Did you know that in yogic philosophy, Patanjali set out an eight step path to enlightenment, and asana (postures) is actually number 3? So what comes before that?
The Yamas and the Niyamas. Our moral and ethical restraints/guidelines in regards to how we treat others and ourselves (Yamas) and our personal observances (Niyamas).
The Yamas can be practiced both on and off the mat, and the below is really just scratching the surface of how it may be infused into your life.
1. Ahimsa ~ non-violence, avoiding harm
Whilst this in its most obvious interpretation applies to the way you treat other beings and care for the environment, ahimsa also applies in regards to thoughts, actions and reactions towards yourself.
Ahimsa means being with yourself in a nurturing, non-judgmental way. Whilst there is certainly a place for pushing yourself and striving forward, there is equally a place for giving yourself the space to be present with your current state. This sentiment applies both in your physical practice and in your daily life, in a physical sense, as well as a mental and emotional sense.
Notice how the words you speak affect others, and notice how th e words you speak to yourself, affect you. A little consideration can go a long way in cultivating a little more kindness into your life and interactions.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu - May all beings be happy and free ♡
2. Satya ~ truthfulness, honesty
Satya is being truthful in your words, thoughts, actions, and the way you honour yourself. It is seeing things as they really are, beyond the veil of your expectations and stories.
Do your actions line up with your values?
Are your words truthful?
Could you be more direct? Let’s not forget ahimsa (kindness) when being direct with others.
When you react to something, can you dig a little deeper to see what’s brewing under the surface?
Sometimes we are completely unaware of what’s going on inside of us; other times we don’t want to look at it. It’s not always the appropriate time to dig deep within. Satya requires acknowledging what’s going on, and honouring yourself and what you need in any given moment.
In your physical body, sometimes you are so unaware of what is going on, why pain has arisen ‘out of nowhere’, why you feel so lethargic, and so on. One way of practicing satya is to create some space to check in each day. A slow body scan in the morning and the evening:
What sensations are present? Are there areas that feel sticky, tense, painful? Are there areas rant feel soft, spacious and at ease?
How does your breath feel? Is it smooth, deep, even? Is it short, sharp, staggered? Our breath does not lie - it’s the greatest indicator to how we are feeling physically and mentally, and an acknowledgment of how your breath feels can lead to more understanding of how you’re feeling on a deeper level.
You know the truth by the way it feels ♡
3. Asteya ~ non-stealing
Beyond the more obvious interpretation of this being not stealing material things, asteya also applies to time and energy of yourself and others.
If you’re a constantly late person, try getting up a little earlier, or preparing your food the day before, set reminders to get moving. Value other people’s time, and value your own time. Allow yourself the time and space to not be flustered or rushing.
In your physical practice, this may look like:
- Coming back to the present moment time and time again - not stealing time (presence) from yourself. We’re so often racing ahead in our minds as to what’s coming next, we lose the opportunity to be present. Can you catch yourself next time, and instead notice what sensations are present in your body, how your breath feels as you move and when you’re still?
- Not comparing your practice or body to others - remember that this is your practice, and yours alone. No two bodies are exactly the same, we all have different capabilities, ranges of movement, bone structures, lifestyles - all of which will affect your practice.
- Allow for full, nourishing breaths wherever you are - we drain from our source of energy if we don’t breathe properly. If you notice your breath is short and snappy, try elongating your exhale, just for an extra count, then two, three, four, until it is twice as long as your inhale. This will help to switch up your nervous system into a state where you’re able to soothe yourself, rest, digest, rejuvenate.
4. Brahmacharya ~ energy management
Traditionally, brahmacharya was translated to ‘celibacy’, or conserving sexual energy. In more modern times, the translation has been broadened to “right use of energy” or “energy management”.
How do you use and direct your energy? What consumes you? Some ways to practice brahmacharya may include:
- Creating boundaries around things that drain your energy, like social media (turn off notifications, delete apps, have a curfew for scrolling). It could be screens in general - do you feel wired when you go to bed right after looking at your phone or tv or computer? Try switching off an hour before bed and doing something that soothes you instead, like a bath or shower, reading, or a guided meditation.
- Do you have toxic people around you? It’s not always possible to extricate yourself from these relationships, but can you create some boundaries around when you allow them to have access to you?
- Do you try to impress others? It can be draining trying to keep up a front. Can you find little ways to let your authentic self shine through? (P.S. you’re amazing as you are).
- In your yoga practice, can you acknowledge that what you think you want is not always what you need? If you’re feeling wired or frazzled from a busy week, perhaps you need some chill time in a Yin or Restorative class. If you’re feeling sluggish and unmotivated, perhaps a little push towards some more movement, rather than more stillness. Recognise what you need and what will serve you, and try to honour that!
5. Aparigraha ~ non-attachment, non-grasping
Aparigraha is to practice for the love of practicing, and to let go of expectations of how you think your practice will look and feel. If you practiced the exact same sequence, with the same teacher, 6 days a week (hello Ashtanga), each practice would bring about new sensations, different places of ease and discomfort, distractions, focus, flow of breath and movement. Your body may feel different from day to day depending on your lifestyle, work, sleep, stress levels, etc. In essence, you will get whatever you need from your practice (read: not necessarily what you want!) each time. So let go of those pesky expectations.
In Buddhism, there is the word “annica”. Impermanence. The idea that everything arises and passes away. The good times, and the hard times. The highs, and the lows. Notice how quickly your mood can change from one moment to another. How your reactions bounce from one extreme to another to the point that you’ve completely forgotten what you were frustrated by a moment earlier.
There is a talk by Ram Dass, where he says “A person whose heart is closed, a moment later, could have their heart opened by seeing a little bird fly by. Somebody whose heart is wide open could suddenly have it turned icy cold when they see an expression on someone else’s face. You must realise by now how momentary all of our states are and how little there is to cling to them and hold on to.”
Practice, practice, practice
Letting go ♡