot for an hour, sticking my ass into the air and lying on a mat.
Last night I went to a Yin Yang yoga class which involved a lot of twists and turns and holding poses to release pressure on the joints which helps cleanse the body of toxins.
This morning I woke up at 7 am, and instead of feeling as exhausted as I usually would when I wake up at the crack of dawn, I felt refreshed and energetic and my brain felt somewhat clearer.
I’ve never had this reaction since I began practicing yoga. I’ve felt relaxed and found myself able to concentrate on things better, however this is the first time I’ve felt full of energy after a class. It was awesome.
In my initial experiences practicing yoga I found it surprisingly easy as a result of my many years of dancing as a child into my teens.Giving me a bit more flexibility than a lot of beginners and helped me to enjoy the practice more initially.
Things started getting harder and more strenuous when I realized the class I was attending was in fact one of the easy ones. Meaning I probably wasn’t as good at yoga as I’d hoped.
After doing a Hatha yoga class a couple of weeks later I learnt 3 things
- Yoga is not to be messed with for the faint hearted
- Yoga is awesome when you do it right
- Yoga instructors have the lungs of aliens and can spend 30 seconds taking the same breath and expect you to do the same. They should all be Olympic swimmers or something because that is amazing and unnatural.
Hatha yoga is one of the more traditional styles and focuses on keeping breathing and movement in sync. As yoga encourages deep and long breathing while doing quite difficult exercise, this was something I struggled with. Trying to keep my ass and leg in the air while feeling like my wrists are going to pop out and practicing ‘mindfulness’ with ‘relaxation breathing’ simultaneously, sometimes proves difficult.
Although I’ve attended yoga for a few months now, I realized I didn’t know much at all about the background and theory behind the practices. Therefore it was time I completed some research and found out what it actually was I was participating in.
Hatha yoga refers to any type of physical yoga and consists of 8 Limbs which emphasize the steps for a healthy and happy life. The limbs are outlined in the Sutras and each one relates to a different aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life. The Limbs include the 5 Yamas which are directives on how a yogi should undertake aspects of life towards others. I find them similar to the 10 commandments of Christianity, however they appear to be less strict and enforced and are more guidelines rather than specific things you can’t do which are considered bad or sinful.
- Ahimsa: reffering to non-violence against others and is often used as an argument for choosing to be a vegetarian.
- Satya: practicing truthfulness
- Asteya: not stealing from others and also alludes to not bringing people down to make yourself better
- Brahmacharya: refers to chastity but can mean either celibacy or just control of sexual impulses
- Aparigraha: not coveting what others have
The next limb is the Niyamas and is broken up 5 ways again to describe how one should act ethically towards themselves.
- Saucha: referring to cleanliness and alludes to keeping pure intentions
- Santosa: contentment with oneself
- Tapas: self discipline
- Svadhyay: self study to look within yourself for answers
- Isvara pranidhana: surrender to a higher power
The other 6 of the 8 limbs of yoga include:
- Asana: the physical practice of yoga postures
- Pranyama: the practice of breathing exercises
- Pratyahara: the withdrawal of senses, so the outside world isn’t a distraction from the internal inside individuals
- Dharana: concentration, the ability to focus uninterrupted by internal and external distraction.
- Dhyana: Meditation and the ability to extend your concentration beyond a single thing
- Samadhi: bliss, and the transcendence of the self through meditation where an individual merges with the universe. This is also known as enlightenment
I’ve heard allusions to some of the Limbs before during my practices, however what I didn’t expect was the implied chastity practice in Brahmacharya. As I’ve always seen yoga as a free and relaxed form of practice which allows individual interpretation of the limbs, I didn’t expect such a direct instruction regarding sexuality. I would expect this from the stricter religions although because yoga has such Buddhist and Hindu roots, there would be some sharing of morals and guidelines.
Over the next few weeks, I aim to practice yoga and attempt to observe the 8 limbs which aim to attain health and fulfillment. I will document my practices and how I feel and then my auto ethnographic experience to how well I was able to achieve a better lifestyle through undertaking yoga.
- Pizer, A 2015, ‘ What is Gentle Yoga?’ Very Well, 23 April, viewed 30 August 2016 <https://www.verywell.com/what-is-gentle-yoga-3566897>
- Carrico, M 2007, ‘Get to know the Eight Limbs of Yoga’, Yoga Journal, 28 August, viewed 30 August 2016 <http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/the-eight-limbs/>
- Ellis, A et al, 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1