Hey, friends! Today’s topic is practicing yoga beyond the mat. Actually, the blog post is a two part series!
But first, a few thoughts about how I’m circumnavigating the hoopla of New Year’s goals and resolutions. I promise this all ties together so, hang with me for a sec.
I’ve always been a goal setter/list maker/journal keeper. And I’ve never been one to wait until the clock strikes midnight on January 1st to begin taking action. I think we can agree that to make change of any kind – good or bad – ya gotta start somewhere, whether it’s the beginning of a brand new year or a random afternoon in the middle of April. Starting and committing are kinda the only real ingredients, right?
Both easy to say “sure, why not” to but both equally as challenging to put into effect.
And after spending a month at yoga teacher training in India, I’ve decided to go about this a bit differently in 2019.
Ultimately, I suppose my word for the year is “intentional”. That’s basically my only real goal. I know the vagueness here kills all those goal-setting rules about getting really nitty-gritty specific. (Btw, I’m usually all in on those types of rules and workshops so this makes even me a tad uncomfortable.)
Hear me out. I realize there needs to be some direction typically for progress in relation to goals to be made. But perhaps I need more of an overall umbrella approach or upside down pyramid rather than a very specific outlined list? Just trying something different this go ’round.
Yeah so, back to “intentional”. I’m striving to place more intention all areas in my life. Activities, behaviors, responses, idle times, conversations, and most importantly, time spent with my loved ones. I want to embrace everything, even the little stuff (maybe especially the little stuff?), with more intention.
Less going through the habitual motions. Less bullshit. More meaningful conversations. More moments of purpose. Here’s how practicing yoga beyond the mat is going to be my guide.
(This post may contain affiliate links. Please see full disclosure & medical disclaimer at the bottom.)
If you’re not familiar with the ancient text “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, this is a compiled collection of 196 “sutras” (directions or concise statements, per se) on the theory of practicing yoga. There are mixed opinions to when Sage Patanjali put organized these sutras. It seems to be commonly accepted that it was prior to 400 CE, for what’s it worth.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing “The Yoga Sutras” in entirety today. This topic is so expansive and entails more insight than we have time for in this top-level bird’s-eye view blog post. You could actually probably spend the rest of your life studying this text, honestly. And would probably still learn something new each day. In fact, I actually do!
Again, this is all very top-level (feel like I can not stress this enough!). In fact, this is really just an introduction to an introduction of practicing yoga beyond the mat. In essence, Patanjali uses the Sutras to break down the ideology and philosophy of yoga into what he references as “The Eight Limbs”. Many yogis agree that Patanjali is not the creator of this information, but rather the one responsible for organizing it.
So how does all of this relate to my goal to be more “intentional” for the new year?
Well, as I mentioned above, living with more purpose and intention is a vastly vague notion. It’s one of those sounds great in theory catch phrases, but needs to be applicable to actually make impact.
And here’s where “The Yoga Sutras” come into play. The first two “limbs” – the “Yamas” and the “Niyamas” – serve as the perfect guideline or instruction manual. Perfect for me, I should say.
Definitely not as detailed or diagramed as one might suggest in a goal setting workshop, but I’m allowing myself the space these days to sit more in the less concrete. No doubt a challenge for a Type A gal, like myself. But that’s where the growth usually exists, right?
I’m going to cover both the Yamas and Niyamas in this blog series, but part one we’ll focus on the Yamas.
The five Yamas, while literally translated from Sanskrit, are much like that of all of “The Yoga Sutras” in that they’re still a bit open for interpretation. Worth noting, in addition to my own research and reading, my own personal interpretation has been undoubtedly shaped by the director of the yoga school I attended, as he led us through all of our philosophy classes.
His name is Sudhir Rishi. Sudhir, a former monk, embodies everything I love about yoga. He is a true philosopher of yoga and it’s relationship with the life we experience. As to not digress too much, if you’re interested in hearing more from Sudhir, I highly recommend his podcast. He is a gem of insight and shaped my life profoundly in just a matter of weeks.
I am so grateful to have gone through yoga teaching training under the guidance of Sudhir. I also want to give credit to his thoughts, interpretations, and expressions as I write this post. Likewise, if I have accidentally misrepresented him in any way in this post, my deepest apologies!
The Yamas are often confused by labeling as a social code of conduct. But as Sudhir helped me better understand, they are less a set of commandments and more so “values connected to our deeper emotions”. And the values as described in the Yamas only become our personal values when we feel compelled to follow them! that’s what makes them “valuable”, right?
The power of the Yamas is that they can block or release energy… fear or anger… jealousy or greed… basically anything that keeps us from our true natural state of joy.
Yes, our true natural state is joy. And it is always available to us. As Sudhir often reminded us, we don’t need reasons to smile!
When we’re not filled with joy, it’s necessary to really take to practicing yoga beyond the mat. We need to witness our minds and thoughts in effort to bring clarity to self-realization. Yoga ON THE MAT helps us center our minds to do so.
The five Yamas, or personal values, of which I am committing to approaching with more intention are as follows:
Ahimsa, as I’ve learned, represents “not hurting”. This may seem obvious on the surface, but consider all the ways you might impart hurt on someone, including YOURSELF! This applies even your own negative self-talk, y’all! The practice of non-violence carries presence through physical action (even body language), intention (there’s that word again!), verbal statements/non-verbal statements, mental thought and emotional feelings, and more.
Interestingly, as Sudhir pointed out, we even have the power to invite violence into our own lives. Example: Someone else is harming you in some shape or form – maybe even as small as yelling at you in an incident of road rage – and your decision to further engage. Now, you’re angry too and what’s the result?
Nothing except a deviation from JOY. Make sense?
My intention is go forth with a conscious decision to not harm others or myself this year. Will I mess up at times and make mistakes? Yeah, that’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying to move needle!
Truthfulness, and integrity, have been of the utmost priority of mine since I stumbled my way into adulthood. Not that I have perfect adherence to these two (remember even our own thoughts count!), but I’m a big believer no relationship of any kind can survive without truthfulness. And yes, once again, this included our relationship with ourselves.
But the Yamas take the concept of truthfulness a step further, piggybacking on Ahimsa and this is where I really am putting more intention.
Expressing truthfulness in a manner of which you are not harming someone. Just being candid or honest can not be good enough. Because as I learned in philosophy class, the “moment you lose the ability to kindly communicate the truth”, a mental separation between you both has been created. And good luck getting through!
At the end of the day, truthful communication in a non-violent way is practicing yoga beyond the mat!
Yeah, stealing’s bad. Duh. We’ve been taught this since we were kids (hopefully). This idea of “non-stealing” though asks us to go further beyond simply taking something physical that doesn’t belong to us.
Asteya revolves also around the concept or notion of greed and lack of gratitude for others’. For example, if someone helps you and you refrain from thanking them, you are “stealing” their kindness. If you show up late to meet someone and make them wait, you are stealing their time”. What about using someone’s ideas as your own without giving them credit? Yep, definitely stealing!
And all of these behaviors can be considered greedy.
I liked how Sudhir expressed this as “gratitude is a form of payment for others’ services. so acknowledge them”. This appealed to me for several reasons. Most significantly, it doesn’t matter how much money is in your wallet or bank account in regards to being able to practice Asteya. You could have all the dollars in the world and still be a thief if you aren’t practicing gratitude for those helping you. On the contrary, you could be penniless and yet rich in gratitude, devout in your practice to this Yama!
My intention for this year is respect those around me and those I come into contact with more, but not only expressing gratitude for them but also by honoring their time, their services, and their assistance.
Okay, woah. Abstinence??? Fortunately, there’s a deeper meaning behind the literal translation of “celibacy” or “abstinence”.
Brahmacharya has more to do with understanding your desires. Desires contain such powerful energy. They fuel our motivations and actions. Sometimes these desires serve us well and unfortunately, sometimes they don’t.
Practicing and adhering to Brahmacharya requires us to be really super honest with ourselves. It forces us to spend time in self-reflection. We must figure out why and where these desires stem from. Do they violate or oppose one of the three previous Yamas? How can we better understand our cravings and modify to not only stay connected to our own true joy, while also not hampering someone else’s?
Game plan- No doubt, I’m a big day dreamer. It’s part of how I create a life in color. (Any other Sagittarius sistas out there??) But if something is creating a true burning desire for me, I intend to allow more space for understanding the root cause for it. Is holding onto the desire or taking action towards it serving me in accordance with my practice of yoga beyond the mat? How does my desire affect others? Being transparent with myself usually brings me to the right conclusion, even if it’s sometimes challenging to admit and possibly redirect.
APARIGRAHA: NON-RECEIVING OF GIFTS
This is another one where the literal Sanskrit translation is more open to interpretation. As I’ve learned, this references more the concept of letting go or being free from attachments.
In yoga teacher training, we learned that practicing Aparigraha shows us that it’s not the possessions that cause a separation from our joy, it’s the possessiveness that does. It’s the attachment to something. This spawns a sense of jealousy, greed, feeling less than in some manner, and so much more.
And you can be attached to things beyond the material, for sure. People can easily become attachments! Lovers, friends, family, etc. Remember- if the attachment or simply even the thought of losing X,Y,Z brings any disconnection from your true nature of joy, we are tasked with asking ourselves “how can I let this go?”.
It is possible though to love someone deeply and still able to practice this value. We learn this even through grieving the loss of loved ones. It can be so painful at first. Yet with time, we are often able to move our minds to a place of loving remembrance without the same deep seeded, gut wrenching hurt we initially experience. We’re able to smile when we think of them rather than cry.
So, piggybacking on the value of Brahmacharya (desires), I’m going to work on releasing attachments this year. The things or people or even desires in my life that I seem to white knuckling? How can I cultivate or further tap into my joyfulness by letting go of the reigns a bit?
This is just a vastly enormous space, so I’m going to narrow (understatement of the century) to just a few resources I have experienced and enjoyed. I’ve linked each to purchase through Amazon but you could most likely also be able to find at your local library.
2. Living the Sutras (great contemporary perspective!)
3 . A journal.
Great question. Glad you asked ; ) The purpose of yoga is unity of your body and mind! We prepare our minds for meditation through practice on the mat. Through the synergy of our breath and moving, we find a subtle reduction in the chatter of our thoughts. As a result, we can go deeper in into meditation and bring more clarity to our self-realization. This clarity helps us see ourselves better in respect to the Yoga Sutras, or specifically as we talked about here today, the yamas!
Stay tuned a follow up and second part of this series on the second limb, the Niyamas : )
To continuing to live more intentionally and creating a #LifeInColor,
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