Why does Jeff Yalden do Yoga?

“You can’t lead others unless you can first learn to lead yourself!”

When Jeff speaks you’ll hear Jeff talk a lot about getting to know yourself and reflecting in the mirror. This is a result of Jeff getting to know himself as a man that lives with mental illness.

The journey has been life changing and nothing has made more a difference in his life than his yoga practice.

Diagnosed with major depression, bi-polar type 2, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Jeff finally became aware of certain issues that haunted him, addressed them, and finally accepted HE was part of the issue. Since then, he committed to making changes and those changes are self-care, counseling and therapy, and proudly accepting and being aware of his triggers.

Today, Jeff is the healthiest he’s ever been. He’s having more fun than he’s ever had. He’s more present, more relaxed, more focused, and more engaged in his personal and professional life.

Self-Care is a priority for Jeff. Every day. His priority is doing yoga. Years ago, Jeff got into yoga for the physical aspect. He wanted greater flexibility and mobility. This is when Jeff was 350 lbs and his diabetes was out of control. He felt he was dying and wanted to try and regain control. What happened then was life changing for Jeff. The mental aspect of practicing yoga, mindfulness, and learning breathing was empowering and transformed the pain that was hidden inside for so many years.

After spinal cord fusion in 2016, weight loss surgery in 2017, losing 100 lbs, Jeff committed to yoga as his #1 form of self-care and the result is the healthiest person he’s ever been.

Jeff’s yoga practice has allowed him to control his depression, his bi-polar, and his spinning mind. Being mindful has forced him to slow down and have more appreciation. Learning to breathe has forced him to always return back to ‘The Practice’ when he starts to feel a trigger.

So, when one might ask, “Why does Jeff do yoga?” Jeff replied, “Why wouldn’t everyone do yoga?” Below you will read (if you’d like) the yoga practice Jeff does and the yoga practice explained in greater detail.

Ashtanga Yoga

There are several key principles that underlie the practice of Ashtanga yoga:

  • Breath: It is recommended that postures are held for five to eight breaths or more, if possible.

  • Drishti: For every posture in the series, there is a set of drishtis, or gaze points.

  • Vinyasa: This is the breathing system that connects every movement in the series with the breath.

  • Bandhas: The practice should be carried out with the bandhas, or "body locks," engaged in order to ensure that the breath is also correct.

  • Daily practice: A six-days-per-week practice is encouraged.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

  • YAMA - Moral disciplines or moral vows

  • NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances

  • ASANA - Posture

  • PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques

  • PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal

  • DHARANA - Focused concentration

  • DHYANA - Meditative absorption 

  • SAMADHI - Bliss or enlightenment

1. YAMA - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows

This first limb, Yama, refers to vows, disciplines or practices that are primarily concerned with the world around us, and our interaction with it. While the practice of yoga can indeed increase physical strength and flexibility and aid in calming the mind, what’s the point if we’re still rigid, weak and stressed-out in day-to-day life? 

There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding). 

Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefitting every aspect of life, not just the 60 minutes spent on a rubber mat; if we can learn to be kind, truthful and use our energy in a worthwhile way, we will not only benefit ourselves with our practice, but everything and everyone around us too.    

2. NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances

The second limb, Niyama, usually refers to duties directed towards ourselves, but can also be considered with our actions towards the outside world. The prefix ‘ni’ is a Sanskrit verb which means ‘inward’ or ‘within’.

There are five Niyamas: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning of desire), svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts), and isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power). 

Niyamas are traditionally practised by those who wish to travel further along the Yogic path and are intended to build character. Interestingly, the Niyamas closely relate to the Koshas, our ‘sheaths’ or ‘layers’ leading from the physical body to the essence within. As you’ll notice, when we work with the Niyamas – from saucha to isvararpranidhana - we are guided from the grossest aspects of ourselves to the truth deep within. 

3. ASANA - Posture

The physical aspect of yoga is the third step on the path to freedom, and if we’re being honest, the word asana here doesn’t refer to the ability to perform a handstand or an aesthetically impressive backbend, it means ‘seat’ - specifically the seat you would take for the practice of meditation. The only alignment instruction Patanjali gives for this asana is “sthira sukham asanam”, the posture should be steady and comfortable. 

While traditional texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika list many postures such as Padmasana (lotus pose) and Virasana(hero pose) suitable for meditation, this text also tells us that the most important posture is, in fact, sthirasukhasana – meaning, ‘a posture the practitioner can hold comfortably and motionlessness’.

The idea is to be able to sit in comfort so we’re not ‘pulled’ by aches and pains of the body, or restlessness due to an uncomfortable position. Perhaps this is something to consider in your next yoga class if you always tend to choose the ‘advanced’ posture offered, rather than the one your body is able to attain: “In how many poses are we really comfortable and steady?”

4. PRANAYAMA - Breathing Techniques

The word Prana refers to ‘energy’ or ‘life source’. It can be used to describe the very essence that keeps us alive, as well as the energy in the universe around us. Prana also often describes the breath, and by working with the way we breathe, we affect the mind in a very real way.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Pranayama is the fact that it can mean two totally different things, which may lead us in two totally different directions at this point on the path to freedom….

Pranayama can be understood as either ‘prana-yama’ which would mean ‘breath – control’ or ‘breath restraint’, or it could be understood as ‘prana-ayama’ which would translate as ‘freedom of breath’, ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation’. 

The physical act of working with different breathing techniques alters the mind in a myriad of ways – we can choose calming practices like Chandra Bhadana (moon piercing breath) or more stimulating techniques such as Kapalabhati(shining skull cleansing breath). 

Each way of breathing will change our state of being, but it’s up to us as to whether we perceive this as ‘controlling’ the way we feel or ‘freeing’ ourselves from the habitual way our mind may usually be.

5. PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal

Pratya means to ‘withdraw’, ‘draw in’ or ‘draw back’, and the second part ahara refers to anything we ‘take in’ by ourselves, such as the various sights, sounds andsmells our senses take in continuously. When sitting for a formal meditation practice, this is likely to be the first thing we do when we think we’re meditating; we focus on ‘drawing in’. The practice of drawing inward may include focussing on the way we’re breathing, so this limb would relate directly to the practice of pranayama too. 

The phrase ‘sense withdrawal’ could conjure up images of the ability to actually switch our senses ‘off’ through concentration, which is why this aspect of practice is often misunderstood. 

Instead of actually losing the ability to hear and smell, to see and feel, the practice of pratyahara changes our state of mind so that we become so absorbed in what it is we’re focussing on, that the things outside of ourselves no longer bother us and we’re able to meditate without becoming easily distracted. Experienced practitioners may be able to translate pratyahara into everyday life – being so concentrated and present to the moment at hand, that things like sensations and sounds don’t easily distract the mind.

6. DHARANA - Focused Concentration

Dharana means ‘focused concentration’. Dha means ‘holding or maintaining’, and Ana means ‘other’ or ‘something else’. Closely linked to the previous two limbs; dharana and pratyahara are essential parts of the same aspect. In order to focus on something, the senses must withdraw so that all attention is put on that point of concentration, and in order to draw our senses in, we must focus and concentrate intently.  Tratak (candle gazing), visualisation, and focusing on the breath are all practices of dharana, and it’s this stage many of us get to when we think we’re ‘meditating’.    

7. DHYANA - Meditative Absorption 

The seventh limb is ‘meditative absorption’ - when we become completely absorbed in the focus of our meditation, and this is when we’re really meditating. All the things we may learn in a class, online or from a teacher are merely techniques offered to each person in order to help them settle, focus and concentrate, the actual practice of meditation is definitely not something we can actively ‘do’, rather it describes the spontaneous action of something that happens as a result of everything else. Essentially; if you are really meditating, you won’t have the thought ‘oh, I’m meditating!’…. (sound familiar?)

8. SAMADHI - Bliss or Enlightenment

Many of us know the word samadhi as meaning ‘bliss’ or ‘enlightenment’, and this is the final step of the journey of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. After we’ve re-organized our relationships with the outside world and our own inner world, we come to the finale of bliss. 

When we look at the word samadhi though, we find out that ‘enlightenment’ or ‘realization’ does not refer to floating away on a cloud in a state of happiness and ecstasy…. Sorry.

Breaking the word in half, we see that this final stage is made up of two words; ‘sama’ meaning ‘same’ or ‘equal’, and ‘dhi’ meaning ‘to see’. There’s a reason it’s called realization – and it’s because reaching Samadhi is not about escapism, floating away or being abundantly joyful; it’s about realizing the very life that lies in front of us. 

The ability to ‘see equally’ and without disturbance from the mind, without our experience being conditioned by likes, dislikes or habits, without a need to judge or become attached to any particular aspect; that is bliss.

Just as the theologian Meister Eckhart used the word isticheit meaning ‘is-ness’ as referring to the pure knowledge of seeing and realizing just ‘what is’, this stage is not about attaching to happiness or a sensation of ‘bliss’, but instead it’s about seeing life and reality for exactly what it is, without our thoughts, emotions, likes, dislikes, pleasure and pain fluctuating and governing it. Not necessarily a state of feeling or being, or a fixed way of thinking; just pure ‘I – am-ness’.

There’s just one catch though – Samadhi isn’t a permanent state…. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras importantly tell us that unless we are completely ready, without ‘impressions’ such as attachment, aversion, desires and habits, and with a completely pure mind, we will not be able to maintain the state of Samadhi for long:

Once the mind is pure and we truly do experience a state of Samadhi we can keep hold of, we attain moksha, also known as mukti, meaning a permanent state of being liberated, released and free. 

Now you understand why Jeff practices Yoga. This has been life-changing and has brought him to the person he is today.

Thank you for reading and understanding.