Yoga is, and can be so many things.
“This experience we call ‘yoga’ is a way to calm the fluctuations of the mind” writes Pantanjali – ‘Ch’itta Vritti Nirodaha.
We are therefore doing yoga to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind. In essence the question is no longer what is yoga but what does yoga do and how can it become such an infectious life practice.
Yoga gives us a way to cultivate our own path to ‘Samadhi’, a blissful state of oneness, by releasing the ego and liberating our own inner truth. In Pantanjali’s sutras; a book on yoga philosophy composed around 200 years ago; an 8 limbed path is put forward using sequential stages in an individual’s life journey to finally experience the full fruits of yoga,
In my life each and every one of these limbs; similar to the parts of my body; have played a part in my yoga practice, teaching and personal growth.
If yoga had no real life value I guess I wouldn’t be practicing it, living it, or sharing it. It’s a perpetual journey in which the 8 limbs have already begun to shape my mind, body and soul. Who knows, with dash of practice and a pinch of awareness yoga just might get under your skin one day too.
Limb 1 = Yamas; codes of restraint, abstinences, self regulations
1 HAND - 5 FINGERS
This first limb, or hand, consists of a set of ethics which assures that we interact in a harmonious way with our surrounding community. These, I have found are wise characteristics to hold. I don’t see them as dos and don’ts or shoulds and should nots with clear boundaries and obvious meanings. The yamas are suggestions on universal morality which can help us deal with both the people around us and ourselves.
Exploring the 5 yamas and reflecting on both their obvious and subtle appearances in my life has bought me back to a place of contentment, understanding and knowing.
5 yamas = 5 restraints = 5 fingers
1. AHIMSA = THUMB
Non violence, non hurting
This yama begins with respecting one's own body and extending that respect to all other beings.
This non-injury is not simply a way not to hurt a living being physically, it’s more comprehensive then that, as are all the limbs once we take a closer look. It means an abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word or deed. Ahimsa requires us to have a harmless mind, mouth and hand. Not as easy as one might initially think.
In my asana (posture practice) I learned to practice ahimsa by controlling and restraining my physical body first, respecting it and listening when it said, “enough”, “ouch”, or “ I am tired”. Preventing harm to our physical body is a huge lesson to learn in yoga - hence the common saying, "my body is my temple" was coined.
Slowly, as we learn to respect our body by physically controlling our actions it becomes easier to suppress negative words and feelings.
Practising ahimsa was my first step to recovery from an eating disorder over 5 years ago; firstly letting go of the harm of ‘not eating’ and learning to fuel my body well. Once through this physical phase the real work began. As in one's asana practice, we must follow our physical actions with the release of negative words to oneself and a refusal to engage with feelings that harm our soul.
After finding ahimsa within your self we are then invited to turn our attention to our actions, words and thoughts towards other people; firstly letting go of judgements, jealousy and hatred; secondly taking the negative energy and replacing it with love.
2. SATYA = INDEX FINGER
To speak the truth, being honest with ourselves and with others.
Satya invites us to be open to truth in our asana (posture) practice on the mat, in our relationships and in our circumstances.
In my experience yoga gave me clarity of mind, body and soul and created a space in which I could feel the truth. My true feelings, emotions and energy then began to lead my life. Speaking this truth is daunting and most definitely changes relationships and situations. The only thing satya asks of us is to be mindful of what we say, how we say it and in what way it could affect others.
In my understanding of satya we can create honest communication and actions which then form the foundation of any healthy relationship, family or community.
Teaching has given me a window to watch satya come into students practice and begin changing their lives. I ask students to find truth in their practice by acknowledging their ‘tight’ or ‘weak’ areas and to then move with integrity in each pose at all times. Guiding students to look at their entire practice and feel their growth and strength once they begin pulling back and working with honesty has been my intention over the last few years. "A pose is too expensive if it is bought about by selling satya."
A young female student whom I have been working with for about eight months highlighted satya for me when she emailed me after class one Wednesday morning and said, “I had an epiphany. I am quitting my job and becoming a yoga teacher. This feels so good and I have to follow that”. My heart warmed and my smile shone. "She got it," I thought. My role to pass knowledge and experience had been fulfilled. She booked in to a course to complete her Level 1 teacher training with my teacher Master Paalu, that same year.
To be continued......
Published in Tasmanian Life magazine