I am delighted to see so many people getting off their ass-anas and starting to move their bodies. I can’t scroll through Instagram without seeing some gorgeous rig in downward dog, and we’re all guilty of posting selfies. I am about to do a photo shoot for my Yoga and Pilates business in a swimsuit courtesy of the amazing P A L M swimwear and trying to get my head around how I can, “lift my sit bones higher” and lift those little half moons of my butt crease that never see the light of day higher. However, other than being a bit of fun, and a project of self-promotion and marketing, the poses that we see splattered on social media are just a fraction of what the Yogic journey is truly all about. The Asanas or the postures are just one of the eight limbs needed on the quest towards union with the divine, and in my blogs I will endeavour to explore them all.
The word Yoga, according to B.K.S Iyengar (1918) “originates from the Sanskrit ‘root yuk’ meaning to bind, join, attach and to concentrate one’s attention on” (p.19). It is the method by which, “the restless mind is calmed and the energy is directed into constructive channels” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). Kathopanishad describes Yoga as, “when the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, has reached the highest stage” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). The highest stage is Samadhi and to achieve this one must follow the eight limbs of Yoga helping them on their quest to the soul. Being able to put my legs behind my head does not mean I am a perfect Yogi, nor does it mean that I am practicing Yoga; only when my breath is even, and my mind is still and my senses are withdrawn in this asana am I doing Yoga.
Every religion or spirituality has their own guidelines and it’s the same with Yoga. The eight limbs of Yoga are made up of the Yamas and Niyamas (moral and ethical guidelines), Asanans (postures/poses), Pranayama (regulation of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (the means, a feeling of pure consciousness). I will start at the beginning with the Yamas and Niyamas; the moral and ethical guidelines that we can follow to be able to better live with others and with ourselves. They’re not so easily measured which makes it more difficult to see the effect or consequences of sticking to them. But I think you will find that when you become aware of them and start to practice them in your everyday life, you won’t need a measure of general life improvement, you will just know. If there were a happiness radar then it would be gradually lifting from “avo-cado” (average) to “bomb-diggity”.
This week I am focusing only on the Yamas and how I have incorporated these spiritual guidelines into my life to better live with others.
The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa. This is a principle of “non-violence”, or a more positive interpretation is; love for all creation. In my own practice this means not pushing myself too hard. After a year of healing a hamstring tear and tendinopathy, it is important for me to rest in child’s pose when poses that work the hamstrings pop up during class. Before I began to consciously incorporate the principles of Yoga into my life, it certainly wasn’t in my personality to sit back and watch… But funnily enough now it is! In fact, I quite enjoy those moments of down time in the class now. That’s what Yoga is about. Listening to your body.
The principle of non-violence also applies when teaching the class and offering my students the chance to rest and take a step back if they need it. It’s about taking yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, but no further, and everyone’s comfort zones are different.
Ahimsa can also be applied to the larger community. Personally, I avoid causing harm to other people around me; either with my words or my physical body. Those of you who know me, are aware that I am a fiery little Wog and it’s most likely going to be my words that have the potential cause damage. So for me it’s about asking myself, “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” before the words leave my mouth.
You can exercise Ahimsa in the wider community by putting others’ needs before your own. I have made a conscious effort to place my friends’, family’s and anyone elses’ needs before mine, whenever I can. For me this is about appreciating the truth that ALL living beings are equal. This includes animals, insects, and even spiders! This was a tough one for me at first… But now with the help of my Mumsy “the spider whisperer” I can escort spiders out of the house, no more Mortein, no more flying thongs.
The second of the Yamas is Satya and refers to truthfulness not only in speech but also in your physical practice. B.K.S Iyengar (1918) states, “he who has learnt to control his tongue has attained self control in a great measure, and when such a person speaks he will be heard with great respect and attention” (p.34).
In my own practice I use this discipline when the teacher asks, “if you really need to do another back bend come into full wheel Urdhva Dhanurasana now.” I think to myself, “do I really need another backbend? Hells no! Be true to yourself Sophia and sit this one out!” Another example of truthfulness is my Instagram posts. When I post photos with all the amazing “show off” Yoga Asanas the most important thing for me is to be honest about how long it took me to be comfortable doing that pose. If it was easy for me, then I explain to people that there are many other Yoga Asanas even the most simplest like a forward bend (Uttanasana) that I still constantly struggle with, and while my strength may help me to balance on one arm, my hamstrings at the moment won’t allow me to fold forward, but that’s ok (we’ll come to this in the Niyamas next week with Santosha).
In the wider community with my friends and family what I am striving towards is making my “yes” count, so when I commit to something I am honestly committing. Have you ever met someone who constantly says, “let’s catch up soon, I’ll message you!” but never does… and that’s the end of that chapter? Well I don’t want to be that person. My intention is to only say “yes” if I really mean it, and if I can’t commit to something right now then be honest and tell them the truth that, “I’m sorry, I am teaching 10 classes a day, and am also studying full time and on Wednesday’s I need to go see my Dad and Yaiya for Fasolia for lunch, so can we re-schedule in the Uni holidays?” The important part then for me is to stay true to my word and FOLLOW IT UP!
The third of the Yamas is Asteya, and this principle refers to ‘non-stealing’ or ‘non-envy’. It’s about ridding yourself of the desire to possess or enjoy what another has. In the yoga class this manifests itself as the common action of looking around and seeing others’ practicing headstands in the middle of the room and wanting, longing or desiring to be able to do that. When I see people in full Hanumanasana (full splits) I have to close my eyes and remind myself, “I am exactly where I need to be right now and I am grateful for what I have achieved.” In the classroom this principle can also refer to ‘stealing’ peoples’ time by starting late, or finishing late. There may be someone in my class who really needs to rush off at 7am and if I run later it means that they’ll most likely miss Savasana, and be in a rush before work; as a result un-doing all the good that has been done in class. This principle extends beyond the classroom as well. Consider how someone can bring others’ down with their negative thoughts. In a sense they are stealing people’s energy, constantly bringing them down. I’m not referring to people in genuine need, it’s different when someone is sad and actually needs your help as a friend; in this case I show authentic love and compassion. This is a tough one I think. A friend once said to me that, “she only wants to be around people that help her float and lift her up, and why wouldn’t you want to be that person.” Something to ponder about…
The fourth of the Yamas is Brahmacharya, and this refers to moderation and abstinence. According to B.K.S Iyengar (1918) it refers to, “celibacy, religious-study and self restraint” (p.34). I interpret this principle as moderation of all things, not just sexual-activity. Forming sexual relationships with your Yoga students is a big no-no here, but also I think it’s about not favouring a particular gender or type of person in your class. Not just adjusting the gorgeous, athletic, experienced and riggy Cottesloe Lululemon girls in the front row, but including everyone in the practice. Those new comers that have never done Yoga before, that think that you HAVE to be flexible to practice Yoga are probably more important to care for and educate then your regular clients, and it’s important that all types of students feel welcome in my classroom, I think that is moderating favouritism in a sense.
Another example is the work that we do at the Aspire Group (http://www.aspire-group.biz/) with Inclusion WA; working with individuals, and the community to aid social inclusion for people with disabilities and their families, helping them to participate in sports and in Yoga.
And yes, last but not least, moderating indulgences or ‘guilty pleasures’ in all shapes and forms. This can include a range of things like alcohol, greasy foods, caffeine, drugs, sex and late nights. Basically it’s about finding what makes you happy and healthy and eliminating what doesn’t. I know for me I had to work on moderating my alcohol intake. I now know that I can have two glasses of wine with Spaghetti Marinara at Funtastico’s on Saturday night and wake up Sunday morning feeling fresh and able to attend the Sunday “day of Yoga” with Wendy from Yogaworx! Bliss! A bottle of Vodka and a bread roll from the Rotto Bakery doesn’t make me happy anymore… Easy right? Problem solved? Not really, it may not seem like it on my Insta, but believe me, it’s a constant effort to find balance, and it certainly doesn’t happen straight away. But the first step is becoming aware. And I am aware, and I am trying.
Lastly we come to Aparigraha. This principle refers to ‘non-greed’ or in a more positive light; to de-clutter one’s life so that you can enact the principle of ‘generosity’. One’s trash is another’s treasure! I just saw an amazing example of this on Facebook the other day when I was invited to a page where trendy little hotties from the Western Suburbs of Perth sell their clothes, rent their clothes or swap their clothes with friends, a perfect example! Another example that my friends and I have dabbled in heavily is swap meets, and an even better example is give without asking for anything in return and sending off your things to the Good Sammies.
Looking at Aparigraha in the context of my classroom refers to just having the essentials. It means not trying to fill my studio with the latest gadgets, or trying to fit 50 people in a 20 capacity space. Baloo from the Jungle Book says it perfectly….
“Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life
And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you”
The Yamas offer guidance for individuals to live in harmony with the wider community. Please don’t feel like you have to do everything at once! It takes time to reflect on your own behaviours and thoughts and practices. Believe me, it has taken me years of conscious practice to get where I am now, and I still have much to learn! So start slow, and be kind to yourself! My next blog will focus on the Niyamas, which help us to better understand and live with ourselves. I’d like to stress that they are guidelines and not set in stone, but just an awareness of them can help you make a change, even if it’s very small to begin with. Baby steps!
Peace and love to you all. Stand tall and proud, remember your roots, go out on a limb, drink plenty of water, be content with your natural beauty, enjoy the VIEW.
Iyengar, B.K.S. (1918). Light on Yoga. Schoken Books: New York.
The Jungle Book. (1967). Walt Disney.