Think yoga, and what pops into mind? Possibly someone balancing precariously on their head. Or contorted into a seemingly impossible pose in a display of extreme flexibility? Or maybe you might have heard of someone with a size zero figure attributing it to 100-plus Surya Namaskars (sun salutations)?
For Lalitha Viswanath, yoga acharya, manual osteopath and founder of Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center, Dubai, the mere physicality that yoga is often reduced to is disturbing. As a passionate student and teacher of yoga, with more than 20 years of teaching experience, it upsets her that yoga is often taught as just another exercise regimen with the aim, more often than not, being weight-loss. “When it is so much more than just the physical,” said Lalitha. “A student of yoga is expected to ascend the Yogic ladder, so to speak, embracing all eight branches of yoga in a holistic way until they reach samadhi (enlightenment).”
In a holistic practice of yoga, there is no place for putting your body through extreme poses and a mindless routine of sun salutations. This only leads to injuries, Lalitha stressed. “We see so many such cases in our studio, and we help them through yoga Therapy sessions. This is also the reason why many orthopedists do not advise yoga. They feel it leads to injuries, when it is actually wrong teaching practices that lie at the root.”
Rather, the way of the ancient Yogis was to first lay a firm foundation that incorporates elements from all eight branches of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga literally means eight-limbed. “So students start working on the physical postures, while simultaneously learning breathing techniques and the Yamas and Niyamas — the first two branches of Ashtanga Yoga — which are nothing but a set of principles guiding our interaction with ourselves and the world around us,” said Viswanath.
The discipline that comes with this kind of holistic practice of yoga is what moves us towards our goals — whatever they might be. And yes, weight-loss too.
While Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches of yoga, and Asana (physical postures) the third, the others are Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (disengaging from our senses), Dharana (self-reflection), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi.
Pratimoksha’s signature program — labelled the 'Beyond' courses — nudge students up through the ever-ascending levels of Ashtanga Yoga. “With practice, discipline and the right guidance one gradually makes progress,” said Viswanath. “And by progress, I don’t mean just on the yoga mat, but in life and how one goes through it, with a certain sense of balance and equanimity.”
While Viswanath loves teaching regular yoga classes, it’s Pratimoksha’s Teacher’s Training Course certified by Yoga Alliance that brings her the most satisfaction. “We are about to begin our fourth batch,” she said. “So far we have trained 15 teachers. The program is intense, so when we present them with their certificates, I feel confident that their knowledge and practice will, in turn, help so many in our community and even internationally, as we have had students from many nationalities learning with us.”
So next time you think of yoga, think all eight branches and get the best from a holistic programme.